MERCED - Rep. Dennis Cardoza was counting his blessings Thursday following an experience that California Highway Patrol officials called road rage.
Two white men in their 20s allegedly tried to force Cardoza, D-Merced, off Highway 99. Then they followed him off the freeway -- and one of the men went as far as violently banging on the congressman's car while he was stopped at a red light, Cardoza said.
The incident happened around noon, according to Cardoza, as he was driving to a meeting in Merced, traveling southbound on Highway 99. Cardoza said he tried to switch lanes when he noticed a car covered in gray primer. Cardoza said he initially did not see the vehicle because it was in a blind spot.
Cardoza, who was driving alone, said the two men in the vehicle became enraged as he drifted into their lane. They began honking their horn. He said the two men pulled alongside his federally issued Ford Escape hybrid and began making obcene gestures. He said the men then swerved in front of him as if they were going to run his car off the road. "They were clearly outside the realm of civil responsibility," Cardoza said. "They were pretty violent."
After Cardoza left the highway at the 16th Street exit, he said the car's driver jerked to a stop in front of his car by slamming on the brakes. He said the men leaped out of their car and began to charge his vehicle on foot. At that moment, Cardoza said he backed up his car and drove around them.
Cardoza said the men followed him in their car to the intersection of 16th and V streets, where he stopped at a red light. One of the men got out, approached Cardoza's car, began pounding on it and tried to kick the car's side mirror. Cardoza, who had his car windows rolled up, yelled at the man, telling him that he was calling the police.
At that moment, Cardoza said, the men jumped back into their car and sped away. The entire incident lasted about two minutes, Cardoza said. He hopes the men will be arrested in order to keep them from attacking someone else. "It's a concern that we have these kinds of individuals in society," Cardoza said.
Cardoza said he wasn't sure of details about the car the men were driving, describing it to the CHP only as a sedan of an unknown make and year, covered in gray primer. Officer Shane Ferriera, CHP spokesman, said Cardoza reported the incident at 2:15 p.m. -- about an hour and a half after it happened. Ferriera added that officers were told to be on the lookout for the vehicle, although no suspects have been arrested. Ferriera also said that the car is reported to be missing a bumper and had low suspension.
Ferriera said experiences like Cardoza's are not that uncommon. "It can happen not at all during the day, or we might get two or three (calls about road rage) depending on the circumstances," Ferriera said. "Normally, when we do get calls like this, the dispatcher does broadcast that out to the officers in the area, so if they are on duty and in the area, they can make a stop on those parties."
Road rage against a sitting U.S. congressman, however, doesn't happen every day. The fallout will probably even make the Congressional Record.