10/04/2007

Some motorcycles leave Ga. police in the dust

By Ralph Ellis
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. For law enforcement officers, not having enough horsepower to keep up with a fleeing suspect can be a lesson in frustration.

It can be particularly troubling for a cop to be left in the dust while driving a high-powered Dodge Charger.

That happened four months ago in Gwinnett County when a Georgia State patrolman found himself chasing a sport bike a built-for-speed, aerodynamically designed motorcycle.

"The motorcycle outhorsepowered the Dodge Charger at speeds of 160," said Senior Trooper Larry Schnall, spokesman for the State Patrol. "The trooper maxed out and the suspect continued to flee."

More often these days, law enforcement authorities are finding themselves outrun by the high-powered two-wheelers.

Last week, 23-year-old Sergey Drotenko was arrested after being clocked going 135 mph on Ga. 400 more than twice the posted speed limit  with a female passenger on the back of his Suzuki. Drotenko's ride was powered by a relatively small 600 cc engine.

"If you look at the horsepower and the opportunity, most motorcyclists with their acceleration can outrun the car," said Lt. Steve Rose, spokesman for Sandy Springs police. "But they rarely outrun the radio."

Police say it's a judgment call about whether to pursue a speeding vehicle, especially a motorcycle. Many officers record the tag number and arrest the motorcyclist later without a chase.

But sport bikes may be moving so fast and making so many moves the officer can't read the tag. The officer pursuing Drotenko had to chase for several minutes before getting a look at the tag.

"There is an added danger in that they are fleeing police on two wheels instead of four," said Cpl. Dana Pierce, Cobb County police spokesman.

The chases sometimes end with wrecks. In the Gwinnett County case the fleeing biker, who outran the State Patrol, ended up crashing into a police car not involved in the chase. He survived. "We're seeing more drug trafficking on motorcycles because they're less conspicuous and if confronted by police they are more likely to flee and have a better chance of getting away," Schnall said.

On Aug. 20, a 30-year-old man on a sport bike outran the State Patrol in south Fulton County but ended up crashing into a Union City police car, also uninvolved in the chase. The wreck killed biker Freeman Salahuddin.

Statistically, sport bikes are more dangerous. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety reported last month that sport bike riders have a death rate nearly four times higher than rates for riders of all other kinds of motorcycles.

Motorcycle drivers don't always see the risk. In a telephone interview, Drotenko said his excessive speed only put himself and his passenger in peril, not other motorists.

"I just blew by them and there was no reason for them to be endangered," he said. "There weren't many cars on the road anyway."

Drotenko said he was "joy riding" to a volleyball game with a female friend on the back of his bike shortly before midnight Sept. 24 when Alpharetta police began pursuing.

Passenger Viola Kozyarsky faces no charges.Motorcyclists, including the speeders, often favor roads like Ga. 400 and interstates, Schnall said. Expect to see more of them in the spring and fall, he said.

Drotenko said he spent 22 hours in jail and was released on his own recognizance. He hopes to get his bike back soon.

When asked why he fled police, Drotenko replied: "I got scared. It's not an everyday thing for me to be pulled over."

Staff writer Nancy Badertscher contributed to this article.

Two-wheel speeders

Here's an unscientific sampling of what metro Atlanta police agencies remember about the fastest motorcycle seen on their highways.

* Georgia State Patrol: 163 mph, about 10 years ago at I-285 and Camp Creek Parkway. "We didn't even try to pursue," said Senior Trooper Larry Schnall, Georgia State Patrol spokesman.

* Forsyth County: 144 mph on Ga. 400 North several years ago. Sheriff's Office Capt. Frank Huggins said the sports bike rider had a helmet-mounted camera and was videotaping his high-speed run. He was apprehended and arrested in Dawson County.

* Floyd and Chattooga counties: In early September, the driver of a Suzuki motorcycle led police and the state patrol on a chase with speeds hitting 154 mph. Authorities said the driver was on his way to get his motorcycle license.

* Clayton County: 138 mph about two years ago on I-75 at Ga. 54. Motorcyclist not apprehended.

* Gwinnett County: 138 mph. Motorcyclist not apprehended.

Source: Georgia State Patrol and area law enforcement agencies 

Copyright 2007 Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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