Three men who were in the Black Hills during the Sturgis motorcycle rally became its first victims, dying in three motorcycle crashes in less than 12 hours.
Speed and alcohol, two large concerns of law enforcement, were contributing factors Sunday in the first two accidents that killed men from Minnesota and Indiana, Lt. Rick Miller of the South Dakota Highway Patrol said Monday.
"Speed is always a concern because it decreases your reaction time to anything out there," he said. "Alcohol diminishes your ability to divide your attention. If you are going to drink, don’t be over the limit and impaired."
A third fatality occurred around early Monday afternoon just west of Lead on Highway 14A where a Colorado man with a passenger left the road while on a curve, the Highway Patrol said. The Lawrence County Sheriff's Office is investigating the accident.
Monday is the first official day of this year's rally. It is also when law enforcement begins tallying fatalities for a week-long event that attracts hundreds of thousands of bikers and motorcyclists to Sturgis and the Black Hills. Last year, four motorcycle deaths were recorded during rally week, according to the Highway Patrol. The most deaths in the past five years at the rally was in 2010 when nine people died in motorcycle accidents.
This year's tally started around 3:10 p.m. Sunday when a Minnesota man was driving his motorcycle on S.D. Highway 44.
The motorcyclist was going too fast for a curve, lost control of his bike, left the road and struck a post, according to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.
The man, whose name is being withheld pending the notification of his family, was not wearing a helmet, the Highway Patrol said.
Around six hours later, James Mills, 48, of New Palestine, Ind., became the rally's second fatality while traveling on U.S. Highway 14 near Spearfish, according to a news release from the Department of Public Safety. Mills hit his brakes, lost control of his bike and slid on the road.
On Monday afternoon, a Colorado motorcyclist lost control on a curve on U.S. Highway 14A about four miles west of Lead, according to the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office. He died in the crash and a passenger was injured. The investigation is ongoing.
Miller said the Black Hills' eye-grabbing scenery and challenging roads can quickly turn a comfortable ride into a deadly one if motorcyclists are not paying close attention.
"When you come to western South Dakota, you have roads that curve and ditches that drop off or a steep embankment," he said. "A lot of nice bikes are around, the scenery is nice. When you’re driving with everyone around you, you’ve got to be careful and pay attention to what’s going on."
By Monday morning, the Highway Patrol said that troopers had responded to eight non-injury crashes and 11 injury crashes and made 71 driving under the influence arrests. The rally ends on Sunday.