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Bikers Ride to Aid Widows of Officers

Benefit: Police and others raise $5,000 during 77-mile trek inspired in part by the shooting of CHP's Rafael Casillas.


NEWHALL — They sure didn't look like peace officers.

With their leather vests, tattooed arms, tie-dyed tank tops and faded jeans, they could have easily been mistaken for a roving gang of bikers weaving their way through the streets of the Santa Clarita Valley.

In fact, many of the more than 300 motorcyclists who turned out Sunday for the first "Downed Officers Support Ride" were peace officers, and they raised nearly $5,000 to benefit families of slain peace officers.

The shooting of CHP Officer Rafael "Ralph" Casillas last month was a catalyst for the event. Casillas was critically injured by ex-convict Terry James Parker, who had led police off the freeway to his Granada Hills home.

The fund-raiser, which planners hope to make an annual event, was organized in less than two weeks, and the funds will go to the Los Angeles Police Department Family Support Group, whose 40 members are all wives of slain peace officers. The women provide emotional support and, when possible, financial help to the families of downed officers.

"There are a lot of law enforcement officers out there who enjoy riding motorcycles as a hobby," said Sheriff's Sgt. Robert Norlemann, who is assigned to the Santa Clarita station.

On Sunday, in his blue jeans, black cowboy boots and black leather vest with matching tattoos adorning his upper arms, Norlemann more resembled a rugged Harley rider than a peace officer. Yet he obviously had law enforcement in mind when he teamed up with Jack Ogden, owner of Accessories Unlimited, a popular motorcycle accessory shop in Newhall, to organize Sunday's ride.

"Ralph Casillas is a customer of mine, and Bob knows him through work," Ogden said. "We got to talking and decided to host a charity event to help the families of peace officers."

In recent days Casillas has shown slight improvements in the intensive care unit of Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

The 77-mile ride began in the parking lot of Ogden's shop and wound its way through several checkpoints, including the CHP station in Newhall and the Santa Clarita sheriff's station, where participants drew cards to build a winning hand for prizes. Each rider paid a fee to participate.

While many of the bikers said they enjoyed riding for a good cause, the event appeared to especially touch those who are part of the law enforcement community.

"The fact that the ride is for the women and kids of downed officers is why I'm here," said Marv Testmeier, a Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeant and member of the Peacemakers Motorcycle Club. "In fact, if my bike was broken I would have driven the course in my car."

"I'm a Harley rider, so when I heard about this I jumped at it," added Dennis Zine, treasurer of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. "It's a worthy cause because the widows need this kind of support."

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