ColumnsEditor's Notes

Bike Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

“It’s very complicated.”

That was the first piece of feedback from one person I let read this week’s cover story before it went to print. Of course, as the writer of the story, this wasn’t the best piece of feedback I could have hoped for. In fact, it sent off all sorts of alarm bells.

What’s complicated? What needs to be clarified? I was a bit relieved to hear back that it wasn’t the writing that was complicated, it was the subject matter itself. That much I already knew; it’s why I wanted to write about Charlotte Bike Life and the recent loss of a long-time local rider.

I started reaching out to folks in the Charlotte Bike Life community back in July. Living in NoDa and working in the Belmont neighborhood, I’d often see them out riding in those areas, hitting tricks in big groups that range from 10 ATVs and dirt bikes to 30.

Police talk to riders on a recent evening at the old Eastland Mall site. (Photo by Justin LaFrancois)

I’d see these folks out a lot, and I’d see plenty of them riding on the wrong side of the road or a few stragglers running a red light to catch up with fellow riders, but I never witnessed anyone being intimidating or violent to other cars on the road, despite local news reports claiming they were “terrorizing the streets of Charlotte.”

But things came to a head on Aug. 11, and the results turned deadly for one longtime local rider. I go into more detail about the Aug. 11 incident in this week’s cover story, which can be found in the paper dropping tomorrow and will go online Friday, but long story short, a woman alleges that she was driving down South Tryon Street when her car was suddenly surrounded by ATV riders. She says two of them starting ramming the back of her car and then a man driving a car who was associated with the riders punched her in the face through an open window.

Riders who were there that day dispute that version of events, and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but what can’t be argued is what happened next: an officer on a dual sport bike arrived and found a group of riders pulling out of a Bojangles’ parking lot on West Boulevard. The group dispersed and the officer continued behind them, and shortly thereafter, Michael Adams ran off the road and struck a bridge pillar, later dying of his injuries.

I never met Adams, who was by all accounts a caring, wonderful man, and regardless of what happened in the lead-up to that accident, anybody can agree that he did not deserve to die that day.

The accident does bring up tough questions about what should be expected by police in that situation. CMPD directives state that “the responsibility for the decision to engage in a pursuit rests with the individual officer.” Officers must consider the seriousness of the crime committed by a suspect along with the location, weather, speed limit and a number of other factors that could affect the amount the danger presented to officers and civilians in the case of a pursuit.

Sergeant Jesse Wood of CMPD’s Major Crash Unit said at a press conference on Aug. 12 that a major factor in the officer’s decision to pursue the riders in this case had to do with the slow speeds at which everyone was moving. Clearly, however, things had sped up a bit before they reached the bridge.

Officers often don’t pursue ATVs and dirt bikes in these situations because of the high risk to the riders and other civilians. After all, what these riders are “wanted” for in the first place is most often a traffic violation — a misdemeanor at worst. One can’t help but wonder if the assault call played a role in this officer’s decision to follow the riders.

Either way, a family and a community lost someone forever that day, and that’s never something to brush over.

One thing that became clear to me while reporting on this story was that these folks aren’t going to give up riding in the streets anytime soon. It’s a trend that’s growing nationwide, and the passion these people have for their hobby is undying. A lot of people involved with the Charlotte Bike Life community also see it as a way out of other pastimes that could get them in far more trouble.

Some folks I talked to want a regulated time on Sunday afternoon when they can ride. Some suggested Mecklenburg County build a park similar to Adventure World in South Carolina, a private park with over 200 acres of dirt bike and ATV trails.

Whatever happens, it will take dialogue between riders and police, because as things are now — a cat-and-mouse game — it’s only a matter of time before someone else dies.

That much isn’t complicated at all.

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