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New York biker attack on SUV a polarizing event

The annual motorcycle ride called Hollywood's Block Party turned into mayhem as a family was pursued and the driver beaten.

October 10, 2013|By Tina Susman
  • Wojciech Braszczoka, center, with his face obscured, is led from Manhattan Criminal Court on Oct. 9, 2013. Braszczok is charged in connection with an attack on a family SUV.
Wojciech Braszczoka, center, with his face obscured, is led from Manhattan… (Andrew Burton / Getty Images )

NEW YORK — Motorcyclists familiar with the annual pack ride known as Hollywood's Block Party were excited about this year's bash, and for good reason.

The 2011 ride through New York City was "a zoo," according to an online post that included a photograph of hundreds of bikers roaring up an expressway, the Manhattan skyline visible in the distance. The 2012 ride, which involved a takeover of Times Square that was captured on video, was equally raucous.

"Last year was crazy. How is this year gonna be?" one participant tweeted shortly before the Sept. 29 gathering.

The answer: terrifying, tragic, and polarizing.

At least seven bikers are facing criminal charges. Two men were left bloodied and bruised, one of them with both legs shattered. And the rally organizer — a 29-year-old New York stunt enthusiast named Jamie Lao, AKA Hollywood Stuntz — is struggling to defend an event that appears to have few fans, even in motorcycling circles.

That's especially true after a video showed motorcyclists pursuing a family in its SUV and beating the driver, Alexian Lien, as his wife and their 2-year-old daughter watched. A second video also revealed that a New York undercover police officer was among those throwing kicks and punches at the SUV — at least, that's what New York prosecutors allege. Det. Wojciech Braszczok, who was off duty at the time, faces charges of gang assault and criminal mischief; he says he couldn't risk blowing his cover by going to the family's aid.

That this year's Hollywood's Block Party dissolved into mayhem is not in dispute. A camera positioned on a rider's helmet showed hundreds of motorcycles chasing Lien's SUV up Manhattan's West Side Highway. It showed Lien, 33, running over a rider. It showed a swarm of bikers smashing Lien's car windows and dragging him onto the street for a beating.

But there is no consensus on how the event, which Lao said was planned as a simple "ride throughout the city" for motorcyclists from across the country, turned into this.

"We are not bad people," Lao, who did not respond to requests for comment, said in an interview posted Tuesday by the online magazine Global Grind. "We're family people. We're working people. We just look for the good in what we do, as far as riding motorcycles."

Lao's online profile on stuntlife.com describes him as a "stunter" whose best stunt is "wen i turn on my bike..." His interests are: "RRRAAAOOOooWWW!!!"

To hear him tell it, police were out in such force to prevent this year's Hollywood's Block Party that the event never got off the ground. Instead, Lao said, smaller packs of riders spread out across the city, with the goal to reach Times Square as the rally had done in previous years. Lao said he was not among the riders, because he was deterred by the police presence.

The fact that the event turned ugly shouldn't come as a surprise, said Steve Cook, an expert on motorcycle gangs at the Heartland Law Enforcement Training Institute. The organization, in Independence, Mo., trains law enforcement in how to deal with motorcycle gangs.

Cook compared rides such as Hollywood's Block Party to mobile flash-mobs, with groups of riders on powerful motorbikes performing wheelies and other stunts as they weave through traffic.

"They'll try to close down a major interstate so they can perform this stuff, and the bottom line is that it's extremely dangerous," Cook said. "These guys are obviously looking for attention, and there are times and places for things like this, but in the middle of any public roadway is just not the place."

Participants in the New York event who have spoken out deny wrongdoing. Two of the motorcyclists who are not among those charged, Louis Castaldo and Michael Anthony, told the New Jersey TV station PIX11 that Lien was the aggressor and started the problem by hitting a biker as he tried to plow through the pack when it was moving onto the West Side Highway from West 57th Street.

That prompted the bikers to follow Lien, Castaldo and Anthony said, and when Lien did not stop, the situation escalated.

"In my opinion he made the situation worse by not stopping, by choosing to flee the initial scene," Anthony said.

If video of that first encounter exists, it has not materialized. Video of Lien being beaten, however, and of previous rallies showing Hollywood Stuntz-organized packs tearing along sidewalks, blocking in motorists in cars, weaving between lanes on busy streets and performing wheelies in intersections has drawn scorn from other motorcyclists. They call such riders "squids" and say these massive gatherings give all motorcyclists a bad name.

"Stupidity in large numbers," one rider posted on an online forum. "Those motorcyclists were complete jackasses and had what was coming to them," wrote another on the same forum, zx6r.com.

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