HUNTS POINT — Dozens of dirt bike, motorcycle and bicycle riders from around the city rallied Monday night at the Randall Avenue site where a dirt biker was struck Saturday by a cop car as he tried to flee police and later died.
After the riders brooded over the dangers of their passtime and traded their own police pursuit stories, they rode to the deceased biker’s apartment, where they prayed, lit candles and collected donations as the man’s girlfriend looked on and wept.
“Let her know that we did not know Eddie personally,” a Harlem biker said to the girlfriend of Eddie Fernandez, the 28-year-old buildingsuperintendent who died Saturday, while another woman translated the message into Spanish.
“But he passed away on a bike that we ride, so as far as we’re concerned, one of us died,” said the 45-year-old rider who, like other bikers at the event, gave only his street name, Al Capone, since urban dirt biking is illegal.
On Saturday, police officers began to pursue Fernandez’s friend, Adalberto Gonzalez, 26, after earlier witnessing him ride a dirt bike the wrong way down a one-way street and onto a sidewalk, according to the criminal complaint.
Gonzalez soon crashed his bike, then fled on foot to Randall Avenue and Coster Street, where he jumped on the back of Fernandez’s dirt bike, cops said.
As the two began to ride off, a police cruiser collided with the bike near that intersection, which sent both riders flying. Fernandez later died from his injuries, while Gonzalez suffered minor scrapes and was arrested at the scene.
Monday night, nearly 100 riders from several different crews — the Harlem Boyz and the Harlem Legendz from Manhattan, the Ghetto Boyz from Brooklyn, the Go Hard Boyz from The Bronx and the Ruff Ryders — converged at the Hunts Point site, even though most did not know Fernandez or Gonzalez. They mainly arrived in cars, though some rode up on motorcycles or bicycles.
Several riders acknowledged that they often flout traffic laws as they do tricks and speed their unregistered dirt bikes through the city, which can pose hazards for other drivers and bystanders.
But they insisted that their hobby keeps them from worse options on the street and that police efforts to stop them only heighten the risks.
“Some people say it’s a gang,” said Tommy Carrillo, 18, who rides with a Harlem bicycle group. “But in reality, it’s a way of expressing yourself without doing drugs or robberies.”
Many riders said that established motorbike crews try to avoid flagrant driving violations — such as riding on the sidewalk or against oncoming traffic — both for safety reasons and to avert unnecessary confrontations with cops.
“If you love yourself, you’re not doing wheelies against traffic,” said Benmore, 31, a well-known rider who recently met with a Harlem residents’ group to discuss bike-related safety concerns.
Several bikers said that if the city provided a track or area where they could ride undisturbed, they would gladly go there, but that without such a space, they take their chances in the street.
At a community board meeting in May, Hunts Point residents called the dirt bikers a dangerous nuisance. An officer there said the Police Department told cops to avoid chasing bikers because of the risks posed to bystanders.
Later, the 41st Precinct’s commanding officer, Capt. Philip Rivera, reiterated the hazards of chasing bikers through the streets.
“We have to be very careful if we’re going to initiate a pursuit,” Rivera said at the time.
At the rally, bikers said that regardless of official policies, police regularly pursue them or use batons, pepper spray or roadblocks to disrupt their rides. Several riders pointed to scars, burns, swells and bruises, which they said they incurred while fleeing police.
During the impromptu memorial outside Fernandez’s apartment building Monday night, neighbors and relatives described him as a generous, church-going man who helped organize block parties and was known to many simply as “super.”
He looked after “thousands of kids” in the neighborhood, said Shaquey Daniels, who lives next door to Fernandez’s building on Bryant Street in Longwood.
“He’d tell my son everyday, ‘Don’t play in the street,’” said Daniels, 26.
Monday night, after the rider called Al Capone prayed for Fernandez, he thanked God on behalf of all the bikers who have fallen before, but managed get up.
“We know that we get away with this all the time,” he said. “And we do not take it for granted.”