Vail Valley first responders honored in annual Ride in Remembrance
Family of fallen CDOT worker and fireman Eric Hill, of Gypsum, participates in Friday's ride
- Oscar William Meyer, Eagle County Sheriff’s Deputy. End of watch: Nov. 2, 1936.
- John Fletcher Clark, Eagle County Sheriff’s Deputy. End of watch: July 12, 1961.
- Cruz Carbajal, Gypsum firefighter. End of watch: Jan. 4, 1993.
- Ryan Cunningham, Vail police officer. End of watch: May 6, 2001.
- Tim Benway, air ambulance pilot. End of watch: Jan. 11, 2005.
- Jaimie Jursevics, Colorado State Patrol officer. End of watch: Nov. 15, 2015.
- Eric Hill, Colorado Department of Transportation. End of watch: March 16, 2019.
VAIL — Cissy Hill and her family participated for the first time in Friday’s annual Ride in Remembrance to honor fallen first responders. The family would rather have been anywhere else.
Hill’s husband, Eric, died March 16 in an accident while working a roadside maintenance scene. Hill, a lifelong Gypsum resident, was also a longtime local firefighter and a military veteran.
That lifetime of service includes Hill on the roster of those honored by the annual ride.
When the weather is good, the ride often draws a number of local motorcycle riders and classic car owners. For this year’s ride, on a cool, occasionally damp morning, only Vail resident Chris Offutt brought a motorcycle. Only Tom Kleinhardt of Eagle-Vail brought a classic car — a rare 1974 DeTomaso Pantera GTS.
Given the iffy weather on Friday, even event organizer Jennifer Kirkland left her classic Corvette in the garage and brought her daily driver.
“I don’t want to drive that in the snow,” she said.
Offutt is a frequent participant in the ride. He’s a former police officer, firefighter and Vail Mountain Rescue volunteer.
Appreciation and honor
The ride, Offutt said, is a chance to appreciate the work first responders do, and honor those who have died in the line of duty.
Kleinhardt is a military veteran, and said he feels a kinship with people in the emergency services.
Those who die in the line of duty deserve to be honored the same way the nation’s military personnel are, he said. People in the military and emergency services share a dedication to service, something that’s often called a “calling.”
There was a ceremony following the procession from Freedom Park in Edwards to Donovan Pavilion in Vail — a parade of emergency and private vehicles.
At the ceremony, Amber Droegemeier, a supervisor at the Vail Public Safety Communications Center, talked about the calling felt by those in emergency services.
Droegemeier, who has long family and professional ties to emergency services, noted that it’s a dispatcher’s role to stay deadpan during a call. But, she said, there’s a shared loss felt by everyone in those services when someone doesn’t come home after a shift.
“We remember the people (who gave up so much) so they could be of service,” Droegemeier said. “We honor them today.”
Sacrifice can be mundane
Service isn’t always dramatic, Droegemeier said. There’s a lot of menial work involved in emergency services. Still, that work takes time away from family and friends.
“I’ve had more than one dinner by myself” due to that work, Droegemeier said, adding that she’s also left people to dine alone.
“There’s so much more sacrifice than meets the eye,” she added, noting that those in the emergency services “are lending themselves to causes or a person who needs them more than we do.”
And there’s always a chance that the next call might be the last for a first responder, Droegemeier said. Every call requires a first responder to “go against their own personal fear.”
But, she said, when someone knows they have what it takes to make a difference in a community, they often answer that call.
“It’s who they are,” she said. “I’m just so grateful that every day I’m surrounded by the good guys.”
After the ceremony, the Hill family lingered a bit, with Cissy Hill talking with Pastor Scott Beebe, the Vail Police Department’s chaplain.
While Hill said the family “used to be” part of the broader family of first responders, she was assured those ties remain strong.
The family of air ambulance Pilot Tim Benway, who died on duty in 2005, continues to attend the rides, and the family of Vail Police officer Ryan Cunningham attended the events for a number of years after his death in 2001.
Hill said her family is likely to attend the next Ride in Remembrance.
“Hopefully there won’t be another name,” she said.
Paul Cuthbertson set out by himself around 3 p.m. Friday from the trailhead that leads up to the Polar Star Inn, according to his father, Mike, but never made it to the popular backcountry hut as a late-spring snowstorm moved in.