Burnouts, yells and screeching tires led to countless sleepless nights for Marco Velasquez.
The 64-year-old electrician, who lived on South Euclid Street in Garden Grove behind a mall with a large parking lot, waited for car enthusiasts’ meetings to end or for police to show up and break them up.
“Sometimes they were out there for what felt like hours,” he said of the car enthusiasts. “They have no respect for the families who live nearby, for the lives they risk, including their own.”
Garden Grove police took notice.
For a month beginning in late August, the police department deployed additional officers on night shifts to focus on street racing and street takeovers, in which drivers take command of an intersection, often spinning donuts while others look on. Police made 31 arrests and confiscated 28 vehicles.
The operation also resulted in 823 subpoenas, nearly all to drivers within city limits, Sgt. Royce Wimmer said. The remaining subpoenas were issued by Garden Grove officers participating in a statewide task force.
Velasquez wasn’t aware of the effort – but he noticed the noise less often in September.
Street racing and takeovers were an issue in various areas of Southern California. Gene Harbrecht, a longtime editor of the Orange County Register, was killed in July 2020 over possible street racing on Bristol Street in Santa Ana. One of the drivers, Louis Villa, was convicted of second-degree murder and faces sentencing on Friday.
In April, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, along with Fast & Furious actor Sung Kang, launched a statewide public service announcement specifically targeting street racing.
The one-minute spot includes scenes of cars revving up and drifting. It ends with Cody Walker – actor Paul Walker’s younger brother, being killed when he crashed into a light pole and tree in a 2013 Porsche in which he lost control as a passenger – saying: ‘Guys, let’s take responsibility for us. Someone is waiting for you at home.”
— OCDA Todd Spitzer (@OCDAToddSpitzer) April 29, 2022
In an interview this week, the district attorney said: “It’s more than important. What bothered me the most, despite all efforts, the deterrent effect (of the public service announcement) does not seem to have been that great. (Los Angeles) suffered immensely. Not only are there deaths and serious injuries, there is also horrific property damage at these intersections.”
Spitzer said his office is “all about taking down these street racers,” who are believed to be mostly teenagers and younger adults.
“We’re not trying to stop young people from having fun,” he said. “We were all teenagers, but we didn’t go out and take over crossroads.”
Garden Grove police noticed patterns and acted strategically, Wimmer said.
“We’ve seen certain nights of the week where these car crews — many aren’t from our town, but they’re coming into our town,” the sergeant said. “We get complaints and videos. … There are some parking lots that they usually use and some of them are just police work and see a bunch of cars coming into your town.”
Garden Grove officials stepped up enforcement to show not only those involved in the dangerous acts, but also those who live and work in the city that the police department takes the issue seriously.
“We are already one step ahead of the problem,” said Wimmer. “There wasn’t a single incident that triggered this, it was just the constant calls to service, community complaints and observation by our own officers. It was a collaborative effort.”
Police issued 273 summonses for excessive or loud exhaust fumes during the operation. During the month, the department hired an additional three to 10 officers from other duties for overtime to help with the road races and takeover efforts.
Some of the stopped vehicles led to other discoveries, police said. Of those arrested, nine were tied up for drunk driving and one was under the influence of nitrous oxide, Wimmer said.
A driver was found with a firearm. Five arrests were for speed racing.
A driver who illegally burned out was arrested and his vehicle impounded, police said, and a search of the vehicle found five kilograms of cocaine.
Drivers participating in street races and takeovers typically stay in commercial lots with 100 or more parking spaces. Denise Sepeda, 26, used to shop at Target near Brookhurst Street and Westminster Boulevard in the evenings, but because of the meetings, she started shopping earlier in the day.
“They weren’t anywhere near my car, but you never know,” she said. “I can’t afford to fix my car if they hit it or damaged it in any way.”
James Wolfe, 50, lives near properties frequented by police during the operation. He understands the love for a beautiful car and the need to show it off. He owns a 1965 Shelby Mustang and often takes it to local car shows.
“But these people disregard the neighborhoods they come into,” Wolfe said. “They leave a mess with ugly skid marks and make it dangerous for us to live our lives.”
Sergeant Wimmer hopes the month-long operation will make street racers think twice before coming to Garden Grove to engage in the illegal activities.
“We have a zero-tolerance approach to any kind of takeover, reckless driving or speed racing,” he said. “Anything that threatens the safety of anyone, we will do everything we can to hold that person accountable under the law.”
Velasquez, the Garden Grove resident who lost sleep because of the street racers, hopes those involved in the car meetings will take them to a safer place.
“Maybe they’re going to a real circuit or something,” he said. “Just stay out of my neighborhood.”
https://www.ocregister.com/2022/10/05/garden-grove-police-target-street-racing-and-takeovers-arresting-31-citing-800-plus/ Garden Grove Police Arrest 31, Charge 823 for Street Racing, Street Takeover – Orange County Register