Three bicyclists were hit with rocks on the American River Parkway in two weeks by men they believe are homeless, indicating a possible escalation of problems related to illegal camping.
In the most serious case, Kevin Meagher reported that a passing bicyclist tossed a rock Wednesday that hit him in the side, collapsing his lung and hospitalizing him. Meager said he was riding on the parkway near the Woodlake neighborhood north of downtown Sacramento.
On Monday, Gabriel Frazee reported to county rangers that a homeless man threw a rock at his head and hit his bike helmet as he was riding on the parkway in the same area where Meagher was struck. Frazee thinks the man was the owner of one of two dogs that bit him on the parkway earlier this year.
Phil Perry said he was riding on the trail June 2 next to the Blue Diamond plant when a homeless man grabbed his bike and then hit his helmet with a rock in his hand.
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Sacramento police responded to the incident by the Blue Diamond plant, while county rangers handled the two reports near Woodlake.
“These are the first two cases that involve any kind of rock throwing,” said Sacramento County Chief Ranger Michael Doane, referring to parkway violence in his two years on the job. “Things usually don’t go to that level of violence.”
Doane said the attacks appear to be unrelated since the victims reported suspects of different races.
For years, as homeless camps have ebbed and flowed on the parkway, a number of related problems have increased on the parkway, including fires, garbage and loose dogs, especially on the lower parkway west of Sacramento State. Parkway advocates and neighborhood groups say the problems deter use of what has been called the “jewel of Sacramento.”
Responding to concerns about pit bull attacks on the parkway earlier this year, Supervisor Phil Serna sent a message to County Executive Nav Gill, saying the parkway problems are “incredibly disappointing, unacceptable and dangerous,” and asking Gill to present a plan to help in the next budget. Unsatisfied with Gill’s plan for the rangers, Serna came up with a counterproposal to hire more rangers.
Supervisors rejected his $4 million plan earlier this week, though they agreed to revisit the issue next month.
Recent attacks show bold action is needed on the parkway, Serna said.
“The parkway has been completely commandeered by people who don’t respect it as a public place,” he said.
David Lukenbill of the American River Parkway Preservation Society said violence on the parkway isn’t new, and more rangers aren’t needed to stop it.
“Enforce the camping ordinance vigorously,” he said.
Doane has said citations for illegal camping don’t deter violators, in part because they don’t have money to pay fines.
Joan Burke of Sacramento Loaves & Fishes, a nonprofit social-service agency, said enforcement of the camping ordinance is not the appropriate response to the assaults, which she called “reprehensible.”
“It’s like any other attack or assault – you need to find the individual responsible,” she said. “You cannot assume all homeless people are criminals and do a general sweep.”
Frazee called for increased enforcement of the camping ordinance after he was one of two people bitten by homeless dogs in less than a month on the parkway this spring. He said he was bitten by two pit bulls near a homeless camp and the dogs had to be killed after he reported the incident to animal control officials.
This week, Frazee said he was riding home from his job at the REI near Exposition Boulevard to his midtown home when a woman yelled out, “It’s him. You know what you did.” He said he recognized the woman’s bike from a nearby homeless camp where the two dogs lived.
Frazee said a man who had been sitting at a picnic bench got up and pursued Frazee, who tried to speed away on his bike. The man threw a rock overhand, like he was pitching a baseball, and hit the back of Frazee’s helmet. Frazee said he wasn’t injured, but his helmet was destroyed.
When interviewed this week, Meagher said he was in a room at Mercy General Hospital with a tube connected to his lung. He was initially skeptical about problems on the parkway. In his years of riding to work on the parkway each day, Meagher said his worst experience was when a woman asked him to bring her to rehab.
He said his attitude changed Wednesday when he was riding home from work, listening to music on his earphones, when a passing bicyclist threw a rock and hit him in the side of his body. He said he kept biking for a while to get away before he had to get off because he couldn’t breathe.
He said the rock was the size of a softball. He thinks the suspect is homeless because of his disheveled appearance, including scruffy hair.
Perry said his attacker was talking to himself next to a grocery cart and then abruptly ran toward Perry and grabbed his bike. The man swung at Perry with an object he believed to be rock taped into his palm, destroying Perry’s helmet, he said. He “saw stars” but wasn’t injured.
Police confirmed that Perry filed a report about the alleged assault.
“It was full-on rage,” Perry said.