On an otherwise still morning near Mount St. Helens’ Johnston Ridge Observatory, it was hard to miss the sound of more than 100 motorcycle engines raring up Spirit Lake Memorial Highway.
Clad in leather jackets and sunglasses, the bikers made the roughly 60-mile ride Saturday morning from Kelso for what they hope to be only the first year of the annual Deputy Justin DeRosier Memorial Ride.
Kelso resident Craig Klingberg organized the ride. DeRosier loved “anything with a motor that went fast, especially motorcycles,” Klingberg said, so it was fitting to start a memorial ride in his honor.
Riders from as far as Wyoming and Arizona joined the group. Neil DeRosier, the deputy’s father, led the riders on his son’s motorcycle, which was emblazoned with “WRECKLESS” — a nickname Justin DeRosier went by.
Rider Alexis Wiper said she was tearing up during the ride, and her husband, Sgt. Kirk Wiper of the Kelso Police Department, said DeRosier “would have really dug” the chance to join them.
“He’d have been the first in line to ride for somebody else,” Wiper said. “That’s just the kind of guy he is.”
Turnout for the ride’s first year was “phenomenal,” Klingberg said, but with how strongly the community has rallied to support the DeRosier family since April, he “didn’t expect anything less.” Nearly 150 motorcyclists and riders attended the ride altogether.
Money raised from the memorial ride will fund a scholarship for Kelso students interested in studying criminal justice.
Daniel Carabello, a Longview biker and member of the “99 percent” Iron Order motorcycle club, didn’t know DeRosier personally.
“(But) there’s always an emotional component when you lose a first responder, when you lose the people who protect us,” Carabello said. “We come out and we try to support him.”
Motorcyclist and Cowlitz 2 Fire Chief Dave LaFave said he thinks about DeRerosier every day, especially on the job.
“I smile when I think about him. It’s hard to not have a happy thought when you think about how he lived his life. ... He was a bear of a guy, who was just about as open as anyone you’re ever going to meet. He always had a smile on his face.”
LaFave shared a memory of DeRosier at mutual friend’s wedding: The deputy was the first one out on the dance floor, along with his wife.
“He had no rhythm, in my opinion” LaFave joked. “(But) he was out there smiling and laughing, just enjoying life.”