Deaths highlight dangers of ATVs

Another fatal all-terrain vehicle crash - in which the two victims, one a New Port Richey resident, wore no safety gear - reminds riders that an ATV requires skill and precautions to operate.

Published August 28, 2006

Most Sundays, you are likely to find Billy Montgomery and his family having the time of their lives riding their all-terrain vehicles. Everyone, from father on down to his 4-year-old daughter, has a blast hopping their four-wheel machines over hills and squirting them through the tight turns of the half-mile dirt race course at Brooksville Motocross.

Despite the fun, Montgomery knows that danger is always present - which is why before he jumps onto his Polaris Predator 500 ATV, he takes the proper precautions by donning a full-face helmet, a plastic chest protector, leather gloves and heavy-duty riding boots. It's not only because they're required of every rider at the track but also because in Montgomery's experience, they work.

"I can't tell you how many times I've fallen off this thing," he said Sunday afternoon as he leaned against his mud-covered ATV. "It's scary to think what would have happened if I wasn't wearing safety equipment."

News of two more ATV deaths in Hernando County during the weekend saddened Montgomery and other four-wheel riders who showed up Sunday at Brooksville Motocross.

About 9 a.m. Saturday, the bodies of Richard Ryan Martin, 28, of Weeki Wachee and James Freeman Jr., 34, of New Port Richey were discovered near the wreckage of their ATV by a 12-year-old boy.

Florida Highway Patrol investigators think the two men were killed sometime during the night when their four-wheeler skidded off a lime rock road near Papercraft Avenue and Eskimo Curlew Road and slammed into a tree. Authorities said neither was wearing a helmet or any other protective gear.

Montgomery, 30, who has ridden dirt bikes and ATVs since he was 8 years old, said even experienced riders make tragic mistakes by forgetting basic safety rules.

"I think a lot of (ATV and dirt bike riders) get a false sense of security sometimes, like nothing's going to happen to them," Montgomery said. "But all it takes is one mistake, and you end up paying for it the rest of your life."

The orange 2005 Polaris Predator ATV that Martin and Freeman were riding when they crashed was similar to the one that Montgomery races on weekends in the quad division at Brooksville Motocross. Sport ATVs differ from trail or utility models in that they are designed to be agile and fast. Built on a tube-frame chassis, even unmodified sport ATVs are capable of speeds in excess of 70 mph.

Tracy Price, who runs Brooksville Motocross and is an avid quad rider, said sport quads such as the one that Martin and Freeman were riding require a high level of skill to operate safely.

"What they were riding on was built strictly for speed," Price said. "It doesn't take much for them to get away from you. If you hit a bump or a dip going fast ... the handlebars get yanked right out of your hands."

FHP investigators aren't certain how fast the victims' ATV was going when it crashed. The impact was hard enough to shear off branches and to uproot a small tree.

Attempts to reach the victims' families were unsuccessful. The crash was still under investigation Sunday.

This weekend's crash comes on the heels of a string of Tampa Bay area ATV fatalities, including the Aug. 12 crash that killed 13-year-old Danielle M. Frascello. The Brooksville girl died after being thrown from the ATV being driven by her 12-year-old cousin.

Price thinks the upsurge of accidents in Hernando County is because there are increasingly more ATVs and fewer places to ride them.

"That's why I built the motocross track," he said. "People who want to ride fast can come and do it in a controlled atmosphere. Everybody's going in the same direction, and we make sure that people follow the rules and stay safe."