Christopher Cruz, biker charged in New York road-rage incident, faces judge

Updated at 4:14 p.m. ET

NEW YORK A motorcyclist was charged Wednesday with reckless driving after prosecutors said he touched off a tense encounter with the driver of an SUV and a throng of other bikers that ended with blood and broken bones on a Manhattan street.

Christopher Cruz appears in criminal court in New York Oct. 2, 2013.
Christopher Cruz appears in criminal court in New York Oct. 2, 2013.
AP Photo

Christopher Cruz, 28, of Passaic, N.J., was also charged with unlawful imprisonment. His bail was set at $1,500 cash. His attorney, H. Benjamin Perez, said his client denied all the allegations.

"He will come back to fight this case and clear his name," he said.

Cruz is the only person charged criminally so far in the Sunday encounter that was caught on a helmet-mounted camera worn by another biker and was posted online anonymously.

The Manhattan district attorney's office decided not to immediately prosecute a second person arrested, Allen Edwards, 42, who surrendered to police on Tuesday. But prosecutors said the investigation continues, and they served notice that they intend to take the case against Cruz to a grand jury - a sign that more serious charges are likely.

Cruz's attorney said his client wasn't involved in the beating. Cruz has previous arrests in New Jersey, including a theft case in which he pleaded guilty, according to Manhattan prosecutors.

"The bottom line is that my client had nothing to do with what happened to this gentleman, and he does not know the people who, you know, beat this gentleman up on 174th Street," Perez said. "He never left the location of the accident, and he at no time ever assaulted this man - or his vehicle, for that matter."

Karen Friedman-Agnifilo, the prosecutor overseeing the case, said authorities were trying to build the strongest cases possible.

"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," she said.

Prosecutors and police said Cruz was participating in a motorcycle rally speeding along Manhattan's West Side Highway. Cruz cut in front of a black Range Rover and, still staring at its driver, slowed down so much that the rear tire of his chopper bumped the front of the SUV, they said. He got off and approached the SUV, prosecutors said.

Video captured the moment as about two dozen riders slowed down, swarming the SUV and blocking its path. Some dismounted and approached the vehicle. Police said some of the bikers then began damaging the Range Rover.

The SUV driver, who police say was frightened for his family in the car, suddenly lurched forward, plowing over another rider before heading north. The cyclists gave chase, pursuing the driver for about 2.5 miles.

CBS News correspondent Don Dahler reported on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday that the driver is not facing any charges, but the New York City police commissioner did not rule that out Tuesday, saying the investigation is ongoing.

"When you look at the video, you can see he's running over something," said the biker's wife, Diana Mieses. "It's not just a motorcycle; it's a human being that was under there."

The family of biker Jay Mieses said he was seriously injured.

"He got scared and peeled off and paralyzed my husband on the way," Mieses said.

Yolando Santiago, the injured biker's mother, said that all of her son's ribs are fractured and his lungs are so badly bruised that he is still on a ventilator.

"We believe he has two broken legs, and he's intubated, and he may be paralyzed," New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Alexian Lein, 33, his wife and their child were in the black Range Rover Sunday when bikers forced them to a stop in the middle of the highway. Kelly would not say whether the SUV driver was right or wrong in what he did.

"You have to look at the totality of the circumstances and that's what we're doing," said Kelly.

Whether the SUV driver ran over the bikers because he felt threatened is still to be determined, and the situation only escalated from that point.

Sunday's chase ended when the SUV exited the highway and got stuck in street traffic. The video showed one biker smashing the driver's window with his helmet. Police said the group then pulled the man from the SUV and beat him, although that part isn't shown on the video. The police department confirmed that the video is authentic.

Some of the bikers are part of a group called Hollywood Stuntz, which holds an annual gathering with the goal of riding through Times Square.

"This particular group did not ask for a permit," said Kelly. "We had over 200 calls just on Sunday about this particular group operating in a reckless manner."

The SUV driver went to the hospital for stitches and was released. CBS News reached out to him and his family for their side of the story, but so far there has been no response.

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