Compared to Second Avenue, cycling through Prospect Park on a weekday evening is as safe as it gets: Foot traffic is low, and cars are nowhere in sight. Unlike the code-red vigilance needed on a traffic-heavy morning commute, riding through the park requires more of a low-level simmer of awareness. Keep an eye out for raccoons.
Midwood resident Michael Wilhelm thought he was safe as he rode laps around the park with a friend last Tuesday. The pair had completed three loops and were cruising at around 18 miles an hour when suddenly, Wilhelm ran into a rope strung across the three lanes of Park Drive near the entrance at Bartel-Pritchard Square. It snagged his wheel, threw him over his handlebars and sent him skidding across the concrete.
"I saw the rope the second before I hit it—I think the word 'shit' came out of my mouth, and that was it," Wilhelm said. The next thing he knew, he was lying on the side of the road. "My legs were strangely folded. I couldn't lay down, and my whole body was shaking. My friend was panicking, I think. He kept asking if he should call an ambulance. I kept telling him to call, but I couldn't get the word out."
Wilhelm was taken to Lutheran Hospital, where he spent the next two days. He was treated for six broken ribs and a fractured right elbow. Not only has he been unable to go to work (he's in real estate management) but he hasn't been able to sleep laying down. "I get dizzy when I drive, I get dizzy in the shower," he said. "I can't lift a coffee cup."
The crash was caused by a tripwire someone strung across the path, though Wilhelm doesn't remember seeing anyone at the scene. Yisroel Pupko, Wilhelm's friend who was riding around four feet behind Wilhelm when the wire struck, immediately called the volunteer ambulance Hatzolah, then the police. Despite Pupko's insistence that the crash was the result of a rope, tied taut across the pathway, an accident report reads only that Wilhelm "ran over a rope," causing him to fall.
When Pupko later attempted to clarify to police that the rope was tied with the apparent intention of causing injury, he was brushed off, he said.
"[The lieutenant] is patting me on the back saying 'We're trying to help you here, not hurt you,' as if I'm this liar trying to fabricate the whole thing," he said. But when he insisted that the lieutenant take the report as a crime, he resisted. "He said 'Your friend was involved in a serious traumatic incident, there are certain inconsistencies we have to clarify,'" he said.
A police spokesperson said there was no record of a crime report being filed for the night of May 20th, though he did suggest that the rope was perhaps placed across the road as an accident, a claim which Pupko vehemently denies. He added that another cyclist who witnessed the crash told police at the time that he saw three suspicious looking individuals loafing near the fire hydrant to which one end of the rope was tied, but could not provide a sufficiently detailed description of their appearances.
Still, Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer who specializes in cyclists' rights, believes the incident should be investigated as a crime, since intentional injury qualifies as reckless endangerment. He said that kids—or people with "kid mentalities"—do occasionally amuse themselves by injuring cyclists, citing a Park Slope computer programmer who was hit in the face with a brick, and instances of tacks left in Central Park.
"When you take a fall off a bike, it makes a tremendous difference when you have any warning," he said. "But as horrible as his injuries sound, I think it could have been much worse."
Wilhelm agrees. He was wearing a helmet, and is thankful he didn't fare worse. He hasn't looked at his bike since the fall, and frankly, he said he's not sure whether he'll bike through the park again.
"I've been injured before, but nothing I didn't see coming," he said. "I guess the fear is always going to be there."
Pupko said he's intent on making sure no one else is injured by such a senseless act, and will continue to press the police until he sees action taken.
"My friend will recover, he’s going to be back out there," he said. "This is to protect the next person, because my friend could easily have gotten killed.
"It’s a funny prank to the ones doing it, but they don’t understand."