Stunt motorcyclists blamed in serious accident
Wreck forces SUV off road, injures five people
ST. LOUIS, Missouri (AP) -- Authorities are searching for a pack of highway stunt motorcyclists blamed for a wreck that seriously hurt five people in a sport utility vehicle.
A handful of motorcyclists were on Highway 364 Saturday when they changed lanes and cut off a Ford Explorer, forcing that vehicle to swerve to the right and hit a Chevrolet Suburban.
The Suburban tumbled down an embankment, ejecting most of its eight occupants. Five people in that vehicle were seriously injured; the other three sustained lesser harm. Only one was wearing a seat belt.
"There's a common misconception that if motorcyclists are in an accident, they're going to only hurt themselves. This proved that wrong," Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Brian Geier said Tuesday. "Now the public is more aware that these types of stunts cause these accidents."
By some accounts, a chase vehicle was filming the motorcyclists.
Witnesses said the motorcyclists were "riding wheelies, showing off, doing stunts," with another vehicle following them, Patrol Cpl. Jeff Myers said. He called the antics "total disregard for the safety of others."
In many cases, "extreme motorcyclists" -- thrill-seekers who pop wheelies while pushing their machines to the max, at times over 100 mph -- film their exploits for display, at times for online sale.
Nationwide fatalities increase
Safety advocates are quick to point out that motorcycling is no game, with fatalities nationwide having risen every year since 1997. The number jumped from 2,116 in 1997 to 3,661 in 2003. It's not clear how many of those deaths were related to extreme motorcycling, said Judy Stone of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a Washington-based lobbying group funded by the insurance industry.
During a three-hour drive home last weekend from Pennsylvania, she said she saw motorcyclists "going so fast, weaving in and out of traffic. It was so outrageous. They had to be going 80, 90, 100 miles per hour."
"It's totally irresponsible and very dangerous," she said. "Clearly, you've seen the results of that."
In June 2003 near Omaha, Nebraska, 34-year-old John Reid Jr. was standing on a road videotaping motorcyclists performing stunts and racing when he was run over and killed by motorcyclist Michael Wilkes. Investigators said Wilkes was driving as fast as 150 mph; he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor motor-vehicle homicide, a charge reduced from a felony.
In Arizona, things got so bad that law enforcers in 2002 created a task force targeting sport bike riders that police and motorcyclists agreed were pushing the limits on that state's roads.
Sometimes, authorities said, packs of 10 or 15 sport motorcyclists have raced on Phoenix-area highways, terrifying other motorists. Often, one officer lamented, "their kick is to find cops, race by them, give them the middle finger salute or wave at the officer. They are out of sight in the blink of an eye."