A Look at the 2019 Fallen Heroes Memorial 5K
By MARY TOOTHMAN
Why would hundreds of people opt to leave their air-conditioned homes, offices, and cars to run a 5K under a blazing hot Florida sun one recent Saturday in May?
We all know of runners who pound the pavement in races because they love running, love competing, love the camaraderie of a racing event. But participants in the 2019 Fallen Heroes Memorial 5K had an additional, poignant inspiration: honoring law enforcement’s fallen heroes — and supporting retired K-9 officers in their golden years.
Held on May 18 this year, the event is near and dear to the hearts of those in law enforcement, their loved ones, and the community.
Lakeland Police Department Capt. Steven Pacheco says the motivation behind the race is honor. “It is held to honor and pay tribute to our fallen officers, as well as their families who continue to feel the loss of their loved ones.”
This year, the race date was also Armed Forces Day — so planners included honoring those who have served and continue to serve the country in the military.
Runners followed Three Parks Trail, which connects Common Ground Park, Woodlake Park and Curtis Peterson Park.
Pacheco, president and board chair of the non-profit Lakeland Police Foundation, says this year’s third annual memorial run did not disappoint; it was a fun and upbeat family-oriented event.
“We had 562 runners on Saturday, and about 700 that registered, some of whom were virtually registered,” he says. “Overall, the race went very well, we had a lot of great comments about our event.”
Participants paid a $35 registration fee, and received a finisher medal, race shirt, and race bag honoring fallen officers and law enforcement’s K-9 partners. Placement medals were awarded to the top three finishers in each five-year age bracket.
“The Lakeland Police Foundation Fallen Heroes Memorial 5K was started for several reasons,” Pacheco says. “The first was to assist the foundation in raising money to build the Fallen Heroes Memorial, located on the property of the Lakeland Police Department.”
The second reason for the event is that proceeds from the race are used by the foundation to maintain the memorial and to provide educational scholarships to the past and present members of the Lakeland Police Department.
Established in 2012, the Lakeland Police Foundation provides support to former, current, and future members of the Lakeland Police Department. That support includes financial help under certain circumstances and education grants.
The memorial was designed to pay tribute to the five fallen Lakeland Police Department officers who have died in the line of duty. Dedicated In March of 2017, it is located at 219 N. Massachusetts Ave. at LPD headquarters.
It honors Patrolman William Barnett, Patrolman Thomas Nicholson, Officer Eugene DeBerry, Officer Carl Cushman and Officer Arnulfo Crispin.
Its centerpiece features a life-sized, bronze Honor Guard sculpture on a granite backdrop, as if watching over the names of the fallen officers. Attached to the granite are five glass plaques, each etched with a fallen officer’s name and photo.
Also featured is a large glass badge, illuminated with LED lights, to serve as a reminder of those still serving. The foundation of the site is lined with personalized, engraved bricks which were sold to help fund the project
Besides maintaining the memorial, an additional cause was added to the race event this year. The Lakeland Police Foundation adopted the Retired K-9 Care Program — set up to provide care for retired K-9s. These K-9s are usually adopted as pets after their service by current members of the Lakeland Police Department K-9 unit.
But once they hang up their badges and retire from official service, the K-9s are not provided with veterinarian care by the department.
“Four of our attending veterinarians joined together and created the Retired K-9 Care Program, and donate specific care for these animals through their practices,” Pacheco says.
The foundation voted recently to adopt the program, and provide monetary assistance to the veterinarians who have been voluntarily caring for the retired police dogs.
The veterinarians who care for them are Dr. Donna McWilliams, of My Pet’s Animal Hospital, Dr. Dawn Morgan-Winter, of Lakeland Veterinary Hospital & Wellness Center, Dr. David Lee, of Edgewood Animal Clinic and Dr. Robert Houghton of Cleveland Heights Animal Hospital.
The K-9 officers will be cared for the rest of their lives through the program.
The success of this year’s event was a welcome and heart-warming display from the local community to support such a great cause. For more information on the Lakeland Police Foundation, you can visit their website at lakelandpolicefoundation.com or Facebook at Facebook.com/LakelandPoliceFoundation.