ATV usage, injuries on rise
About one-third of accident victims on the popular off-road vehicles are under 16.
By JONATHAN ABEL
Published August 15, 2006
Gloria Everett didn't know an all-terrain vehicle had crashed in the woods near her Hernando County home Saturday until a 12-year-old girl showed up at her door, sobbing.
"She's telling me, 'We had an accident and we need help,' " Everett recalled. The girl, Angeline Delpilar, said her cousin wasn't moving.
"She's lying there," Angeline told Everett. "I can't wake her up. Her eyes are in the back of her head. ... I didn't mean for it to happen."
The death of Danielle M. Frascello, 13, was the fourth serious wreck in the Tampa Bay area involving ATVs in just over a week. The girls were riding a vehicle built for one when they hit a tree. In Hillsborough County, three people, one younger than 16, were hurt in separate incidents when they lost control of their ATVs.
More than 15-million people nationwide ride ATVs, according to the industry, and about 900,000 of them were sold last year. As sales have revved up, so has the number of people who have been hurt riding them.
Few rules govern the off-road vehicles, which are especially popular in rural areas. In Florida, they cannot be used on public roads, and on private property the only real restriction is that riders under 16 must wear helmets.
On Oct. 1, a new state law will allow ATVs to be ridden on unpaved public roads where the speed limit is under 35 mph, among other restrictions, officials said.
"On private property, you could put an infant on one," said Cpl. Demetrios Antoniadis of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said, "We have data that's showing more than 400 deaths per year with ATVs nationally, and the state of Florida ranks among the top 10 in ATV-related deaths. We have seen an increase in death and injuries as these ATVs have become more popular."
That includes 72 deaths in Florida from 2002 through 2004, the last period for which data is available, Wolfson said.
About a third of deaths and injuries involve victims under 16.
On Saturday, Angeline and Danielle were riding a 2001 Arctic Cat 250, which belongs to Danielle's father. It is a single-rider vehicle with a maximum speed around 50 mph and a big engine. The girls were riding it down a narrow dirt road in the woods, past signs that said "Motorized Vehicles Prohibited."
It was one of many makeshift tracks that pepper the rural parts of the North Suncoast, where ATVs are popular.
Somehow the girls ended up in the trees.
Angeline found her way through the woods to Everett's house. After they called 911, Everett took the distraught girl in her arms.
Danielle, an eighth-grade honor student who liked to play soccer, died at Tampa General Hospital.
Angeline was treated for minor injuries and released.
Neither girl was wearing a helmet.
Everett said the wreck made her angry.
"I blame the parents," she said. "They should have had helmets."
The Frascello family declined Monday to talk about the loss of their daughter.
Consumer and industry advocates stress that following safety rules, even voluntary ones, can prevent accidents: never ride an ATV intended for one person with a passenger; never ride an ATV on paved surfaces; always wear a helmet; and never let a child younger than 16 get on an adult-size machine.
"You wouldn't take a beginner snow skier and take him on a double black diamond trail. You just wouldn't do that," said Tom Yager, the vice president of safety programs for the All-Terrain Vehicle Safety Institute, a nonprofit industry group. "As a responsible parent you get the appropriate gear. That nowadays would include a helmet."
The other recent cases in Tampa Bay have not resulted in death, but some of the riders have been seriously injured.
On Aug. 5, an Odessa teen was hospitalized after the ATV he was driving flipped. Christopher R. Martinez, 15, was pulling an inflatable raft behind the ATV when the strap connecting the two got caught under the ATV, throwing him onto the pavement, said sheriff's Detective Lisa Haber-Bosley.
Martinez was released from St. Joseph's Hospital on Aug. 11. A message left Monday afternoon for his family was not returned.
On Thursday, a Seffner man was taken to Tampa General Hospital after he lost control of the ATV he was driving, flipping the vehicle. Nathan Allidice, 39, remained in critical condition at the hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Ellen Fiss.
On Saturday, 29-year-old Tampa resident Lavar Baugh was seriously injured when his ATV collided with a Toyota, police said. The impact knocked Baugh from the ATV. He remained in intensive care at Tampa General Hospital on Monday, Fiss said.
Neil Reinhardt, associate director of the pediatric emergency room at Tampa General Hospital, was in the emergency room when Danielle Frascello died.
He has seen too many of these crashes recently.
"You turn the human body into a missile at these speeds and when it runs into a tree, the tree is going to win," he said. "Most of the deaths are all because they don't wear a helmet."
Jonathan Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.