Ex-congressman dies in Utah ATV crash


For years I've collected stories about people around the West who get killed or seriously hurt in off-road driving wrecks. I got interested in the ongoing tragedy when an admirable young man I knew crashed his machine in a popular ATV playground. He was a math teacher who inspired one of my kids. He went off for a motorized weekend in the sand dunes near St. Anthony, Idaho, and came back to school in a wheelchair.

Saturday, in a famous ATV playground in Utah called Little Sahara, a likable "political maverick," Bill Orton, drove his ATV over a drop-off, crashed and died.

Orton served three terms in Congress (1990-1996) as a Democrat representing a conservative, usually Republican district. He was 60 years old and he left behind a wife and two kids. His death is also "a great loss" for his state.

The same day Orton crashed, a 49-ear-old woman, Karin Vandenberg, died in a Utah hiking accident. So better acknowledge: Non-motorized outdoor sports are also dangerous.

But the ATV culture is largely about taking risks. The salesmen hype the machoness of the machines. Many drivers use them for racing through difficult terrain, thrill-seeking, pushing the limits -- the scene on busy weekends when tens of thousands of off-roaders gather in Little Sahara. The psychology causes some ATV drivers to be irresponsible tearing up Western landscape and habitats for plants and animals. It also provides a rush of temporary freedom -- and too often it ends sooner than expected.


Anonymous says:
Apr 21, 2009 02:24 PM
Better stop driving your car!

Maybe back up your words by selling that macho-tough sports care of yours?

Why? This is why:

42,000 +/- on-road automotive deaths per year in the USA! EVERY YEAR!!!

Maybe you should include on-road deaths as material for your articles rather than single out smaller off-road groups enjoying motorized vehicles just as you enjoy your macho sports car.
Anonymous says:
Dec 15, 2009 11:24 AM
That is nonsense i am 13 yrs of age and i have not yet once in my 7 years of riding ATVs have not got into a wreck!!!
Anonymous says:
Dec 15, 2009 12:09 PM
13 years old huh? And your on the HCN site?

Funny, you saying you've never been in a wreck. It'll happen. It always does. ATV's are deadly, destroy everything, and are the LARGEST threat to everything in the western states, especially UT.
Anonymous says:
Apr 25, 2009 05:24 PM
When the enemy comes, I will be glad there are seasoned off-road enthusiasts to staff the front line. There is a use for everyone in this society. Utilize all according to their propensities. A body has more than a head--it also has arms, a belly and legs. Working together, we can get places.
Anonymous says:
Apr 27, 2009 12:17 AM
From an ecological perspective, ORVs are the enemy.

And not all bodies have bellies, but most have legs...
Anonymous says:
Dec 15, 2009 06:34 PM
Once it's clear that the world has passed peak oil production, which may already have happened, recreational ORVs are going to be history. We will all be much more concerned about where our next meal is coming from. Love 'em or hate 'em, ten years from now everyone will have a lot more serious things to think about. Better to learn how to ride and care for a horse.

About Ray

Ray has been a Western journalist since 1979. He's now High Country News senior editor, based in Bozeman, Montana. He's earned national recognition including a George Polk Award for political reporting, a Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award for investigating oil-field accidents, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors scroll for going undercover as a prison inmate. He's had three novels published.