WHITMAN — Hotrods and motorcycles filled the parking lot of the VFW Post 697 during a fundraiser and vigil Wednesday evening for seven motorcyclists who died in a horrific New Hampshire crash last week.
Among the victims were five members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club — a group of Marine Corps veterans from across New England —along with one member’s wife and another’s girlfriend.
Hundreds of parked motorcycles, some coming from as far as Louisiana and South Carolina, lined the street outside of the VFW Post 697, where the Jarheads MC often hosted fundraisers.
“It overwhelms me to see so many people here,” said Jessica Ribeiro, daughter of Jarheads MC president Manny Ribeiro, as she looked out at the long lines of supporters leading into the parking lot.
“It was very hard for me to hear that phone call,” said the younger Ribeiro as she recalled hearing the news of the crash, which left her father with minor injuries. “It tore me in half because my dad was okay, but I’ve seen so many people lose their lives.”
The seven riders were killed June 21 when a truck driven by Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, of West Springfield allegedly plowed into them in Randolph, N.H. The Jarheads were on their way to a charity raffle at Gorham’s American Legion Hall.
Zhukovskyy, who has a driving history including multiple OUI arrests and accidents, faces seven counts of negligent homicide stemming from the New Hampshire crash.
Even though many who attended the vigil did not know the victims personally, they said they felt a sense of obligation to the victims and their families. Few were surprised by the large turnout.
“We were always there for each other in the military, and we still are,” said Larry Clark, 48, who served in both Iraq wars and rode to the event as a member of the Boston Nam Knights MC. “You have your blood family and you also have your patch family,” he said, referring to the patches that adorn bikers’ vests.
The event raised money for the families of the seven victims through $10 entrance fees, donations, and raffles. Leading up to Wednesday evening, raffle prizes and food donations poured in.
Jim Goode, a member of the Southeastern Massachusetts Motorcyclists’ Survivors Fund, donated a bedding set that he had won at another charity raffle. “Everybody sees the big bad scary bikers, but we spend most of our time taking care of others,” he said, citing how the motorcycle community frequently holds fundraisers.
Mariah Machnik, 22, brought a signed hockey stick for the raffle that was donated by the Boston Bruins Foundation.
For Machnik, who has several veterans and bikers in her family, the event testified to the extraordinary camaraderie that exists in both populations. “A lot of these people don’t know the victims,” Machnik said. “It’s the bike community and the vet community. It’s something to lean on.”
“Everybody has their downs, so this is to hopefully lift spirits and to remember,” said Ed Washburn, a Freetown resident who rode over with his best friend and niece. “These guys happen to be veterans who took care of us and now it’s time to take care of them.”
Chris “No Go” Dorsey, who rode to the event with fellow members of the Bristol County chapter of US Veterans MC, described the gathering as “bittersweet.” In between shaking hands with members of motorcycle clubs that passed by on the sidewalk, Dorsey said he worries for the safety of his friends, especially when sharing roads with inattentive drivers. “It’s like we become invisible.”
Once the sun set, people gathered with candles around a flag at half-mast. The bagpipes were punctuated by the sounds of motorcycles zooming by.