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Residents speak for and against proposed ATV law

June 04, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Gary Collis was the first person to speak at a public hearing dealing with all-terrain vehicles Thursday night, but what he had to say may have remained lodged in many people's minds.

From 1990 to 2003 in West Virginia, 220 people were killed in ATV-related wrecks, said Collis, program manager of the Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority.

Of those, 95 percent were not wearing helmets and one-third died in wrecks on a road. An 18-month-old girl was the youngest to die, an 86-year-old man was the oldest.

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Collis was one of more than 30 people who spoke at the hearing before the Berkeley County Commission. Most spoke in favor of a draft county ordinance that would prohibit ATVs from all roads in the county, whether private or public, paved or dirt.

The commissioners listened to comments for more than 90 minutes, but did not take any action.

"I don't even know why we're here talking about this," said Robert Crookshank, of Falling Waters, W.Va.

ATV manufacturers place stickers on the machines that clearly state they are not to be ridden on roads or with a passenger, said Crookshank, a proponent of the ordinance.

Doris Smith said her son was allowed to buy an ATV even after losing his license for drunken-driving convictions. He was killed in an ATV wreck.

"Something should be done about it before anybody else gets killed," she said.

Jim Glover spoke against the ordinance, saying he paid $6,300 for his ATV, which he said he should be allowed to ride on gravel roads.

"You're condemning everybody that owns one," he said.

Before storming out of the room, Glover said he pays taxes on an ATV that he will only be able to visit in his garage if the ordinance passes.

Also speaking against the ordinance was Donald Seibert Sr., who said if children cannot ride ATVs, crime will increase because they will vandalize property and "do other stuff."

He said the ATV ordinance would clog the courts, allowing "real criminals" to get away. He suggested the county is turning Communist.

Others had stories to tell about ATVs riders.

Lt. Dennis Streets, with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, said they ride past his marked police cruiser in his subdivision, even at 2 or 3 a.m.

Anita Crookshank said she saw a girl, whom she estimated to be 3 years old, riding without a helmet on the front of an ATV.

Barbara Boyd said that on one night three ATV riders traveled along Mount Olive Road with no headlights. She said she pulled out of her driveway and missed hitting them by inches.

Although many people implored the commissioners to require ATV riders to obtain tags, licenses and insurance, that requirement would need to be established on the state level, Commissioner Howard Strauss said.

If the county passes its ATV ordinance, it would supersede a state law that only prohibits ATVs on roads with lines.

Under terms of the county ordinance, those found riding an ATV on a road would be charged with a misdemeanor and fined.

First-time offenders would pay a fine of up to $100. Second-time offenders would pay up to $500 and perform eight hours of community service and third-time offenders would pay up to $1,000 and perform 24 hours of community service.

David Ditto, who lives in Back Creek Valley, said he thought the fines were too light.

He proposed that first-time offenders pay $500 and second-time offenders pay $1,000. A third-time offender should have his ATV taken away, Ditto said, prompting loud applause from the crowd of more than 50.

Strauss said the commissioners will look into possibly increasing the fines.

Charles Weidman said he is a responsible ATV owner with no place to ride. He said he should be allowed to ride in the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area, a large hunting and fishing area filled with dirt roads in the western part of the county.

Dennis Phillips, of Bunker Hill, said he favors the ordinance.

He suggested that law enforcement officers strictly enforce the ordinance so ATVs riders realize the law must be followed.

"It's wild West Virginia more and more," he said.

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