The passengers who were in the SUV that was surrounded by motorcyclists in Manhattan over the weekend spoke out for the first time Thursday, saying they were sorry that one of the bikers was injured but insisting the family had acted properly because the riders were afraid for their lives.
Alexian Lien, 33, his wife and their 2-year-old child were out on drive in their black Range Rover on Sunday when their vehicle became enmeshed in a confrontation with dozens of motorcyclists on the West Side Highway and later on a surface street. At least one motorcyclist was seriously injured and remains hospitalized. Lien was taken from the vehicle and beaten by other motorcyclists.
One motorcyclist has been charged with a misdemeanor, but prosecutors have said they plan on taking the whole incident to a grand jury, which could consider felony charges against everyone involved in the case.
In a statement, the Lien family, which has been criticized by some for because of the injury to the motorcyclist, defended its actions.
"Our plan last Sunday was to celebrate our wedding anniversary by having a nice family day out with our two-year-old daughter. Unfortunately, instead, we were placed in grave danger by a mob of reckless and violent motorcyclists," the family said in the statement emailed to reporters.
"Our sympathies go out to the injured motorcyclist and his family. However, we were faced with a life-threatening situation, and my husband was forced under the circumstances to take the actions that he did in order to protect the lives of our entire family.
"Our fear for our lives was confirmed when the incident ended with the ruthless and brutal attack on my husband, me, and, most importantly, our two-year-old child. We know in our hearts that we could not have done anything differently, and we believe that anyone faced with this sort of grave danger would have taken the same course of action in order to protect their family."
Investigators are still sorting out the details of the Sunday afternoon events, captured by a videocam worn by one of the motorcyclists. The video was posted on the Web and went viral as partisans on both sides - those supporting a fearful family suddenly surrounded by a group of motorcyclists and those supporting the bikers who are always in greater danger from motorists in cars and SUVs.
According to the video, the SUV driven by Alexian Lien is traveling the center lane on the West Side Highway when the motorcyclists pass in both other lanes. One motorcyclist in the center lane slows down and makes contact with the SUV.
That motorcycle driver was later identified as Christopher Cruz, 28, of Passaic, N.J., who has been charged with misdemeanor second-degree unlawful imprisonment and reckless driving. In a court appearance on Wednesday, he entered a plea of not guilty. He is scheduled to return to court on Friday.
After the contact between Cruz and the SUV, the Range Rover accelerates on the video and hits another biker, Edwin Mieses Jr.
Mieses is seriously injured, according to his family, with broken legs and spinal injuries. His wife, Dayana, has told reporters that her husband is in a medically induced coma. His family and friends have established a Facebook page to help raise money for his medical treatment. The page has attracted more than 21,000 likes.
In the video, the Range Rover speeds along the highway, chased by the group of motorcyclists. Lien leaves the highway and goes on a street and stops at a red light. Motorcyclists jump off of their bikes and rush the SUV. At least one uses his helmet to smash the driver's window on the SUV, and another is pounding on another window. Lien is eventually taken from the SUV and beaten, police say.
At least one other motorcyclist surrendered to police but was let go without charges as investigators sort through the evidence.
"We are taking Sunday's crimes extremely seriously, and will proceed with charges in a manner that enables us to build the strongest cases possible," said Karen Friedman-Agnifilo, chief of the trial division in the Manhattan prosecutor's office, who is overseeing the motorcycle case.
"Prematurely charging individuals with low-level crimes does not further the goals of the investigation, and could weaken the cases we expect to bring against the perpetrators of serious crimes. After we investigate the facts and each person's individual actions, we will know what charges can be supported by the evidence. There is still a tremendous amount of investigation to be done," she said.