‘Just me and God’: JCC pastor to ride motorcycle across U.S. to honor fallen officers

12-day trip will recognize of fallen James City County, New Orleans police officers

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Pastor Randy Garner poses for a photo with his motorcycle in Virignia Beach. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Randy Garner)
Pastor Randy Garner poses for a photo with his motorcycle in Virignia Beach. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Randy Garner)

JAMES CITY — For 12 days and 6,000 miles, Pastor Randy Garner will ride alone — just him, his Harley-Davidson and God.

His destination: California.

On Sunday, Garner, a pastor at Christ Community Church in Toano, will embark on a 12-day motorcycle trip across the United States in memory of two police officers killed in the line of duty.

“[This ride] is a bucket list item,” said Garner. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do — a cross-country ride. But a few months ago, I decided I’d make the journey for a purpose.”

One of the officers, Sgt. Earl Marlin “Buddy” Heisler, was shot while on duty in James City County in 1978. The second officer, Thomas Michael Phillips, was hit and killed by a car in August 1987 while pulling over a drunk driver in New Orleans.

Phillips’ sister, Janet Cook, 61, attends Garner’s church.

Garner is riding alone, although he is raising funds for Law Enforcement United — a nonprofit that raises money for Concerns of Police Survivors Kids Camp, Officer Down Memorial Page and Spirit of Blue — as part of the ride.

Garner’s fundraising goal is $5,000, and he has already raised more than $3,000, he said. There is no deadline for meeting the goal, but every penny he raises will go directly to Law Enforcement United. Christ Community Church is “generously” assisting him with gas and travel expenses, he said.

Officers Thomas Phillips left) and Earl Heisler were both killed in the link of duty in Lousiana and James City County, respectively. On Sunday, Pastor Randy Garner will ride across the country on a motorcycle in honor of the two men. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Randy Garner and Officer Down Memorial Page)
Officers Thomas Phillips left) and Earl Heisler were killed in the link of duty in Louisiana and James City County, respectively. On Sunday, Pastor Randy Garner will ride across the country on a motorcycle in honor of the two men. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Randy Garner and Officer Down Memorial Page)

Garner’s motorcycle ride starts just eight days after the annual Police Unity Tour bicycle ride arrived in Washington in memory of fallen officers across the country.

Cook, an operations coordinator at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center, said she is honored and excited about the pastor’s road trip — and hopes the funds he raises continue to help increase awareness of the “many good cops out there.”

Cook’s brother was killed during a traffic stop in New Orleans. Phillips had pulled over a visibly drunk driver on a highway when he was hit by another vehicle. His body flew into another lane of traffic, where he was hit again by a taxi cab, Cook said.

Phillips died four hours later at a hospital.

Heisler was shot and killed while checking on a suspicious vehicle with three people inside behind the Ramada Inn West on Route 60 in James City County. As he searched the vehicle for marijuana, one of the car’s occupants grabbed Heisler’s gun and shot him in the face.

In preparation for the 6,000-mile journey, Cook has given Garner plenty of advice so he can make it safely to California and back home.

“I’ve given him all the rules on what to do,” Cook said. “I told him to be careful out there.”

Garner will take Interstate 40 most of the way to California, and I-70 most of the way back, he said. He is not sure where in California he will end his trip, but said it will likely be either San Diego or San Francisco.

“I’ll stop at police stations and share [the officers’] stories,” Garner said.

“My motorcycle’s name is Visitation. Pastors are always out on visitations. So, for the next few days, I’ll be out on Visitation. It’s just going to be me and God.”


Fearing can be reached at sarah.f@localvoicemedia.com.

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