Mayor aims to crack down on off-road vehicles after cop is run down

Photo: New Bedford Police Department

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — A New Bedford police officer continues to recover after he was struck by a dirt bike in the city on Halloween night.

Police officials said Sgt. Candido Trinidad is now home after being released from Rhode Island Hospital Monday night.

Trinidad, 35, was part of a group of officers investigating the organized use of off-road vehicles on city streets, according to the police report obtained by Eyewitness News.

The report says the city has “recently been plagued with off-highway vehicle riders traveling through the city at high speed as they ignore traffic signals and any other traffic rules.”

Investigators tracked down a large group of riders Monday night behind the former Flagship Cinemas on Kings Highway. Lt. Amos Melo says they were part of a planned Halloween ride that law enforcement had been tracking.

“We knew they we were going to have a lot of kids out there, a lot of families trick-or-treating,” Lt. Melo said in an interview with Eyewitness News. He said Massachusetts State Environmental Police provided a helicopter to survey the riders, and New Bedford’s gang unit along with federal officials got involved.

“They started to climb up onto sidewalks, weave in and out of traffic, slow traffic down,” Lt. Melo said. “Just being a menace.”

As the officers attempted to stop the group from fleeing, police said Carlos Gonzalez, 24, ran over Sgt. Trinidad, knocking him unconscious. Gonzalez was then tackled by other officers and continued to resist arrest, police said.

The sergeant was taken to the hospital with serious, but not life-threatening injuries. Despite being thrown into the air, police said he didn’t suffer any broken bones.

A total of nine people were initially arrested on various charges and police seized three dirt bikes, five ATVs, five scooters, and a motorcycle from the scene.

Mayor Jon Mitchell spoke out against the crimes Monday, saying it’s not the first time people have organized such rides, using vehicles that are not allowed to be on city streets and are often stolen and re-sold multiple times.

“I was pretty disgusted,” he said of the Halloween ride. “If you’re a parent and you’re walking around with your young children, the last thing you want to see is some 25-year-old tearing around through crowds on an ATV.”

Mitchell said his office is drafting an ordinance to prohibit reckless use of off-road vehicles, “that raises penalties and enables the city to confiscate vehicles like this more readily,” Mitchell said. Currently, city ordinance prohibits off-road vehicles from driving on city streets, but it’s not clear enough exactly which vehicles the ordinance applies to, Mitchell said.

Lt. Melo said police do have to return vehicles to owners, unless they can’t prove they lawfully own them. Mitchell said he would prefer any confiscated vehicles to not be re-sold at auction by police and potentially end up back in the hands of criminals.

Gonzalez, 24, was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, driving to endanger, refusing to stop for a police officer, unlawful operation of a recreational vehicle on a roadway, operating a motor vehicle with no license, operating a motor vehicle with no helmet, trespassing, disturbing the peace, and resisting arrest.

He pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday and was ordered held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing on Nov. 9.

Eight other suspects were also arraigned on Tuesday.

Melvin Gonzalez, 18, Eliezer Rosado, 25, Jonathan Garcia, 26, Joshua Washburn, 22, and Alex Pizzaro, 25 pleaded not guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle and other charges and were released.

Fabio Correia-Tavares, 27, and Elemuel Robles-Maldonado, 32, also pleaded not guilty to reckless operation and other vehicular charges. Both had their bail revoked and were sent to prison for violating bail from previous charges.

Wilfredo Colon, 29, pleaded guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle, operating a recreational vehicle on a public way and operating a vehicle without a helmet and was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine.

As a result of further investigation, police announced Tuesday morning that two additional suspects will be charged and summonsed to court at a later date. Franco Santos, 28, of New Bedford, and Nicholas Santiago, 26, of Fall River, are both facing charges of reckless operation of a motor vehicle, unlawful operation of a recreation vehicle on a public way, and disturbing the peace.

Police say more arrests are likely.