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Pioneer Valley fatal accidents have motorcycles and pedestrians in common

In 2010, there were six fatal motor vehicle accidents in Hampshire County. They all involved either a pedestrian or a motorcycle.

Overall, while the rate of fatal motor vehicle accidents in the nation is decreasing, including those involving pedestrians, motorcycle deaths are skyrocketing.

Fatal motorcycle accidents have been on the rise for the past decade, according to the National Highway Traffic Data Safety Administration. In 2010, the most recent year for which information is available, 4,502 motorcyclists died nationwide in crashes. That figure represents a 55 percent increase over the 2,897 fatal crashes a decade ago.

The rate has shot up even higher in Massachusetts, increasing by 76 percent from 2000 to 2010, when there were 58 fatal motorcycle accidents. Four of them were in Hampshire County.

What may be contributing to the rise in fatal accidents is the dramatic increase in motorcycle ownership, particularly by riders age 40 and older, according to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, which is collecting data on the causes of these crashes for a national study. Bigger bikes and inexperienced riders have also played a role in the spike in fatalities, the administration noted on its website.

Meanwhile, pedestrian deaths are decreasing. Nationwide, the number of fatal pedestrian/motor vehicle accidents has dropped 10 percent from 2000 to 2010. In Massachusetts, the number dropped even more. The percentage of pedestrians involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes decreased by 29 percent from 2000 to 2010, when there were 58 pedestrian deaths, including two in Hampshire County.

Six fatal motor vehicle accidents occurred in Hampshire County in 2010:

∎ 651 Florence Road, Northampton, Oct. 17 at 3:53 a.m.

Michael Ryan, 27, of Easthampton was found dead shortly after being struck by a passenger van. No charges were filed against the driver because Ryan had been lying in the road, police said. Ryan’s death was caused by cranial cerebral trauma, but it was not clear whether the crash killed him or if he was already dead when the van hit him, according to police sources cited in the Gazette archives. Police were also unsure why Ryan was lying in a dark area of the road. They said they did not suspect foul play. The driver had an “unblemished” driving record and there was no indication that speed or improper operation were factors in the accident.

∎ 1200 Westhampton Road (Route 66), Northampton, Sept. 12 at 3:28 p.m.

Roland Morrow, 58, of Leyden was killed when he crashed his motorcycle into a guardrail on Route 66. He suffered head injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, police said. He was traveling alone and was discovered shortly after the accident by a driver following behind him, according to Gazette archives. Speed did not appear to be a factor in the crash. The weather was clear and the roads were dry at the time, according to Gazette articles.

∎ Alvord Street/Brainerd Street, South Hadley, Aug. 28 at 3:27 p.m.

Frederick Kareta, 22, of Westfield was retrieving mail from a mailbox at a relative’s house when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver, according to Gazette archives. After hitting Kareta, the driver continued down Brainerd Street and struck another vehicle head-on, police said. There were other injuries resulting from the accident.

The driver, Craig Barton of West Springfield, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges and was sentenced to five to seven years in state prison plus two years of probation. Kareta’s family later filed a wrongful-death lawsuit seeking $3 million from the Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley. The lawsuit claimed that just prior to the accident bartenders had served Barton alcohol after he was already drunk. The matter is still in court.

∎ 491 North Liberty St., Belchertown, Aug. 2 at 9:38 a.m.

Daniel Gagne, 32, of Belchertown was fatally injured when he crashed his motorcycle on a cloudy day. Police said excessive speed was a contributing factor in the single-vehicle crash.

∎ Main Street/Canal Street, South Hadley, June 22 at 7:53 a.m.

Matthew Erwin, 32, of Southwick died when his motorcycle hit an embankment. At the time, South Hadley Police Lt. Steve Parentela noted risk factors on that stretch of roadway. There’s a traffic light at the intersection, he said, “but if you are not familiar with the area, you could drive right through it.” The road also curves sharply at the intersection.

∎ Carver Street/Meadow Glen Drive, Granby, March 17 at 8:20 p.m.

David V. Leonard, 53, of South Hadley was pronounced dead at the scene after his motorcycle crashed. Police said the motorcycle had strayed over the center line and was struck by an oncoming van. Police said it appeared Leonard had been speeding around the curve on Chicopee Street onto Carver before he crashed. No charges were filed against the van’s driver, according to Gazette archives.

SOURCE: Daily Hampshire Gazette archives, 2010 Massachusetts Department of Transportation crash data

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