Policeman’s son honors fallen father

Tony Bernal’s father was a member of the Fairfax County Police Department who died on the road during a training accident in 2001.

Now Bernal, of Stephens City, is raising money to honor the memory of his father and all law enforcement officers who have died while on duty.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., will be the recipient of Bernal’s fund-raising efforts. His latest event is a pancake breakfast scheduled from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Sunday at the Front Royal Applebee’s at 45 River Commons Plaza.

The money raised from the breakfast and other activities will be delivered in May at the end of the Police Unity Tour, a 230-mile bicycle route beginning in Richmond and ending in Washington, D.C.

Riders must be active or retired law enforcement officers or immediate family members of a law enforcement officer killed while on duty. Riders must also be at least 18 years old.

“I’m a survivor, so I get to ride,” Bernal said.

Bernal is a member of a group of Police Unity Riders based in Virginia, one of nine such chapters representing parts of the country from as far away as Florida and California.

Bernal cited Sgt. Dennis Smedley of Front Royal and Lt. William Farrell, also of Front Royal, and other law enforcement officers from the Northern Shenandoah Valley as examples of some of those being honored on the unity tour.

Smedley was shot and killed on Sept. 20, 1983, as he was leaving his home. Several men were charged and tried in his death, but none were convicted, and the case remains open.

Farrell died on July 24, 1991, from hepatitis B, which he contracted in 1977 from a suspect who scratched and bit Farrell during an arrest.

Bernal said his father Capt. Tommy Bernal died at age 51 while on a motorcycle training ride south of Front Royal.

While passing through a curve, another trainee lost control of his motorcycle before an oncoming sport utility vehicle. The SUV managed to avoid the first motorcycle but hit Capt. Bernal’s head on.

“Basically, he died on impact,” Bernal said of his father.

Bernal, 28, said last year’s ride raised $1.91 million for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. The money is important, but so is the sight of all those bicyclists providing the public with a dramatic reminder of those who lost their lives, 116 of them in 2014.

Last year’s ride was a memorable experience for Bernal, one that inspired him to make the grueling ride again through steep hills along the route from Richmond to Charlottesville, Warrenton and Washington.

“It was amazing to see the support from law enforcement officers and everybody we saw on the route,” Bernal said, adding that his father’s death was never far from his mind.

“It was a little emotional, even though it was 13 years later,” Bernal said. “You never forget it. It’s just a little bit easier to deal with.”

Tickets for the pancake breakfast are $10 each for adults and $6 for children 12 years old and under. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door. Pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs and a choice of beverage are included.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com