Kansas City police are looking for ways to crack down on dangerous motorcyclists after a group of about 40 bikers blocked traffic on Interstate 70 Sunday afternoon to videotape themselves performing burnouts and wheelies while frightened motorists hunkered down.
By CHRISTINE VENDEL
The Kansas City Star
Large gatherings where motorcyclists shut down traffic and record their tricks is a growing problem, police say. They believe the popularity of social media websites makes such gatherings easier to plan and promote.
Bikers who embrace this kind of extreme motorcycle riding call it killing the streets.
But what theyre really doing is killing themselves and risking the lives of other motorists, police say.
A 26-year-old man on a sport bike died in December after a car pulled out from a restaurant parking lot in the 10400 block of Blue Ridge Boulevard in front of him. Police estimated his speed at 72 mph in the 35 mph zone.
Sgt. Bill Mahoney remembers other bikers being nearby at the time of the crash, with some of them causing a disturbance at the scene. Witnesses did not report any stunt work, but the victim was clearly speeding, Mahoney said.
The bikers antics, including sudden lane changes and driving between vehicles, scare other drivers more than impress them, Mahoney said.
Its hard to watch seven different people when theyre coming around you on different sides, he said.
Wrecks caused by bikers speeding the wrong way into oncoming traffic have killed motorists in other cities, including two people in Dallas in 2010.
Kansas City Police Sgt. Jay Atkinson worries that bikers who block the streets also could cause a deadly backup if a tractor-trailer came over a hill and could not stop in time.
You could have a 30-car pileup from these idiots closing down the freeway, Atkinson said. Just trying to get them off the road on Sunday, we almost got run over.
Even for us, taking enforcement action with red lights and patrol cars was dangerous.
Sundays event was a memorial ride to honor two motorcycle stunters who died recently, according to people familiar with extreme motorcycle riding. It apparently had been planned in part through social media websites and text messages.
Police officers broke up the action on I-70 in front of Kauffman Stadium about 3:15 p.m. Officers arrested two bikers and one passenger for traffic charges, but the rest of the bikers scattered, sometimes driving into oncoming traffic.
As they fled, one biker was arrested after he popped a wheelie and crashed into the back of a police car on U.S. 40 east of Van Brunt Boulevard. The officer was trying to pull over a truck containing about eight people in the bed, some of whom had been filming the stunts.
The truck had slowed, so the officer also slowed. Thats when the biker crashed. He then allegedly fought with the officer and removed his helmet and swung it at the officers head, according to court records. A bystander helped the officer overpower the biker.
Jackson County prosecutors charged Nicholas E. Rose, 24, of Omaha, Neb., with assault of a law enforcement officer, careless and imprudent driving, resisting arrest and disturbing the peace.
Police reports noted Rose had a camera mounted on his helmet. Footage from the camera should be useful evidence, police said.
Several hours after the crash, someone posted a video of it on YouTube, where it quickly generated more than 5,000 hits. It was up to 47,633 hits Wednesday.
Creating videos and thrill seeking apparently are motives behind the growing trend, Atkinson said.
People familiar with stunting say riders form small clubs and practice in parking lots of large abandoned buildings, which they refer to as their spot. Clubs in Kansas City can have about 20 members, but clubs in smaller cities, including Topeka, St. Joseph and Lawrence, often have just a handful of members.
The clubs are competitive but not adversarial toward each other. They often practice their maneuvers in parking lots and then stage a public street event that day or the next day.
The clubs post photos and videos of their antics to generate followers and gain sponsors. They sell T-shirts, hats, videos and bumper stickers to fans. One groups T-shirt says, I dont stop for cops, and another shirt says, Murder the streets. Some of the fans, or groupies, ride with the stunt riders at the public events but dont participate in the stunts.
The risk-taking and law-breaking is frowned upon by many other motorcycle enthusiasts who believe it gives them all a bad name. One sport bike biker from Olathe said he regularly gets pulled over because police assume hes an extreme rider.
The highway shutdowns in the Midwest apparently began in St. Louis with an annual event called Ride of the Century. Sundays event and others like it are copycat events designed to gain notoriety, motorcycle enthusiasts say.
One of the bikers arrested Sunday staged a memorial ride in April to honor his dad, who died in 2010 after his speeding motorcycle crashed into the back of a pickup truck on Bruce R. Watkins Drive near Bannister Road.
Video of the ride posted on his Facebook page showed several riders popping wheelies amid traffic with other bikers riding in the shoulder lane so they could ride as a group.
Identifying and catching scofflaws is incredibly difficult, Atkinson said, because the bikers wear full-face helmets, constantly repaint their bikes, fold up their license plates and speed away going up to 200 mph. Police typically dont chase sport bikes because they are afraid they will cause even more danger to innocent motorists.
Sundays arrests were rare, Atkinson said.
Police have had better luck catching stunters by using police helicopters. Kansas City worked with highway patrol troopers in Kansas and Missouri in an operation last year during which a helicopter crew spotted a group and followed one biker for an hour until he went home. Officers then swarmed his place and cited him with 18 traffic infractions that the helicopter pilots had witnessed. They also towed his bike.
Police plan to boost such enforcement efforts because of the increased motorcycle stunting theyve noticed in the past two years, Atkinson said. He said they plan to increase intelligence efforts and use undercover police cars.
Other states, including Texas, Florida and California, have had more trouble with the motorcycle groups than Kansas City, in part because those states typically enjoy more warm weather, providing more opportunities for bikers to get out on the streets.
To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send email to email@example.com.