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Michigan DNR conducts snowmobile patrols during weekend of deadly crashes

Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers continued their safety and enforcement patrols over the holiday weekend – a deadly weekend that claimed the lives of five snowmobilers in a single day.

Police agencies in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula investigated the deaths Friday of two snowmobilers in Gogebic County and one each in Luce, Alger and Kalkaska counties.

This winter, six snowmobilers have died in the U.P. and three in Lower Michigan. The statewide snowmobile fatality total for the entire winter of 2017-2018 was 15, with 10 of those fatalities occurring north of the Mackinac Bridge.

“This recent rash of deadly crashes illustrates the critical importance of snowmobile safety,” said Lt. Ryan Aho, a DNR district law supervisor in Marquette. “Many fatalities occur because of drinking and driving, high speed or carelessness, all of which are preventable actions.”

The DNR is partnering with the Michigan Snowmobile Association and others on a “Ride Right” safety campaign this winter.

In contacts with officers, public service announcements and press materials, riders are being reminded to ride on the right side of the trail, at a safe speed and sober. Snowmobilers are also being asked to anticipate, and yield to, trail groomers.

The thrust of the campaign urges riders to ride right so they can make it home safely to their families.

“There are a lot of factors that could play into the high number of fatal snowmobile crashes we’ve had during this early part of the winter,” said John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer. “But whether it’s because of good snow concentrating riders in certain parts of the state, unfamiliarity with local trails or speed, recklessness or alcohol, all of these things underscore the importance of riding safely and riding right.”

DNR conservation officers were on patrol on both ends of the U.P., writing tickets and providing safety tips to riders. They had conducted similar patrols the weekend prior in Ontonagon and Houghton counties, which resulted in numerous tickets being issued and three riders jailed for driving under the influence of alcohol.

On Friday, five officers conducted a group patrol in South Range in Houghton County.

“Conservation officers talked with snowmobilers, checked registrations and trail permits, looked for equipment violations and tested snowmobiles for noise level emissions,” Aho said.

From about 100 contacts, officers issued 20 warnings to riders for improper trail permit and registration display. Eight tickets were issued, half of which were for registration violations, with the remainder for noise emissions exceeding the 88-decibel limit. One officer assisted a rider whose snowmobile caught fire a few miles north of the group patrol.

The following evening, five conservation officers patrolled as a group in Keweenaw County, on Gratiot Lake Road – Trail No. 3.

In this effort, about 250 contacts were made, with 30 warnings and three tickets issued for improper trail permit or registration display. A total of 15 tickets were written, including eight for noise emission violations, two for careless operation of a snowmobile and one each for driving with a suspended license and no sled registration.

On Sunday, the patrol in the western U.P. continued in Ontonagon County, including along Lake Gogebic where two riders died Friday in a head-on crash near Lake Gogebic State Park.

Conservation officers contacted three separate groups of snowmobilers who had been ice fishing coming off Lake Gogebic. All the groups’ members had legal possession limits.

In all, officers made about 100 contacts in the patrolling effort, resulting in 10 warnings for fail to display/attach trail permits or improper registration display. Five tickets were written for registration violations, another five for failure to display or attach trail permits, two for noise violations and one for careless operation.

“Over the course of the weekend, we had 450 contacts with riders,” Aho said. “We issued 60 warnings and wrote three dozen tickets.”

On the eastern end of the U.P., cold weather and lake effect snow had limited visibility for snowmobilers, including conservation officers. Group patrols continued, though cold weather shortened some of the riding time for officers.

“Snow dust from sleds coming and going, along with blowing snow, diminished visibility on a very busy weekend for snowmobiles,” said Lt. Skip Hagy, a DNR district law supervisor in Newberry. “People drive way too fast for conditions. It showed in the personal injury and fatal accidents we had this past weekend.”

A sound meter patrol was conducted Saturday in Grand Marais in Alger County. However, no sound violation tickets were issued. Conservation officers had contact with 578 riders, with 41 verbal warnings issued, along with 16 tickets for registration and trail permit violations.

Conservation officers assisted with the fatality Friday in Luce County where a 71-year-old rider struck a tree. Two officers patrolling in the eastern U.P. Thursday had 55 contacts with riders. They issued four warnings and two tickets.

DNR safety and enforcement patrols will continue throughout the winter.

To find out more about snowmobiling in Michigan, visit Michigan.gov/Snowmobiling.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.