Problems with groups of motorcycle riders that began plaguing several Grand Cayman districts early last year have grown worse in recent months, according to residents who spoke with police this week.
In separate public meetings in North Side, East End and West Bay districts, residents informed police officers that problems with loud, dangerous motorcycles – some of which appeared to have been operating without license plates or registration – were affecting quality of life, and in some cases interfering with public enjoyment of local beaches.
In some instances, including one reported in December by visitors to Kaibo public beach in North Side, motorbike riders were alleged to be “kicking up sand” by riding around on the beach, driving away some visitors at a birthday party there. Police were called to investigate, but by the time they arrived, the motorbike operators had left.
In another example, reported by a North Side resident Tuesday night, a bike with no lights on sped by several homes on a local street at 7:30 p.m., traveling at an estimated 75-80 miles per hour while “popping wheelies” and revving its engine.
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller said his constituents have been reporting these matters to police for months with apparently little result.
“These bikes are illegal,” Mr. Miller told Royal Cayman Islands Police Chief Inspector Brad Ebanks and other police officers attending the North Side district meeting Tuesday night. “They cannot be licensed and you can’t get insurance for them. How can police allow them on the road?”
Chief Inspector Ebanks, who heard similar complaints from East End district residents Wednesday night, said the issue is not so clear cut.
“You have a group of persons who have high-powered bikes that are licensed and insured, and then you have others who have no license, don’t have insurance and run around at night,” Mr. Ebanks said. “We have prosecuted quite a number of them.”
The difficulty, in part, is in determining initially who is a legal bike operator and who is illegally using the road. Once a determination is made that the motorbike is being operated illegally, Mr. Ebanks said, police are then left with a chancy decision of whether to give chase.
“The risk that we have is if people pursue them, and the unfortunate happens, we could be held liable,” Mr. Ebanks said.
Police have been wary of the issue since a 2013 Grand Court judgment by Justice Alex Henderson in relation to a 2008 police chase along West Bay Road that ended in the deaths of two men inside the car being pursued.
The family of a Caymanian man, Bruce Lee Ebanks, sued the driver of the vehicle being pursued by police, as well as the Cayman Islands government, over the fatal crash on Feb. 29, 2008. Mr. Ebanks and 21-year-old Sidney Myles, who were passengers in the car driven by then-19-year-old Alex Callan, died in the Friday night crash. Mr. Callan survived and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving.
In late March 2013, Justice Henderson granted a judgment and costs in favor of Paulene Ebanks, the mother of Bruce Lee Ebanks.
According to the judgment: “The accident was contributed to, if not caused by, the speed at which Mr. Callan was driving. He was doing so because a police car was chasing him. Had the pursuit been terminated, it is more probable than not that Mr. Callan would have slowed down to a normal speed so as to avoid attracting further police attention. The negligent failure to end the pursuit was one factor which contributed to the accident.”
The dangers posed by chasing illegal motorcycle operators were also addressed by RCIPS Superintendent Angelique Howell during Wednesday night’s meeting in East End. She revealed that Operation Leopard in West Bay earlier this year used the police helicopter to observe motorcycle riders and communicate to officers on the ground, telling them where to intercept the vehicles.
“We locked up six” in West Bay district alone, Superintendent Howell said. The issue of illegal motorbikes had also come up at a January public meeting in West Bay, when RCIPS Chief Inspector Harlan Powery highlighted a problem with youths riding through the district on stolen bikes. He said the Barkers area is a particular hot spot for young bikers.
Mr. Powery said stolen bikes are often modified to such a degree that they are unidentifiable. Even if they are recovered, they are sometimes “beyond all use.”
East End MLA Arden McLean described a motorbike incident he observed and then called 911 from his car while he was in a funeral procession. Mr. McLean said he was concerned about the maneuvers of motorbikes on the road at the time.
The motorbikes mentioned by Mr. McLean – referred to as trail bikes – were a concern to several East End residents. Their complaints, similar to those in North Side, was that such bikes are not licensed or equipped for road use, but are being ridden on roads in a noisy, unsafe manner.
“Whatever operation [the police are] doing needs to be done more forcefully,” Mr. McLean said.
The age range of the bike offenders prompted Police Inspector Joseph Wright to comment that the people present at the East End meeting were not the ones breaking laws. “The younger ones are the ones giving trouble,” he said. “There are too many idle youngsters in East End.”
Cayman Compass reporter James Whittaker contributed to this story.