A few months back, Riptide wrote about Ken Bereski, an IT consultant who's become the Howard Beale to Miami's cyclists who deal daily with life-threateningly awful drivers. Bereski was mad as hell, so he strapped cameras to his bike and started filming all the dangerous driving.
Well this month, Bereski got results: Thanks to video captured on his bike, he helped prosecutors charge a road-raging SUV pilot with felony assault for allegedly trying to run him off the road. Alas, it seems a less than bike-friendly judge is poised to toss the charges today. Click through for the video to decide for yourself if it shows a crime.
As Bereski tells it, the video was shot in April as he biked south down Alton Road. Near 15th Street, you can see a big black SUV cruise up to inches behind Bereski's back tire before swerving around and honking.
At the next light, Bereski pulls alongside the SUV to ask the driver to be more careful. You can briefly see the man's arm as he jumps out of the car and, according to Bereski, threatens him.
Then, the contentious part of the video: Starting around the 1:15 mark, the SUV again passes Bereski. This time, he says, the driver intentionally swerved into him, coming inches away from slamming into him on purpose.
"Right before that, he was cursing at me in Spanish and assumed a fighting stance," Bereski says. "There's no way in my mind that was not an intentional act of assault."
Bereski flagged down a police officer at the next stoplight. The cop at first told him there wasn't much he could do -- until he heard that Bereski had filmed the whole encounter. "I actually saw his eyes light up," Bereski says.
The police ran the SUV's tags and found its driver, 41-year-old Ernesto Alvarez Perez, was out on bond on a felony credit card forgery charge. (That charge was dropped last month, according to court records).
With the video as evidence, they arrested Perez for felony assault.
The case went to court on Friday, and Bereski says that Judge Jorge Cueto wasn't quite so sure.
"He watched the video and said that the incident was my fault for not riding far enough to the right," Bereski says. "Essentially, he's telling me to ride in the parking lane and swerve in and out of traffic, which is illegal."
The case is back in court this morning, but Bereski says he expects Cueto to drop the felony charge against Perez. He's recruited a handful of other cycling activists to protest Cueto's decision at the 9:30 a.m. hearing.
Bereski also has no intention of turning off his cameras anytime soon. "I told prosecutors that I don't want to send anyone to jail, I just want to make the roads safer," he says. "I would have been happy to see this driver get mandated anger management and safety classes."
Riptide contacted Perez's attorney, Peter Heller, but we haven't heard back yet. We'll update the post when we do.
Here's the video:
Update: The charges were indeed dropped in court this morning, Bereski says. Prosecutors declined to push forward with the case given the judge's opinion that the video doesn't show an assault.
"This is a negative blow to improving road safety in Miami," he says. "The message from this judge is that people can run over cyclists and no one gives a shit. This guy tried to intentionally run me off the road an there were no repercussions."
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First and foremost, the Court and the State Attorney's Office got it completely right; there was no probable cause for the arrest of Mr. Perez and definitely not enough evidence to meet the State's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.This was not an assault on all cyclists. The streets of Miami and Miami Beach are safe for bikers; however, if they engage in actions like Mr. Bereski they do increase their likelihood of suffering a needless injury. I say this because it was discovered that Mr. Bereski has been engaged in many, many instances where he has placed himself in danger of being hit by motorists on South Beach in addition to downtown Miami. It can be seen in many of his videos that he impedes traffic and confronts drivers he believes assaulted him.In one video that can be seen on Youtube Bereski even waits for a driver to merge into traffic just to dart in front of the driver and then call the driver vulgar names and chase him down Alton Road, disregarding traffic laws and further endangering himself. These actions negate any belief that Bereski may actually have been in fear of his life at the time these incidences occurred, and specifically the case at hand.As can be seen in the most recent video in this criminal case, Bereski is riding his bike in the middle of the lane violating Florida Statutes for cyclists (he should be as close as practicable to the right side curb), and then travels even further into the lane and confronts the driver who drives around him while at a red light, instigating a confrontation.It is clear that Bereski is not an innocent cyclist, but a man with a political agenda. Should we have bike lanes on every street, yes, we would agree with that. But Bereksi making a martyr of himself will not make that happen, and getting otherwise innocent drivers put behind bars surely won't. The only thing Bereski has accomplished so far was waste around $15,000 of the State's resources to prosecute this case and house Mr. Perez. $15,000 that could have gone to fund social programs like bike lanes rather than spending it on frivolous claims that only go to further Bereksi's misguided political agenda.You must understand, aggravated assault is an objective standard in regards to the reasonableness of fear of death or injury, and the court or jury must take into consideration the totality of the circumstances surrounding the incident when making a decision. In this case they would not only need to consider the defendant's actions, but also Mr. Bereski's. The fact that Bereski is traveling well under the speed limit in violation of Florida Statute, the fact that Bereski does not move to the right when room was available and cars were seeking to pass; the fact he chases after the defendant and puts himself in supposed harms way a second time; the fact that he has done this two dozen times before, all go to negate any element of fear. Judge Cueto said it best: as a former police officer he had been stabbed, shot, and run down with an automobile on several occasions; he knows fear of death and serious injury in situations that warrant it, Bereski does not in situations hecreates for himself.We are satisfied with the outcome and are considering a civil suit to recover the costs of defense and the time and money Perez lost while the he sat in jail needlessly