Pinellas ranks No. 5 in motorcycle crash fatalities

Florida is No. 1 in the nation for motorcycle crash fatalities. Pinellas County ranks fifth in the state for the number of motorcyclists that die in crashes within its borders.

More motorcyclists die in traffic crashes in Florida than any other state in the nation, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Pinellas County ranks fifth in the number of fatality crashes among the state’s 67 counties.

NHTSA statistics show a 30 percent increase in deaths in 2015, making it a record year. Motorcyclists accounted for 20 percent of the state’s motor vehicle fatalities that year; however, they accounted for only 3 percent of registered vehicles.

In 2015, 606 people died and 9,045 suffered injuries in motorcycles crashes around the state.

Pinellas County had 27 fatality crashes that year, the fifth highest in the state. Miami-Dade was No. 1 with 67 deaths, followed by Hillsborough County with 48, Broward with 42, and Palm Beach with 34.

Two fatality motorcycle crashes were recently added to Pinellas County’s 2017 statistics. Three crashes with two deaths and one with critical injuries were reported over three days, March 23-25.

Florida Highway Patrol reported the first one. It occurred March 23 about 5 p.m. on U.S. 19 near the Park Avenue Plaza in Palm Harbor.

Arianna A. Abbate-Perks, 22, of Holiday was driving a 2006 Honda Civic, traveling northbound on U.S. 19, north of Nebraska Avenue before she attempted a left turn into the plaza. Devon Tyler Porrata, 21, of Spring Hill was operating a 2013 Honda CBR1000 motorcycle southbound on U.S. 19 in the outside lane.

Troopers say that when the Civic attempted to make the left turn, it traveled into the path of the motorcycle, which then collided with the Civic. Both vehicles overturned and came to rest in the entrance to the plaza. Porrata died at the scene. Abbate-Perks suffered serious injuries and was transported to Bayfront Medical Center.

Clearwater police reported the second crash. It occurred about 12:20 a.m. March 24 in the 1600 block of Gulf Boulevard in Sand Key.

Chelsea Bhagwandin, 20, was driving a 2009 Nissan Sentra and Lance Eric Falzone, 54, was operating a 2007 Harley Davidson. Both were traveling southbound on Gulf Boulevard.

Police say that Falzone tried to pass three vehicles at the same time before hitting a concrete island barrier in the middle of the road. The motorcycle then collided with the Sentra. Bhagwandin was uninjured, but Falzone suffered life-threatening injuries and was transported to Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg. The Bradenton man was reportedly in critical condition as of March 25. Gulf Boulevard was closed for about four hours as police investigated the crash.

The third crash occurred about 8:57 p.m. March 25 on Pasadena Avenue South, west of Shore Drive in South Pasadena, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s Major Accident Investigation Team reports that Jeremy Jerome Sims, 27, of St. Petersburg was operating a 2009 Suzuki GSXR motorcycle traveling eastbound on Pasadena Avenue South when his motorcycle struck the raised cement curb as he approached Shore Drive.

Sims was thrown from the motorcycle when he lost control, and he landed in the roadway. He was transported to Bayfront Health where he died about 9:30 p.m. Investigators say that speed and impairment appear to be factors in the crash. No other vehicles were involved.

Sims was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash. Whether Falzone or Porrata were wearing helmets was not reported.

AAA – The Auto Club Group recently released results of a Consumer Pulse Survey that found that the majority of motorcyclists – 83 percent – say they wear a helmet when they ride. However, a report on motorcycle helmet usage shows that only 47 percent of the state’s motorcycles are observed actually wearing a helmet when they are riding.

“Wearing a helmet could mean the difference between life and death,” said Josh Carrasco, AAA spokesman in a press release.

AAA offers a number of safety tips for motorists and motorcyclists.

For motorists:

• Respect motorcycle riders. Motorcycles are vehicles too and have the same privileges as an automobile. Be sure to give them ample room.

• Look and Listen. Even if a motorcycle is loud, you may not hear it. Actively look for motorcycles in traffic.

• Leave room. Leave plenty of room between your vehicle and motorcyclists. Uneven terrain, wet roads, and heavy traffic often require a motorcycle rider to react and maneuver differently than automobiles.

• Be aware. Take extra caution when making a left-hand turn, because most automobile-versus-motorcycle crashes occur during left-hand turns. The crash in Palm Harbor occurred when a vehicle made a left-hand turn in front of a motorcyclist.

• Don't drive distracted. A driver who takes their eyes off the road for two seconds doubles their risk of getting into a crash.

For motorcyclists:

• Wear safety gear. Helmets that meet Department of Transportation compliance standards, eyewear, closed-toe footwear and protective clothing reduce your risk of injury or death in a crash. Remember, the only thing between you and the ground is your protective gear.

• Be visible. Keep headlights, marker and taillights on at dusk and dark, or rainy weather. Wear bright clothing or put reflective strips on your bike to be more visible to other motorists. Avoid being in the blind spots of cars and trucks by following three to four seconds behind the vehicle in front of you.

• Use sound judgment. Avoid weaving between lanes while riding. Be sure to use your signals and stick to the speed limit.

• Get proper training. Completing a motorcycle safety course can not only make you a better rider, but also can save you money on your motorcycle insurance.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County Editor. She can be reached at