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Apr 29, 2001

Connecticut State's Attorney: The sport of motor cross (sic) does not violate any law.

Copyright 2001 Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.<BR><BR>By David Swarts<BR><BR>In a press release responding to a hail of criticism for claiming that parents who let children ride on a motocross track could be guilty of a felony, Connecticut State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Ansonia-Milford Mary M. Galvin wrote, "The sport of motor cross (sic)does not violate any law."<BR><BR>After receiving complaints from Milford Fire Department Chief Louis LaVecchia that there were too many serious injuries, including the fatality of a 15-year-old on an ATV, at the Milford Rider's Club privately-owned and operated motocross track, Galvin penned a letter to Milford Rider's Club President Randy Simpson. That letter, dated January 3, 2001 read:<BR><BR>"Dear Mr. Simpson:<BR><BR>"This office has received several complaints about minors operating motorcycles and All-Terrain Vehicles at your facility. We are aware of five reported accidents since 1998, some involving minors injured while operating vehicles on your track. It is our understanding that children as young as four or five years of age operate vehicles on your track.<BR><BR>"The Milford Police Chief and Fire Chief have pointed out that some of these vehicles actually carry warnings that no one under 16 years of age should be an operator. As a result, we will be reviewing with great care any future incidents involving operation of vehicles by anyone under 16.<BR><BR>"Enclosed is a copy of General Statutes Sec. 53-21(1), the Risk of Injury to a Minor Statute. The felony crime of Risk of Injury occurs if there has been a wilful (sic) creation of a situation that places minors in risk of physical injury. You should have your attorney review this statute because it could be applicable to people who allow minors to operate on your track. Please feel free to have your attorney contact us with any questions.<BR><BR>"Sincerely yours,<BR>"Mary M. Galvin<BR>"State's Attorney"<BR><BR>In her letter, Galvin made no claim that a risk management analysis was needed or that the track design was inherently dangerous. As illustrated by the statement "It is our understanding that children as young as four or five years of age operate vehicles on your track," her main concern was that minors were being allowed to operate motorcycles and ATVs on the track. She made no mention of proper supervision, proper use of rider safety gear or proper training, but emphasized the potential application of a felony criminal statute.<BR><BR>After the letter was sent, Galvin, Fire Chief LaVecchia, Randy Simpson, among others, had a face-to-face meeting to discuss this issue. <BR><BR>"This letter was followed up by a meeting with Mr. Simpson and another member of the Milford Rider's Club, myself, another member of my office, and the Fire Chief where we indicated to them that our main concern was safety and that no other child be killed. We felt we'd all agreed that they would do risk management, and they were going to consult a lawyer. Apparently, they haven't done that and they have said that I'm trying to close down their track which is not true…or stop their sport," Galvin told Roadracing World on April 11.<BR><BR>In a telephone call to Roadracing World on April 24, Fire Chief LaVecchia said, "I remember the State's Attorney telling them several times, ‘I can't tell you to go consult an attorney.' And said this like several, several times. Finally I had to step in and say, ‘I don't think you're hearing a word she's saying. You need to consult an attorney. She can't tell that to you but I can. Know what your legal rights are.' If you're the president of a motorcycle club, you should know your legal liabilities. If you have an unsafe track, being negligent to the fact that it's unsafe is not enough in the court."<BR><BR>But how did it all get started? Galvin said that she was originally approached by LaVecchia with "complaints."<BR><BR>LaVecchia said, "What happened was, based on our records here, we noticed a very high frequency of accidents at this track."<BR><BR>When asked in relation to what baseline? Compared to other motocross tracks? LaVecchia said, "We don't have any others in the city. Just for serious accidents, our vehicles were going out there, I don't want to use the word ‘often'. It was enough to bring attention to it. If you have a skating park, and all of a sudden you say to yourself, ‘You know, the rescue truck is going to the skating park every weekend.' In reality you don't go there every weekend. It's more like once a month. <BR><BR>"The rescue guys brought it to my attention that we had another accident out there. Well, you look it up, and you look at a few of the calls there, and they're very serious calls. Then you say, ‘You know, this needs to be brought to someone's attention here.' So I started with the Police Chief. The Police Chief recommended that we go to the State's Attorney, and the three of us sat down and talked. We decided to bring it to their (Milford Rider's Club's) attention, especially if they are doing something wrong. Are they allowing children to use unsafe vehicles? If that is the case, then you say this has got to stop immediately. That wasn't the case. They went through some of the investigation. Then we said, ‘Are you doing risk analysis?' They said, ‘What's that?' ‘Have you ever looked at this track to see whether or not it was unsafe?' ‘Well, we run it ourselves.' That wasn't what we were asking here."<BR><BR>Again, the concerns raised by Galvin and LaVecchia were over minors operating vehicles on the track, particularly ignoring age-warning labels posted on ATVs, and getting injured. Galvin and LaVecchia pointed to a 15-year-old being killed in 1999 while riding an ATV carrying a warning label prohibiting operators under the age of 16. Immediately following that fatal accident, the Milford Rider's Club banned ATVs from the park completely. Galvin and LaVecchia were not aware of this ban until Simpson told them at the meeting in February even though the ban had been in effect for nearly 18 months.<BR><BR>RW: "When you had this meeting with the Milford Rider's Association this year, you knew then that they had suspended the use of all-terrain vehicles altogether since that fatal accident?"<BR><BR>LaVecchia: "Yes, they told us that." <BR><BR>RW: "So that was one of the main concerns immediately…"<BR><BR>LaVecchia: "Addressed. Yes."<BR><BR>Galvin still felt that there were issues regarding the track's design being unsafe. Galvin told Roadracing World on April 11, "Do you understand where you don't have a properly designed track and you have vehicles that are not correctly modified being operated by unsupervised youths that that could be a concern? I'm saying that you could have a track with a design that is inherently beyond the limits of what is reasonable danger. You can have unsupervised children. You can have a track where there's injuries that are such that people who are in a high-risk profession, like firefighters, are saying something's wrong here." <BR><BR>Galvin refused to answer a question as to whether she or the Fire Chief have any experience or background in motorcycling. Instead, Galvin said that she thought that it was "irrelevant" when someone is "engaged in an activity that raises public safety concerns or not." Galvin said that the Fire Chief and the Milford Police Chief were her source for forming her position on the racetrack.<BR><BR>RW: "Her (Galvin's) position to us was that the track was inherently dangerous due to its design. When I asked her for her sources on safe track designs, she cited you."<BR><BR>LaVecchia: "I'll have to discuss that with her then." <BR><BR>RW,:"Can you tell us what motorcycling background you have?"<BR><BR>LaVecchia: "I'll discuss this with her to see what she actually said. I'm not going to make a comment here not knowing half the story here."<BR><BR>After conferring with Galvin later that same day, LaVecchia called Roadracing World back to say, "I don't ride motorcycles. Your questions to me, I wouldn't have a clue whether that's a safe track or not. All I know is I see the accident reports come across my desk and when you have major ones come across you say, ‘Well jeez, what's going on over there?'" <BR><BR>Although he doesn't ride motorcycles, LaVecchia apparently does know what's best for motorcycling, because he told Roadracing World "I'd hate to see a negative article written because that's not the case. That doesn't do good for the industry. Right away, you have a big article in the magazine that the city of Milford is attacking motorcycle clubs. That's not what we're doing. That's not good for the industry. I won't say quiet's better. You know what I'm saying. It's that clear." LaVecchia repeatedly stated that his and Galvin's intent was to promote the safety of the children involved.<BR><BR>Mary Galvin did not return another phone call from Roadracing World on April 24. On April 16, four days after Roadracing World last spoke with Galvin, Galvin's office issued the following press release:<BR><BR>"In response to an article in the May 2001 American Motorcyclist Magazine, Mary M. Galvin, State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Ansonia-Milford, clarified her position on the operation of the Milford Rider's Association motor cross (sic) track in Milford.<BR><BR>"The track has been the scene of numerous accidents in the past several years including the death of a 15-year-old boy and the serious injury of another youth. An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of the 15-year-old boy by the Milford Police Department found that the track was a ‘regular stop' for E.M.T.'s in Milford. The layout of this particular track was very dangerous according to at least one Association member, paralyzed in an accident at the track in 1998. Some youths, including the deceased boy, were allowed to use the track while unsupervised by an adult in violation of track rules, and juveniles were allowed to ride A.T.V.'s that carried warnings against operation by children under 16.<BR><BR>"‘These and other concerns, such as he (sic) lack of insurance, were raised with the management of the track. We had a very productive meeting in February of this year in response to the rash of incidents at the track. Mr. Randy Simpson, President of the Milford Rider's Association, assured me that these mistakes were being remedied and that affirmative actions were being taken by the club to assure the safety of children who ride at the club.' State's Attorney Galvin said.<BR><BR>"Since the fatal accident, the Association has instituted ‘Common sense measures such as using risk management principles, strict enforcement of the track's adult supervision rule and prohibiting kids under 16 from operating machines not designed for their small bodies. These measures should help prevent further accidents.' Galvin said. The sport of motor cross (sic) does not violate any law. ‘The Risk of Injury to a Minor statute is on the books to protect children from any situation in which they could recklessly be hurt. By working together with the club and making everyone aware of what the law says we hope to do two things. One, make the adults whose duty it is to supervise children while riding take that duty seriously. And two, to try and prevent further accidents at this track.'"<BR><BR>When asked about Galvin's clarification letter, AMA Legislative Affairs Specialist Royce Wood said, "The main thing that we wanted was a statement in here that the sport of motocross does not constitute a crime. She says it in there. So it's like, well, we got what we wanted here. There's so much difference between this press release and what her first letter said. I don't know. I guess we would have to ask her if she really changed her mind or if she just didn't explain herself the first time. That's a question for her that we can't answer."<BR><BR>When asked if Galvin or her boss, Connecticut Chief State's Attorney John Bailey ever returned phone calls or correspondence from AMA officials, Wood said, "She sent us a copy (of this press release). She ended up calling Bill (Kresnak) from the (American Mototcyclist) magazine. We did get a letter from (Connecticut Chief State's Attorney) John Bailey I think on the 11th (of April). Basically, Bailey's letter was really short and said, ‘I've passed everything that you've gave to me on to (Galvin) so that she can respond directly'" So he pretty much put it back in her court to respond to us.<BR><BR>"I think ultimately the fact that so many media sources had an interest in the story, I think really had a big effect. Once the phone started ringing from all of these media sources, (Galvin) realized that she was going to have to deal with it, and she couldn't just let it off. There were quite a few Connecticut papers (that caught on to the story)."<BR><BR>Milford Rider's Association President Randy Simpson did not return Roadracing World's telephone calls but told American Motorcyclist, "The threat has passed. The only way she (Galvin) would prosecute would be if a parent drops off a kid unsupervised or who isn't wearing proper gear."<BR><BR>So in this story, the AMA is the hero. When the Milford Rider's Association felt that they had no other alternative, they contacted AMA officials, who went to work protecting their rights to ride by getting a possibly-well-meaning politician to clarify an ill-advised stance on motorcycling.<BR>