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Posts from the "Confrontations" Category

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Cyclist Assaulted on Hudson River Greenway

Victim Michael Mandiberg. The assailant is in the background. Photo: Hugger Industries/Flickr

A cyclist was injured after a man kicked in the front wheel of his bike on the Hudson River Greenway near 24th Street yesterday evening. The victim, Michael Mandiberg, was hospitalized with cuts and bruises before being discharged later last night, according to his Twitter feed.

Several people witnessed the unprovoked assault, and the assailant was taken away by police.

We’re still gathering information and will have more updates as the story develops.

The assailant who kicked in the front wheel of cyclist Michael Mandiberg was led away in handcuffs. Photo: Hugger Industries/Flickr

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DA Offers Plea to Road Rager Gonzalez

20090521_AssaultOnCyclistD_1.jpgThe DA's office has not contacted the witness who took this photograph of Gus Gonzalez last May.

At a hearing in criminal court on Monday, Manhattan prosecutors offered a plea deal to Gus Gonzalez, the driver who assaulted cyclist Ray Bengen in the Ninth Avenue bike lane last May.

Gonzalez had been charged with third degree assault, a misdemeanor offense. The offer from the DA's office would reduce the charge to disorderly conduct, classified as a violation (which would not appear on Gonzalez's criminal record). Gonzalez would have to complete one day of community service if he accepts the plea, which he declined to do on Monday, asking instead for the case to be dismissed pending good behavior.

Dave Rankin, an attorney who often represents cyclists, told me it's common for prosecutors to offer this type of deal when the original charge is third degree assault. But how seriously has the DA's office pursued the case? The witness who photographed the assault -- in which Gonzalez knocked Bengen to the pavement with the door of his Ford Excursion, badly bruising Bengen's leg, then drove away from the scene -- says neither police nor prosecutors have contacted him about what happened.

Read more...
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Ninth Ave Road Rage Case: Bengen Cleared; Gonzalez Files to Dismiss

20090521_AssaultOnCyclistD_1.jpgGus Gonzalez and his Ford Excursion were caught on camera after knocking cyclist Ray Bengen to the pavement back in May.

We've got a quick update on the legal aftermath of the Ninth Avenue road rage case, in which the Manhattan DA's office charged both cyclist Ray Bengen and SUV driver Gus Gonzalez.

The DA has dropped the charges against Bengen, who on May 21 was doored and knocked to the pavement by Gonzalez. The charges apparently arose from property damage sustained by Gonzalez's Ford Excursion as Bengen attempted to bike around the vehicle, which was blocking the Ninth Avenue protected bike path.

Bengen tells us that, before the case was dismissed, the DA charged him with two counts of criminal mischief and one count of "auto stripping," all class A misdemeanors. He had expected to be charged with just one count of criminal mischief. In the end, he said, the DA's office decided the case could not be prosecuted beyond a reasonable doubt.

Meanwhile, the case against Gus Gonzalez is still active. Last week, prosecutors filed an affidavit in New York Criminal Court in support of the third-degree assault charge -- also a class A misdemeanor -- against Gonzalez. At the same hearing, the attorney for Gonzalez filed a motion to dismiss, according to a court officer. The case was adjourned to January 11.

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Eyes on the Street: Disrespect, and Defiance, at the Bus Stop

whbus1.jpg
This was the scene in Washington Heights Friday evening, after this guy, along with two others, parked their gigantic rental truck directly in front of a trio of elderly people waiting for the M4 at W. 187th Street and Fort Washington Avenue. Rather than sit passively with the spewing behemoth a few feet from their faces, one of them, a woman shown after the jump, took out her cellphone and began taking pictures.

Since he didn't see a bus coming, the gentleman in the picture above sincerely couldn't understand what the problem was. But his co-worker, also pictured below, was incensed, screaming at the woman and, indirectly, at me, for taking photos. He was angry and aggressive enough that the guy above asked him several times to calm down.

After about 10 minutes, the third man returned (they had stopped so he could use an ATM), and they drove off, honking as they went.

Read more...

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Midtown Road Rage Eruption: Is This the Best We Can Do?

We linked to a story in this morning's headlines about yesterday's brawl between a yellow cab driver and a pedicab operator in midtown. A Fox 5 reporter on the scene covering the sex scandal du jour caught the whole thing on video. Via Gothamist, here it is.

It looks like the pedicab driver, tired of being honked at by the cabbie, throws his coffee at the taxi as the two exchange words. Not the most conciliatory course of action, to be sure, but the cab driver then raises the stakes considerably, accelerating and slamming into the pedicab. The pedicab operator hits the taxi with both fists, the cab driver exits the vehicle, and a street brawl ensues in the middle of the intersection of Broadway and 53rd.

The pedicab operator eventually throws a trash can at the cab driver, then pedals away. The cab driver sticks around to talk to police. You can't hear what they're saying, but at one point he appears to be pointing to damage to his cab. As with other drivers who've attacked cyclists and pedestrians with their vehicles recently, it's doubtful he 'fessed up to instigating the collision himself.

From a livable streets perspective, there's a lot to digest here. Consider this an open thread on incivility, street space hierarchy, vehicular violence, pedicabs and yellow cabs, or whatever strikes you about this pathetic episode.

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Strange Twist in Protracted Ordeal of Arrested Queens Pedestrian

Queens resident Gerald Beekman (an alias we're using at his request), arrested in May after twice being nearly run down by an irate driver in Long Island City, had his first court appearance last month. The case was held over until October, as District Attorney Richard A. Brown's office did not yet have a supporting deposition from the alleged victim, who told police at the 108th Precinct that Beekman damaged the car he was driving. Beekman was charged with criminal mischief, a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to 12 months in jail. According to a spokesperson with Brown's office, the case has yet to be assigned to a prosecutor. Oddly, though the driver was male, and Beekman saw no one else in the car, Streetsblog has learned that the complainant is identified as Toya Robinson -- presumably a woman, and possibly the car's owner. Like Ray Bengen, the Manhattan cyclist assaulted in June by an SUV-wielding hothead, Beekman continues to live under a cloud of severe legal and personal repercussions, all for doing nothing more than attempting to navigate a city street unharmed. NYPD, meanwhile, continues to threaten others waylaid by motorists with a similar fate should they dare to seek justice.
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Road Rage Victim’s Reputation Smeared Until Proven Innocent

20090521_AssaultOnCyclistD_1.jpgRay Bengen, pictured on the sidewalk below his assailant, is paying a steep price for defending himself while riding in the Ninth Avenue bike lane.
Following Brad's post last week about one pedestrian's encounter with an enraged driver and the NYPD, I caught up with Ray Bengen, another New Yorker charged with criminal mischief after touching a car that threatened his safety. Bengen is still waiting for some kind of resolution to his case, which is on hold while the Manhattan DA's office decides whether or not to prosecute him. Already, though, Bengen is paying a price. He earns much of his living flying small aircraft for government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, and consulting on computer projects for Wall Street. It's sensitive work, he says, and the clients who employ him always perform due diligence before signing off on a hire. Last week, a potential client rejected him because his criminal background check didn't pass muster. This had never happened before. As long as the criminal charge is hanging over his head, Bengen believes the market for his services will be severely restricted. He also expects to shell out for some attorney's fees as the case progresses. When we first published Bengen's story, some readers speculated that the driver who assaulted him was an off-duty cop. Maybe that's true (the alleged perpetrator, Gus Gonzalez, certainly knows how to make his identity difficult to trace). But there also seems to be some doctrine at work, which is very commonly applied to confrontations in traffic, where the default position of law enforcement is to either charge both parties or neither party, no matter who received the brunt of the assault. The Manhattan DA's office won't comment about the specifics of the Ray Bengen case, so I asked attorney Bob Mionske, who writes the Road Rights column for Bicycling Magazine, about the thought process law enforcement applies to cases like this. The column recently analyzed a case near Portland, Oregon in which police charged a cyclist for slapping the sideview mirror of an SUV after the driver buzzed him and threatened to run him down. Mionske replied:
What usually happens in these types of cases is when the police arrive on the scene, they have two parties who have been involved in an altercation, and both want the police to enforce the law in regards to the other guy. Unless witnesses can verify one account or the other, the police don’t really have any way of determining who did what, so when both parties are alleged to have been involved, the police will often press charges against both parties, and let the courts sort out who did what.
Read more...
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NYPD Arrests Pedestrian After Near-Death Brush With Raging Motorist

ped_car_conflict.jpgCenter Boulevard and 48th Avenue, the Long Island City intersection where a pedestrian was nearly mowed down by an erratic and angry driver. Locations approximate. Image: Google Maps/Carly Clark
A Queens man will go to court tomorrow following a charge that he damaged the vehicle of a driver who -- twice -- nearly ran him down in the street. The incident occurred some three weeks before the road-raging motorist encounter that triggered a legal ordeal for Manhattan cyclist Ray Bengen. On the morning of May 6, Gerald Beekman (an alias we're using at the victim's request) was walking his two dogs on 48th Avenue in Long Island City, en route to Gantry Plaza State Park. When he reached Center Boulevard, which borders the park, Beekman checked for oncoming traffic. Seeing only a black car to his left some distance away and moving slowly (Beekman assumed the driver was looking for a parking spot), he started to cross. As he approached the middle of the street, Beekman checked to his right for traffic that is obscured by a grassy median (pictured here). At that point, the car he had seen to his left barreled past -- on the wrong side of the street and, by Beekman's estimate, traveling at 40 to 50 mph -- missing Beekman by three feet, and nearly running over his dogs, who were in front of him. After passing Beekman, the driver hit a piece of trash in the street, presumably an empty can or bottle, which issued a loud report. Here's what happened next, in Beekman's own words:
As soon as the black car stopped, I walked the approximately 30 feet from the pedestrian crossing to where the driver was sitting -- almost alongside the south facing parked cars -- but pointing the wrong way. I was in a state of mild shock. I had almost watched my dogs run over right in front of me and I felt sickened. It must have taken me about 15-20 seconds to walk with my two dogs to the black car and when I reached it, I leaned toward the open passenger side window and shouted, "Hey buddy, where's the fire? You almost killed me and my dogs!" The driver looked startled and disoriented. He also appeared to be holding a cell phone and in the middle of a conversation. Sounding confused, he asked, "Did you hit me?" It was apparent he had not seen me at all and had no idea I was in the crosswalk 30 feet behind him -- or that there was a crosswalk or an intersection. I was taken aback and replied sharply, "Do you see me driving a car? I was on the crosswalk back there when you almost killed us!" I told him he should get out and check he hadn't run anyone over, because he had nearly taken me and my dogs out when he blew through the crosswalk, speeding the wrong way up the street, not looking where he was going. I told him I was lucky he hadn't killed my dogs and me. "You're reckless and dangerous. Get a grip!"
With that exchange, which lasted less than a minute, Beekman walked away. But the driver then made a U-turn, Beekman says, and drove straight toward him. Beekman ran for the curb, dragging his dogs by their leashes. The driver stopped in a crosswalk and, remaining in his car, began shouting. Read more...
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Meet the (Alleged) Road Rage Thug of Ninth Avenue: Gus Gonzalez

gus_gonzalez_1.jpgInset: No day at the beach. Photo: Belly of the beast?

So, based on the accumulated evidence, we can safely say that the man who allegedly blocked the Ninth Avenue bike lane with his 7,000 lb. Ford Excursion, exploded in a fit of rage when cyclist Ray Bengen tried to ride by without getting crushed, and sped off after knocking Ray to the ground (severely bruising his leg and damaging his bike), is this guy:

Gus Gonzalez.

Here's how Streetsblog commenters crowd-sourced his identity:

  • A commenter identifying himself as a lawyer obtained registration information -- name, address, and date of birth -- for the license plate pictured in photos of the confrontation. The car is registered to "Dispirito-Gonzalez, L."
  • The DMV records matched information available through a reverse address look-up for a Laura DiSpirito, who resides in Flushing.
  • Streetsblog commenters quickly found Laura DiSpirito's Facebook page (a "fan" of celebrity chef and Queens native Rocco DiSpirito!) where they came across photos of a man who resembles the SUV driver who allegedly doored Ray Bengen. Photo captions identify him as Laura's husband "Gus," leading to speculation that the alleged perpetrator is named "Gus Gonzalez." (As of this afternoon, the Facebook page is no longer online.)
  • Streetsblog called Laura DiSpirito's home a few times to confirm this information, but to no avail. A CBS2 news crew visited the house in Flushing and also was not able to ascertain the driver's identity.
  • Finally, we called the Manhattan DA's office yesterday afternoon and the communications staff confirmed that a defendant named Gus Gonzalez has a court date scheduled for July 13, when he will face a charge of third degree assault arising from an incident on May 21. That matches information about Ray Bengen's assailant which was already public.

It's worth mentioning here that third degree assault is a Class A misdemeanor, same as the criminal mischief charge filed against Ray Bengen. The message from Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's office is clear: slapping an SUV with your palm in self-defense is tantamount to violently knocking someone to the pavement, injuring him, and driving away before the authorities arrive at the scene.

Which brings us to the reason we're posting Gus Gonzalez's name and photo. If you drive away from the scene of a confrontation after inflicting bodily harm on someone, and you get to preserve your anonymity, it's a license to act like a sociopath. Unless you are somehow identified and apprehended, you can go about your business and present yourself as someone who doesn't intentionally harm other people.

Even as this investigation unfolded, police did not tell Ray Bengen the name of his scene-fleeing assailant. That information usually doesn't come out until the case goes to court. Luckily, this time, there were witnesses and photographs.

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Tune in Now: Ninth Avenue Road Rage Incident on CBS 2 News

Ray Bengen, the cyclist who was assaulted by the driver of a Ford Excursion blocking the Ninth Avenue bike lane, will appear tonight on the 6:00 p.m. edition of the CBS 2 local news. Ray just emailed to say the producers have confirmed they'll broadcast a segment featuring him explaining the road rage incident. Let's hope they do the story justice.

Update: If you missed the broadcast, here's the report filed by correspondent Deborah Garcia.