By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
What happened next was a deadly confluence of immaturity, testosterone, road rage and, unfortunately, motorcycles.
Riding in a safe, staggered formation, the Bastards were in the left-center lane of 75 just south of George Bush Turnpike when Mitchell's white Mitsubishi pickup—distracted and dogged by Pyburn's black Lexus—abruptly stopped.
"I looked down to check our speed," Scrape says. "We're going 62, then next thing I see is the black car's nose buried and its back two tires off the pavement. Oh shit."
To avoid hitting Mitchell, Pyburn braked severely and swerved right. Rico and his wife, Elisa ("Lela"), riding on their Kawasaki Vulcan from second and on the right in an alignment designed to provide bailout room, also swerved right. But their front tire contacted the Lexus behind its right back wheel, sending a motorcycle and two bodies flying and leaving two daughters almost immediately orphaned. Lela, launched over Rico, broke her neck and suffered massive internal injuries on impact with the highway, killing her instantly. Before it helicoptered across three lanes of traffic, Rico's bike momentarily trapped and instantly severed his left leg at the knee. He never regained consciousness after paramedics arrived and died the next afternoon at Parkland Hospital.
Though Bastards and family members at the scene say they were told by emergency personnel that it wouldn't have mattered, neither Santos was wearing a helmet.
"I was in the Army for 11 years so death and dismemberment aren't new to me," Gonzo says at Strokers. "But I'd have rather died myself than to have witnessed what happened to my brother."
Richardson police originally arrested the 18-year-old Mitchell—who told investigators he left the scene not knowing there had been an accident—and charged him with two counts of manslaughter.
"The actions of Mr. Mitchell led to the first, causative effects of the accident that killed the two victims," said Richardson police sergeant Kevin Perlich in mid-October. "His decision to stop on the highway was the first domino." And yet a Collin County grand jury refused to indict him.
But investigators eventually zeroed in on an even more potent influence—what they claim was Pyburn's physical and psychological antagonizing. "The grand jury investigation is not concluded in this case," Collin County First Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis said last week. "Further action is likely." Asked if the grand jury was free to indict other targets in the case, Davis responded "Yes." Asked if Pyburn would be indicted, Davis declined comment.
In the aftermath of the horrific accident the Bastards took shifts between Parkland and Twin Peaks and managed to raise $2,000 for Rage, who has since left the hospital but still hasn't returned to riding. On 75 and Bush, there are two white crosses erected for Ernie and Elisa. And in their stockings—despite a large, loving family—daughters Lacey, age 5, and Loran, age 13, are staring at an empty, somber Christmas without Mommy and Daddy.
Rico would have turned 42 on Christmas Eve.
"We get mad, we get sad, we lean on each other and we get back on the bikes and go on rides," says Rico's sister, Lisa Santos. "Because that's what Ernie would want us to do. He'd be pissed if him dying made us all lay down our bikes."
While Monday through Saturday comes at us with the low, persistent hum of steady cars and traffic, Sundays arrive to the unmistakable trumpet of thunder only produced by weekend hobbyists and hard-core club members alike mounting and revving their massive motorcycles.
You don't need a GPS to track the favorite gathering places—just follow the rumble.
While the motorcyclists who desire speed congregate their Ninjas at places such as the Sonic on Northwest Highway on late Thursday afternoons, those who prefer raw power over high RPMs make the Sunday circuit consisting of, among others, Harley-Davidson stores, Blue Goose on Greenville Avenue, Duke's and—the motorcycle Mecca of the metroplex—Strokers.
"I was born a poor, white dumbass, but motorcycles have always provided me this feeling of euphoria. Of being alive. Of being free," says Strokers founder, TV star and local two-wheel icon Rick Fairless. "I've been fortunate enough to open a place where you can come in, have a beer and a burger, get an oil change and maybe make a friend for life."
On clear-weather Sundays, Fairless estimates 2,000 bikes roll through his establishment. Over his anniversary party weekend each October, he'll get 10,000 customers. As gas prices soared and cheesy movies like Wild Hogs and reality TV shows like American Chopper de-fanged motorcycles, riders became more prevalent. Not that bikes are the latest chic trend in style-over-substance Dallas, but...
"Our market is as good as any in the country," says Fairless, whose shop and story spawned the truTV network show, Ma's Roadhouse. "We don't have the scenic luxuries of mountains or oceans, but people are serious about the lifestyle here. Plus, you have to factor in that motorcycles have become mainstream. If you don't have one, you know somebody that does."
At Strokers, the vibe is beer, babes and bikes, not necessarily in that order. There is a full-service bike shop, a stage for concerts and bikini contests, a tattoo and piercing shop, random statues of an astronaut and the Statue of Liberty and, of course, the area's most eclectic mosh pit of bikers, beards and bellies. There is so much respect for Fairless, however, that opposing clubs treat Strokers' hallowed grounds as a sort of neutral zone.