From tragedy comes action for riders Motorcycle Act promotes safety
Published: January 22, 2013
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ST. CROIX - Balancing the weight of her CBR 600 Motorcycle, Cherene Williams-Walters eyes the road, leans her chest into her 375-pound muscled steel chariot and rolls into a steady flow down Melvin Evans Highway.
Her ponytail blows from under her protective helmet as she cuts through the wind.
She is one with the road.
Williams-Walters has loved motorcycles for more than half of her life, but she has been riding independently for about five years. She said she has always been drawn to motorcycles since she rode with her brothers as a child and into her teenage years.
Riding has always given Williams-Walters a sense of peace that can compare to nothing else, she said.
"When I jump on my bike, I feel free," she said. "I don't have to be speeding. I just have to ride, and I can let go of anything that has been bothering me."
Williams-Walters said she loves to hear the rev of the bike, and just the sound of a motorcycle engine excites her, so she rides every chance that she gets.
Williams-Walters said she began riding with her husband Thaddeus Walters in 2002, and they rode together on the same bike or on separate bikes often until he was killed while they rode one evening in September 2007.
"I was riding behind him on my bike that night when he crashed by Sunny Isle," she said. "It was something I couldn't believe."
Just more than a year later, in November 2008, she also lost her brother, Raymond Williams, who died in a motorcycle crash less than a mile from where Walters was killed.
Police did not find the drivers of the vehicles that were involved in either of those traffic collision negligent at the time of the crash. Since then, Williams-Walters says she has suffered the loss of many other close friends and relatives as a result of motorcycle collisions.
As recently as Dec. 29, Iris Felix-Johnson, 28, and Pedro Juan Reyes Jr., 24, were killed when their bikes collided on Melvin Evans Highway. Days later, Williams-Walters was still shaken by that tragedy, saying that Felix-Johnson was not only her cousin and friend, but she was also the fundraising coordinator and secretary for the St. Croix Motorcycle Club.
Despite the losses, Williams-Walters said still finds joy in riding, and her primary focus has turned to promoting motorcycle safety and hopefully limit the number of motorcycle tragedies in the territory.
Williams-Walters said she was one of the members in the community who worked closely with Bureau of Motor Vehicles Director Jerris Browne to help promote motorcycle safety with the development of the Motorcycle Education Act of 2009 that recently was signed into law.
"There is more to riding than jumping on a bike. You have to know road safety and gear and everything involved in keeping your other riders and motorists safe on the road," Williams-Walters said. "These are some of the things I plan to address as I work toward opening a certification school sometime soon."
Until then, Williams-Walters says she has brought in a few certified instructors to certify some of her club members.
Anderson Poleon has been running AAA Training Services for just more than a year, and he said that the newly developed motorcycle laws should help save lives on the road, especially when full enforcement is implemented.
Poleon said the number of fatalities on the road are high compared with the number of motorcycles registered in the territory - just more than 100 - and most of the collisions are a result of riders not knowing proper braking, using excessive speed or improper turning.
"There are a lot of people who learned to ride on the streets, and they lack the professional and formal training that ensures safety," Poleon said. "It is important that every rider is able to meet the requirements of the written test that includes knowledge of the traffic rules and safety skills, but then they are really put to the test when they hit the road for the obstacle course and road testing."
Since 2002, 10 motorcycle fatalities have been reported on St. Croix and five reported on St. Thomas.
Brown said the enforcement of the new laws has not been fully executed, but it opens the doors for riders to begin getting the proper training that they need to ride their motorcycles and learn how to be more defensive drivers on the road.
"Proper training is the key, because as with any other machine, safety should be the No. 1 concern," he said. "Every rider comes with a different level of expertise, from the novice to the expert, but they all must be certified and then they can come and take our written and road tests to ensure all bases are covered."
Browne said the new laws currently only require a rider to have an endorsement on their card from a certified trainer, but in years to come, the bureau will implement special licenses, solely for motorcyclists.
Poleon, who also does certification on St. Thomas said a certified driver would be able to drive for themselves and look out for other drivers, knowing that cars on a wet road could experience more skid or that big trucks traveling on the highways could create a wind blast that could throw the rider off balance.
Williams-Walters said certification and knowing the rules should be acknowledged by riders and motorists.
"There are many times that accidents are caused by motorists who are inconsiderate or just not paying attention," she said. "The sad part is that the majority of the time, if a motorcycle is up against a car, truck or even a van in a collision, the biker is more likely not to survive the crash."
She said riders cannot slam on their brakes to stop in an emergency situation, like a driver would in a car, because their body is already in motion and a sudden stop could cause them to be thrown from the bike.
Proper gear also is important and includes long pants, closed shoes, gloves, a full-face helmet, body armor and a vest, she said.
Williams-Walters said with the increase of gas prices in the territory more people have opted to purchase scooters or even heavier bikes and they must all learn to ride the smart way to ensure safety.
"Some new riders get excited, because the hum of the bike gives some people a rush, but that is not the way because showing off and not following the safety guidelines could wind them up dead," she said.
Williams-Walters said the primary motorcycle clubs in the territory have organized a unified front to promote bike safety, and as recently as last weekend, they gathered on St. Thomas for a huge bike show, with 36 bikes barged over from St. Croix.
"We do a lot to maintain the industry when we go to shows or the parade or our ride-outs," she said. "It is a fun activity for us, but we want to see our riders safe on the road, and we certainly do not want to lose any more," Williams-Walters said.
The organization primarily has been fundraising to promote biker safety, travel to off-island races and shows and to fund the foundation named in honor of Williams-Walters' husband. The foundation assists bikers needing medical attention or help with funeral arrangements if the worst-case scenario comes to pass.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or like them on Facebook at Stxbikers Motorcycle Club. Questions about licensing or certifications can be posed to the Bureau of Motor Vehicle at 713-4268 or to Poleon at 514-5049 or www.aaausvi.com.
- Contact Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.