Moments before two Love Ride participants were killed Sunday in a freeway traffic collision, the event’s grand marshal, “The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, told a crowd of bikers that he wanted to see “somebody go down.”
“Every year, [the organizer] says ‘Drive safe,’” Leno told the crowd in kicking off the 28th annual Love Ride in Glendale. “I’m gonna say, ‘Don’t drive safe.’ I wanna see somebody go down. So it’ll be fun. I want it to be in front or behind me and see a whole row of bikes go down. Get drunk, fall off the road. We’ve all become too damn polite…we haven’t had one incident.”
About an hour later, Romarino Zeri, 51, of Los Angeles and Julie Cameron, 38, of Venice were killed when their motorcycle collided with a big rig on the Golden State (5) Freeway in Pacoima, officials said.
The big rig’s rear tires ran over the pair, whom paramedics pronounced dead at the scene, California Highway Patrol Officer José Barrios said.
Representatives for NBC-Universal and Leno did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The motorcycle riding community took to the blogosphere Monday, with one Love Ride participant writing that Leno’s remarks would haunt her forever.
“I wish he had not joked about that, if someone does go down, he is going to feel really bad for his comments,” she said.
CHP officials continued to investigate the cause of the crash on Monday, which closed several lanes of the freeway for hours.
Event spokeswoman Susan Harrison said the pair registered to participate in the ride, which raises money for Autism Speaks, an organization that funds research for autism and resources for parents.
The 28th annual Love Ride drew more than 2,000 bikers to Glendale’s Harley-Davidson dealership on San Fernando Road.
The ride was established by the dealership’s owner, Oliver Shokouh, and has raised more than $13 million for charity.
From the dealership, the group of riders hit the road and headed to Castaic Lake.
The deaths were the first fatalities in the event’s history, organizers said.
“We are extremely saddened at the loss of two of our motorcyclists who were participating in Sunday’s ride,” Shokouh said in a statement Monday afternoon. “Our heartfelt condolences and sympathies go to the family and the friends of Romarino Zeri and his passenger, Julie Cameron.”