TUPPER LAKE - The motorcycle parade through town that has taken place during the annual Harley Run for the past 21 years may not happen next year, according to its main host.
Mark "Beard" Sutliffe, owner of Trail's End and one of the organizers of the Run, said many of this year's participants have told him they will not be coming back next year due to a state police checkpoint at which more than 20 tickets were written for inadequate helmets.
"It depends on what we get for people next year, if they even show up because of it," Sutliffe said. "The way it's going, it does not look good. But, you never know."
The parade was Saturday, June 21. The 150 or so participants, most of whom were not wearing helmets, were escorted along the parade route by village police. After the parade, some of them stopped at Trail's End for hot dogs and hamburgers, and on the way back into the village they were stopped at a state police checkpoint in front of the state police barracks on state Route 30. Sutliffe said the participants in the parade have never been ticketed before by either village or state police.
Maj. Richard Smith, commander of state police Troop B, said the decision to hold the checkpoint was made several weeks ago.
"Clearly, we were aware there was an event planned in the Tupper Lake area, where we anticipated a larger number of motorcycles that would be there at that time," he said. "It makes sense to focus your efforts at a time or location where motorcycle safety would be an issue."
Smith characterized the effort as a "safety and enforcement detail looking for violations involving motorcycle operations" and compared it to the ones the state police often hold looking for car passengers not wearing seat belts.
State police held a similar checkpoint on the Northway near Lake George during the motorcycle rally Americade a little more than a month ago. 35 tickets were issued on May 30 and 105 on June 6, according to the Albany Times Union.
Smith said troopers stopped 29 motorcycles total and issued 22 tickets: 20 for inadequate helmets, one for inadequate exhaust and one for over-height handlebars. Sutliffe said he heard 102 tickets were issued, but this was contradicted by both Smith and town Justice Leonard Young. Sutliffe also said he heard one passenger was ticketed for not carrying indentification, which Smith denies.
"An inadequate ID does not describe an offense that I'm aware of in the vehicle and traffic laws," he said.
Young said eight of the people ticketed appeared in town court Wednesday evening. Seven of them had been ticketed for inadequate helmets, the eighth for a problem with his tire.
"There were a lot of mail-ins," he said. "A lot of them are outside the area. The ones that did come in pled guilty, were processed and were on their way. None of them had any complaints. They understood their helmets weren't Department of Transportation-approved, and they had no problem paying a surcharge."
Young said, counting mail-ins, there were probably about 20 tickets total, although he couldn't be positive since he did not have the paperwork in front of him.
Since June 21, several people have written letters to the Enterprise complaining about the checkpoint.
"Not only is this improper to do to people just having fun, but it also will cause people to think before returning to Tupper Lake," wrote Harley Putzer of Brewertown. "This was entrapment by the S.S. Storm Troopers to cause the people of Tupper Lake to lose much needed money for stores, restaurants and motels."
"I know for a fact that this action caused some people to leave town, taking their wallets with them, jeopardizing the much-needed money that would have flowed into our local communities," wrote Jenda Cotton of Saranac Lake. "Can we afford to bite the hands that feed us by treating potential visitors this way?"
Smith defended the checkpoint, saying educating the public in motorcycle safety and in what types of helmets are legal is important.
"The helmets they were using are inadequate," he said. "I could cite statistics all day. A motorcyclist is 37 times more likely to die in an accident than a person in a passenger car. Head injury is the number-one cause of death in motorcylce accidents. We had a 13 percent rise in motorcycle accidents last year."
Smith said motorcycle registrations in the state are rising, and he expects this trend to continue due to the ever-climbing price of gas.
"It is important that the state police enforce the laws of motorcycle safety and, in enforcing the laws, spread the word of safety to the motorcycling public."
Nicole L. Hayes of Lewis was killed outside of Tupper Lake on June 24, 2006 when the driver of the motorcycle, Todd Farrell of Morrisonville, collided with another motorcycle he was trying to pass and a third bike crashed into the two downed ones. Three other people received minor injuries. Farrell was sentenced to one year in Franklin County Jail and five years' probation in March for vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated.
Village police Chief Tom Fee said village police were not involved in the enforcement effort and did nothing beyond escorting the bikers on the parade route. Smith said village police were notified about the checkpoint in advance.
"We knew about it," said village police Sgt. Eric Proulx. "They told us they were coming up. But we didn't take part in it."
Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.