The rumble of motorcycles has noticeably diminished in and around Sturgis as another Sturgis motorcycle rally comes to an end.
The 77th rally officially ended its 10-day run Sunday and statistics show that estimated attendance for the 2017 event was up slightly from a year ago, and so were the number of wrecks that involved injuries, possibly because super weather encouraged bikers to ride more miles.
Rally traffic into Sturgis through Thursday was up 4.5 percent, according to Department of Transportation officials.
Kristi Sandal, spokesperson for the state DOT, said counters at nine locations around Sturgis show that 376,033 vehicles entered Sturgis as compared with 359,814 in 2016 for the seven-day period from Aug. 4 through Aug. 11.
Sandal said that only Tuesday traffic was down slightly from the year previous, but all other days were up from 3.8 percent on Wednesday to 11.3 percent on Friday, Aug. 4, the first official day of the rally.
The South Dakota Highway Patrol reported eight fatal accidents during this year's official Sturgis motorcycle rally time frame as compared with three last year.
Four of the eight fatal accidents did not involve motorcycles but were reported by the highway patrol because they happened in the western district of South Dakota during the "official" rally time period.
Rally attendees, law enforcement, Sturgis city officials and locals all praised the cooler than normal weather this year with highs in the 70s and 80s.
“It was a little too cool for us,” said John Rasmussen, who with his wife, Becky, traveled to Sturgis from McClelland, Iowa, for the 2017 rally.
Overheard at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, the upside and downside of the sudden onslaught of unseasonably cooler weather during rally week after a relentlessly hot, dry July across western South Dakota.
“I don’t mind if it’s 70 or 75 during the day,” a woman said.
“But that means it’ll be down to 50 at night," her male companion replied.
Mike Mead of Las Vegas was able to make his annual trek to the Sturgis motorcycle rally this year thanks to an unexpected Father’s Day gift from his son, also named Mike.
“I’ve got this ’81 low-rider I’ve been riding for 30-some years. I told my son I needed to put some new footboards on it before I could go to Sturgis this year,” the elder Mead said.
Young Mike called his dad in June and told him he had the new footboards, but that he would have to come to Idaho to get them.
“He lives in Pocatello,” Mike Sr. said.
Mead found the footboards in Pocatello all right, but they were attached to a 2007 Harley-Davdson Electraglide Classic, his Father’s Day gift.
“It wasn’t just the floorboards, it was a whole motorcycle,” the elder Mead said.
Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie said from the city’s standpoint, the 77th Sturgis motorcycle rally was a great success.
“For a lot of the riders in this country, they tell us this is one of their favorite rallies,” Ainslie said. “Thankfully we’ve had some great chamber-of-commerce weather this week.”
Although numbers show a crowd about 5 percent above a year ago, the area was much less congested than the monster 75th anniversary event.
“It wasn’t as crowded as the 75th, so it made the riding much better and more comfortable,” he said.
Ainslie said going into this year’s event he believed the rally would be up 2 to 3 percent from a year ago. Historically, that has been the pattern of attendance. The numbers increase significantly for an anniversary year such as the 70th or 75th, then drop and continue to build until the next milestone, such as the upcoming 80th.
For the 77th rally, the South Dakota Highway Patrol saw a spike in injury accidents. Sixty-eight injury accidents were reported during this year’s rally, compared with 50 last year.
Capt. Jason Ketterling, district commander, said there are various factors that lead to accidents including a rider’s experience, how often they ride and rider ability.
“Not everyone that comes to the rally has an opportunity to ride the terrain we have in this area,” he said.
Another contributing factor may be that more people were riding in the Black Hills this year, likely due to the cool, dry weather that enveloped the region.
“The Southern Hills have been really busy this year with crashes,” he said.
And, with more motorcycles on the road for the rally, it may take a re-education of local drivers to look twice and three times when crossing intersections to make sure a motorcycle isn’t coming.
“Anytime you bring in motorcycles and see the large population increase that we see, crashes are going to happen. We do our best to try to prevent that from happening, but it still does,” he said.
On Saturday, a 29-year-old woman from Gering, Neb., was northbound eight miles east of Hot Springs when she lost control of a 2003 Chevrolet K1500 pickup. The vehicle went off the road and eventually rolled. She was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Two people died Thursday. A 27-year-old man died when he lost control of his vehicle on U.S. Highway 16, seven miles west of Custer just after 7 a.m. and a 37-year-old Rapid City woman, Amanda Garrett, a passenger in a vehicle, died when the vehicle went into the ditch and rolled on Interstate 90, two miles east of Kadoka.
On Sunday, Aug. 5, at 10:15 a.m. a 25-year-old Manti, Utah, man, Joshua Payne, died when he crossed the centerline on U.S. Highway 85 about 11 miles south of Buffalo and collided with a semi.
The fatal accidents involving motorcycles happend on Saturday, Aug. 5, Tuesday, Aug. 8, Wednesday, Aug. 9 and Saturday, Aug. 12.
An 18-year-old from Piedmont died just after 7 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, in Boulder Canyon two miles west of Sturgis. Law enforcement said the young man failed to negotiate a right-hand turn, laid his motorcycle down on its side and slid into a guard rail. He was wearing a helmet but died as a result of his injuries.
On Wednesday just after 5 p.m. on U.S. Highway 16, across from Reptile Gardens, a 2005 Crown Victoria was westbound on U.S. Highway 16 and preparing to turn onto Neck Yoke Road. The vehicle collided with two eastbound motorcycles. One of the riders, 50-year-old Leann Bullard of Maryland, died of her injuries at a Rapid City hospital.
An 80-year-old Port Arthur, Texas man, Donald Baugh, died about noon Saturday, Aug. 5, when he failed to negotiate a curve on U.S. Highway 385 five miles south of Lead.
On Tuesday at 8:54 p.m. on Interstate 90 seven miles east of Sturgis 27-year-old Austin Carson of Fort Wayne, Ind., died when he lost control of his motorcycle and suffered fatal injuries.
Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said mixing motorcycles and four-wheeled vehicles on the roads can lead to accidents.
“It’s always difficult when you mix a bunch of motorcycles and cars. The motorcycles tend to turn around in the middle of the street and tend to speed a little more than they should and so as a driver of a car you really need to be paying attention. The same holds true for the motorcycle riders. It’s a balancing act,” Merwin said.
Despite the number of injury accidents, this year’s rally ran quite smoothly for the Highway Patrol, Keterling said.
Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater concurred.
“It’s been great,” he said of the 2017 rally. “My guys are getting along with the citizens and the citizens are enjoying them. All in all, it’s been a good rally.”
The Sturgis Police Department response numbers were up this year over 2016.
“We’ve been busy,” VanDewater said Friday.
One of the areas with stark increases over a year ago was misdemeanor citations for drugs or drug paraphernalia.
“That just kind of mirrors what’s going on in our nation right now,” he said. “Our visitors are coming from states where (marijuana) is legalized, so they are stuck in that habit that if it’s legal there, it’s legal here and unfortunately it’s not and we have to hold them accountable.”
Tickets issued for illegal parking in Sturgis also increased noticeably this year. As of Friday, the number of citations issued for illegal parking was 171 as compared with 104 a year ago.
“We changed some stuff up with the reconstruction of Main Street, so some of that is new, but sometimes people just need to take a step back and look at where they are parking,” he said. “If there is no one parked there or it looks a little odd, don’t park there.”
VanDewater said that unfortunately when hundreds of thousands of people converge on a city with a year-round population of 6,700, there will be a struggle with parking.
“People don’t want to walk, so they try to park as close to downtown as possible,” he said. “We have paid parking areas. Sure, it’s going to cost you a little, but you will know that your bike or car is safe and is not going to get towed.”
VanDewater also thanked local business owners and citizens for their patience and support during rally week.
“We appreciate them being open and friendly to our visitors,” he said.
Sheriff Merwin said that overall things went well for the 77th Sturgis motorcycle rally for his department. The sheriff’s department saw an increase in the number of speeding tickets issued this year and one of the busiest areas was Fort Meade Way, which leads from Interstate 90 Exit 37 north to the Buffalo Chip Campground.
“Fort Meade Way has been extremely busy. There has been a lot of traffic on there,” he said.
Merwin observed that Fort Meade Way has freed up a lot of the early morning and late afternoon traffic from the campgrounds east of Sturgis.
“People who are leaving the campgrounds to go touring in the morning can take that and hit the interstate and be gone, they don’t have to go through Sturgis,” he said.
Merwin commended his staff for stepping up and working hard during rally week.
“They started out tired from working the homicide (in Summerset on Aug. 2) and they have stepped up and done a good job,” he said.
Phyllis Mastin, 49, was found dead in her home on Fillmore Street in Summerset around 2:30 a.m. Aug. 2. Stormy Gayle Marsh, 38, is charged in the killing.
Overall rally arrests and citations were on par with last year:
• DUI arrests: 161, compared with 187 in 2016
• Drug arrests: Felony — 46, compared with 50 in 2016; misdemeanor — 171, compared with 176 last year.
• Citations: 1,084, compared with 1,413 last year
• Vehicle seizures: Nine, the same as 2016. All were for drug related offenses.