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Death raises concerns over marking of off-road race courses
BARSTOW — Despite officials claiming race courses in the desert are well-marked to keep recreational riders off, riders with the Santa Ana man who died last weekend said did not know they were on the track.
On November 10, Joseph Masaniai, 25, was killed when a race buggy competing in the Stoddard 250 collided with his motorcycle as he crossed the race track. Adam Tallabas, Masaniai’s brother-in-law, was riding with Masaniai that day and said they knew a race was going on but did not see markings for the track.
“When you get out about two or three miles, there’s not a marker, not a one,” Tallabas said. “You think you’re just crossing trails.”
The course, used often for races in the area, starts at Outlet Center Drive and winds for 36 miles through the Stoddard Wells Off-Highway Vehicle area between Interstate 15 and Highway 247. Tallabas said he has been riding in the area for nearly 20 years and Masaniai, known as Joey to his friends and family, has been riding there for around 10. The two knew a race was staging that weekend, saw markers near the start of the course and took measures to avoid the track, traveling miles out of the way as they made their way across the desert.
“We purposely got out of that area,” Tallabas said. “And I know those trails like the back of my hand.”
Brad Pace, an employee at the Barstow Motorcycle Center on West Main Street who racers in the events in the Stoddard Wells OHV area and across the country, said the course is clearly marked with day-glow ribbons and arrows and the difference between a standard trail and a race track is noticeable.
“At every road crossing, they have signs,” Pace said. “You can definitely tell its not just any old trail.”
On the Monday following the collision, Patricia Williams, an employee with Mojave Desert Racing, the promoter of the race, said that the course was well marked on Saturday. She said Saturday’s death was the first in the race’s 12-year history in Barstow. She could not be reached comment on Thursday.
Lynette Elser, the recreation branch chief with the Bureau of Land Management’s Barstow Field Office, said the final reports on the collision has not been finished and did not know if the course was properly marked. She said a stipulation in the special recreation permit needed to host a race in the OHV-area requires the promoter to mark the courses and station officials throughout the course to keep recreational riders away. Elser said Saturday’s collision was the first between a racer and a recreational rider she has seen in her two years in Barstow. The BLM can assign rangers to patrol the courses but has not seen the need recently.
“The races have been going quite well. We haven’t designated them as areas for special patrols,” she said.
If the final reports — one complied by the racing promoter and one by the California Highway Patrol — show that the Mojave Desert Racing failed to properly mark the course, the BLM could not issue the promotion company a permit to hold races next year. Mojave Desert Racing and Mojave Off Road Enthusiasts hold multiple races in the area annually.
Steve Gibbs, another employee at the Barstow Motorcycle Center, said despite the markings, recreational riders still wander onto the courses. The problem, he said, is much worse in the OHV areas in Lucerne Valley.
Gibbs and Pace think recreational riders should stay out of race areas during races but realize the desert is a tough place to enforce such rules.
Tallabas said he is not blaming anyone for his brother-in-law’s death but wanted to stress the danger of ill-marked courses in recreational areas. He said his brother did not die because he was an inexperienced rider.
“It just drives me crazy when they try to write it off as inexperience,” he said.
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