by Tony Giron
As the victim of road rage in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee and an employee of the Wisconsin Bike Fed, I would like to share my experience as well as some lessons learned that may help someone someday because road rage is real and can happen to anyone.
Unfortunately, I brought a bike to a car fight. Going westbound on Locust, I signal left making my move into the left turn lane to turn onto Humboldt when a maroon Pontiac whizzes past nearly clipping me. I raise my mitten and yell, “What the hell!” hoping they feel my frustration. They do. Whether you regularly drive, bike, or walk, we’ve all been there. We avoid conflict with other road users, but when you have a close call, it’s difficult not to react. I can’t blame myself or anyone for reacting.
After completing the turn, the driver pulls over, gets out of the car walking towards me and yells something about teaching me how to bike. Not feeling like getting aggressive at 9 a.m.or ever for that matter, I make a U-turn and wait for them to get back in the car and leave. They peel out onto Humboldt nearly driving into traffic.
My first mistake was assuming I was no longer in danger. Lesson #1: If a motorist shows this level of aggression, avoid conflict by finding a public space like a busy intersection or local business to wait it out. Assuming the coast was clear, I continue my regular route home, cruising down Hadley for a few blocks when BAMMM!!! I’m on the ground, bike beside me. The Pontiac speeds away with two cars immediately chasing it down.
A kind neighbor came to my rescue to assess the damage. With adrenaline pumping you barely notice the wounds. Aside from a bloody knee and a sore back I felt okay but still went to see a doctor later that day. Lesson #2: never refuse medical attention no matter how minor the injuries may seem. Whether you request an ambulance or go to the doctor make sure you do it the same day and keep all records as it helps with insurance claims and police reports later.
The two gentlemen returned with photos of the car and license plate. Lesson #3: record everything at the scene of the crime by taking pictures of injuries, street conditions, insurance info (if they have it) and taking down witnesses’ names, numbers, and addresses.
I immediately called 911. Three reminder phone calls and a half hour later a squad showed up. It was depressing how little importance they gave to the situation and an overall lack of understanding of what to do when someone is assaulted on a bicycle. They treated it like a fender bender that I had caused, saying I probably swerved into the car and scolded me for not keeping the witnesses around for that long. Thankfully the plate numbers led the police to the driver. The police gave credibility to the driver for admitting to hitting me and believed them when they said they stopped to see if I was okay. At this point the driver was only going to get charged for not having insurance. Only after meeting with the driver did the police call witnesses for testimony, which confirmed a hit and run. Lesson #4: advocate for yourself. You can’t expect the police to reach the level of justice you feel you deserve without letting them know you want it by staying on top of it. After badgering the police officer with several visits, phone calls, and calls to his sergeant he brought the case to the district attorney. The assistant DA, a fellow cyclist, understood the severity of the crime and is charging the driver with felony hit and run charges as well as battery. Justice served!
Lesson #5: lawyer up. Here in Milwaukee we have at least two well-informed bike injury attorneys that offer legal advice on gaining compensation and/or justice. Both Clayton Griessmeyer and Daniel Goldberg are committed to helping people on bikes.