Once again, road rage against cyclists has reared its ugly head in SWFL. It's hard to believe after watching this cam video that the driver is not facing serious charges, including hit-and-run.
A video captured by a bicyclist paints a disturbing picture of what looks like an act of motorist road rage.
It was a sunny Thursday evening last month on Sanibel — the island city nationally recognized as bike-friendly.
But not everyone on the island is so friendly. The driver is shown using his vehicle to bully the riders, bicyclists say, and his actions resulted in one of the riders being injured. Bike safety advocates wonder if the small fine doled out by the police could imperil the city's reputation as welcoming tourists and day-trippers on two wheels.
A silver Fiat passes a group of bicyclists pedaling along a two-lane stretch of road, the video shows.
"Are you serious?" says one bicyclist.
Then, the driver halts to a dead stop. There's a series of clunks. The lead bicyclist tumbles to the ground.
"Get his license number!"
A bicyclist heads in the direction of the vehicle, but it's not clear who says what.
"F--- you," one person says.
"You f---ing hit him," says another in response.
The car zooms off.
Steve Martin, 53, was the lead bicyclist injured in the June 4 crash along West Gulf Drive near Rabbit Road. He had a case of road rash and is still nursing a sore shoulder and neck but it could have been worse; he was wearing his helmet. The driver stopped so abruptly that the bicyclist couldn't avoid smashing into the back of the car. And, as the south Lee County bicycle shop owner juggles the demands of business and physical therapy following the crash, he wonders:
What was the driver — a medical doctor — feeling as he passed the group of cyclists?
And, why did law enforcement not pursue tougher charges against the driver who left the scene of an accident in which he was involved?
"I was shocked," said Steve Martin, owner of The Bike Bistro.
"If a car is used in this way," Martin said, "it's like driving a weapon."
The driver Martin is referring to: Dr. Michael Franz Raab, 64-year-old Sanibel resident and physician. Sanibel police, who saw the video, gave Raab a careless driving ticket. Raab pleaded to careless driving and paid a $168 fine earlier this month, effectively closing his case.
In a conversation video-recorded from a patrol car, Raab told police he and the bicyclists traded profanities when he passed them. He then stopped in front of them and the bicyclist ran into his car. He left the scene, he said, because he feared one of the men who was trying to open his car door. But Raab said this before he was read his Miranda rights, which complicated the case for Sanibel police.
"If you say that you did something during the time where you hadn't been read the Miranda that's problematic," Sanibel police Chief William Tomlinson said. "We can't use the statement against him."
Post-Miranda, Raab declined to provide a statement to police "to cause his words to be tangled up," according to the report.
Another complication in pursuing more than a ticket was that the victim and witness couldn't positively identify Raab as the driver, the chief said.
However, police are reviewing the case to see if they can send it to the state attorney's office to pursue more serious charges.
Raab declined to talk about the June crash.
"I obviously can't comment on that," he told a reporter.
"Because I don't want to," Raab said, and the call disconnected.
Michael Martin, a member of the Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club and a firefighter, recorded the scene with a GoPro camera that's mounted on his handlebars. (Michael Martin is not related to Steve Martin.) Michael Martin records his rides to share what he sees on them with others, but another benefit is having it to document such situations.
There's been no shortage of outbursts of tension between bicyclists and motorists in Southwest Florida. In the past few years, drivers have been arrested after being accused of violence against bicyclists. Reports describe a driver firing shots at a bicyclist who asked a man to slow down, a motorcyclist who purposely rammed into a cyclist and a driver who spat in the face of the maimed bicyclist she hit before speeding off.
But, that's not the norm.
Michael Martin said most drivers that day shared the road with the bicyclists, which they are required to do by law. Michael Martin said the group was riding more than 20 mph and it would have been dangerous for them to ride on the island's shared path used by walkers, parents with strollers and slower bicyclists.
Dan Moser of the advocacy coalition BikeWalkLee said cases such as this could endanger the island's bike-friendly status. He called for authorities to take action.
"If they tolerate this, they're not getting anywhere and the bicyclists aren't going to stop going to Sanibel," Moser said.
"You've got to make an example of something like that."
Sanibel is generally praised as one of the top spots for bicyclists in Florida.
The Sanibel Bicycle Club recently debuted a 6.5-minute video online that promotes use of Sanibel's off-road, paved paths that helped earn the city a silver bicycle-friendly designation from the League of American Bicyclists. It previously had bronze honors.
Club board member Patti Sousa has heard people say all cyclists should stay on the shared-use path network, but said it's safer for everyone if cyclists pedaling at higher speeds stay on roads and off the path.
Sousa called the crash "a frustrating situation. I ache for what happened.
"I don't know how to change attitudes," Sousa said. "If I did, I'd be famous."
Steve Martin is suing Raab for negligence in operating a motor vehicle. He said he wants to make clear to Raab and others "they must take responsibility for the damage they do.
"I hear tragic stories nearly every day about this sort of behavior. I hope to get to an understanding of why they feel it necessary to harm cyclists."
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