BR.tottyprocession.020219 TS  807.jpg

A procession of law enforcement vehicles accompanying an East Baton Rouge Coroner's Office van, center, carrying the body of Baton Rouge Police Dept. Cpl. Shane Totty, 31, moves down Essen Lane, as it proceeds to the Coroner's Office from Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, after Totty died from injuries sustained earlier in the day when his motorcycle and a pickup truck collided during a funeral procession Friday afternoon.

Law enforcement authorities and motorcyclists are pleading for safety awareness following the death of three motorcyclists in less than 24 hours in Baton Rouge. All three are thought to be the result of vehicles making improper turning in front of the motorcycles.

The fatal crashes occurred in a range of settings Friday and Saturday.

Cpl. Shane Totty with the Baton Rouge Police Department was killed after he collided with a black pickup truck turning left out of an apartment complex in the 6400 block of Jones Creek Road Friday afternoon. Totty was riding with a funeral escort. 

Kyle Gatzke, 33, of Baton Rouge, was killed while traveling northbound on Airline Highway near Hwy. 958 Friday evening, according to Louisiana State Police. Gatzke was thrown from the bike when he struck a vehicle that failed to yield while turning from the southbound lanes.

The driver, 38-year-old Lana Byars of Prairieville, was not injured, and impairment is not suspected in the crash, State Police said.

The third victim, Austin Huber, 25, of Greensburg, was killed after Huber and passenger Brandi Hughes, 29, of Walker, crashed into a vehicle turning left onto U.S. 16 from James Street at about 1 a.m. Saturday. Hughes was seriously injured, according to a release from the State Police.

Both were wearing helmets when they were thrown from the bike. The driver fled the scene. Later that day, 30-year-old Emily A. Easley of Baton Rouge was booked on vehicular homicide, felony hit and run and other counts.

State Police spokesman Taylor Scrantz said crashes are preventable. As the weather gets warmer, he said, drivers should be aware they’ll likely see more motorcyclists on the road. He also encouraged motorcyclists to be defensive when they ride.

“We want to encourage vehicle drivers to limit their distractions. Drivers need to be more cognizant: don’t be looking at the cellphone or the radio, and never drive when impaired, either on drugs or alcohol, or both,” Scrantz said.

In 2017, the death toll for motorcyclists nationally was 5,172, making up 14 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths. That's more than twice the number killed in 1997, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

According to LSU's Louisiana Crash Data Reports website, 67 motorcyclists were killed in Louisiana crashes in 2017 and at least 1,634 motorcycles were involved in accidents across the state.

Longtime Pierre Part motorcyclist G.L. Legendre is among those concerned about the increasing number of fatal crashes. He lost a friend last year who was fatally thrown from his bike by a merging vehicle on a Louisiana highway, he said, and countless others have had near-misses.

Safety campaigns that target distracted driving and encourage looking a second time specifically for motorcycles when merging lanes or turning may be a good start in addressing the problem, Legendre said.

He also mentioned including a situational awareness component required of motorcycle drivers before they're qualified to drive, because the crashes aren't always the car or truck driver's fault.

"I just want to make sure as our ride ends, it ends with you going home to your wife, kids, whoever, I don't want you going home in an ambulance," Legendre said.

He founded the Facebook group Louisiana Motorcycle Riders, a common place where the 469 riders who are members connect about weekends rides around the state or any other ride-related issues.

He said his group differs from some others because they require a pre-ride meeting to go over safety components before hitting the road.

"I have a friend right now that is getting ready to get a bike and we've been working together teaching him safe places to ride and what situations to look out for to be the most visible," Legendre said. "We'll ride with our bright lights on, move from one side of the lane to the other depending on oncoming traffic ... anything to get that better angle of visibility."

Part of the issue is that drivers need to give motorcyclists space and respect, motorcycle enthusiast Jeremiah Matthieu said.

Matthieu, the vice president of Hell's Egos Motorcycle Club's Lafayette chapter, said motorcycles function differently than other vehicles and turning in front of them on short notice can have deadly consequences. It’s a practice Matthieu said he and other riders see all the time.

“Bikes can speed up fast, but the stopping ability takes twice as long. Most times when a car pulls out, it won’t end good,” he said.

Matthieu also cautioned young motorcyclists to be mindful of safety and to avoid taking unnecessary risks when riding.

Advocate staff writer Emma Kennedy contributed to this report.


Follow Katie Gagliano on Twitter, @katie_gagliano.