1. Archive

Revving up, remembering

Jessica Lunsford's favorite part of tearing down the road on a motorcycle?

"Aggravating her dad, sitting with her arms out," Mark Lunsford joked during the first Jessica Lunsford memorial motorcycle run on Saturday.

More than a thousand bikers rode from Gulf Coast Harley-Davidson to the chain's Crystal River branch to commemorate the slain 9-year-old, who loved soaring through Florida streets with her dad.

"Everybody will do anything for a kid, and bikers will be the first ones to jump in," Mark Lunsford said.

Though the event was spawned by tragedy, Mark Lunsford said Saturday was a time to celebrate his daughter's life.

"I don't want to bring any dark storm clouds over today," he said.

He said he hoped the ride would raise awareness about the need for stronger sex offender laws nationwide. John Couey, a 47-year-old registered sex offender, is accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Jessica.

"It's important to keep awareness alive," Mark Lunsford said.

Saturday's ride was coupled with a battle of the bands at the Crystal River Harley-Davidson. Jessica always loved music.

"She liked to sing karaoke, Pink, Shania Twain," her father said. Jessica had her own karaoke machine and sometimes performed at the Saloon Bar & Grill in Homosassa.

Warren Hill, the shop's general manager, estimated that 2,000 people attended Saturday's event.

They roamed booths and food stands amid the roar of motors and reverberating guitars. Images of Jessica hung at the stand for the Italian Angels Motorcycle Brotherhood, the group that organized the ride, and crowds roamed around a custom-made bike for Jessica.

"Jessie's Ride," done in purple, Jessica's favorite color, was crafted by Alan Bernard of Gibsonton. He and Mark Lunsford plan to show the vehicle nationally to lobby for stronger sex offender legislation.

"I think it's wonderful," said Jessica's grandmother, Ruth Lunsford, who posed for pictures with the bike. "It should be put in a glass frame."

Proceeds from Saturday will go to the Jessica Lunsford Foundation.

"We're going to keep continuing what we're doing," said Vincent Seeno, road captain for the Italian Angels. "We want to prevent this from ever happening again."