Tom Braun is baffled that he could be hit by a car and the driver not be charged.
What's worse, he and another eyewitness say, is that Seattle police and the media seem to condone vehicular assault as an appropriate answer to a motorist being asked to wait a minute or two for a passing procession of bicyclists.
That's what Braun says happened July 25 during the early evening ride of Seattle's Critical Mass. He was one of the bicyclists in the monthly run, which is meant to call attention to cycling and safety. But the 36-year-old attorney and at least two others got hit, leaving him with a swollen leg and a head that's swimming over media coverage depicting the driver as the victim of an attack by the cyclists.
Braun says he had just reached the crest of East Aloha Street on Capitol Hill when he stopped to watch what was going on with a white car parked perpendicular to the street with its rear end up on the sidewalk. A small group of cyclists had stopped to ask the male driver not to pull out, but Braun says he was screaming expletives at them about him and his female passenger being late.
All of a sudden, "he floored it into a crowd of people," Braun says. "I got hit and knocked over while straddling my bike. I'm getting dragged along hanging onto the [right] front of the car and bumper."
The fact his bike was under the car, he says, is probably what kept his leg from being completely crushed when the driver made a quick turn east on Aloha, running over his right calf as the car sped away with another cyclist on the hood.
Braun's leg is now imprinted with a tire track and road rash on the side that got dragged. There's also blood in his urine that's being monitored for possible internal injuries -- all, he says, for a few bicyclists stopping to ask a driver to wait.
That's a standard safety practice for Critical Mass, says Esra K., a rider whose husband, David Maxwell, was one of two bicyclists later arrested and who requested that her last name be omitted. If a car is trying to pull into or pass through the bikers, who typically take up a whole street during the ride, a few wait in front of the car, she says, until the riders are clear and the car can go.
On July 25, she says, three or four cyclists were standing in front of the white car to make the driver, Mark Cole, wait. She was one of two or three riders standing on either side of the vehicle. Cole "said something like 'I'm late to my reservation,'" she says. "I heard someone say, 'If you left 15 minutes ago, you wouldn't have been late.'"
"It was like joking, sarcastic," Esra says, but the driver didn't think it was funny. "He said something like 'Fuck this' and hit the gas while there were people in front of him."
The driver sped away with Braun on his bumper and another cyclist on his hood. But he stopped a half-block later at an intersection, where he got out in tears, she says, and started apologizing. At that point, the cyclists who had caught up to him surrounded the car, leading to the melee recounted in newspapers and on television: Riders reportedly broke the car's windshield and slashed its back tires, and someone hit Cole on the head from behind.
In the wake of the incident, police and the driver describe him as the victim, with Cole telling The Stranger that the bikers who originally stopped him had threatened to tip his car over.
"He was fearful. He tried to leave. As he was leaving, he struck a bicyclist -- and he did -- but he was fearful of being assaulted," says police spokesperson Mark Jamieson, who says he doesn't believe Cole will be charged.
Braun says this attitude overlooks the fact there were two separate scenes in the incident. In the first one, he and Esra say no riders made any threats or even raised their voices to the driver before he plowed into them. Afterward, says Esra, was another matter -- with her husband David being arrested on a charge of malicious mischief for slashing the tires.
Whoever did it, she says, it was a brilliant move, because it stopped an out-of-control driver from hurting anyone else.
"I don't agree with the person who hit the driver on the head because it just turned the whole thing around against bikers," she says. "If they left it alone -- just stopping the car [by] slashing the tires -- the whole thing would have been so smooth. People would have still been arrested, but I don't think this situation would be against bikers."
As it is, says an upset Braun, "I look at what's going on now, in the aftermath of this mess, and I'm seeing a message that if you're in a car and you're upset at having to wait for cyclists and you mow them down, you're going to get away with it."