LACONIA — The line of motorcycles that departed the Broken Spoke Saloon in Laconia at noon Saturday was made up of 3,000 bikes and 4,500 riders, all with one mission – to remember the seven motorcyclists who were killed in a collision in Randolph on June 21.
The Broken Spoke can fit about 2,000 motorcycles on its property, which is why it was chosen as the main staging area for Saturday's Memorial Ride for the Fallen 7. The bar, located on the corner of Route 3 and Watson Road, was chosen because of its parking capacity. There are several nearby properties available for overflow.
In the end, the lots were all filled, and hundreds more motorcycles were parked along Watson Road – an overwhelming turnout for a ride that was just an idea between friends less than two weeks ago.
The motorcyclists came from all over the Northeast – and a few from beyond – to pay tribute to, and support the families of: Michael Ferazzi, 62, of Contocook; Desma Oakes, 42, of Concord; Aaron Perry, 45, of Farmington; Daniel Pereira, 58, of Riverside, Rhode Island, and; Jo-Ann and Edward Corr, both 58, of Lakeville, Massachusetts.
All of the victims, as well as two others who were injured, were riding as part of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, comprising current and retired members of the Marine Corps.
There were many veterans who turned out for the ride, which left the Broken Spoke and thundered some 80 miles to the north for a ceremony near the site of the crash. But many non-veterans came, too, as a way to show their gratitude for those who volunteered for the country’s armed forces.
“They were Marines, we care for our veterans,” said Matt DeBenedetto, who rode with his wife, Sue, from North Conway.
Kyle Ellis, of Nashua, said he came to pay his respects. “Respecting the military, respecting fellow riders, we all ride because we love it. Something like this happens, it hurts the motorcycle community as a whole.”
The turnout on Saturday showed just how large that community is, Ellis said. “We want people to know we’re here, how big we can get all together. It shows that we’re speaking our voice. We want to be heard. We’re people, too.”
“It was not just a motorcycle accident, it was Marines, veterans,” said Al Goss, of Merrimack, Massachusetts. The incident was especially tragic, he said, because the driver, who had previously been charged with driving under the influence, was only able to continue his commercial driving career due to bureaucratic failure by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If the rules had been followed, the driver’s license would have been suspended or revoked.
“The person that created this shouldn’t have been behind the wheel,” Goss said. In the days since the deadly collision, a probe found that there were more than 800 people in Massachusetts who should have had their licenses revoked. “It took something like this to do that, that’s a crying shame,” Goss said.
Bobbi Davis, a Freemont resident who served eight years in the Navy, said while members of any one particular branch of the military will “poke fun” at veterans of the other branches, “but when something like this happens, you all come together.”
“All the bikes you see here today is a testament to that bond. Active duty, retired, and the ones that passed on,” Davis said.
Looking at the assembled crowd, Bob Brophy of Webster said the public’s attitude toward veterans had reversed since he arrived in Los Angeles after completing a tour of duty during the Vietnam War. He and four other returning servicemen were hit with bricks, even a urine-filled balloon, before police could separate them from the protesters.
“To have the public out helping us, that says thank-you. It says more than anything else could,” Brophy said. “They’re here to support us in our time of grief.”
Of all the people interviewed by the Daily Sun, not one said they attended the day’s ride due to a personal connection with any of the victims. Stephen Percy, of Agawam, Massachusetts, said he knew them without ever meeting them.
“I know every one, but I didn’t know them. You’re a Marine, you know everyone regardless of age, sex, gender.” Percy said the bond felt between military veterans is hard for people outside of the tradition to understand. “You may not know the person walking next to you, but you know them,” he said.
That was the bond that provoked Joe Ferenc to ride up from Willington, Connecticut. He brought with him an envelope with $1,000, which included contributions from himself, his local police department, and a local social club. The money was added to a donation box for the families of the victims.
Ferenc said the response to the tragedy has been heartening.
“It shows how people come together, this country needs that right now,” he said. He added that the victims “will be missed,” even though he never met any of them. “Don’t need to. They were Marines. They were military. They were bikers. That’s enough.”
Steven Batting of Livingston, Texas said he flew to Portland, Maine and borrowed a motorcycle to take part in the ride. A retired Marine, Batting said he came to pay tribute for himself and American Legion Post 402 in Livingston.
The turnout wasn't lost on the motorcyclists who rode past lines of roadside supporters, many waving flags.
Mike Evans of Whitman, Mass., said the ride was “awesome. There were firetrucks and people on the sidewalks of Laconia saluting. And there were firetrucks and people greeting us in some of the little towns along the way.”
Steve Allison, one of the organizers of the ride, said he was humbled by the turnout and support shown for the ride.
“I was crying all the way here. Everyone was showing support for the seven wonderful people who lost their lives here. We’re a family. I’m humbled; there are people from all over the country who came.”
Barbara Tetreault and Edith Tucker contributed to this story.