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Weekend incidents highlight Baltimore's struggle to corral dirt bikers

Wesley Ford heard their engines before he saw them: a pack of dirt bikers tearing down East Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor on Friday night, heading directly for Ford and his friend.

The light was red, but the riders were traveling upward of 60 miles an hour, Ford said, and showed no signs of slowing down.

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"I was extremely panicked," said Ford, 17, who remembered freezing in the middle of the crosswalk and covering his head as the pack raced through the red light.

He came out unscathed, but his friend was not so lucky. She remained in the hospital Monday, where she is being treated for injuries suffered when one of the dirt bike riders ran into her before speeding off.

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In another incident Friday, a driver was assaulted after colliding with a dirt biker in Southwest Baltimore, according to police.

The pair of incidents highlight the city's continuing struggle to corral dirt bikers, who regularly ride through the city in large packs, popping wheelies and flouting traffic laws. Dirt bikes are banned on city streets.

City Council members voiced frustration Monday about the weekend incidents, as more details became available.

"The dirt bike issue is getting out of hand," City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said.

The woman, an 18-year-old high school senior from Northern Virginia, suffered a skull fracture and a traumatic brain injury, according to her mother, Yvette Coffman.

Her daughter and Ford, who attend high school together and expect to graduate this month, were in Baltimore to attend the Beyonce concert at M&T Bank Stadium.

Coffman, 58, said her daughter will make a full recovery, but it will take time. She asked that her daughter not be named for privacy reasons.

"She has weeks ahead of her," Coffman said. "And she has really suffered this past weekend."

The teens had driven through traffic for three hours to make it to the show, Ford said, even skipping senior prom.

Instead, Ford spent the evening at the hospital with his friend before his parents picked him up to take him home.

"We're really huge fans" of Beyonce, Ford said. "It was really disappointing."

Police spokesman Jeremy Silbert said Monday that officers are still trying to identify the rider.

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Hours after the Inner Harbor accident, police responded to the 1500 block of S. Monroe St. in the Carroll-Camden Industrial Area, where they found the injured driver and the dirt biker from the second incident. The biker's leg was broken, police said.

Both were hospitalized, according to a police statement. Police have not named the dirt biker, who will face traffic charges.

Police said the dirt biker's companion, who has not been identified, assaulted the driver.

Police have a "no-pursue policy" when it comes to the riders, according to Detective Nicole Monroe, a police spokeswoman. "It's just not worth it," Monroe said, citing the potential threat a police chase could pose to pedestrians and property.

Instead, police use other tactics to curtail the illegal rides, which have previously included shutting down traffic lanes on streets where bikers have congregated.

"We're going to stay the course," Monroe said.

Young expressed shock at the violence that accompanied the second incident Friday night.

"This is what you think would happen in places like Iraq," he said. "Not in Baltimore, not in the U.S.A. We need to send a clear message that this is not going to be tolerated."

"It's just sad and angering," said Councilman Brandon M. Scott, vice chairman of the Public Safety Committee.

"There's no one solution," Scott said. "Children and young people in our city love to ride dirt bikes, and we're going to have to deal with it."

Scott called a proposal to establish a designated track for dirt bikers in the city a partial solution "at best."

He raised a number of questions about the proposal, including insurance liability issues and how riders would get their bikes to the track if riding them on city streets is illegal.

Coffman called on city leaders to respond more aggressively to illegal dirt bike riding in the city.

"It could've been anybody in the street," she said. "It's incredible to this family that this can happen in the city of Baltimore."

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article

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