STANFORD — Area emergency responders and motorcycle enthusiasts turned out en masse Saturday afternoon make one little boy's day.
Ezra Lynn, an 8-year-old from Junction City, was first diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary hemosiderosis when he was 18 months old. The lung disease, which is considered fatal, afflicts fewer than one in a million people. Its cause is unknown.
But Ezra was all smiles and jokes Saturday, when more than 100 emergency responders and bikers set aside their afternoon to escort him in a Lincoln Sheriff's Humvee to Pleasant Retreat Shopping Center in Lancaster, where he met Ernie Brown Jr, also known as "Turtleman," the star of Animal Planet's reality television series "Call of the Wildman."
After arriving at the staging area in the old Food Lion parking lot in north Stanford and meeting many law enforcement officers and bikers, Ezra learned he would be riding in the Lincoln Sheriff's new black Humvee.
"Finally, you guys got me hooked up!" he exclaimed, smiling as the crowd laughed with him. "After all these years, you finally hooked me up!"
Ezra's mom, Stacey Lynn, said her son has already visited Disneyland courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but that may not compare for him to meeting Turtleman.
"I think this means more to him than Make-A-Wish," she said. "He really wants to get in the pond and catch a turtle."
Stacey Lynn said as of December 2011, Ezra outlived the usual life expectancy of 3-5 years for children diagnosed with his condition. To see such an outpouring of support from the community was emotionally moving for her.
"I'm about to cry," she said. "The support of the community just takes your mind off the doctor's visits (and everything else)."
Hundreds more turned out at Pleasant Retreat, packing out the parking lot with local residents set on meeting Turtleman. After posing for some wild photos with Brown and friends, Ezra told him he watches his show all the time and wants to someday catch a snapping turtle himself.
"And I'm going to keep it," he said.
The event was initially organized by Lincoln County Deputy Ryan Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick first heard of Ezra's plight talking to a family member who worked in the boy's doctor's office. Learning the boy had taken a bad turn, Kirkpatrick thought he would try to organize something to lift Ezra's spirits.
Knowing Ezra was a big fan of the Turtleman, and knowing Brown from working security detail during Turtleman’s appearance at the Lincoln County Fair, it was not too difficult to arrange a meeting.
He also thought the boy might enjoy a ride in an official police vehicle.
"I was thinking maybe two or three police cars could escort him," Kirkpatrick said. "It just got blown up so big. I don't know how it spread so far and wide. Word of mouth, I guess."
"This is what our job is all about," he said. "There are criminals out there every day, and we try to keep tabs on them, but helping the community, and kids, that's what public service is really all about."
Public agencies that participated in the ride include Lincoln and Garrard counties' sheriffs; Stanford, Lancaster and Lexington police; and Stanford and Lincoln County firefighters.
Everyone who participated in the ride signed the back of a special shirt for Ezra, and Brown and his fellow cast members on "Call of the Wildman" all signed the front after he arrived in Lancaster.
More than 35 motorcycles rode in the escort line, including 12 members and associates of the Junction City-based motorcycle club Defining Forces.
Club president Rob Wilson, a Stanford police officer, said he thinks bikers and children often share attitudes and a spirit about life, which predisposes bikers to show support for children.
"I think bikers are kids at heart," he said. "You throw kids in the mix and bikers come out of the woodwork."