Too fast, too furious: Dangerous street takeovers stymie police, anger neighbors

A driver videos himself doing a burnout in a BMW M3. Authorities say posting such images on social media only encourages the dangerous behavior. (Image courtesy of Storyblocks)

LOS ANGELES – Drivers fueled by the need for speed show off by skidding around blocked-off intersections, filling the air with clouds of burning rubber in what’s known as a street takeover.

Crowds numbering in the hundreds gather for the late-night displays in cities across the country but put themselves in danger when a vehicle goes out of control or someone brandishes a gun. Ordinary motorists and pedestrians risk their lives if they stumble upon the chaos.

Police say they don’t have enough manpower to stop such street takeovers, which have been popularized by the “Fast & Furious” movie franchise. Residents are fed up.

“It seems you are putting a Band-Aid on something that needs stitches,“ complained a caller identifying himself as Anthony Artry, expressing frustration at an online forum this week, held by the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission and aimed at finding solutions to the problem.

A car drives through empty streets in downtown Los Angeles’ financial district on Aug. 12, 2022. Closures related to COVID-19 protocols left many LA streets devoid of traffic, prompting some drivers to take more risks. (Photo by Fernanda Galan Martinez/Cronkite News)

Besides members of the public and law enforcement officials, participants included Street Racing Kills, an organization that works to prevent reckless driving among the youth.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department so far this year has received 838 calls demanding action to stop street takeovers.

Sheriff’s deputies say they’re overwhelmed by the hundreds of carloads of people who can show up, and the potential for violence.

“In a street takeover, there are usually two hundred cars or three hundred cars – a single station can’t handle that by themselves,” sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Downing said.

The California Highway Patrol this year has impounded more than 800 cars and written more than 3,600 citations.

Sheriff’s deputies also fine drivers and, in rare cases, arrest them. Nevertheless, the public is demanding more effective solutions to what could become a nationwide scourge.

Authorities say the phenomenon has been driven in part by the popularity of the Fast & Furious movies, with drivers trying to emulate stunts they’ve seen on screen. Drivers post their exploits on social media, further fueling illegal activity and the competitive spirit among car clubs.

Indeed, some of the biggest backlash has come from residents in Angelino Heights, near downtown Los Angeles, where the first Fast & Furious was filmed and the 10th one is being shot. Protesters say the movies have attracted street racers and made their neighborhood a danger zone.

Drivers became more brazen during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, which cleared normally clogged streets and freeways of traffic. Suddenly, many streets were empty and drivers believed they had a newfound freedom to speed, either for takeovers or street racing.

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Arizona also has seen a rise in such activity. On a single night in February, ABC15 reported street takeovers in Glendale, Phoenix and Scottsdale, resulting in multiple arrests. And in August, street racing killed four people in Phoenix and one person in Chandler, according to news reports.

Lili Trujillo Puckett, founder of Street Racing Kills, lost her 16-year-old daughter in 2013 when a young racer crashed while giving the girl a ride home.

Puckett said one solution to the problem would be to expand the number of legitimate race tracks available to drivers. Car culture should be embraced, she said, so long as it can occur safely.

Street Racing Kills is partnered with Irwindale Speedway, just east of Los Angeles. lt provides free tickets to young drivers to participate in the speedway’s Thursday Night Thunder events.

Frustrated law enforcement officers are trying their own solutions.

Sheriff’s deputies say they have tried attaching hard-rubber dots to the pavement to stop drivers from “doing donuts.” They’re stymied, however, when the crowds simply move to a different intersection.

“A lot of it is reactive,” Downing said. “If we can prevent the takeover from happening, it’s a good night.”

News Reporter, Los Angeles

Fernanda Galan Martinez expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in art history. Galan has worked for AZ Big Media, The State Press and Downtown Devil.