Trooper Involved ATV Fatality Has Detroit Police Chief Proposing Urban Off-Road Park

The fun and games stop being fun when stuff gets real. Nothing is as real as death.

Not long ago we featured a story about a fatal incident on Detroit’s east side, the result of two fellows street racing a motorcycle against a go-kart. More recently, a Michigan State Trooper has been suspended pending Detroit Police and Michigan State Police investigations of an Aug. 26 incident resulting in the death of a 15-year-old male riding an ATV on a public street. The trooper used a taser on the youth, from his moving cruiser, after the teen allegedly refused to pull over. After being tased, Demond Grimes crashed his ATV into a pickup truck. He died after being taken to a hospital.

In the wake of the pursuit, which lasted less than a minute, and the fatal crash, the Michigan State Police have revised their chase policies. Grimes’ family has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the trooper, identified by The Detroit News as Mark Bessner.

To address the issue of increased use of off-road recreational vehicles like ATV four-wheelers, mini-bikes, go-karts, and dirt bikes racing and stunting on city streets, and try to get them off the public roads, the Motor City’s top cop has made an interesting proposal. Detroit Police Chief James Craig thinks the city should set aside some of Detroit’s ample vacant land for use as an off-road vehicle park.

Residents in a variety of neighborhoods around the city told The Detroit News that it’s a common situation, but they disagreed as to whether or not it is a problem.

Jonathan Pommerville, who lives in the Brightmoor neighborhood on Detroit’s west side said, “You see them driving up and down the road at 50-60 mph. They go through red lights like it’s nothing. There was a kid on a go-kart who hit the turnaround on Grand River going about 60 mph.”

However,  Vaughn Arrington Jr., president of the Pelke Family Block Club on the city’s east side, see the riders contributing to a sense of community. “I see quite a few of them,” he said. “Groups are getting them and riding throughout the neighborhood in Morningside and Osborn… They get these four-wheelers and motorbikes, and they get people together for something positive. I think the police officers may want to talk to the kids and ask them to stay off the main roads and to be careful.”

Ron Szostec said the four-wheelers are common on the southwest Detroit street where he lives. “You see them on their four-wheelers going up and down Lonyo, mostly kids,” he said. “I usually see them during the day, so it’s not like they’re driving at night where you can’t see them. I don’t think it’s a big problem.”

Chief Craig, though, disagrees. “They’re dangerous when not used how they’re supposed to be used,” Craig said. “These things shouldn’t be driven on the street, and they pose a danger to both the public and rider. It’s been a real issue for law enforcement.” Craig pointed out that many of those driving and riding the ATVs and other motor vehicles are young, unlicensed, and untrained. They don’t wear safety equipment and have been seen stunting, weaving in and out of traffic, and ignoring stop signs and red lights.

While their use on-road is a problem, the ability of ATVs and dirt bikes to go off-road makes catching them difficult.  “These vehicles are fast, and they can go places squad cars can’t, like through vacant fields,” Chief Craig said. “We need to find a way to abate this without engaging in high-speed pursuits.”

Following up on earlier discussions about setting up a proper drag strip in the city, to give street racers a legal and safer place to run, Craig suggested that setting aside some open space for ATVs and dirt bikes might help get those vehicles off the road as well.

The suggestion has the support of at least one member of Detroit’s Board of Police Commissioners. Commissioner Reginald Crawford said, “There are enough overgrown lots, and it wouldn’t cost too much money to clear some trails. The city owns many of these lots. It’s time to make a withdrawal from the land bank.”

There’s some precedent for the idea of setting aside land to get outlaw car culture on the right side of the law. “We had young people who were having these underground car shows and taking over the city’s streets,” Craig said. “We came up with a solution: The Riverfront Conservatory donated a plot of land at no cost to let them have their car shows there.”

The police chief told The Detroit News that he’s already discussed a similar project for ORV’s with the Riverfront Conservatory, which manages some of Detroit’s vacant land.

In general, Michigan prohibits the use of off-road vehicles on public roads and even off-road it is against the law for anyone younger than 16 to operate an off-road vehicle “unless the child is under the direct visual supervision of an adult and the child has in his or her immediate possession an (off road vehicle) safety certificate,” according to state law.

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