Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Reunion of Largo High graduates ends with four motorcycle deaths

BUSHNELL — It had been a good day.

As the sun started to set Saturday, Billy Barker and Johnny Holmes began saying their good-byes. The two had spent most of the afternoon at a weekend pig roast in the company of about 80 friends, many of whom hadn't seen each other in more than 20 years.

Murray Rush, who knew Barker and Holmes as youngsters growing up around Clearwater, recalled the years when they were always hanging around together. Now, he said, they only see each other at funerals.

"We need to start doing this more often," Rush recalls saying.

The buddies agreed, and they and their girlfriends climbed onto their black Harley-Davidson motorcycles and roared off.

Minutes later, Barker and Holmes lay dead on a remote stretch of County Road 476 outside of Bushnell in Sumter County.

A westbound GMC pickup driven by Paul Sermons, 45, of Bushnell had plowed head-on into the two bikes, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Sermons, driving with a suspended license, told the FHP that he was trying to pass another truck when he hit the two motorcycles.

Barker, 54, of Stuart, his passenger Patrice Poole, 55, of Mount Dora and Holmes, 55, of Beverly Hills died at the scene. Patricia Beihayn, 52, of the Citrus County town of Hernando was pronounced dead a short while later at an area hospital.

A shaken Rush recalled when he and his buddies Barker and Holmes, all Largo High School graduates, would party with friends on weekends on the Bellair Causeway, Sand Key and other spots.

Many of the friends worked in the construction industry and saw each other frequently. But the occasional gatherings were always special, Rush said. It allowed them all to keep track of each other.

"It wasn't a regular thing, but it seemed that whenever we got together it was pretty much the same people," Rush said. "You'd see someone one time and he might have a girlfriend. The next time he'd have a new one. We kept it up for probably 20 years."

Their last big gathering was in 1988, on a vacant parcel behind the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport. More than 200 people showed up for that party.

And then, the gatherings stopped.

"It got to be that people were just too spread out," Rush said. "We were all getting older, having families, being adults."

More than a year ago, Rush and Paul Poole, who hosted the pig roast, began planning Saturday's gathering, known as the 21 Year Salute. E-mails went out. People exchanged cell phone numbers. And though Rush hadn't seen Barker and Holmes in several years, he was excited to hear they were coming as well.

"It really was like old times when I saw those guys."

Poole said news of the tragic accident didn't reach the gathering until the next morning. Many of the partiers had camped overnight on his 5-acre property, and they spent the morning in somber silence. Others cried.

"You just never imagine something like this happening," Poole said Monday. "Billy and Johnny were like brothers to a lot of people that were here. It's left a huge hole in all of us."

Poole noted that neither Barker nor Holmes had more than a couple of beers at the pig roast. Both were experienced motorcycle riders.

Rush, who has ridden motorcycles all his life, says he has tried his best to remain objective when it comes to casting blame for the accident. He maintains that there needs to be more focus on making roads safer for motorcyclists.

"A lot of people just don't pay enough attention while they're driving. They aren't looking out for bikers," he said. "It's a sad ending. These were good, hard-working people who were just out riding and enjoying life."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

Reunion of Largo High graduates ends with four motorcycle deaths 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 7:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. A Time magazine with Trump on the cover hangs in his golf clubs. It's fake

    National

    The framed copy of Time magazine was hung up in at least four of President Trump's golf clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. Filling the entire cover was a photo of Donald Trump.

    A framed copy of Time magazine, dated March 1, 2009, that hangs in at least four of President Donald Trump's golf clubs, from South Florida to Scotland, is fake. There was no March 1, 2009, issue of Time. The real March 2, 2009, issue of Time featured actor Kate Winslet on the cover. But the issue makes no mention of Trump. [Left, Time; right, Angel Valentin for the Washington Post]
  2. Editorial: The human cost of slashing Medicaid

    Editorials

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no choice Tuesday but to postpone voting this week on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act that is just as devastating as the version passed by the House. The Congressional Budget Office's estimate that Senate bill would eliminate health care coverage for 22 million …

    Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
  3. Vince Young takes shot at Bucs' Ryan Fitzpatrick

    Blogs

    Former NFL quarterback Vince Young, out of the league since 2011 and complaining about not getting more opportunities to prolong his career, took a shot at new Bucs backup Ryan Fitzpatrick in a story posted at …

    Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who signed with the Bucs to be Jameis Winston's backup this fall, has played for six other NFL teams in his 12 seasons in the league.
  4. Editorial: Scott's poor choice for CFO

    Editorials

    Gov. Rick Scott didn't reach too deeply into Florida's talent pool in appointing his friend Jimmy Patronis to fill a vacancy as the state's new chief financial officer. This is an exceptionally weak choice for a Cabinet post that requires a sophisticated understanding of banking and other financial services, and it …