Death on Tiny Bike Brings Accusations Against Police
By COREY KILGANNON
Published: July 30, 2004
hey stand only 18 inches off the asphalt, their young riders in a tight crouch over the handlebars. These tiny, inexpensive motorcycles - known as pocket bikes - have begun swarming over New York City streets this summer like buzzing gnats, sometimes in packs and at speeds up to 45 miles per hour.
Meant to resemble high-performance racing motorcycles but built much shoddier, the bikes, made mostly in China, can now be bought at sidewalk discount stores and flea markets for less than $300. But they are illegal to ride on the street, and are favored by teenagers without driver's licenses or helmets - many of whom say the thrill is avoiding or evading the police.
Early yesterday morning, a teenager died after falling off his brand-new pocket bike while being chased by the police in Queens, the authorities said.
The police said two officers in an unmarked car saw the teenager, Dante Pomar, 19, of Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, riding without a helmet on Main Street about 3 a.m. The officers flashed their dashboard and grille lights to signal Mr. Pomar to pull over, the police said, but he fled onto a side street and tried to lose them by turning down an alleyway. He hit a pothole in the alley, about 15 feet east of 150th Street, fell off the bike and died before medical technicians arrived, the police said.
But at the scene yesterday, about a block from Mr. Pomar's home, dozens of his friends bitterly disputed that account, and accused the police of causing his death by accidentally striking him with their patrol car and then fabricating a story to avoid blame.
But police officials said the patrol car was three-quarters of a block away from Mr. Pomar when he fell. They said the department's Internal Affairs Bureau and Highway Accident Investigation Squad found no evidence of paint transfer on either vehicle.
Friends said Mr. Pomar, a son of Argentine immigrants, had dreams of opening his own auto repair shop. They said he was an expert engine mechanic who often helped friends and neighbors repair their cars for free, and was a wizard at repairing appliances of any type.
But he also had problems with the law. Police officials said yesterday that Mr. Pomar was serving a five-year probation for grand larceny and had violated that probation three times. He has also been charged with petty larceny and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, said the police, adding that he had many traffic infractions and that he had a suspended license.
Still, Mr. Pomar's friends insisted he was intimately familiar with the alleyway and could not have died simply by falling off the small bike.
"Dante was no angel," said Millissa Nelson, 17, sitting next to the puddle he fell into and died. "He was a little crazy behind the wheel, and he made a few mistakes and some bad decisions. But does this make it O.K. for the police to chase him to his death because he's not wearing a helmet? This isn't about pocket bikes being dangerous. It's about a kid getting chased to his death."
Steve Alexander, 22, another friend of Mr. Pomar's, called him an expert handler of pocket bikes.
"That kid was mad nice on any type of vehicle, son," he said. "He was the next Nascar king. It's like saying Dale Earnhardt hit a little bump and crashed and died."
Ali Bhatti, 20, said Mr. Pomar's father was "absolutely distraught" when he arrived. "He threw himself down next to Dante in the puddle and started drinking the bloody water, just drinking it."
Last night at the scene, Mr. Pomar's father, Hector Pomar, kissed a photograph of his son, and told dozens of weeping onlookers, "They left my boy there in the puddle to die, but this is the Dante we knew."
Detective Noel Waters, a police spokesman, called the bikes "illegal and dangerous," saying that while it is legal to buy, sell and possess them, it is illegal to ride them on the street. He said that in May and June, the 104th Precinct in Queens conducted Operation Motorized Menace, in which 49 bikes were seized and 66 summonses issued.
Pauline Toole, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Consumer Affairs, said that this spring, department officials inspected many stores that sold motorized scooters and miniature motorcycles. They issued summonses to those that did not display signs informing customers that the vehicles are not street legal.
Yesterday, the bikes could be seen for sale at countless stores in Queens, including a former gas station on Corona Avenue, a car stereo showroom on Queens Boulevard and a variety store on Junction Boulevard in Jackson Heights, CX Trading Company, where the shiny $400 motor bikes were nestled among items like baby strollers, sunglasses and suitcases.
On 50th Avenue in Elmhurst, Jonathan Rodriguez, 14, rolled his new pocket bike onto the sidewalk. He said his mother bought the bike yesterday from a store in Manhattan for $279, a cash-only price that he called "the best price in the city." He said he had already ridden it on many Queens streets, but not Queens Boulevard.
At the scene of Mr. Pomar's death, just off 150th Street between 78th Avenue and 78th Road, Brian Sanchez, 18, said Mr. Pomar bought the pocket bike last weekend. Mr. Sanchez, whose left arm was in a sling, said he had broken his wrist when he crashed Mr. Pomar's bike into a car while driving about 30 m.p.h.
Another friend of Mr. Pomar's, Chris Sanchez, 19, hopped on the bike and demonstrated for the crowd of friends, reporters and photographers how he could easily ride at its fastest speed, without falling, through the potholes where Mr. Pomar died. The crowd cheered.
Sam Rakhminov, 21, said he bought his pocket bike a month ago for $350, and called them harmless. "It's like a bicycle," he said. "You fall, you get scratched. It's cheap, you don't have to wear a helmet and you don't need license plates.
"The only problem is," he added, "they don't handle well."