Rally attendance up slightly

Rally officials said traffic numbers are up slightly from last year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Pioneer photo by Mark Watson

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STURGIS — The 79th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has been a smooth ride, said the Rally’s director.

Jerry Cole said his department and all the other departments seem to be running very smoothly behind the scenes. 

“The weather has been cooperative. It’s been a good year,” he said.

Although historically the year before an anniversary year sees a drop in attendance, traffic counts show that vehicles entering Sturgis through Wednesday are up slightly over last year.

According to the South Dakota Department of Transportation, vehicles entering Sturgis from Friday, Aug. 2 to Wednesday, Aug. 7 totaled 343,913, up from 342,016 or 0.6 % from 2018.

On Aug. 2, the official start of the Rally, there were 52,099 vehicles which entered Sturgis up from 5.4 % from Friday last year. Vehicle numbers dropped Saturday, but rebounded Sunday finishing up 6.5% from a year ago. 

By Wednesday, vehicle traffic was 56,204 — down 7.3% from 2018.

Another key indicator of attendance — amount of trash collected — was up 3.2% as of Thursday.

And as of a.m. Friday, the city of Sturgis has received 635 applications for Temporary Vending Permits (does not include Taxi licenses). There was a total of 615 permits issued in 2018.  

For law enforcement, this year’s rally has been relatively quiet.

Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said the sheriff’s department had a somewhat uneventful week. 

“Things are going well. We haven’t had any issues. The sheriff’s office numbers are down, except for the jail which has been up all week,” he said.

Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater said the city also has had a quiet week.

“We’re slow, but our traffic arrests and the people we jailed are up over last year at this time,” he said. “Overall most of our calls for service, other than domestics and some DUIs, are running on par for last year.”

VanDewater clarified that the domestic disturbance calls were for individuals in town for the Rally. 

“Either husband and wife, or boyfriend and girlfriend who are having some kind of verbal dispute,” he said. 

Merwin said, he too, had seen a number of domestic disturbance calls to campgrounds around Sturgis. 

“Our domestics are up a little bit over last year too, but ours are to campgrounds,” he said.

South Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Jason Ketterling said the 2019 rally has showed a common theme daily with DUI and drug arrests up from a year ago. 

“I think we’ve seen our biggest increase in felony drug arrests,” he said.

Ketterling said he was pleased to see that the number of injury and non-injury accidents actually declined through the first week of the rally and are down from a year ago.

“That’s encouraging,” he said.

As of Friday there had been just one fatal motorcycle crash during the 79th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. In came on Monday when Brandon Anderson, 29, of Norman, Okla., died when his motorcycle crossed the center line, slid into the ditch and he was thrown from the bike about 12 miles south of Lead.

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