West Hartford Police said they are investigating multiple complaints about a large number of ATVs and other vehicles driving recklessly throughout town on Sunday evening.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Police acknowledge there are multiple challenges involved with enforcing traffic laws regarding All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and other vehicles not licensed for road use, but said Monday that they are investigating a large number of complaints following a large group of ATVs, motorcycles, and other types of vehicles driving erratically through town Sunday evening.
Hundreds of residents took to Facebook when they saw – and heard – the vehicles streaming into town. Many took videos and reported that there were at least 200 vehicles riding on both sides of the road on Farmington Avenue as well as Ridgewood Road. A post on the Neighbors and Friends in West Hartford Facebook page had received nearly 300 comments as of 2:15 p.m. Monday, including numerous videos of the event.
“Enforcing traffic laws regarding ATVs is challenging as the ATVs often do not bear registration plates and operators fail to stop when signaled to do so by police,” West Hartford Police Capt. Eric Rocheleau said in a news release early Monday afternoon. “State law prohibits the use of tire deflation devices and road blocks, as well as the ability to pursue for motor vehicle violations and property crimes.”
West Hartford Assistant Police Chief Larry Terra, who during a subsequent press conference about the issue Monday afternoon reiterated many of the statements in the release, said a group of what was estimated at 200 vehicles appear to have traveled to New Britain after leaving West Hartford on New Britain Avenue.
Police said the vehicles traveled on Farmington Avenue, Ridgewood Road, and New Britain Avenue. They entered West Hartford from the east and headed west on Farmington Avenue. A Channel 3 photojournalist captured a group of ATVs and other vehicles blocking traffic in Hartford on Sunday.
Terra said Sunday’s group impacted many other towns, not just West Hartford. “Right now West Hartford PD is actively working with regional law enforcement partners to develop appropriate solutions and responses to the problem, such as other enforcement methods and local ordinances regulating the use of these vehicles.”
An added challenge Terra noted is that the vehicles can go into places that cars can’t go, and often they take off before police can take action.
“It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s been occurring throughout the state,” Terra said. While this was not the first time ATVs and other unlicensed vehicles have cruised through West Hartford, he said it seems to have been the largest group thus far.
Police have launched an investigation and are following up on leads they have received.
“We possibly have identified some people already and we’re going to be taking it from there. This is the safer way of enforcement action,” Terra said.
“Some of these are very distinctively painted,” said Terra. And some of the drivers post their own video online. If police can identify the riders and prove that they have broken laws, they can take appropriate enforcement action, he said. If a vehicle is not registered, it can be towed.
Trying to stop a ride while it’s occurring is dangerous for the the riders, and others. “Remember they’re not wearing seatbelts, they have no type of protection. … It’s for their safety, it’s for officers safety, and more importantly it’s for the motoring public’s safety,” Terra said.
The best thing to do if you encounter a group like the one that cruised through West Hartford on Sunday is just pull to the side, Terra said.
According to West Hartford Police, there were no reported crashes or injuries in town resulting from the incident.
Residents reported seeing upwards of 200 vehicles – including ATVs, dirt bikes, slingshots, motorcycles, and other vehicles, many which do not have registrations because they are not intended to be licensed for road use.
Some residents reported that the vehicles were traveling at a high rate of speed, and videos document some driving on the wrong side of the road as well as on sidewalks. The videos also show many of the vehicles “popping wheelies.”
“It was out of the ordinary for sure, for a Sunday evening,” Ben Reder, who lives on Farmington Avenue between Ridgewood and Mountain Roads, told We-Ha.com.
He said he was sitting outside in front of his house enjoying the nice summer evening when the vehicles started going by. While he lives on a main road and is used to traffic noise, this massive event was totally different.
“It was more shock, and awe,” Reder said. After a while he started taking video (see above), and said the vehicles kept coming for at least five or 10 straight minutes.
“There were four-wheelers, ATVs, dirt bikes, slingshots,” said Reder. “It was a beautiful evening for a ride, but traffic had to pull over. … Cars were totally pulled over on both side of Farmington Avenue.” He said he’s not opposed to cruise nights, but there’s a fine line and this was more than a sanctioned cruise night.
While he personally didn’t witness any excessive speeds, Reder said riders were on both sides of the road, and he was worried about safety as they took the turn from Farmington to head south onto Ridgewood Road.
The group seemed to be coordinated, and even had a vehicle in the back playing music, said Reder.
“I’ve never seen anything like this on Farmington Avenue,” said Reder, who wondered how the group traveled right through the middle of West Hartford Center at dinner time, when many patrons were dining outdoors at restaurants that line the roadway.
“You’re never going to corral 300 bikes when they’re in the center of town,” Reder said, acknowledging the challenge this type of event poses for law enforcement and the safety issues. He said he’s worried that the riders will make it a regular occurrence, since they are getting the reaction they may have been looking for.
Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous, recounted to We-Ha.com turning onto Farmington Avenue and getting stuck in the middle of the motorcycles and other vehicles despite moments earlier passing a West Hartford Police car heading in the opposite direction who could have waved the car over.
Riders were “up on lawns, sidewalks, and on the wrong side of the road … they drove right at me and looked right into my eyes and then veered off at the last minute,” the resident said. While they seemed skilled, it was scary, and the resident was unable to get out of the way.
Another resident shared video with We-Ha.com that was taken on Farmington Avenue near Riggs Road, and Tyla Serro shared the video below of the riders heading south on Ridgewood Road.
While some residents were upset by the riders, others had a different reaction.
“I was in my front yard, which is about half a block from Farmington Avenue, when the parade of ATVs, dirt bikes, slingshots, and other vehicles went past,” resident Levi Lomasky told We-Ha.com. “A few folks were doing wheelies but everyone seemed to maintain good control of their vehicles. It just looked like sports vehicle aficionados having a nice time on a beautiful summer day.”
There are places to legally drive ATVs, Terra said, but they are illegal on town streets.
Terra said these days a lot of people want attention, but police aren’t feeding into the attention the riders may be seeking so much as bringing it to people’s attention to make sure they are safe. “This is to bring attention to what’s going on, to seek the public’s help and to try to identify who it is and what they’re driving.
“Groups like this, they just don’t all call each other like the old days,” Terra said. Police are scouring social media sites to gather more information.
“We want our public to know that we take the illegal group of ATV’s that drove through West Hartford and a number of communities in Central Connecticut on Sunday very seriously,” Mayor Shari Cantor told We-Ha.com. “This was dangerous, reckless, and very disruptive. Our police are actively investigating and are looking for any information that people might have to assist in this investigation.”
Police also said the investigation is active and are asking for anyone who has information to contact the Detective Division, where personnel are available 24 hours a day, at 860-570-8870.
The complete press conference with Assistant Chief Terra can be viewed below.
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