PEKIN-On July 21, William Wiker Jr., 56, died on impact at the corner of Third and Margaret streets. An 81-year-old woman drove her vehicle through a red light and T-boned Wiker’s motorcycle.
On July 22, Larry “Rainman” Edwards, 44, got on Facebook. He invited some of his friends to a parade.
On July 31, Gerald Gimbel, 63, was killed on War Memorial Drive in Peoria. A 32-year-old man veered into Gimbel’s lane and struck his motorcycle head-on.
On Saturday, standing in front of 2,000 or so motorcycles, Edwards made a pronouncement.
“This is rock ‘n’ roll, man.”
Covered with highlighter yellow shirts that said: “Rainman’s Can You See Me Now,” Saturday’s scene was quite impressive at Pekin’s Riverfront Park.
“Anytime you combine charity and motorcycles, this is what you’re gonna get,” said Dan Jones, 37, of Creve Coeur. “He could’ve charged $10 for these T-shirts, and you’d still see the same turnout.”
Thanks to Pekin’s T-Shirt House, they were free.
Riders began arriving before the official 9 a.m. kickoff. By 11 a.m., the riverfront was swamped. Walking space was tight – most free room was claimed by parked bikes.
Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stuart Umholtz, state Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, and state Rep. Mike Unes, R-East Peoria, all spoke.
“We don’t even know who Rainman is,” Mike and Leigh Chouinard of Pekin said. “But we wanted to come out and show our support.”
The show of force was a combination of the exponential power of social media and the passionate commitment riders have for their subculture, a passion Edwards calls spiritual.
“You know, people always say, ‘Aw, well, that’s how the government is’ or ‘That’s how the world works.’ They think they can’t make a change,” Nancy McNeil of Pekin said. “Well, one guy started this, and now look.”
The procession left the riverfront at 12:07 p.m. The route that ended at the Marine Corps League passed the intersection of Third and Margaret. As they rode by, riders tossed flowers at the pole Wiker’s body struck.
The last bike in the steady stream left the riverfront at 12:39 p.m.
Ultimately, Edwards wants to make this an annual event. He also wants a Wiker Law – a test that would require the elderly to prove they still possess the reflexes required to drive safely. He also wants tougher penalties for those who hit motorcyclists.
“I challenge any politician to ride with me for one day and see how many times I screech on my brakes,” Edwards said.
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