COAL TOWNSHIP - The police department's stockpile of children's bicycle helmets is depleted. This was evident Wednesday evening when officers could not provide helmets to at least 15 young children who showed up without the protective gear at the department's annual bicycle safety derby in a parking lot at Kemp Memorial Stadium.

Helmets were not required to participate in the derby, although state law requires children under the age of 12 to wear helmets. Pennsylvania and 36 other states have similar helmet laws.

"There are kids who come without helmets. Do we tell them to go home? What are our options?" asked Patrolman Chris Lapotsky, organizer of the event. "Some parents can't afford a bicycle, let alone a helmet."

Two accidents involving helmetless bicyclists occurred in the first 30 minutes of the two-hour event. One incident involved a young girl who fell off her bicycle and onto the pavement after colliding with another girl who was walking through the rectangular safety course. Neither accident required medical treatment.

Despite allowing children to ride without the proper gear, officers at the derby stressed to children the importance of safe cycling, including obeying traffic laws and wearing helmets.

Hundreds previously donated

Lapotsky said a "truckload" of helmets were purchased several years ago when the department was awarded a $5,000 state grant.

Officers have since given helmets to more than 450 children who attended past derbies. This amount does not include helmets that officers on patrol gave to riders without, Lapotsky said.

For this year's event, the department gave away 18 bicycles, but no helmets. The bicycles were purchased through sponsors.

Lapotsky said next year he will focus on obtaining more helmets and fewer bicycles.

"I think helmets are more important than bicycles," Lapotsky said.

There were some kids who were at the derby Wednesday who were wearing helmets officers gave them years ago, he added.