Motorcycle ride fundraiser aids veteran’s family

Posted Aug. 16, 2010, at 9:42 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:29 a.m.

More than $1,500 was raised, and 114 motorcycles and other participants rode, in a fundraiser honoring the late U.S. Marine Corps Lt. James “Bing” Popkowski that ran through most of northern Penobscot County on Saturday, organizers said Monday.

“It went perfect. We could not ask for a better day. Everything was awesome right from the start,” said Rick Cyr Jr. of Medway, one of the co-organizers of the Donald V. Henry American Legion Post 80 of Millinocket Riders “Ride For Bing” cruise.

“We expected a good turnout but didn’t expect 114,” Cyr added. “It blew our minds, basically, the support people gave us for a good cause.”

The $1,500 came only from the ride’s preregistration donations, co-organizer Jessica Pelkey said. Possibly another $500 will come from the raffles and other fundraisers held within the event.

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.

A Marine forced by a rare form of cancer to accept a disability retirement, Popkowski had been a patient at the center and had been critical of the care he received.

Preliminary evidence shows the officers fired in self-defense, officials have said. Popkowski was carrying a gun, which 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.

On Saturday, the riders started at Post 80, traveled Route 11 to Milo, then rode through Levant and Old Town before riding along U.S. Route 2 to Route 11 again. They visited the town veterans memorial for a moment of silence and a brief memorial ceremony where Jerrica Potvin sang “God Bless America” and her sister Jamie Potvin played taps on trumpet.

The $1,500 was given to Popkowski’s brother and surviving family, likely for donation to the National Institutes of Health, the lieutenant’s charity, said Cyr.

“They were really, really appreciative. They just couldn’t believe the turnout,” he said of the family.

Cyr thanked Post 80, the Old Town American Legion unit that served the riders lunch, the volunteers who handled the barbecue afterward and the police who helped control traffic through the course of the ride.

Besides the donations, Pelkey said, the ride’s great achievement was that it drew attention to the large amount of community support for Popkowski and his family, and how well-regarded within the community Popkowski was before the Togus incident, and continues to be.

“It was great to see people who didn’t even know him come to support him,” she said.

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