Anyone naïve to the danger posed by bikers racing the streets of Allentown should consider what happened in Philadelphia this week.
A teenager with big dreams was run over by an all-terrain biker who was showing off and doing wheelies on Sunday night. Jesus Gomez Rosario, 17, was skateboarding when he was hit, police say. He died on Tuesday.
The creep who committed suicide fled and remains at large.
I hope when he is caught, he will face severe punishment.
And I hope Rosario’s death is a wake-up call for cities like Allentown to take bolder action against the scourge of dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles that has prompted hundreds of calls to police. This year.
Allentown should follow the example of Reading, which has recently stepped up its efforts. Last week, officials sent 56 dirt bikes and ATVs to a scrap yard, where they were crushed so they could never be ridden dangerously again.
Allentown police are considering such a policy, according to testimony at a state legislative hearing this month.
Mayor Matt Tuerk told me Friday that he supports the idea. He said the city is considering legal options to seize and destroy the bikes. But he thinks the best approach is for the state to pass a law allowing this everywhere.
This action is stronger if taken at the state level, Tuerk said. He said Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, was working on it.
This plan should be put on the fast track, so that there are no more casualties.
Rosario was a high school student. He loved to play the guitar and worked with his father as “DJ Chu” in a Spanish radio station, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. He dreamed of becoming a pilot.
In Allentown and other towns, packs of dirt bikes and ATVs ride in defiance of traffic laws. They take the wrong direction on one-way streets. They ignore stop signs and red lights. They drive on sidewalks.
It was only a matter of time before someone was killed.
Reading passed a series of laws last year to harden the problem. This resulted in the threat vehicles being crushed, which will be done quarterly.
ATVs are illegal on city streets, as are most dirt bikes. Dirt bikes that are legal, based on their engine capacity, must be registered and insured.
Police in some cities, including Allentown, have a policy of not prosecuting bikers due to the danger this may create to the public. Reading Police chase the runners when conditions permit, Sgt. Mel Fegely told me on Friday.
“We’re not just going to let these guys walk around,” he said.
Chases sometimes end with riders crashing their bikes and running away. Police seize vehicles and send a certified letter to the owner, if the vehicle is registered with the state.
However, it is rare that they are registered. Nine out of 10 are not. Those with recordings were usually stolen, Fegely said.
Owners who receive letters can claim their vehicles by showing ownership documents.
“People would come in and say they had them, but they couldn’t produce any documents,” Fegely said.
If the bikes are not claimed, they are destroyed. Gas, oil and other fluids are drained before grinding to meet environmental regulations.
Residents deserve to know authorities are taking the issue of dirt bikes seriously, Fegely said. He described the situation as “out of control”.
“We had to send a message,” Fegely told me. “We know it’s a problem and we’re not afraid to do something about it.”
There is an appeals process, but no one has used it, he said.
Destroying the bikes is a better plan than selling them. If they were sold, they could be bought by the same people and become the same problem.
In March, officials from Allentown, Bethlehem, Whitehall, South Whitehall, Salisbury, Lehigh County and the state announced they had created a task force to research new ways to stop what Tuerk described as “mountain bike rodeos”.
Sentences are now generally minimal, Allentown Police Chief Charles Roca told me in March.
Tougher penalties are needed. But that alone will not be enough of a deterrent.
Flattening a bike that someone paid thousands of dollars for would send the biggest message that Allentown officials are committed to protecting their streets and citizens.
Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or [email protected]