When John “Jack” Santopietro was riding his motorcycle down Avenue E on March 16, 2012, he was struck and killed by a minivan. After that fateful day, his family founded a nonprofit called “Remember Me” to spread motorcycle-safety awareness. To further that mission, they hosted the First Annual Motorcycle and Car Show on Wednesday, August 17.
Broadway looked like a postcard from the 1970s, with classic cars, muscle cars, and motorcycles lining the street. Bikers, many in leather vests, rode in on all kinds of bikes to support the cause. “The two of us, we support each other like you wouldn’t believe,” John Matos said of his biker club, the Bayonne Elks and Remember Me. He says there are five biker clubs in the city. “It’s just a giant family between all the clubs,” Matos said. “We ride for charity. We have events where we ride for vets, kids, homeless people, families of deployed soldiers, things like that.”
More than just bikers came out for the event. There was a 1980s ambulance parked between a 1950s Bel-Air and a 1969 Corvette Stingray. Bayonne residents John and Jean Braikovich who have owned the 1969 Corvette Stingray for 20 years, frequent car shows like this. A brand new Lotus pulled in across the street next to newer-model Hemi Dodge Challengers. “I’ve had it up to 100 on the highway,” Braikovich said.“It’ll go, but it’s not like the newer ones where they really go fast.” He does most of the maintenance on his classic sports car, as do most classic car enthusiasts.
Rider of the Clouds
Santopietro was an Eagle Scout and only one month from graduating from NJCU with a fire science degree when he died. His mother, Margaret Abrams,brought her trike (a three-wheeled motorcycle) with freshly painted crosseson the sides and the back with the number “316” painted below, representing both the day her son was killed and a symbolic biblical passage, John 3:16, which she recited, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, for whoever should believe in him should have everlasting life.”
Abrams organized the event with her daughter and Santopietro’s father.She founded the organization, “to give back to the organizations that helped mold him into who he was and was to become.” She said Remember Me has donated more than $50,000 over the last four years to a scholarship program for kids majoring in fire science at NJCU and who attend the Boy Scouts of America summer camp.
One of the organization’s central initiatives is the “Rider of the Clouds,” a collection of painted wooden cutouts of motorcycles, each dedicated to a motorcyclist killed in an accident. “Unfortunately because of a left turn or because this driver was distracted, these people didn’t return to their loved ones,” Abrams said. The wooden motorcycle next to the event’s main table was the first, and dedicated to Santopietro. “We started with 21,” she said.“Unfortunately every year there’s more.”
The bright side, she said, is that her organization has educated more than 8,000 people, and motorcycle fatalities decreased in New Jersey between 2014 to 2015 by 20 percent. “Hopefully that continues,” Abrams said.
“There’s a misperception about us bikers that we’re cold and we’re hard, but the biker community is loving…we come together as one in times of need.” – Margaret Abrams
Breaking stigma and raising awareness
Abrams seeks to challenge stigmas about bikers and raise awareness about biker safety.
“There’s a misperception about us bikers that we’re cold and we’re hard,” she said. “But the biker community is loving…we come together as one in times of need.” Through hosting safety awareness seminars at local driving schools, Abrams learned about a common perception of bikers as reckless: “People ask why motorcycles areswerving behind my car, well they’re trying to put themselves out of a blind spot to get to where they’re visible.”
Abrams commended a recent proposed law to further limit distracting driving. She cited distracted driving as a contributing factor in another Bayonne biker’s death, Karen Minutella, who was killed in May of 2015 on a Connecticut highway by a teenager who was changing the radio station, according to Abrams. Referring to the proposed distracted-driving law, Abrams said, “So many people were flipping out because they couldn’t drink a coffee, but the focus isn’t on drinking a coffee, it’s really being attentive behind the wheel.” She went on, “That five, 10 seconds that your eyes are off the road, you may not realize but your vehicle is veering. People don’t get that you have to be 100-percent attentive because you’re driving, in my world, a deadly weapon.”
Abrams acknowledges that driving motorcycles is inherently dangerous, but believes that if people were less distracted and were more accustomed to being aware of bikers, and even cyclists, there would be less danger for everyone who shares the road. “We’re trying to have the adults interact with the children in the car to recognize motorcycles on the road, so that carries into their adult years” she said. “Of course,” she admitted, “just like there’s knuckleheads driving cars, there’s knuckleheads on bikes too. But the end result for a motorcyclist not obeying the law is death.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at email@example.com.