A man suspected of attacking bicyclists with a handsaw in the hills above the University of California at Berkeley campus pleaded not guilty to assault and vandalism charges in Alameda County Superior Court today.
Michael Vandeman, 67, who has a website dedicated to environmental activism with an anti-bicyclist bent, was arrested Friday in connection with an attack about six weeks ago on the Strawberry Canyon Fire Trail near campus, UC Berkeley police Lt. Alex Yao said.
The Berkeley Daily Planet has published a number of letters on environmental topics from Vandeman. Internet comments suggest that he lives in Berkeley in the Bateman neighborhood, although he has given the Planet an office address in San Ramon. In a 2005 letter, he said:
"It’s high time that we put a halt to this abuse and sacrifice of our natural areas and of our young people. Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts in trails, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, and drives wildlife and oth er trail users off the trails and out of the parks. What’s good about that?"Yao said Vandeman approached two male bicyclists who were riding west on the trail and cut one of the victims across the chest with a handsaw. The victim suffered minor injuries.
The victims asked why he had attacked them, and Vandeman allegedly told them they should not be riding their bicycles on the trail, police said.
The victims eventually identified Vandeman from a photograph, and he was arrested Friday after admitting to holding a saw in front of bicyclists and touching one of them with it, according to Yao.
Additional charges may be sought against Vandeman for similar incidents on the trail, including one reported on May 6.
Yao said Vandeman is not currently affiliated with the university.
He appeared in court with his attorney this morning and pleaded not guilty to felony assault and misdemeanor vandalism charges, according to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.
District attorney's office spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said the assault charge is related to an April 18 incident and the vandalism charge stems from an incident on June 19, 2009.
Vandeman's bail has been set at $12,500.
On Vandeman's website, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande, he describes himself as a computer programmer who got his bachelor's degree in mathematics from UC Berkeley and later received a Ph.D. in psychology from University of California at Los Angeles.
The website includes letters dating as far back as the 1990s that Vandeman claims he sent to various elected officials, local environmental groups and media outlets in the East Bay that called for the restriction of bikes to paved roads.
One letter, sent to the East Bay Regional Parks District in 2002, complains that it is "very hazardous and unpleasant...to suddenly try to share narrow paths with large, fast-moving pieces of machinery."
UC Berkeley police are still seeking information about other possible incidents involving Vandeman. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Police Department's criminal investigation bureau at (510) 642-0472 or (510) 642-6760.