An attorney who vigorously fought to repeal Florida’s helmet laws in the late 1990s died while riding a motorcycle without a helmet.
The incident occurred on August 20, when the lawyer, Ron Smith, 66, was riding his bike on US 19 highway with a passenger, Brenda Jeanan Volpe, 62, according to a crash report from the Florida Highway Patrol. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Volpe was Smith’s girlfriend.
Smith lost control of the motorcycle when he tried to slow down for traffic, and the bike began to rotate in a clockwise motion, according to the report. The vehicle then crashed into a utility trailer attached to a truck.
Smith was pronounced dead at the scene. Volpe died at St. Joseph’s Hospital hours after the crash. Neither was wearing a helmet, the report said.
Autopsies for both individuals listed head trauma as their cause of death, The Tampa Bay Times reported. It’s unclear if a helmet could have prevented their deaths.
Smith strongly opposed Florida’s helmet law, which was adjusted in 2000 when the state no longer required adult motorcyclists above 21 to wear helmets as long as they have $10,000 in insurance coverage.
According to a 1996 article from The Tampa Tribune, Smith helped a man fight a citation he received for riding a motorcycle without a helmet. The judge dismissed the ticket, causing the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office to temporarily stop enforcing the state law until an appeals court ruled whether the helmet rule was constitutional.
Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal decided that the law was “constitutionally valid,” but dismissed the ticket because the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles did not properly publish a list of protective equipment required by law.
Smith also seemed to relish thumbing his nose at the helmet requirement. In the article, Smith said he rode his motorcycle without a helmet for 90 miles, “looking for a ticket.”
“I passed at least a half-dozen cops,” Smith told The Tribune at the time. “And all I got was a sunburn.”
The attorney was a member of ABATE — A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, also known as American Bikers Aimed Toward Education — which regularly lobbied against the state helmet law at the time.
One acquaintance, Dave Newman, told The Tampa Bay Times that Smith believed “everybody should have their own choice.”
A year after Florida’s age exemption was implemented in 2000, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that “motorcycle occupant deaths” increased by 48.6%.
Smith and Volpe were heading to a funeral with bike riders from the American Legion on the day of the fatal crash, The Tampa Bay Times reported.
After the incident, the group implemented new safety rules, in which riders will be asked if they have taken motorcycle safety courses and about their riding experience levels, among other questions, according to the newspaper.
Helmets will not be required but strongly encouraged.