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September 06. 2012 12:45AM

Mark Hayward's City Matters: A deadly need for speed

At 4 years of age, Neal Burlington got his first four-wheeler.

A young age, no doubt, to start learning how to lean into a curve and how to coax an engine to a roar with a flick of the wrist.

But Neal was born into a family that savored engines, speed and the adrenaline they ignite inside a young man's body.

His mother rode motorcycles for years. Her pregnancy was all that stopped her from following her brother into motorcycle racing. And growing up for Neal meant family outings at New Hampshire Motor Speedway motorcycle races, back-country trips on motorcycles and motocross meets.

“He was a gear-head in the truest and purest form,” said his mother, Sheree Burlington.

Neal, who was 19, died last month in a motorcycle accident on Mountain Road in Goffstown, one of almost two dozen motorcyclists to die on New Hampshire roads this year.

Police say, and Sheree admits, that the West High School graduate was riding too fast on the 35 mph road, whose hills, curves and rural setting are a draw to bikers.

“We know the risks, but we do it anyway,” she said. “I regret losing my son, but I don't regret the life I gave him while I had him.”

It's not that Neal was devil-may-care about motorcycles. He always wore leather and a helmet and shook his head when he'd see people riding bikes with shorts and sneakers and without a helmet, his mother said.

But he liked speed. A year earlier, a third speeding ticket meant the loss of his driver's license. He got it back a few months before the accident.

According to police, three motorcyclists were riding on Mountain Road Aug. 20. One touched another, and they both lost control, sending Neal into a car and another off the side of the road.

Sheree Burlington is the owner of a custom pottery business, Museware Pottery, in Manchester. A single mother who has lost her only child, Burlington said she now has to reinvent herself, and she wants to do so by getting speed-hungry motorcyclists off the street.

Not off their bikes, just off the street. She plans to launch an effort to steer teenagers to racetracks, where there are no telephone poles, no oncoming traffic, no cars turning left in front of a motorcyclist's path.

“At least at the track, you can get adrenaline in a safe, controlled environment,” she said. She hasn't thought her plan out entirely, but it involves accepting donations to provide racetrack instruction and safety equipment for participants.

“You're not going to slow them down, so let's give them a place to play,” she said.

Neal is one of four young men connected to the West Side-Goffstown-Bedford area to lose their life this year.

All liked cars, motorcycles or both. All — Neal Burlington, Andrew Roy, Corey Lee Houston and Tyler Walsh — knew one another or shared mutual friends, Burlington said.

Roy and Burlington died in motor vehicle accidents; Houston and Walsh in workplace accidents.

And as hundreds of Neal's friends showed up at his calling hours, Sheree learned about the teenagers of today.

They wore dress shirts and ties, tucked into baggy, low-hung jeans. They were awkward and didn't know how to express their condolences. So they spoke about a young man who showed up at a despondent friend's house at midnight to treat her to Taco Bell, or a late night phone call to reassure another.

“The kid parents have, we get to see the ugly,” said Sheree, who had her go-arounds with a teenage son just trying on his manhood. But friends talked about a kind-hearted, funny, comforting and generous young man.

“The Neal that this big town of Manchester knows,” Sheree said, “is the kid I prayed I would raise.”

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Mark Hayward may be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.


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