It’s Friday rush hour and Hector Herrera tries to change lanes on a busy Hialeah street.
Jairo Linarte won’t let him in. What happens next turns violent, goes viral and lands Herrera in the back of a police car.
It’s not an uncommon tale in South Florida where a simple traffic tiff can end with a ticked-off driver giving the middle finger, putting a gun in your face — or taking a baseball bat to a car.
Road rage is on the rise locally and across the country, police say, as gridlock and distractions drive drivers crazy.
Hialeah police Sgt. Carl Zogby blames road rage on the “impatient, discourteous and vengeful.”
“Aggressive driving becomes tit for tat. … It’s such a culture down here that people don’t realize how discourteous they are.”
While many encounters end in just a shouting match, police say they’re seeing more violent confrontations. In the past few months in South Florida, a young mother riding in a car was shot in the head by a road-rage driver. And a former police officer set off by loud music followed two teens and stuck a gun in their faces.
“The problem is only going to get worse because traffic is getting worse,” Zogby said.
Miami is the 10th-most congested city in the world, according to a 2017 study by Inrix, a company that analyzes transportation issues. Miami’s traffic is the fifth worst in the nation.
Traffic, construction and impatience are fueling the problem, according to Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Yosdany Veloz.
“People can be like animals out there,” Veloz said.
Veloz said FHP handles about two cases of road rage a day. They’ve seen enraged drivers chuck soda bottles out the window, fling coins at others and snatch puppies out of cars.
Drivers who get caught aren’t charged with road rage, so street violence like this is hard to track. Instead, analysts look to cases of aggressive driving, which they say are on the rise.
Aggressive driving is when a driver speeds, doesn’t yield to others, makes unsafe lane changes, follows too closely or fails to honor stoplights and signs, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Last year, the Florida Department of Transportation reported that aggressive driving-related fatalities had increased by 12 percent since 2011. The state counted 1,873 such deaths from 2011-2015.
Across the nation, drivers also are making headlines and piling up the stats for pulling crazy stunts: A priest pulled a gun on another driver after the victim tried to pass his Corvette on Florida’s Turnpike near Stuart. In Tampa, a woman snatched a 3-month-old puppy after cutting off another car and nearly running it off the road. In Pennsylvania, a man is being held on murder charges after he turned himself in for shooting and killing a teen who tried to merge into his lane.
Cops and state agencies are trying to tackle the road rage problem through education, lower speed limits, greater police presence in hotspots, and advice doled out by 911 operators.
In the Miami area, where aggressive driving is a way of life, it doesn’t take a lot for a driver to go off on another.
That happened earlier this year in Hialeah in the Friday rush-hour altercation.
Hector Herrera, 24, and Jairo Linarte, 50, got into a dispute over a lane change and then, things got wild.
At the start of a video that went viral, Linarte, whom police are calling the victim, steers his truck onto the sidewalk and into the other car.
Police said Herrera then smashed Linarte’s passenger side window with a bat.
“I was scared for my life and that’s what I had to do,” Linarte said after the incident, explaining why he got out of his car.
When Linarte got out, Herrera threatened him with the bat.
That’s a big mistake, police say. Linarte “should have never gotten out of his car,” said Zogby, the police spokesman.
As for the aggressor, Zogby said the second he began using a bat “he escalated the problem.”
“He could have killed him with the bat.”
“The problem escalated real quick and I’m feeling really sorry for the way I acted,” Herrera, 24, told Miami Herald news partner CBS4. Herrera was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. “It was just my instinct.”
Andrew Joyce, a Miami psychologist who sees court-mandated anger management cases, said he helps clients recognize what triggers their anger.
“A person just really has to look into themselves and realize that they’re having a problem with anger, and that they’re taking the anger to the road,” Joyce said. “That can be deadly.”
Psychologist Alan Lipman, founder and director of the Center for the Study of Violence in Washington, D.C., said acts of road rage-related violence are usually carried out by people who “have not learned over the course of childhood or adulthood to be able to manage quick, unexpected shifts in anger.”
These people, Lipman said, exhibit heightened rage, lack of concern about social norms and lack of remorse. They seek out these encounters so they can experience powerful rage, Lipman said.
But is there a good side to road rage? Author Tom Vanderbilt believes there is. In his book “Traffic,” Vanderbilt writes that aggressive driving allows drivers to assert themselves and correct the poor behavior of others.
“Honking at or even aggressively tailgating that person who cut you off … is a positive for the species. Not doing anything raises the risk that the transgressor will harm the good-driving group.”
When the assertion turns physical, however, it can cause issues.
Take a woman who got so mad at another driver for honking — even though she was the one who ran a stop sign — that she got out of her car, reached through the open window and shoved a Kendall woman in the face.
Jeannie Necessary, 42, said she still thinks about what could have happened.
“It didn’t hurt me. It was more of a shock and fear and anger,” she said. “What if she came back with a bat?”
A nationwide study in 2014 by the auto club AAA concluded that 78 percent of drivers in the United States reported yelling, tailgating or honking their horns out of anger at least once in the past year.
About one-third of those surveyed said they’ve made an angry gesture at another driver, and one in four reported that they have purposely tried to block another driver from changing lanes. Around 12 percent reported that they had cut off another vehicle on purpose and 3 percent said they’ve exited their vehicle to confront another driver.
The survey found male drivers were more likely than female drivers to report aggressive driving. More than 50 percent of male drivers reported tailgating another car, nearly 30 percent reported that they’ve blocked people from changing lanes and about 5 percent said they’ve rammed or bumped someone on purpose.
Not all rage incidents happen on the open road. Parking lots and fast-food windows can feed driver aggression.
At a Hialeah McDonald’s in December, a man blasted his horn at the car in front of him. That led to a brawl, where the two drivers traded punches — and bullets.
And police officers aren’t immune to explosiveness behind the wheel.
Earlier this year, in a parking lot at Tropical Park, a retired Miami police officer shot a driver during an argument over a parking space. The officer said the man repeatedly tried to run him over.
Twenty-eight years ago, a former officer was accosted outside his car in a similarly violent manner.
Rey Valdes, 55, accidentally cut someone off while driving in an unmarked police car in Kendall. The man he cut off was angry, but they both drove a couple more blocks. The two pulled up to a red light, and the man he cut off got out of the car.
“My door swings open, he reached in, grabs me by the necktie and pulls me out of the car,” Valdes said. “Under the jacket I had my service weapon. My concern was if he grabs the gun, it’s over.”
Valdes reached for his gun and pointed it “square in his face.”
In 2012, one man took his anger to another level and pointed a gun at another during a road rage confrontation.
Robert Moulton, 40, argued that he was defending himself under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows people to defend themselves with deadly force when feeling threatened.
His attempted murder charge was dropped.
Adding to the the proliferation of road rage is Florida’s conceal and carry law, passed in 2014, which allows drivers to carry loaded guns or rifles in their cars.
A recent analysis by The Trace, a nonprofit news organization focused on gun violence, suggests road rage cases involving guns have more than doubled across the country since 2014.
Brad Bushman, a psychology professor at Ohio State University who studies human aggression and violence, has published two related studies: “The Weapons Effect,” which shows how the mere presence of guns can increase aggression, and “The Weapons Effect on Wheels,” which found that participants drove more aggressively when there was a gun in the vehicle.
Jason Neufeld, a Miami-based personal injury lawyer, said he tells clients to always apologize and approach the situation in the calmest way possible.
“Your ego is not worth injury or death,” he said.
Zogby said drivers need to “have more patience than ever” and realize honking and hand gestures only make things worse.
Sometimes, lack of patience raises blood pressure and brings hand to horn. Other times, it can leave a young mother hospitalized.
Alyssa Sanchez, 19, was riding in her boyfriend’s white Cadillac a few weeks ago when he reportedly got into an argument with another driver just after midnight at Southwest 27th Avenue and 14th Street. It’s not clear whether the two drivers knew each other, but the other driver fired five times at her boyfriend. One of the bullets hit Sanchez in the head, said her brother, Lazaro Sanchez, 23, of Homestead.
Alyssa Sanchez’s two children — both under 3 — lost their father last year when he was shot and killed, her brother said.
“I walked in and all I see is her on life support,” said Lazaro Sanchez. “She’s gone through so much. It’s ridiculous. It’s so sad.”
Police blame the shooting on road rage, but have not released many details, citing an open investigation. Her brother said that after brain surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital, she was put in a medically induced coma and is now heavily sedated. The family needs financial help.
“We have a road rage incident that has left a young mom fighting for her life,” Miami police spokesman Christopher Bess said. “This is an example of how dangerous these types of situations can become.”
Cases across the world
▪ In California, a motorcyclist kicked the side of the car, which swerved toward the motorcycle. The cyclist crashed into the median before crossing the highway and ramming into a Cadillac Escalade. The vehicle rolled and began to smoke, as seen in a video that went viral.
▪ A Monroe County woman used spare change as a weapon, throwing coins and yelling slurs at a man on Bahia Honda Bridge.
▪ In Virginia, a Muslim teenager was beaten and killed by a driver with a baseball bat as she walked back to her mosque after a pre-dawn meal with friends. Police say it was a road rage incident while media reports have called it a hate crime.
▪ Up the coast in Washington, a driver grew so frustrated with cars passing her on the shoulder that she ran a Jeep off the road and bumped it three times.
▪ In Tampa, a driver was arrested after knocking down a man on a motorcycle.
▪ A dispute between two people at a Miami Gardens gas station ended in a shooting
▪ In London, a woman ran down a cyclist with her car and was sentenced to three years in jail for causing serious injuries.
▪ In Pennsylvania, a man accused of shooting and killing a teenager in a case of road rage is being held without bail on murder charges after turning himself in.
▪ One 21-year-old man was shot in a Palmetto road rage incident.