Lewis County Watch

Deadly motorcycle crashes are increasing at an alarming rate in Washington, particularly in April and May, the month designated as national Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, officials say.

“We are concerned about the death of so many motorcyclists in 2020 with the traditional riding season yet to come,” said Pam Pannkuk, Acting Director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), in a joint press release with the Department of Licensing. “We hope to prevent further carnage by working with (the DOL) to promote rider training and education.”

According to the release, 24 motorcyclists have died in crashes so far in 2020. In April alone, there were 12 motorcycle fatalities, the most deaths in that month in over a decade.

Eight motorcycle riders have died in crashes occurring from May 3 to May 10, including three deaths from separate incidents that happened on the same day.

Two of the deaths in May have come from motorcycle crashes that occurred in Lewis and south Thurston counties.

On May 10 a Tacoma man, later identified as Larry J. Sifrit, 38, was driving on State Route 12 between Morton and Glenoma when he crashed into the back of a Ford F-250 pickup truck.

Sifrit was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he died a day after the crash.

On May 5 in Thurston County, a Rochester man, later identified as John Schweitzer, 49, lost control of his motorcycle while heading east on James Road Southwest, crossed the road’s center line and crashed into some trees and died on the scene. 

Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza, who also is a chairman for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’ Traffic Safety Committee, said that trying to determine what is at the root of all these crashes has been a hot topic for his committee and others too.

Among several factors, Snaza said he believes a lot of the crashes are likely due to inexperience, whether it is someone who just got a motorcycle and may not even have an endorsement yet or someone who is bringing their bike back out for the first time of the year.

“You get this motorcycle and you don’t realize that you have to be more alert than the average driver,” Snaza said. “Being a motorcyclist is not the easiest.”

Snaza added that even his motorcycle unit with the Sheriff’s Office, which only has experienced riders, goes out to refresh their skills every once and awhile.

The issue of motorcycle safety is not just important to Snaza because he chairs the WASPC’s Traffic Safety Committee, it is an issue that hits close to home.

Snaza’s twin brother, John Snaza, who is the Thurston County Sheriff, suffered a life-threatening injury during an off-duty motorcycle crash in which he was not wearing a helmet back in 2016.

“My thing about motorcycle safety is there’s people who say they don’t want to wear a helmet, and I understand they have their constitutional rights,” Snaza said. “But if you could see what happened to my brother, that could change anyone’s mind.”

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