It’s been a dangerous and tragic winter for snowmobilers in New York State. According to news reports, at least 10 people have died this winter in snowmobiling crashes.
In the Twin Tiers, the husband of a woman killed on Jan. 21 in a snowmobiling crash is facing multiple felony charges in her death.
David A. Gee, 45, of Addison, has been charged with second-degree vehicular manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, and aggravated driving while intoxicated, as well as a misdemeanor charge of operating a snowmobile while intoxicated.
The Jan. 21 crash, on state Route 417 in the town of Tuscarora, killed Gee’s wife, Billie Jo McIlwain-Gee, who was a passenger.
Police said they were not wearing helmets when David Gee entered Route 417 from private property and struck a Chevrolet Astro Van. McIlwain-Gee was pronounced dead at Guthrie Corning Hospital in East Corning.
Police said David Gee failed to yield the right of way to the van. Under NY law, any snowmobile crossing a road must first come to a complete stop before crossing and is also required to yield the right of way to any vehicle on the roadway.
The fatal Addison snowmobile crash has two of the most dangerous combinations, according to police: alcohol and no helmets.
NY law requires all drivers and passengers on a snowmobile to wear a helmet and NY law prohibits the operation of a snowmobile while intoxicated. Both of these are good common-sense laws.
I think another common-sense law should be a state-approved snowmobile safety course for all operators but currently the law only requires a safety course for operators between the ages of 10 and 18.
There have been many other crashes across the state in recent months, according to news reports:
- Feb. 1, Herkimer County: A 56-year-old Stony Point man, stepped off his snowmobile and was struck and killed by another operator.
- Jan. 26, Fulton County: A 27-year-old snowmobiler was found dead near his snowmobile. The investigation continues.
- Jan. 18, Oneida County: A 45-year-old Boonville man was killed when he struck a tree and was thrown from his snowmobile.
- Jan. 18, Fulton County: A Dutchess County man hit a fracture in the ice on Great Sacandaga Lake and was killed when he was ejected. Police said speed, lack of visibility, and inexperience were factors.
- Jan. 13, Herkimer County: A 45-year-old Clay woman lost control of her snowmobile and was killed when she struck a tree and was ejected. Speed was a factor, police said.
- Dec. 9, Herkimer County: An 18-year-old Adams man was killed when his snowmobile hit a ditch and then a tree.
- Dec. 7, Herkimer County: A 23-year-old man from Somerset, N.J., was killed when he lost control of the snowmobile and was thrown down a steep embankment. Speed was a factor, police said.
- Dec. 7, Hamilton County: A 46-year-old Yates County man was killed when he lost control of his snowmobile on a curve and struck a tree. Speed was a factor, police said.
The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) offers a series of safety tips. They include:
- Do preventive maintenance: Make sure your snowmobile is in proper working order before each ride. Follow the guidelines in your owner’s manual and ask your local snowmobile organization about any safety or maintenance programs it may offer. The Safe Riders! Snowmobile Awareness Safety Program, which ISMA sponsors, offers a pre-ride checklist to help you get started.
- Wear proper attire: Be prepared for changing weather conditions by dressing in layers, with windproof gear on the outside. You can remove or add layers as needed. In addition, wear warm gloves and help protect your head and your vision with a safety-certified helmet, sun protection goggles and a visor.
- Bring a friend: Use the buddy system. You never know when it may prove helpful to have another person with you out on the trails.
- Follow the rules of the road: Use caution when crossing any road. Coming to a complete stop, ensuring no vehicles are coming from any direction and crossing at a right angle may help you travel safely.
- Communicate carefully: It’s a good idea to clearly communicate your plans to others. That includes leaving your planned route with friends or relatives before you head out so they can send for help if you don’t return on schedule. And, once you’re on the trails, be sure to use hand signals to communicate with other nearby snowmobilers and drivers.
- Remain alert: Keep your eyes on the vehicle ahead of you rather than on its taillights. When you watch the taillights, you’re less likely to notice if the snowmobiler in front of you swerves a bit to avoid hitting something. Also, if it’s dark or overcast, be sure to drive slowly enough to see what your headlights reveal.
- Avoid frozen water: Don’t ride your snowmobile over a frozen lake or river. You may risk falling through the ice or having much less traction that you do on snow. In addition, if other snowmobilers enter the ice from another direction, collisions may result.
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