“I have never met the man and I can’t wait to hug him.”
That’s what Natasha Pineo said when asked about Const. Jeff Bartsch, who surprised her with something special this past week.
Pineo lost her husband Derek while he was on duty with the RCMP back in July of 2012. The Mountie was driving near Wilkie, Sask. when his police cruiser collided with a moose that killed him instantly, leaving behind his wife, daughters Novalea and Ocean, and his son Kayleb.
More than four years have gone by and the family has since moved back to Nova Scotia where they were originally from.
Pineo said that some people think that life just keeps going on but, for her family, it’s a daily struggle.
“Each of us have had our different struggles and are going through the grief process at different times and they’re (her kids) all different ages, so it’s affecting each of them differently and we’re still struggling today.”
She said her son Kayleb has taken up volunteering, raising money for mental health and cycling as part of the grieving process.
“With him being able to do his cycling, not only for awareness for mental health, he’s also been able to do it for his father as well and to honour him.”
OLD FRIEND REACHES OUT
That’s when Const. Jeff Bartsch comes into the story.
He met Derek in RCMP Depot training back in 2007. They instantly became friends but were posted in different places.
Bartsch has since transferred from the RCMP to being a member of the Weyburn police and was saddened to hear about the news of Derek’s passing.
“It’s always a sad day when you lose colleagues in the line of duty or really any friend for that matter,” he said. “When you get to know people on a personal level like I got to know Derek in training, it really does hit home.”
Bartsch is an avid marathon runner and cyclist and was asked to take part in the first Saskatchewan Ride to Remember from the Saskatoon police station to Regina’s police station last year. The ride is to honour officers who lost their lives in the line of duty.
“I chose to ride for Derek,” he said.
At the end of the approximate 320-kilometre journey, officers take part in the Saskatchewan Police and Peace Officers Memorial at the legislature.
IDEA COMES INTO FRUITION
With the ride becoming an annual event, Bartsch thought of a way he could go the extra mile.
“I had an idea that I wanted to bring the family out this year as I know Derek’s son is a cyclist himself, so I thought it would be a good idea for him if he wanted to participate with other police officers in his dad’s memory.”
The constable, who has never met Natasha or her children, has started a GoFundMe page to raise money to bring the family over from out east for the ride and remembrance ceremony.
The Pineo’s have only been back to the province once since the funeral and Natasha said that she was overjoyed when Jeff pitched the idea.
“It was pretty surreal to hear him wanting to do this for us when he’s never even met us, but it shows a lot about his character … I had butterflies in my stomach, to be honest, and I cried because it brought back a flood of memories obviously of Derek.”
Pineo said that by what Jeff is doing for her family, he’s also becoming a positive role model in her kid’s lives, by giving back and making awareness of mental health issues.
As of March 27, the GoFundMe page was more than halfway to the $4,000 goal. Bartsch added that the money raised will cover flights, accommodation and a bike rental for Kayleb.
“Any way I can help out with family and friends that are struggling a little bit is what I’m here for.”