AUGUSTA — A year after tragedy, the annual United Bikers of Maine Toy Run went smoothly on Sunday, with close to 1,000 bikers leaving the Augusta Civic Center shortly before noon, then arriving at the Windsor Fairgrounds with stuffed bears, plastic ponies and countless other toys to donate.

That outcome was a marked contrast from last year, when two riders were killed after leaving the Augusta Civic Center and getting into a crash on northbound Interstate 95.

The success of this year’s ride came after police and organizers agreed on a new route that avoided Interstate 95 and instead sent riders to Route 3 along Townsend Road and West River Road. At the same time, Augusta police closed the route to other traffic.

“I think it went very, very well this year,” said Sandy Lyle, an organizer and former president of the United Bikers of Maine. “I think we had some great weather, we had a very safe ride, and we had lots of happy people, and lots and lots of toys.

Lyle estimated that between 800 and 1,000 people participated in the ride, which has been held for the last 37 years. He said that turnout was “about average.” Last year, though, organizers estimated that well over 1,000 riders participated.

Every year, the event brings in thousands of toys for children in need. Once the toys are collected, Lyle said last week, partner organizations distribute them in each of Maine’s 16 counties, as well as its tribal nations.

Last year, two motorcyclists participating in the ride were killed. After they’d merged onto the short stretch of Interstate 95 between Civic Center Drive and Route 3, a truck collided with multiple motorcycles, including the two who died. Eventually, police announced their view that one of the riders had caused the chain-reaction crash.

Before the ride on Sunday, several riders said that they believed the new route would be safer.

“It was sad what happened last year,” said Greg Williams, a rider from Auburn who arrived at the Augusta Civic Center around 10 a.m. on Sunday and whose spiky green hair matched the color of his bike, a Victoria cruiser. “I hope it doesn’t deter too many people. It seems like a smaller turnout this year. I know of some people who are kind of worried about bigger rides, after what happened last year, and some other things.”

Motorcyclists ride Sunday through Augusta on the annual United Bikers of Maine Toy Run. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

This year, Williams was riding with several friends and family members, including his daughter and niece, and was planning to donate a green plush unicorn that also matched his hair. He hoped the event would help some needy children and also raise awareness about the need for drivers and motorcyclists to all exercise caution.

Last year, Williams’ group was riding just a couple motorcycles behind the fatal accident. While it wasn’t a factor in that crash, he said that distracted car drivers have become a greater concern in recent years, particularly given the rise in cellphone use over the last decade.

Reached on Sunday afternoon, Lyle said that organizers were still counting how many toys had been donated.

In addition to what the motorcyclists contributed on Sunday, the Darling’s Chrysler Dodge dealership in Augusta also made a large donation of toys, bicycles and about $15,000 that was raised at a car show on Saturday.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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