ATVs riders expected to hit South Florida streets for MLK holiday. Police will be watching

  • In US
  • 2022-01-14 12:00:00Z
  • By Miami Herald

Hundreds of off-road vehicle enthusiasts are once again expected to hit South Florida highways and streets during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. And South Florida law enforcement, once again, put them on notice.

They warned of the dangers of riding against traffic on highways and of speeding through suburban neighborhoods. And they said they wouldn't put up with illegal activities like popping wheelies at high speed on the interstate, or dodging in and out of traffic on residential streets.

With the pandemic still in full swing, Miami-Dade police expect lighter traffic and crowds on Monday - typically the peak of the annual gathering that draws riders from well beyond South Florida. That would make it more in line with the relatively low-key past two years, than the early sometimes chaotic years of a ride that began as an ode to a young Philadelphia biker's still-unsolved death but expanded into a broader demonstration.

Miami-Dade Traffic Homicide Maj. Jeffrey Childers took a soft approach during a Thursday media conference, urging riders to be "safe and prudent," and warning of the potential deadly dangers of riding vehicles not equipped for county and state roads - or legally allowed on them. Accidents in previous years have left some riders dead.

"The hardest part of my job... is to notify family members," Childers said.

But Florida Highway Patrol Capt. Roger Reyes was more forceful, warning his agency would use every part of its arsenal, including aircraft surveillance, to crack down on lawlessness on state roads.

"There will be zero tolerance. We will be out in full force aggressively enforcing," the laws, he said.

Motorcyclists like these, waiting patiently to take part in the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr.
Motorcyclists like these, waiting patiently to take part in the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr.  

The tone at the briefing in Miami-Dade contrasted with a similar gathering at the Broward Sheriff's Office on Wednesday. There, Sheriff Gregory Tony spoke of the movement initially defined as a voice against gun violence as a rogue outfit intent on breaking the law.

The sheriff said his officers will "outnumber" the illegal riders, "as we always do," according to WFOR Channel 4.

"They do it with knowledge and intent that their activities are unsanctioned and illegal. They do it repeatedly with a total disregard for public safety. And that's where we draw the line in the sand," said Tony.

The sheriff also had advice for the public.

"If you find yourself in traffic while these daredevils and reckless individuals are driving by, we want you to come to a halt, we want you to pull off to the side of the road, and let us do our job. You may not see us, you may not hear us, but we are there," said Tony.

Over the years, people became accustomed to scenes of police chasing more-mobile off-terrain vehicles on highways and into suburban neighborhoods as drivers unaware of the happenings around them were forced off the road. There were hundreds of arrests and some deaths. Bikes and weapons were confiscated.

But chasing bikers became too dangerous and law enforcement refined its actions. Now, for the most part, there aren't many chases. Surveillance from planes overhead generally alerts troopers and police to block off certain intersections and cops often wait patiently at gas stations for riders who eventually need to fill up their engines.

With the pandemic, there have been fewer riders and less rowdiness. Police expect more of the same this year. Even discussion of the expected South Florida bike ride on social media has dwindled.

So, said Miami-Dade Police Spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta, "We're focusing more on education. We're just telling people to act civilized."

The still-popular movement that developed the hashtag #Bikesupgunsdown and which is now in its eighth year, began as a statement against gun violence and an ode to the still-unsolved shooting death of a popular Philadelphia biker named Kyrell Tyler, also known as "Dirt Bike Rell."

As friends of Tyler made their way down the east coast to South Florida, the event snowballed with the help of social media, as riders along the way joined in on the winter jaunt to the sunny south to take part in the colorful demonstration.

Scenes like this were common during the annual civil rights demonstration of off-terrain vehicles on the Martin Luther King Day holiday.
Scenes like this were common during the annual civil rights demonstration of off-terrain vehicles on the Martin Luther King Day holiday.  

By 2018, police had become so frustrated by the rider's antics, that they tried a host of pre-emptive measures to cut down on the disruptions. At one point Hollywood police tried to sneak up on a group of about 100 bikers at an intersection. But the group fled in several directions, causing mostly chaos. Eventually one person was arrested after he crashed. Police said they found a loaded weapon and he was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, fleeing from police and failing to register his vehicle.

Police have also urged the riders to use designated off-road sites. But there are only two in South Florida - one is on Krome Avenue, the other inside Big Cypress National Preserve - both far from Central Miami-Dade and Broward, where most of the bike riding takes place.


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