A couple of unlikely things led cyclist Ken Bereski II to court with an aggravated assault case against a motorist who he says tried to run him off Alton Road on July 12. The first was that Bereski, a Mac computer consultant who lives and works in South Beach and rides his bike to all of his local jobs, caught the incident on video through a rearview camera he had mounted on his back wheel.
Few cyclists take the precaution of video recording their commutes, but Bereski says he has had so many “near-death” experiences biking around Miami that he typically records all of his rides through two cameras, the one mounted on his back wheel and another on his front wheel that points straight ahead. (On this day, the front wheel camera was busted, so he only has rearview footage.)
The video of the ride shows a black Infiniti SUV close in on Bereski from behind, before passing him on the left in possible violation of Florida’s three-feet passing law. At the next light, Bereski pulled up alongside the driver’s window.
“I yelled, ‘How about sharing the road?'” Bereski told me in a recent interview. “The reason I do that is that I’ve found that most people don’t realize I’m allowed to be on the road [on a bike] and the large majority of them are receptive to having a civilized conversation. That’s usually what happens. But this gentleman decided he’d have none of that. He opened his car door, he got out of his car, he assumed a threatening stance. He started cursing at me in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish so I don’t know the exact words he used other than one the judge translated for me in court, which was pinga.”
When the light turned green, Bereski rode away. A few moments later, the driver passed him again — again in possible violation of the three-feet passing law.
“He passes me the second time, even closer without any indication of slowing down, and when he cut back in [to the lane], he cut in way too early,” Bereski says. “Considering the circumstances, considering the way he had been threatening me, I think it was quite clear that it was with the intent to run me off the road, to clip [the front wheel] as he passed.”
Here’s where the second unlikely thing happens. (It wasn’t Bereski’s run-in with the driver — cyclists have that kind of experience all the time in Miami.) On the next block, Bereski spotted a Miami Beach police officer and told him what had happened.
“I pretty much expected him to shrug his shoulders and say ‘There’s nothing I can do’,” Bereski says. “But apparently I found a sympathetic police officer. He didn’t even wait for me to finish the story of what happened. He immediately pulled the guy over.”
Bereski eventually informed the officer that he had the incident on video, stored on an SD card. The cop popped the card into a reader in his car and they watched the footage right there. The evidence was apparently strong enough for police to arrest the driver on an aggravated assault charge.
Bereski says he would have dropped the charge if the driver agreed to take driver awareness classes.
“That’s all I wanted,” Bereski says. “But unfortunately he plead not guilty, and believes the behavior he exhibited in that video is perfectly acceptable. And that’s made this into a nightmare.”
Bereski says he has faced an “uphill battle” in getting the State Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, and the judge to take it seriously.
“Even though I have video evidence [of the aggravated assault], the mentality of our culture is that … as a cyclist I don’t belong on the road and I should have moved out of the way,” Bereski says. “In fact, in court on Friday the judge actually said to me I should have been riding further to the right. Further to the right is the parking lane. It is not a bike lane. It would actually be illegal to do that.”
Partly based on that statement, Bereski expects the judge, Jorge Cueto, to drop the case on Monday.
“The expected outcome by pretty much everyone is that … the judge is going to say, ‘That’s not a crime, everyone go home’,” Bereski says. “I think that’s disturbing. I think that’s akin to calling open season on cyclists.”
While all signs point to the case being dropped on Monday, Bereski says he will continue to raise awareness about a cyclist’s right to the road. He recently launched a website called bikeanotherday.com, where he plans to post the videos from his many close-calls on Florida roads. The site only has a few posts at the moment, but that should change soon. Bereski says he has captured “well over” 100 incidents where he’s “nearly died trying to get to work”.
“I don’t think that’s an acceptable fact,” he says.
Update: Bereski says the State Attorney’s Office dropped the charge on Monday.