U.S. cities see increase in deadly street racing amid pandemic
U.S. cities see increase in deadly street racing amid pandemic
Across America, illegal drag racing has grown in popularity since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Authorities have reported a dangerous increase in activity from Oregon and New Mexico, New York and Georgia. People have been killed. The roar of the engines and the traffic jams became huge trouble. Police and elected leaders are trying to retaliate. A sports psychologist who participates in legal drag races believes closures associated with the pandemic have contributed to the increase by emptying freeways and normally clogged streets. She also says that enthusiasts of fast cars had more time to modify and show them.
Jaye Sanford, 52, mother of two, was driving home in suburban Atlanta on November 21 when a man in a Dodge Challenger muscle car allegedly racing on the streets hit her in the head, killing her.
Friends remember Sanford as kind and caring, but now she will be remembered for something else: new state law that requires jail time for all drag racing and stunt convictions.
Across America, illegal drag racing has exploded in popularity since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with dangerous increases reported from Georgia and New York to New Mexico and Oregon.
Street runners block roads and even freeways to keep police away as they tear up and perform stunts, often captured on videos that go viral. Bundles of vehicles, from bloated jalopies to high-end sports cars, rumble through city streets, through industrial districts and on rural roads.
Experts say TV shows and movies glorifying street racing have already garnered interest in recent years.
Then, closures associated with the pandemic cleared normally clogged freeways as commuters worked from home.
Fans of fast cars have often had time to modify and show them off, said Tami Eggleston, a sports psychologist who participates in legal drag races.
“With COVID, when we were apart from people, I think people were kind of linked to their interest groups,” said Eggleston, who is also the principal of McKendree University, a small college in the suburbs. of Saint-Louis. “So that need to want to socialize and be around other people got runners out.”
But people were killed. The roar of the engines and the traffic jams became huge problems. Runners reportedly brandished guns and spilled beer cans in parking lots.
Police in many cities are now stepping up law enforcement and states are fighting back with new laws.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the bill bearing Sanford’s name last week after it was passed by the General Assembly. In addition to imposing at least 10 days in jail for all convictions for drag racing, the measure requires those convicted a third time within five years to give up their vehicle.
“This illegal activity is very dangerous,” the Republican governor said during a signing ceremony for the bill. “Our goal is simple: to protect every family in every community.”
In New York City, authorities received more than 1,000 drag racing complaints over six months last year, an increase of almost five times over the same period in 2019.
“Illegal street racing puts lives at risk and keeps us awake at night,” New York State Senator Brad Hoylman said. “Although there was less traffic during the pandemic, some drivers took the opportunity to treat our streets like a NASCAR expressway.”
The Democratic lawmaker introduced legislation that would allow New York City to operate its speed cameras overnight and on weekends in hot spots for illegal street racing. The Senate Transport Committee recently unanimously approved the measure, putting it in place for a vote on the ground.
In Mississippi, Republican Governor Tate Reeves enacted a bill in March to allow state soldiers to respond to incidents in cities. On New Years Eve, drivers blocked traffic on a freeway in Jackson, the state capital, for an hour as they sped and made donuts, carving circles on the sidewalk.
Even though the highway patrol headquarters were nearby, soldiers could not respond as they were prohibited from handling incidents in towns of more than 15,000 people. This ban will be lifted when the new law comes into effect on July 1.
In Arizona, the state Senate passed a bill to impose tougher sentences. He is now waiting for a vote in the House. Under an order approved by Phoenix City Council in March, police can seize a car involved in street racing or reckless driving for 30 days.
Meanwhile, the death toll is climbing. On the night of May 2, a 28-year-old woman was killed in Phoenix when a street racer crashed into her car. A man was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.
Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have handed out thousands of speeding and racing tickets since the crackdown began in October.
“Racing on our streets is so deadly, especially if more children, seniors, pedestrians and cyclists are outside during this pandemic,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.
Street racing in an industrial district of Portland, Oregon scares the people who work there. A motorcyclist was killed last month in an accident which police said apparently involved racing. On April 2, business owners wrote to the mayor and city commissioners asking them to take action.
Kathryn, an employee of the Portland French bakery in the neighborhood, says the two-mile-long side of the road is immediately littered with containers of liquor on Mondays after weekends of races and stunts. Spray painted lines mark the start and finish lines. The car parks are marked by circular tire tracks or completely eroded in places by slipping tires.
“A lot of employees are afraid to approach them, honestly. There have been a few shootings, ”said Kathryn, who did not want her last name used because she feared possible reprisals from street runners.
Portland Police say they are too overwhelmed to do much about it.
“The city of Portland has seen a huge increase in our rate of fire, a staggering amount of volatile protests, while our numbers have declined,” said Acting Lt. Michael Roberts, responsible for combating illegal street racing. “Often we don’t have the bandwidth to answer calls from street runners.”
In Denver, police deployed a helicopter to track races, closed lanes often used by runners, and dispatched officers to places where runners meet. On April 3, a mother was killed when a street racer threw her car in downtown Denver.
In one of the most notorious incidents, hundreds of street runners obstructed a stretch of highway in nearby Aurora on March 7 as they ran and sailed. Police warned other motorists to stay away amid reports of brandished weapons and fireworks.
The events added urgency to a long-running Colorado State Patrol effort to attract street runners to a safer environment. The agency’s “Take it to the Track” program features weekly contests at Bandimere Speedway in the foothills west of Denver.
“You can bring out whatever you’ve got, whether it’s a supercar or a mom’s van, grandpa’s Buick,” rider Josh Lewis said on the circuit last week. “And you can race a cop, and do it legally.”
Lewis then beat a Toyota SUV on the quarter-mile track, hitting 88 mph (142 km / h) in his Dodge Charger.
Ray Propes, 58, started street racing at the age of 16 but now prefers Bandimere Speedway for its traction and safety.
“You don’t have to worry about accidents, animals, kids, birds, anything,” he said.
Associated Press reporters Thomas Peipert in Denver; Maria Villeneuve in Albany, New York; Emily Wagster in Jackson, Mississippi; Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Jonathan J. Cooper of Phoenix contributed to this report.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.