SCHOOLCRAFT, Mich. (May 24, 2014) – Organizers say about 600 bikers came out to ride in honor of fallen Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Eric Zapata, making Saturday’s fourth annual EZ Memorial Ride one of the largest yet.
Sons of Malta partnered with DC Strong, a cancer charity for children, to put on the memorial, all while raising money for children battling cancer, the Lightning Kicks Troubled Youth Program, and the EZ Memorial Foundation. Organizers said they expect to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the three charities.
“I know we’d all rather have Eric Zapata here right now, but man he is looking down on us right now, and he is so happy with what we’re doing. This is amazing. This is going to be such a great day,” said Dustin Colyer, co-founder of DC Strong and honorary Sons of Malta member.
The majority of Sons of Malta members are first responders and U.S. Veterans, many having served with Zapata on the Kalamazoo Public Safety force. They say Zapata was a community asset, their comic relief, and their partner.
“He was just a great cop, unbelievable working the street. Not only did the criminals fear him, but those that were not loved him,” said Jason Coyler, vice president of Sons of Malta Motorcycle Club.
A couple thousand attended the all-day event, including Zapata’s family—his mother, sister, daughter with his nine-month-old grandson—who thank the community from the bottom of their hearts.
“Each event brings something different, it gets easier. Every time you come, people are opening up more, and coming and telling me stories. It gets easier because they’re remembering the good things in him,” said Connie Zapata Bernal, Eric Zapata’s mother.
Skydivers landed onto the Olde Mill Golf Course to open the ceremony, and a bike specially made by the Sons of Malta made a grand entrance. The club raised money to build the bike for Dustin Coyler, a 19-year-old honorary member, who beat cancer five times. About a year-and-a-half ago, Dustin and his friend, Nathan Smith, founded the charity DC Strong, to bring mentors and care packages into children’s hospitals.
“I’m blown away. I’ve gone through cancer five times in my life, and I never thought that I would be able to stand up here and be able to talk to all these people, make these awesome friends and be able to help kids with cancer: this is my dream, this is why I’m alive, this is my purpose, this is my goal,” said Dustin Coyler.
It’s been more than four years since Zapata was killed in the line of duty; and now more than ever, the community honors his name.
“It’s an honor after four years that people are still coming out, and it’s growing, and people haven’t forgotten about him,” said Irene Ferguson, Eric Zapata’s sister.
For more details on the 2014 EZ Memorial Ride, see the event’s website.