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Wyoming Law Enforcement Urge Caution With 400,000 Sturgis-Bound Bikers On Road

in News/Sturgis
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

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By Joshua Wood, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Highway Patrol authorities are urging motorists to use extra caution this week as more than 400,000 bikers will pass through the state heading to Sturgis, South Dakota for the largest motorcycle rally in the world.

Wrecks between animals and vehicles are common in Wyoming and the West. Darting deer, anxious antelope and enormous elk are just some of the animals known to cross highways at inopportune times for motorists. Depending on the vehicle, it can be a bad day for the driver and a worse one for the animal.

In some areas of the state, biker and bison interactions can also occur. In a video from 2010, bison can be seen charging at bikers riding through Yellowstone National Park.

“We have a lot of motorcycle crashes that are attributed to animals running out into the roadway,” said Sgt. Jeremy Beck with the Wyoming Highway Patrol. “Just be mindful. If you’re headed to Sturgis and you’re on a motorcycle, make sure you’re watching out for any wildlife in the area.”

According to the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Wyoming has averaged about 19 motorcycle fatalities a year. The lowest fatalities were in 2018 and 2014 with 16 each. The deadliest was in 2015 with 24 fatalities.

While a number of crashes can be attributed to animals crossing roadways, they are just one of a combination of incidents that can occur. Animals, excessive speeds, and alcohol are all contributing factors to motorcycle fatalities, Beck said.

“There’s a cliche saying of ‘Look twice, save a life’ and I would just recommend motorists do that when they’re heading to the Black Hills,” said Beck. “Motorcycles are a little harder to see than an average vehicle. Before you’re changing lanes, before you pull out into an intersection, just look twice.”

The 82nd Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally began August 5. The event, which draws 500,000 people on average, will conclude on August 14.

One fatal motorcycle accident has already occurred at the rally.

On Saturday morning, the first official day of the rally, a 58-year-old male was killed when his Harley-Davidson rear-ended another Harley. The 68-year-old male driver of the second Harley sustained non-life threatening injuries, reported the Argus Leader.

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Crowds Up, Accidents And Arrests Down At 81st Sturgis Rally

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

If you don’t blow a tire, belt or engine at the Dime Horseshoe Bar Burnouts in Sundance, you’re pretty much booed off the stage. 

That’s the criteria for a good burnout, according to Robert Walter, owner of the Dime Horseshoe Bar in Sundance, which again hosted the annual event on Aug. 11 in conjunction with the 81st annual Strugis Rally.

More often than not, he said, it’s the wheels that go.

“It’s almost always the tire that pops. There’s a long bang and the rubber goes flying,” he said, “and the crowd goes wild.”

The crowd picks the four winners for $2,500 in cash prizes, Walter said, estimating that a few thousand people turned out this year an event that bar has now hosted for the past 44 years. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser.

The event began more than four decades ago when a biker did a burnout going through the front door, leaving a cloud of smoke wafting into the bar. Former owner Alice Schloredt had chased the biker out with a broom. The guy came back later to apologize. Alice and her husband Jerry figured they’d turn into an annual event, since people seemed to like all that smoke. 

Walter, who bought the bar seven years ago, said it continues to be a popular event with Sturgis riders, with this year’s contest pulling in a bigger crowd than last year. 

The burnout in Sundance is one of several celebrations thrown by cities in northeastern Wyoming along the biker’s route to Sturgis in South Dakota.

The small community of Beulah also hosts a burnout while Hulett throws the two-day “Ham & Jam” hosted by the Rodeo Bar. 

This year’s “Ham & Jam” saw record numbers of attendees, according to Hulett Police Chief Bill Motley. 

“I would say we’ve seen the biggest crowds this year than we’ve had in the five years I’ve been here,” he said.

Where typically he was used to seeing anywhere from 100 to 200 bikes passing through to the rally each day, this year that number was more like 10,000 to 20,000, he said.

He added the one-week rally seems to be drawing motorcycle riders to the region for three to four weeks.

And where attendance was definitely down last year, this year Motley said bikes were parked off side streets extending to both edges of the town, similar to the crowds seen in past years.

Motley attributed the higher attendance to people enjoying their freedom after being cooped up for a year.

Motley, who heads up Sundance’s the one-man department, brought in additional support with a mounted policeman, which seems to have been a big hit with attendees who said it added to the western flavor of the small town of just around 400 with a distinctly Old West downtown motif. 

Despite the size of the crowd, there were very few citations, he added.

Overall, both accidents and citations were down this year, despite increased crowds at the rally itself. As of Thursday, the South Dakota Department of Transportation’s had counted 423,273 attendees, a 12.9% hike from this time last year.

Over in Crook County, however, Undersheriff Todd Leimser said from his standpoint the crowds of bikers were underwhelming. In fact, he said he thought numbers were down from even last year, continuing a decline he has observed over the past five years.

“I’ve been here for 20-plus years, and the traffic I’ve seen is way down and it continues to go down,” he said. “We’re not seeing nearly the increase we’ve typically seen in the past.”

Crook County law enforcement officers issued very few citations in association to the rally, Leimser said, with no accidents and a few arrests on minor charges, he said. 

There were four motorcycle fatalities in South Dakota linked to the rally compared to five last year, according to Sunday’s Rally Tally prepared by the state’s transportation department.

This year, there were 100 DUI arrests at Sturgis with 22 additional arrests made in the Rapid City area, compared to 145 last year. Felony drugs arrests were similarly down to 112 from 126 in 2020 with no vehicles seized for drug possession compared to seven last year, per rally figures on Sunday.

Accidents with injuries associated with the rally in South Dakota were up slightly to 60 this year compared to 56 in 2020. Of this year’s accidents, 26 occurred in Sturgis and an additional 34 occurred in the Rapid City area. 

The only thing that didn’t seem to change this year was the nature of the crowd, according to Sturgis attendee Douglas Gruen. 

The Campbell County resident has been attending the event since 1986 and said this year’s bands and the event itself were top notch.

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Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Allowed to Have Open Containers This Year

in News/Sturgis

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Sturgis City Council has agreed to change city ordinances to allow attendees at the town’s famed motorcycle rally to drink beer or wine outside of bars or restaurants.

The council approved the change during its meeting this week. This year’s rally will be held from Aug. 6-15.

There is a caveat, though. An official Sturgis rally cup must be purchased and used if patrons want to consume beer or wine outside of bars or restaurants during the rally, to be held Aug. 6-15. No hard liquor will be allowed outside of bars or restaurants, per a South Dakota ordinance.

Open containers will be allowed from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day of the rally, unless problems occur. If crowds begin to act rowdy due to alcohol consumption, open containers will again be banned.

A city council report said council members decided to allow open containers this year to create a more welcoming environment for visitors, keep people from gathering in tight spaces to discourage the spread of coronavirus and to establish new significant revenue streams for local charities through the sale of the official Sturgis cups.

The open containers will also only be allowed in a certain portion of the city, stretching from Seventh Street to Middle Street.

Funds raised from the sale of the cups will go to the Sturgis Rally Charities Foundation.

Last year, the South Dakota Highway Patrol made a total of 145 arrests during the rally related to driving under the influence, which was down from 171 DUI arrests in 2019. Seven vehicles were also seized in connection with drug possession charges.

The SDHP made 241 misdemeanor and 126 felony drug arrests in 2020.

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Casper Man Convicted Of Attempting To Prey On Teenage Girl During Sturgis Rally

in News/Crime

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Casper man has been sentenced to prison for attempting to entice a minor over the internet during the 2019 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Japher Rajab, 43, was one of 11 men arrested and federally indicted as a result of an undercover sex trafficking operation targeting internet predators conducted during the 2019 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. 

Rajab was sentenced on Nov. 20 in U.S. District Court to 10 years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release. Upon his release, he will be required to register as a sex offender. He was also ordered to pay a $100 special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund.

The conviction stemmed from Rajab communicating with someone he believed to be a 15 year-old girl, but who was in fact an undercover agent.  According to court records, following multiple chats and text messages, Rajab proceeded to negotiate a time and place he would meet the minor to engage in unlawful sex acts.

The undercover operation and arrests were a joint effort between the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rapid City Police Department, and the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office.

Rajab was immediately remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Sturgis Called A “Superspreader” Event, Gov. Says Report Is Misleading

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A recent study has connected the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to more than a quarter of a million coronavirus cases, but South Dakota health officials were quick to point out that the study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet.

Four researchers from the Institute of Labor Economics published a study focusing on the spread of the coronavirus. By reviewing cell phone data, they concluded that the rally was responsible for more than 250,000 cases spread nationally.

The study also estimated that the coronavirus cases generated by the rally created $12.2 billion in public health costs.

Natrona and Campbell counties in Wyoming, as well as counties in states such as Colorado, Iowa, Washington and California, saw a 10.7% increase in coronavirus cases more than three weeks after the opening of the Sturgis rally.

“This suggests that the COVID-19 spread effects of Sturgis occurred far more widely than just the state of South Dakota or its border states,” the study said.

It was also suggested that tighter coronavirus mandates in South Dakota could have mitigated the spread.

However, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said the study was grossly misleading.

“This report isn’t science; it’s fiction,” Noem tweeted. “Under the guise of academic research, this report is nothing short of an attack on those who exercised their personal freedom to attend Sturgis.”

“Predictably, some in the media breathlessly report on this non-peer reviewed model, built on incredibly faulty assumptions that do not reflect the actual facts and data,” she said.

“At one point, academic modeling also told us that South Dakota would have 10,000 COVID patients in the hospital at our peak. Today, we have less than 70,” the governor said.

“I look forward to good journalists, credible academics, and honest citizens repudiating this nonsense,” she said.

The newspaper reported that health officials had seen the study, but were going to dispute a number of data points in the study, such as its conclusion that the spread of hundreds of thousands of cases could be traced to the rally and its use of cell phone data to track the spread of the virus.

As of Tuesday afternoon, South Dakota has 2,679 active cases of the coronavirus, 68 of which are hospitalized. The state has reported 173 deaths attributed to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

Minnesota Man Dies From Coronavirus After Attending Sturgis

in News/Coronavirus/Sturgis

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Minnesota man who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally this year has died from the coronavirus.

According to The Washington Post, this is the first fatality from the virus traced to the rally, which drew more than 400,000 people this year.

The man was in his 60s, had underlying conditions and had been hospitalized in an intensive care unit after returning from the rally, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

“You have the potential to amplify transmission in multiple places. That’s what’s concerning from a broader public health standpoint,” Kris Ehresmann, infectious-disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health, told WaPo.

Cowboy State Daily reported in late August that there have been at least 10 reported cases in Wyoming that can be directly tied to the rally.

Traffic at the 2020 rally declined by only 7.5% from 2019 numbers despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to South Dakota officials.

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Traffic Only Down 7.5% For 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

in News/Sturgis

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Traffic at the 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally declined by only 7.5% from 2019 numbers despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to South Dakota officials.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation released the final vehicle count for the event this week, and Sturgis saw 462,182 vehicles come into the small town over the 10-day period of the rally, down 7.5% from 2019’s total of 499,654.

The traffic count was lower for almost all 10 days of the rally compared to last year, except for Aug. 9, which was up 1.1% compared to the first Sunday of the rally in 2019. Most days of the rally saw anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 or more cars coming into Sturgis.

A full traffic report will be released next week.

The South Dakota Highway Patrol also released the public safety tally, which shows how many arrests occurred during the rally.

There were 145 total DUI arrests, down from 171 last year. Seven vehicles were seized for drug possession and the SDHP made 241 misdemeanor and 126 felony drug arrests .

In total, there were four fatal accidents, with five deaths, up from two (both accidents and fatalities) last year.

Accidents in general increased compared to 2019, with 50 non-injury and 56 injury collisions happening in 2020 against 41 and 51 in 2019, respectively.

Only two fewer citations were issued, 1,354, than last year. Warnings were down, 3,576, compared to 2019’s numbers, 4,094.

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Wyoming Legislators Host Lunch For Disabled Vets at Devils Tower

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Crook County legislators Ogden Driskill and Tyler Lindholm on Friday hosted lunch for a group of 20-plus disabled veterans who were on their way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

The bikers were riding from Utah to Sturgis and were affiliated with the Veterans Charity Ride (VCR) group — a nonprofit organization that provides programs specifically designed to assist wounded and amputee combat veterans.

“As a veteran myself, I’m a big supporter of fellow veterans,” Lindholm said. “It is always good to lend a helping hand to some fellow and brothers in arms.”

Lindholm, R-Sundance, said the group had lunch at the KOA Campground and then toured the Devils Tower monument.

“They were in great spirits. It was a great honor for me to spend time with them,” he said.

Driskill, R-Devils Tower, who owns the KOA Campground, said he and Lindholm volunteered to sponsor the lunch when he heard the veterans were going to be riding through.

“We love vets and combat-wounded vets are in a special category of their own,” Driskill said.  “Our country is here because of them.”

The senator said the lunchtime discussion was focused on their bikes, the travels they made so far, and the upcoming celebration at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

“It sure makes you feel good to do something for these people,” he said. “They were excited to be here in Wyoming and they looked forward get to being in Sturgis for a full week.”

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Devils Tower To Experience Dramatic Increase in Traffic Due to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

in Sturgis/Devils Tower

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Heading for Devils Tower in the next week? Get ready for delays.

The National Park Service sent out a reminder Wednesday that because of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, traffic in the area will increase dramatically.

“Devils Tower will experience a dramatic increase in visitation over the next week during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. ALL visitors should expect limited services and parking during this time,” the Park Service said.

Even with the coronavirus pandemic, officials are still expecting more than 250,000 people to attend the rally and, as always, the surge affects northeast Wyoming.

The Wyoming Department of Health didn’t have any specific concern over the increase of traffic in Wyoming. A spokesperson said there is risk with any travel and/or event.

“At this point we would have the same concerns as we would for any gathering,” spokesperson Kim Deti said. “The larger the gathering, the greater the risk. Individual should think of their personal risk as well as the risk of spreading disease to others.”

“We recommend the same precautions for this event as we would for any: stay home if you are ill unless you need medical attention, keep a physical distance of at least 6 feet from other people who aren’t in your household, and if physical distancing isn’t reasonable, then wear a cloth face covering consistently over your nose and mouth,” she said.

The Park Service said to be prepared for:

-Long lines and wait times to enter the park.

-No RV parking or turn around space in the visitor center parking area; RVs will be directed to park near the picnic area.

-There will be no visitor shuttle in 2020.

-Limited facilities- bring everything you need with you. Visitor center and campground remain closed.

-No facilities to purchase water or food in the park.

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Sturgis Organizers Expect Lower Turnout After Coronavirus Spike, Band Cancellations

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In one week, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has lost six of its headlining performers for the 2020 event.

The rally is scheduled for Aug. 7-16, but activities will be limited this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. All of the city-sponsored events, such as the opening ceremonies, the parades, a B1 Flyover and entertainment and live music at the Harley-Davidson Rally Point have been canceled.

As of Tuesday, six of the bands originally on the roster on July 21 were removed from the the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally’s website.

However, there were still around 25 acts listed, from hard rock acts to country. The lineup also includes Wyoming group Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band.

Other events will include drag races and a poker tournament.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, rally organizers are expecting a lower turnout for the 80th event, but couldn’t quite gauge how much.

The usual turnout is around 450,000 people per year. The recent peak was in 2015, with 739,000 people in attendance.

Due to travel restrictions in Canada that limits non-essential travel, many Canadians can’t attend the rally who normally do, City of Sturgis spokeswoman Christina Steele told the newspaper.

Steele also said that while she knew camping spots in the area around Sturgis were filled, she’d heard of cancellations at local hotels and other facilities.

“It’s going to be very different this year, but we feel we are making reasonable precautions for those who come,” Steele said to the newspaper.

Currently, South Dakota has 895 active cases of the coronavirus, with 49 hospitalized right now. The state has seen 123 deaths since mid-March. There has been a spike in cases throughout July.

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Sturgis Motorcycle Rally To Go On Despite Pandemic

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will go on as planned, Aug. 7-16, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

There will be some modifications to the famous motorcycle rally, however, according to a news release from the City of Sturgis, South Dakota. All of the city-sponsored events, such as the opening ceremonies, the parades, a B1 Flyover and entertainment and live music at the Harley-Davidson Rally Point have been canceled.

These changes have been implemented to reduce large crowd gatherings in downtown Sturgis. Extra sanitization procedures will also be in effect during the 10 days of the rally.

However, there will still be music, entertainment and other activities during the rally. Some of the acts performing over the 10 days include Lita Ford, the Kenny Wayne Shepard Band, Motionless in White and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Other events will include drag races and a poker tournament.

“The City of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is an icon of American Freedom and Independence,” the release said. “The City of Sturgis has been the pre-eminent host of this event for decades and welcomes each visitor to the event. We ask that attendees help maintain the safety of our community and guests alike by respecting protocols and guidelines.”

The rally’s vendors will have to submit to health screenings before their shifts begin and heightened sanitation requirements will be enforced.

Following the rally, the city will offer vouchers for free coronavirus tests for residents, according to the Black Hills Pioneer. Each test costs around $150 normally.

It was estimated that 490,000 people attended the rally last year, with comparable numbers in 2018. The largest attendance in the last decade was in 2015, when 739,000 people attended the rally in the town of 7,000 people.

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Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Will Happen (With Some Changes)

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The show must go on. And in Sturgis, South Dakota, that means the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will not succumb to the coronavirus and will be held on its regularly scheduled dates.

That’s not only good economic news for South Dakota but for Wyoming as well as towns in the northeast corner of the Cowboy State have their own celebrations tied to the annual rally.

Like many events that have not been canceled due to the pandemic, things will be a bit different this year in Sturgis — at least in the city limits.

The City of Sturgis, while agreeing to be part of the annual celebration, announced some changes to this year’s event.

“The City sponsored celebratory events including opening ceremonies, parades, B1 Flyover, and entertainment and live music at Harley-Davidson Rally Point have been canceled,” the city said in a news release. “Photo towers will not be installed.  These changes are designed to reduce the large crowd gatherings in the downtown core.  We look forward to offering events again in 2021.”

Randy Peterson, the owner of the original website dedicated to promoting the Sturgis Rally, said he was pleased with Monday’s city council’s vote to be a part of the rally. He said with or without the city’s OK, it would have happened anyway.

“You can’t cancel what you don’t own,” he said last week. ”You can choose to participate or choose not to participate, but the Sturgis Rally will still go on regardless of what the City of Sturgis chooses.”

“A sampling of more than 50 local businesses and campgrounds had already stated they would be open for business, but with the City’s involvement, necessary municipal services will be provided within city limits,” he said.

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