By COLLEEN LONG and JENNIFER PELTZ Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) – A motorcyclist accused of touching off what evolved into a bloody confrontation between an SUV driver and a throng of bikers was charged Wednesday with reckless driving while investigators searched for key players in the driver’s beating.
Investigators and prosecutors, who held off charging another person, faced the task of trying to track down and talk to dozens of helmet-clad motorcyclists seen in an online video of the encounter.
The confrontation spiraled from a minor collision between a motorbike and the SUV into the car plowing over a biker and fellow riders surrounding, chasing and attacking the driver, authorities said.
The only person criminally charged in Sunday’s encounter is Christopher Cruz, who was arraigned on misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and unlawful imprisonment. Police and prosecutors said Cruz, of Passaic, N.J., was the biker who initially cut off the SUV, which then bumped his motorcycle’s back tire.
Defense lawyer H. Benjamin Perez said Cruz didn’t try to trap or assault the driver and denied all the allegations.
“He’s going to fight the case, and I’m sure he will be successful,” Perez said.
Meanwhile, the Manhattan district attorney’s office decided to not immediately prosecute a second arrested person, Allen Edwards, who surrendered on Tuesday.
Prosecutors said they were continuing to look into the entire incident, and they told a judge they intend to take the case against Cruz to a grand jury, signaling that more charges are likely.
“Prematurely charging individuals with low-level crimes does not further the goals of the investigation and could weaken the cases we expect to bring against the perpetrators of serious crimes,” prosecutor Karen Friedman-Agnifilo said, adding there was “still a tremendous amount of investigation to be done.”
Investigators have questioned the SUV driver and are looking to speak to as many of the bikers as they can, including the one whose helmet-mounted camera recorded the events.
Prosecutors and police said Cruz was participating in a motorcycle rally speeding along Manhattan’s West Side Highway. They said Cruz cut in front of a black Range Rover and, staring at its driver, slowed down so much that the rear tire of his motorcycle bumped the front of the SUV. Prosecutors said he got off and approached the SUV.
Video captured the moment as about two dozen riders slowed down, swarming the SUV and blocking its path. Some dismounted and approached the vehicle, and police said some bikers began damaging the Range Rover.
The driver, who police say was frightened for his wife and 2-year-old child in the SUV, suddenly lurched forward, plowing over another rider before heading north. The cyclists pursued the driver for about 2.5 miles, until the SUV got off the highway and got stuck in street traffic.
The video showed one biker smashing the driver’s window with his helmet. Police said the group then pulled the man from the SUV and beat him, although that part isn’t shown on the video, which police confirmed was authentic.
The SUV driver, Alexian Lien, was taken to a hospital for stitches for his face. A call to his home wasn’t returned Wednesday.
Cruz’s attorney said his client wasn’t involved in beating Lien or attacking his car, didn’t know anyone who was involved and was simply trying to exchange driver information when he got off his motorcycle after it was hit.
The biker who was run over as the SUV fled, Edwin Mieses Jr., broke his legs and suffered spinal injuries that will leave him paralyzed, said his wife, Dayana Mieses, who said the motorcycle riders had wrongly been vilified in the episode.
At least one other biker was injured.
The motorcyclists were participating in a periodic rally in which more than 1,000 bikers head for Times Square, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. There were 15 other arrests, and 55 motorcycles were confiscated, he said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.