NEW: The motorcyclist is not in custody; he's expected to be soon, source says
The family of the SUV driver says he did what he had to do to protect his family
Bikers chased the SUV, slashed its tires, forcing the driver to stop, police say
Another motorcyclist has been arrested on misdemeanor charges
One of the motorcyclists believed to have played a direct role in the beating of SUV driver Alexian Lien in New York has been identified, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN late Thursday.
He’s not yet in custody; however he’s expected to be soon. The biker is suspected of being the man seen on video using a helmet to pound on the side of the black Range Rover before Lien was dragged from the vehicle, beaten and slashed, the official said.
The video seems clear: An SUV driver hits a biker on Manhattan’s West Side and sets off a violent chain of events. But now, a debate is raging over who should shoulder the blame for this disturbing attack.
Soon after the helmet cam video of the confrontation spread online, most people’s sympathies lay with the driver of the Range Rover, Lien.
Online commenters seemed to side with him. He was swarmed by a motorbike gang. He had his wife and 2-year-old daughter in the car. He did what he had to do to protect them, they said.
But now, supporters of the bikers being vilified for the weekend attack are pleading their case.
They gathered Wednesday night outside the Manhattan hospital where one of the bikers, Edwin Mieses, lies comatose. He was run over by the SUV as the driver tried to escape.
“It is an unfortunate situation on both sides,” said Lexie Filpo, who said she was one of the bikers. “I knew that car seemed reckless from the beginning. From when he first jumped on the highway. When things happened, people were telling him to stop, to slow down, and he never did.
“The officers, they want to arrest the bikers; they should arrest the driver as well,” Filpo said.
A group of bikers gathered again Thursday and appealed for calm.
“We, as bikers, have the burden of showing the world that we are not animals and so that’s what we intend to do,” Albert Alkerson told reporters.
“These are not animals. These are people who enjoy riding bikes. What we need to do is figure out how to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Swarmed by bikers
The incident took place on Manhattan’s West Side Highway on Sunday. Police said a man driving a Range Rover struck a motorcyclist who had slowed.
Previous reporting indicated that the impact broke the motorcyclist’s leg, but New York police Sgt. Lee Jones said Wednesday that the biker sustained only minor injuries.
Lien, the driver, pulled over and was surrounded by other bikers, part of a group called Hollywood Stuntz. They hit the vehicle and spiked its tires, police said.
The driver pulled away, plowing into three more bikers, including Mieses.
The bikers chased him. Once he was stuck in traffic, they cornered the SUV. The video shows one biker using his helmet to smash the driver’s-side window.
Police said the bikers dragged Lien out of the SUV and beat him. His wife and daughter were unharmed.
Lien was treated at a local hospital for slashes to his face.
Lien’s family released a statement Thursday through its attorneys, saying he was “forced under the circumstances to take the actions that he did in order to protect the lives of our entire family.”
He and his wife were out to celebrate their wedding anniversary with their daughter when the incident happened, according to the statement.
“We know in our hearts that we could not have done anything differently, and we believe that anyone faced with this sort of grave danger would have taken the same course of action in order to protect their family,” the statement said.
Lien initially called 911 on Sunday afternoon to report that bikers were driving erratically on the West Side Highway. As the confrontation unfolded, additional calls were logged by 911 operators, including one from Lien’s wife that was placed during the attack, police said.
Jerome Davis said he witnessed a part of the confrontation and described the SUV driver as a “maniac.”
“If something happens, you stop right there. It’s an accident. You think and stop. You don’t keep reacting on,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday.
But on CNN’s “New Day” Thursday, Davis said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right” and said it was clear the SUV driver was afraid.
“If I was in his shoes, I’d be scared,” he said.
No charges against driver
Police have not said that they are seeking any charges against Lien.
But they arrested Christopher Cruz, who is seen slowing in front of the Range Rover before he was bumped.
Cruz, 28, was in court Wednesday on misdemeanor charges including reckless driving. Cruz’s attorney told reporters that his client is not guilty.
Cruz was to be released after posting $1,500 cash bail and a $15,000 insurance bond. In addition, his license was suspended, and he was ordered to surrender his passport.
“His motorcycle was struck, and he stood right there,” Cruz’s attorney H. Benjamin Perez said. “He never assaulted this man. He never tried to assault him in any way. And he does not know any of the other motorcyclists who were involved in this beating.”
A second arrested biker was released Wednesday when authorities determined that he may have been trying to help.
Allen Edwards, 42, originally faced charges of reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and menacing, police said.
But that didn’t mean prosecutors were done.
“Prematurely charging individuals with low-level crimes does not further the goals of the investigation and could weaken the cases we expect to bring against the perpetrators of serious crimes,” said Karen Friedman-Agnifilo, the prosecutor who is overseeing the case.
“After we investigate the facts and each person’s individual actions, we will know what charges can be supported by the evidence. There is still a tremendous amount of investigation to be done.”
The New York Police Department released images and asked for the public’s help in identifying and locating suspects.
NYPD detectives have interviewed the motorcyclist whose helmet cam captured the confrontation, according to Deputy Commissioner John McCarthy. They tracked the unidentified biker to his home in Bellport, Long Island, and have the video.
Police are also looking at a 2011 video that shows a separate case of biker violence. In it, riders appear to surround and antagonize a motorist.
Law enforcement officials said they are examining the footage frame by frame, looking for possible patterns.
Mieses’ family says the real victim of the confrontation is the hospitalized biker.
“All of his ribs are fractured. His lungs are so badly bruised that he’s still on a ventilator,” Yolanda Santiago, his mother, told CNN affiliate WCBS.
His wife, Dayana, told CNN affiliate WBZ that Mieses got off his bike to help the SUV driver.
“And whatever he did, he got scared, he peeled off, and he paralyzed my husband on the way,” she said.
At the vigil Wednesday night, the attendees raised almost $400.
CNN’s Lateef Mungin, Pamela Brown,Susan Candiotti, Kevin Conlon and Marina Carver contributed to this report.