(Posted Oct. 21, 2020)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
It was a scene that was all too familiar for the Kimbler and Peterman families: a large gathering of leather-clad bikers milling about, smiling, laughing and sharing stories while waiting for the announcement of “kickstands up.”
Like most in the crowd, the London residents were once again participating in a charity ride to raise funds for someone in need, something they have done time and time again to show support for the community they love.
But there was a marked difference in this scene on Oct. 17 at the Crown Sports Lounge in London, and that was the absence of two individuals–one “human teddy bear” of a man whose kindness was known throughout the county, and the other a vibrant woman with a big smile, big hair and an even bigger heart.
Last month, this man, Joshua Kimbler, and this woman, Donielle Peterman, were among the motorcycle enthusiasts smiling, laughing and sharing stories at the Madison County Fairgrounds as they waited for the announcement of “kickstands up.” Though the charity ride they were about to embark on had only been in existence for two years, it was quickly becoming their favorite because it combines helping people with special needs and helping people from the community.
“There wasn’t a charity ride that they wouldn’t go on,” said Robert Peterman, Donielle’s brother, “but they really didn’t want to miss this one because it would benefit a local team with the Special Olympics.”
With warm temperatures and bright skies, Sept. 19 was the perfect day for the Kimblers and the Petermans to participate in the Special Olympics Tour for the Tigers Poker Run. For a few hours, it truly was.
They set off as a single unit. After all, Joshua and Donielle, or “Squatch” and “Dickie” as they were affectionately called, were set to get married later this year. The families rode across the surrounding counties, stopping at taverns on the tour and popping in to say hello to owners of taverns that weren’t on the tour. As they were traveling to the third stop, tragedy struck.
Around 1:30 p.m., the family cluster was heading southbound on Norton Road in Franklin County toward West Broad Street when a pickup truck heading in the opposite direction caught Robert Peterman’s attention.
“I just thought the driver was going a little too fast for this stretch of road,” he said.
However, he didn’t pay it too much mind.
Ahead of his cluster by a short distance, he looked into the mirror to check on the proximity of the group. For the first time on the tour, he didn’t see Joshua, who was driving his Harley Davidson, or Donielle, who was his passenger, in its reflection.
Doing what all bikers who are riding in the front are taught to do, he turned around to see what had happened. He said a part of him wishes he had not.
“I’ve seen accidents before, but this looked like a war scene,” he said. “I don’t know how to get these images of my sister and my best friend out of my head.”
He said it would take time, the recollection of better times, and filling that trauma with something positive.
“I think that is what they would want,” he stated.
Despite both growing up in London, Joshua and Donielle did not “officially meet” until five years ago. It happened at the Crown Sports Lounge when Robert and Joshua were having a few drinks and making plans for a future ride.
“I saw him looking at something across the room and then he made a comment about a hot woman who just came into the bar,” said Robert with a laugh. “I turned around and realized he was talking about my sister.”
Joshua and Donielle “hit it off right away.”
“I wasn’t mad or concerned at all,” said Robert, who was born a decade before Donielle. “Josh was the nicest guy I ever met.”
Soon after their chance meeting, Joshua and Donielle started dating and then began introductions to their extended families which included children and grandchildren.
Lacey Barker, Donielle’s daughter, said Joshua immediately got her stamp of approval.
“He was just a huge teddy bear,” she said.
Throughout those five years, the two were inseparable, traveling the country on Joshua’s bike for the sheer pleasure of it and to participate in causes that they supported.
“They were really drawn to each other due to their caring natures,” said Jessie Peterman, Donielle’s sister. “They would have done anything for anybody.”
Their families said they, too, would have done anything for Joshua and Donielle, but that little could have been done to save their lives when a passing motorist went left of center and crashed into their bike.
“We would give anything to go back and change what happened,” Barker said, “but the only thing we can do now is make sure other families do not feel this pain.”
In the aftermath of the fatal collision, a stranger reached out to the family, requesting permission to hold a charity ride in Joshua and Donielle’s memory.
John “Jethro” Robinette was on that same tour with the Kimbler and Peterman families but did not know any of them. He said despite that fact, their deaths were felt by everyone on that ride.
“It was heartbreaking,” he said. “A real senseless tragedy.”
Having founded the Forgotten Ones Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club earlier this year, Robinette said he wanted the organization to do something that could help the family through their grief.
“Initially, it was just going to be a fundraiser for the family, but we all wanted it to be more,” Robinette explained.
Rob Slane, Madison County administrator, suggested adding an awareness aspect to the charity ride.
“I’ve seen a lot of stupid things happen to motorcyclists on the road in my life, and I am just tired of it,” said Slane, a friend of Joshua’s who also saw the fatal accident. “I’m tired of looking over and seeing someone talking on the phone or putting on their makeup or doing anything else other than watching the road.”
He said that he hopes Senate Bill 285, or “Hands-Free Ohio,” will begin to address those issues.
“There has to be consequences for people who continue to do this and put our lives and the lives of other motorists in jeopardy,” Slane said.
Submitted in February by state senators Stephanie Kunze, 16th District, and Sean O’Brien, 32nd District, the proposed amendment broadens the scope of existing distracted driving legislation to make driving while handling any electronic wireless device a primary offense. Currently, using a wireless device to write, send or read a text-based communication while driving is a secondary offense.
According to Nick Adkins, assistant prosecutor with the Madison County Prosecutor’s Office, the proposed bill will increase fines for drivers who habitually use devices while driving and increase penalties in cases where a driver using a device causes serious injury or death. He said those penalties will mirror those assessed on offenders convicted of driving while intoxicated.
“I do believe that it would act as a deterrent to that kind of behavior and that it will really hold these individuals accountable if they have engaged in that type of behavior,” he said at Squatch and Dickie Memorial Poker Run on Oct. 17.
As a state senator, Kunze said she constantly hears heartbreaking stories from her constituents whose loved ones were either harmed or killed in distracted driving situations.
“With this bill, we are not just trying to change the law,” she said. “We are trying to change the culture.”
Senate Bill 285 has had its third committee reading. Kunze said she hopes it will go up for a vote and be passed by the end of the year.
While the Kimbler and Peterman families believe the driver of the vehicle who struck Joshua and Donielle was driving while distracted, the initial findings released by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office indicate that drugs or alcohol did not contribute to the cause of the accident. When the Messenger reached out to the Sheriff’s Office to request an update on the case, including whether it is believed distracted driving contributed to the accident, an official said they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.
Both families said that regardless of the cause, what matters is that their loved ones are now gone and that it is up to them to keep their memories alive.
“We have to fight for these laws,” said Robert. “We have to make them proud.”