Andy Duncan on the guy who tried to run down Messenger Mass at ECMC 2005
25.11.07 by Buffalo Bill
The report of the jailing of a man who deliberately rammed a Scottish bicycle messenger has stimulated memories of not only Thomas McBride’s murder by automobile in 1999, but also the infamous incident in Basel, which took place during the ECMC there. What follows is Andy Duncan’s (aka Mcbastard aka IFBMA President) account of what happened.
The following is my recollection of an incident of “road rage” that occurred in Basel, late Saturday 13th August early Sunday 14th August 2005.
The incident took place during a group ride or “critical mass” of cycle messengers attending the European Cycle Messenger Championships. I have witnessed such events in cities all over the world, but have never experienced anything the like of which happened in Basel.
The person responsible for this incident is a danger to the public and in my opinion should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
A critical mass is a peaceful demonstration often used by cycle messengers. It involves amassing such a large number of bicycles in the streets of a city that traffic must stop and wait. This turns the tables on the normal state of affairs for a while. At worst, traffic is briefly inconvenienced, and in the right spirit, a carnival atmosphere can be created.
The critical mass in Basel was nearing its conclusion. We had just cycled over Drierosenbrücke onto Drierosenstasse and had turned left onto Klybeckstrasse on our way to a party which was being held on a boat moored at Rheinhafen. The peloton was well spread out. I was positioned nearer the front than the back.
When I arrived at the junction of Klybeckstrasse and Mauerstrasse I saw a group of messengers surrounding a small car. The horn of the car was sounding continuously. It appeared that the car had attempted to cross the path of the peloton, and that messengers had thus surrounded it in order to stop it moving any further forward and into the flow of cyclists arriving at the junction.
Some people cycled on, but I stopped because I sensed that the situation was potentially dangerous. I did not join the group of messengers standing round the car, but stood a little way off with a group of others. We watched what was happening and warned others of the situation as they cycled past or also stopped to watch.
The car edged forward into the crowd that was surrounding it, slowly at first, and then, quite suddenly, it lurched forward about a meter. Several messengers standing in front of the car had to move out of the way very quickly, and I saw at least one bicycle falling under the car.
Messengers tapped on the roof of the car and told the driver to stop moving forward. At this point I moved away, off the road to the pavement on the north-east corner of the junction where I stood beside a set of traffic lights.
The car lurched forward again, this time with greater force. Again the messengers surrounding the car tapped on the roof. Although some had by this time already begun to disperse, there were at least twenty messengers who stayed in the vicinity of the car trying to prevent it from moving forward into the flow of messengers still cycling through the junction on their way to the party.
I could hear that they were trying to calm the situation, both by telling the driver to stay in the car and to wait as we cycled past, and also by telling their colleagues NOT to retaliate for the damage that the driver had already caused to them and their bikes.
Then a young woman got out of the car and ran, clearly in a state of considerable distress, towards a tram waiting with other traffic at the stop on the Klybeckstrasse south of the junction. After this the car again lurched forward, much more aggressively now and I heard the sound of breaking class and crunching bicycle. There was a lot of shouting, but still I heard voices attempting to calm the situation.
But they were to no avail. The driver accelerated suddenly into the middle of the junction aiming his car directly at messengers. People began to run or cycle away in all directions looking for safety. I realised what was going on and saw that in spite of standing next to traffic light poles, I was in real danger. I saw a wall about a meter high with grass on it at the North East corner of the junction. I went there for safety. I heard voices shouting that we should seek height.
From the wall overlooking the junction I watched as the driver of the car drove repeatedly and deliberately at messengers. He appeared once or twice to have gone away, but as soon as messengers returned to the junction to pick up their bikes or to look for something they had dropped in the confusion, the driver returned to aim his vehicle directly at them.
I do not know how long this lasted. I have a feeling that it was about fifteen minutes before the driver was finally held by police, but I find it difficult to judge.
I watched shocked and in fear of my life, not wishing to move from the safety I had found on the grass above the wall, as the driver deliberately used his vehicle as a weapon against my colleagues. On one occasion, he just avoided colliding at great speed with another vehicle waiting at the junction. On another occasion, he suddenly reversed while turning with the handbrake in order, it seemed to me, to surprise a messenger who was trying to move away to safety behind the path that the car had just taken, and to make it to the side of the road. I saw several people very close to being run down. It was a very disturbing experience, not only because of the actual danger I was in, but also because an otherwise well organised and peaceful demonstration had escalated so badly.
After the police arrived to take statements, I stood with colleagues from the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Finland and Switzerland. We did not feel safe and did not feel inclined to cycle anywhere just for the moment. We hung around in a state of shock, trying to see if anybody had been hurt, trying to get information. Eventually, we were told by local messengers that it was safe to cycle off together and go on to the party.
Later I heard from colleagues who were standing closer to the car than me that the woman who ran out of the car had, in the first instance, been the driver of the car. She had been forced, they told me, to drive into the crowd by the man who was sitting in the passenger’s seat. After she ran from the car, the man took over driving and it was he who was responsible for the ensuing violence.
The man was quite clearly intent on murder, and were it not for the fact that professional messengers are on the whole very good at avoiding aggressive traffic, he would have been successful.