Jason Meggs, who helped create the monthly Friday evening ride 14 years ago, accused the driver Sunday of deliberately driving through a red light into the mass of riders. He said three bicycles were crushed under the van, causing about $3,000 damage.
However, Berkeley police, after interviewing independent witnesses in an investigation that lasted for hours, disagreed. "There's nothing to indicate that the driver in any way intended to hit somebody or to hit a bicycle," said Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, Berkeley police spokesperson.
"We feel our investigation does counter the assertion or allegation that it was an attack on bicyclists," Kusmiss said.
She said independent witnesses said the driver, who will be 73 this month, and his wife, 70, residents of Berkeley, were westbound on Monterey Avenue at the same time about 30 Critical Mass bike riders were southbound on The Alameda. "When the light turned green, the driver attempted to travel slowly forward in the minivan and saw some bicyclists headed into the intersection toward him," Kusmiss said.
A verbal exchange ensued, she said. Two witnesses said Critical Mass riders started slapping the vehicle hard enough to start it rocking, she said.
A report on the incident is being sent to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office for a review, Sgt. Eric Upson said. There were no arrests or citations, and no one was injured, but the minivan had a cracked front windshield.
The incident is similar to one in San Francisco on March 30 during a Critical Mass ride there. A woman from Redwood City reportedly attempted to drive through about 100 bikers. There was a confrontation, and the rear window of her vehicle was smashed.
In Berkeley Friday night, when police arrived, the couple in the minivan were confused and upset, an officer said.
Upson said when police arrived at 8:06 p.m. Friday, they found the mini-van in the Monterey/Alameda intersection, surrounded by approximately 30 irate bicyclists who were rocking and beating on the vehicle. They found a bicycle under one wheel.
A Berkeley firefighter on duty at Station 4, 1900 Marin Ave., about 100 yards from the scene, said he heard the confrontation before he saw it.
"I heard a bunch of honking from two different vehicles; then I heard a lot 'f-bombs' (profanity)," the firefighter, who asked not to be identified, said.
"I stuck my head outside and I saw about 30 people around the mini-van, which had been westbound on Monterey. There was lots of yelling, so I called the police. But after I hung up, the decibel level increased dramatically, and it looked like the vehicle was on top of one bicycle," he said. "I called police back and told them to hurry."
He said firefighters rolled an engine with first-aid equipment to the scene, but could find no one to treat.
I found the fellow whose bicycle was under the car, and I asked him if he was hit by the car," the firefighter said. "He said, 'No.'
I asked him, 'How did the windshield get broken?' They (several of the bikers) said 'We broke it.' ''
He said the driver and his wife were elderly, and their vehicle had a disabled placard on it. Being surrounded by many bicycle riders shouting and yelling had obviously upset him, he said.
Meggs argued that the mini-van driver deliberately struck the bicycles, despite bikers' shouts. He said he was at the rear of the group of cyclists who had just departed from a sunset stop at Indian Rock Park in the Berkeley Hills. "He (the driver) was honking, and he drove right into the crowd. It was very shocking. I took out my camera and started shooting," he said.
"He kept pushing ahead, and he ended up with three bikes under his car," Meggs said. "He was honking and shouting, and that makes us think it was not an accident," he said. Meggs' video can be found at indybay.org and at http://www.bclu.org/.
It shows the van inching forward very slowly at one point, lots of shouting by bicyclists and comments by the gray-haired driver and his wife. The video does not show the windshield being broken. In one shot, it's not broken; in the next, it's cracked.
Berkeley Critical Mass occurs on the second Friday of each month, starting about 6 p.m. from Downtown Berkeley BART. Recently, Critical Mass rides have been added in Oakland and Walnut Creek. Oakland's ride begins at 6 p.m. at 14th and Broadway on the first Friday of the month.
The Walnut Creek ride starts at 6 p.m. on the first Friday of the month. The original San Francisco ride is held on the last Friday of the month. Since it began in 1992, rides have begun in more than 400 cities around the world, Meggs said.
The premise is to stake out an hour or two out of the month for bicycles instead of cars, advocates say. The rides are usually peaceful, but they have been marked from time to time by confrontations with annoyed motorists delayed by the street-blocking riders.
Contact Staff Writer William Brand at firstname.lastname@example.org.