2017-05-19 / Front Page

Police beef up patrols to focus on motorcycle safety

By Hector Gonzalez

Responding to increases in motorcycle and bicycle collisions, including more than 30 crashes in Camarillo involving motorcycles since 2014, extra deputies are being used this month to help enforce two-wheeled vehicle traffic laws, local police said.

The Camarillo Police Department is using grants from the state Office of Traffic Safety to put additional deputies on the road to watch out for drivers making illegal moves that could endanger motorcyclists, and also to patrol popular bicycle routes, Sgt. Sean Britt told the Camarillo Acorn.

“It’s not only targeting motorcyclists, but anything that would involve motorcycle safety,” Britt said Tuesday of the citywide enforcement operation.

In Camarillo, motorcycle crashes tend to occur more at intersections where there is no left turn arrow, but unsafe speed also contributed to several of the 31 crashes involving motorcyclists since 2014, Britt said.

Excessive speed caused Nathaniel Brown, a 29-year-old Ventura man, to lose control of his Harley-Davidson while negotiating a curve on Dawson Drive in November, Britt said. Brown, a Ventura College student who friends say was a talented artist, died from his injuries on Nov. 20, just days before Thanksgiving.

In April 2016, 23-year-old Camarillo resident Nadya Unger, who owned a pet grooming business in the city, died when the motorcycle she was riding on as a passenger crashed into the side of a Metrolink train at a Las Posas Road rail crossing.

The driver, 27-year-old Garrett Scott Vongunten of Camarillo, pleaded not guilty on April 19 to one felony count each of vehicular manslaughter and gross negligence causing great bodily harm. He was still in custody as of Thursday afternoon and is scheduled to appear in Ventura Court for a pretrial hearing May 25, according to court records.

A California Highway Patrol accident report said Vongunten had cocaine and marijuana in his system at the time of the crash.

Across the state, fatal motorcycle crashes have increased from a decade low of 365 deaths in 2010. In 2013, 463 motorcyclists died in crashes, jumping to 519 deaths in 2014, according to the most recent data from the state Office of Traffic Safety.

Nationally, more than 5,000 people died in motorcycle crashes on U.S. roads in 2015, 10 percent more than in 2014, the National Traffic Safety Administration reported in May 2016.

In a separate enforcement operation, extra deputies in Camarillo will patrol areas frequented by bicyclists and locations where bicycle collisions happen most, Britt said in a news release.

Deputies will enforce California’s “Move Over” law, which requires cars and other vehicles to yield a 3-foot minimum buffer when passing bicyclists on the road, he said.

According to data from the CHP, 21 traffic collisions involving bicyclists occurred in Camarillo and unincorporated areas last year, injuring 18 people.

Nationally, 817 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2015, a 13 percent increase from 2014, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

Between 2006 and 2015, the average age of bicyclists killed in traffic crashes went up, from 41 in 2006 to 45 in 2015, the NHTSA reported.

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