Friends are speaking out after a Florida attorney who fought state helmet laws died in a motorcycle crash while not wearing one.
Ron Smith, an experienced rider, was killed on Aug. 20 after he lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into a utility trailer. His girlfriend, Brenda Volpe, was his passenger and also died.
“He was a guy that you went to for advice,” Gary Pruss told the Tampa Bay Times.
The pair met through a group called the American Legion in Old Town.
Smith was traveling on U.S. 19 North in Pinellas County when he began to slow down to traffic, lost control of his motorcycle and skid on the roadway, the Florida Highway Patrol wrote in an accident report. His bike rotated “in a clockwise motion, overturning onto its left side” and collided with the left side and wheel of the utility trailer.
Smith, 66, was pronounced dead at the scene. Volpe, 62, died hours later at a hospital.
A medical examiner said Smith and Volpe died from head trauma, the Times reported. The office did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday.
The accident report noted that neither was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, although it is unknown whether one would have prevented their deaths.
Smith had spent over a decade fighting Florida laws that required the use of helmets, according to the Tampa Bay Times. He represented a number of clients who violated state motorcycle requirements in court cases that have been credited with helping to overturn the helmet law.
The current law states that anyone over the age of 21 can ride without headgear as long as they have at least $10,000 in insurance coverage “for injuries incurred as a result of a crash while operating or riding on a motorcycle.”
Dave Newman, a friend, told the newspaper that Smith loved his independence and did not like being told what to do.
“He thought everybody should have their own choice,” he said.
In one court case from 1996, Smith represented a man who was ticketed for riding his motorcycle without a helmet in Madeira Beach, according to the Times, citing a Tampa Tribune article. As a result of the case, the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office briefly stopped enforcing the state’s helmet law after a judge dismissed the person’s citation. The judge based the decision on another case that Smith fought in which it was ruled that Florida’s law was unconstitutional.
At the time, Smith told the Tribune that he got on his bike and went “looking for a ticket” by riding through Pinellas County without a helmet for 90 miles.
“I passed at least a half-dozen cops,” he said. “And all I got was a sunburn.”