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NYPD Arrests Pedestrian After Near-Death Brush With Raging Motorist

ped_car_conflict.jpgCenter Boulevard and 48th Avenue, the Long Island City intersection where a pedestrian was nearly mowed down by an erratic and angry driver. Locations approximate. Image: Google Maps/Carly Clark

A Queens man will go to court tomorrow following a charge that he damaged the vehicle of a driver who -- twice -- nearly ran him down in the street. The incident occurred some three weeks before the road-raging motorist encounter that triggered a legal ordeal for Manhattan cyclist Ray Bengen.

On the morning of May 6, Gerald Beekman (an alias we're using at the victim's request) was walking his two dogs on 48th Avenue in Long Island City, en route to Gantry Plaza State Park. When he reached Center Boulevard, which borders the park, Beekman checked for oncoming traffic. Seeing only a black car to his left some distance away and moving slowly (Beekman assumed the driver was looking for a parking spot), he started to cross. As he approached the middle of the street, Beekman checked to his right for traffic that is obscured by a grassy median (pictured here). At that point, the car he had seen to his left barreled past -- on the wrong side of the street and, by Beekman's estimate, traveling at 40 to 50 mph -- missing Beekman by three feet, and nearly running over his dogs, who were in front of him. After passing Beekman, the driver hit a piece of trash in the street, presumably an empty can or bottle, which issued a loud report.

Here's what happened next, in Beekman's own words:

As soon as the black car stopped, I walked the approximately 30 feet from the pedestrian crossing to where the driver was sitting -- almost alongside the south facing parked cars -- but pointing the wrong way.

I was in a state of mild shock. I had almost watched my dogs run over right in front of me and I felt sickened. It must have taken me about 15-20 seconds to walk with my two dogs to the black car and when I reached it, I leaned toward the open passenger side window and shouted, "Hey buddy, where's the fire? You almost killed me and my dogs!"

The driver looked startled and disoriented. He also appeared to be holding a cell phone and in the middle of a conversation. Sounding confused, he asked, "Did you hit me?" It was apparent he had not seen me at all and had no idea I was in the crosswalk 30 feet behind him -- or that there was a crosswalk or an intersection.

I was taken aback and replied sharply, "Do you see me driving a car? I was on the crosswalk back there when you almost killed us!" I told him he should get out and check he hadn't run anyone over, because he had nearly taken me and my dogs out when he blew through the crosswalk, speeding the wrong way up the street, not looking where he was going. I told him I was lucky he hadn't killed my dogs and me. "You're reckless and dangerous. Get a grip!"

With that exchange, which lasted less than a minute, Beekman walked away. But the driver then made a U-turn, Beekman says, and drove straight toward him. Beekman ran for the curb, dragging his dogs by their leashes. The driver stopped in a crosswalk and, remaining in his car, began shouting.

The driver appeared enraged and very hostile because I had criticized his driving and called him reckless and dangerous. He had no interest in apologizing for almost running me and my dogs over in the first place -– or chasing us to the curb soon after.

Beekman says he repeated himself to the driver -- that he was driving carelessly on a residential street with many pedestrians and school kids -- until it became apparent that he was wasting his time. Anxious to get the incident behind him, Beekman, who had been standing with his hands on his knees so as to address the driver, still in his car, stood upright. Shaking, dizzy and nauseous, Beekman says he steadied himself by putting his elbow against the roof of the car. He then "staggered" away, and had to squat to keep from falling. For the first time, the driver got out of the car. He stood in front of it as Beekman gathered himself, his dogs, and the newspaper he had planned to read -- he had lost the cup of coffee he'd been holding -- and headed toward the park. Some 10 minutes later, as he exited the park, Beekman saw the driver, still parked in the crosswalk, leaning against his car and talking on his cell phone. According to Beekman, he "appeared to be laughing." Beekman says the driver called out to him, but that he "had no interest in any further interaction," and continued on his way home.

Though his route took him past the 108th Precinct, based on previous experience, and because he was not actually hit, Beekman felt sure that going to the police would be an exercise in futility. So he went on with his day, commuting to work in Manhattan, then returning home to take his dogs for their afternoon walk. As he stood talking to neighbors, Beekman was approached by two police officers -- an Officer Sorrentino and Officer O'Brien. Sorrentino asked Beekman if he had been in an "altercation" earlier that day. As he told his story, Beekman saw that the same black car was parked a short distance away, with two other police officers nearby. Not long after, Officer Sorrentino interrupted Beekman and walked to the car, conferred with one of the officers, and returned.

I tried to continue with my account but Officer Sorrentino interrupted me and asked me if I had "any contact with the car." I tried to finish my account by way of explanation but Officer Sorrentino insisted -- repeating several times more and more insistently: "Did you have any contact with the car?" I replied, "He almost ran me over -- but missed -- me by three feet, my dogs by a foot." Again Officer Sorrentino demanded: "Did you have any contact with the car?"

Beekman recounted the moment when he had leaned against the car for support, at which point Sorrentino returned to the black car. The driver was walking around it, pointing to its sides. Sorrentino again conferred with the other officers -- one of whom Beekman assumed was his sergeant -- before returning to inform Beekman that there were "dents, scratches and scuffs" on the car. Incredulous, Beekman replied that it was impossible that any of the marks could be attributed to him, that he had not touched the side of the car, and that he had seen the driver himself leaning against the car after almost running him down. Officer Sorrentino replied that the car "looked pretty new to have any damage," Beekman recalls. When Beekman asked for proof that he had harmed the vehicle -- photos or fingerprints, for example -- Beekman says Sorrentino responded that he had "been watching way too much TV."

Sorrentino asked Beekman to come down to the precinct to give his story. Beekman said he would be happy to, and asked if they could walk the short distance to the precinct house. Sorrentino said no -- they had to ride in a squad car. Beekman was under arrest.

Beekman stresses that Sorrentino was apologetic, though he was unable to "explain or decide" what exactly Beekman -- who has never received as much as a speeding ticket -- was being charged with, only that it was "very minor" and that it should be over in a couple of hours, assuming Beekman "checked out." Officers drove Beekman to the station, dropping off his dogs at his apartment along the way.

At the precinct, where Beekman was held for almost five hours, Beekman says Sorrentino and another officer scolded him for not "clearing up" the matter that morning. As Beekman sat in a holding cell, an officer who was not present during the arrest, laughing, told him: "You just don't kick a man's car." Beekman replied that he had done no such thing, and that the officer was the first person to suggest he had.

Like Ray Bengen -- assaulted by a driver who almost ran him over with his SUV, then charged by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's office for slapping the vehicle in an attempt to save his own life -- Beekman was charged with criminal mischief, a Class A misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison.

Streetsblog has a message in with the 108th Precinct for the officers' account of what happened on May 6. A spokesperson for Queens DA Richard A. Brown's office said that a prosecutor has not yet been assigned to Beekman's case, as he was given a desk appearance ticket.

Beekman's attorney, Frank Perrone, is a former Queens prosecutor. He believes that when the driver ran over the can or bottle in the street, he thought he had hit Beekman. "And I think that, almost in a preemptive need to protect himself, he went and filed this completely bogus and erroneous complaint," says Perrone. "The police department, unfortunately here -- as long as the complaining witness is willing to swear to a supporting deposition, they have to file the complaint."

The driver's name, however, isn't on the desk appearance ticket. To this day, Beekman does not know the identity of his accuser (believing the incident was over that morning, he did not note the license plate number). As of now, no deposition has been filed, according to Perrone. "All we have is a statement of the charge. So the assumption is that he [the driver] went into the police department and said that my client either hit, or bumped into, or did something to his car."

Perrone is confident that the charge against Beekman will eventually be dismissed. "It really seems like this guy was just a lunatic," he says.

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