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Bike Week fires its pistons for home

Police and hospital officials report four dead and dozens admitted to the hospital during the event, which attracts an estimated 500,000.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001

DAYTONA BEACH -- Hundreds of thousands of bikers will ride out of town today as Bike Week 2001 rattles to a stop.

Until it's over, police and emergency room doctors will be crossing their fingers.

Four people have died so far during the 10-day event, compared with a record 15 deaths last year, said police and hospital officials.

Authorities had worried that this Bike Week would be deadlier than usual because it's the first one since Florida repealed its helmet law.

But the death toll has been average, even though Florida motorcycle deaths have increased dramatically since the helmet law changed last summer.

"We've had just about the same number of motorcycle crash victim admissions as we had last year. Fortunately, a majority of them have been wearing helmets," said Kate Holcomb, spokeswoman for Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach. "But we have several people in the hospital whose only injury is a severe head injury due to lack of wearing a helmet."

During the past nine days, 49 people have been admitted to the hospital with Bike Week-related injuries, Holcomb said Saturday.

Twenty-five wore helmets and 15 didn't. It's unknown whether six others were wearing helmets. Three patients weren't injured on motorcycles.

Police say motorcycle crashes are inevitable, considering the sheer number of people in town.

In its 60th year, Bike Week is bigger than ever. An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 people show up, according to police and the Chamber of Commerce.

"You've got to burn a little fuel to the motorcycle gods so they'll smile on you for another year," said Tom Deegan, sales manager at Jim's Harley-Davidson in St. Petersburg.

Deegan is wearing his helmet this weekend in Daytona Beach, where more than half the riders are going bareheaded. The vast majority of them will ride home unscathed. But not all.

Three men died the first weekend: two pedestrians hit by motorcycles, and a rider who fell from his cycle and hit his head on U.S. 1's pavement. He wore a small plastic half-helmet, police said. A fourth man died Tuesday, thrown from his cycle on Interstate 4 and run over by two trucks.

The rest of the week was a series of close calls and severe injuries. Tuesday, two bikers were pinned under a sport utility vehicle on Main Street. Wednesday, a skydiver landed on a waitress at a coleslaw wrestling event. Thursday, a rider in a stunt show missed a landing ramp and crashed onto concrete.

The death toll still could rise. This weekend is even more crowded than the first weekend. And last year, three people died riding home from Bike Week.

Florida repealed its helmet law July 1. During the next six months, motorcycle deaths statewide rose 44 percent compared with the last six months of 1999. Deaths of helmetless riders quintupled.

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