Twenty-one-year-old Carlos Y. Hernandez died after his dirt bike crashed into an SUV on Bailey Avenue and Manhart Street on Tuesday, prompting police to remind the public these vehicles are illegal to drive on city streets.

The following evening, his friends and family gathered around a makeshift memorial at the scene, populating it with balloons, candles and a Puerto Rican flag. 

Hernandez’s family declined to speak with The Buffalo News. 

Dirt bikes and ATVs are made for off-road purposes and are not engineered for or allowed on  high-traffic  Buffalo streets, said Tommy Champion, who oversees the Buffalo police Neighborhood Engagement Team among other community policing programs.

“Sometimes, those vehicles won’t be able to stop or move at the rate that they’re expected to and sometimes they operate faster than a normal vehicle and, you know, that creates a dangerous environment,” he added.

Champion wants dirt bike and ATV owners to know that practicing safe operations is a priority. Instead of driving unauthorized through the city, he encourages riders to wear helmets and to find off-road parks where their vehicles are permitted.

“We have to make sure that we are conscious of our own safety and the safety of our fellow residents in our greater community here in Buffalo,” he said.

As the Buffalo Police Department continues  its crackdown on dirt bikes and ATVs ridden on city streets, it is heavily focusing on outreach—like  news conferences, social media posts and interviews—to raise awareness about the dangers of operating these vehicles, Champion said.

In the past two years, the department, in collaboration with Erie County Sheriff’s Office and New York State Police , confiscated nearly 200 of the unauthorized vehicles.

When a person is caught operating an unauthorized ATV or dirt bike, they could face paying a fine ranging from $1,000 to more than $2,500, as well as a storage fee if the vehicle is confiscated, Champion said.

For other drivers on the road, Champion reiterated the importance of operating within the enforced speed limit and checking their surroundings to stay aware of blind spots because ATVs and dirt bikes can sometimes go unnoticed.

“Some of the illegal ATVs and dirt bikes often operate illegally and they don’t really follow the traffic laws, which is one of the things that makes it so dangerous for both parties involved,” he added.

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