LACONIA — Desma Oakes, one of the seven motorcyclists who died in a collision with a truck Friday evening, was a former Gilmanton resident who friends and colleagues remember for her unshakable positive attitude and community involvement.
Oakes, 42, who most recently had been living in Concord, was one of seven bikers — five men and one woman — who died as they were traveling east on Route 2 in Randolph. The men who died were members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club. Oakes was a club supporter, according to Deputy Attorney General Jane E. Young.
Three other bikers were injured in the fiery crash — one seriously.
The driver was charged Monday with seven counts of negligent homicide.
“It’s so tragic,” said Karmen Gifford, president of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. “She was always engaging; always looked at giving to others.”
The two became acquainted when they worked in the human resources field for different area manufacturing businesses. At that time Oakes' last name was Oickle. When Gifford became head of the Chamber 10 years ago, Oickle was a volunteer with the organization, helping to promote the Chamber, especially among new and prospective members.
She was no stranger to tragedy in her own life. Her son, Ryan, died from cancer in 2009 at age 4. Three years later her husband, George Oickle, also died from cancer.
“She really touched my heart,” Debbie Bolduc, a fellow Chamber volunteer, said, recalling her friend's approach to life in the face of adversity.
“She was always cheerful. She was not a woman who wore her sorrow on her sleeve,” Gifford recalled.
At one point Oakes worked at Central New Hampshire Employment Services in Laconia.
Oakes had in the past been a member of the New Covenant Christian Church in Laconia, where her son's funeral was held, according to the Rev. James Morel.
At the time of her death, Oakes was working in the human resource office at PCC Structurals in Tilton.
“Desma was a phenomenal team member who was adored by her peers and colleagues,” the company said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “Our hearts go out to the Oakes family and their friends during this time of devastating loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we send them our deepest condolences, along with the rest of Precision Castparts Corporation.”
The deaths of Oakes and her fellow riders are being deeply felt, even by those who knew them only in passing.
Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, said he had previously met Jarhead Club members Aaron Perry, of Farmington, and Albert Mazza, of Lee, although he did not know either man well.
“It’s a big community, but it’s a small community,” St. Clair said, alluding to the tight-knit camaraderie among motorcyclists.
The leading promoter of Motorcycle Week in Laconia, St. Clair called biker fatalities “the bane of our existence.”
There have been three triple motorcycle fatalities since Motorycycle Week began 25 years ago as an outgrowth of a weekend affair started in the 1920s, St. Clair noted.
“It’s the worst nightmare,” he said of multiple fatals.