Fallen Officer

Bikers from around Walker County, many of them TDCJ correctional officers, ride from Huntsville to the Ellis Unit Thursday to honor Barbara Shumate, a TDCJ officer who was killed last June in a car accident. The ride was part of the annual “We Remember Memorial Trek Across Texas” sponsored by the Peace Officer Memorial Foundation.

Early Thursday morning nearly 100 motorcycle riders, many of them wearing the uniform of a Texas correctional officer, gathered at the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville.

From there they rode just over 10 miles to the TDCJ Ellis Unit, where they passed through a lane lined with TDCJ Cadets, each of them carrying a full-size United States or Texas flag.

The ride complete, the riders gathered with dozens of other TDCJ officers and visiting guests for a ceremony honoring the late Sgt. Barbara Shumate.

Shumate, who served with TDCJ for 10 years before a car accident claimed her life in June 2008, was a training sergeant at the Ellis Unit’s Minnie R. Houston Training Academy.

The ride preceding the ceremony was organized and sponsored by the Peace Officer Memorial Foundation, as one leg of their annual “We Remember Memorial Trek across Texas.”

The trek began in Amarillo on April 27 and will conclude in Austin on May 4. At each destination during the week the six participating riders, police officers from San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Odessa, will honor a fallen officer who died during the year 2008. Their stops include Houston, Dallas and Trinity, where they will honor Trinity County Sheriff Brent Lee, who died in a patrol car crash while pursuing a suspect in November.

Steven Bazany, a bike patrol officer with the San Antonio Police Department, has been organizing the ride since 1993.

“Sadly enough, I lost friends,” Bazany said of the ride’s origins. “I wanted a special way of making a small contribution to honor my friends who had died.”

For the first 14 years, the ride was simply a trek from San Antonio to Austin, but last year, it went statewide. In 2009 the riders will honor 22 officers from police departments, correctional institutions and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

For Bazany, the ride is about more than honoring the memory of deceased officers. It’s also about celebrating what those officers do every day.

“Each time we go to a different city, one thing that we want people to understand is that police work is not just the guy who writes the ticket or the guy standing outside the cell,” Bazany said. “Our job is to stand between and correct bad behavior so that everyone is safe and happy.”

To honor Shumate, the riders presented a special flag made specifically for this year’s trek. It lists the name, date of death, and department of all 22 officers honored. In memory of Shumate, the flag was ceremoniously raised on the training academy’s flagpole, then slowly lowered to the tune of “Taps,” on dual trumpets. The ceremony will be repeated at every stop along the trek.

Following the presentation by the riders, Shumate’s co-workers paid tribute to her years of service and mentoring of fellow officers.

“She was one of the best people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing,” said Sgt. Eric Poppit, who Shumate mentored. “Barbara was the type of person that would give the shirt off her back to anybody. I used to joke with her about how small she was, but she had one of the biggest hearts of anybody. I’m not sorry if it sounds like I’m trying to make her a saint. I loved Barbara, and I always will.”

The ceremony concluded with the unveiling of a plaque featuring a picture of Shumate. It will hang in the training academy permanently, a lasting remembrance of her service.