73-year-old biker dies during charity “Poker Run”

— Photo provided by Albany County Sheriff’s Office

The fatal turn at the intersection of Route 43 and Cass Hill Road bears marks — a broken road sign and dirt streaks — of Charles Burchhardt’s accident during the Altamont American Legion Riders’ charity “Poker Run.”

CLARKSVILLE — A charity “Poker Run” held by the Altamont American Legion Riders suffered a fatal motorcycle crash on Delaware Turnpike Saturday morning.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said that the crash occurred at 11:19 a.m. at the intersection of Route 43 and Cass Hill Road. Although the crash is still under investigation, Apple confirmed that speed wasn’t a factor.

The 73-year-old motorcyclist, Charles Burchhardt, was described as an experienced rider by Apple, with years of riding under his belt. Burchhardt, according to the sheriff, “failed to negotiate the curve,” veered off the road onto the bordering grass, struck a street sign, laid the bike on its side, and struck a guardrail.

The sheriff’s office is unsure of any prior medical conditions, as an autopsy is still being performed, Apple said on Monday morning. Burchhardt had a helmet on, and was riding with around 50 to 60 other motorcyclists, according to Apple.

Burchhardt, a Colonie resident, was transported to Albany Medical Center by Onesquethaw Ambulance with Albany County Sheriff’s paramedics, where he was later pronounced dead, a release from the sheriff’s office said.

The American Legion Riders, an extension of American Legion Post 977, hold a yearly 100-mile ride to raise funds for various local organizations that help veterans in need. Members ride to specified locations, collecting a card at each stop that they then turn in at the American Legion Hall in Altamont, where a dinner is also held.

Steven Oliver, a member of the Legion Riders, confirmed that Burchhardt was not a member, but rather one of the 175 motorcyclists who registered for the event. Oliver said Burchhardt was a National Guard Veteran, and also a member of the Harley Owners Group.

Burchhardt was married with three children, eight grandchildren, and a great-grandson, according to his obituary.

This is the fourth year of the Legion Riders as a charter and also for the Poker Run, Oliver said. The money raised for veterans groups comes from a charge per person at the event as well as raffles and auctions held after. The funds go to organizations like Victoria Acres Equine Facility, a Guilderland not-for-profit that helps disabled children and adults — including veterans — ride horses, and the Albany Housing Coalition, which serves homeless veterans.

Oliver said the run stops in Greenville, Cobleskill, and Princetown, which this year hosted the “Healing Wall,” a replica of the Vietnam Memorial.

The event was completed this year, because, at the time of the crash, about two-thirds of the participating group were ahead of the incident, Oliver said. However, Oliver himself was slightly behind Burchhardt, and rode up to see the accident shortly after it occurred.

Oliver does not believe Burchhardt was speeding or intoxicated, but says other riders saw him drive straight into the wide sweeping turn on Delaware Turnpike. Oliver says there were first-responders who were participating in the event who immediately gave Burchhardt attention, and that paramedics arrived five or 10 minutes after the accident occurred.

“We unfortunately have a very dangerous passion and hobby,” said Oliver.

Oliver said it was a sunny day and that road and weather conditions were fine for riding.

“It was bewildering to all of us,” he said.

Oliver said that all Legion Riders and members will be at Burchhardt’s funeral services next Tuesday to give a final salute and warrior’s prayer.

“We love what we do; we’re out there fighting for our brother and sister veterans,” said Oliver, “This is just sad and disappointing to us.”

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