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TPD sees increase in motorcycle fatalities

Posted at 10:09 AM, May 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-12 13:09:23-04
Hundreds of thousands of people ride motorcycles in Arizona and the number of registered motorcycles continues to rise year after year. 
 
"It's the most free feeling you can get," said local rider Phil Vlahos. "You definitely have to keep your eyes open and your head up."
 
Vlahos has been riding for a couple of years but he also works at RideNow Powersports and says he always emphasizes to customers the importance of safety gear. 
 
"I've seen people walk away from crumpled beer can wrecks because they were wearing the appropriate gear," he said. 
 
According to numbers from Tucson Police, more motorcycle riders are dying on Tucson roads this year. So far, TPD has responded to four accidents that killed a motorcyclist, compared to just three in all of 2015. 
 
The serious injury accidents are adding up too. On Monday night, a motorcycle rider went to the hospital with serious injuries after an accident at Speedway and Craycroft. 
 
 At the end of March, a 17-year-old boy survived a serious motorcycle accident on Golf Links Road when he and another car collided. His motorcycle actually caught fire and witness video shows people coming to his rescue.
 
The teen was wearing a helmet at the time but the crash still left him with a crushed vertebrae, a brain bleed and a displaced pelvic bone.

Detective Mark Munoz with the Tucson Police Department Traffic Investigations Unit says this crash is currently one of several open cases his unit has. And recently, a lot of their cases have looked almost identical. 
 
According to Munoz, several cases involved a driver making a left hand turn who doesn't see the motorcyclist coming. The motorcyclist can't react in time to swerve around and the two collide. But he also says the other drivers in these accidents share a dangerous habit.
 
"A lot of them are unfortunately impairment driving," he said.

Detectives have responded to nine serious injury or fatal motorcycle accidents so far this year. Five of them involved impaired drivers, including the case involving the 17-year-old boy on his motorcycle. Police arrested the other driver, Christina Gee and say she was impaired at the time. 
 
"If you're a motorcyclist driver, you've just got to be careful and drive defensively because you never know when a vehicle is going to pull out in front of you," said Munoz.
 
Speed also can play a factor in these serious accidents. On April 27, a 23-year-old man died after police say he was speeding down Valencia on a motorcycle and collided with a trash truck trying to make a left turn.
 
In surveillance video released only to 9OYS, you can see just how fast the motorcycle was traveling. The video was captured from across the street and you first see a white van who police say was going the speed limit. 
 
Then you see the motorcyclist fly by, moments before the collision with the trash truck. 
 
"In a dump truck, he's able to make the turn safely but when you have somebody traveling possibly double the speed limit, that person is going to approach a whole lot quicker," said Munoz.
 
According to 2014 crash facts from the Arizona Department of Transportation, 27 percent of fatal motorcycle accidents involved riders going too fast. But 25 percent of fatal accidents involved the riders doing nothing wrong. The rest of the accidents were attributed to various traffic violations. 
 
In injury crashes during that same year, nearly half of all motorcycle accidents happened as a result of the rider taking no improper action. 
 
"People are not paying attention to their surroundings and unfortunately collisions happen," said Munoz.
 
He also says there's nothing his unit can attribute to the increase in fatal accidents on Tucson roads. And he says there isn't one area of town where more accidents happen.
 
The most he can say is to put away the distractions and follow the rules of the road.
 
"If they're not following those rules, something is going to happen," he said.