Halfway through the 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, based on counting vehicles entering the city and traffic crashes and injuries as well as tallying arrests for alleged drug and DUI offenses, it appears the size of the crowd for the legendary event may rival recent years.
Organizers estimated before the Aug. 7-16 event that perhaps 250,000 would attend, which is about half the normal crowd. Most Sturgis residents opposed even hosting it this year because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a city survey.
However, with the rally half-over, bikers keep heading Sturgis’ way.
On Wednesday, Jody Simonton, his wife, Lori Simonton, and friend Adrian Wickherst, all of Watertown, South Dakota, stopped at Richie Z’s Brickhouse BBQ and Grill in Pierre for lunch on their way to Sturgis. A family member was driving a pickup truck as support and supply hauler, they said. They plan to return home Sunday, the final day of the Rally, Wickherst said.
In the first five days of the 10-day event, the number of vehicles entering the city totaled 270,488, which is 6% below the 2019 count of 287,709 for the same five days, according to figures released Wednesday by Kirsti Sandal, public information officer for the state Department of Transportation.
Meanwhile, the number of arrests made by law enforcement officers in Sturgis and in the nearby Rapid City District for drugs and DUIs in the four days ended at 6 a.m., Wednesday totaled 281, down 5.7% from 298 in 2019, according to figures released Wednesday by Tony Mangan, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.
For about two decades, DOT has counted all vehicles entering Sturgis during the rally, a measure that can’t account for how many people are in or on each vehicle, or how many times any vehicle might enter Sturgis on a given day. But it’s a consistent method, covering the nine entry roads to the city, that can be compared through the years. It’s a different measure from attendance estimates made by the city after each rally, but the two methods have roughly tracked together, year in and year out.
The vehicle count has averaged around 500,000 for the past 20 years, including 2018 and 2019.
On Wednesday, Sandal reported the daily traffic counts of vehicles entering Sturgis Aug. 7-11, compared with 2019 figures:
Friday, Aug. 7: 49,835, which is down 4.3% from 2019.
Saturday, Aug. 8: 54,804, down 8% from a year ago.
Sunday, Aug. 9: 56,149, up 1.1% from a year earlier.
Monday, Aug.10: 56,972, down 6.8% from 2019.
Tuesday, Aug. 11: 52,710, down 11.2% from last year.
The five-day total: 270,488, down 6% from 287,709 in 2019.
The first traffic fatalities of the rally happened Monday evening as one motorcycle collided head-on with two others near Sturgis, killing two men. It was part of the more serious counting of the rally as traffic accidents and citations and drug arrests so far have been at similar, even higher, levels as in 2019.
According to Mangan, at 5:15 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10, a 22-year-old man driving a 2015 Harley-Davidson west on U.S. Highway 14A, three miles west of Sturgis, failed to make a curve and crossed the center line, colliding with two eastbound motorcycles.
The westbound driver was airlifted to a Rapid City hospital where he later was pronounced dead. The 55-year-old man driving an eastbound 2014 Indian motorcycle hit by the westbound driver was pronounced dead at the scene. A 60-year-old man driving an eastbound 2005 Harley Davidson suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
None of the three men was wearing a helmet.
No fatalities were reported on Tuesday. There was one traffic death in the first five days in 2019.
There have been 33 injury accidents in the four days, from 6 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 8 to 6 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 12, compared with 28 injury accidents during the same four days in 2019, according to Mangan. There have been 31 non-injury accidents, up from 23 in 2019.
On Tuesday, Aug. 11, a 36-year-old woman driving a 2000 Harley-Davidson sustained life-threatening injuries when a 48-year-old man driving a 2020 Harley-Davidson FLHX failed to yield and turned left at a controlled intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and U.S. Highway 85 in Deadwood, colliding with the westbound 2000 Harley at 4:02 p.m., Tuesday. The woman was not wearing a helmet; the man was and sustained minor injuries. Charges are pending against both drivers, according to Mangan.
A 14-year-old girl escaped injury Tuesday afternoon when the 2013 Harley-Davidson she was a passenger on, driven by a 58-year-old man, hit a bump on Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park, losing control and throwing both people off the bike. The girl was wearing a helmet and was not injured; the driver was not wearing a helmet, received serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
Two other bikers sustained life-threatening injuries in two separate crashes on Monday.
At 1:15 p.m., Monday, on U.S. Highway 16A, five miles east of Custer, a 56-year-old man driving east lost control of a 2003 Harley-Davidson Heritage on a curve and was thrown when the bike went into the south ditch. He was not wearing a helmet.
At 3:20 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10, a 35-year-old man driving a 2020 Vanderhall Venice three-wheel motorcycle south on North Rochford Road, 11 miles west of Lead, lost control as he crested a hill and ended up in the ditch. He sustained life-threatening injuries while his passenger, a 33-year-old woman, sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Neither was wearing a helmet.
In the four days from 6 a.m., Saturday to 6 a.m., Wednesday, law enforcement made 82 DUI arrests in Sturgis and the Rapid City District, including 65 in Sturgis, Mangan reported on Wednesday. That compares with 97 DUI arrests made in 2019 for the two areas during the same four days.
There have been 128 misdemeanor drug arrests, the same number as in 2019; and 71 felony drug arrests, compared with 73 in 2019 in Sturgis and the Rapid City District.
Total citations issued were at 734 by Wednesday morning, up from 707 for the same four days in 2019.
Officers had seized a total of $3,296 in cash in arrests, including $2,520 in Sturgis on Monday and $776 earlier in the Rapid City District. That compared to no cash seized in the first few days of the rally a year ago.
Four vehicles have been seized, compared with two a year ago, for apparent drug possession based on the arrest reports.
Mangan said a traffic stop in Sturgis on Monday “led to the discovery of drugs and cash and other items,” according to the law enforcement report of the arrest.
Manga said since the COVID-19 pandemic concerns hit the state in mid-March, Highway Patrol officials have made sure troopers are provided with masks and gloves while on duty. A far as the giant Sturgis event, Mangan told the Capital Journal: “The patrol always makes sure to have enough troopers to cover the rally, but also to cover the rest of the state, as well.”