A steady roar coursed through a West Street parking lot in Keene Saturday morning. Though storms were forecast, the thunderous din was no atmospheric phenomenon; rather, it was the sound of roughly 75 motorcycles starting their engines.
Area motorcyclists, along with riders from across New England and reportedly the country, gathered Saturday for a memorial ride in honor of seven bikers killed in a crash in Randolph, N.H., two weeks ago.
On the evening of June 21, a group of motorcyclists was traveling east on Route 2 in Randolph when a 2016 Dodge pickup pulling a large trailer crossed the center line and collided with several motorcycles, according to N.H. State Police. Seven of the riders died and another three were injured.
The N.H. Attorney General’s Office identified the dead as Michael Ferazzi, 62, of Contoocook; Albert Mazza, 59, of Lee; Daniel Pereira, 58, of Riverside, R.I.; Jo-Ann and Edward Corr, both 58, of Lakeville, Mass.; Desma Oakes, 42, of Concord; and Aaron Perry, 45, of Farmington.
The driver of the pickup, Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, of West Springfield, Mass., has been charged with seven counts of negligent homicide.
After meeting in Keene Saturday in the parking lot in front of Mascoma Bank and Elm City Bagels & Deli, riders traveled to Laconia to join thousands of others for the official memorial ride called “Ride for The Fallen 7.” The original — and now fateful ride — began at the Broken Spoke Saloon and continued to Randolph, where the crash occurred. Motorcyclists also left from a second Monadnock Region meeting point Saturday, on Elm Street in Peterborough.
For John and Diana Armstrong of Swanzey, the crash was “devastating” — not just for them, but for the entire riding community, they said. It’s also been painful for the military community, as five of the seven victims were members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, a U.S. Marine Corps veterans group.
“I’m also the daughter of a Marine and I was a Marine wife for 20 years, so it sort of hit home in that sense as well,” Diana Armstrong said. “I just felt my duty that we needed to be there to pay our respects to the fallen and to their families to show that we’re there and we support them.”
Paula Crouse of Fitzwilliam, who said she also comes from a military family, said the tragedy touched people in all corners of the country, noting that similar memorial rides were planned as far away as Florida and California. Crouse’s nephews, who are serving in the military, are participating in events in those states, she said.
“It’s showing the heart; we ride one heart,” Crouse said. “There’s a love of the breeze, there’s a love of the freedom that you have, and a quieting of the mind in being able to honor them by putting ourselves on their line and going to where they fell.”
And while many riders in Keene Saturday didn’t personally know those who died, it didn’t matter, they said, because the community is like family.
“That could have been any of us out there,” John Armstrong said. “That could have been anyone here.”
Saturday’s riders leaving from Keene were not exclusively local.
Louis Masella said he and other members of the Raging Knights Firefighters Motorcycle Club traveled from Connecticut and New York. Masella, who came from West Haven, Conn., said news of the crash hit the motorcycle club’s members hard.
“It really doesn’t matter who you are, what you ride, where you live, it just comes home,” Masella said. “You don’t wake up in the morning thinking you’re going to take your last ride that day.”
Seeing photos of the crash scene and the aftermath in the weeks since has been painful, attendees said.
“As a rider, you see that accident scene, you feel it,” Russ Fiorey of Surry said.
As the group prepared to depart Saturday, with police directing traffic, Matthew Cram, who helped organize the Keene staging location for the ride, emphasized the importance of safety along the route.
“We want to make sure that we all get there safely to be able to pay our respects,” Cram said. “I just want to thank every one of you for coming and being a part of this.”
More than 3,000 bikers, according to Associated Press, participated in the tribute ride. Some came from as far away as California and Florida, the news service reported.
At the crash site in Randolph a memorial of flags and color guard marked the moment.