By: Tom Moran Jr.
Richard M. Bellis’s death last week has left the community mourning the loss of a young life with so much potential.
Last Wednesday at 9 PM, the 16-year-old was killed when he crashed his dirt bike near a cement stanchion holding an iron gate near the entrance to a gravel pit behind the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant on Route 130. Just before the fatal accident, Sandwich police spotted Richard speeding through the dark on Route 130, without a helmet and without a headlight. According to a press release issued by the Sandwich Police Department, Richard was fleeing police when the accident happened.
His funeral was on Tuesday. At the crash site, friends have been leaving mementos in tribute to Richard since the accident. There is a beach chair, a baseball bat, dirt bike riding boots, and many, many flowers. The friends have also written notes of remembrance on the metal gate. As tragic as his death was, it has highlighted the problem of off-road vehicles using public roads and trespassing on private property. Is there a place in town where dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles can operate legally? The answer is a simple one, said Interim Police Chief Robert J. Pomeroy. “You can only operate an off-road vehicle on your own private property or another property with the owner’s permission.” “Dirt bikes are classified as off-road vehicles because they are not capable of being registered. They are not equipped or designed to be driven on a public way,” said Chief Pomeroy. While the sand pit behind the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant is an inviting place for riders, it is not a legal place to ride. Another popular spot in Sandwich for riding recreational vehicles is the land beneath the power lines, which is also illegal. Chief Pomeroy said there are a number of reasons why drivers should not be operating off-road vehicles on that land. In addition to the danger of riding near high tension power lines, there is the damage that off-road vehicles cause to the property. He noted that ATVs and dirt bikes cause erosion to the dirt roadway beneath the lines, making it difficult for utility trucks to travel them when necessary.
“It costs the power companies a lot of money to repair the damage,” he said. Even legal operation of these off-road vehicles poses a risk. According to statistics from the Massachusetts Environmental Police, in 2008, there were 50 accidents involving recreational vehicles with three fatalities; in 2007 there were 40 accidents with three fatalities and in 2006 there were 41 accidents with five fatalities.
“Most of the fatalities involved excessive speed or operator error,” said Catherine Williams, spokesman for the Massachusetts Environmental Police. She could not specify if those accidents and fatalities occurred at legitimate riding areas. Chief Pomeroy said it is up to the Massachusetts Environmental Police to monitor and enforce the laws pertaining to recreational vehicles. Although the Sandwich Police Department does have an all-terrain vehicle, the interim chief said he does not have the manpower to assign one person to patrol popular areas for dirt bike riding.
“We use the ATV to go out to the power lines, beaches, or woods for emergencies,” he said. As for not having designated, legal places for people to operate their off-road vehicles, the interim chief said, “that’s a little like me buying an airplane and then complaining that I don’t have a safe place to land it in Sandwich.” Chief Pomeroy said the illegal operation of dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles is not a situation that is unique to Sandwich. “It happens all over the state,” he said. Bourne Police Lieutenant Richard E. Tavares agreed, saying there are no legal places in Bourne for dirt bike riding. He noted, however, that an Internet search for the best places to ride a dirt bike or ATV will suggest the Massachusetts Military Reservation.
“It’s not permitted,” he said. Lt. Tavares said, in the past, working with neighboring police departments and the Massachusetts Environmental Police, Bourne police have gone to the base to stop the practice of riding dirt bikes there. “We’ll wait for them at the dropoff points and enforce the laws,” he said.
The fine for illegal operation of a recreational vehicle is $250 and confiscation of the vehicle. The owner must then pay to get the vehicle back. The hefty fine and confiscation of the bike is what may lead operators to flee when they see police.
If an operator is spotted at the base or other off-road areas, Lt. Tavares said police will not chase them. But, if the driver is operating on a public road, a police officer will attempt to stop the vehicle. He noted that there is a difference between attempting to stop a vehicle and chasing a vehicle at high speeds for a span of time. He said it is up to police to use their own best judgment when attempting to stop a driver. He said officers have to take into consideration the safety of the public and the community, as well as the safety of the driver. Chief Pomeroy would not comment on the Sandwich Police Department’s policy with respect to pursuing an off-road vehicle traveling on a public road.
“I’m not going to comment on that. Police officers have to use their heads. But there is an issue of personal responsibility. Some times kids make mistakes; they suffer the consequences and then learn from those mistakes. Hopefully the consequences are not so tragic that they don’t get the opportunity to learn,” he said.
Leave a Reply
In order to comment you need to be logged in.