The death of a 14-year-old boy in Paris on Wednesday brought the number of people killed last month in ATV crashes to three, making it one of the deadliest months for the sport in recent memory.

State officials and all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts say September’s grim numbers — five serious crashes, three deaths — are more a coincidence than a trend, but still drive home the importance of safety equipment and responsible operation.

“It’s the same thing they teach for driving cars: The person has to take the responsibility for what they’re doing,” said Dave Brauning, chief instructor and safety officer for Southern Maine ATV, one of dozens of ATV clubs in the state.

Brauning and other volunteers from his club offer an ATV safety course four times a year to about 100 students total.

Most of them are young riders, age 10 to 16, the ones who need a safety course certificate to legally ride off their own property. Adults with a driver’s license don’t need the safety certificate.

“You’ve got to respect the machine and the environment,” Brauning said, while emphasizing the importance of proper safety gear, from helmet and chest protector to boots and goggles.

Albert Roberti Jr. was riding on Elm Hill Road near his home in Paris when a fellow teen riding ahead of him stopped suddenly.

Roberti’s three-wheeler crashed into the other vehicle and as the boy was thrown through the air, his helmet flew off, police said.

He landed in the road and was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. Investigators are not sure whether the strap was left unbuckled.

Elsewhere, 69-year old John Tweed died of head injuries in Frenchville when the ATV he was riding rolled over Sept. 18. He was not wearing a helmet.

Peter Harrington, 35, was killed in Sumner, just north of Paris, when he lost control of the ATV he was driving Sept. 24 and collided head-on with a tree. Neither he nor his 11-year-old stepson were wearing helmets, but the boy suffered only minor injuries.

Harrington was taken to Central Maine Medical Center where he died the following day.

Paris Police Chief David Verrier responded to the crash that killed Roberti and another crash in 2006 when the boy, then 9, was hit by a pickup on Elm Hill Road and seriously injured.

“You can’t teach people not to speed. That’s why we have crashes, between that and driver inattention. It’s human error,” Verrier said. “Putting as much safety equipment on you as possible to protect yourself is paramount. You could be tossed from your ATV at any given time.”

State officials were unable Friday to provide statistics on ATV crashes. Data maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that Maine had 124 ATV crash fatalities from 1982 to 2009, almost five a year. The number from 2007 to 2009 was 17, or about six a year.

There was one serious crash this year in August and two each in June and July, all involving injuries. There also were fatal crashes in May and in March.

Almost all the crashes with serious injuries involved excessive speed, a loss of control and the lack of a helmet, according to news reports and news releases issued by the Maine Warden Service.

Michael Sawyer, recreational safety and vehicle coordinator for the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department, said the rash of serious crashes in one month is more a coincidence than indicative of a specific problem, but provides an opportunity to preach safety “as far as us trying to make sure people are riding smart and being in control of their machines.”

Sawyer said the state looks to the ATV clubs to set the tone, creating peer pressure to ride safely and responsibly for the overall good of the sport.

“They’re the ambassadors out there, the people on the ground that put pressure on others to ride responsibly,” said Sawyer.

There are 130 ATV clubs in the state, covering some 4,000 miles of trail. Ninety clubs are part of ATV Maine, a statewide umbrella advocacy group, for which Tami Kane is the business manager.

The organization has two safety trailers that travel the state, setting up courses and teaching riders age 10 to 16 safe-driving techniques.

Kane has taken it upon herself to mail condolence cards whenever someone dies in an ATV crash, whether they are members of her organization or not.

“There’s definitely a great sense of compassion, that someone has passed away from this sport that we all enjoy,” she said. “I do keep a supply of sympathy cards on hand.”

One of the biggest draws of riding ATVs is the social interaction with other fans, she says.

“It’s like family, and we all share the same interests: the trails, the fun, the laughter,” she said. “Whatever the reason happens to be, carelessness, inexperience, whatever, we don’t ever want to hear of these accidents.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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