By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Our group of 12 bikes heads west out of Duke's parking lot onto Belt Line Road, south down Interstate 35 and then onto Harry Hines toward Strokers. Everything is magnified and intensified, from the wind whipping White's ponytail into my face to the subtle bumps in the road to the sounds of birds chirping at stop lights. As we merge onto the highway I immediately feel the sensation that should I lose my death grip on White's abs, without a seat belt or air bag or, well, doors, I will fly right off the back and straight into the hospital. Have to admit, the risk is indeed part of the reward.
"I realize how crazy this sounds to some people," says White, who cheered with the Honey Bears in 1984-85, "but if this horse bucks us off we'll just get on and ride again. As a rule, fear isn't a big part of my life."
Other than when I almost let White's idling bike topple over in Duke's parking lot, the only hairy moment occurs when the driver of a Black Tahoe decides to make a drastic maneuver on Harry Hines—from the far right lane. Without a blinker or seemingly even a glance at his surroundings, the SUV veers violently left, dramatically and dangerously dividing our pack in half on his way to making a U-turn.
To me the ride is enlightening. To others it is cathartic.
It's the first time since Rico's accident that Niki—Gonzo's wife of eight years—has been on a bike. She couldn't help but recoil in fear when the experience yanked her back to the night she hopelessly performed CPR on her dying friend Elisa in the middle of Central Expressway.
"When we got on 35 my sunglasses were filling up with tears," Niki says safely back at Duke's. "That Tahoe reminded me how dangerous all this is. It's assholes like that that cause wrecks. I believe we're all a part of God's plan and if it's your time you'll be gone, but still. I fear for my family and friends on bikes more than ever."
In the family room at Parkland on September 18, a grief counselor and tearful relatives broke the news to Lacey and Loran about their parents' death. Told that her mommy and daddy "went up to Heaven," five-year-old Lacey clutched her comfort "horsey" stuffed animal and—after a long, seemingly thoughtful pause—responded to the news. "This," she said, lip quivering and eyes watering, "has never happened to me before."
The grown-ups will likely also struggle through a crappy holiday season void of Rico and Lela. Shaken by the episode, Gonzo has even contemplated giving up riding, an almost blasphemous notion in a hardened biker world bonded by power and leather and, yes, blood.
"There have been times when I've thought about selling my bike," he admits. "I know Rico would want me to keep going, but riding's just not near as fun as it was. This all just really, really sucks. I haven't gotten over any part of it, to tell you the truth. I'm still sad. Still mad.
"I'm glad I don't carry a gun because God only knows what would happen if I come across irresponsible people again."
Through shared tears and therapeutic beers, the Bastards are emotionally rehabbing. Resiliency is a vital part of the process.
Retaliation is not.
Though Sterling Mitchell, who did not respond to an interview request, arrogantly posted "Live my life to the fullest, no regrets no bullshit..." to his Facebook page less than two weeks after playing a prominent role in the Santos accident and though Pyburn, who also declined an interview, remains a suspect in the ongoing investigation, Voodoo bristles when asked about possible punishment levied on the two by his club.
"We are first and foremost law-abiding citizens," he says. "Our patch carries with it the stigma of being some of society's rejects, but we aren't a club that goes looking for trouble. We will defend each other and ourselves, but we won't provoke. In Rico's case we figure in the end justice will prevail."
While Lacey and Loran are back in school and living with relatives in the metroplex, the Bastards are attempting to leave the tragedy in their dust without clouding Rico's legacy.
All members are wearing commemorative "Rico & Lela" forever patches, last Saturday there was a bike blessing at Big Tony's complete with raffles benefiting the Santos children and on March 19 at Hank's in McKinney, the Bastards will throw a "Bikers Against Road Rage" concert, party and fundraiser. There are reminders all around that things have changed, and may never be the same again.
Scrape, who avoided the black Lexus by intentionally laying his bike down and sliding to relative safety, has an ugly, perhaps permanent road-rash scar all along his left arm, a one-inch deep gouge in his helmet and a rebuilt bike after the accident caused $10,300 worth of damage. And Rico's sister Lisa has a new appreciation for the passion of her brother and his brothers.
"It's still nice to go out and just ride," says Lisa, who rode in the Teddy Bear Run on the back of a Bastard bike with her brother's boot and urn in tow. "There's nothing like being with this group and feeling the wind and the sun and the world. These guys are my extended family and bikes are an extension of them. It took me a while to come to grips with it, but my brother's wreck was fate. It wasn't like the bike physically got up and killed them. It could've just as easily happened in a car."