Prosecutors said a motorcyclist involved in the highway beating smashed a window and was the catalyst in the bloody encounter between a group of bikers and an SUV driver.
Reginald Chance, 37, the fourth person arrested so far in a case held up as a highway nightmare, appeared in court Sunday on gang assault and other major charges. He was being held on $75,000 bail.
Prosecutors said he played a key role in the SUV driver's beating, which came after the driver ran over a biker in what the motorist's family said was fear for his life.
While Chance didn't hit or kick the driver, by shattering the SUV's driver's-side window, he "set into motion a chain of events that resulted in the driver being dragged out of his vehicle and beaten" by others, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Samantha Turino said.
Chance's lawyer, Gregory Watts, acknowledged his client broke the window in a burst of anger. The SUV's door had knocked him down earlier in the encounter that went from a Manhattan highway to a neighborhood street, Watts said. Video that captured part of the encounter shows Chance got on his motorcycle after breaking the window and left without hitting SUV driver Alexian Lien or encouraging anyone else to do so, Watts said.
"This is not a man riding around assaulting people with a quote-unquote 'gang,'" Watts said. "We will hotly contest those allegations."
Chance made an obscene gesture toward news cameras during his court appearance. Watts said his client is a married father of six who has been unemployed since a 2011 layoff from a food-service company.
In the Sept. 29 confrontation, a group of motorcyclists crossed paths with Lien, who was out for a drive to celebrate his wedding anniversary with his wife and their toddler. One biker, Christopher Cruz, 28, cut off Lien's Range Rover SUV and slowed down before it bumped his motorcycle's rear tire, police and prosecutors said. Cruz is fighting misdemeanor charges including unlawful imprisonment.
Cruz and other bikers stopped and approached Lien, 33; who drove off, running over biker Edwin "Jay" Mieses Jr. and breaking his spine and both his legs. The motorcyclists pursued Lien off the highway and onto a street, then attacked him when he got stuck in traffic, authorities said. Chance's bike was knocked down along the way when another biker tried to open the SUV's door and it drove on, Watts said.
After the SUV's window was broken, Lien was dragged out, beaten and stomped, needing stitches in his face, authorities said.
Another rider accused of participating in the beating, Robert Sims, 35, of Brooklyn, was arraigned Saturday on charges including gang assault. His lawyer, Luther Williams, said Sims denies the charges.
Prosecutors have declined to charge a fourth man who was arrested, at least for now.
Lien has not been charged with any crime. His family's lawyers declined to comment on Chance's arrest.
Police are investigating whether an undercover police officer at the motorcycle rally witnessed the violent confrontation and didn't immediately report it, a law enforcement official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation. Police also are looking into whether any off-duty officers were there.
Meanwhile, a bystander hailed as a hero in the episode gave a public account Sunday of stopping the attack.
Lien was on the ground when bystander Sergio Consuegra stepped in between him and the bikers, Consuegra recalled at a news conference with local officials.
Feeling "intense danger," Consuegra told himself, "Let me not show these people that I'm here to engage in any kind of confrontation but that I'm here to protect the man and the family, so I'm going to keep it cool," he recalled. Consuegra, who's in his 50s, was on his way to church when he saw the encounter.
He spread his arms to shield the driver and told the bikers: "That's it, guys. Let it go. That's it. Let it go," he said. The bikers backed off, and Consuegra called police.
He said he felt he'd done the right thing. But "I do not call myself a hero," he said, "because I wish I could have done more."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.