The advent of spring means more motorcycles will soon be on the road, and that includes now-you-see-’em, now you-don’t packs of dirt-bike and ATV riders whose stunting bedevils motorists and police.
Their antics can also trigger road rage and violence, as occurred this week when a pack of bikers surrounded and vandalized a vehicle on a California highway and then beat up the driver who exited the car to confront them, according to local media reports.
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) was investigating after as many as 15 men on dirt bikes and ATVs swarmed around the victim’s white Toyota on Highway 101 in San Francisco on Wednesday evening, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. The attack — parts of which were recorded on video by other motorists — shows the man being thrown to the pavement, and a biker throwing punches at him.
A relative of the victim told the Chronicle that the 35-year-old motorist, who often comes into the city from his home in Modesto as a driver for Uber, suffered a broken leg and other injuries.
What triggered the confrontation isn’t clear, the newspaper says. The CHP told the Chronicle that the bikers had been lollygagging on the highway and popping wheelies, causing traffic backups, when the confrontation occurred. The bikers were gone when CHP officers arrived.
A similar incident occurred four years ago, when a motorcycle pack chased an SUV and beat its driver after a fender bender. Eleven motorcyclists, including an undercover New York Police Department detective, were charged in the attack.
Unlike traditional motorcycle gangs, such as the Pagans or Hells Angels, dirt-bike packs often form in just about the time it takes to send a tweet. They disperse almost as fast. Besides relying on social media to form up, they thrive on the attention that comes with posting online videos afterward.
Last year, a large pack of dirt bikers and ATV stunters shut down part of the Capital Beltway, only to melt away into surrounding roadways. The Chronicle says packs in the San Francisco area prefer doing wheelies and burnouts on the Golden Gate Bridge and city streets, sometimes while wearing Santa Claus outfits.
Law enforcement officials are often put in the frustrating position of hovering near the mayhem as they try to protect the public and identify the bikers without provoking a more dangerous confrontation.
“We encourage citizens when they see them to call us but not put themselves in a situation that’s dangerous,” said Maryland State Police Capt. Dan Pickett, commander of the Washington Metro Troop.
Police try not to escalate the situation by giving chase at high speed, and they wouldn’t dream of bumping a motorcycle or otherwise taking the rider out unless the biker posed the sort of life-or-death threat to police or others that would justify using deadly force — i.e. the way a gunman poses such a threat, Pickett said Friday. Blazing along the interstate at high speed or stunting isn’t even close to meeting the threshold, no matter how alarming or infuriating that may be to other motorists who feel as if the bikers are getting away with murder.
“Our role is to investigate who they are without them knowing what we’re doing,” said Pickett, whose Rockville Barracks oversees part of the Beltway, Route 270 and other major roadways. “We aren’t going to ignore them. They might be getting away today, but we’ll be at their house knocking at the door the next day with an arrest warrant.”
Here are some things Pickett urges motorists to do when suddenly swarmed by a bunch of stunt bikers:
- Call 911 but do not do anything that would put yourself or others in danger
- If you feel threatened, pull off at the next exit.
- If you want to try to do something, be a good witness. Take note of the type of motorcycles involved, which way they’re headed, and how fast. Pay particular attention to the style or markings on the riders’ helmets, if they’re wearing them, as these are often distinctive. The same goes for the bikers’ clothing, which may have insignia that will help police identify them. Ask your passenger, if you have one, to take notes.
- Do not try to record the bikers with your smartphone if you’re driving. Although such footage can be useful evidence in building a case against a biker, Pickett said filming and driving is only putting yourself and others in danger. He also urges passengers to use caution when recording the bikers so as not to provoke a confrontation.
“It obviously is a difficult situation,” Pickett said. “The problem is you don’t want to put the public in more danger.”
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