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ATV deaths concerning authorities

A second person has died as the result of an ATV accident in Hubbard County in a week's time, and that fatality is concerning both local officials and national safety experts.

A 13-year-old boy from Laporte died Saturday from injuries suffered in a crash on County Road 45 in Lakeport Township, a mile north of Highway 200.

Hubbard County authorities found James David Stilwell unconscious in a ditch. Emergency personnel started CPR until an ambulance could reach the teenager. Stilwell was later pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

The children's parade at Laporte Days 2008 began Sunday with a moment of silence for the victim.

The Hubbard County Sheriff's Department said the four-wheeler ran off the road into a large hole, causing the ATV to overturn. The accident, which occurred shortly before midnight, is under investigation.

On Aug. 2, Carol "Robin" Steele-Spry, 50, suffered injuries when the ATV she was driving near Lake George tumbled down a washout, throwing her and a passenger from the vehicle. She died the following day. The passenger suffered minor injuries.

ATV popularity has been a major concern for the sheriff's department, said chief deputy Frank Homer.

"We became pro-active in going out and getting a position in the department pertaining to ATV patrol," he said.

"It's been wonderful," Homer added. "The officer (deputy Shane Plautz) goes out, does classes with youngsters coming up and for adults not familiar with these machines or the trails they go on."

Plautz also patrols ATV trails, checking for proper licensing, equipment and safety violations. Plautz explains the trail system and refers riders to ATV regulations and trail maps, available at the Hubbard County Courthouse and the sheriff's department.

"I'm proud," Homer said. "We've had some great success. I think these last couple weekends now is just some very unfortunate circumstances that took place outside the realm of what we're all about. It's just an unfortunate situation."

The latest fatality caught the eye of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which offered its help.

"I would like to work with your paper to ensure that no other rider in your community is killed or injured this summer riding an ATV," said CPSC public affairs specialist Sonia Hayes. She suggested getting safety data from the Web site Educating the public, she said, "can help turn this terrible tragedy into a teachable moment" for the public.

She urged riders, especially youthful ones, to take ATV classes. That's something the sheriff's department willingly conducts.

"I encourage people to call us if they're interested," Homer said.

But he admitted it's tough to police ATV riders in ditches, where both fatalities occurred.

"How do you prevent that?" he asked. "It's not against the law. This last one was more on private property, but how do you prevent that from happening when it's 11-, 12-o'clock at night?"