In Chattanooga a cyclist was harassed by 2 teenagers in a pickup truck and then hunted down again in a different vehicle. They approached and used pepper spray on him, but it is the cyclist who is now accused of being the aggressor. Well, it seems that he is now pressured with a threat to drop the charges. A sad story that many cyclists will be able to relate to.
All of this started on Saturday afternoon as Anders Swanson, a 5'11" and 146 pound cyclist rode his road bike up Raccoon Mountain in Chattanooga, TN. He was buzzed by a black Chevy Silverado truck with two teenagers on board and Swanson was so worried about the incident that he called TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) Security, since the incident took place on land owned by that regional water company. Swanson then continued and waited at the stop sign at the top to meet the authorities. The truck then came and likely had to because there is really only one major access road to this scenic loop on top of the mountain. When they were close enough Swanson told the teenagers that he had called TVA and was about to call the Chattanooga Police Department. He also admits that he stood in the road at that stop sign as they approached, but moved to the side as the came closer. He also said he used an expletive in the exchange. Swanson took a video of that encounter and we noticed in a screenshot a camouflage baseball cap on the dash of that 79 Silverado and also on the head of the passenger - supporting stereotypes.
"The driver then drove the truck past me, flipped me off, then attempted to swerve the rear of the truck in to me. This is all caught on my video. As the rear of the truck approached me I struck the rear fender with my left hand trying to push away from the truck’s rear tire as I was straddling my bike and couldn't move to avoid the rear tire. The truck just missed running over my foot," said Swanson.
TVA Security responded soon after and recommended he should call the Chattanooga Police Department. While still talking to the TVA officer the Chattanooga police called back and could not find his location so Swanson rode down the mountain to meet them and filed a report.
He then rode up the mountain again to return to his vehicle and this is now roughly 45 minutes after the last incident with the teens in the black Chevy. As Swanson approaches the top he encounters a white Toyota 4-Runner with 3 passengers and he sees them multiple times as the vehicle rolls past him, stops, lets him pass again and then continues to do the same a few more times. Swanson eventually gets to the parking lot to change where his vehicle is the only one left.
"I did not see the car as I began to change from my ride but as I was removing my shirt, I was off the bike and had the trunk of my car open, the white 4-Runner pulled in to the parking lot I was parked in and pulled just past my car. The passenger side window was rolled down and the kid stuck his head out and said 'How's it going?' I asked if he was the individual from the first incident, he said no, he then pulled out the squirt gun and sprayed me in the face with pepper spray," said Swanson. "After getting sprayed I was immediately blind and choking but managed to throw my water bottle at the side of their car and hit the driver side door. I called 911 right after that and dispatch said they were sending both police and EMS. I was in severe physical distress and called 911 back to speak with the responding EMS as I couldn't see, had acute breathing difficulty, but had to drive my car to the point the dispatch said the ambulance would be. I have asthma and use an inhaler, and at that point I began to think there was an honest chance I would die if I had an allergic reaction to the pepper spray or my lungs closed up."
The police arrived 15 minutes later and soon after the ambulance also arrived. Swanson was treated in the back of the ambulance and then taken home by a friend since he felt no longer ready to drive.
That night night Swanson posted pics of the incident on Facebook in hopes to identify the attackers and also to warn fellow cyclists, runners and hikers who frequent that popular recreation spot.
Swanson says that one of the mothers even reached out to him and apologized and asked him to drop the charges plus in conversations with Chattanooga police he got the feeling that the folks responsible would be arrested.
But this is now where this all turns crazy and surreal.
"The officer told me she would need to determine if this would fall under Marion or Hamilton county jurisdiction but that based on the information she had she could arrest the individuals. Unfortunately I was told it would be under Marion County jurisdiction. I called Marion county and left a message for Sergeant Prince to call me back. Sergeant Prince called me back and said that I had committed a felony by posting the pictures of my attackers to Facebook but that the parents would not prosecute me if I dropped the charges against their kids," said a very stunned Swanson. "I asked for clarification, he said I had broken laws, and that the whole situation could just disappear if I were to take the posts down from Facebook and agree not to press charges against the kids."
On Monday January 13th Swanson and his wife met up with Dennis Howell of TVA, Detective Gene Hargis of Marion County, and Julia Veal of the Marion County DA office and they got the impression from the district attorney and Detective Hargis that they were trying to discourage Swanson from pressing charges, and seemed to take the allegation that Swanson assaulted the kids seriously. Swanson also learned during that meeting that the defendants claimed that he had assaulted them and if he were to press charges they would 'take out a warrant' on him.
David Cook of the Times Free Press in Chattanooga also has written a very nice recap of the situation, but this whole story sounds utmost crazy. If the occupants in the Silverado were indeed threatened by the cyclist why did they return for more in a different vehicle and follow him around? Why were no charges filed by those teenagers on Saturday or Sunday if they had indeed felt harassed by Swanson?
Chattanooga has worked very hard to bring the US Pro Cycling National Championships and an Ironman race to come to the scenic city and this will likely bring athletes from around the world to the town that has been voted best town to live by Outside Magazine. Chattanooga is indeed a great place to live but incidents like this show that courtesy, consideration and acceptance of others are still foreign words to many residents of the self labeled "Boulder of the East Coast." But Chattanooga is not alone with that dilemma, it seems that we hear about incidents like this one all the time and in many cases the end result is much worse. A 15 pound bike versus a 4000 pound vehicle is never a fair fight and only folks who have ridden bikes can understand what it is like when a car comes way too close. Many states now have 3 foot laws but they are hardly enforced. Police officers should be made to ride bicycles for a few weeks so they can understand what it is like to ride in traffic and how some motorists act. Clearly some cyclists also act irresponsible and run red lights and are otherwise selfish, and we all need to act more responsible and considerate.
We also haven't heard the other side of this story, but it just seems very unlikely that these teenagers kept coming for more and still felt in danger by the lone cyclist. It also appears that some folks have watched too much TV.
"She (DA Julia Veal) also expressed concern over the fact that the parents felt that the bike club was out to get them, and they compared the bike club to Hells Angels," said Swanson.
We asked Swanson if he regretted having posted the account of what happened to Facebook and he said, "I don't regret for a second posting this on Facebook, and I am still blown away that Sergeant Prince of the Marion County Sheriff's Department told me I committed three felonies by posting an account and pictures on Facebook. Sergeant Prince was trying to end the situation by accusing me of crimes that don't even exist - in essence to scare me in to dropping my charges so the guilty parties would walk. The especially disturbing thing there is that if what he had said were even remotely true, he is saying that he won't investigate what appear to be up to five felonies, just so everyone can shake hands and walk away. Not exactly inspiring work on the part of the people who are supposed to protect you."