Crotch Rocketeers

It's zero to oblivion in a heartbeat for too many of the risk takers on the new supercharged bikes

"One officer told me that he [Carpenter] came within inches of hitting him," FHP spokesman Lt. Julio Pajon says. "He felt the wind as he went past. It's a miracle he didn't hit or kill anyone."

"They actually sideswiped each other," Torres adds. The biker momentarily lost control of the bike and hit a curb in the SunPass lane, which caused the Honda's front tire to instantly deflate. He flew up in the air, regained control, and then took off on the turnpike going the wrong way, going in between cars, heading straight at oncoming traffic -- the rim of his flattened tire leading the charge.

As this rush-hour matinee played out, Torres followed the bike as it weaved through west Miami-Dade, all the way to Krome Avenue, where it again gunned to more than 100 mph. "He was passing cars and semis between the grass and the space the vehicle leaves," marvels Torres, who trailed the bike all the way into a gated apartment community off 167th Avenue and 105th Street. He watched it circle an apartment building several times until he eventually lost sight of it under the canopy of a huge tree.

The makeshift memorial on the street where Thaddeus Pope lost his life
Jeff Stratton
The makeshift memorial on the street where Thaddeus Pope lost his life

"I knew he had to be in one of those apartments," Torres says. When the arrest team made it there, its first job was to run the plates from every car in the parking lot to see if any motorcycle owners turned up.

In the meantime, a young man came out of one of the apartments walking a dog. He approached one of the FHP officers and said, "You know, I just applied to be a trooper. And, you know, my wife is a 911 operator."

"We said, 'OK, great,'" Torres reports.

At that point, Trooper Michael Valdez wrote in his report that the man's face bore "the fresh imprint of sunglasses" and noticed a tire track leading to the sliding glass door of his apartment. After some hemming and hawing, Valdez says the man agreed to let police take a peek in the apartment. By then, computer records showed a motorcycle was owned by the occupant of the apartment, David Carpenter. From the living room, dark tire tracks on the white shag carpet led officers to a bedroom where the Honda sat tucked between Carpenter's bed and closet. The front tire was shredded, the rim dented, and the license plate bent so that the tag couldn't be read from ground or air. There was the backpack. And the helmet. That was that.

On the kitchen table, officers found an FHP application and a letter from the state informing Carpenter he had met the qualifications needed to begin the process of becoming a state trooper.

Carpenter had been racing to get to work, though he had fled back to the safety of his home. At the Plantation Harley-Davidson dealership where he was employed as a service writer, manager Barry Kuhnly says Carpenter quit the week before his arrest. "I guess he didn't like the drive from where he lived all the way up here," Kuhnly smirks. "It was taking him 15 minutes instead of 12."

On July 27, Carpenter is due in court, where he faces three counts of fleeing and eluding police and two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer -- all felonies. He has also been hit with citations for reckless driving and concealing his license plate, and the state is in the process of forfeiting the motorcycle.

"He put everybody's life in danger out there," Torres says. "Like it's nothing; like it's a game."

Cops like Torres know different. "We're literally doing next-of-kin notifications every week," he says. "Literally."

In the Hooters parking lot, several have heard Carpenter's name on the news. "He's not exactly an icon," Schwalb explains, "but that's how you get known." A few BMWs and Ducatis -- the priciest, most flamboyant of the crotch rockets -- roar in. In a small consolation to fellow motorists, few if any of the sports-bike enthusiasts are drinking alcohol. With reflexes already at a premium, most of the chances they're willing to take are against the road, not themselves. At the end of the night, as packs of bikes speed away in different directions, cop cars in pursuit, it's high speeds, not DUI, they worry about.

The thrill still comes down to the intensity of the adrenaline rush and industrial-strength macho bravado. "One guy told me he likes to get in the inside lane, up against the cement wall, so he can hear their engine reverberating off the wall at 140 mph," says Lt. David Kronsperger of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. "I said, 'Well, bully for you!'"

The owner of a downtown motorcycle repair shop openly mocks the groups of bikers who primp and preen at hangouts like Hooters and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Forty-five-year-old Robert "Dr. Bob" D'Angelo says he would follow the pack, waiting for them to pull into a nearby gas station. "Then I'd leave with 'em," he says. "I would fall right into their pack. And I'd work my way up to the front guy, to their baddest rider."

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