Jerry Haiman had had enough of the noise and the blatant disregard for neighborhood safety when he marched across his front yard to confront a trio of all-terrain vehicle riders tearing up a block of Rockford's Seventh Street on Saturday afternoon. What had been a neighborhood nuisance quickly became something else: One of the riders ran the 50-year-old Haiman down in his yard, breaking his left knee.
Jerry Haiman had had enough of the noise and the blatant disregard for neighborhood safety when he marched across his front yard to confront a trio of all-terrain vehicle riders tearing up a block of Seventh Street on Saturday afternoon.
What had been a neighborhood nuisance quickly became something else: One of the riders ran the 50-year-old Haiman down in his yard, breaking his left knee.
“You shouldn’t have to hide behind your blinds and not let your kids out just because you hear them coming down the road,” Haiman said today.
Police already were investigating. And now the Rockford City Council may be getting involved.
Ald. Lenny Jacobson, D-6, is calling for stronger laws that might convince ATV riders not to speed down city streets, an act that is already against the law.
City attorneys are researching what ordinances could be developed that could serve as a convincing deterrent to those who ride the four-wheel vehicles in the city illegally. City Legal Director Patrick Hayes said the result could be something similar to what the city has done with a noise ordinance that allows the police to impound vehicles of drivers who play their stereos too loud.
“We are looking at what our impound powers are and what our police powers and nuisance powers allow us to do,” Hayes said. “It is frustrating for residents, and we want to address the problem as comprehensively as possible.”
Neighbors say ATV riders tear through the area on a daily basis, leave tire tracks through yards and scare residents. Those who have called police have been repaid with broken mailboxes and ATV tracks in the grass.
One neighbor whom the Rockford Register Star spoke to was too frightened of retaliation to go on the record.
Standing on crutches, a brace stretching from his left ankle to his thigh, Haiman points to tire tread marks through his front lawn, evidence of remaining hard feelings after the weekend confrontation.
Haiman said that after attempting to flag down the three ATV riders to convince them to stop riding through the neighborhood, the trio drove down the street. One of them “mooned” him and they came riding back toward him. Haiman said he pretended like he was going to kick one of them and walked back to his yard.
Haiman never saw the ATV who ran him down.
“Next thing I knew, I felt like I died,” Haiman said. “I went to get up and felt something crack in my knee.”
Sparking new law
Complaints about ATV riders on city streets are nothing new and have been discussed as a problem for years.
A $316,400 Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant in 2004 was used to help turn 120 acres of a vacant sand and gravel quarry into the Rocky Glen Off Highway Vehicle Park on South Main Street into a legal ATV haven with 12 miles of trails, including a training area, obstacle course, parking area and a small administrative building.
Jacobson had hoped the opening of the park would give ATV riders a place to go so that they would stop riding on city streets, through parks and golf courses, across private property, and through storm water drainage ways.
“It’s nuts; someone is going to get killed,” Jacobson said. “It used to be the closest park was in Ottawa. Now we have one on South Main Street. Go use it. Don’t use city streets and terrorize people.”
New police ATV sought
Meanwhile, Jacobson said, Rockford police have a “Polaris four-wheel all-terrain vehicle that sits and collects dust at the Public Safety Building.”
“I’ve been begging for another one because the police don’t want to go out on it without backup,” Jacobson said.
Rockford police Lt. Dane Person said the department does put its ATV purchased in the summer of 2008 into use to patrol areas of the city illegally used by ATV riders, but must do so in conjunction with the Rockford Park District Police and the auto theft task force so that the officer has backup.
“What we do is go to high-incident areas where there are complaints about ATVs, and we will go ahead and locate the trails in those areas, patrol those trails and see if we can locate violators,” Person said, noting that having another ATV could eliminate the need to coordinate with other agencies.
Person said the idea behind the police ATV is to show a police presence that would act as a deterrent. A tougher law with additional penalties would be welcome, he said.
“It’s another tool we would be able to use when we come across these incidents,” Person said. “Just citing them doesn’t necessarily solve the problem; it might be that the ATV will be used again as soon as we leave.”
A bad reputation
ATV enthusiast Steve Mattis said scofflaws who ride in the city illegally give the vast majority of ATV riders who obey the laws a bad reputation.
Mattis said responsible ATV riding is a real thrill, and some people even get into racing the off-road vehicles. He believes state traffic laws in place now that don’t allow ATVs on streets are enough and he wouldn’t be in favor of tougher laws.
Mattis said that the Rockford ATV park where riders can go all day for $20 is reasonably priced and fun.
“If you can’t catch them, you can’t enforce them, and that’s the problem,” Mattis said. “Unlike a police officer, those kids don’t have much to lose. If they saw a cop chasing them, they would run the other way. I don’t think tougher laws would deter them very much, and I don’t think they have the money or the means to get to someplace where it’s legal.”
Jeff Kolkey can be reached at (815) 987-1374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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