It was a bittersweet moment as Jagrut Shah returned home Thursday after two months on the road visiting all 146 law enforcement agencies where an officer died in 2019.
Shah created the End of Watch Ride to Remember earlier this year. The idea to encourage and connect families and departments that had recently lost loved ones had been on Shah’s mind for a few years, but with downtime during COVID-19 it was time to take action.
“What I wanted to do was fill this bridge and gap between the guys and say, ‘It’s OK to talk, it’s OK to grieve, it’s OK to mourn,’” Shah said. “Let the families know we have not forgotten.”
At each stop, Shah and his group of about 12 bikers, along with a trailer that had photos of every fallen officer featured prominently on the side, would host a celebration of life event. The events were a reminder to families and departments that their loved one was remembered by others around the country, Shah said.
The loss of a loved law enforcement officer hits close to home for Shah, who was a Yakima County sheriff’s deputy for 17 years before moving to Spokane last year to focus on his security business, Phoenix Protective Corp.
Shah was close friends with Saul Gallegos, a Chelan County sheriff’s deputy who was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop in 2003.
“My first one was Saul Gallegos in Chelan,” Shahn said of losing a fellow officer.
The pair had a lot in common. Gallegos had immigrated from Mexico and Shah from Africa.
“We just appreciated this country so much,” Shah said.
Shah said he still helps with the annual memorial run that Gallegos’ family hosts each year.
With COVID-19, Shah’s business was lagging, and he and his wife, Sheila White Leslie, decided it was time to embark on Shah’s dream. They recruited sponsors for the ride to pay for gas, vehicles, lodging and other expenses.
“Well, it started off really good because we started off with full sponsorship,” Shah said. “Then, unfortunately, we had the whole George Floyd incident and all my big sponsors backed out.”
So, Shah and his wife discussed it and decided they would pay for the ride.
Yokes continued to sponsor as well as Lone Wolf Harley-Davidson, which donated a bike to be given away to one of the law enforcement departments.
“It’s something that we as a whole believe in – supporting law enforcement,” said Austin Kerns, marketing manager at Lone Wolf Harley.
Shah has been a “loyal customer” for years, and “we like to do stuff like that for our friends and family,” Kerns said.
As the caravan pulled into the Spokane Valley Harley-Davidson with a police escort, a waiting crowd cheered.
For Trevor Nolemeyer, a member of the Spokane Police Department traffic unit that escorted the riders home, seeing the caravan return to Spokane was meaningful.
“I think it’s a good reminder of how much a lot of our community cares about law enforcement,” Nolemeyer said, with tears in his eyes. “They’re just doing this because they want to spend the miles, days, hours doing it.”
Lance Drapeau hopped off his bike and ran straight over to his two young daughters whom he hadn’t seen in more than two months.
“It was incredible,” Drapeau said. “Very emotional – being able to hear all their stories and connect with them.”
Drapeau, regional manager at Phoenix, served 10 years as a Navy military police officer and is the vice president of Beyond the Call of Duty, a nonprofit arm of End of Watch Ride to Remember.
Growing up, Drapeau’s father was a deputy at the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, now a detective. Drapeau said he would worry about his father not coming home, and it was always a relief to “hear that sound of velcro ripping off at the end of the day.”
On Thursday, Drapeau said he was just glad to be able to come home to his daughters.
“We all gave sacrifices to be on this trip, and I’m grateful to be able to come home to my family when others can’t,” he said.
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