published Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Safety officials concerned with ATV trail where Chatttooga County woman killed

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Whitfield County 911 dispatcher

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Forest Service calling Whitfield County 911

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Catoosa County 911 calling Whitfield County

Christy Price was driving an ATV, her 11-year-old daughter on the back, when she accelerated up a steep hill on a trail in North Georgia's Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

She hit a rock and the ATV began to roll over -- backward.

Price, 35, managed to shove her daughter off the four-wheeler before the machine fell straight back and landed on top of her, authorities said. The daughter was uninjured.

Price died 30 minutes later from her injuries, said Whitfield County Coroner Bobbie Dixon, but authorities are waiting on the autopsy before they report the exact cause of death.

Price's husband declined to comment Monday.

Police have ruled the Sunday afternoon death as accidental, but county authorities say this isn't the first injury or death reported on the national forest trails. And they're frustrated by the recent death.

"It's just a rough area," said Whitfield County Fire Chief Carl Collins. "It was bad enough that probably 10 years ago the National Park Service bought us a four-wheeler to keep at their station so we have a way to get to people."

In the last five years, emergency crews have responded to at least eight injuries from accidents on ATV trails in the Whitfield County portion of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, said county 911 Director Jeff Ownby. There may be more accidents with injuries, he said, and officials with the national forest may have a more accurate number.

On Monday, officials with the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest wouldn't comment on the accident, citing an open investigation.

The Whitfield County Sheriff's Office was called to investigate the death to make sure it was an accident, said Capt. Rick Swiney, but the sheriff's office doesn't have any jurisdiction on the forest trails.

"There's nothing we can do to regulate it," he said. "It's federal property."

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest spokesman Mitch Cohen said there are standards for their ATV trails and periodic maintenance is done, but he declined to answer further questions on what those standards were and how often they were examined.

"Public safety and employee safety is a very important priority, if not the most important," he said Monday afternoon.

Emergency vehicles such as ambulances can't use the trails to respond to accidents, and riders aren't required to wear helmets, Collins said. Price wasn't wearing a helmet when she was killed Sunday, officials said.

Conasauga District Ranger Michele Jones in Chatsworth, Ga., said the national forest doesn't require helmets because state law doesn't.

"Helmets are recommended but not required," she said. "We follow the state of Georgia rules out there."

Riders are required to stay on the designated trails, but there isn't an age limit for a passenger rider, she said.

When Price went riding with about eight other ATVs early Sunday afternoon, the trails had opened for a new season one day earlier, authorities said.

Price was riding on the Houston Valley Trail -- a popular two-way trail that ranges from easy to most difficult, according to an ATV trail guide website.

"The terrain offers a mixture of challenging rocky sections, deep mud puddles and water crossings," said a description from Rider Planet USA, a website that rates ATV trails across the country.

Catoosa County first received the 911 call for an injured woman about 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Then another call came in to Whitfield County reporting an "unresponsive" female ATV rider on the trails, 911 records show.

Rescue crews used the county emergency management crew's four-wheel drive utility vehicle to transport Price off the trail, Collins said.

Price was pronounced dead on the scene at 2 p.m.

"It's just a slow process getting people out of there," Collins said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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