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The Ride of Their Lives

The LaFores make their living off of motorcycles -- even though motorcycles have already been the death of two sons.

Death came many times for Christian LaFore in his twin sister's dreams. Over and over, she saw his life end on the ski slopes, even though Christian wasn't a skier.

He did ride a motorcycle, however, and while she slept one night, Sarah LaFore watched Christian pull out of a Taco Bell drive-thru. She woke when oncoming traffic slammed into the bike, killing her brother.

By day, the LaFore family and motorcycles were inseparable. Christian and the twins' older brother, Jason (or "Jace"), would cruise their bikes up city streets and down open highways alongside their father, Mike; their mother, Chris, would ride on the back. The LaFore boys built their bikes from the ground up at LaFore's Custom Motorcycle Shop, the family's business in Lakewood.

By the summer of 1999, 21-year-old Christian had already created about a dozen bikes and worked on hundreds of other motorcycles. When he was just sixteen, he'd rebuilt a loud 1967 Camaro. It was faster than Jace's 1968 Camaro, but not because Christian wanted to top his big brother. He knew just how his Camaro had to be, and that's the only way he would build it. He'd watched the classic '80s flick Better Off Dead countless times, and loved the scene when the girl restores John Cusack's Camaro.

Cars were cool, but Christian preferred working on motorcycle engines. Rather than crawling around under a hood, he liked looking at what was laid out in front of his face. The laid-back kid always knew he'd be a mechanic, and with bikes, he got to work with his father, his uncle and sometimes his brother.

A couple of months after Sarah's motorcycle nightmare, Christian went to a cemetery with his fiancée, Lisa, to visit her father's plot. It was a summer Sunday, and as he and Lisa strolled through the graveyard, discussing death, a kneeling-angel headstone caught Christian's eye. That's how he'd like his grave marked when his time came, he told Lisa.

"Seriously, Christian was the best thing that ever happened to me," Lisa says. "At the time when I met him, I was unsure about a lot of things about myself. And he came in and reinforced positivity. He showed me there is still good, there are still good people out there. Not only was he a companion, but he gave me that security, like a father. Just a good person, easygoing, never hesitated to help somebody -- a gentleman. Christian was definitely the best thing to happen to me."

The next day, on July 26, 1999, Christian went to work at the family shop, where he was putting the finishing touches on a bright-blue, 1998 custom swing-arm for a California man. LaFore's builds bikes at an average cost of $45,000, for customers across the country. Like most LaFore's customers, the California man waiting for the swing-arm had become a family friend. Mike knew the new machine was perfect for him, and he was proud of the job his son had done. "Christian always had that smile," Mike says. "When he started up a bike and goosed it a little bit, the smile would get big with the rpms."

All that was left was a final test ride. Then Christian could slap a custom LaFore's seat on the bike and hand over the keys to its new owner.

Mike always told his boys to use the service road along Sixth Avenue for test rides, because the main strip was too busy. Christian roared off with a flat-head screwdriver in his pocket for some last fine-tuning. He knew the $30,000 machine well; he'd spent the last four months creating it.

Christian rode toward a T-shaped intersection. From the right, a white Nissan sedan suddenly made a left directly in front of him. The bike's tires melted into the pavement, screeching as Christian tried to stop, and then the bike slammed into the sedan at the intersection. Police found Christian's sunglasses tangled in the wiper blades. The windshield was cracked where his body had ricocheted into the air.

The crash woke a napping neighbor.

The driver of the sedan, Mary Murphy, was only a quarter of a mile from home.

Two witnesses told police that Christian was speeding, one said recklessly. They'd determined Christian's speed as they were driving along Sixth Avenue and the motorcycle passed them on the frontage road, they explained. From the evidence, Lakewood cops figured Christian was going 72 miles per hour. The posted speed limit on the frontage road is 35 miles per hour.

Angered when Lakewood decided not to pursue criminal charges against Murphy, the LaFores hired police-certified accident reconstructionists. Other witnesses told them that Murphy was on a cell phone when she stepped out of her vehicle. The reconstructionists concluded that Christian was cruising at 39 mph and that Murphy cut a corner at the intersection.

Christian's mother wrote Murphy a letter; she never received a response.

"It was a very tragic accident, and I still have remorse," Murphy says. "I'll live with this until I die, and I don't want to talk about it. I still can't talk about it."

"Basically, what it boils down to is, she wasn't paying attention," Mike says. "The story is that there is such a prejudice against motorcyclists."

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