Turning a terrible tragedy into an opportunity to help other victims of crime, Brantford resident Susan Gerth and her team are bringing Desiree’s Ride to Ridgetown June 9 for the second annual fundraising motorcycle ride and dance.
In memory of Gerth’s daughter, Desiree Gallagher, the ride raises funds for women’s shelters and victim services organizations in the communities where the ride takes place.
According to Gerth, Desiree was a beautiful, vibrant young 21-year-old woman with hopes and dreams. She attended Mohawk College and was only five credits away from graduating the Biotechnology program.
“On May 25, 2013, Desiree’s life changed forever, when Desiree became a victim of crime. She was brutally assaulted before falling seven stories from a balcony. Desiree survived, but sustained very serious injuries. She had her skull removed to relieve the swelling of the brain,” Gerth explained. “She lived nine months without part of her skull, until a new one was made for her. She broke her spine in two spots and had a rod and 14 screws holding her spine together. She also broke her left arm, her right ankle had to be fused together and she was left blind and in a wheelchair.”
Her blindness was due to the brain injury she sustained from the fall, Gerth said and she remained in the hospital for over a year. After being released from the hospital she went to stay at Participation House, needing 24-hour care.
Justin Primmer, who assaulted Desiree, took pictures of her beaten face, which were found on his cell phone. He was sentenced to six months for assault causing bodily harm, but how Desiree went over the balcony is still an ongoing investigation. Gerth said the injury to her brain made it impossible for her daughter to recall the events of that day, and Primmer claimed he was not responsible for her fall.
The first ride in Brantford in 2014 which she and Desiree’s Angels organized, Gerth said, was initially to raise money for Desiree’s rehabilitation and medical costs, resulting in $10,000 in pledges.
“After she passed away in 2013, we had another ride in the making so we continued to plan, and also to ride in her memory. I’ve had some people come on board and we have a wonderful committee and registered Desiree’s Angels as a non-profit in 2016,” Gerth noted.
Now Desiree’s Ride is expanding to other communities, including Chatham-Kent, which had its first ride last year.
“This is really helping me a lot, keeping me strong, trying to continue on each day. It’s been a nightmare but I have a bunch of wonderful people that are supporting me and tons of support from all over Brantford, her home town,” Desiree’s mom explained. “I think it’s really important that more awareness needs to be made out there for victims as well as services that are provided to victims of crime such as women’s centres and victim services organizations.”
Gerth said victim services helped with hotels, food and gas to drive back and forth to London where Desiree was hospitalized, a service she wasn’t aware was available.
“I never knew it was out there. To tell you the truth, I thought victim services was part of the police service but they are their own charity,” she noted.
Part of the healing in organizing the rides, Gerth said, is when they are at a ride and a victim may come forward at the event, asking for help, which makes every event so important.
“It also helps bring awareness. What happened to our family, you only see in movies, but it can actually happen in real life. Anyone can become a victim of crime. There are seniors out there; children out there who are victims of crime and your life can change so drastically in a flash,” she noted.
Gerth said victims deal with a lot that people don’t think about. The trauma lives on much longer than physical healing.
“Watching her deal with surgeries, having a daughter blind and in a wheelchair, dealing with the courts – nobody gets it until they go through it,” she said. “It’s physical, mental and a lot of it’s financial.”
Expanding to other communities is something important to Gerth to help out. She said the women running the organizations in Chatham – Pam Fasilo at Chatham-Kent Victim’s Services and Karen Hunter at the Chatham-Kent Women’s Centre – are amazing women and she’s feels privileged to meet the wonderful people in different communities.
“There’s bad people in life like the monster that did this to my daughter, but there are also a lot of good people out there. Bikers love doing the rides and love to raise money for different causes,” Gerth noted.
There aren’t a lot of rides geared to victims of crime and when you are a victim, Gerth said you feel like you are alone. She and Desiree’s Angels want to make sure people know they are not alone and they are supported.
Hunter, executive director at CKWC, said she appreciates the efforts of Gerth to raise much-needed money in Chatham-Kent for support services for women at the centre.
“Last year, the ride was small, maybe 25 riders, and we are really hoping to get more people involved and create more awareness about the services available to them in their community,” Hunter said.
The motorcycle ride and dance takes place June 9 at the Royal Canadian Legion 243 – 75 Main St. E., Ridgetown.
Registration starts at 11 a.m. with departure at 1 p.m.
People interested in riding can pre-register online or the day of the event.
For more information about Desiree’s Ride, contact organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.desireesride.com to register and get a route map.