Safety Officials: Look Out For Motorcycles

Posted: May 23, 2014

Sgt. Pete Ritchie of the Harrisonburg Police Department talks about a motorcycle crash he was in while riding on Brocks Gap Road near Fulks Run about a decade ago. Ritchie was speaking at a press conference at the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad promoting Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. (Photo by Pete DeLea)

HARRISONBURG — In 2001, about six months after getting his motorcycle license, Sgt. Pete Ritchie was driving his personal Yamaha motorcycle west on Brocks Gap Road near Fulks Run.

It was getting dark.

“I was pushing the envelope,” said Ritchie, during a press conference promoting Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month Thursday at the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad in Harrisonburg. “I had to get to my destination.”

Just as he passed Runions Creek Road, several deer jumped in front of him. He avoided the first deer, but he crashed into the second one.

Ritchie was driving about 52 mph at the time of the crash, slower than the 55 mph speed limit. He sustained only minor injuries, including a large bruise on his leg from his thigh to his knee.

He credits his helmet for minimizing the damage.

“Had I not had a helmet on, I’d probably would have been knocked unconscious …  then who knows what would have happened from there,” said Ritchie, who oversees the motorcycle unit for the Harrisonburg Police Department.

He was among a dozen or so safety officials to attend Thursday’s press conference to bring attention to motorcycle safety.

Capt. Paul Helmuth, the safety, wellness and EMS officer with the Harrisonburg Fire Department, said local roads will see heavy motorcycle traffic in the coming months with the onset f summer.

“Motorcyclists are a big attraction for the Valley,” said Helmuth, noting the weather and attractive scenery throughout the Harrisonburg area.

Sgt. Frank Pyanoe of the Virginia State Police said motorcyclists and drivers of cars and trucks must lookout for each other.

Pyanoe said motorcycle crashes usually have bad endings.

“I’ve seen firsthand the devastation crashes can cause families,” he said.

Pyanoe said the leading causes of motorcycle crashes are distracted driving and speeding.

Motorcyclists do appear to be heeding the safety message, at least in Virginia. The number of motorcycle-related deaths in the commonwealth has decreased from 90 in 2011 to 63 last year.

During the press conference, police, fire and rescue squad members also promoted the use of Rider Alert cards — cards containing personal information placed inside helmets.

With the cards, emergency responders at a crash can quickly ascertain medical conditions, any allergies a rider might have and whom to contact in an emergency.

Riders can pick up the free card at the city’s rescue squad on Reservoir Street, at any of the four Harrisonburg fire stations or at the Public Safety Building in downtown Harrisonburg.

Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or

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