Grim week for Minnesotans on motorcycles; 5 killed, 28 injured

The rise in fatalities in recent years mirrors a national trend.

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Seen from the 40th Street pedestrian bridge, a motorcylcist is sihlouetted beneath the 42nd Street Bridge while traveling north along I-35W, Friday, June 6, 2014, just south of downtown Minneapolis.

Photo: David Joles, DML - Star Tribune

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As many Minnesota motorcyclists hit the road for the first time in months, the increased ridership has brought a surge in accidents and prompted a plea for caution.

Five riders were killed in Minnesota in the past week, including two Thursday, according to the state Department of Public Safety. Those deaths bring this year’s number of motorcycle fatalities to 11, the same as at this time last year. Crashes have injured at least 28 other riders since May 29.

In response, the agency issued safety recommendations for motorists and motorcyclists.

“Sadly, we have had two motorcyclists killed in Minneapolis within a 29-hour time span,” Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said Friday. “Every driver has to take the extra time to truly look for people on motorcycles — look twice.

“Additionally, if choosing to ride a motorcycle, wear a helmet,” he said.

The motorcycle death toll has been rising in Minnesota and across the country. Motorcyclist fatalities in the U.S. had peaked in the late 1970s and 1980s, then dropped in the 1990s. But from 1997 to 2008, the number of deaths more than doubled. Minnesota logged 72 fatalities in 2008 — the highest number since 1985.

Of the five riders killed since May 29, four were not wearing helmets. In Minnesota, only motorcyclists under 18 or with instructional permits are required to wear a helmet.

The death toll includes:

Latimothy N. Saxon, 49, of Minneapolis, who was driving one of two motorcycles struck by a car Wednesday afternoon at Penn and 23rd Avenues N.

Patrick Rix, 42, of Duluth, an Iraq veteran who has been profiled in the Star Tribune. He was riding with a group of motorcyclists Thursday when he lost control and crashed on northbound Interstate 94 at Dowling Avenue N.

Gregory Cox, 55, of Burnsville, who died Thursday when his motorcycle sideswiped a car and then was struck by another car on Interstate 35W near Burnsville Parkway.

Jayson and Melonie Ingvall, of St. Francis, who were killed May 29 when they collided with a van making a U-turn on Hwy. 95 west of Cambridge.

Only Cox was wearing a helmet.

Bill Shaffer, program coordinator for the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center, remembers his first crash at 16, when he rounded a curve “a little too fast” and his motorcycle slid out from under him on the wet pavement.

Thankfully, he said, he was wearing safety gear, including a helmet — one of the conditions when he got his first motorcycle at age 10.

“I actually feel unsafe on a bike without one,” he said.

Nationwide, 60 percent of motorcyclists wore helmets that meet federal safety standards last year; about 30 percent wore no helmet at all. Nearly 90 percent of riders wore compliant helmets in states where it’s required, compared to less than 50 percent in states where it is not.

There’s a strong community of riders who oppose mandatory helmet laws — even if they often wear helmets.

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