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Road deaths in Nebraska rise in 2024







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Julie Roberts, 46, holds a photo of her husband, Bennette Roberts, 50, outside their Omaha apartment. Bennette Roberts died in a fatal motorcycle accident April 14.


LIZ RYMAREV, OMAHA WORLD-HERALD


Nebraska’s traffic fatalities rose sharply in the first six months of 2024, driven in part by significant increases in motorcyclist and pedestrian fatalities.

The state recorded 119 traffic fatalities in the first half of the year, up from 92 at this point last year, a 29% increase, according to a preliminary report from Nebraska’s Highway Safety Office. There were 15 motorcycle fatalities through June 30, up from 10 in 2023, a 50% increase. Over the past five years, the average number of motorcycle fatalities in a six-month period was 11.6.

Pedestrian fatalities have totalled 10 so far, up from six in 2023.

Of this year’s fatalities, seven occurred in Omaha, according to Lt. Danny Flynn of the Omaha Police Traffic Division. The state’s largest city has recorded 28 traffic fatalities in 2024 after recording 22 during the same period last year. Lincoln has recorded nine traffic fatalities in the first six months of 2024, including one motorcyclist death and three pedestrian deaths.

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Flynn said Omaha recorded five of the 15 fatal motorcycle crashes, the same number the city saw in all of 2023.

Motorcyclist Bennette Roberts, 50, of Omaha, was among 10 people who died on Nebraska roads during one particularly tragic April weekend. Roberts, who was out for a Sunday ride, was pronounced dead at the scene of a two-vehicle crash April 14 in Saunders County.

The Saunders County Sheriff’s Office said another vehicle turned in front of Roberts on Nebraska 92 near the town of Mead. Saunders County Prosecutor Jennifer Joakim said she was waiting for crash reconstruction reports before making “any charging decision.”

Julie Roberts, the widow of the motorcyclist, said the news of her husband’s death hit her like a punch in the gut. She is eagerly awaiting news of potential charges against the woman who collided with her husband.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world, and it was especially devastating because not only did I lose my husband that day, but I also lost my best friend,” she said. “I live with the knowledge that he will never, ever come back through that door. I want to know what happens to that woman.”

Roberts loved to ride his motorcycle, even in the winter if the weather was good enough and the roads were clear, his wife said. His wife described him as an “amazing person” who went out of his way to help others.

Other drivers need to watch out for motorcyclists, Julie Roberts said. In addition to his wife, Roberts’ mother, father, three daughters, three half-sisters, a granddaughter and numerous other relatives survived.

“People need to keep their heads up and not look at their phones (while riding) and just pay attention,” she said. “They need to realize that people on motorcycles have families that love them.”

Nebraska Highway Safety Administrator Bill Kovarik echoed the widow’s plea. Motorcyclist and pedestrian deaths are preventable when people exercise caution, he said.

“A lot of this comes back to what we’ve been saying: Both drivers and motorcyclists just need to pay attention and not drive distracted,” Kovarik said. “Pedestrians sometimes walk out into the roadway at 50 miles an hour when they shouldn’t be there.”







Motorcycle accident

A Council Bluffs man died after colliding with an SUV on May 20 near 14th Street and Dodge Street in Omaha. Police said the motorcyclist, Adam Mouw, who was not wearing a helmet, ran several red lights, including at the 14th Street intersection.


CHRISTOPHER BURBACH, OMAHA WORLD HERALD


In some cases, fatal motorcycle accidents can happen when the rider is reckless. On May 20, a Council Bluffs man was killed after racing a red light in downtown Omaha and then colliding with an SUV at 14th and Dodge Streets. In other cases, Flynn said, collisions are the result of other drivers not paying attention, especially during the “motorcycle season” from March through September.

“I know (motorcyclists) need to ride defensively and other drivers need to pay attention,” Flynn said. “Motorcycles are harder to see and you often have other vehicles pull out in front of them.”

Kovarik said his office has seen a decline in seat belt use and helmet wearing by motorcyclists. A state law requiring helmets was repealed at the beginning of the year.

“We see seat belt use continuing to decline,” he said. “More than 70 percent of fatal car crashes involved drivers not wearing seat belts.”

The impact of repealing Nebraska’s helmet law will take longer to study, he said. Two of the five people who died in motorcycle crashes in Omaha were not wearing helmets.

“The decline in seat belt use is discouraging,” Kovarik said. “I thought that once we changed our (seat belt) campaigns to be more relevant, we would see an increase in seat belt use. Now we’re going to be circling the wagons to see what we can come up with.”

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