Members of Team Blue Line wave the "Thin Blue Line" American flag that supports police officers as they run in the 12th Imperial Valley Law Enforcement Relay Run on Saturday, May 15 outside Imperial. Team Blue Line finished 17th of 20 teams. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
IMPERIAL — More than 200 runners across a record 20 teams made up of police officers, U.S. Border Patrol agents, state correctional officers, California Highway Patrol officers, National Guard members and more ran through the backroads of Imperial and into the countryside in honor of their fallen brethren.
The 12th annual Imperial Valley Law Enforcement Relay Run took off from the El Centro Sector U.S. Border Patrol headquarters on Aten and Cross roads around 6:45 a.m. Saturday, May 15, where 20 10-person teams passed a ceremonial baton between runners during the length of the 24-mile race.
“This was out largest year running. … 18 (teams) was the biggest year before … I think everyone just wanted get out and do something after being locked up so long,” run organizer Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Angie Lencsak said on Sunday morning, May 16.
Held during National Police Week, race day fell on Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the families of some eight fallen officers attended the run.
“What we really do this for is for the families. … What I like to say is, this is not just for officers who have died in the line of duty but people who have dedicated long careers, who have dedicated a lifetime to law enforcement,” Lencsak said.
Of particular note this year was the loss of El Centro Sector Border Patrol Agent Alejandro Flores-Bañuelos, who was killed in the line of duty on March 15, and El Centro Police Officer Efren Coronel, who died from duty-related COVID on June 3, 2020.
Three teams ran in honor of Flores-Bañuelos and two ran for Coronel, Lencsak said.
Flores-Bañuelos, a death that hit home hard for agents in the El Centro Sector, even adorned this year’s race T-shirt, as the now-iconic image of his graduation photo from the sector’s horse academy became the artwork for the relay.
The day he was killed he was returning to Indio after horse training in Imperial Valley, Lencsak said on Sunday morning, adding the photo that was circulated after he died was his recent graduation photo from the horse academy.
For those who might not remember, the 33-year-old Flores-Bañuelos, an Indio resident, was struck and killed in a traffic collision on Highway 86 between the Imperial and Coachella valleys as he stopped and got out his vehicle to render aid to injured parties in a collision that happened right before he arrived.
Flores-Bañuelos was represented by the winning relay team, U.S. Border Patrol’s Special Operations Division and BORSTAR, fourth-place finishers Pitufos, made up of mostly Border Patrol agents and other federal runners, and the nationally based Team Blue Line, whose core members flew in from the East Coast but recruited some local runners, Lencsak said. Blue Line finished 18th of 20 teams.
As is customary at the end of the race to present the fallen family with an engraved baton, Flores-Bañuelos’ family could not attend.
“His wife was pregnant, and they live in Indio,” Lencsak added.
Officer Coronel, whose city also commemorated him during a COVID remembrance and dedication of First Responders Park in El Centro on Saturday morning, was represented by the El Centro Police Department, of course, whose team finished 19th. Eighth-place Cax BP Gotaways from the Calexico station of the Border Patrol also ran for Coronel.
Some members of the eight families in attendance ran alongside their respective teams and carried the baton, which is why there were more than the 200 team runners.
Lencsak’s own team, the seventh-place BP Rosas’ Crew named in honor of fallen Agent Robert Rosas, ran for recently deceased Agent Eric J. Reese of the Calexico station.
Flashing light bars and sirens wailed as law enforcement chase vehicles followed the teams along Aten Road and Old Highway 111, before ending the event back the El Centro Sector headquarters for the presentation of the batons.
According to national statistics, 285 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2020.
The 2021 finishers in the race and who they were running for were: