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Lawbreaking motorcyclists targeted by LI cops

Suffolk County Highway Patrol Sgt. George Hodge inspects

Suffolk County Highway Patrol Sgt. George Hodge inspects seven motorcycle helmets owned by bikers who were arrested along the eastbound LIE near exit 64 in Medford, N.Y. All seven were charged with reckless driving. (Oct. 14, 2013) Credit: James Carbone

          An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story.

Police are cracking down on individual motorcyclists and "pack riders" who race and break other traffic laws across Long Island.

From the Long Island Expressway to Sunrise Highway, the Northern and Southern state parkways and other stretches of road, these cyclists, often steering powerful bikes, are turning highways into personal racecourses, police and residents say.

"We're out there, and when we see motorcyclists presenting a danger, we will stop them," said Sgt. Lou Dini, commanding officer of the Suffolk County Police highway patrol bureau's motorcycle unit. "This is unsafe."

Reckless motorcyclists have come under renewed scrutiny from law enforcement agencies in the metropolitan area following a string of highly publicized incidents, including the arrests of seven bikers on the LIE in Farmingville last Monday and a Sept. 29 road rage incident in which police say a pack of motorcyclists chased down and beat an SUV driver on the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan.

Dangerous motorcycle driving abounds in other areas as well, police and residents say.

Along Ocean Parkway near Jones Beach, numerous residents say they routinely see bikers driving more than 100 mph, racing other bikers as well as sports cars. Elmont residents say they have seen bikers racing on the Cross Island Parkway near Belmont Park.


Neighbors fed up

Police say they've seen an increase in aggressive motorcycle driving over the past decade or so because of the influx of imports that are faster and more powerful than they were before.

Village of Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro said late-night motorcycle racing regularly disturbs residents living near the Northern State Parkway.

"It definitely affects their quality of life," said Cavallaro, who has asked State Police to investigate the racing.

Steven Donohue, an electrician from Wantagh, said the sounds of racing motorcyclists on Ocean Parkway near Jones Beach keep him up late several nights a week.

"I see them flying down the parkway like bats out of hell," said Donohue, 56. "This isn't the Hells Angels we're talking about here. It's just a bunch of young people on very fast bikes driving at very dangerous speeds, and it's making people in this neighborhood nuts."

Elmont resident Janice Molinari, who lives about a half-mile from Belmont Park, said she was "terrified" by speeding motorcyclists who cut her off on the Cross Island on Oct. 10 near Exit 26B.

"I see them riding in packs on my evening commute home, weaving in and out of traffic, going insanely fast," Molinari said. "They're not only risking their lives. They're risking the lives of responsible drivers unlucky enough to be in their immediate area."

State Police, who patrol state roads, say they continuously work to prevent reckless motorcycle riding and enforce traffic laws. The Nassau Police Department said it, too, will stop any riders seen breaking the law.

"When an officer sees a motorcyclist commit a violation, he/she will take appropriate police action," Nassau Police Det. Vincent Garcia said in an email.

Some motorcycle riders in Nassau and Suffolk say they are being unfairly maligned by the public and police because of the recent, high-profile biker busts.

"I follow the law on the road, and yet I'm getting pulled over now, whereas I rarely have in the past," said Robert Gonzalez, 33, of Hauppauge, who rides a Yamaha motorcycle. "The police got me for going 10 miles over the limit the other day. They have really been turning up the heat . . . but those of us who ride safely shouldn't be lumped in with those maniacs who do 100 and chase people."


Busted biker: Lesson learned

Dan Hester, a former amateur motorcycle racer, said a biker's adrenaline can lead to speeding.

"It's easy to lose track of your speed, if you're not careful," said Hester, 64, of Huntington, who still rides with friends on occasion. "When that adrenaline starts pumping, you don't necessarily realize how fast you're going. And that's more common now because of the production of all these fast bikes that are getting . . . cheaper, lighter and faster every year."

One of the seven motorcyclists arrested on the LIE Monday in Farmingville said he and his friends had "learned our lesson."

"Believe me, that was enough to slow everybody down," said the motorcyclist, who spoke to Newsday on the condition his name not be used. "You get on the open road out east, the traffic thins out and it's fun to push your bike. We just got a little carried away."

In the Suffolk incident, highway patrol officers cited the motorcyclists and impounded their bikes after they drove 90 mph in and out of traffic, police said.

Dini said many motorists who passed the pulled-over motorcycles honked their horns at police in approval and gave a thumbs up.

"They were pleased," he said.



Recent incidents


Sept. 29

An SUV driver on the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan is assaulted by a group of motorcyclists. Alexian Lien, 33, was driving a Range Rover on the parkway in Washington Heights and trying to escape bikers who had surrounded his vehicle after it apparently struck one of the motorcycles. At least seven motorcyclists have been arrested in connection with the assault.

Oct. 14

Highway patrol officers arrest seven motorcyclists and impound their bikes after they allegedly drove 90 mph in and out of traffic on the Long Island Expressway.

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources. In this story, Newsday could not locate: Janice Molinari, Robert Gonzalez and Dan Hester. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission. If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.

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