LACONIA — Desma Oakes, one of the seven motorcyclists who died in a collision with a truck last Friday evening, was a former Gilmanton resident who friends and colleagues remembered for her unshakable positive attitude and community involvement.
Oakes, 42, who most recently had been living in Concord, was among the group of five men and one woman who died as they were traveling east on Route 2 in Randolph. The men were members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club. Oakes was a club supporter, according to Deputy Attorney General Jane E. Young.
Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, of West Springfield, Mass., the truck driver, was charged Monday with seven counts of negligent homicide.
“It’s so tragic,” said Karmen Gifford, president of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. Of Oakes, she said, “She was always engaging, always looked at giving to others.”
The two became acquainted when they worked in the human resources field for different area manufacturing businesses. At that time Oakes’ last name was Oickle. When Gifford became head of the chamber 10 years ago, Oickle was a volunteer with the organization.
Oickle was no stranger to tragedy in her life. Her son, Ryan, died from cancer in 2009 at age 4. Three years later, her husband, George Oickle, died of cancer as well. “She really touched my heart,” said fellow chamber volunteer Debbie Bolduc.
But Gifford recalled: “She was always cheerful. She was not a woman who wore her sorrow on her sleeve.”
At one point Oakes worked at Central New Hampshire Employment Services in Laconia.
She had been a member of the New Covenant Christian Church in Laconia, where her son’s funeral was held, according to the Rev. James Morel.
At the time of her death, Oakes was working in the human resource office at PCC Structurals in Tilton.
“Desma was a phenomenal team member who was adored by her peers and colleagues,” the company said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “Our hearts go out to the Oakes family and their friends during this time of devastating loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we send them our deepest condolences.”
The deaths of Oakes and her fellow riders are being deeply felt, even by those who knew them only in passing.
Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, said he had met Jarhead Motorcycle Club members Aaron Perry of Farmington and Albert Mazza of Lee. “It’s a big community, but it’s a small community,” St. Clair said, alluding to the tightknit camaraderie among motorcyclists.
The leading promoter of Motorcycle Week in Laconia, St. Clair called biker fatalities “the bane of our existence.”
There have been three triple motorcycle fatalities since Bike Week began 25 years ago as an outgrowth of a weekend affair that started in the 1920s, St. Clair noted.
“It’s the worst nightmare,” he said of multiple fatals.