Motorcycle season off to deadly start in Southcentral Alaska

Sean Doogan,Devin Kelly
Bob Hallinen

Update: Anchorage police confirmed Friday morning that Cynthia Wheeler has died as a result of her injuries. The motorcyclist who died after a collision on East Dowling Road on Thursday morning has been identified by police as Justin Hillen, 32, of Anchorage.

So far, May has been a deadly month for motorcycle riders.

Alaska averages about nine motorcycle fatalities per year, according to Jeremy Woodrow, public information officer for the state Department of Transportation. So far this year, six riders have lost their lives in four  incidents, most recently in a Thursday morning crash in Anchorage.

"It's a shared responsibility," Woodrow said. "Drivers need to be aware of nearby motorcycles when changing lanes and turning, and motorcyclists need to wear brightly-colored clothing, use their turn signal or hand signal while turning and abide by the laws of the road."

A preliminary investigation of Thursday morning's fatal crash determined the motorcyclist was driving east on Dowling Road just after 8 a.m. when he collided with a dump truck pulling a trailer. The truck was reportedly turning west onto Dowling from Petersburg Street when the collision occurred. The driver of the truck was not injured.

Police say the motorcyclist was wearing a helmet. No citations or charges have been issued and the collision remains under investigation. The identity of the motorcyclist will be released after relatives have been notified, police said.

The Thursday death is one of two fatalities this spring in Anchorage. The other four happened in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Members of the Southcentral riding community are getting ready to memorialize two riders killed in Wasilla on May 4. James and Sabrina Carlyle died when a van driven by 18-year-old Dakota J. Leatherman rear-ended a truck, forcing it into the path of four oncoming motorcycles. The memorial service for the Carlyles is planned for this weekend. Services for a third person killed in the wreck, 63-year-old Elaine Lowe, were held last weekend. All three had their bikes blessed by an area clergyman in an annual event in Wasilla earlier in the day.

While collisions are a hazard of the hobby, Alaska doesn't seem to be any more dangerous a state to ride in than others, Alaska Harley Davidson Owners Group vice president Barry Matteson said.

"It is not near as dangerous as driving in LA," he said.

Matteson said the local riding community is a tight-knit group and would be parading their bikes with the Carlyles' memorial procession this weekend.

As APD works to determine the details from the latest motorcycle fatality, an Anchorage 20-year-old remained in critical condition from a collision on Monday, May 12. APD said Cynthia Wheeler was riding her scooter on a sidewalk near the intersection of 32nd Avenue and C Street at about 7:30 p.m. when she collided with a motorcycle.

May, with its warm, dry weather this year, has brought out the state's riders in force. In most parts of the state, May is the first month people can go for a ride after locking up their motorcycles for the winter months. Drivers of cars and trucks -- after spending months without seeing motorcycles on the roads -- are sometimes slow to react to the sudden appearance of motorcycles on the roadways. That is why the month of May has been designated Motorcycle Awareness Month by Gov. Sean Parnell, Woodrow said.

Correction: This story originally reported that Motorcycle Awareness Month was designated by the Legislature.

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