By ARDEN BASTIA Rhode Island State Police, local law enforcement, and many community members agree that reckless ATV, dirt bike and motorbike riders on public roads are a serious public safety issue, and calls are being made for new action to address the
Rhode Island State Police, local law enforcement, and many community members agree that reckless ATV, dirt bike and motorbike riders on public roads are a serious public safety issue, and calls are being made for new action to address the situation.
On Jan. 1, Atwood Avenue in Cranston was overrun with approximately 30 motorcycle and ATV bikes driving dangerously, according to Cranston Police Chief Col. Michael Winquist.
Security cameras at nearby Harriet’s Kitchen captured the incident, which left a police officer hospitalized with injuries and resulted in three arrests and damage to both a police cruiser and a citizen’s vehicle.
One rider, 23-year-old Shyanne Boisvert of North Providence, was arrested after allegedly blocking traffic and assaulting an officer. While the officer was handcuffing Boisvert, another rider, 33-year-old Eduardo Rivera of Warwick, is alleged to have ridden his ATV over the back of the officer’s legs.
Rivera is then said to have led officers on a high-speed chase through Johnston and Providence, hitting a police cruiser on the way, and jumping onto a second ATV driven by 22-year-old Kemoni Mitchell of Providence before striking a passing car on Union Avenue.
The Cranston officer who was assaulted and injured has been released from the hospital and is currently at home recovering.
Carolyn Medeiros of Cranston, the executive director for the Alliance for Safe Communities, is demanding stricter legislation and consequences for riding illegal vehicles on roadways – a problem she said has plagued communities throughout the state.
According to a description, the Alliance for Safe Communities was founded to “assist neighborhoods with their representation in government, media, and the public eye.”
Medeiros has a history of researching, lobbying and testifying on crime legislation. As a victim advocate, she has worked with survivors of abuse and assault and assisted with local legislation regarding sex offenders and panhandlers in Cranston. She is particularly outspoken about the motorbike and ATV riders in her neighborhood.
“It’s out of control,” she said in an interview, sharing the story of one of her mechanic’s assistants who was T-boned in his vehicle by an ATV during the summer. “The ATV operator has a suspended license and no registration, so [the assistant] had to pay for all the damages. This needs to stop. There needs to be consequences. They have no right, they’re not bikers. They’re brats being a nuisance and being dangerous.”
Recreational vehicles, like ATVs, dirt bikes and minibikes, are already illegal to ride on paved roads, highways and public streets, according to Rhode Island law. Currently, the penalty for improperly operating a recreational vehicle is a fine of $100, possible imprisonment, and loss of operating license.
According to state Sen. Frank Lombardi (D-District 26, Cranston), there isn’t much more legislation could do.
“They’re breaking the law just by being on the roads. You’ve got to be careful with exercising First Amendment rights versus operating a dangerous vehicle in a dangerous way,” Lombardi said regarding the incident on New Year’s Day, which occurred outside his law office.
“The laws right now are pretty sufficient. They’re subject to sanctions if they’re driving on the highway, and if it goes beyond that, you know causing danger and hurting people, I think there are ample statutes on the books already,” he said.
Col. James M. Manni, superintendent of the State Police, considers the reckless drivers “a very serious public safety issue” for which his agency has “zero tolerance.”
Manni said his department has received reports of groups of up to 200 motorists, or “thrill-seekers,” intimidating drivers on state highways.
State Police have been monitoring the ATV and motorbike groups, and along with community outreach partners have formed protocols and plans to deal with such incidents. Manni emphasized that State Police try to mitigate the issue before it escalates into what happened in Cranston and acknowledged that more legislation would help to “further criminalize these groups.”
The reckless drivers come from diverse backgrounds, not just one demographic. What does unite these members is their “total disregard for public safety,” as most are operating unregistered vehicles without insurance or valid licenses, Manni said.
State Police urge motorists who encounter reckless ATV and motorbike groups to pull over and let them pass. “Do not antagonize,” Manni said, asking that those with more information call police.
Medeiros said she would “love to see the city of Cranston take the lead and say, ‘We don’t want this here.’” But she said the most difficult part of advocating for new legislation is the COVID-19 restrictions on General Assembly meetings.
The General Assembly began its session on Tuesday. Due to the restrictions and the need to social distance, the House of Representatives met at Veterans Memorial Auditorium and the Senate met in Sapinsley Hall at Rhode Island College. Because these sessions aren’t open to the public, Medeiros is concerned she and witnesses won’t be able to testify.
“Nothing is going to happen until people take this seriously,” she said. “W need empathy for a community being terrorized.”