For bikers, Yarnell Hill on Highway 89 is both famous – and infamous.
It’s a five-mile stretch of curvy road south of Prescott that has been called the worst in the state for crashes.
The ABC15 Investigators found, in the last 10 years, there have been 250 crashes on the road, killing more than two-dozen people.
The vast majority involve motorcyclists.
Sgt. Dan Larimer with the Arizona Department of Public Safety said it’s a continuous problem that results in some of the most gruesome accidents he sees on the job – “dismembered limbs, you name it,” he said of the crashes.
Karin Wilson’s ex-husband Robert was killed in one those crashes last February. The two were still close friends.
He had been riding for years, she said, but this day he was riding in a pack of other motorcyclists up the hill when he lost control of his bike.
“They said that he was still breathing but very shallow,” she said, “and when the paramedics came, he was not anymore.”
“I had two days that I spent, more or less, in bed. Two days not in reality,” Wilson said after she found out he was gone.
State transportation reports show that Yarnell Hill is the worst place for crashes in Arizona. Sgt. Larimer estimates at least three quarters of them involve motorcyclists who come to the hill for its scenery, for the challenge – and some who come to race.
“You can see them weaving back and forth,” he said, “warming up their tires.”
The speed limit on this road is 45 miles per hour – on the curves, the recommended speed is even lower, at just 30 miles per hour.
Larimer says he sees racers coming around the road’s sharp curves at 80 and 90 miles per hour. The ABC15 Investigators clocked bikers speeding around these bends at speeds more than twice the recommended limit, weaving in and out of traffic and putting other motorcyclists and cars at risk.
“It’s like driving a bullet,” Larimer said, “It’s going to go pretty well in a straight line, but, if there’s a car in front of you, guess what? You’re going to hit it.”
Brian Striedieck has been riding Yarnell Hill on his motorcycle for decades. He said the problem isn’t the road, it’s riders who don’t know their limits.
“I think you have to know what you’re capable of,” he said. “I think it’s a sport that lends itself to pushing it. And I think we all do.”
To push back, officers said the only way to slow racers down and keep motorcyclists focused on the road is to patrol it more often. But they don’t have enough officers to do it.
On a typical day, DPS has only one officer per shift to cover the 250-square mile area surrounding Yarnell Hill.
“As soon as you’re gone, they are right back at it,” he said. “And it’s just a continuing problem.”
State officials admit that crashes on the road are a big problem and that more needs to be done. That’s why they are getting ready to spend $5.3 million in federal grants to improve the road, plus an extra $100,000 to get more officers to patrol it.
For Karin Wilson, Yarnell Hill is a sad place. Though she keeps his ashes in her house, she hasn’t gone to the spot where her ex-husband died.
“You kind of re-live things,” she said, “You picture it in your mind.”
She remembers the day an officer came to her home and told her Robert had died.
“He tried to comfort me and help,” she said, “but then he left. And you’re left alone with that.”
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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