Steve Groene arrived at The Coeur d’Alene Resort on Friday anticipating a press conference about the federal case against Joseph Edward Duncan III, the man who killed Groene’s 13-year-old son and is suspected in the death of his 9-year-old boy.
As Groene stood in front of a now-familiar crowd of local and national media with his daughter, Shasta, and Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas, he noticed his family and biker buddies were in the room.
Moments later he was straddling a custom-built chopper – a motorcycle valued at $80,000 and created for Groene in memory of his dead sons, Slade and Dylan.
Groene cried when the chopper came roaring into the hotel conference room, ridden by Dave Perewitz, a nationally known custom bike builder from Boston.
“We have put this bike together for you, Steve, as a special Christmas present,” Perewitz said.
Groene called the bike “the gift of a lifetime.”
Moments after receiving the bike, which was given to Groene during a taping of Geraldo Rivera’s nationally syndicated show, Groene said he suspected he wasn’t there for a press conference once he spotted his biker buddies in the audience.
He stood with Douglas, Shasta and Douglas’ granddaughter as the prosecutor wished Rivera – who conducted the interview from his East Coast studio – a merry Christmas.
“I can tell you we’re very, very pleased with the disposition of the Duncan case here in Coeur d’Alene,” Douglas said. “Right now we’re working very closely with our partners in the Department of Justice, and I can tell you that there is something very, very special planned in the near future.”
Douglas was telling Rivera that he was “probably going to have to wait and see what that very special thing is” when the engine roared to life in the hallway outside the conference room and Perewitz rode in.
At the urging of Rivera’s producer, the crowd cheered.
Groene sat on the bike and revved the engine. Shasta, who sat behind her father on a seat built specially for her, reached forward and twisted the throttle herself.
“I like it,” Shasta said of her dad’s new bike. “I think it’s good for him.”
Freelance writer Ronna Snyder organized the effort to get Groene a bike after hearing him plead in May 2005 for the safe return of Dylan and Shasta, allegedly kidnapped by Duncan from their home near Coeur d’Alene.
Duncan pleaded guilty in October and is serving a life sentence for murdering the children’s mother, Brenda Matthews Groene, her fiancé and 13-year-old Slade. Federal charges are expected for the kidnappings, Dylan’s death and related crimes, but federal prosecutors on Friday would not say when.
Snyder, also a biker, said she was touched when Groene promised his own Harley-Davidson motorcycle to anyone who helped his missing children get home safely. Now that he has a new bike, Groene is planning to raffle his old bike in the spring, with proceeds reportedly going to Shasta’s rescuers.
“When Shasta Groene was returned, that’s when I started making the phone calls,” Snyder said. She said she contacted Groene and met with him and Shasta under the pretext of writing an article. She was able to get the phone number of Groene’s sister, Wendy Price, and let her in on the secret.
Snyder also contacted Chris Maida, the editor of American Iron magazine, who said he would promote the bike in his magazine if a “magazine-worthy” bike was built.
George Latus of Latus Motors donated a 2006 Heritage Softail Harley-Davidson, which Perewitz tore apart and rebuilt. The builder plans to feature Groene’s custom bike on his TV show, “Celebrity Choppers” in the spring.
Finally, Snyder said, she contacted Rivera’s producer to see if Rivera would be interested in playing Santa Claus. Groene and Rivera became friends after Rivera interviewed Groene shortly after the kidnappings.
Initial plans called for unveiling the bike during Duncan’s trial in Kootenai County.
“We wanted to come rumbling to the courthouse steps and blow Duncan’s eardrums out so he could never hear another child’s cries,” Snyder said.
The presentation was postponed until Friday, just in time for the holidays, Snyder said.
“Certainly this is a tough time of year,” Groene said. “The time I treasured the most with my kids is the holiday.”
Groene said the new bike brings him happiness, though. He likes the feeling of the wind in his hair and being able to escape his worries, which include ongoing treatments for throat cancer, on the open road.
The names of his dead sons are painted on the rear fender.
“Hopefully, when I’m out there riding, my boys will be out there riding with me in spirit,” he said.