Driver Accused of Injuring Brazil Cyclists
By MYRNA DOMIT and J. DAVID GOODMAN
Published: March 2, 2011, New York Times
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The monthly bicycle ride known as Critical Mass began in the southern city of Porto Alegre as such rides do in cities around the world: with activist cyclists riding through downtown streets, blocking traffic, ringing bells and shouting slogans about the environment and the superiority of bicycling for transportation over driving.
But the display of two-wheeled solidarity last Friday turned bloody after a motorist rammed his car through the group, injuring 30, half of them severely, the police said. A video that appeared to have been made by participants in the leaderless bicycle ride captured the moment when a black Volkswagen accelerated through the group of more than 100 cyclists as they pedaled down a tree-lined street in Porto Alegre, about 700 miles south of São Paulo.
The police tracked the man suspected of being the driver, Ricardo José Neis, 47, to a private psychiatric clinic that he checked himself into on Tuesday. On Wednesday he was placed under detention there on suspicion of deliberately driving into the riders.
The city’s police chief, Rodrigo Pohlmann Garcia, said he expected Mr. Neis to be moved to a prison in the next few days.
“We found him in a hospital last night, and doctors told me he was emotionally unstable and suicidal, so we are keeping him in a psychiatric institution for the time being,” Mr. Garcia said.
The police chief said that Mr. Neis admitted to having some contact with the riders: he told the police that cyclists were scratching his car while he waited for them to ride by.
Since the early 1990s, Critical Mass rides have taken place in hundreds of cities, generally on the last Friday evening of every month. They are meant to counter the vulnerability single riders normally experience by gathering a group of cyclists that is large enough to temporarily take over roads.
But the rides, which in most cases do not have formal leaders and are organized by word of mouth, can raise the anger of drivers and the local police. In one case, captured on video in 2007, a California driver flattened a bicycle that was blocking his path before accelerating through a crowd of cyclists. No injuries were reported in that episode.
In New York, the police and cyclists have clashed frequently over the rides since August 2004, when about 5,000 riders took to the streets during the Republican National Convention, and the police arrested hundreds for violating local parade rules and other traffic regulations.
Myrna Domit reported from São Paulo, and J. David Goodman from New York.