There’s no question Redding is a city on the edge. Deteriorating public safety has created a powder keg of citizen resentment toward the city’s leadership that’s just waiting for the slightest spark to touch it off.
This resentment plays out hourly on Facebook pages such as “The New Redding Crime” and “Take Back Redding,” and last week reached fever pitch when the story that two bikers had been attacked by transient Latinos near Park Marina Drive and the Cypress Avenue bridge in separate but related incidents began circulating on social media.
The alleged attacks took place early in the morning on Friday, June 16. I missed most of the build-up on social media and didn’t become aware of the alleged twin attacks until Monday, June 19, when Action News Now, which serves 175,000 viewers in northern California, published a story on its website alleging, “Two motorcyclists in Redding [were] attacked within minutes of each other with one ending up hospitalized.”
According to Action News Now, the first victim, Bryant Krause from Redding, was cruising slowly on his Harley-Davidson on Park Marina Drive when he encountered two men and a woman standing in the road near the Cypress Street bridge. When he stopped to speak to them, the two men pushed him and his motorcycle over and began pummeling him in the street.
When one of the men threatened to stab him in the neck, Krause found the energy to pick up the Harley and immediately proceeded to the Redding Police Department (less than a half mile away) to report the altercation. Krause described his assailants as two Hispanic men, one with a three-dot tattoo near his eye.
Action News Now didn’t interview the other biker, Ryan Christopher Rhodes, who was hospitalized with two broken legs. It did, however, let Krause speak on his behalf.
“He [Ryan] said he was dragged into the bushes, or they were trying to drag him into the bushes,” Krause said. “He kept screaming he couldn’t see anything. Either something was stuck into his motorcycle or thrown in front of his motorcycle.”
The impression given by the story was the attack on Rhodes had occurred at the same location, roughly 15 minutes after Krause’s altercation.
The story was shared on Facebook, where I first encountered it, and being concerned about our present crime wave as well as being an avid motorcyclist, I found its contents alarming, to say the least. Two bikers taken down by a band of marauding ex-convicts! Occurring in the same week as an alleged sexual assault on a jogging trail, no less! More evidence to bolster growing complaints that the city’s leadership is clueless when it comes to stopping crime.
Surely this will be the spark that sets it all off, I thought at first blush. Citizens are going to start taking matters into their own hands. As it turns out, in what I’m calling the “Two Bikers Down” case, one local citizen had already taken matters into his own hands, and his efforts would contribute to the story, which is only half-true, spinning out of control, necessitating intervention by the Redding Police Department.
Action News Now: Coverage you can count on?
I’ll admit I initially got caught up in the heady rush of vigilantism surrounding the case, but upon sober reflection, I noted a number of holes in the Action News Now story, the widest one being that even though there was an alleged victim in the hospital with two broken legs, “Redding Police say they do not have enough evidence to open an investigation at this time.”
Really? No follow up on that? Considering that the second victim hadn’t been interviewed, that the location of his alleged assault was nebulous and no other news agency appeared to have covered the event, I began to suspect the two incidents were not related.
As we now know, thanks to a fairly unprecedented Redding Police Department press release on Tuesday, June 2o, the two incidents are not related.
Krause was indeed assaulted by a group of transients on Park Marina Drive near the Cypress Avenue bridge at 12:32 a.m. on June 16. But the incident involving Ryan Christopher Rhodes occurred more than a mile away in downtown Redding, near the intersection of Gold and Market streets and more than an hour later, at 1:49 a.m.
“Based on physical evidence and statements from witnesses,” the RPD report said, “it has been determined that Rhodes failed to stay on the traveled portion of the roadway and struck a raised curb at the intersection of Gold Street and Market Street. The impact caused him to be ejected from his motorcycle.”
I know the corner well, the Market Street Chicane I call it. Where you turn left off California Street onto Gold Street then immediately right onto South Market. There’s tons of painted lines and crazy signs with arrows pointing in every direction. If you’re just passing through town and you know the road and the traffic lights are with you, it’s a nice left-right combination that breaks up the monotony of the downtown grid.
But if you’re new in town and traveling in the left lane, beware of the curb that closes off half of Gold Street on the second half of the chicane. Stray too far to the outside of the lane and you’ll clip that curb, and on a motorcycle, you could quite possibly go down, hard.
According to an eye witness who was traveling in a car behind Rhodes, saw the accident, called 911, and helped pull Rhodes off of the street, that’s pretty much what happened. Instead of going around the corner, Rhodes went straight over the curb, lost control when the bike landed, and wound up a broken, bleeding mangled mess three-quarters of the way down the block, near the entrance to the now-closed Wendy’s drive-through.
The RPD press release noted that Rhodes was not tested for alcohol, but added that he admitted to having one beer prior to the accident. I’m not sure why RPD felt it necessary to insinuate Rhodes may have been intoxicated when they have no proof to that effect, but I suspect it may be because the Two Bikers Down story was spreading like wildfire on social media, and the department wasn’t happy about it.
“Social media is a valuable tool for the community and the Redding Police Department,” the RPD press release concluded. “However, it is important to remember that information found in social media is not always accurate.”
A man in search of a memory
As it happened, RPD’s debunking of the Two Biker Down story last Tuesday afternoon occurred immediately after I’d interviewed Rhodes by telephone from his hospital bedroom. Before the press release, Rhodes was insistent that he recalled an object – a brick or a cinder block – being thrown at his front wheel before he was thrown over the handlebars.
Literally 15 minutes after we’d finished talking on the phone, the RPD issued its press release, and Rhodes began issuing lengthy, emotional posts on Facebook, in part to save face—after all, RPD was basically suggesting he made the whole thing up—but mostly to explain that he doesn’t really remember what happened, and he’s been desperately trying to find out ever since.
I nearly dropped the Two Bikers Down story after the RPD debunking, but Rhodes had said some interesting things on the phone. He didn’t come up with the idea he’d been attacked all on his own. From his hospital bed, he’s been communicating with Krause, whom he’d only met the evening of the accident, and their Facebook conversations where were the speculation began.
(Bryant Krause did not reply to my inquiries about this story.)
Rhodes also told me a private investigator had also dropped by his hospital room, unsolicited, claiming to have an eye witness to Rhodes’ assault. Rhodes had fervently believed him, so RPD debunking the notion that he hadn’t been hit by a brick hit him … like the brick he hadn’t been hit with in the first place.
I felt compelled to visit him in the hospital, not just to cheer a fellow biker up, but because there’s a story here, just not the one I was originally looking for.
I showed up at his hospital room Thursday, the day after articles about the RPD’s press release debunking the Two Bikers Down theory had appeared in the local media.
I say “room” but actually it’s just a bed with a privacy screen around it in a room with many other beds in it. It’s a busy room, with medical personnel, visitors and patients milling around constantly. Rhodes had been here on a Dilaudid drip for nearly a week. Occasionally they wheel him out for another surgery on his shattered lower right leg.
The leg looked swollen and jaundiced under gauze, awaiting yet another surgery. Heavy scabs have formed on Rhodes’ forearms from his elbows to his wrists as well as on the front of his thighs, road rash from somersaulting on asphalt in a T-shirt, jeans and slip-on Vans. A small bone in his left ankle is also broken and the leg is in a splint. Ruptured blood vessels have blossomed on the bottoms of both feet.
Although he lost consciousness after the incident, Rhodes was wearing a full-face helmet and suffered no head trauma. Nevertheless, he doesn’t recall how he lost control of his 2017 Yamaha Bolt, is still foggy about events that happened immediately afterward, and the first thing he can truly recall is waking up in the ER with a tube in his throat.
“I remember seeing a flash of light in my rear view mirror, looking back, and then I was going over the handlebars,” he explained, in fairly good spirits considering the week he’s had. “I remember hitting my head first, then my knees.” Everything else is a blur, including where the accident occurred. “I thought I was near Tiger Stadium,” he said.
That’s understandable, since the 28-year-old single dad/construction worker hails from Burney and isn’t overly familiar with Redding. He’d spent the evening club-hopping on his motorcycle and met Krause on his Harley along the way. The pair struck up a friendship, and capped off the night with beer and cigarettes at Shameless O’Leary’s, just three blocks away from the intersection where Rhodes’ fate was awaiting.
Krause, who had his own date with destiny that evening, left O’Leary’s first. Rhodes says he nursed a Coors Light and smoked cigarettes before leaving a half-hour to an hour later. He says he wasn’t intoxicated and felt perfectly capable of driving a few miles south to his cousin’s house near Churn Creek. He never made it. Not even close.
“I thinking I was screaming from the pain, freaking out,” Rhodes said, trying to recall the accident scene. “I really do remember sensing people were grabbing me, trying to drag me into the bushes. I recall someone saying, ‘Don’t call the cops.’ I thought someone was trying to take my wallet.”
Besides these vague memories of the people gathered around him at the accident scene, that’s all he remembers until waking up in the hospital Friday morning.
By Friday afternoon, Rhodes’ family in Burney had been notified their son was in the hospital, but when family members attempted to contact police for information about the accident, all RPD could point to was a case number indicating Rhode’s motorcycle had been impounded for being left in the middle of the street.
No accident report was available, a situation that persisted through the weekend and into the week, until RPD’s press release debunking the Two Bikers Down story was released on Tuesday.
RPD Lt. Bill Schueller admitted to me that the department had dropped the ball somewhat on communicating with the Rhodes family. The officer working the accident was on the last day of his shift and subsequently went on vacation that Friday. There was a lack of continuity getting the report out over the weekend. By that time, the Two Bikers Down meme was snowballing on Facebook.
Birth and death of a fake news story
To be fair, the combustible atmosphere surrounding the crime debate in Redding had as much to with the Two Bikers Down story going viral as anything else. Once the talk got started, there was no shutting it down.
It began when Rhodes’ sister came to visit him Saturday, June 17 in the hospital, and she showed her brother a Facebook post by Krause about his altercation with transients on Park Marina Drive. Isn’t this interesting, she told her brother, it happened the same night as your accident.
Rhodes instantly recognized Krause, whom he’d only met the night before, and contacted him on Facebook. At some point they began speculating that there incidents might be related. Keep in mind, at the time, Rhodes did not know his accident was more than a mile distant from Krause’s assault and an hour later in time, because no police report on his accident had been issued.
Krause’s description of his assault sounded to Rhodes an awful lot like his own vague memories of people accosting him after his accident. Conversing on Facebook and in person (Krause visited Rhodes in the hospital over the weekend), the pair developed a theory: Because Krause and Rhodes look uncannily alike and drive similar-looking motorcycles, perhaps the transients had attacked Rhodes when he passed through Marina Drive, thinking it was Krause returning to retaliate.
By Monday, that social media speculation had picked up enough steam to generate the error-filled Action News Now story, which as of this writing is still posted without correction.
It also attracted the attention of Dan Ryant, a Red Bluff resident who also happens to be a frequent critic at Redding City Council meetings. Ryant has a background in investigation, and agreed to help Krause and Rhodes find the assailants.
“That really pissed me off,” Ryant told me by telephone from Red Bluff, referring to the errant claim in the Action News Now story that RPD wasn’t investigating the case. Sufficiently motivated, Ryant staked out the Marina Drive area himself and with help from an anonymous source in the transient community, soon found people who matched the descriptions given to him by Krause.
Ryant’s source claimed to have witnessed the group of transients attack both Krause and Rhodes. Ryant took Krause down to the area where the transients were holed up, and Krause identified them as his attackers. Ryant relayed the information that there was an eye witness to his attack to Rhodes in his hospital room in the presence of his parents.
“He just started crying,” Ryant recalls. “He said, ‘So I’m not going crazy after all.’ ”
Rhodes admits that he broke down hearing the information, since he’d been desperately trying to put the pieces of the night back together. The sense that people had been going through his pockets while he lay helpless in the road was confirmed, and from there it wasn’t too far of a stretch to imagine someone had tossed a brick at him, causing him to crash.
But any relief he might have felt was dashed soon after, when RPD finally got around to interviewing Rhodes about the accident on Monday, June 19.
Attempted to interview might be a better way to put it. Rhodes, who didn’t get the officer’s name, was immediately taken aback by the officer’s antagonistic attitude when he appeared at his hospital beside. Apparently, RPD had gotten wind of the Facebook scuttlebutt and was not happy about it. According to Rhodes, the officer was adamant. “He said he wasn’t there to screw me over, he didn’t care if I was drunk off my ass, but he was there to take down an accident report, not an assault.”
Rhodes, believing strongly at the time that he had been assaulted, for all the reasons stated above, balked and refused to be interviewed.
Meanwhile, at roughly the same time, Ryant took the information he had gathered regarding the assault to RPD, a fact confirmed to me by Lt. Schueller. In fact, the transients identified by Ryant’s informant are the prime suspects in Krause’s assault.
But Ryant says he was blindsided by RPD when they informed him the transients couldn’t have assaulted Rhodes, because his accident happened more than a mile away and an hour later and their was already an eye witness to the accident.
Ryant, who according to RPD does have an investigative background, immediately realized his informant was mistaken about Rhodes, and is inclined to believe RPD’s explanation for it: Nowadays, even transients have cell phones, and they use social media, too. His informant probably picked up on the Two Bikers Down speculation on Facebook—just like RPD—and embellished their recollections to fit the story.
Shortly after talking to Ryant, on Tuesday afternoon, RPD issued the press release debunking the Two Bikers Down story.
What have we learned here, if anything?
I think most locals agree Redding is a city on the edge right now, an edge that for good or for bad many of us enjoy expressing on social media. The Two Bikers Down story illustrates how one small slip up by a civil servant, in this case an understandable weekend delay in a traffic accident report, can quickly explode into a potentially lethal situation in our current atmosphere of distrust and anger.
Suppose someone without Ryant’s investigative experience had taken it upon themselves to track down the transients who allegedly attacked Krause and Rhodes? To be honest, I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about Ryant’s investigative activities, even though RPD vouched for him. Do we really want private citizens poking their noses into every alleged crime posted on Facebook?
That’s not necessarily a rhetorical question nowadays. Some people think we do. It’s worth noting that Bryant did locate the people RPD suspect of attacking Krause. He definitely wasn’t all wrong.
Ryant didn’t say so, but I sensed that he feels badly about Rhodes predicament and his whole involvement in the affair. As an investigator, he knows he should have nailed down the location of Rhodes’ accident—there’s that delayed police report again—before taking the informant’s word on events as the gospel truth and presenting it to Rhodes and his family as airtight evidence.
Bryant remains concerned that some folks on social media are still clinging to the Two Bikers Down story, claiming the RPD is covering something up. He stressed that he had the utmost respect for the department.
As for RPD, they seem to be relieved the whole thing is over.
“It was a strange set of coincidences, circumstances, speculation and not knowing,” said Lt. Schueller.
The not knowing remains the worst part of it for Rhodes, now facing six to nine months of recovery from his injuries. I suppose the good thing about it is he’s aware that he doesn’t know some particulars of the accident and may never know. Once he’d been informed of the time and location of his crash, it wasn’t hard to drop the belief he’d been waylaid by a brick.
“I’m not a narcissist, you know,” he told me from his hospital bed. “I’m just going to take this as a wake-up call.”
I went down to the accident scene at Market and Gold streets before visiting Rhodes. I stopped in at Shameless O’Leary’s and asked people in the bar if they’d heard about a motorcycle accident nearby recently, just around the corner. Happened just before last call on Thursday night, I told them. He was supposedly drinking a beer in here. Was anyone making a scene?
No one knew nothing. Which is as it should be. Or at least it’s to be expected.
Outside the bar it was 111 degrees and I was thankful the accident site was such a short distance away. I imagined I was Ryan Christopher Rhodes, heading toward the Market Street Chicane on my fairly brand new Yamaha Bolt, Japanese V-twin reliably throbbing away between my legs, rounding the left-hand entry corner on the inside with a little enthusiasm, goosing it down the short straight, hitting the left-hand exit a little too hot and … there’s that curb crossing the far side of Gold Street right underneath my wheels.
Boom, I’m down. Anyone this side of Valentino Rossi would be down.
There are several fresh black marks on the curb, so it’s difficult to say where exactly Rhodes hit the curb. The spots where he and his bike tumbled down the street were still marked with orange spray paint from the traffic investigators. Next to one paint mark was what looked like congealed blood.
It’s a considerable distance from where Rhodes hit the curb, indicating that he may have struggled to save the bike before he finally went down. He doesn’t remember doing anything, not even touching the brakes. At any rate the beast threw him to the ground where he was knocked cold and both his legs were broken. He knows he’s lucky to be alive.
A wake-up call indeed.