They were doing something they all loved, something that brought them together across the spaces that divided them in day-to-day life, sharing the joy of an experience which is difficult – if not impossible – to explain to those who’ve never had the pleasure; they were all out for a ride on their bikes.
Just out riding. Feeling the joy that comes with sharing the road with your brothers and sisters in the fraternity that is being a motorcyclist.
And then, in one horrible, irrevocable moment, it all went off the rails.
A car crossed the center line on a stretch of Wisconsin highway and cut through the group of riders from my home town, Muskegon, Michigan. The crash killed Daniel Winsemius, 59, and injured nine of the riders along with him on the trip.
Try for a moment to imagine the madness. During one second, you’re riding along enjoying the feel of the wind, the thrum of the miles ticking along as your tires beat a steady rhythm on the pavement; the welcome heat of the early summer sun on your face. An instant later, you’re watching as your friends tumble down the pavement, engulfed in a shower of twisted metal, broken glass; a haze of gasoline, oil and radiator fluid. Tiny bits of chrome and glass exploding before you and glittering in the sky. The shriek of tortured machines and wisps of tire smoke as everything, everything comes apart, blown to bits at the seams.
And then the terrible silence. The moment when you realize the full extent of the trauma. The pain. The loss.
Daniel Winsemius, 59, was killed Thursday in that inexplicable wreck, a brutal collision which left nine others injured, some of them critically, far from home in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin. Five of the riders, all from Muskegon, are still hospitalized: Eric Vandam, 52; Douglas Williams, 58; Douglas Yonkers, 43; Garry Ferris, 52; and Leland Johnson, 59. Vandam, Williams and Yonkers are in critical condition at Theda Clark Medical Center across the lake in Wisconsin.
How did it happen? How did a group of experienced riders have their world rocked to the core on a beautiful day out riding, riding just like they had so many times before? It all comes down to a moment of inattention from a 25-year-old man from Hilbert, Wisconsin, the chain of consequences which will unfurl over the next few days and weeks all come down to that instant.
Jeremy Gradisher, a member of the Muskegon Motorcycle Gang, was quick to react to the terrible news that his friend, his fellow rider, is gone.
“Dan was a well-respected man,” Gradisher said. “He and his wife, Deb, were always around for all the events. This group here is a close-knit family. They were a big part of it. What happened was just brutal. A few of our guys are injured very severely. It’s rough.”
Friday, a phalanx of bikers and others from across this side of the state stood together during a candlelight vigil for the victims and their families along the shore of Muskegon Lake. Money collected from the candles sold during the observance will go directly to the families of those involved in the crash, but it’s money everyone involved wishes they never had to donate.
Tim Horne, Winsemius’ nephew, was on hand for the vigil, and he said simply, “People are hurting.”
According to our local news agency, The Muskegon Chronicle, the riders were taking part in an annual rite of passage, the “Bridge Run” to the Mackinac Bridge and back, and the route through Wisconsin was just part of the usual drill.
Gradisher and his fellow MMG members are trying to raise money for the families. The money will pay for what are sure to be the massive tab for transportation, medical expenses.
Please do everything you can to help out.
To donate, please call Ame M. at 231-638-7503 or make your checks payable to: MMG Motorcycle Tragedy Fund. Mail them to this address:
MMG Motorcycle Tragedy Fund
300 East Riley Thompson Rd.
Muskegon, MI 49445