Belleville man praised as motorcycle rights hero dead at 70

News-DemocratFebruary 18, 2014 

Cancer claimed the life of a man who was a hero to motorcycle rights advocates by getting the state's helmet law struck down.

After getting a ticket in Madison County for riding his motorcycle without a helmet, Donald "Frosty" Fries, 70, of Belleville, fought the state's 1967 helmet law all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Fries, backed financially by a Belleville motorcycle dealer, the late Rich Nebelsik, eventually won his case to get the state's helmet law thrown out on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

"He was stopped alongside the road near Wood River at the scene of an accident," said Alan Jung, who knew Fries dating back to 1957. "He waved the police over for help and they ended up arresting him for not having a helmet. Took him to jail."

Mike Gallagher, membership director for motorcycle rights group A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education, said riders owe Fries and Nebelsik a debt of gratitude.

"We're not against helmets," Gallagher, 55, said. "We're against the government telling us what we have to wear. There's no telling where we'd be today if not for Rich and Don standing up for their rights all those years ago."

Gallagher said Fries never wanted attention for his effort to get the law changed. His wife, Sandi, said Fries was quiet about the accomplishment.

"It wasn't until five years after I got married to Don (in 1998) that I found this out," Sandi Fries said. "I was amazed that he had a case in front of the Illinois Supreme Court. For him it wasn't much of a big deal. But it is highly recognized by bikers in Illinois and even in Missouri."

Currently, Illinois and Iowa are the only states with no law requiring motorcyclicsts to wear a helmet.

In 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 148 people died in Illinois motorcycle accidents, according to the Illinois State Police. Riders not wearing helmets accounted for 119 of those fatalities. And, according to the American College of Surgeons, motorcyclists who don't wear a helmet are more than three times more likely to die in a crash than riders who wear a helmet. The group has pushed for universal helmet laws in every state.

Those statstics didn't get "Frosty" to change his mind.

"He never wore one," Jung said. "It was a matter of choice and that was his choice. The government cooked up a bunch of statistics that claim it's much more dangerous. But he didn't believe that. He thought people needed to make their own decisions."

Fries wasn't only known in Illinois; he also earned recognition in Jamaica, where he met his wife.

"He spearheaded an organization called Jahnet in the late 1980s and early 1990s which helped rural Jamaican schools gets computers," Sandi Fries said. "It was a volunteer effort where they would get donated computers and work out the logistics of getting them to poor, rural schoolhouses in Jamaica."

Sandi Fries said she was from Kingston and never traveled outside her home city before she met Frosty.

"He showed me my own country, some wonderful places that I wouldn't have discovered if not for him," Sandy Fries said. "He did so much good he is like a celebrity in Jamaica."

Fries' has a memorial service at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Belleville Enduro Team Building at 3000 Centreville Ave. in Belleville.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 618-239-2626.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 618-239-2626.

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