Activist pushes for ATV park after teen’s death

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Dozens of people, many riding ATVs and minibikes, converged Sunday near a vacant tract of land on Detroit’s east side to support turning the parcel into a space for recreational vehicles.

Oliver Gantt, 48, community activist, Dezanique Grimes, 25, of Detroit, and the sister of victim Damon Grimes, talk to reporters about their vision to built the Damon Grimes ATV Park/Training Center.

Community activist and City Council candidate Oliver Gantt organized Sunday’s gathering near Chandler Park in memory of Damon Grimes, the 15-year-old who died after an Aug. 26 encounter with a two-person Michigan State Police unit.

“I would like to see this land converted into the Damon Grimes ATV Park and Training Center,” said Gantt, who added he wants to talk to the land owner, Samaritan Center, to discuss possibly purchasing the property. Company officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Gantt said he’d like to see several such parks throughout Detroit, adding riders could also be trained on how to drive their vehicles safely.

“We’d like to do this in Damon’s memory,” Gantt said. “However we work it out, it would be nice to give people a safe place to ride their (recreational) vehicles.”

State police officials said Grimes did not obey a state trooper’s order to stop driving his ATV illegally in the street in his east-side neighborhood, and that Trooper Mark Bessner used his Taser on him. Damon crashed into a flatbed, and died of blunt-force head trauma, according to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The death prompted protests and calls for the prosecutor to issue charges. Bessner was suspended and has since resigned. Two other state police officers also were suspended in connection with the incident. According to three Detroit Police sources, a state police sergeant is under investigation for discarding one of the Taser wires used by Bessner.

An autopsy report released Friday showed there were no drugs found in Damon’s system, and that two of the Taser’s leads were still attached to his body.

It was unclear Sunday whether the state police sergeant allegedly removed and discarded one of the wires after the autopsy, or if he removed the wire prior to Damon’s autopsy, but left the barbed prong intact.

During Sunday’s get-together, several people rode their vehicles down Frankfort Street near the vacant land, and then through the grassy area, including 19-year-old Steven Cajar, who said he thought converting the property, or another parcel for recreational vehicle use, is “a great idea.”

“I would ride here if they made this a park,” he said. When asked whether ATVs are dangerous to ride in the street, he said: “Cars are dangerous if you don’t ride them right.”

It’s illegal to ride ATVs in the street in Detroit, although Cajar said: “This is just fun and games. We’re not hurting anyone.”

But Chief James Craig told The Detroit News last month that it is dangerous to drive off-road vehicles on city streets.

“They’re dangerous when not used how they’re supposed to be used,” Craig said. “These things shouldn’t be driven on the street, and they pose a danger to both the public and rider. It’s been a real issue for law enforcement.”

Craig said he would explore converting land into ATV parks so people don’t have to ride them in the street. There are such parks throughout the country, including Michigan areas Kids in the Mudd Off-Road Park in Bloomingdale in Van Buren County; and Bundy Hill Off Road Recreation park in Jerome.

Steven Cajar, 19, of Detroit rides his ATV through an open parcel of land on Frankfort St. that the community want to purchase to build the Damon Grimes ATV Park/Training Center.

Damon’s mother Monique Grimes attended Sunday’s gathering, but did not comment. Her daughter Dezanique Grimes said Damon would have enjoyed riding in an ATV park.

“He would have loved to come here, and be free to ride,”she said. “It’s a great idea, I think. He wasn’t a bad kid at all. He just liked to ride. He worked really hard for the (ATV), and he had just gotten it about a month before (the fatal incident).

“You see some people riding in people’s yards and disrespecting their property, but Damon didn’t do that,” his sister, 25, said. “He was a sweetheart.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN