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Fleet of reckless ATVs and dirt bikes endangered lives last year, Lehigh County DA vows crackdown

Distributed Photo
Allentown Police
Drivers of ATVs and dirt bikes have plagued Lehigh Valley roads, performing dangerous stunts and ignoring local traffic laws.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A fleet of off-road vehicles performing reckless stunts on local highways last year delayed a wounded detective from getting medical treatment, drawing a stern rebuke from Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin as he announced criminal charges Thursday.

Taurean Farmer, 40, of Pen Argyl, is the only motorist authorities have identified from a pack of about 40 ATVs and motorbikes that drifted across lanes — including ones for oncoming traffic — popped wheelies and blocked emergency vehicles on July 7.

  • A Pen Argyl man has been charged for multiple incidents of recklessly driving an ATV on Lehigh County roadways
  • He's accused of intentionally blocking a law enforcement vehicle that was trying to rush an injured Allentown detective to a hospital
  • Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin offered his office to assist local municipalities in pursuing summary charges against people illegally driving dirt bikes and ATVs on highways

Investigators said the group exited Interstate 78 onto Route 100 in Upper Macungie Township and turned onto Tilghman Street, where they ignored troopers' flashing lights and sirens for several miles into South Whitehall Township.
The same motorcade later blocked a vehicle rushing Allentown Police Detective Damien Lobach to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest.

Lobach was assisting Homeland Security in a human trafficking investigation in Upper Macungie Township when his arm was badly injured. Fellow law enforcement agents applied a tourniquet and sped him toward treatment with flashing lights and sirens blaring, but the ATV fleet blocked the car for several blocks.

Crimes caught on video

At a news conference Thursday, Martin showed two videos of the incident to reporters.

The first, a lengthy dashcam video from a State Police vehicle, showed more than two miles of the pursuit starting around 8:30 p.m.

Several ATVs intentionally stayed back at lower speeds to block pursuing officers while motorbikes and other ATVs popped wheelies and drifted across Tilghman Street.

One ATV appeared to have a female passenger holding her phone up to record law enforcement giving chase. Among the vehicles is a yellow Yamaha ATV, which Martin said was being driven by Farmer.

The video ended after two of the fleet's vehicles crashed, knocking a man and woman to the ground. The man fled on foot but managed to escape state troopers; Martin said investigators believe another vehicle from the fleet picked him up and raced off.

Martin declined to identify the female passenger who was injured in the crash and did not flee police.

The other vehicle appeared to be a cell phone video from inside the attorney general vehicle rushing Lobach to the hospital.

In it, the yellow Yamaha ATV intentionally blocks the AG's vehicle from passing, even crossing over the double yellow lines to make sure it cannot pass. The officers eventually pulled into a parking lot to get around the fleet, Martin said.

Lobach, who attended the news conference, told reporters he suffered nerve damage from his injury.

Charges are filed

Martin said Allentown police later encountered Farmer driving the yellow Yamaha around 10 p.m. July 19 on the 600 block of West Chew Street. The officer recognized Farmer as he sped north onto North Third Street and gave pursuit but lost sight of him.

The Office of Homeland Security helped local investigators identify Farmer using facial recognition technology, Martin said. New York City police recently arrested him on a Lehigh County warrant, and on March 2, he was transferred to the Lehigh County Jail, according to court documents.

Farmer has been charged with numerous crimes, the most serious being two counts of fleeing or attempting to elude police. The other charges are misdemeanors and summary offenses. He faces a maximum of 17 years in prison and is being held in lieu of $100,000 bail, according to the district attorney's office and court documents.

Martin said investigators have not been able to identify any of the other drivers involved in the June 7 motorcade. ATVs, dirt bikes and four-wheelers cannot legally be driven on Pennsylvania roadways, and their antics endangered themselves and other motorists, he said.

'You will be charged'

Municipalities in the Lehigh Valley and up and down the East Coast have struggled with gangs of ATVs, four-wheelers and dirt bikes driving recklessly on local streets and highways.

Even when police respond, they struggle to safely apprehend the drivers of the off-road vehicles because of their speed, agility and lack of safety features.

The problem has become so bad that Allentown spearheaded a Lehigh Valley Regional Dirt Bike Task Force, and state legislators passed a law allowing investigators to seize vehicles from suspects.

Martin said he would do his part to crack down by helping Lehigh County municipalities pursue charges against those accused of driving off-road vehicles into traffic.

Such violations typically amount to summary charges, which the district attorney's office usually doesn't prosecute. But if law enforcement can identify the people committing egregiously dangerous acts on local roads, Martin said his office will intervene.

"You will be charged, your bike will be seized and we will press for a prison sentence," he said.