South Florida

ATVs, bikers once again flood streets on MLK Day in anti-gun violence demonstration

ATV riders cause traffic jams during Martin Luther King Day

Motorcycle and ATV riders pop wheelies and cause traffics jams in Miami during Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 15, 2017. The annual and illegal riding of off-road vehicles in the streets has become a yearly tradition and protest of gun violence, du
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Motorcycle and ATV riders pop wheelies and cause traffics jams in Miami during Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 15, 2017. The annual and illegal riding of off-road vehicles in the streets has become a yearly tradition and protest of gun violence, du

They descended on us again, though in waves smaller than in the past. They both entertained and horrified commuters, popping wheelies, spinning out at intersections and weaving in and out of traffic.

For the fourth year in a row, motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts took over some of South Florida’s streets on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, trying to spread a peaceful message and denounce gun violence.

For the most part, they did. In Miami-Dade there were no serious accidents, although a 14-year-old girl on a motorcycle crashed into a vehicle and was taken to a hospital in stable condition.

“It was uneventful. Thank God everything went well,” said Miami-Dade police detective Alvaro Zabaleta.

Prior to Monday’s ride, law enforcement had spread a message of zero tolerance. If you drive an off-road vehicle on a paved Miami-Dade or Broward roadway — an illegal act in both counties — you would be ticketed, or worse.

A motorcyclist passes by a group of police officers during the 41st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in Liberty City as it made its way west toward 27th Avenue in the 1700 block of Northwest 54th Street, Miami, on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. CARL JUSTE

On Monday some arrests were made and dozens of vehicles were impounded. But mostly, police didn’t chase dirt-bike and ATV riders as they cruised through intersections. Most of the riders stayed off the highways.

Late Monday, police said they made 19 arrests in Miami-Dade from Friday to Monday, nine of which were felony arrests. Three of the arrests were traffic-related. Four firearms were impounded — including two on men just outside Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, where eight people were shot last year after the Martin Luther King Day parade in Liberty City. Zabaleta said officers working undercover noticed the firearms and took the men into custody.

Zabaleta said 18 people were ticketed for hazardous moving violations and another eight for non-hazardous violations. In all, 72 dirt bikes and ATVs were impounded and towed away.

Zabaleta said police flooded the park at Northwest 62nd Street and 32nd Avenue this year with twice as many cops as previous years. The scene at the park, a popular gathering spot after the parade, was complete chaos last year after a shootout between rival gangs left eight people between the ages of 11 and 30 with injuries. Remarkably, they all survived.

Traffic came to a standstill as a group of dirt bike and ATV riders blew through the red light at Northwest 36th Street and Second Avenue in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 14, 2018.

Police were criticized last year after the shooting for not flooding the zone and paying close enough attention. Zabaleta said this year police doubled their presence at the park, which was cleared out by 5 p.m.

A lone biker with a young child pops a wheelie on Northwest 62nd Street on Martin Luther King Day on Monday afternoon, Jan. 15, 2018. C.M. GUERRERO.

In Broward County, the Broward Sheriff’s Office had made 14 arrests by Monday night. Most were for reckless driving. Other infractions included running red lights, driving on the wrong side of the road, evading police, driving illegal vehicles on the roadway. Everyone who was arrested had their bikes seized. In all, 20 bikes were towed away.

Broward Sheriff's deputies said there were fewer riders this year, in all likelihood because of the advanced warning of zero tolerance. Still, Broward Sheriff’s Lt. Chris McCoy said there was plenty of reckless behavior.

“Some people were determined to do it anyway,” he said.

McCoy also explained how troopers stationed at on-ramps to Florida’s Turnpike and I-95 kept riders off the highways.

“The approach we used worked,” he said.

In past years, local riders were joined by others from as far away as New York and California. The spectacle had motorists pulled over to the sides of highways as hundreds of off-road vehicles and motorcycles zoomed along highways and into residential neighborhoods doing tricks and at times driving head-on into traffic.

Though it created a combination of fear and exhilaration for onlookers, police — who at first were taken aback by the extent of the demonstration — made a decision to come down harder on the riders to ensure public safety.

This year law enforcement spoke of how they would use all tools available to them to capture or photograph the riders. They promised to use planes and helicopters to take pictures and flood the highways with troopers to keep the roads safe. Electronic signs on streets warned it was illegal for off-road vehicles to drive on them.

The demonstration began early this year: Riders were spotted in groups on major thoroughfares like South Dixie Highway, U.S. 27 and the Palmetto Expressway this past weekend. One man was killed in a motorcycle crash in North Dade.