June 28, 2007
By HELEN UBINAS , Courant Staff Writer
I figured I'd grab a snack at Aqui Me Quedo, head down Park Street and hang out for as long as it took to spot one of the renegade bikers.
Considering that a motorcyclist pulling a wheelie had just killed a man the day before, I thought they'd be lying low.
But I'd hardly bitten into my alcapurria before some yahoo was weaving in and out of traffic.
You're surprised? folks on the street chided me.
All of Park Street's beautification projects won't mean a thing, said the guy working at Morris Package Store, until someone puts the brakes on these reckless drivers.
Janis Comstock said she's had to leap out of the way of motorcyclists who jump the curb. And even if the cops are out here, she said, the riders totally disregard them.
Actually, I'd say it's more of a mutual disregard.
I was driving in front of a police cruiser on Albany Avenue Tuesday afternoon when a kid on a pocket bike tore into traffic.
Busted, I thought, as I watched the cop in my rearview mirror.
Not even close. The cop barely blinked.
Cops I talked to said they've got bigger issues to deal with. Did I forget about the police chief's Safe Summer 2007 Initiative against violence?
And even if they did try to crack down on these wheelie-popping morons, cops said the speeders know police can't chase them. The city has a pretty strict policy against pursuing fleeing vehicles.
Makes sense. You don't want to end up killing someone because you're chasing some kid on a bike.
But throwing your hands up and handing over the city to a bunch of lawless motorists who are putting everyone's life at risk is unacceptable. An older man who had finally found a little security is dead. And the driver who police say is responsible for Sunday's accident remained in serious condition Thursday at Hartford Hospital.
Coming down on these motorcyclists might seem like a small thing, but it's not.
Think about it: If people see nobody cares about guys drag racing around the city, then people are going to start thinking nobody cares about drug dealing on the corners, or carrying a gun.
New York learned that the smaller issues matter a lot more than a decade ago. It's about time we learned that, too.
I'm not saying there's an easy answer here. But for starters, how about a checkpoint at Colt Park on weekends when the place is overrun with bikers?
License and registration, boys.
Give out some hefty fines to riders driving illegally, impound a few bikes, and send a clear message that the city is done tolerating this nonsense.
Because here's the thing: More innocent people are going to die. A few summers ago, it was 13-year-old Abigail Morales, who couldn't resist a ride on a fast bike. Sunday, it was a 67-year-old man just trying to cross the street.
And while we're on the subject of innocent people, let me tell you a little something about that man.
His name was Enrique Valdez. His friends, the ones who are planning a memorial, called him Cuba. He was a father, his sister told me when I reached her in Florida, to two children who still live there.
And he wasn't homeless, as we first reported.
After years of living between the city's streets and shelters, the folks at Immaculate Conception Shelter helped Enrique get an apartment about five months ago.
He was thrilled, housing director Ricardo Cruz said. Proud of finally having a place to call home.
"I can finally hang my clothes on hangers," Valdez told Cruz.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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