The Investigators

Jul 30, 2014 1:30 AM by Nichole Szemerei

Mt. Lemmon a motorcyclist's playground

TUCSON -- Mt. Lemmon is the perfect getaway. People visit for the cooler temperatures and the fantastic views. It's quiet, it's serene, and it's now being overrun with motorcyclists. That's a problem for some.

News 4 Tucson Investigators spent a morning on Mt. Lemmon Highway to see firsthand the problem deputies and fire officials face. The fire chief says in the past few years the number of motorcyclists using the mountain as a playground is increasing.

The thrill.

"We come up here because it's a way to loosen the bike up, loosen yourself up, you don't have to worry about traffic, you know, stop and go," says motorcyclist Derek Wilson.

The freedom.

"Being in a car is a whole different experience than when you're on a motorcycle. I feel close to God when I'm riding," says motorcyclist Greg Feldman.

The camaraderie.

"On an average day close to about maybe 25/30 and on a day like today, there's, I saw 50 just on the way up here," says motorcyclist Frank Torres.

The consequences.

"You're not going to put a motorcycle down without getting hurt and possibly killed. We get several fatalities up here every year," says Mt. Lemmon Fire Chief, Randy Ogden.

We got accident and citation records for motorcyclists traveling on Mt. Lemmon Highway from Pima County Sheriff's Department. Here are the numbers in the last three years

2011: 19 citations - 8 crashes
2012: 9 citations - 16 crashes
2013: 11 tickets - 12 crashes - 1 fatal

"A lot of people refer to these people as organ donors, you know, and that's personal preference and it's the freedom of the road, but at the same time, once your head meets the pavement, there's not a lot of protection there when it's skin on asphalt," says tourist, Kelly Ezell.

Motorcyclists look danger in the eye when they zip past cars and of course, test the limit with speed.

"I've seen motorcycles going 70, 80 miles an hour, you know, they just ... this road is not built for that speed," says Chief Ogden.

"Uphill we probably go 50 or 60. That's because we have the control for the bikes. I'm sure we get a lot of hate from the public,'" says Wilson. "You'll see a sheriff up here every once in a while so you just kind of put your back straight and just say 'Hiiii!'"

"I think the motorcycles know when the Sheriff's Department is up here and it's hard to catch them all," says Ogden.

"We got hand signals. If we're riding in a group this is slow down, speed up, and there's a cop up ahead," says Wilson.

"It makes it challenging, but it's actually more fun to catch them that way," says Bill Murphy, Sergeant of the Pima County Sheriff's Department Motorcycle Enforcement Unit.

Sgt. Murphy says drivers warning other drivers, doesn't concern him.

"If it gets you to slow down for 4-5 miles of the mountain, I wish everyone would flash their headlights. Maybe that would solve the problem."

PCSD has tried many techniques to deter speeding.

"A lot of times we'll work the bottom of the mountain just to let them see us and they know we're up there. No guarantee it's gonna stop them though."

Mt. Lemmon Fire would like to see more deputy presence. So, why hasn't this happened?

"Extra patrols would always help. The issue is, compared to other locations in the county, it's a minor issue."

Minor, because in most of these crashes, it only affects the motorcyclist?

"I'm sure there's some of public sentiment that says if he wants to go up there and kill himself, let it be, but that's not the mentality we have. We want people to be safe."

"As far as going around cars and blind curves, I don't recommend it at all. You're gonna hit head on. You're not gonna make it," says Torres.

"It's not worth it and it's not worth it to your family," says Ogden.

Fire Chief Randy Ogden thinks the invention of personal cameras, like go-pros, has made it worse. Saying riders are more focused on getting good video than the road ahead.

If you have a story for the News 4 Tucson Investigators you can email or call (520) 955-4444.


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