Off-road vehicle accidents taking young Alaska lives

Posted: Tuesday, August 23, 2005

WASILLA - So far this year, at least nine Alaskans have died in dirt bike and all-terrain vehicle accidents.

One of those is Yaroslav Oleynik. The 16-year-old was crossing the Parks and Palmer-Wasilla highways on May 20 when his dirt bike was hit by a Dodge Durango.

Similar accidents this month carved holes in two other Matanuska-Susitna Borough families when two 15-year-olds, one from Wasilla and one from Willow, were killed in separate four-wheeler collisions within the span of a week.

Oleynik's mother, Anna Oleynik, stood in the family's unfinished garage Friday, speaking in Ukrainian. Her daughter, Yelena Obukhovskiy, 19, translated. Oleynik looked down and pinched the bridge of her nose, eyes watering as two of her youngest boys played in the yard.

"I never thought it would happen in our family," Obukhovskiy said.

All three fatal accidents in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough this season involved off-road vehicles colliding with cars as they entered public roadways.

"I think this is the emerging problem," Wasilla Police Chief Don Savage said.

As the population in the valley grows and old ATV trails disappear, the region still has the same "drive wherever you like" reputation among Anchorage and local riders, he said.

Last year in the Mat-Su Borough, the Alaska Trauma Registry counted 44 people, or about a third of the statewide total, hospitalized by ATV accidents, coordinator Martha Moore said.

But police, including Wasilla traffic cop Jentry Crain, also say they hear about countless near misses. In Alaska, riders are required to stop before crossing roadways or driveways, which they can legally cross at a 90-degree angle, Crain said.

Instead, he said, riders often use the dip right before many driveways as launching pads for jumps, and some cars may never see them coming. Police and troopers say that for their part, people driving cars and trucks can help avoid collisions by staying alert and driving the speed limit.

Savage said the number of deaths this season doesn't necessarily surprise him. "I think we've been very fortunate that we haven't had more," he said.

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