I saw this guy in the paper and thought I'd pass it on to you all. He was one of us. RIP!!
New breed of bikers rides into danger zone
More motorcyclists are dying in wrecks as the sales of sport bikes surge across the country
Patrick Thompson says he doesn't drink, smoke marijuana or snort cocaine. Instead he gets his highs racing his Honda motorcycle at speeds of more than 150 miles an hour, or zipping in and out of expressway traffic at 125 m.p.h.
"It's just like a crackhead," said Thompson, who is recovering from a high-speed accident that left both arms in casts. "You can't really understand why this guy gets high, even though it's destroying his life. But he does it because of the reality he has to live through. You escape reality by the speed of the bike."
He is lucky to have survived his June wreck. At least seven people have died in motorcycle accidents in Cook County since Aug. 31, including a high-speed crash that killed South Side resident Jesse Cooper on South Lake Shore Drive early Monday, according to police.
Witnesses said Jesse Cooper was thrown into the air and hit a light pole in the 500 block of South Lake Shore Drive when his speeding motorcycle drifted and hit a curb, police said. Police said they did not know if Cooper was wearing a helmet.
While not all accidents are the fault of the riders, police are alarmed by growing numbers of bikers traveling in packs, zipping between cars on late-night rides--a scene that some say has become more common on Chicago-area interstates as manufacturers produce faster bikes marketed to younger riders.
With top speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour, the "crotch rockets" or sport bikes have become the motorcycles of choice for groups of men and women who take to the highways after dark, when cars are few and the roads open.
Across Chicago and the United States, dozens of new motorcycle groups have sprung up in the last year, fueled in part by the popularity of such movies as "Torque" and "Biker Boyz" that glorify the ultra-fast bikes and the motorcycle culture.
While most of the groups stress safety and say they adhere to the law, police worry the buzz of speeding, swarming motorcycles will increase.
"It's a huge concern," said Chicago police spokesman Pat Camden, who calls the sport motorcycles "[organ] donor cycles." "We're seeing more of them and they're becoming more deadly."
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,661 motorcycle fatalities occurred in the United States last year, a 12 percent increase over 2002. In Illinois, 143 motorcyclists were killed in 2003, up from 100 the year before.
Experts attribute the increase to record-breaking motorcycle sales and the emerging emphasis on speed.
Ralph Storino lost control of his Honda CBR 900 while trying to pass a car on the left median of the Stevenson Expressway. Police said he was going at least 90. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
James Sumler died when he hit a retaining wall on the Dan Ryan Expressway on Aug. 31. Witnesses estimated he was riding his sleek, powerful Kawasaki ZX 900 motorcycle at more than 100 miles per hour. He died instantly.
According to Illinois State Police, Sumler was traveling at about 100 miles per hour at 1:40 a.m. when he came upon a stopped semi-truck in a congested construction zone on the Dan Ryan near 79th Street.
State Trooper Angelo Mollo said Sumler, 39, of Chicago, tried to stop but couldn't. When he hit the retaining wall, Sumler was ejected from his bike, which then slid under the semi, Mollo said.
Members of the motorcycle group Sumler was riding with dispute police accounts, saying he was not riding nearly that fast.
Meanwhile, emergency room physicians are left to shake their heads over patients who can end up brain-damaged, quadriplegic or paralyzed after high-speed motorcycle accidents.
Yet even in crashes over 100 m.p.h., helmets can save lives, said Dr. Martin Lucenti, an emergency room physician and assistant professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
"Even at 150 m.p.h., you can roll and you can slide," Lucenti said. "Most helmets will take pretty significant blows up to 40 m.p.h. If you can get enough slowing just from friction as you slide, you can actually decelerate to the point where that helmet makes a very significant difference in terms of prognosis."
Local motorcycle group leaders acknowledge that some riders thrive at full-throttle, but say spectacular crashes like the ones that killed Sumler and Storino are rare and create an unfair stereotype among police and the public that all bikers are reckless.
George Riddles, leader of Number One Stunnas, a local motorcycle group that formed last year and has about 200 members, emphasizes safe driving, but he understands the thrill of riding fast. He said he used to race his motorcycle at high speeds on city roads. But over time, three of his friends died in high-speed crashes, and he swore off it.
"One of them--this was a couple of years ago--was doing 130, 140 and lost control of a turn and ran straight into a wall," Riddles said.
Still, Riddles said most bikers are law-abiding, and he estimates that only 25-30 percent of bikers drive at extreme high speeds.
"We're just getting a bad rap," he said. "There are guys out there doing dangerous stuff...but it's not everybody."
Less than two weeks after Sumler died, Storino, 35, of Lemont, was killed in a similar accident.
State police said Storino was riding at about 90 miles per hour on the Stevenson Sept. 13 when he lost control at about 11:40 p.m.
A state police spokesman said Storino hit the left retaining wall, was thrown from his bike and struck a utility pole.
Storino's cousin, Luis Duran, said Storino was a soft-spoken father of two who loved convertible cars and motorcycles.
Like Sumler, Storino had gotten off work late from his job at a window store in Downers Grove and had gone out for a night ride.
An experienced biker who had grown up riding dirt bikes, Storino rode whenever he could, Duran said, making the most out of Chicago's short riding season.
Although he took off alone on the night he died, Storino either met up with other bikers or came upon them as he rode, Duran said.
"He really didn't ride with a bunch of guys or anything like that," Duran said. "He wasn't a trouble-maker...Sometimes it just kind of found him."
Industry observers say there has not been a comprehensive study on motorcycle accidents in almost two decades, making it difficult to determine what is fueling the national increase in fatalities.
But some experts point to the combination of faster bikes, younger riders and growing popularity.
Mike Mount, a spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council, said motorcycle sales have increased each year for more than a decade. Last year, the industry set a record, selling more than 1.5 million motorcycles in the United States alone. Through June of this year, sales were up 12.6 percent compared with the same period in 2002, Mount said.
From 1995 to 2003, national sales of sport bikes grew 139 percent, part of the rapid increase in motorcycle sales overall, Mount said, putting that category of bikes third behind traditionally popular cruisers and touring bikes.
Don Brown, an industry expert at DJB Associates in Irvine, Calif., said motorcycle companies are producing faster sport bikes because that is what younger riders want.
"They're more powerful, they go faster, they make a lot of noise, which is not good for the industry," Brown said. "A lot of these young guys don't realize, they'll go on the freeway and they'll go by cars in a flash. Some poor little old lady driving down the street, it scares them half to death."
The new bikes can create bad public relations for the industry, but the emphasis on speed is neither new nor specific to motorcycles.
"I think it has always been there," Brown said. "The facts are [that] there are a whole range of products aimed at that element of our psychology."
Thompson, who ended up with both arms in casts, said he has learned a lesson from his crash: He won't weave in and out of traffic. But he still plans to drive fast--very fast--on his bike.
"We're still riding like idiots," Thompson said. "I know that, but I just get a high from it."