SAFETY HARBOR — It was late afternoon on May 19, 2005, on a busy street bordering one of the countless subdivisions in Hillsborough County.
Gene Pearson, a 31-year-old Pinellas County sheriff's corrections officer, was riding his motorcycle with two of his friends when a vehicle pulled out in front of him and Gene ran into the back of the man's car.
He died instantly from head trauma.
So did a part of his mother, Diane Pearson of Safety Harbor. She has since become a crusader for motorcycle safety, spreading her message mainly through purple bumper stickers that say Look Twice — Save a Life. Motorcycles Are Everywhere.
But she didn't know the road she was about to travel that day in 2005. All she knew was that her child was lying still under a yellow tarp. And she couldn't get to him.
• • •
Gene Pearson's brother, David Pearson, called his mother and told her Gene had been in an accident. She thought he was hurt and was in the hospital being treated and believed that was where her husband Gene, now 65, was taking her. But instead, she was taken to the scene of the crash.
She saw the yellow tarp and that was when she knew he was dead.
She was dazed and in shock.
"Time stood still,'' she said "Everything was in slow motion, just as they say.''
Gene's motorcycle was in pieces scattered all over the road. Flashing emergency lights blinded her.
She sat on a curb for four hours and looked at the yellow tarp covering her son's remains.
"I tried to run to it and everybody stopped me,'' she said. "I wanted to see him.''
But officers would not let her near his body.
She still is upset with law enforcement for keeping her away from her son's body.
She could have handled what was under the tarp, but she could not handle not holding his hand one more time or stroking his hair.
• • •
After the accident, Pearson, now 62, and a grandmother who works as a technical librarian at Gulf Aerospace in Oldsmar, met a woman in Georgia named Kathy Malone.
She had seen the purple bumper sticker on someone's car and traced it to Malone through the Internet.
Malone, who had also lost a son in a motorcycle accident, created the slogan "Look Twice — Save a Life. Motorcycles Are Everywhere."
The two became friends and Pearson decided to join Malone's cause and help distribute the signs.
You've probably seen them.
They are everywhere.
The message is on a billboard on Ulmerton Road, bus shelters, buses and benches.
They are available at Department of Motor Vehicles in Pinellas, Polk and Hillsborough counties and at Quaker Steak and Lube restaurant.
"We run out every month,'' said Bill Church, owner of the popular motorcycle hangout.
He said the stickers are plastered all over the restaurant, even in the bathroom.
"People read them and pay attention to them,'' he said.
Every Wednesday night is bike night at Quaker Steak and Lube. It attracts thousands of riders.
Sadly, every year, 20 to 30 of those Church either knows of or have visited the restaurant are killed while riding.
"It's dangerous out there,'' he said.
Ron Galletti, 46, owner of Born to Ride Magazine, inserts them into subscriptions he sends out. He also passes them out at events.
"The passion (Diane Pearson) has, it can't help but make a difference,'' he said.
He believes it's not just the car drivers who should look twice — better yet three or four times — but motorcyclists as well.
"The more educated motorcyclists are going to survive the mean streets,'' Galletti said. "It's really a two-way street.''
Diane Pearson said she has given away 56,000 stickers over the past 21/2 years, all for free.
She sends out 3,000 bumper stickers a month at a cost of $700.
She depends on contributions and devotes hours every week to the movement.
• • •
She does it to honor Gene.
He had been riding motorcycles since he was 18. He was a safe rider. He always wore his helmet, leather jacket and gloves. He never got a ticket.
He served in the Coast Guard for four years. In his Coast Guard photo, he looks strong and proud.
"He was a son, an uncle, a brother and a great friend,'' Diane Pearson said.
"He loved to help people. If a person needed a friend, he was the best friend the person could ever have.''
But when she closes her eyes, she doesn't see the Coast Guard photo, or the pictures with Gene and his nephew. She sees that yellow tarp.
Gene was under there.
Eileen Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.