Bike Rally and Run Over, But Cause Rides On
By Rick Hiduk
The eighth-annual Fallen Heroes Ride, coordinated by the employees of Hurley’s Market, Towanda, drew more than 200 motorcycle enthusiasts from at least 13 states to enjoy a sun-soaked ride around Bradford County on Aug. 20, while raising more than $7,000 for the Burgert/VanKuren Memorial Fund.
“That’s not bad for a Saturday morning,” event organizer and business owner Nick Hurley said afterward. The total amount collected, he noted, was a combination of riders’ fees and sponsor contributions.
In past years, thousands of dollars in Fallen Heroes proceeds have been distributed to local first response units and other nonprofit organizations. This year, a portion of the funds are earmarked for scholarships for local high school seniors who plan to pursue higher education in law enforcement at Mansfield University, and some of the money will go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Event organizers have yet to determine how the remainder of the funds will be used.
The Fallen Heroes Ride in Towanda was started as a way to honor Bradford County sheriff’s deputies Mike VanKuren and Chris Burgert, who were shot to death in March 2004 as they attempted to serve a warrant on a Wells Township man who had failed to appear in court. The suspect and another man who was at the scene during the incident fled, and both men were apprehended during a two-day manhunt. The shooter was convicted of murdering both deputies and was sentenced to death. VanKuren and Burgert left behind wives and children.
At about the same time, a young police officer in Marion County, OH, had just been certified as a scuba diver and became a member of the sheriff’s special dive team there. Brandy Lyn Winfield, who was married with two children, was seeking his K9 certification in October 2004 when he too was shot in the line of duty. Since then, the Winfields, VanKurens, and Burgerts have bonded over the issues regarding fallen heroes. Over the past few years, a growing number of cyclists from Bradford County have joined fellow supporters of law officials who have sacrificed their lives in Ohio each June for the annual Brandy Winfield Poker Run. In turn, the Ohio riders and their allies have made Towanda an annual destination.
“The year of 2004 was tragic for both of our communities, and the senselessness of the events that led to the deputies losing their lives is still very hard to comprehend,” stated Chris Sanders, chairman of the Brandy Winfield Memorial Fundraiser Corp. “We are humbled by their sacrifices, and we owe them all a debt of remembrance.”
Sanders’ ties to Bradford County were key elements in the relationship between the two groups of memorial riders. His mother, Lee Ann (Morrison) Sanders, is from Towanda, while his father, Ray, is from Troy. Lee Ann became a fan of Riverfest and, along with her sister, Jean Miller, encountered the Van Kuren/Burgert riders in the Hurley’s parking lot in 2007 and told Chris about the group.
“I contacted Nick and discussed how similar our events were,” Chris Sanders recalled, adding that he was thrilled when Hurley accepted his invitation to escort some bikers to Ohio the following June. “Nick brought out a great group of friends whom we have become very close to, including Kevin Barnett and Mike Sena,” Sanders related.
Hurley noted that the Fallen Heroes Run in Towanda has grown from just 60 riders the first year, and he credits his employees for preparing for and staffing the event. “They are true supporters of everything that we do,” Hurley stated. “I’m very blessed to have such a dedicated staff.”
Hurley noted also that avid cyclist Mike Powers of Wiggle 100 radio has been a consistent supporter of the Fallen Heroes Ride, having promoted the event in advance on-air and brought fans to the pre-ride rally.
Foggy conditions beset the morning gathering in the parking lot of Hurley’s warehouse along the Merrill Parkway, but the sun was shining brightly by the time the bikers revved up their engines and started up Pine Street to Main Street and headed out of town toward Troy. The entourage then rode to Canton before returning to Towanda via Route 414. Hurley reported that the weather was wonderful, although showers in previous years have not damped the spirits of organizers and supporters of the event.
“We got extremely lucky,” Hurley said of the brilliant sunshine and pleasant temperatures. “But, even when it rains, our people are dedicated and still show up.”
Hurley noted that readers can contribute to the Burgert/VanKuren Memorial Fund at anytime by sending contributions to Fallen Heroes Ride, 387 York Ave., Towanda, PA 18848.