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String of motorcycle deaths in B.C. spurs calls for improved road repairs, safety standards

Social worker Alexis Wiltse, 38, died after hitting a large pothole on a side road near Kamloops on May 8, 2023. (Facebook - image credit)
Social worker Alexis Wiltse, 38, died after hitting a large pothole on a side road near Kamloops on May 8, 2023. (Facebook - image credit)

Alexis Wiltse's brother never worried about his sister when she was out on one of her Harley-Davidson motorcycles — he worried about the roads.

Luciano Carnovale says his vibrant, loving sister was a cautious and capable motorcycle driver who took her safety seriously.

"The road conditions, that was my biggest concern always with her," said Carnovale, a nurse in Kamloops. "Even for me, driving around in my pickup truck gets very bumpy and sketchy as it is."

Wiltse's family and motorcyclists are urging caution and calling for better road maintenance after the 38-year-old social worker and two other British Columbia motorcyclists died within three weeks of one another earlier this spring.

On May 6, Wiltse was riding on Shuswap Road near Miner Road on the Tk'emlups reserve, according to RCMP, when her bike hit a "beast of" a pothole. She died of her injuries, while another motorcyclist was hospitalized.

Carnovale says poor conditions on Shuswap Road were well-known by government before Wiltse died. The pothole has been filled since the accident, but road conditions on either side are still poor, he added.

"It's been a constant nightmare throughout the years and just unmaintained," said Carnovale. "But it shouldn't be like that in this day and age."

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The unusually hot weather already this spring has brought an early start to the motorcycle season and its hazards, say ICBC and RCMP.

At least eight motorcyclists have died so far this year, compared to six this time in 2021.

On April 24 of this year, a 27-year-old motorcyclist died after colliding with a tractor trailer in Burnaby, and another in Surrey was killed in a crash with a minivan on May 8.

Surrey has seen six motorcycle fatalities in the last six weeks alone, according to ICBC.

"It's May, the sun is out, we've got a lot more riders on the road, and we really want drivers to be looking twice for motorcycles," said Karen Klein, ICBC road safety coordinator for Surrey.

"You cannot see motorcycles unless you're actually looking for them."

Recent collisions prompted Surrey RCMP and ICBC to team up to offer a free skills course and refresher for motorcyclists on Sunday.

Motorcycles account for about four per cent of ICBC-insured vehicles, but make up about 14 per cent of crash claims, Klein said.

Each year, there are about 2,200 crashes resulting in around 1,500 injuries and 40 deaths, she added.

Klein advised riders to always wear proper protective gear and practice the basics, urging drivers to lookout for motorcycles at every turn.

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Death was preventable: brother

Alex Johnson has been a motorcyclist near Kamloops for three years. She says when news of Wiltse's death broke, her friend called to make sure it hadn't been her on the bike.

"It's sad because she was so young and she had a beautiful bike and it's just sad to see lives lost so young," said Johnson, 55.

She said the conditions on smaller roads like Shuswap can be brutal, particularly earlier in the season. It's why she avoids them until later in the season.

"The gravel from the snow spread has not been cleared throughout the winter. Potholes have been created," said Johnson, who lives in Tappen, about 95 kilometres east of Kamloops.

"You just have to be very aware of that. People aren't really out fixing roads, you're taking your life in your own hands."

Johnson urged other riders to take their time easing back into the season to warm up even the basic skills they probably haven't used since last year.

She's also calling for better road maintenance and higher safety standards for motorcyclists before they get their licenses.

Carnovale says sister's "senseless" death hurts much more because it could have been prevented.

It shouldn't "be a life or death scenario depending on which road you turn on," said Carnovale.