Attorney who fought helmet laws died in crash without helmet – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather, Sports

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — In the late Nineteen Nineties, when Florida bikers have been nonetheless required to put on helmets, Pinellas lawyer Ron Smith was an aggressive advocate for overturning the legislation.

Smith was a member of ABATE — A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments and American Bikers Aimed Toward Education — which lobbied towards the legislation for years. He represented shoppers who ran afoul of Florida’s bike necessities in court docket instances that some say helped overturn Florida’s helmet legislation.

One of the instances went all the best way to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which dominated that Florida’s helmet legislation on the time was constitutional, however that the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles had did not correctly publish an inventory of protecting gear as required by legislation.

Smith didn’t like being advised what to do and valued his independence, stated Dave Newman, who met the lawyer via an American Legion submit in Old Town the place they have been each members.

“He thought everybody should have their own choice,” Newman stated.

In 2000, Smith’s aspiration was realized when the Florida Legislature handed a legislation permitting motorcyclists over 21 to go without head safety so long as that they had $10,000 in insurance coverage protection for bike accident accidents.

In August, Smith and his girlfriend, Brenda Jeanan Volpe, have been using a motorbike on U.S. 19 in Pinellas County. They have been headed to a memorial service for one more biker who had died of most cancers.

Smith crashed the bike as he tried to sluggish for visitors forward of him. Both he and Volpe have been killed.

Neither was carrying a helmet.

The Crash

Smith and Volpe have been on their first trip with the American Legion Post 173 in Holiday once they crashed.

Smith, 66, was an skilled rider. He had been a member of the American Legion rider’s group in Old Town for about two years, even serving because the rider director for a year. Volpe, 62, rode alongside as Smith’s passenger.

As they headed south on U.S. 19 on the morning of Aug. 20, Smith lost management of his bike as he tried to decelerate for visitors close to the intersection with Eagle Chase Boulevard. Smith’s bike began spinning clockwise and the bike collided with a trailer hooked up to a pickup truck in one other lane.

No one has been charged in the accident, stated Florida Highway Patrol spokesperson Steve Gaskins.

It’s unattainable to say whether or not a helmet would have prevented Smith’s and Volpe’s deaths, specialists stated. Smith’s post-mortem report lists blunt head trauma as his explanation for loss of life and an preliminary report from the Hillsborough Medical Examiner’s Office additionally lists Volpe’s explanation for loss of life as head trauma.

“It’s entirely possible that if they were wearing a helmet they might have survived, but again, we can’t say for sure. It certainly would have improved their odds,” stated Eric Teoh, who has researched bike security on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Helmets lower the danger of loss of life for motorcyclists by 37%, in accordance with a examine by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They are estimated to be about 41% efficient for bike passengers, that means that for each 100 motorcyclist deaths, 41 might’ve been prevented if the riders have been carrying helmets.

In states without helmet laws, 57% of motorcyclists who died in 2020 weren’t carrying a helmet in comparison with 11% of motorcyclists in states with helmet laws. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring helmets for all riders on all motorcycle-type automobiles.

Florida’s loss of life rate elevated by 25% after its helmet legislation was repealed, in accordance with one examine, and the variety of motorcyclists admitted to hospitals with head accidents jumped 82% in the 30 months following the legislation change.

Nationwide, “things are moving in the wrong direction,” with preliminary experiences displaying a 9% enhance in motorcyclist deaths from 2020 to 2021, Teoh stated.

“Motorcyclists face greater risk on the road than occupants of enclosed vehicles,” Teoh stated. “So it’s just really, really important to protect themselves.”


Friends remembered Smith as a pointy lawyer who beloved to argue, however who additionally had a dry humorousness and a beneficiant spirit.

In 1996, he represented a person who was ticketed for using without a helmet in Madeira Beach, in accordance with a Tampa Tribune article. That case acquired the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office to briefly cease imposing the state’s helmet legislation after a county decide dismissed the quotation. The decide relied on one other court docket case that Smith had dealt with in which a special county decide dominated that Florida’s helmet legislation was unconstitutional.

Smith advised the Tribune on the time that he went out “looking for a ticket” in Pinellas County by using a motorbike without a helmet for 90 miles.

“I passed at least a half-dozen cops,” he stated in an interview. “And all I got was a sunburn.”

Smith spent six years as a prosecutor, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bruce Bartlett stated. Smith additionally labored in prison protection and was a powerful advocate for his shoppers, stated fellow lawyer Joseph Hobson, who described Smith as “an outstanding attorney.”

Tampa protection lawyer Bryant Camareno first met Smith about 30 years in the past. Camareno was a younger prosecutor on the time, whereas Smith had transitioned over to prison protection. Smith was a considerably unconventional lawyer, Camareno stated: He didn’t put on the double-breasted fits favored by many legal professionals, however as a substitute got here to court docket with lengthy hair, a mustache and a pair of trainers.

“He looked like someone you would see in a biker bar,” Camareno stated.

Gary Pruss, who met Smith via the American Legion submit in Old Town, fondly recalled breakfasts with Smith, who beloved all the things on the menu from eggs to hash browns to grits.

“He was a guy that you went to for advice,” Pruss stated.

Volpe was a social girl who beloved her youngsters and was at all times keen to assist out at American Legion features, associates recalled.

Gary Pruss’ spouse, Connie Pruss, stated Volpe was stuffed with “piss and vinegar” and fondly recalled a shock celebration that Volpe deliberate for Smith.

“She was funny,” Connie Pruss stated. “She had the biggest smile.”

Newman remembered Volpe as an outgoing, bubbly girl who was, in some ways, Smith’s reverse.

“The first time I met her, she acted like we’d known each other our entire lives,” Newman stated.

Smith’s son declined an interview request and makes an attempt to achieve Volpe’s youngsters at cellphone numbers listed underneath their names have been unsuccessful.

After the crash, the American Legion Post in Holiday applied a handful of latest security guidelines, in accordance with its rider director, Eddie Rodriguez.

They will ask riders whether or not they have taken any bike security programs, and if not, join them to a category. Riders will probably be requested about their expertise stage and medical histories. They’ll even be required to do a street take a look at earlier than happening rides with the group, and trip in the again of the formation on their first group trip.

The submit isn’t requiring helmets, although they’re extremely inspired, Rodriguez stated. He stated the group doesn’t wish to alienate these who won’t wish to put on them.

Even so, that rule won’t be wanted at this level. Riders who had beforehand resisted helmets have began carrying them, Rodriguez stated. And on his first trip after the deaths, Rodriguez made an remark whereas all of the riders in the group.

“Every single one had a helmet on,” he stated.

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