|Reckless bikers risk losing rides|
Henry Pierson Curtis | Sentinel
Posted January 6, 2007
The young daredevils who speed away from police on high-performance motorcycles
face a growing risk across Florida: losing their wheels.
All it takes is letting a cop get close enough to their fast-moving bikes to see
the license plate.
But it's not as easy as it sounds.
Young riders rarely brake. They snap the throttle. And they give the finger to
cops at 150 mph -- faster than any police car built.
"All the law says is we get the tag number, we just come and pick up the bike
[or car]," Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Trooper Kim Miller said Thursday.
"Whenever they give us a tool, we use the tool."
Three confiscated sport bikes now sit outside FHP troop headquarters in Orlando.
Four await forfeiture in DeLand. And 15 to 20 more are locked in a shed in
Miami. In 2006, records show, FHP confiscated 344 motorcycles from riders who
ran or committed some other felony.
It's a tiny number in a state with about 400,000 registered motorcycles -- and
riders who know the cops can't always chase them because of changes in pursuit
But just wait. In the next 30 days, FHP and police departments in South Florida
are forming a task force to crack down on sport bikers who refuse to stop.
Officers can keep up with most cars on the road, so chases are more of an issue
with high-speed motorcycles. It used to be rare for motorists to flee from
"Now, it's not," said Lt. Pat Santangelo in Miami, who joined FHP in 1982. "Of
course, years ago, people knew we'd chase 'em."
Besides the stricter chase policies -- aimed at preventing crashes because of
pursuits -- the surge in bikers who flee since the 1990s is attributed to
marketing 150-mph motorcycles to teenagers for monthly payments that break down
to as little as $3.33 a day.
Running is so common, officers say, that riders frequently bend their tags to
make them harder to see. FHP is lobbying state legislators to increase the size
of motorcycle tags from 3-by-6 inches to a more visible size.
Orlando-based Trooper Harold Schweinsberg described how often young riders have
refused to stop for him as "too numerous to remember." So he and other troopers
do their best to get the tag number before turning on their blue lights.
"They're usually riding so recklessly, they're not watching who's coming up
behind," he said.
In 2005, Schweinsberg bagged a Yamaha R6 when its rider, Shawn Connor, fled
after "popping a wheelie" at 80 mph on Interstate 4. Connor, then 23, and a
buddy on another bike sped away onto Florida's Turnpike without stopping to pay
their tolls, arrest records show.
Thinking they got away, the two stopped to refuel at the Turkey Creek service
plaza. That's where the other rider escaped on a bike without a tag when
Schweinsberg busted Connor and took his motorcycle.
"He looked surprised," the trooper said.
The move to seize motorcycles or cars from drivers who flee police -- a felony
in Florida -- is happening internationally.
In Australia, police call seizing motorcycles "hoon enforcement," slang for "a
show-off with limited intelligence." From July through Oct. 23 in 2006, 441
motorcycles and cars were seized in the state of Victoria under a new law
letting officers take speeders' vehicles.
Florida law allows the permanent confiscation of any vehicle used in a felony
crime, such as fleeing and eluding, or for a second street-racing conviction
within five years. The Orange County Sheriff's Office routinely impounds street
racers' cars for 10 days and permanently confiscated one repeat offender's car
One Orlando rider who lost his bike doesn't approve of confiscation but said
something needs to be done to curtail the deaths of reckless riders.
"A lot of young kids think it's like watching something on TV," said Christopher
Williams, a registered nurse and veteran motorcyclist. "You get a lot of second
chances in a car. You don't get a second chance on a bike."
FHP seized Williams' motorcycle in 2005 when a trooper stopped his younger
brother for riding with a bent tag. The stop led to an arrest on felony charges
that later were dropped -- but FHP kept the bike.
Police say confiscation ultimately protects other motorists.
A recent death in south Orange County underscored the danger a recklessly
operated motorcycle poses to riders and other motorists.
Lewis Collins, who was not running from police, was riding in excess of 100 mph
on Dec. 12 on John Young Parkway when he hit a Nissan Xterra, according to FHP.
Collins died instantly when his 400-pound motorcycle flipped over the
4,000-pound sport utility vehicle.
Each year, scores of law-abiding motorcyclists die when struck by other
vehicles. No one in Central Florida has been killed by a fleeing motorcyclist,
according to interviews.
"If we don't get a handle on it, somebody's going to die as a result of these
criminals," Miller said. "There's too much complacency about traffic issues."
The Florida Highway Patrol is taking sport bikes from riders who flee police.
Henry Pierson Curtis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or