Bikers gather for emotional ceremony following deadly crash

Motorcyclists participate in a "Blessing of the Bikes" ceremony in Columbia, N.H., Sunday, June 23, 2019. While such ceremonies are periodically held, the Sunday event held special meaning for the motorcycle community. Bikers and veterans are reeling from a crash, in which a pickup truck towing a flatbed trailer collided with a group of 10 motorcycles Friday evening. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

Hundreds of motorcyclists are gathering for a "Blessing of the Bikes" ceremony in northern New Hampshire in the wake of a deadly crash that killed seven people

COLUMBIA, N.H. — A long-planned Blessing of the Bikes ceremony for motorcycle enthusiasts became a grief-filled memorial Sunday as hundreds converged to mourn seven bikers killed in a devastating crash with a pickup truck .

About 400 motorcyclists gathered in Columbia, New Hampshire, for the ceremony — which is periodically held, but had special meaning for the motorcycle community in wake of the accident involving members of the Marine JarHeads, a motorcycle club that includes Marines and their spouses.

"When they fall, we all fall," said Laura Cardinal, Vice President of the Manchester Motorcycle Club, adding that fellow bikers will support the families of those who died. "Those families, they're going to go through a lot now. They have a new world ahead of them."

Authorities on Sunday identified the deceased bikers as Michael Ferazzi, 62, of Contoocook, New Hampshire; Albert Mazza, 49, of Lee, New Hampshire; Desma Oakes, 42, of Concord, New Hampshire; Aaron Perry, 45, of Farmington, New Hampshire; Daniel Pereira, 58, of Riverside, Rhode Island; and Joanne and Edward Corr, both 58, of Lakeville, Massachusetts. All were members or supporters of JarHeads.

A pickup truck towing a flatbed trailer collided with the group of 10 motorcycles around 6:30 p.m. Friday on U.S. 2, a two-lane highway in Randolph, New Hampshire, a tiny North Woods community. The pickup truck caught fire, and witnesses described a "devastating" scene as bystanders tried to help the injured amid shattered motorcycles.

Sunday's Blessing of the Bikes was initially expected to draw closer to 100 or 200 people. The ceremonies, which happen in many locations, are a way to bless riders and their bikes for a safe season. The Rev. Rich Baillargeon presided, blessing the bikes using a branch dipped in holy water as they filed by.

Baillargeon held a moment of silence and prayer for those who died in the crash. At the blessing service and elsewhere, the tragedy left the close-knit motorcycle community in shock, with many remembering their own close calls on the road.

"Seven people. C'mon. It's senseless," said Bill Brown, a 73-year-old Vietnam War veteran and motorcyclist, who visited the accident scene Saturday to put down flags. "Somebody made a mistake, and it turned out to be pretty deadly."

Gary and Sheila Judkins came Sunday from Sumner, Maine in part because of the crash, saying they felt it was a way to feel connected to other riders.

"It's a positive thing for bikers. And if anything, bikers need something positive," Gary Judkins said.

This weekend's long-planned "Blessing of the Bikes" ceremony took place an hour to the north of the accident. Meanwhile, members of the motorcycle community had already begun organizing help for the victims' families, said Cat Wilson, who organizes a motorcycle charity event in Massachusetts and is a friend of some of the crash victims.

Investigators on Saturday identified the pickup driver as Volodoymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, an employee of Westfield Transport, a company in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Zhukovskyy survived the accident, did not need to be hospitalized and has not been charged, authorities have said. A man reached by phone who identified himself as Zhukovskyy's father said his son is cooperating with the investigation and is back in Massachusetts.

Dartanyan Gasanov, the owner of Westfield Transport, told The Boston Globe that he planned to talk to investigators Monday and has been unable to reach Zhukovskyy, who has not been answering phone calls.

The National Transportation Safety Board is among the agencies investigating. Authorities asked for the public's help in the form of videos, photos or other information about the accident or the vehicles involved.

"This is one of the worst tragic incidents that we have investigated here in the state," New Hampshire State Police Col. Chris Wagner said Saturday. "It's going to be a very lengthy investigation."

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu ordered flags to fly at half-staff Monday in honor of the victims

Along with the seven dead, state police said three people were taken to hospitals. Two of them were released Saturday and another was in stable condition.

___

Whittle reported from Portland, Maine. Associated Press writer Michael Casey in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

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