LACONIA — The 96th Laconia Motorcycle got under way this past weekend with larger crowds than in recent years and relatively few accidents.
The ideal weather police and and more temperate behavior among bikers was largely responsible for the smooth beginning of the annual event, said Police Chief Matt Canfield.
Canfield said there were about a dozen accidents since the bikers began to pour into the Lakes Region on Friday afternoon. Three of them involved serious injuries, he said.
A 51-year-old motorcyclist was airlifted to from Lakes Region General Hospital to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center with what police described as serious, but non-life-threatening injuries after his machine collided with an automobile on Province Street near South Main Street about 9:30 p.m. Saturday. A woman passenger on the motorcycle, also 51, was seriously injured as well. The driver of the automobile was uninjured, police said. Both the motorcycle driver and passenger were wearing helmets. Police did not release the names of those involved.
A second motorcycle operator was also sent to Dartmouth-Hitchcock after suffering head injuries in a crash on Roller Coaster Road about 9:45 p.m. Sunday. Police identified the operator was as a 53-year-old man, but did not release his name. His passenger, a 43-year-old women, received facial injuries, police said. Neither was wearing a helmet, said police, who did not identify them.
Early Monday morning, an allegedly drunk Maine motorcyclist was injured in a crash on Shore Drive in Laconia. The man, identified as James L. Gentile Jr., 48, of Fryeburg, Maine, struck several mailboxes on the residential street about 2:30 a.m., and left the scene, police said. Police later arrested Gentile at Lakes Region General Hospital and charged him with aggravated DWI and leaving the scene of an accident. He was subsequently transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock, according to Canfield.
“It’s been a very good start” for Bike Week, Canfield said. He said the crowds were bigger than in the past few years, but not as large as back in the late 1990s and early 2000s when there were far fewer motorcycle rallies competing with Laconia for attendance.
There were two fatal accidents during last year's Motorcycle Week as thousands of bikers converged on the Lakes Region for the annual event.
Canfield credited the low number of crashes to the emphasis law enforcement has placed in recent years in cutting down on impaired driving.
“For a number of years we’ve been making a big push, along with the Liquor Commission Enforcement people, about problems in the past with over-serving people” at crowded and hectic Bike Week beer tents and other venues. “I think that has helped to raise awareness.”
Canfield, who was on duty all weekend, said the number of arrests — six — was relatively low.
“There were fewer than we would typically have on some busy weekends in the middle of the summer,” he said.
To deal with the crowds, most officers are scheduled to work 48 hours this week, not counting any outside details they might perform at beer tents and other venues in Weirs Beach. The police presence is being augmented by officers from the Merrimack and Hillsboro county sheriff’s departments, New Hampshire State Police, and several federal agencies, Canfield said.
Fire Chief Kirk Beattie also characterized the Bike Week opener as relatively calm.
“It’s been steady, but not extremely busy,” he said.
Extra firefighters/EMTs were on duty during the weekend, with nine more than usual between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday, and six more between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. on Sunday.