A Visalia man was killed in an ATV accident at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) last Saturday, after his Yamaha Rhino ATV toppled.
Lieutenant Mike Lack, the supervising state parks peace officer at the Oceano State Parks said that while the coroner is still investigating the cause of death, the scene of the accident shows how Jose Lopez Jr. was killed.
“The vehicle basically rolled over on top of him,” Lack said. “This particular vehicle is like a small car. It has safety side doors as well as full body restraints.”
Other features of the Yamaha Rhino include roll cages as well as two to four seats — Lopez’s model had four seats. The Yamaha Rhino SUV differs from the ATVs most people are familiar with, in that most lack roll cages and full body restraints.
As of now, there is no evidence of alcohol or drugs involved in the accident pending toxicology results, according to the press release from the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department.
The three other people who were in the vehicle survived, but were all wearing their safety restraints — Lopez was not.
With spring break rapidly approaching and the sunny weather encouraging students to hit the dunes, Lack said following basic safety rules is important.
“Seatbelts are required not only because it is a good idea but because it is the law,” Lack said.
Randy Chan, a computer engineering junior, enjoys riding ATVs. He said there are basic safety procedures everyone must follow when using a vehicle like the Rhino SUV on the dunes.
“It’s normal for us to put on our seatbelts in the car, but it’s the same thing in these type of vehicles, ,” Chan said. “It is there to protect you so you might as well use it. Maybe it is important (for rangers) to enforce the use of seatbelts more because it serves people an important purpose.”
According to ATVSafety.org, in 2009 there were 376 ATV-related deaths, as well as 131,900 emergency room treated injuries. Although this is the first fatal accident at the Oceano Dunes SVRA this year, Lack cautions those who are not familiar with the dunes.
“If you’re not familiar with something, use caution,” Lack said. “It’s also important that people be careful when loaning out their (ATVs) to beginners.”
Tanya Don, a kinesiology junior, knows just how dangerous the dunes can be.
“My cousin went out on the dunes on an ATV and ended up having to be airlifted to a hospital after flipping it,” Don said. “After all of these things happening, I don’t think I’ll go again.”
Despite the dangerous aspect of the dunes, students are still bound to make the trip.
“It’s definitely still something I will do,” Chan said. “Accidents happen and (Lopez) was very unlucky that day. It’s not every day that accidents happen.”
Unlucky or not, inexperienced Rhino SUV and ATV riders are at most risk for an accident, Don said.
“The people that rent out these vehicles need to give a better tutorial and make it clear that people can die on these things,” Don said. “It’s as dangerous as a car and there is also a lot of opportunity to crash.”
Students who are interested in traveling to the Oceano Dunes SVRA are encouraged to visit the Oceano Dunes SVRA website for more information on safety regulations and laws.