Grim statistic sparks concern

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 22, 2001

Thursday marked the fourth in a grim statistic for the Miss-Lou community this year.

That afternoon Christopher Lehmann, 11, of Roxie, Miss., died in a four-wheeler accident.

Earlier this year, Andy Slade, 12, of Vidalia, and Kayla Elizabeth Hamilton, 15, of Monterey, died in unrelated four-wheeler accidents in Concordia Parish.

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The fourth fatality took place Wednesday.

Julius Manuel, 53, of Baton Rouge, died from injuries he received in a four-wheeler accident in Adams County earlier this month.

Noticing these tragedies, local officials say people should realize that anyone can lose their life in a four-wheeler accident.

&uot;Everybody needs to realize how serious these (four-wheeler accidents) are,&uot; said Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell said.

Four-wheelers have been described as loaded guns because of the potential for accidents.

&uot;You have to respect them,&uot; said Franklin County Sheriff James Newman. &uot;It can happen to anybody.&uot;

But young people seem to be especially vulnerable.

According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, of the 3,716 reported all terrain vehicle fatalities from 1982 to 1999, 1,310 or 35 percent involved victims less than 16-year-old.

Another 569 of the victims, or 15 percent, were less than 12-years-old.

And 90 percent of the 153 reported fatalities in 1999 involved four-wheel ATVs.

That’s why Randy Johnson, general manager of Great River Honda in Natchez, said his business avoids selling four-wheelers to people buying them for children.

&uot;It’s not worth us making a sale to hurt a child,&uot; Johnson said.&uot; &uot;They’re not a toy. They’re not for children.&uot;

Four-wheelers do not come with seatbelts, have a tendency to roll over and handle differently from other vehicles.

Imagine putting a 70-pound child on a machine that weighs more than 500 pounds. &uot;They’re no match for that,&uot; Johnson said.

He also warns riders against carrying a passenger on a four-wheeler no matter the size of the seat.

The seat is large so drivers can shift their weight on rough terrain, he said.

&uot;It’s not a roomy seat to carry a passenger,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;The worst thing you can do is carry a passenger on a four-wheeler,&uot;

Johnson, who has owned four-wheelers for years, said the vehicles are like tools to a hunter.

He recommends owners of all ages watch the safety video that comes with their purchase and to read the owner’s manuals.

&uot;I’ve found a lot of good information on there and I’ve been riding them for years,&uot; he said.

Honda will also pay up to a $100 to anyone who takes a four-wheeler safety class. The classes are also recommended by local law enforcement.

&uot;I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to become thoroughly familiar with the ATV, how it works, and the safety precautions involved,&uot; said Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell. &uot;And the very best way is taking the rider safety class.&uot;

He also advises parents to supervise their children – if they are allowed to ride a four-wheeler.

&uot;I can speak from experience,&uot; Maxwell said. &uot;As long as a parent has their eyes on the kids, they’re going to behave. But as soon as you’re out of eyesight, they’re going to start clowning around and that’s when accidents happen.&uot;

Parents should watch their children every minute they ride a four-wheelers, he said. &uot;You’re putting them on a motor vehicle and turning them loose, and kids have no fear,&uot; Maxwell said. &uot;They think that they’re invincible.&uot;

If parents allow their children to ride a four-wheeler they should follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

That means a child should be at least 12-years-old to drive an ATV – no larger than 70 to 90cc. One should be at least 16-years-old to drive an ATV with an engine larger than 90cc.

But Maxwell is even skeptical about these restrictions.

&uot;It’s actually a lot better for safety reasons if children are not allowed to drive four-wheelers until they are older and more capable of handling the vehicles,&uot; Maxwell said.

In recent years, Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell said four-wheelers have gotten bigger, heavier and faster – becoming even more dangerous.

He estimates that his department works about two four-wheeler accidents a month during the summer usually because people are illegally riding four-wheelers on highways or using them for recreation.

Four-wheelers are not for play, he said.

&uot;They’re strictly designed for rugged terrain where people either work, or, in most instances, hunt,&uot; Ferrell said.

Dr. Rick Carlton, associate chairman of emergency medicine with University Medical Center in Jackson and medical director for the Central Mississippi Medical Trauma Region, estimated that UMC had five or six fatalities at year caused by four-wheeler accidents.

That doesn’t include other injuries like broken bones or debilitating head injuries.

&uot;The big problems seem to be the head injuries,&uot; he said.

He thinks helmets might prevent some of those from occurring.

&uot;When (the four-wheeler) rolls, (riders) can strike their head pretty hard even on the ground but sometimes other objects,&uot; Carlton said.