NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly two weeks after a road rage encounter between motorcyclists and an SUV driver in New York City went viral on video, some bikers are suggesting the SUV driver may have instigated the violence long before the cameras started rolling.
Police and prosecutors dispute that, insisting the encounter began with what is caught on tape: Motorcycles swarm around the SUV on a Manhattan highway. The driver plows over a biker to escape. A high-speed chase ensues, ending with the driver pulled from his vehicle and beaten in front of his family.
But two riders in the group of motorcyclists say the SUV driver, Alexian Lien, knowingly or not, instigated the violence by clipping one of the bikes at an earlier point on the Henry Hudson Parkway on the west side of Manhattan.
Gloria Allred, a lawyer for Edwin Mieses Jr., the biker who was crushed, claims Lien bumped another motorcycle while changing lanes on the highway two to three miles before his SUV knocked into biker Christopher Cruz.
"We have evidence that he hit that (first) bike and didn't stop," Allred said by phone, adding that authorities had been made aware of it.
Mieses himself didn't see any earlier encounter, but got off his bike to diffuse the tense situation and was headed back when he was hit from behind by the SUV, she said. He broke both legs and is likely paralyzed.
Allred declined to say what other witnesses had contacted her, but another biker who participated in the rally, Louis Castaldo, gave a similar account in an interview this week on local affiliate Fox 5 News.
"When the video starts, we're trying to attempt to slow him down to tell him, 'Hey, there was an incident back there — we don't know if you know, or if you do know and you're trying to flee, but you just ran — you just knocked somebody over,'" Castaldo said.
Police and prosecutors say the encounter began as the tape does, with biker Christopher Cruz, 28, of Passaic, N.J., pulling in front of the black Range Rover and decelerating to the point where the vehicle bumps his back tire.
Cruz, since his arrest on reckless endangerment and other charges, has insisted he looked over at the driver only to change lanes, and didn't deliberately slow down. He didn't see any prior interaction that may have happened between the SUV and the motorcyclists, said his attorney, H. Benjamin Perez. He added that his client waited on the highway for police when other riders chased after Lien.
"He's treated as though he orchestrated this entire event. It's crazy," Perez said.
Authorities have used the video evidence, some of the footage captured on a helmet-mounted camera worn by a biker, to bring charges against Cruz and six other motorcyclists, including an off-duty undercover police detective.
Prosecutors said the detective, Wojciech Braszczok, lied to his handlers and his union when he said he didn't witness the assault. Separate video has surfaced that shows him punching out the back window, they said. His lawyer says his client will be exonerated.
Lien has not been charged with a crime. He hasn't spoken publicly about the case and there was no response to messages left with his attorney. His wife, who was in the SUV with him and their 2-year-old child, has blamed the bikers for putting the family in "grave danger," prompting her husband mow down one of them in an effort to escape.
"We were faced with a life-threatening situation, and my husband was forced under the circumstances to take the actions he did in order to protect the lives of our entire family," she said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Jake Pearson contributed to this report.