The condition of Rapid City’s streets gets a lot of attention in city hall. The safety of those streets, though, receives far less air time. But as the number of drunken-driving arrests and alcohol-related accidents continue to rise amid an overall decrease in all crashes, that trend may soon change.
According to Rapid City Police Department data, 2016 saw 1,435 crashes that resulted in an injury or more than $1,000 worth of damage, a nearly 6 percent drop compared with 2015, when there were 1,525 such crashes. Both 2015 and 2016 saw three fatal crashes.
During the same time period, the number of DUI arrests rose more than 7 percent, from 874 in 2015 to 937 in 2016. The number of DUI crashes rose more than 9 percent. The majority of alcohol- and drug-related crashes occurred between noon and 2 p.m. and from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
“It’s been a consistent problem for the 10 years that I’ve worked here,” police department traffic crash reconstructionist James Chastain said in a Journal interview.
He added that the department has moved away from DUI checkpoints because people were able to quickly spread the word about their locations using texting and social media. The strategy now is to use dedicated officers who patrol for DUI violations, with federal funding helping to pay for the officers. Thursday through the weekend is the primary focus, police spokesman Brendyn Medina said.
Overall, alcohol and drugs are just a small piece of the larger picture, though. Almost without fail, the most common cause of crashes in Rapid City each year is when a driver fails to yield, either when making a turn or merging into moving traffic. In 2016, failing to yield was a contributing cause of 551 crashes. The next highest contributing factor, following another car too closely, was a factor in 215 accidents.
Distracted driving (169), disregarding a traffic signal (128) and overdriving the road conditions (114) — which includes speeding— rounded out the top five contributing causes of accidents. Overdriving is one of the largest causes of accidents during the winter months.
Distracted by electronics
In the 10 years Chastain has worked for the police department, distracted driving from electronics has been the most obvious change in people’s driving habits.
“Cars these days are so computer driven and touch-screen driven that people are becoming more distracted by all the electronics in their car,” he said. “You can do so much more on a cellphone."
Currently in Rapid City, cellphone usage while driving is a secondary offense, meaning police officers may not pull over and issue citations without there being another, primary offense first.
Aside from DUIs and distracted driving, pedestrian and bicyclist crashes are also a cause for concern, as recent studies have found Rapid City has a high number of car versus pedestrian and car versus bicyclist crashes, according to a police department report.
In 2016, the number of bicyclist crashes, 13, was the same as in 2015, but the number of pedestrian crashes, 24, represented a 41 percent rise from 2015, when there were 17.
In crashes involving a car and pedestrians, the pedestrians were at fault in 58 percent of the accidents while drivers were at fault in 37 percent. When the crash involved a bicyclist and car, bicyclists were at fault in 53 percent of the crashes, usually due to an improper crossing (42 percent) or a failure to obey traffic signs (53 percent).
As for location, the intersections that experienced the most crashes in Rapid City represented some of the busiest intersections in town. The top five most accident-prone intersections in 2016 were East Omaha and Cambell streets, East North and North Lacrosse streets, North Lacrosse Street and Interstate 90, Cambell and East St. Patrick streets, and U.S. Highway 16 and Catron Boulevard.
“The biggest problem there is just the design of the road,” Chastain said of the intersection of East Omaha and Cambell streets, which saw 18 total accidents in 2016, more than any other intersection in Rapid City.
Ron Kopren, owner of Kopren Motors at 222 N. Cambell St., northeast of the intersection of East Omaha and Cambell streets, blamed drivers more than the design.
“I think that the drivers have to be a little more patient,” Kopren said in a Journal interview, calling the five o’clock rush hour the most dangerous time. “The problem is, people are impatient and they don’t want to wait for the light. A lot of accidents are, people are trying to get through before the light changes. Nobody wants to wait, so they start going through on a yellow and it turns red, and the other one turns green and they start going and all of sudden someone hits them, you know?”
With traffic volume continuing to rise, Chastain said some intersections, such as North Lacrosse Street and Interstate 90, have outgrown their capability to handle the increase. He also noted that the recent installation of flashing yellow signals for left turns at the intersection of U.S. Highway 16 and Catron Boulevard “have absolutely helped” and officials have seen a large drop in left-turn crashes as a result.
A similar traffic signal will be installed at another trouble spot — the intersection of East Minnesota Street and Elk Vale Road — this fall.
Jim Verschoor of Jim Verschoor Auto Sales at 1506 E. St. Patrick St., northeast of the intersection of East St. Patrick and Cambell streets, said he’s heard a number of crashes occur outside his store.
“I’ve worked on Cambell Street since 1980, and I’ve seen the traffic go up by leaps and bounds,” he said. “It’s probably speed and people running red lights.”
To help the police department continue to monitor traffic violations and make city streets safer, Medina encouraged citizens to use the department's traffic enforcement form if they notice a particular area is prone to accidents, close calls and overall dangerous driving.
Due to a recent surge in officers retiring or relocating, enforcement has become more reliant on such complaints. To file a formal traffic enforcement request, visit rcgov.org/38-traffic-enforcement-request-police-dept/13-traffic-enforcement-request-police-dept.html.
WHITE RIVER | After 66 years, a Lakota warrior is coming home.
Philip James Iyotte was born in Mellette County on Nov. 19, 1929, to Joseph and Florence (Menard) Iyotte but was raised by his father and his second wife, Rose (Highpine) Iyotte. As the oldest of 14 children, Phillip was reared in a two-story, five-bedroom home built in White River just north of the Rosebud Indian Reservation by his father, uncles and a brother.
As a young man, Iyotte was given the Lakota name Akicita Isnala Najin, meaning “Soldier Who Stands Alone.” No one could have known then how prescient that moniker would become.
A Lakota soldier
In 1950, at age 20, Iyotte enlisted in the U.S. Army, destined to serve the same country that had relegated his tribe to a remote reservation in southwest South Dakota. Following boot camp, the young soldier was assigned to the Army’s 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division and soon was deployed to the Korean conflict.
Fragments of an enemy missile seriously injured Iyotte in a battle on Sept. 2, 1950. After being hospitalized for treatment, Iyotte returned to his regiment and the war in just 19 days.
In the heat of combat near Seoul five months later, Iyotte and several of his fellow soldiers were captured by Chinese forces and marched to a prisoner of war encampment. An Army archival photograph from that day of his capture — Feb. 9, 1951 — shows the young South Dakota soldier being held at gunpoint by the enemy.
“When my uncle was captured, he was west of Seoul, and he and his fellow prisoners were made to walk,” Iyotte’s 40-year-old niece, Dera Iyotte, said from her White River home last week. “Two gentlemen, fellow Sioux, named Moses Garneaux and Norman White Buffalo Sr., were in the camp with my uncle.
“They had to walk a long ways, and they were not getting proper nutrients,” Dera explained. “My uncle had been shot in the stomach, developed gangrene, when his friends told him they had found an escape route.”
Unable to walk and knowing he would be unable to join the POWs in their dangerous flight to freedom, Iyotte sang them a Lakota honor song before their departure, Dera noted.
“Then they shook hands, and the two men took off running,” she said. “They floated at sea for 18 days before a foreign fishing vessel picked them up, and they returned home. That’s all we know of him, this last story, because they had to leave him. But they made it home to tell my grandfather of their last time together.”
Dera’s pride at her relative’s selfless service is apparent as she discusses his plight.
“He was a warrior before the Army got him, a Lakota horseman, and he prayed and he sang those two men a song, which showed he had the biggest heart in the world,” she said with faraway eyes. “He was my uncle.”
In the ensuing 66 years since the last word of the Lakota warrior filtered down to rural South Dakota, the Iyotte family never gave up hope for the warrior who mysteriously disappeared at the hands of his Chinese captors. They maintained contact with the Army, attended meetings conducted by the Army’s Past Conflict Repatriations Branch, also known as the Army Casualty Office, headquartered at Fort Knox, Ky. And they wrote letters and made phone calls to their state’s congressional delegation asking for assistance in finding their lost sergeant.
Thirty years ago, then-U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle traveled to White River to present the Iyottes with a memorial plaque in honor of Phillip Iyotte’s service and sacrifice. The plaque, presented because the Army could not declare the missing soldier legally dead, was later installed on the family plot at the Old Two Kettle Cemetery 12 miles north of the serviceman’s childhood home.
Then, on Sept. 12, 2003, representatives of then-U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson presented the surviving members of the Iyotte family with a series of medals recognizing their lost soldier’s service and valor. Among those honors were the Purple Heart with bronze oak leaf cluster, POW Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, and Combat Service Award.
“Iyotte died while serving his nation,” Sen. Johnson noted in prepared remarks presented that day. “Today we come together to honor Sgt. Iyotte, who served his country with valor and distinction and gave his life so others may live freely.”
At the time, Iyotte was survived by four of his 13 siblings. Today, there is but one.
Eva Iyotte, 63, the youngest child of the large family, wasn’t even born when her oldest brother disappeared into the Chinese POW camp.
“I was born three years after he was captured,” Eva said last week. “I never knew him, but for the pictures and from my mom and dad. He never got to see me, either.”
But Eva grew up revering her lost sibling and, with the passing of her mother and father, eventually adopted the challenge of finding him.
“We prayed every morning that he would return because they had him as a POW in Korea,” she remembered. “We all prayed to hear news of him and that he would come home. Four of my brothers were in the Army and the Marines, and they were all my heroes. But there was one I never met, and he’s always been my greatest hero.”
Eva laments how her young brother fared; leaving his reservation to fight people he never met, being captured, wounded, and dying a lonely death so far from home.
“Each Veterans Day, my grandma would always sing an honor song for him,” Eva recalled. “In the back of my mind, I always wished he would come home alive. There was this huge hole in my heart. It’s a void that drives you, and you want to find out — it’s your flesh and blood.”
As her father lay dying four decades ago, he made Eva promise to continue the pursuit to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance and, ultimately, to bring him home. She embraced that challenge, attending annual meetings of the Repatriation Branch, providing DNA samples a decade ago to aid in the search, reading journals from those detained in Korean and Chinese POW camps, and commiserating with the families of other soldiers missing in action.
“As a young girl, I wondered where Korea was, and when I went to school, I found out,” Eva said. “I told my dad that he was across the ocean, but one day he would come home.”
Last month, when the most recent Repatriation Branch meeting was conducted in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 8, family finances wouldn’t let Eva attend. But a telephone call a few days later changed her life.
“The man asked if I was sitting down,” Eva recalled. “He said, 'We wanted to tell you in person that your brother, Sgt. Phillip Iyotte’s, remains have been positively identified.'
“I almost fell over, and I started screaming and hollering,” she said. “When I think about it, I still cry. I am so happy; it’s such a miracle. It has been our family’s prayer for 66 years, and sometimes all we have is prayer. When they say the family that prays together stays together, it’s true, because Phillip is coming home, and we’re going to be together again.”
Eva and Dera said they were told that Iyotte’s remains were identified with the assistance of Chinese officials. The serviceman’s remains have since been transported to Hawaii and will soon make their way back to South Dakota, they said.
When they do, the Iyottes plan to conduct a memorial service in White River, followed by burial in the family plot north of their home. And on that day, Eva said she will have an intimate talk with the warrior brother she never knew.
“I went to my parents’ grave last Friday and told them Philip is coming home, but I said, 'You already knew that,’” Eva whispered. “When Phillip comes back, I will tell him, 'Hello, brother. Welcome home. I have looked for you for so long.' I will probably cry. And I will get a buffalo robe for him, because he was a true warrior.”
LEAD | Three months after the city commission revamped an ordinance establishing stricter controls on backyard chickens and prohibiting other farm animals in town, the measure has been referred to voters who will head to the polls Tuesday in a special election.
Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center.
Former Mayor Jerry Apa was among eight Lead residents who circulated petitions calling for repeal of the “backyard chicken” ordinance passed unanimously by the city commission in June. On Wednesday, Apa said citizens were concerned about allowing chickens to be raised in city limits.
“My concern is, I don’t believe chickens belong in the city,” Apa said. “If you want to raise chickens, there is plenty of room out in the country.”
Apa said opponents of the new ordinance had voiced their concerns during a series of public meetings held prior to the commission’s vote, but their concerns weren’t addressed.
“We’re using the means given us by state law to address what many of us believe is an ordinance that is not compatible with an urban city,” he said.
But proponents of backyard chickens say the new ordinance establishes far greater restrictions on raising the chickens within the city than the previous ordinance by establishing setbacks from neighboring properties and requiring those wanting to raise chickens to register with the city and pay a $100 fee.
“The previous ordinance allowed chickens and other farm animals as long as they were at least 100 feet away from a neighboring dwelling,” said Robin Lucero, who helped lead the effort to draft the new ordinance.
“That would remain if the new ordinance is voted down,” she added. “However, if voters approve of the new ordinance, it’s more restrictive because it only allows six hens, requires an application, a $100 fee, provides specifics on what the coop and run need to look like, and prohibits those structures from being visible to neighbors.”
Lead City Administrator Mike Stahl seemed to agree with Lucero’s assessment of the new ordinance.
“You could literally have a farm in town under the old ordinance if you met the 100-foot setback requirement,” Stahl said. “The new ordinance restricted chicken lovers to a half-dozen hens and got rid of provisions allowing roosters and all the other livestock.”
Stahl said Tuesday’s single-issue special election would cost the town about $800 for printing of ballots, publication of official notices and paying election workers to man the polls. A “yes” vote favors the new ordinance and its restrictions, while a “no” vote is against the new ordinance, and would allow the old ordinance to remain in place, he said.
Apa said backyard chicken opponents had little problem garnering 130 signatures on petitions to bring the new ordinance to a citywide vote.
“Only two people told me they wouldn’t sign the petition, of the people I asked,” he said. “In a matter of days we got the necessary signatures, which indicates to me there are people concerned about this issue.”
Lucero said her pro-chicken group had erected a couple of signs in the town and had printed fliers that they were distributing to local residents. In addition, Lucero said chicken proponents had built a float for Lead’s July 4th Gold Camp Jubilee parade. The float included a sign that stated, “Vote for Chickens,” and featured a chicken coop, two live chickens and children tossing out candy, rubber chickens and wind-up chicken toys.
Regardless of how Tuesday’s election turns out, representatives of both sides encouraged Lead residents to show up at the polls.
“It’s the greatest gift that’s ever been given to America — the right to vote — and I wish more people would exercise it,” Apa said.