Charity ride for Newtown: ‘I see the spirit of America,’ Lauretti tells motorcyclists

Motorcyclist John Tristane of Shelton was proud his hometown was hosting the beginning of the Green Ribbon Ride to benefit Newtown charities on Sunday.

“This is great,” Tristane said as he prepared for the ride to begin. “It’s nice everyone here can do something for the people in Newtown. I’m glad Shelton played a role in this.”

Up to 3,000 bikers gathered in downtown Shelton on Sunday morning for the start of the ride. Their bikes were lined up in parking lots and roads for the 11 a.m. start, filling up a large section of the central business district.

Lead organizer Fred Garrity Jr. said the turnout was phenomenal. “We’ve got six city blocks filled,” he said as the charity ride was about to begin.

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Passing under a large American flag

The 29.5-mile route started with the motorcyclists going under a large American flag, hanging from a Shelton fire truck ladder, on Howe Avenue. They then turned onto Bridge Street to cross into Derby, heading north on Route 34.

“It’s great that so many people are willing to take time out to help out people,” said Shelton resident Alan Bergers, who was watching the event with his wife Susan.

Riding through seven towns

The riders traveled through Shelton, Derby, Seymour, Oxford, Newtown, Monroe and Trumbull, ending at the Westfield mall , where there was live music, food and vendors.

Many participants wore green in their outfits, including T-shirts and sweatshirts sold at the event. Green ribbons and small American flags decorated some motorcycles.

Joe DeFelice of Stamford said he joined the ride “to honor and remember all the children, families and first responders. It’s a great cause and is bringing people together. Everyone you meet here is like your friend.”

Jeff Bobbins of New Fairfield participated with his daughter Nicole. He had the Green Ribbon Ride emblem put on his windshield. “We want to help out any way we can with such a tragic event,” Bobbins said. “This is a great cause.”

Lauretti welcomes crowd to Shelton

The ride was preceded by a ceremony in the municipal parking lot near the Farmer’s Market Building, where state and local dignitaries spoke.

“Welcome to our city,” Mayor Mark Lauretti told the gathering. “As I look out over this crowd, I see the spirit of America.”

Garrity thanked Shelton for hosting the start of the event. “Take a deep breath,” he said during the ceremony in a parking lot that overlooked the Riverwalk. “Look at the beautiful view.”

Garrity said people were participating for a reason — to help the people of Newtown, including first responders, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December. He called it “a day of dichotomy,” with sadness over the school shooting and enjoyment from a bike ride on a beautiful spring day.

Motorcycle police had come from as far away as Maine and New Jersey on their own time to lead the ride, Garrity told the crowd.

Courage and strength

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said the Sandy Hook families have taught everyone about courage. “I don’t know how you get the strength,” said Wyman, noting a few of the families that lost children at Sandy Hook Elementary were at the event.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal also welcomed the bikers. “You’re here because you care,” Blumenthal said.

State Attorney General George Jepsen said it’s important to remember the efforts made every day by first responders to protect the people around them. “Every day they wake up and they don’t know what will happen,” Jepsen said.

‘Our hearts are healing’

Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, whose district includes Newtown, said the events of Dec. 14 changed everyone’s lives forever. “Our presence here today shows that our hearts are healing...our spirit is not broken,” Esty said.

Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, pointing out his town was proud to host the end of the ride, echoed the comments by Esty. “There’s one work that really defines us — resilience,” Herbst said.

Radio personality Chaz, of the “Chaz & A.J. In the Morning” show on WPLR-FM, said motorcyclists always are willing to get behind a good cause. “Today, we’re all from Newtown,” Chaz said.

Watching the ride

Jerry Taylor of Shelton and his three children — Christopher, Emily and Dylan — were eagerly waiting for the riders to pass by, at Bridge Street and Howe Avenue.

“It’s exciting to see tons of motorcycles,” Taylor said. “There will be lots green and white. And there will probably be some tears because of what this stands for.”

Shelton police and volunteer fire companies, joined by State Police and others, provided coverage for the event. “I’m glad we’re able to do it,” said Shelton Police Chief Joel Hurliman.