Kaitlin McCarroll clutched her mom as she rode on the back of Marion Rose Harvey’s motorcycle for the first time. The pair rumbled through back roads and weaved past wetlands.
“For those of you who don’t know, I’m terrified of riding bikes,” the 19-year-old said in her mom’s eulogy three weeks later.
A room of mourners in ties, leather and tears listened.
“It was an hour long, and it was pouring rain,” she said, pausing to laugh. “But I’m so glad we did.”
On Oct. 8, just after Harvey crested the northbound hill near the 34th Street Wall and slowed to a stop, a Toyota Camry plowed into the 51-year-old mother of four and her scooter from behind — a vehicle Harvey had purchased from her boyfriend that morning.
The blow threw Harvey forward into a stopped GMC Sierra pickup truck. As responders arrived, she sustained a pulse. But in the emergency room, the experienced motorcyclist was pronounced dead.
“My mom was an amazing woman and an amazing mom,” McCarroll said at her service, fighting back tears next to Harvey’s parked, dark red Honda Shadow Sabre motorcycle, her preferred method of transportation.
“It wasn’t a scooter issue,” said Ed Cutler, a member of Gator Riders, the local motorcycle riding group Harvey was a part of.
He said Harvey had a nearly four-year biking habit she couldn’t quit.
“She had a lot of miles,” Cutler said. “She was a safe rider. I rode with her very often.”
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Five minutes before the accident, Harvey texted Paul Johnson, her boyfriend of about one year.
She’d just finished a late-work meeting as an accountant at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service.
Harvey wanted to join him and a group of Gator Riders for chicken wings at Gator Tales Sports Bar, and she wanted to show off her new scooter.
“Still gonna be there?” Johnson said Harvey messaged him at 7:15 p.m.
While her motorcycle was quick, her new scooter was convenient. It got 75 miles to the gallon, and work was only about 2 1/2 miles from her house.
Johnson told Harvey they were eating, but he would wait. Harvey was proud of her purchase, and the group was excited to see it.
But Harvey never made it to dinner.
Johnson called. He texted. After about 8 p.m., Johnson left the group of bikers and drove home to check on her.
He noticed Southwest 34th Street was closed.
“That could have been her,” he thought, but he quickly rejected it. “I’m not going to think that way.”
At home, Harvey’s daughter McCarroll later greeted him with the news.
“It’s been a whirlwind of emotions since then,” Johnson said.
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Just after 9 a.m. Friday, about 40 Gator Riders gathered at the Deerhaven Marathon gas station off U.S. 441, hoisting a large American flag behind the motorcycle that would lead Harvey’s memorial procession.
In the cool morning air, they exchanged soft words and solemn hugs.
McCarroll climbed on the back of the first bike — the second time she’d ridden a motorcycle and the first without her mom.
“I was nervous at first,” McCarroll said. But somewhere under the hanging trees and speckled sunshine of Florida’s countryside, she began to let go.
“Suck it up, buttercup,” Harvey always told her kids growing up.
After about an hour of ripping down small scenic roads to Fort White, Florida, more than 100 family members, friends and coworkers gathered in the town’s community center to celebrate Harvey’s life.
One of Harvey’s closest friends, Suzzanne Zorilo, reminisced on the girls’ trip she, Harvey and another woman took the weekend before she died.
For six hours, the three rode their bikes north to Panama City Beach. They rented a hotel room together and spent three days unwinding and exploring the town before heading back home.
At the service, Zorilo held a small bobblehead sea turtle in her hand — a token Harvey had given her to remember their trip by.
At Harvey’s bike, Zorilo lowered her head. A 5-by-7-inch black frame sat on the seat, housing a photo of her friend on her ride, smiling wide.
Reaching forward, Zorilo touched the bright blue parking tag from their Panama City hotel that still hung from its handle.
“Part of me thinks she wishes she passed away on her motorcycle instead of a damn scooter,” Zorilo said. “Of all things, a damn scooter.”
[A version of this story ran on page 3 on 10/20/2014]
Marion Rose Harvey's sister, Evelyn, embraces Harvey's son-in-law Troy Anderson during her sister's memorial service in Fort White on Friday.
A memorial procession of about 40 motorcycles and a handful of cars head to Fort White for Marion Rose Harvey's service Friday.