The Southern Cross motorcycle riding club often holds charity events to raise money for those in need, but on Saturday the group was simply out for a ride to have fun, one of its founders said Monday.
"It was a good day, just a lot of laughing," Teddy Newsome said in a phone interview. "That day was just a joy ride."
Newsome, 46, of Disputanta, said he and several other members of Southern Cross had ridden through Prince George County and out around Williamsburg on Saturday before they were getting ready to head back to the Tri-Cities.
At about 6:40 p.m., the caravan of eight people on five motorcycles entered the ramp from Maury Street to southbound Interstate 95 in South Richmond. Newsome was leading the way.
Out of the corner of his eye, Newsome said he saw the first bike behind him go down. The three other motorcycles behind that one also lost control and veered left, with some of the motorcycles striking a guardrail, according to a preliminary investigation by the Virginia State Police. Three of the motorcycles had two riders.
Newsome, who was not carrying a passenger, was the only rider who didn't go down. Of the seven riders who were thrown from their motorcycles, three of them died and two are still in the hospital, he said.
After the wrecks, Newsome said he "went from person to person to see how bad they were." He said he saw broken legs and arms, chunks of skin missing. "I saw two of them dead."
He said that the motorcycles behind his had hit some gravel before they wrecked.
State police Sgt. Keeli Hill said on Monday that "gravel is not something that [investigators] are looking at to be a cause of the crash."
"Speed is definitely being considered a factor," Hill said, adding that the investigation is still underway.
She said one witness who was driving in the area told police that the motorcycles passed him at what appeared to be a high speed before they took the ramp.
Another witness said there was a slight curve in the ramp and "it appeared they entered the curve too fast," Hill said.
According to Virginia Department of Transportation officials, improvements to the I-95/Maury Street interchange have been proposed "to address current deficiencies in capacity, geometry and safety." The plan includes adding a single-lane roundabout at the interchange as part of a broad package of improvements along the I-95 corridor. Construction is expected to start next summer.
"The roundabout is expected to improve safety and operations at the interchange," said Bethanie Glover, a VDOT spokesman.
Not including Saturday's motorcycle accidents, crash data on the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles website show that three wrecks have occurred at the interchange since the beginning of 2018, with one injury.
All three of those accidents unfolded on the off ramp from I-95 southbound onto Maury Street, not on the ramp that was the site of Saturday's triple fatality.
John A. Todt, 56, who was operating one of the motorcycles on Saturday, was killed along with his wife Roxann W. Todt, 53, who was his passenger. The couple had been married more than 30 years and lived with their dog Buddy in McKenney, a town in Dinwiddie County, relatives said.
A passenger on another motorcycle, Teresa L. Sexton, 41, of Petersburg, was taken to a hospital and later pronounced dead.
Newsome said he and John Todt had been friends for four years. "John and Roxann were God-fearing people, the kind of people who would give the shirt off their back," Newsome said.
Jolene Cave, one of John Todt's three sisters, said her brother enjoyed hunting and fishing and being in the woods.
"He loved live and he loved to ride his bike," she said. "He loved to spend time with his bike friends. They did so much good for their local community."