The last Saturday in April, regardless of the weather, is a beautiful day in Atlanta. April 27th saw the 28th running of the Georgia Police Memorial Ride: a congregation of hundreds of motorcycles, police cars, and other vehicles that travel in formation to salute Georgia officers that have fallen in the line of duty. Blue Knights Georgia chapter VII, a fraternal, non-profit motorcycle club of current and retired law enforcement, hosts this massive event each year. The late Captain Herb Emory was heavily involved in the memorial ride for more than 20 years.
“Every year when this ride comes up, I stop to hear the Blue Knights’ and other’s stories about Captain Herb’s perpetual involvement in this big event!” WSB Triple Team Traffic’s Ashley Frasca exclaimed. “I believe he became involved by the second or third annual ride, and was there every year since.”
In the spirit of Captain Herb, Frasca volunteers with C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors) and helps host and put together C.O.P.S. events the night before the Memorial Ride and for other times during the year. Her relationship with Captain Herb and his widow, Karen, sparked her interest in this cause. “A cool thing for me each year is seeing his memorial flag flown on a bike in the ride,” she explained. “Our great friend Karen usually brings the Mayberry Patrol Car out, too.”
Captain Herb was an honorary Douglas Co. Sheriff's officer and, as we talked about a few weeks ago, died of a heart attack after rescuing crash victims and then directing traffic in front of his house. He also was simply a huge police geek. Captain Herb went to police roadblocks in the middle of the night. He also loved police memorabilia, scanners, and “The Andy Griffith Show.” When Karen surprised Herb with that restored Ford Galaxie years ago, Herb was in rare form: speechless. “Aunt Bea,” as the license plate says, is always a favorite at auto shows and at this annual ride.
Frasca said that over 1,000 motorcycle riders showed up from all over Georgia and even Kentucky and the Carolinas. The procession, that started on Jonesboro Rd. in southeast Atlanta at about 11 a.m. was some kind of spectacle. The current and vintage police cars, hundreds of bikes, and two MARTA buses carrying the surviving families roared and paced like a majestic lion that demanded attention and respect. It also created a huge traffic interruption.
“I think the word got out in a big way about closing the Downtown Connector around lunch time on a Saturday,” Frasca said. Frasca and I, along with others on the Traffic Team, warned people on News 95.5/AM750 WSB of the impending closure Friday. And the ensuing gridlock warnings and traffic jams themselves were front and center in Jill Nelson’s and Floyd Hillman’s reports Saturday morning. I actually helped Hillman send out some tweets and Triple Team Traffic Alerts App push alerts from the backseat of the Mayberry Patrol Car during the ride. But the warning effort didn’t stop there.
“I also want to commend GDOT for working with the Blue Knights for this ride. They helped spread the word using the overhead matrix boards in the city,” Frasca said. HERO drivers and law enforcement sealed off entrance ramps and intersections to allow the mile-long parade to pass. And as Frasca on the back of an officer’s bike and myself, Karen Emory, Triple Team Traffic’s Mike Shields, and Douglas Co. S.O. First Lt. John Jewell in the Mayberry car saw, people respectfully took notice and paused to remember the fallen officers.
The Georgia Police Memorial Ride gallops each year up I-285/westbound, to I-75/northbound, to I-75/85/northbound. Then it exits on the Piedmont Avenue HOV ramp and into Midtown, turns left on 14th Street, and left on Spring Street. After passing Centennial Park and the Five Points Station and Underground Atlanta, the long mass of metal and flags re-enters I-75/85/sb just below I-20 and goes back. Traffic stayed jammed on I-75/85 in both directions for over an hour - well after the lanes opened. And people certainly are upset each time.
The traffic RED ALERT - as we call it on WSB - stopped Downtown Atlanta traffic for longer than President Trump’s motorcade did earlier that week. And while that is a major inconvenience, it provides a mandatory pause to think about the gravity of it all. Just as we got to stop and remember Captain Herb and other fallen heroes in the patrol car, those stuck in traffic got to see how many people care about and/or were affected by the loss of an officer. Headlines sometimes become just that; they can lose their meaning. The Georgia Police Memorial Ride is a list of dozens of headlines, suddenly gleaming to life, and passing by with guttural realness.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.