Trumbull County farmer beaten by ATV riders in his alfalfa field.

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If we were to go tear their backyard up, they’d have a fit. For some reason, it’s not the same with our fields.


– Frank Sutliff Jr., Trumbull County farmer


SALEM, Ohio – Trumbull County farmer Frank Sutliff Jr. was grinding feed Jan. 13 when he heard the buzz of ATV engines and saw four riders zooming across his alfalfa field.

But this was unlike the dozens of other times Sutliff approached trespassers on his Braceville Township property to ask them to go somewhere else. The riders, wearing helmets and face masks, attacked Sutliff.

“I was asking them to leave my property when I was hit from behind,” Sutliff said, noting he never expected the assault. Police reports also indicate Sutliff was punched in the face and kicked after he fell to the ground.

As a result of his injuries, including a badly broken leg and head injuries, Sutliff now has 10 screws and a metal plate in his leg and will be on crutches for months.

Though assaults are less widespread, the notion of ATV riders trespassing onto private property, especially farmland, is fairly common.

No excuses. “Most times these guys will run when they see someone coming. They don’t have any respect for private property, and they either don’t know or just ignore the law,” Sutliff said.

“A lot of the time, I hear them say, ‘We didn’t know,’ but ignorance is no excuse. Trespassing is illegal. Most of these riders around here are adults, and if they’re responsible enough to have the machine, they should also know the laws,” he said.

Other times, the riders are apologetic, and “until now, that’s always been good enough for me,” Sutliff said.

The dollar amount of damage the trespassers did to the field is “probably minimal,” but Sutliff is burned up by their disregard for private property. The farm is bisected by railroad tracks – a haven for ATV riders – and “the fields seem to be magnets that grab those guys down off the tracks.”

No winners. “Trumbull County is largely rural, and this type of trespassing has always been a problem,” said Chief Deputy Ernest Cook of the county sheriff’s office. “Today it seems like there’s more 4-wheelers out there, which only makes things worse.”

Sutliff said it’s not worth the time to hang signs warning against trespassing because they’re often vandalized or ripped down.

Even though he’s been attacked, Sutliff rejects the idea of carrying a weapon when confronting trespassers.

“I won’t carry a gun because I’m not ready to use one against another human,” he said, noting he has put his full faith into the law to pursue his attackers and all trespassers in the area.

Legal response. In response to incidents like this one, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation has adopted a policy supporting the creation of an identification system for ATVs in Ohio, although to date, no work has begun in the legislature on this issue. Other states have similar issues on their books as well.

“We hear a lot about trespassing like this from all over, especially in southeastern Ohio. We’re also calling for stricter enforcement of trespassing laws,” said Keith Stimpert, vice president of government affairs for the Farm Bureau.

“We’re challenged because it is hard to identify the law-breakers, and it’s easy for them to get away,” he said.

Farm Bureau hopes that once developed, the identification system would provide useful information for investigations, particularly those involving habitual offenders, Stimpert said.

A bad name. The American Specialty Vehicle Institute offers ATV safety and training classes through dealerships across the country. A portion of the information covered in each session teaches riders about respecting private property and being aware of your location, according to Rob Blais, a certified instructor and sales manager at Andrew’s Cycle in Salem, Ohio.

“Unfortunately, legislation has shut down a lot of riding areas everywhere, and people are running out of places to ride. And there are a few riders who are ruining things for everyone,” he said.

Press charges. Investigation of several leads continues by the Trumbull County Sheriff and Braceville Township Police, and Sutliff plans to press charges against his attackers. In the meantime, Sutliff relies on the help of friends to get chores done.

“Too many people think they own the world and can go anywhere unless they’re told otherwise. I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Sutliff said.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)


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Lawmakers respond to ATV issue with proposed laws

SALEM, Ohio – In response to trespassing and ATV operation in the region, lawmakers have taken steps to protect private property.

In October, the Ohio Senate passed S.B. 147, which “prohibits anyone, without privilege to do so, from purposely damaging or destroying field crops, field crop products, timber, timber products, or livestock produced for specified purposes or any equipment, laboratory, or research used in or for the purposes of their production; and provides that violation is a misdemeanor and requires restitution for the damages.”

The bill was assigned to the House Ag and Natural Resources Committee.

< Pennsylvania law./b> Effective Oct. 23, 2001, amendments to existing Pennsylvania law require that all ATVs used for recreation be registered with the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Vehicles used solely for farming or business are exempt from the law.

The law also requires proof of registration to be carried on the ATV, except for those riding on their own land; and ATV owners must carry liability insurance, except for ATVs used solely on the owner’s property.

Those used exclusively on the owner’s land are provided a free, one-time registration with no expiration.

All ATVs in the state are required to display a license plate.

“Part of the law requires permission from landowners when riding on private property,” said Gretchen Leslie, department press secretary.

The law also includes incentives for local law enforcement agencies to become involved; those agencies are permitted to keep fines collected from unauthorized riders.

“Fines are automatically $300 if an ATV is not registered, which is a pretty hefty amount, so we’re hoping to get a lot of participation in cracking down,” on illegal riding in state forests and on private land, Leslie said.

In the works. West Virginia legislators introduced H.B. 2287 in January, which proposes an amendment that prohibits riding “on another person’s property without the written consent of the owner of the property or as explicitly authorized by law.”

Another proposed change in H.B. 4051 would add ATV regulations to the state code, including requiring titling and payment of a privilege tax upon the purchase; requiring an identification certification card and identification device for ATVs; and requiring visual placement of the identification.

According to provisions of the bill, any operator of the ATV must carry the identification number certificate when operating the vehicle at all times. The identification number and device are valid for the duration of the owner’s interest in the ATV and do not expire until the vehicle is either sold or permanently removed from service, according to the proposed amendment.

The proposed privilege tax would be used toward development of public ATV recreational trails in West Virginia. The bill was recommended for passage by the Joint Judiciary Committee.

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