LAS CRUCES – Daniel Garcia had just finished a blitz of studying on Oct. 3 when he decided to take a ride down University Avenue.
The 22-year-old New Mexico State University student is working to get into medical school and has started the arduous process of studying for entrance exams. He rides his bike to decompress. As he set out to ride that Monday, he had no idea the trip would end with a gunshot to the face.
Police reports and court records show a verbal altercation between Garcia and a motorist turned into a shooting and an arrest.
Though Garcia continues recovering, the physical and emotional scars will remain, he said, even as he hopes his story will warn others.
What happened on University Avenue
For Garcia, a typical ride means leaving his home near west University Avenue, riding east to the Pam American Center, and then back home. It usually takes him about an hour and acts as stress relief for the pre-med student.
Garcia also takes precautions while riding in Las Cruces. He dresses in bright colors and wears a bright orange helmet to be seen by drivers. In New Mexico and in the city of Las Crucesbicyclists are also required to drive on the same side of the road as the traffic flow.
Garcia said he follows those rules because he’s been on the road long enough to know that riding a bike can be dangerous. Near misses are expected, he said.
“It happens a lot, to be honest. I usually carry a mirror on my bike,” Garcia said. “I’m constantly looking back to see how far cars are from me. And I usually ride on the very right side of the road, like almost off the road, because people just don’t pay attention.”
As Garcia approached the University Avenue and Main Street intersection, heading east, he said he a white Subaru nearly clipped him as the bicyclist and motorist traveled next to each other.
When the two reach the intersection, Garcia says to the driver, “do you want to get a little closer next time?”
“And the first thing that comes out of his mouth, he’s like, ‘You shouldn’t be in the effing road.’ And I was like, ‘where else am I supposed to ride my bike then?'” Garcia said.
While stopped at the intersection, the situation escalates. At one point, Garcia said the driver threatened to shoot him after Garcia called 911. Witnesses at the scene told police that the driver left his vehicle and tried shoving Garcia off his bike.
That leads Garcia to punch the driver. As the driver stumbles back, Garcia notices him reach into his pocket and pull out a gun.
“I see him point the gun at me and see the flash go off. I hear the gunshot, and then I feel my face jolt back,” Garcia said. “I look and, out of the corner of my eye, I see my cheek dangling, as bad as that sounds.”
From there, the driver returns to his Subaru and eventually drives away from the area. Bystanders rush over to help Garcia to the hospital.
The case against the driver
Police charged Christopher Dieter Gerzymisch of El Paso with one count of aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm and one count of battery after the shooting.
In an affidavit, police said Garcia picked Gerzymisch, 43, out of a lineup. According to the affidavit, other witnesses at the scene described seeing a man of similar age and build to Gerzymisch.
Gerzymisch first appeared in court on Oct. 31 after returning to Las Cruces to face a judge. He’s not being held in jail, which is typical for defendants if prosecutors choose not to seek pretrial detention, which they did not in this case.
Gerzymisch is scheduled for preliminary examination in December, court records show. The court still needs to set a trial date in the case, which comes after the preliminary examination.
Today, Garcia is in better spirits. He said he’s resumed his studies at NMSU and planned to visit family over Thanksgiving break. However, he hasn’t ridden his bike since the shooting.
He said every time he passes the intersection where the shooting occurred, he tenses up and remembers the violent altercation.
“I’m kind of scared to go out cycling again,” he said. “I feel like I just like have this like gut feeling like you know like you know, something’s gonna happen.”
Doctors have cleared Garcia to start exercising, and he has plenty of studying to do before his medical school entry exams in January. He said he’s found other ways to blow off steam.
He said he hopes his story will caution other bicyclists and motorists in the area and inspire change.
“It happens every day and happens to a lot of people, and just, I don’t know, there’s not really much change that I’ve seen from the years that I’ve been riding,” he said.
Note: The subject of this story has no familiar relation to the author.
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