Family, friends remember Middlesex teen killed in Georgia dirt bike accident
A.J. Zwigart of Middlesex and his cousin Collin Leatham were best friends since they were toddlers.
“They were like-minded. There was such a great bond between them. They started motocross and dirt-bike riding when they were about 3 years old,” said Jamie Leatham, Collin Leatham's father and Zwigart's uncle.
Leatham and Zwigart were riding together in Georgia the day before Thanksgiving when Zwigart, 15, crashed his dirt bike and broke his neck, his family said.
“It's been a sad week and holiday,” Jamie Leatham said.
It also was a sad week for students and staff at Mars Area Middle School, where Zwigart was a student. Hundreds showed up for his visitation on Tuesday, his uncle said.
“It is a tragedy. To have a young person die like this is even worse. Nobody can really understand why it had to happen to someone so young,” said Richard Cornell, the school's principal.
According to police in Lilburn, Ga., north of Atlanta, Zwigart and his cousin were riding their dirt bikes. Zwigart was in the lead.
Zwigart tried to cross a small creek perpendicular to his path. The dirt bike struck a creek bank, throwing him, and he landed head-first in the bank. His dirt bike flipped over him and landed past him.
When school resumed after the Thanksgiving holiday, Cornell said he and the staff tried to keep up the normal routine of classes and activities.
“We are here to support the students. A loss like this is also very difficult for the staff,” he said.
Kristen Volek, the girlfriend of Zwigart's father, Robert P. Zwigart, said A.J. was an extroverted teen who played football and wrestled. He was especially close to his grandparents, James and Anna Zwigart of Valencia, and did chores for them, Volek said.
“He was the most polite, sweetest boy. He was very close to his dad. He was the only one of the kids here I never had to remind to say ‘thank you,'” Volek said.
Nationally, off-road vehicle fatalities peaked in 2006, when there were 833 reported deaths, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In 2011, there were 347 reported deaths.
Since 2001, annual emergency room admissions related to all-terrain-vehicle incidents have ranged from a low of 107,500 in 2011 to a high of 150,900 in 2007.
In Pennsylvania, there were four ATV-related deathsreported last year, down from 40 in 2011, according to the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which regulates off-road vehicles.
“If there are fatalities that are not on state lands, we might not know about them for a while — or ever,” said Terry Brady, a DCNR spokesman.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.