MEDWAY, Maine — At least 50 motorcyclists will briefly become their own parade when they honor the late U.S. Marine Corps Lt. James “Bing” Popkowski with a benefit ride next month, ride organizers said Monday.
Donald V. Henry American Legion Post 80 of Millinocket Riders and their guests will parade through town as part of Medway’s Centennial celebrations on Saturday, Aug. 14, as they journey through much of northern Penobscot County as part of their fundraiser, organizer Jessica Pelkey said.
“It will be awesome. I am hoping we will have a lot of supporters there,” Pelkey said Monday. “Our plan is to stop at the veterans memorial in Medway for a moment of silence for Bing and then we will head on up to Millinocket for a barbecue at the American Legion post.”
Department of Veterans Affairs police Officer Thomas Park and Maine Warden Service Sgt. Ron Dunham reportedly shot Popkowski, 37, of Grindstone in woods off Route 17 near the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta on July 8. Popkowski had been a patient at the center.
Preliminary evidence shows the officers fired in self-defense, officials have said. Popkowski was carrying a gun that witnesses tentatively identified as a rifle “in a threatening manner,” investigators said.
Investigators with the Maine Attorney General’s Office will determine whether in the moment of firing the officers reasonably believed that lives — their own or others’ — were endangered and that the deadly force used to subdue Popkowski provided the only means to end the danger, officials have said.
The officers and Game Warden Joey Lefebvre, who did not use deadly force, are on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The Attorney General’s Office handles incidents involving Maine law enforcement officers’ use of deadly force.
“Our goal is to show how much support Bing had in the community in showing that there was an injustice in this,” said Pelkey, 25, of Medway in reference to Popkowski’s death.
Pelkey admitted she had no proof that the officers who shot Popkowski handled the situation incorrectly.
“Knowing Bing as I did, I believe it was unjustified,” she said. “I just can’t believe that he would have done anything to hurt anyone or to be shot.”
Like Pelkey, fellow ride organizer Audra Jacobs, 41, of East Millinocket said she believes Popkowski was right when he protested many months before his death that he should have received more and better care from the VA center.
“We need to keep his name alive, and we need to have people understand that he could have gotten help from the VA that he was entitled to. I just wish we had known about it before all this happened so we could have helped raise awareness of this,” Jacobs said.
Anyone with a street-certified motorized vehicle is welcome to join the ride, not just motorcyclists, said Francis Pelkey, 58, of Millinocket, Jessica’s father.
“I hope everybody who wants to do something for Bing comes out and supports it. There are a lot of people in the area that really liked him,” Francis Pelkey said.
The ride will raise money to pay for a memorial bench at the town’s veterans memorial off Route 11. Leftover funds will be donated to the National Institutes of Health, which was Popkowski’s charity, Jessica Pelkey said. Fund donations will be collected at the post before the ride begins.
The riders’ exact route hasn’t been determined, but it will start at 11 a.m. and end at the American Legion post in Millinocket off Route 11. Pre-ride registration will occur at the post from 8 to 10:45 a.m., Jessica Pelkey said.
Then it might go to Milo, through Levant, then to U.S. Route 2 to Route 157 and through Medway, where Popkowski was born and raised, she said. A moment of silence at the town’s veterans memorial will be observed before riders head to the post for a barbecue.
Anyone interested in participating in the ride who seeks more details, who wants to contribute food or other items to the barbecue or otherwise help may contact Jessica Pelkey at 447-0551 or Jacobs at 723-1099.
Riders also are selling “In Memory Of” window stickers honoring Popkowski at Lennie’s Superette in Medway for $3 and will be selling American Legion Riders Memorial Run patches. The patch price is undetermined.
Contributions also may come through bottle returns left at Lennie’s, Jacobs said.
“It’s hard to say how many people will be coming. Everybody that I have spoken to is attending,” Jessica Pelkey said. “They say, ‘I wouldn’t miss Bing’s ride for the world.’”
“We are looking for anywhere from 50 to 150 bikes,” said Rick Cyr Sr., director of the riders club.