First responders in the Gulf Coast Brotherhood Ride rolling through Gautier, Mississippi.

By John Mullen

May 24, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – A new bicycle ride to honor fallen first responders finished off in Orange Beach on May 24 with a stop at The Wharf and then the Orange Beach Police Department.

“We rested a bit before riding to the police department to make an honor stop for Mike Stockwell,” Orange Beach Assistant Chief Kevin Lanford said.

Stockwell was killed in a car accident in September of 2013 on the Foley Beach Express on his way home after completing his shift. He was one of three Alabama first responders honored in the first Gulf Coast Brotherhood Ride. Lanford was driving a support vehicle provided by Orange Beach during the five-day, 450-mile ride from Eunice, Louisiana, to Orange Beach.

“We started May 20 and we ended up in Orange Beach, Alabama, honoring 12 different officers and firefighters,” Lanford said. “The Alabama group this year will honor officer Justin Billa of Mobile who was killed last year. And it will honor Sgt. Mitchem from Loxley PD and Mike Stockwell from Orange Beach PD who died in that accident a few years ago.

“It’s just a way for us to honor them, pay our respects and let their family members know that we never forget and we want them to know that we care and we remember.”

The rides began after a September 2007 fire in Charleston, South Carolina, claimed the lives of nine firefighters.

“The actual one began in Florida after nine firefighters were killed in Charleston,” Lanford said. “They rode from Florida to Charleston to honor them. It took them nine days and it kind of grew out of there. I was involved in one last year that went from Westwego, Louisiana, to San Antonio, Texas. We honored officers from Louisiana and Texas.”

Local officers and first responders then decided something was needed to involve more Gulf Coast states, Lanford said.

“Then we realized we didn’t have anything for our area and we wanted to come up with something so that’s why we’re doing this Gulf Coast inaugural ride,” Lanford said.

He said the Orange Beach support vehicle was one of three from various departments, most from Louisiana.

“I was lucky enough to get the support of the city and they supported me with a vehicle and the opportunity to serve,” Lanford said. “We’ve got support vehicles from the Baton Rouge Police Department, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s office, East Baton Rouge EMS and Orange Beach Fire and Rescue. I told them I wanted to bring them over and show them some clean water.”

Gulf Coast Brotherhood Riders at Fire Station 1 in Orange Beach.
Photos by Shelley Patterson, C-Shelz Photography.

Others being honored include the following:

  • Agent Cadet Immanuel Washington, Louisiana Department Wildlife and Fisheries
  • Officer Michael Paul Middlebrook, Lafayette Police Department, Louisiana
  • Deputy Chief Russell Achord, West Feliciana Fire Department, Louisiana
  • Reserve Officer Chris Lawton, Zachary Police Department, Louisiana
  • Trooper Steven Vincent, Louisiana State Police
  • Officer Natasha Hunter, New Orleans Police Department, Louisiana
  • Officer Marcus McNeil, New Orleans Police Department, Louisiana
  • Deputy David Michel Jr., Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, Louisiana
  • Agent Josie Wells, United States Marshalls Office, Southern District, Mississippi

Each Gulf Coast Brotherhood Rider was required to raise at least $500 in donations that will be divided amongst the families of the fallen at the end of the ride. In-kind donations and sponsorships are covering the cost of the ride.

Over 30 law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders are riding in the group with about a dozen support staff.

Lanford said the group is looking at making the ride an annual event.