A 10-year hiatus will end Saturday with the long-awaited resurrection of The Laci & Conner Memorial Ride, an event geared toward motorcyclists but accepting anyone wanting to pay respect to Modesto's two best-known murder victims.
Laci's cousin, Shawn Rocha, organized the ride and associated events the first five years after she disappeared while eight months pregnant on Christmas Eve 2002, sparking a massive search and national intrigue. Her husband, Scott Peterson, was convicted of double-murder and sent to death row where he awaits the outcome of appeals.
The annual ride — usually attended by many of Laci's family members, members of the prosecution team and a celebrity or two – ran for five years but lapsed after 2007. Rocha said family and friends missed it, so he decided to bring it back this year, with a new and appropriate beneficiary: Haven Women's Center of Stanislaus, whose mission is helping domestic violence victims.
"It's a good cause and seemed fitting, while at the same time honoring Laci and Conner," Rocha said. He traditionally has Sharon Rocha, Laci's mother and his aunt, seated behind him on his motorcycle.
"We felt it was a natural fit," said Denise Hecht, public relations manager for Haven. The nonprofit's other major fundraisers are Walk a Mile in Her Shoes in April, and Kick up Your Heels in October.
A $25 registration fee for Saturday includes a pulled-pork lunch and beverage plus a special Laci & Conner Memorial Ride metal lapel pin for the first 250 participants. Commemorative t-shirts are extra.
People can register starting at 8 a.m. Saturday at Mitchell's Modesto Harley Davidson, 500 Carpenter Rd. Motorcycles and other vehicles will head out about 10 a.m. to the victims' gravesite at Burwood Cemetery near Escalon, then ride to Lagorio's Bar and Grill, 25550 Highway 4 in Farmington for lunch, a raffle, and live music by Nathan Ignacio.
Years ago, the ride benefited a search and rescue fund, evoking the memory of thousands of people searching for Laci in vain in the weeks and months after she vanished. The bodies of mother and fetus washed ashore at San Francisco Bay four months after her husband said he fished there.
His blockbuster 2004 trial made clear that "this was truly a domestic violence situation," Hecht said.
"Laci didn't have the chance to use a resource like Haven, but other women do," Shawn Rocha said. "I think this is something she would want us to do.
"It seemed like everyone related to Laci because they had a daughter or niece or cousin who was an expectant mother," he continued. "Being a young and vibrant and beautiful girl, her life fit into the dynamics of everyone else's family. That was the appeal from the start."
Garth Stapley, firstname.lastname@example.org