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ANCHORAGE - Riding first and second in a line of six middle-aged Ohio motorcyclists Wednesday, Dwayne Haavisto and Joe Halsey watched as a car moving at freeway speed drifted toward them over the center line.
"At the last second, I swerved to my right," Halsey said Thursday. The third rider also got out of the way, with only inches to spare. The three others did not.
In their mirrors, Halsey and Haavisto caught the scene behind them. "I saw the explosion," Haavisto said. "It was just an explosion of dust, people, pieces of motorcycle."
The car smashed the other bikers, killing two of them and injuring the third.
Tim Boyce of Ashtabula died instantly, said Halsey, a paramedic, who examined his friend at the scene.
Greg Keyes of Mentor was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center and died there.
Boyce and Keyes, both 56, were retired firefighters.
The rider who survived the collision, Biagio "Ben" Tomaro, 61, a retired heavy equipment operator from Highland Heights, was treated at Valley Hospital in Palmer and released. Tomaro suffered cuts and road burns and walked with a limp Thursday but was well enough to talk about the crash.
The occupants of the car, a rented Kia Optima, were driver Ben Shimbo, 73, and passenger Etsu Shimbo, 64, of Kirkland, Wash. They were treated at Valley Hospital for minor injuries and released, according to Alaska State Troopers. The Shimbos could not be reached by the Anchorage Daily News.
The driver of a van following the motorcycles veered off the road to avoid the crash but was not injured.
Troopers Sgt. Rodney Johnson said Thursday that a preliminary investigation indicates that Ben Shimbo "may have fallen asleep at the wheel." The surviving bikers, interviewed at a friend's house in Anchorage, agreed.
"The car didn't waver," Halsey said. "There was no change of direction until the first impact of a motorcycle."
The six riders had left Ohio on June 25 and already had traveled 5,000 miles through the Midwest, three Canadian provinces and into Alaska. They drove the Dalton Highway past the Arctic Circle, then returned to Fairbanks and drove to Denali National Park. Their plan called for them to be back home July 25.
Each day, they rode about 13 hours, covering 500 to 600 miles, and camped at night. They rode through seven days of rain after leaving Ohio.
"The hardest part of the trip was over," Haavisto said. "All that was left was the city riding."
Their adventure was organized by Keyes, described by his friends as a man with a penchant for excitement, discipline and safety.
"He wanted everyone to come home safely," said Halsey, who at 40 was the youngest of the group.