One of the motorcyclists believed to have played a direct role in the beating of SUV driver Alexian Lien in New York has been identified, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN late Thursday.
He's not yet in custody; however he's expected to be soon. The biker is suspected of being the man seen on video using a helmet to pound on the side of the black Range Rover before Lien was dragged from the vehicle, beaten and slashed, the official said.
The video seems clear: An SUV driver hits a biker on Manhattan's West Side and sets off a violent chain of events. But now, a debate is raging over who should shoulder the blame for this disturbing attack.
Soon after the helmet cam video of the confrontation spread online, most people's sympathies lay with the driver of the Range Rover, Lien.
Online commenters seemed to side with him. He was swarmed by a motorbike gang. He had his wife and 2-year-old daughter in the car. He did what he had to do to protect them, they said.
But now, supporters of the bikers being vilified for the weekend attack are pleading their case.
They gathered Wednesday night outside the Manhattan hospital where one of the bikers, Edwin Mieses, lies comatose. He was run over by the SUV as the driver tried to escape.
"It is an unfortunate situation on both sides," said Lexie Filpo, who said she was one of the bikers. "I knew that car seemed reckless from the beginning. From when he first jumped on the highway. When things happened, people were telling him to stop, to slow down, and he never did.
"The officers, they want to arrest the bikers; they should arrest the driver as well," Filpo said.
A group of bikers gathered again Thursday and appealed for calm.
"We, as bikers, have the burden of showing the world that we are not animals and so that's what we intend to do," Albert Alkerson told reporters.
"These are not animals. These are people who enjoy riding bikes. What we need to do is figure out how to make sure that this doesn't happen again," he said.
Swarmed by bikers
The incident took place on Manhattan's West Side Highway on Sunday. Police said a man driving a Range Rover struck a motorcyclist who had slowed.
Previous reporting indicated that the impact broke the motorcyclist's leg, but New York police Sgt. Lee Jones said Wednesday that the biker sustained only minor injuries.
Lien, the driver, pulled over and was surrounded by other bikers, part of a group called Hollywood Stuntz. They hit the vehicle and spiked its tires, police said.
The driver pulled away, plowing into three more bikers, including Mieses.
The bikers chased him. Once he was stuck in traffic, they cornered the SUV. The video shows one biker using his helmet to smash the driver's-side window.
Police said the bikers dragged Lien out of the SUV and beat him. His wife and daughter were unharmed.
Lien was treated at a local hospital for slashes to his face.
Lien's family released a statement Thursday through its attorneys, saying he was "forced under the circumstances to take the actions that he did in order to protect the lives of our entire family."
He and his wife were out to celebrate their wedding anniversary with their daughter when the incident happened, according to the statement.
"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," the statement said.
Lien initially called 911 on Sunday afternoon to report that bikers were driving erratically on the West Side Highway. As the confrontation unfolded, additional calls were logged by 911 operators, including one from Lien's wife that was placed during the attack, police said.
Jerome Davis said he witnessed a part of the confrontation and described the SUV driver as a "maniac."