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Boy who died in ATV accident is NASCAR crew member's son

7-year-old killed in wreck in Rowan County, but current law limits drivers to 8 and up

- lruebens@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Nov. 23, 2012

A 7-year-old Salisbury boy was killed in an all-terrain vehicle wreck Thursday, and he has been identified as the son of Sprint Cup crew member Andy Rueger.

Bryce Rueger had been driving an Arctic Cat 550 ATV with an 11-year-old friend Thursday afternoon near a home in Salisbury, Rowan County deputies said.

Andy Rueger was the gas man on Ryan Newman's over-the-wall crew for the No. 39 Sprint Cup team owned by Stewart-Haas Racing in 2012. He will be moving to Kurt Busch's Furniture Row Racing team in 2013.

Newman posted on Twitter on Thanksgiving, "Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving with family and friends. Ours was bittersweet- praying for the Rueger family!"

A note posted Thursday on Ryan Newman's fan site read, "Thoughts go out to Big A. Andy Reuger, the 39 team's gentle giant of a gas man, lost his 8-year old son today in a tragic accident. ..."

The racing team is setting up a memorial fund, WSOC reported Friday.

A N.C. senator said Friday the boy’s death should compel legislators to pass stricter ATV regulations.

“I know the parents are upset, but these are unnecessary deaths that could be prevented,” said Sen. Bill Purcell, D-Laurinburg.

Purcell, a pediatrician for 36 years, said he agrees with the American Association of Pediatrics, which recommends children under age 16 not be allowed to operate an ATV.

He helped pass legislation in 2005 that made operating ATVs illegal for children younger than 8 and also set engine-size limits for children younger than 16.

“We think the age ought to be higher, but the ATV people fought it,” Purcell said. “I think we had something about age 5 and moved it to age 8.”

The Arctic Cat’s engine size is almost 8 times the size that a 12 year-old is legally allowed to operate. It was unclear Friday whether any charges will be filed in the incident.

Deputies said the two boys went inside the house to eat lunch and then returned to ride the ATV. About 3 p.m., while the 7-year-old was driving, the ATV overturned when they were making a left turn around the house.

Deputies said the ATV had been traveling at a high rate of speed.

“It’s a huge four-wheeler,” said Holly Casper, a parts associate at the Salisbury Cycle Center, which sells ATVs.

The ATV they were riding, the Arctic Cat, could reach speeds up to 50 to 55 mph, Casper said, adding that she can’t imagine how a 7-year-old managed to drive an ATV that size.

“A 7-year-old’s feet wouldn’t even be touching the foot pegs, it’s that big,” she said.

Medics said the younger boy died at the scene, and the older boy was airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with serious injuries. His condition was not available Friday.

Casper said that even though ATVs are illegal for small children to drive, it’s common for parents to try to purchase them anyway. She said her store informs them of the legal ages for operating ATVs, and that parents will usually say that they’ll just buy one for themselves instead.

Casper said she wished families would be safer with choices they make about operating ATVs.

“Kids love these things, they’re a lot of fun, but if you’re out on a dirt road and the thing flips over, you’ve got a big problem,” she said.

In North Carolina, from 1982 to 2006, 302 people were killed in ATV accidents, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s ATV safety website. Ninety-seven of them were younger than 16. From 2007 to 2010, an additional 91 people died.

The N.C. General Assembly loosened ATV safety laws last year when lawmakers approved a bill that exempted adults from having to wear helmets or eye protection requirements if they were riding on private property.

Purcell opposed the bill.

He said the fact these accidents are still happening suggests people aren’t taking the safety precautions seriously enough.

“I don’t understand why people think, ‘It’s not going to happen to my kid.’ ”

Staff writer Steve Lyttle and staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; On Twitter: @lruebens