Felony drug arrests during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally showed a marked increase over last year’s totals, while DUI arrests were lower than in 2017, according to final figures from the state Highway Patrol.
Meanwhile, the Rally’s 10-day 78th anniversary run ended Sunday, Aug. 12, with vehicle traffic running 8 percent above the 2017 rally, according to the state Department of Transportation, which counts each vehicle entry into Sturgis during the Rally.
Through the 10 days, 505,969 vehicles entered Sturgis, according to DOT’s system of using rubber road tubes that register being run over. That is 7.9 percent higher than the 469,103 counted in 2017, according to a news release Tuesday from Kristi Sandal, spokeswoman for the DOT.
But it’s 10 percent below the average of 560,759 vehicles each year for the 10-day Rally from 2011-2017, according to DOT numbers. In 2011, DOT began counting vehicles for 10 days of the Rally; previously it counted vehicles for the seven days, Monday through Sunday.
The last Saturday and Sunday of the Rally have seen dwindling numbers of people staying around or showing up, DOT, Highway Patrol and Sturgis officials say.
But this year, the vehicle entry numbers were stronger the last three days compared with 2017: showing 19 percent increase on Friday to 48,787 over year-ago numbers; 9.5 percent more on Saturday and 20 percent more on Sunday, at 21,399.
The Rally began in 1938 as dirt-track races on Indian motorcycles. After a couple years were skipped during World War II, it began to grow as a national phenomenon along with the biker movement. The Rally marked its 50th anniversary in 1990 and the DOT began counting vehicles entering Sturgis: 528,276 over seven days that year.
In 2000, 604,441 vehicles entered Sturgis during the Rally’s official seven days; that figure still is a record for seven days.
In 2015, as part of marking the 75th anniversary when 1 million people were expected, the city of Sturgis and DOT began making the 10-day period the official Rally time. The vehicle count during the 10 days in 2015 was about 740,000, the record.
The average daily vehicle count this year was 50,597, with a high of 60,608 on Wednesday, Aug. 8.
The record one-day vehicle count during the Rally was on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2000, when 110,488 vehicles entered Sturgis; during the 60th anniversary of the Rally.
From 2011-2017, the 10-day vehicle count averaged 560,759 for the Rally .
The DOT’s system of round rubber “road tubes,” laid across roadways of each entrance to Sturgis catches every vehicle. But it can’t account for what kind of vehicles or how many people might be in or on them, or how many times any vehicle might re-enter Sturgis on a given day..
But it’s been the a consistent method of counting done for 28 years.
The city of Sturgis does its separate method of counting the crowd, using sales tax receipts, garbage collections, utilities usage and even a photo taken the same day and place each year with an expert then counting heads in the photo. The record crowd of about 739,000 was estimated in 2015.
Christina Steele, spokeswoman for the city of Sturgis, said key indicators, including being on the street, appeared to show more people in town for the Rally this year compared to last year.
The city does its own unique counting of the crowd, using sales tax receipts, garbage collection, utilities usage and even a photo of bikers taken at the same spot on the same day of the Rally each year, with experts then actually counting people in the big photo.
But she won’t know the best estimates until the city figures up sales tax receipts for the 10 days, which can take a month or more, Steele said.
The Highway Patrol does its own kind of counting. It said felony drug arrests totaled 77, in the eight days from 6 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 4 until 6 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 12., according to Tony Mangan, spokesman for the Patrol. That’s up 67 percent from the 46 arrests for felony drug offenses made during the same eight days in 2017. The arrests seemed to involve several drugs and no obvious trend of what kind could be seen in the preliminary reports, Mangan said.
Misdemeanor arrests for drugs were only slighty higher, at 175 over the eight days, compared with 171 a year ago, according to Mangan.
But DUI arrests were down 7.4 percent, to 149, compared with 161 a year ago.
Total citations by the Highway Patrol in the Sturgis area but also the wider Rapid City District of the Patrol, totaled 987, down 9 percent from last year’s 1,084.
Interestingly, the Patrol issued about the same number of warnings as last year, 3,754, only 1 percent fewer than in 2017.
The Patrol seized $2,739 in cash during arrests, down from $1,600 last year; it also seized seven vehicles for suspected drug offenses, down from nine in 2017.
Injury accidents totaled 56 in the Rapid City District during the Rally, down from 69 in 2017.
There were four people killed in traffic crashes in the District during the Rally, compared with eight a year ago. During the highly-attended 75th anniversary of the Rally in 2015, 16 people died in traffic crashes in the Rapid City District.