DA Files Charge Against Cyclist Attacked by SUV Driver in 9th Ave Bike Lane

20090521_AssaultOnCyclistD_1.jpgRay Bengen, pictured here lying on the sidewalk beneath the driver who knocked him off his bike, will face charges of criminal mischief in Manhattan criminal court next month.

The Manhattan DA’s office is filing charges of criminal mischief against a cyclist, Ray Bengen, because he allegedly caused property damage to a multi-ton SUV in the process of getting doored by the driver. Too ridiculous to be true? Sadly, no. Here’s how it happened.

Bengen, 63, was riding down the Ninth Avenue bike lane on May 21 when he encountered the Ford Excursion you see in this photo (curb weight: 7,190 lbs). A long-time city cyclist, Bengen had a green light and wasn’t quite sure what to make of the vehicle in front of him. The car wasn’t moving and its brake lights were off.

The bike lane on this stretch of Ninth Avenue is part of the city’s first on-street protected bike path. At the 20th Street intersection, where Bengen came across the car, there’s a left-turn bay for vehicles and an exclusive green phase for cyclists. The Excursion, as you can see below, was in the bike lane, not the left-turn bay.

Bengen rode slowly by on the left. Then he sensed the car start to move as he was passing. Alarmed, he slapped the side of the car with his palm in an effort to alert the driver as to his presence. A witness, who Bengen says has agreed to testify in court, snapped three pictures of what happened next. We’ll let Bengen describe it:

The driver then went berserk. Talk about road rage. He threw open his door forcing me and my bike to the ground giving me some awful bruising down my leg. As I was now on the ground yelling at him that he’s in a bike lane and was just about to run me over, he started to scream at me "Don’t even think about it, don’t even think about it." I’m still not sure what he meant by that. With me lying on the ground quite shaken, he suddenly stopped his assault and did something very unexpected. He moved away from me, picked up my bike where it was nearly underneath his truck. He then stood it up on its kickstand, and got back in the truck and drove away left into 20th street.

If the episode had ended then and there, one might assume that the driver, who remains unidentified, had counted to ten and wrestled his anger under control. But it looks like the guy may hold a grudge.

excursion_plate.jpg

Last week, Bengen received a phone call from Detective Christopher Cipolli at the 10th Precinct. Officers from the precinct had arrived at the scene promptly following the altercation, Bengen says, and Cipolli had been very helpful during the investigation that followed. So it was with an apologetic tone that the detective informed Bengen that he had to come down to the precinct on Friday. The reason? Because the Manhattan DA had filed charges of criminal mischief against him. (The DA’s office is also pursuing assault charges against the SUV driver.)

"I had to go through the very humiliating process of being handcuffed and put into an interview room — locked and barred — for an hour or so," Bengen recalled. After a fingerprint check, Bengen was released. He has a date in Manhattan criminal court set for July 14. The driver will appear on the 13th.

The Manhattan DA’s office could not identify the prosecutor who filed the charge against Bengen. When we asked about the basis of the criminal mischief charge, a spokesperson said that when Bengen appears in court "there will be more details." The offense of criminal mischief entails causing property damage of $250 or greater, so presumably the prosecutor will contend that Bengen "recklessly" took aim at a 7,000-pound SUV. Criminal mischief is a Class A misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison.

We’ll be keeping tabs on this case as it moves to court. According to Bengen’s attorney, Mark Taylor, the accusations against his client shouldn’t hold up. "There’s no basis for the charges against Ray — it’s clear that he was acting to protect his own life," Taylor said. "It’s unfortunate that the DA is choosing to prosecute this case."

20090521_AssaultOnCyclistB.jpg

  • love biking

    the pic looks like,the guy in the pic picked up his bike with no hard feelings, wish all new yorkers were like him

  • Non-lawyer

    Evidently, Laura is the banqueting and catering manager at the Waldorf-Astoria.

    Her husband’s name is supposedly Gus (maybe he’s the villain here?). Gus Gonzalez, perhaps?

  • Dr. Johnny Skeptic

    Many years ago, I was walking from Whole Foods to my car in the parking lot when this lady in a SUV, without even looking, starts to back up into me as I’m walking! I slammed my hands hard and loudly on the back of her car, said a few choice words and suggested that she take a driving test. I think I scared her more than she scared me.

    This will not go anywhere. The judge will probably look at the charge, shake his head as he hits his gavel and says, “Charges dismissed!”

    Then if I were the victim, I would sue that guy for wasting my time.

  • Ain’t the Internet Amazing?

    So, here is a photograph of the alleged road-raging SUV maniac, Gus Gonzalez, enjoying a lovely day at the beach with his wife Laura DiSpirito:

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=30153761&id=1191641802

    Let it be noted: Laura DiSpirito (who works in the food business herself) is a fan of celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito. What are the odds that they are related?

  • db

    Looks like Gus is your man. Anyone wanna go for a ride?

  • Folks, if bully jerk-off here gets bothered AT ALL by online antics, his lawyer will just cry about it in court and it could possibly hurt Bengen.

  • “if I were the victim, I would sue that guy for wasting my time.”

    If he deliberately opened his door in a way he know would knock the bicyclist over, he should be prosecuted for assault, in addition to being sued for pain and suffering.

  • db

    Just in case all of you are not familiar with 20th st. on the west side, that is where the local police precinct is. I have little doubt he was on his way to work. Although most cops in this situation usually state that they are cops and make a great many threats to your civil liberties, your physical body and the your future before they race off to.

  • Deke

    Talk about street justice. I wonder if SUV guys knows he’s been tracked down? Shame on you SUV guy. I wonder of the prank phone calls have started at his home yet.

  • Can’t see the photo… I Am Legend – the last person on Earth without a FaceSpace login.

  • ed

    Looks like there’s someone in the passenger seat.

  • I’m all in favor of giving our road-raging SUV driver a good public shaming, but I am kind of concerned because right now his wife and her celebrity chef relative feature a lot more prominently in the thread than the actual culprit. I suggest we do the detective work in private and only post names once we’ve got a positive id.

  • demetri

    ohh my why ohh why did anyone bring this mans wife into the mix,shame shame shame on you i also agree

  • Non-lawyer

    Only because the car is registered in her name, so it was the only way to figure out who he is.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Sometimes a car is a weapon. In this case, the weapon is licensed in the name of Laura DiSpirito-Gonzalez. That is why her name was brought in to this. Laura’s troglodyte husband apparently used her vehicle to assault an innocent cyclist. If Gus had shot someone with a gun registered in his wife’s name, I suspect you would have no problem bringing her name into it.

  • Omri

    “Sometimes a car is a weapon. ” Not in this case. The driver slammed the door, using his own muscle power, to push Ray over. Let’s not get carried away. This is simple assault&battery.

  • “Sometimes a car is a weapon. ” Not in this case. The driver slammed the door, using his own muscle power

    If you hit someone with a hammer, using your own muscle power, the hammer is a weapon. Likewise, if you hit someone with a car door using your own muscle power, the car door is a weapon.

  • Gene51

    Someone should contact the Mayor’s office on this –

  • doug

    not surprising as that guy who stole Lance Armstrong’s bike gets 3 years in prison. so why would a guy about to get pasted on to the street catch a break. clearly there’s no true justice in this country.

  • “The man’s wife” probably gets the same thing from him:

    – Ms. DiSpirito? I’m Detective Toscano, NYPD. We have a report that you left the cap off the toothpaste tube this morning.

    – Yes, Gus gave me a fat lip when he found out.

    – We’d like you to come down to the precinct for questioning while Mr. Gonzalez decides whether to press charges.

    Unless she’s the one who’s well-connected.

  • I’m pretty sure hit and run is a crime. We know this much – he hit the guy and then ran off.

  • Take a look

    It looks like she is sitting in the truck from the photos, so it is probably OK to bring the wife into the discussion.

  • Unsympathetic

    I’ve been on a grand jury. The DA has zero chance of acquiring an indictment in this case – it’s not a slam dunk. Bicyclist vs Excursion.. and the DA chooses to prosecute the bike? Um, no.

  • Jerky

    I’m guessing that it may not be his wife in the car, but one of his sons, Louis.

  • Someone call in and report this hit and run.

  • Marty, sometimes a car is a weapon. Most of the time it’s not. I’m as critical of individual motorized transportation as the next guy, but your idea that letting someone drive your car is tantamount to lending him a gun is ludicrous.

    In any case, I believe that we’ll hurt our cause if this turns into a feeding frenzy. Determining and posting the identity of the attacker seems like a good idea, if only because law enforcement has proven unable or unwilling to deal with homicidal drivers, but we’ll be more effective if we go about it in a deliberate fashion.

  • Max

    This is disgusting! However I have a court date for something similar – a driver almost ran me down driving on the wrong side of the street while I was crossing a residential street with my 2 small dogs. Long story short, I told him off for driving so recklessly (but without obscenity, epithets or abuse) in an area with young children (we were next to a kindergarten and park), mothers with strollers, joggers etc… Later that day while again walking my dogs, the police stopped and arrested me – the driver had told them that I had hit his car and apparently there were “scratches, dents and scuffs” on it. An outright false and/or misleading statement. The driver had been driving very aggressively and been agitated and angry while I was talking to him. His actions were a passive aggressive form of road rage and borne out of a complete lack of understanding of how dangerously he had been driving.

  • Max

    I just read the Sen Jeff Klein story and I completely agree that some drivers seem so jacked up behind the wheel (I can’t attest to their behavior the rest of the time). When I’m walking or cycling, I’m very conscious of what’s around me, nonetheless pretty relaxed – maybe it’s the physical activity and endorphins. By contrast, as the Jeff Klein story mentions, many drivers seem to hate and rage against whoever is on the other side of the windshield.

    Just sickening!

  • Christopher

    Who at the DA’s office authorized this? Since it looks like the driver is actually being prosecuted (makes for a nice change), the real scandal here is that the cyclist/victim should have to hire a lawyer to defend himself. Morgenthau is useless and on his way out, and probably had nothing to do with the decision, but someone at the DA’s office clearly went out of his way to get the victim arrested. That person’s head should roll. Anyone know someone in the DA’s office who can find this out?

  • Google Search

    There’s a lawyer at Willkie Farr & Gallagher in NY by that name.. Hard to confirm ID without a photo though.

    http://www.willkie.com/attorneys/bio_detail.aspx?iEmployee_ID=327612005

  • J. Mork

    That guy got his B.A. in 2002 and his law degree in 2006. Probably too young to be our Gus. (It’s possible to go to Columbia Law in your thirties, but I’m guessing no on this one.)

  • Pete

    I hope Ray Bengen took extensive (dated, preferably) photos of his bruising, any bike damage, and the location from many angles. I also hope you guys aren’t harassing the driver after looking up his license plate – it’s not your battle to fight, and puts bicyclists and Ray in a bad light.

    One law that may have been broken here is a failure to indicate a turn. We all know this is something that’s taken for granted too often, but having taken a left turn without signaling it is a violation this driver may be guilty of, and may help Ray in court. My suggestion to you Ray is to write down as much of this in an organized notebook and be prepared to use it in your ‘defense’. Good luck Ray!

  • Remote Bystander

    Lotta folks talking about whether or not he’s a cop; interesting to see him publicly outed, good!

    Anybody stop to think the guy planned to do this? Seems a bit too “coincidental” that he started to move JUST as the cyclist got next to him. He was looking for trouble, and called the cops first to cover his ass, probably lied to them about the whole thing.

  • Drew

    Slapping a car is a bad idea. The owner has his identity tied up in that thing. It’s not much different from slapping his face, in his reality. Decades of car commercials and living in a society imbued with these things, have trained drivers to actually invest their identity into a smelly, costly, and noisy car. It’s pretty sad when a car is part of your identity, but that is how it is for lots of people. So slap away, but be prepared for a driver to go ballistic and the cops to support the driver. Easier to use a bell or bike horn.

    I hope this motorist goes to jail for assaulting the bicyclist.

  • Kristi

    These photos look like they’re posted in reverse order of the action, and could be confusing, because it looks like the guy took the upright bike and then placed it under his car when it was the other way around. I know they’re not going into court, just wanted to point it out.

  • > Slapping a car is a bad idea. The owner has his identity tied up in that thing.

    Don’t be cowed by others’ tendency to violence. If you’re endangered, act reasonably in your own defense. In the end, assault is a felony, but tapping a car in self-defense is legal.

    If you’re weak or with family then of course your risk threshold should drop. Young single dudes on bikes are rightly the front line of social norm enforcement.

  • John Satclaire

    You touch my property without my permission, and I will hurt you. This is a very simple concept that many bicyclists cannot seem to grasp.

  • Under law, this very simple concept has a name: assault.

  • I love it when I agree with Mark Walker. Satclaire – here’s hopin’ I touch your property sometime soon, baby. You’re welcome to try and assault me for it 😉

  • Motorists need to understand that a cyclist (or anyone else) banging on your car is like someone knocking on your door. They’re trying to call your attention to something. You don’t assault the person, you answer the door. As long as the person hasn’t rammed the door down or damaged the door, you have no reason or right to respond violently. Likewise, a dent in the car or a scratch on the paintwork would be cause for complaint. But someone’s palm print on your car? Come on, that’s no reason to hurt someone.

  • Gus T.

    Saltclaire– Keep your pile of bolts the hell away from me and your precious object of misplaced affection won’t have anything to worry about.

    (BTW “the hell away” == “at a safe distance”)

  • Southbedford

    He does not respect traffic rules.
    Why did he get two tickets this month (“DOUBLE PARKING” and “OBSTRUCTING TRAFFIC AT INTERSECTION”). Think about the probability to get a ticket and you know his respect for others (“ME FIRST”).

  • Bobberooni

    Cars have horns. On a bike, sometimes the ONLY way to get the attention of a driver is to knock on their window.

    People touch your house all the time (they knock on it). They walk on your front lawn all the time (unless you have a fence). They “kiss” your bumper all the time while parking. So chill down; unless someone is keying our car, simply touching it with your hands is NOT a good reason to hurt that person.

  • Joe R.

    Just so you know “hurting” a cyclist for touching your car is legally considered assault.The cyclist is well within his/her rights to file charges and/or defend themselves (including blowing your brains out to stop the assault if they’re legally carrying a firearm).

  • Joe R.

    I was thinking the same thing also. I’ve personally experienced a few instances where a driver passes me, slows or stops, then does something to piss me off just as I’m passing. Now when I see this I either turn around or turn off the road just to avoid it. In two cases the driver actually turned around and followed me the other way, giving me a clear sign they were just looking for trouble.

    I’ll also add I was only assaulted by a driver once. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for him but I came out pretty much unscathed.

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