Filling a gap after a tragedy
(Photo by Steven B. Brooks)

Filling a gap after a tragedy

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On March 2 of this year, Boone County (Ind.) Sheriff’s Department Deputy Jacob Pickett was fatally shot while pursuing a man fleeing from police. The death of the K-9 officer and father of two young children rocked both the sheriff’s department and the local community.

For American Legion Rider L.J. Jermstadt, who had met Pickett and regularly does training with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, Pickett’s death has carried a lingering effect.

“Since Deputy Pickett went down, I know that there have been other officers that have went down in the line of duty,” said Jermstadt, the ride coordinator for ALR Chapter 410 in Whitestown, Ind., which is less than 10 miles from the sheriff’s department. “It brings that closer to home. Even though they don’t live here, having lost one of our own, you think about it.

“I have a lot of involvement with both the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and the Whitestown (Police Department), so I know the toll that it takes on them.”

Pickett had been paired up with Brik, a K-9 officer. The two were “inseparable,” according to news reports, and when Pickett was killed, the decision was made to retire Brik so he could live with Pickett’s family.

That left the sheriff’s department without a K-9 officer, which is where American Legion Riders Chapter 497 in Indianapolis stepped up. The Riders conducted Brik’s Benefit for BCSO ride June 9 in order to raise money for the department to purchase and train a new K-9 officer.

“This was more of a ride paying homage both to Deputy Pickett and his K-9 unit who was not only his family member, but a partner,” said Brandon McKee, assistant director for Chapter 497 and an Operation Desert Storm Air Force veteran. “Those of us that have dogs, they’re part of the family.

“This was a two-fold thing: The Pickett family not only lost … a husband and a father, but Brik lost a partner and his dad. It runs that deep.”

So “to appeal to both sides of the coin,” McKee said Chapter 497 decided to make the ride about both Pickett and Brik. “We were kind of Brik’s voice today,” McKee said. “As silly as that may sound, we were speaking for (Brik). And the fact that Brik got retired to the family, (the sheriff’s department) is now out a K-9. We wanted to try to fill that gap.”

The ride raised $1,229, and Post 497 matched that to bring the total to $2,458. A donation of $20,000 made anonymously to the ride and forwarded to the sheriff’s department pushed the amount to more than $22,000 – enough to fund the purchase and training of a new K-9 officer.

“We are a family; therefore, we love, fight and cry like family,” McKee said of Chapter 497. “I think what brings us together is at the end of the day we are all about the same thing here: the camaraderie of being brothers and sisters, and being a part of something bigger than us.”

The ride left American Legion Post 79 in Zionsville, Ind., and made stops at Post 410, Post 113 in Lebanon and Post 331 in Brownsburg before finishing back at Post 497. The ride included a pass and engine revving in front of the Boone County Sheriff’s Office.

Jack Schoettle, who spent 29 years with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and had met Pickett a few times after retiring, said Pickett’s death “was kind of devastating” to those in or formerly in the Boone County law enforcement community. “It’s devastating not only to Boone County, but all over the United States."

Schoettle, who rides with Harley Motorcycle Group (H.O.G.) and took part in Chapter 497’s ride, said the Legion Riders’ gesture toward the sheriff’s department “is very heartwarming and very appreciated. The motorcycle community is one of the biggest fundraiser for different organizations.”

Chapter 410 Legion Riders Director Mike Augh was at the stop in Whitestown where the riders were treated to food and drinks. He said a ride like the one on June 9 “is the best of both worlds. Not only do we get to get out on our bikes and ride, but we’re doing stuff for the community, raising money for good causes, and supporting our local law enforcement and trying to help them get back on their feet after a serious loss."

Although the ride started off in good weather, storm clouds moved in midway through, unleashing heavy rain on the riders between Lebanon and Brownsburg. But that wasn’t going to stop Mike Aubrey, the road captain for the ride and the ride coordinator for Chapter 497.

“We’re here for a reason, and we’re here to get it accomplished,” Aubrey said. “It’s being able to give back. The world has a lot of bad in it. The more good people can do and the more people see good being done, they have faith back in humanity.

“This (ride) just hit home for me. I’m from Lebanon, so it was personal.”

The weather also didn’t deter Chapter 497 Legion Rider Lawrence Przybylski from completing the ride. “The cause is a pretty good one,” he said. “This ride is about replacing Brik and raising funds to do that. It’s a costly effort to train a dog to be a police dog. We think it’s a worthy cause.”