Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 4th, 2016 at 3:30 pm
Menacing behavior from motor vehicle users is something that happens all too often. It can take many forms and has varying levels of severity — from annoying and almost comical (like yelling, revving an engine or “rolling coal“) to serious and life-threatening behaviors like aggressive passing and throwing objects at another person.
Reader Jason K. just shared his experience. And we’re sorry to report it was the latter. Jason says he was passed so closely by a man driving a car that the rear-view mirror might have made contact. After that unsettling experience, Jason caught up to the man at a train crossing, tapped on his window, and tried to talk with him. It went downhill from there. Fast.
It all happened this past Saturday afternoon at the intersection of SE 11th and Division.
Jason shared a video with us that was taken by someone in a car who saw the situation unfold.
Here’s the video, followed by excerpts from an email Jason shared with us (emphases mine):
“… The driver in the video buzzed me (intentionally, I believe) so close that his mirror (nearly?) grazed me. I was far enough from the right side of the right lane to avoid being doored, but I wouldn’t say I was taking the lane. Not that it should have mattered as there was very little traffic. When he passed me, there were no cars in the left lane. He scared the shit out of me.
15 seconds later, I rode up to him while he was stopped at the train crossing while a Max train passed. I tapped on his window and gestured to roll it down. He did. I calmly, politely (I only mention that because I was/am proud of myself for keeping my cool and not blowing my top, which I have done before, sadly) told him that he passed me very close and it scared me and asked him to please not do that anymore. He looked at me and said, “You know what bitch? Fuck you.” at which point he punched me in the face through his open car window. I staggered back (I was straddling my bike) and may have fallen into his car mirror (which you can see is broken in the video). Then I punched at him through the open car window…
So at this point he rolls his window back up and starts flooring the accelerator (there are cars and a train in front of him) to smoke his tires and he’s yelling something inside his car and he holds his phone up and I say, “good, let’s call the cops.” I walk to the side of the road and start calling 911 and then the gate goes up and he drives off… I continue on my way to work and after crossing the tracks I notice that the guy is stopped ahead in the middle of the road. He’s waiting for me. Once he sees me he points his car right at me and floors the accelerator and charges at me! Luckily there were other cars on the road that impeded him, and I was able to get to relative safety in the parking lot you see in the video.
He drives into the parking lot, screaming incoherently (I’m calling 911 again at this point), and he spins his car around and hops up on the sidewalk to try and hit me again, then drives the wrong way back towards Milwaukee from the little Powell on-ramp and the circling begins. He keeps doing this for a while. I felt like a bleeding man in a life raft while a shark circled around me. Meanwhile I’m trying to scream my location etc to the 911 operator who can’t figure out where I am. She tells me that there are officers on the way, and finally the insane driver leaves and I tell her where he’s going only to see him come back two minutes later, now going the other direction.
… I see the guy coming back again, he makes a couple more passes, then heads off in a third direction. I call 911 back and update the operator and then finally the officers show up. This is the worst part of the whole thing. I give my statement, honestly. I tell them about the earlier altercation before he flipped out, and one of the cops says, “I’m a bicyclist too and I gotta say you’re lucky; I always want to punch these jerks.” That gave me a laugh, and I thought he’d be on my side, but it turns out that maybe he wasn’t. He asks me what I want to do, as far as pressing charges. He starts telling me how there is no way they could get any charge to stick other than maybe a reckless driving misdemeanor ticket. I ask how can this be, when he was clearly menacing me and trying to use his car as a weapon, and the fact the he punched me totally without provocation. He says something like, “you’re probably thinking of like attempted murder charge, but there’s no way that would ever happen. Gangbangers who walk up and shoot other gangbangers who don’t die don’t get charged with attempted murder. You can’t press an assault charge because you’re not injured. So basically this guy is a jerk and you shouldn’t have tried to talk to him and probably nothing is going to happen.”
I wondered at this point if maybe they were just not wanting to do the paperwork, and asked if that was it and was told that there were there, and going to do the report, but just don’t expect anything to really happen. The second officer makes a “parallel” to what happened by saying how a couple days ago a driver hit a parked car and drove off and a bunch of people called and they eventually caught him and they gave him a reckless driving ticket, to which I questioned how that applied to what happened to me where this maniac was trying to run me down? Then they got kind of irritated with me and I could tell that communication with them wasn’t going anywhere so I made my statement and then they left me there. I had no idea if they had caught the guy, what would happen next, or what to do.
I have been hit before, I have been threatened and harassed before, I have crashed and had bikes fail while riding before, but I have never been afraid to get back on my bike before. After the officers left I was just standing there, in the same spot where the maniac had been trying to kill me, and I felt like a target. Every red car I saw was his car. I felt like I was swimming with the sharks and all I could think was how this guy was waiting for me right around the corner. My wife won’t have a husband anymore. My son won’t have a father anymore. Or worse, he’ll find me, he’ll run me down when my son is on my bike with me. I walked back to the Max and rode that to work. Later that night, after my shift at work (which did a lot to calm my nerves and return me to normalcy) I started to panic when I was riding home, and I couldn’t concentrate on riding because every single car I would see in the dark was his, and they were all coming right at me. I don’t know what willl happen when I need to get on my bike for work tomorrow, but I am pretty sure I’ll be terrified and taking a different route. I no longer feel safe riding a bicycle. I hope this doesn’t last long.”
This stuff really bugs me on many levels.
I forwarded Jason’s email to Portland Police Bureau Sgt. and Public Information Officer Peter Simpson to confirm the incident. I also asked if he could comment on what the community’s expectations should be when something like this happens.
“It looks more likely to be Harassment (misdemeanor) than an assault, due to the victim not having any injury.”
— Sgt. Pete Simpson, Portland Police Bureau
Simpson said the police report is similar to Jason’s account and that the responding officers looked for the vehicle at the registered owner’s address but were unable to locate it. “Based on the report,” Simpson said, “it looks more likely to be Harassment (misdemeanor) than an assault, due to the victim not having any injury.” At this point Jason hasn’t pursued any charges, so Simpson says the case will be dropped. “We can’t prosecute a case without a willing victim,” he added. If Jason ultimately decides to press charges he can follow-up with the responding officers.
As for the road rage itself, Simpson said the PPB strongly discourages people from engaging and/or arguing with other road users in situations like this. “More often than not, emotions are too high to have a rational conversation,” he said. “Seems like there is a general lack of civility when it comes to these kinds of things and nobody ever wants to admit fault.” If you find yourself in this position, Simpson recommends getting as much information and evidence as possible and file a report.
I also showed the video to Charley Gee, a lawyer with Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton. He said the driver is clearly violating laws, including careless driving. Gee thinks the police response should have been stronger. “I’d imagine that if it was a police officer that was the person being driven around like that there would be some enforcement.” He also said if Portland is serious about Vision Zero, police need to take this type of menacing behavior much more seriously.
That being said, Gee also said Jason didn’t do himself any favors once he retaliated. “If I were Jason, I would tread a little carefully given his mutual combat role,” Gee said. “I have seen situations where the cops are pressured to investigate and charge and they end charging both parties and let the courts sort it out.”
Another thing hurting Jason’s case is that he wasn’t actually hit with the car in the first place. Sgt. Simpson told us it’s difficult for police to devote resources to “I-was-almost-hit scenarios” when there are numerous other cases of actual contact and crimes in progress they also must attend to.
In the end, there’s no an easy path toward justice. Nor are there easy answers to the many questions this brings up. The thing I focus on is the initial behavior that sparked the altercation — a dangerous pass. Whether the man in the car was aware of how dangerous and scary his driving was, the fact remains that it happens all too often. That’s what bothers me.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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