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Crash fatalities in SD on rise from last year

South Dakota Highway Patrol. (Republic file photo)

A motorcycle that went off a road near Black Hawk and into a ditch Wednesday evening marked the fourth and most recent fatal crash at this year's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

It also marked the state's 77th fatality in 2018. Last year at this time, 61 fatalities had been reported in the state, making this year's running total just over 26 percent higher.

Those 77 fatalities resulted from 62 crashes, compared to 50 crashes last year.

According to Tony Mangan, public information officer for the South Dakota Highway Patrol, it appeared at this time last year that there would be fewer than 100 fatalities in the state in 2017, but the last few months of the year alone saw between 30 and 40.

"We talk about the same things all the time: wearing a helmet, wearing a seat belt, don't get distracted by electronic devices, slow down, watch around you," Mangan said. "All of those — no matter what time of the year — those are the same things that we at the Department of Public Safety have continued to preach every day."

So far in Highway Patrol's reporting period for the Sturgis Rally, which began at 6 a.m. on Saturday, there have been 78 total crashes in Sturgis and the Rapid City District, more than half of which have resulted in at least one person being injured or killed. Last year in Sturgis, there were eight total fatalities, but there had been four at this point in the Rally. In total, the four fatalities in Sturgis make up one third of the total motorcycle fatalities in the state this year.

Overall, however, the number of reported crashes to date is down 11 percent from last year.

"The common themes of the fatalities so far deal with things like people who are inexperienced driving in the Black Hills," Mangan said. "They might change course too fast or go off the road, not wearing a helmet ... a lot of that."

Mangan said that wildlife is one factor that's caused motorcycle fatalities in previous years, as people have hit deer that jump into the road. This year, although there have been a few instances of deer being hit by people on motorcycles — and one instance of someone crashing while trying to avoid someone who had hit a deer with theirs — no wildlife-related fatalities have happened during this year's Rally.

So far during this year's Rally, in addition to fewer total crashes, the number of DUI arrests, total citations and total warnings issued in Sturgis is lower than last year's, but there have been comparatively more misdemeanor and felony drug arrests.

While South Dakota's total number of fatal crashes is significantly higher this year than last, Mangan said that there is no one specific factor behind the increase and that the state's numbers over the past five years have been lower than the national average and are lower than the numbers in surrounding states.

Members of the Department of Public Safety have been on-site in Sturgis since the Rally began, both to assist with crashes and to educate people on how to stay safe and prevent them.

"No one gets up in the morning thinking it's going to be their last day," Mangan said. "It can happen to anybody, so you've got to take those precautions."