Officer, agent ‘saddle up’ to raise funds and awareness

  • Facebook photo FBI Special Agent Ed Ignacio, left, and Hawaii Police Department Officer Justin Gaspar smile Sunday, 12 miles into their 78-mile "Saddle Rattle" fundraising run-walk from Kona to Hilo.
  • Hawaii Police Department photo Candles and photographs commemorate the sacrifice of four Hawaii Police Department officers and a National Park Service ranger killed in the line of duty fronting the Hilo police station's Police Memorial on Monday.

HILO ­ ­— A Hawaii Police Department officer and an FBI special agent achieved their goal, and then some, when they trekked on foot from the Kona police station to the Hilo police station over the Saddle Road to attend a Monday ceremony to celebrate the start of Police Week.

Officer Justin Gaspar and Special Agent Ed Ignacio arrived at about 7 a.m. Monday, some 27 hours after they started a fundraising run/walk dubbed the “Saddle Rattle.” Along the way, they exceeded their stated goal of $5,000 for the Hawaii Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation, totaling $5,151 in donations on crowdrise.com by late Monday afternoon.

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Gaspar approached Ignacio, who has raised funds for the foundation by participating in marathons and triathlons for several years, with his Saddle Rattle idea, a 78-mile trek from sea level to about 7,400 feet in elevation, and back down again.

“I knew what he did, so I reached out to him to ask him if he could give me a hand with this, just because I felt there was a need for it. I felt it was right,” Ignacio said Monday after the ceremony. “And when he asked what was driving me, I told him I wanted to give something back to the kids of the fallen officers.”

Gaspar said he’d like to see money go to help pay for college for the children of fallen officers in the future, or even to help put future fallen officers’ names on the wall at the Hilo Police Memorial, noting the engraved name plaques are expensive.

Ignacio and Gaspar suited up for their epic trek, but not in the sense one would expect for long-distance runners.

“He wore a 35-pound plate carrier, which is like a SWAT vest, and I wore my issued police uniform,” Ignacio said. “The only thing I changed was my footwear. But I wore my gun belt, my belt, my vest — everything issued was what I wore. And my reason for that was, 99 percent of the time when an officer dies in the line of duty, they’re wearing their uniform. … If they can suffer through their deepest, darkest hours, why can’t I?”

Gaspar and Ignacio had a support team along the way, made up of fellow officers, friends and family.

“There were two highlights of the day, for me,” Gaspar said. “One was having my 12-year-old son walk about six or seven miles with us. And about 10 o’clock (Sunday) night, a car stopped on the side of the road to donate money, and it kind of put everything in perspective, because his uncle was one of the fallen officers.”

Police Week, which started Sunday, is about honoring fallen officers. The man who provided the roadside donation was a nephew of Officer Ronald “Shige” Jitchaku, who was killed in the line of duty in 1990 while trying to break up a large fight on Banyan Drive after a UB40 concert.

The other three officers who gave their lives while on duty were Manuel Cadinha in 1918, William “Red” Oili in 1936 and Kenneth Keliipio in 1997. Tribute was also paid Monday to National Park Ranger Steve Makuakane-Jarrell, who was killed in the line of duty in 1999.

“I do truly believe that heroes never die,” Gaspar, a 33-year-old Kona native and eight-year police veteran, told those assembled at the Hilo police station.

County Managing Director Wil Okabe marveled at how Gaspar and Ignacio ended their weekend.

“I’ve done a marathon, that’s 26.3 miles. But this is 78 miles over a mountain and everything. That’s amazing,” Okabe said.

Gaspar, who sported a slight limp, said at one point he hit what long-distance runners refer to as “the wall.”

“We were about 55 miles into it … and things got hard physically for me at that point,” he said. “That’s when my brother and sister officers who were there with me stepped up to the plate and helped kind of carried the torch while I rested a little while. And we all completed it together.”

Gaspar said he’d like the Saddle Rattle to morph into a relay-type race, with runners forming teams to raise funds for the cause.

“We can bring in more people and spread more awareness,” he said.

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To donate, go to https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/saddle-rattle-2018.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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