‘Recipe for disaster’: Rednecks With Paychecks off-road event leaves trail of tears

All-terrain vehicles are famously dangerous. So is the rugged, rural life on a farm. Put the two together, and what could possibly go wrong?

“Agriculture is the most dangerous occupation in the United States for both workers and bystanders,” writes the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

“Farmers are nearly twice as likely to die on the job as police officers are, five times as likely as firefighters,” Politico wrote in 2017, noting that many deaths and injuries come from tractor rollovers.

As for off-road vehicles, Top Gear star Jeremy Clarkson has written, “If you want to kill your children, there’s no quicker way that I can see than buying them a quad bike.” According to a 2010 report by the American College of Surgeons, ATV accidents are more difficult to survive than motorcycle crashes. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 700 are killed, 135,000 injured each year in ATV accidents, and that one-third of the victims are under 16.

Yet, thousands flock blissfully to the Rednecks with Paychecks off-road events in Montague County each year. And almost every year someone dies or is seriously injured in the festival featuring camping and, as organizers put it, some 1,200 acres of mud pits, canyons, creek beds and rock courses for off-road vehicles.

This year it was British-born Steven Fairbairn, 25, of Duncan, Okla., who died March 16 after a collision between a pickup truck and the ATV he was in. He was recently engaged.

In 2016, Stephanie Baldridge, of Crowley, died when her ATV flipped on top of her. Jeff Sawyer, of Corinth, died similarly the same year when his ATV crashed and landed on him.

The year before, a 10-year-old Fort Worth boy, Nicholas Torres, died when his ATV collided with a pickup at a campsite.

Participants, according to a 2016 WFAA News 8 report, sign waivers that “acknowledge that the activities of the events are very dangerous” and “involve the risk of serious bodily injury” and the “possibility of death,” adding that the signees “assume all risk.”

“We saw adults everywhere guzzling beer and driving their ATVs fast,” the station reported, “as well as children — riding with parents or driving on their own — crossing paths. Uniformed security officers and paramedics watched and hoped that nothing went wrong.”

To the question “what could possibly go wrong?” the answer is achingly obvious: a ton.

While to their credit event organizers on the private property at Farm Road 3206 near Saint Jo have made some safety changes — no one under 18 is supposed to enter now — the Montague County Sheriff’s Office told its officers not to work the event even off-duty this year due to liability concerns for the county.

The event is “pretty much” as reckless as it seems, one law enforcement official told us, adding that daytime fun isn’t the issue so much as the mix of alcohol and machine afterward.

“It is a dangerous event,” the official told us, adding that it’s a wonder permits are obtained for it, and that officers there “wish it was in someone else’s county.

“It’s a recipe for disaster.”

How much longer, how many more heads turned away, and how many more people must be killed or injured before the recipe changes?