Fatal Motorcycle Accidents Adding Up

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Highway fatalities, especially those involving motorcycles, are not just another part of the demanding job of Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Whetten.

Each death he investigates turns personal, partly because last winter Whetten's son -- Rhett -- was killed in a motorcycle accident in Mexico.

After learning of it, he traveled across the border to pick up his son's belongings and visit the spot where the accident occurred.

The tragedy has rendered his DPS duties of the past month doubly tough.

Since May 30, Whetten has investigated six serious motorcycle accidents, including five which were fatal.

"I see things a little different now," he said. "Those things they had on them when they died becoming kind of sacred. The survivors usually call me the next day to see where it happened. They want to visit the spot and I take them. I know now what they are feeling."

The most recent death occurred July 1 on the Beeline Highway just north of Strawberry.

Alan Edward Day, 55, of Phoenix was traveling southbound with another rider when his motorcycle veered left of the center line and collided with a 3/4 ton dual wheel truck pulling a flatbed trailer.

Whetten said the collision was so violent that it disabled the trailer.

Day died at the scene.

On June 25, two motorcycle riders traveling in a large group were killed on the Beeline near Slate Creek south of Payson.

Whetten said one of the cycles went out of control while traversing a curve and knocked down another biker.

Two other riders, Alan E. Kerns, 37, of Mesa and John E. Miller, 39, of Glendale died after being thrown into the guard rail.

A third rider narrowly missed serious injury by laying his bike on the pavement.

And on June 2, John Harper, 47 of Mesa, was killed at the crest of Oxbow Hill on the Beeline Highway and Marie Silva, 52, of Dragoon died in an accident on the Beeline near Long Valley.

Walt Cole, 57, of Mesa was permanently paralyzed May 30 when his motorcycle careened off Beeline Highway above Strawberry.

"In all of these collisions, protective helmets were not used and each was a result of operator error," Whetten said.

A recent DPS investigation revealed that 18 percent of all accidents in the Payson district involved motorcycles. That mark is second only to car/animal collisions, which is 30 percent.

-- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail mfoster@payson.com.

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