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Orange County 9/11 Motorcycle Ride Red Light Scandal

  • Laguna Woods city manager apologizes to 9/11 motorcyclists

     

    Council members said city manager overreacted to ride organizers

     
    By CLAIRE WEBB
    The Orange County Register

    LAGUNA WOODS, CALIFORNIA - City Manager Leslie Keane offered an apology to the organizer of a 9/11 memorial motorcycle ride after more than 60 riders and supporters showed up to Wednesday’s City Council meeting to protest her actions following the event.

    Some council members, including Mayor Bob Ring, said the city manager overreacted to one of the participants holding traffic at a red light for more than 100 riders at the intersection of El Toro Road and Moulton Parkway. Keane and other council members also said the event can ride through the city next year provided it is done safely.

    “Inappropriate things were said, and I think they were said on both sides, and I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for my part in that,” Keane told a packed council chamber. “I am hopeful that we can move forward and if this ride comes to our city again that we can cooperate in making it a successful and safe ride.”

    Organizer Gary Biggerstaff, a veteran Long Beach firefighter, said afterwards the apology was necessary.

    “I don’t know that her heart has changed, but her words have changed,” said Biggerstaff.

    He still asked that Keane, nevertheless, contact the agencies she complained to after the ride, contending the event’s reputation is damaged.

    “What’s at stake here is the good name of this ride I’ve spent the better part of six years building up,” Biggerstaff told the council.

    Biggerstaff started the 40-mile ride, billed on the Web as the Remember 9/11 Ride, which has grown to roughly 600 participants, as a tribute to those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This year is the ride’s fifth year going from Cook’s Corner in Orange County’s Trabuco Canyon and finishing at Biggerstaff’s home in Long Beach for a memorial service.

    The conflict between Biggerstaff and Laguna Woods City Manager Leslie Keane began when one rider stopped at the intersection of El Toro Road and Moulton Parkway and held traffic to allow roughly 100 riders to pass, according to Biggerstaff.

    Biggerstaff said he was contacted in early October by the Orange County Sherriff’s Department to cooperate in an investigation to identify the rider, using red-light camera images from the intersection.

    “I had nothing to do with it,” said Biggerstaff. “The rider was at least a mile behind me.”

    He said he did not condone the rider’s actions, but could not help it since he was at the front of the pack.

    Keane said she wanted him to identify the culprit who broke the law at the red light. In her initial emails to Biggerstaff, Keane said she was concerned for public safety and that the riders acted above the law.

    “You cheapened their sacrifice and made a mockery of it,” Keane said in an email referring to victims of 9/11. “Think carefully about what all fringe groups who break the law, including the one that caused the tragic and infamous 9/11 event, say to justify their actions, they have a higher calling, their friends and comrades have died trying to protect their ideals and values. And before you call me un-American for linking you with the terrorists, of course I don’t think that. But think about what you did and what you are now saying to justify it.”

    However Biggerstaff said he took the necessary steps to ensure safety before the ride.

    In addition to providing the riders with a flyer advising them to obey traffic signals, Biggerstaff said he contacted all law enforcement agencies in five areas that the ride passed through one month in advance, including Laguna Woods. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department declined to send an officer to patrol the light and the city did not require the ride to obtain a parade permit beforehand.

    “We didn’t send a car out because we only have one police car in the town,” Keane said.

    Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Griffin said there was no need for police at the light.

    “We’ve never had a problem before,” Griffin said, “so we didn’t send someone.”

    After Biggerstaff found out about the investigation, he began exchanging emails with Keane to arrange a meeting to discuss the situation. Biggerstaff advised her to ticket the perpetrator and apologized for the incident.

    When Biggerstaff could not provide the identity of the individuals, he said Keane made it clear that she would not allow anyone involved with the ride to pass through Laguna Woods next year.

    Biggerstaff said he was contacted by several Long Beach authorities and city officials and authorities in Orange County, each of whom told him they’d been contacted by Keane or heard about her complaint. He was called in to address the conflict by Assistant Fire Chief Ken Portolan at the behest of Long Beach City Manager Patrick West.

    West said although he knew Keane was upset, he said the event was not city sponsored and so he will be taking no action.

    “It’s a group of private citizens who happen to be sworn officers who do a memorial ride to be patriotic,” West said.

    Biggerstaff said the ride and his reputation were damaged because of Keane’s contact with city officials.

    “She has drug my name through the mud,” he said.

    He takes special issue with Keane for contacting his employer, the Long Beach City Fire Department, since he participated as a private citizen during the ride.

    “To go out and put a wedge between us and our employer, city manager and our mayor is despicable,” said fellow organizer and firefighter Rich Brandt.

    Councilwoman Cynthia Conners said the organizers could circulate word of Keane’s apology to various public agencies.

    Keane now says she will work with Biggerstaff to make the ride safer next year.

    “I really am interested in trying to find a way to resolve this situation, so that the event can go forward, in a safe manner in the future,” Keane said in an email to Biggerstaff Tuesday. “I think you had good intentions and that someone else caused this situation.”

    Biggerstaff said he did not know what will happen for next year’s ride, and perhaps if he makes it an official ride with participant registration, he will consider setting up designated road guards and intersections.

     

    As of now, Griffin said the investigation is closed and he does not anticipate issuing a ticket to anyone.

    But next year is a different story.

    “I don’t know, we’ll just have to work with them,” Griffin said.

     

    (reprinted from the October 22, 2009 Orange County Register)

Comments

2 comments
  • riderchicky2
    riderchicky2 I'd simply ride AROUND Keane and her silly city of stupidity. I've been a rider who's been designated to block intersections for memorial rides and not ONCE has anyone from any town said a thing to me or my fellow riders. She obviously got her panties...  more
    October 24, 2009
  • BMWToni
    BMWToni Wow, this must be the only perfect city in the country if a city official has nothing better to do with all those hours except chase down someone she thinks deserves a traffic ticket. Sounds like Ms. Keane devoted a whole lot of time to this!
    October 24, 2009