SUN VALLEY -- The roar of engines and the screeching of
rubber on the road were replaced by the wail of sirens and cries of
unsuspecting street racers early Sunday morning, as the Los Angeles
police and three other agencies swept in for another attempt at shutting
down the popular illegal activity. When the smoke and dust cleared, at
least a half-dozen racers and other participants had been carted off to
jail, and 72 cars were impounded thanks to a new enforcement tool.
"They won't be so loud when they realize that they aren't going home
with their vehicles tonight," said officer Ron Walker, who led the task
force made up of LAPD, California Highway Patrol, state emissions
inspectors and auto theft detectives.
Saturday night, the target was a milelong strip of Glenoaks Boulevard
between Peoria and Sheldon streets in the Sun Valley area.
The long, flat strip is just one of many popular racing streets in
Almost a dozen police cruisers had staked out the area, patiently
waiting on side streets to box in both ends of the street and snare as
many violators as possible.
Plainclothes officers had walked among the racers all evening,
keeping police apprised of how many cars and participants were gathering
at the northeast San Fernando Valley hot spot.
Earlier in the evening, a lone squad car had driven right through the
scene, scattering the racers and threatening to ruin the stakeout.
But by around 12:30 a.m., the racers were back in force, and the
plainclothes officers called in the go-ahead via cell phone.
Though the plan did not quite work to perfection -- almost half of
the racers and bystanders escaped either in their cars or on foot -- the
stakeout managed to snare almost 100 vehicles and scores of people.
Officials searched every car, processed every person and wrote
tickets for every vehicle code violation.
Racers and curfew violators were carted to the Foothill police
station in large vans. Then, thanks to the newly posted no-stopping-zone
signs, police towed every parked vehicle to an impound lot.
Officers made one felony arrest for weapons possession, issued six
misdemeanor citations for racing and 25 citations for curfew violations.
They issued 20 citations for illegal modifications and impounded 72
"This is crazy, man. I had seen these things go down before, but I
never thought that they could take everyone's cars like that," said
James Martinez of San Fernando, who said he was there to watch the
"I don't see how they're going to prove how each car was stopped in
the zone, but it don't matter since they're towing them all anyhow."
Several other carloads of young people blasted loud music and shouted
for officers to hurry up and give them their tickets, unaware that their
vehicles would end up being towed.
Their bravado quickly waned when they saw their vehicles loaded onto
the flatbed tow trucks carting off two vehicles at a time.
For the luckiest, the night cost $200 in impound fees and parking
For others, who have poured thousands into modifying their cars for
speed, it was much more costly.
Members of the state Bureau of Automotive Repair popped every hood
and slid under every car to check for modified or missing pollution
Detectives checked engine parts to see if they matched up with stolen
"The most common thing is for them to remove their catalytic
converters, but we have seen everything up to nitrous oxide systems on
these cars," said John Nelson, one of the bureau's inspectors.
"They put thousands into the modifications, but once we cite them,
they have to spend just as much to put them back to normal."
The tickets require the vehicle's owner to replace all modifications
with factory-direct parts, and prove that they have done so to a
To the racers, the crackdowns are unduly harsh.
"It's not like we're out here doing drugs or shooting at one another.
We're just out here to have fun," said one 17-year-old who did not want
to give his name.
But officers disagree. Since 1995, they say, almost two dozen people
have died in illegal street racing incidents. One of the most recent
fatalities was George Bekerian, a 26-year-old Van Nuys man who in
November smashed into a car and a power pole while trying to race on
Coldwater Canyon Avenue, officials said.
A couple of years back, an 18-month-old girl was killed in a car
while her young father watched the races.
"These are not skilled drivers by any means, and the danger is pretty
high, " Walker said.
Walker said the undercover operations have been used primarily during
summer months, when the racing really heats up. But this weekend's
stakeout was, as much as anything, to let the racers know the police are
The gatherings have been a problem for almost 30 years, Walker said,
stretching back to when movies such as "American Graffiti" popularized
The showmanship and revelry are a strong lure for young people,
Walker said, despite the risk of arrest or worse.
But now other, nonpolice agencies are joining the fight.
Along for the ride Saturday night was a representative of a
consortium of major auto companies, race sanctioning bodies and parts
manufacturers which is starting a program to try to divert people from
illegal street racing into sanctioned races. Racers Against Street
Racing hopes to be active soon and will try to recruit top professional
drivers and former illegal street racers to the cause.
But for some of the participants, even having their cars impounded
and being slapped with hundreds of dollars in fines won't deter them.
"You know how it is," said a 25-year-old Sylmar man whose car was
impounded. "The crowd is just going to get together at a different spot
next week and will try to keep a better lookout. Tonight was just the
wrong place at the wrong time."
Every Tuesday Night in Chatsworth everyone meets up at
the Sizzler and gets ready for the races.
All types of cars from imports to muscle cars to exotics or even mom
or dads van meet up to go to the races.
At around 11 pm. everyone moves out befor the Police show up to give
out cerfew tickets... they all cruis down to Canoga and Plummer in an
indrusturial area with a perfect quarter mile area.
There have been a couple of big busts in the last couple of months
that were on the news, latley what the police have been doing here is
bringing in semi trucks and fire trucks to block of both sides of the
streets,the races often get as big as 100 to 150 people at once. By
PALMADALE- Littlerock's Ernie Narez sat in his 1990 Acura Integra,
anticipating the green light.
The 19-year-old revved his engine,
the roar of his motor drowning the sound of the wind blowing across
the Antelope Valley.
But Narez was not worried about being caught by the police. He
wasn't afraid that it is illegal to drag race on public streets. And
although Narez doesn't race often, he was not concerned about
He didn't have to be.
Narez was at the L.A. County Raceway in Palmdale, where driving
fast is legal and medical assistance is close at hand.
"It's just a rush to go so fast," Narez said, smiling, after he
went down the quarter-mile track.
When novices such as Narez or race aficionados arrive at this
safe haven, located in a remote area off Avenue T, they can drive
their vehicles as fast and as many times as they want -- legally.
"A $15 entry fee, as opposed to a $300 ticket for illegal drag
racing plus a $600 impound fee for your car, is huge," said Narez,
who said he attended a couple of illegal races in the past.
On this Friday, called "Friday Night Grudge," Narez was with
three friends talking, laughing and comparing car parts before
taking the track. The four locals were among about 150 drivers who
rolled through the gates between 5:30 and 10 p.m. The drivers' ages
ranged from 16 to 65, although most were in their late teens and
20s. They came from as far south as Long Beach and as far west as
the Conejo Valley.
"It's a hassle, but it's worth it," said 19-year-old Ryan
Alcantra of Newbury Park. "It took us an hour and 15 minutes to get
here. With all the preparation time, it's more like a day-long
"Friday Night Grudge," which started in 1982, is the most popular
weekly event at the LACR, where anyone can race or merely test the
speed of their cars.
"Everybody has fun here. You can even bring your family out and
have them sit in the bleachers to watch," 21-year-old Manuel Aldaba
And although most drivers at Friday's races are intermediate to
advanced, a new program on Wednesday night, called "Street Legal,"
has attracted novice racers. The program started in April and is
designed to keep older teen-agers off the street.
It appears to be working. Roll call has grown from 30 cars on the
first night of "Street Legal" to an average of 80 cars. Last week,
112 cars showed up. Track manager Bernie Longjohn estimated that up
to 85 percent of the vehicles on Wednesdays are driven by
20-year-olds and younger.
"A lot of cars that would be messing around are instead here
getting their thrills," said Los Angeles deputy sheriff Scott
Graham, who talks to young adults about the perils of drugs, gangs
and street racing.
"It's a win-win situation. It doesn't create a problem for the
residents driving around, and it gives the automotive enthusiasts a
place to go to test their skills and test the performance of their
Graham, 38, not only races his car at LACR on Friday nights, he
also challenges the four winners of the Wednesday night program at
the end of each month.
"Everybody would love to beat a cop or to race a cop and not get
a ticket," Graham said.
Of course, first-time drivers may wonder how their car could
compete with a race car such as Graham's. The answer is called
bracket racing, which, like a handicap in golf, levels the playing
In bracket racing, all cars first go through trial runs to attain
an average or "dial-in" time. When a race takes place, the car that
has a dial-in time slower than its opponent receives a head start.
For example, if a 15-second car races a 10-second car, the 15-second
vehicle will get a five-second head start.
"Theoretically, they'll both get to the finish line at the same
time. But the difference is your ability to react at the starting
line. If I leave a millisecond after my light turns green and you
leave one hundredth of a second after your light turns green, I have
an advantage, regardless of what car I'm driving," Longjohn said.
Most tournaments at LACR use bracket races, which also takes
money out of the equation. People spending thousands of dollars for
an engine have no more of an advantage than the average car.
"You can still beat any guy because you're a better driver," said
Ali Anshar, the 28-year-old owner of Easy Street Motor Sports in
Anshar said because of bracket racing, he won the championship at
Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma as a teen-ager three years in a row,
despite driving a 14-second Camaro.
It also means that a variety of cars show up on Wednesday and
Friday nights, ranging from hot rods to Volkswagens, souped-up
Chevys to stock pickup trucks.
"I've even seen minivans and diesel trucks," said Palmdale's Ryan
Trapp, 20, who has come to LACR about 10 times.
Added Longjohn: "The best part is that whether you drive the car
or I drive it, a man or a woman, a 16-year-old or a 65-year old, the
car does not know who is driving it, so that's the great equalizer.
Therefore, anyone can compete in drag racing."
A SOLUTION TO ILLEGAL RACING?
According to the Palmdale Police Department, there has not been a
major problem with illegal street racing in the Antelope Valley in
"That's because they have a local track," Graham said. "Before
the Terminal Island Racetrack in Long Beach was shut down, street
racing was all but eliminated down there too, because it was a
centrally located track."
Terminal Island closed three years ago, leaving raceways in
Palmdale, Bakersfield and Carlsbad, along with one at the L.A.
Fairgrounds in Pomona, as the only other options.
"We need more tracks," Anshar said. "At least this is here. If it
wasn't, kids would get hurt racing illegally somewhere else."
Moreno Valley mayor Bill Batey, who makes the weekly trek to LACR
to race his 1973 Camaro, said that not enough is being done to
accommodate the growing hobby.
"You see skateboard parks being made, but we tend to forget the
kids who are driving their 3,000-pound cars," Batey said.
"There's a problem with illegal racing in every town -- it's a
matter of (getting) the elected officials to admit it. Without a
doubt, it's a problem in my city, and with the lack of track
availability, it's only going to get worse."
Batey, who also is captain of the Riverside City Fire Department,
vividly remembers an incident where a 1965 Chevy Nova was wrapped
around a pole as a result of an illegal race.
"It's only a matter of time where we have another tragedy like
INJURIES AND CRIME NOT A PROBLEM
According to Longjohn, LACR has one of the lowest injury rates in
the country because of the immediate medical attention provided and
the safety inspections for all cars. Inspections include a brake
check and making sure the car battery is tied properly.
Longjohn estimated that an average of two to three people are
injured every year.
"If you're racing down an ordinary street and you hit a pole,
you're in serious trouble," Longjohn said. "Here, the worst you can
do is hit a guardrail and 1,000 feet from you is a fire truck and an
ambulance waiting to help."
Longjohn also said parents don't need to be concerned about the
The notion of violence, helped by movies such as "Rebel Without a
Cause" and "The Fast and the Furious," is not true at LACR.
"They know that we're not going to put up with fighting," said
Longjohn, who added there has been one scuffle this year and it was
quickly broken up. "The guys at the gates are real cops and they
will arrest you. People that fight know they won't be allowed to
race here again."
Most of the crimes reported in the past have been related to the
stealing of equipment, but since the raceway has prohibited
spectators from going into the pit area, the problem has abated.
FOR ALL AGES
When 61-year-old James Squires and his 58-year-old wife, Marie,
first drove into the gates with their red and white Ford Lightnings,
a few younger drivers smirked.
Their grins didn't last long.
"Once we go through the lines, they all know that we're dead
serious," James Squires said. "It gives us older people a charge to
know that we can keep up with people like that."
Marie Squires has won 11 trophies and James seven.
The two "grandparents" of the raceway have been regulars at
Wednesday and Friday nights for the past two years. On most nights,
James will come straight from his job at the L.A. Department of
Water and Power to meet Marie, who brings dinner to the track before
According to James Squires, the only reason the two might miss a
night is to play in a bingo tournament.
The Squires should serve as a lesson to anyone who may feel
self-conscious about driving against people half their age.
Said James Squires: "When I'm out there, I feel that I'm as young
as anyone else."
It Happens All Over The U.S.
I live in Sioux City Iowa and attended illegal
street races.Yes I did race but not anymore, not after seeing what I
Now incase you didn't know a popular place to race is on a long
industrial road where their are train tracks. The usually mark the
end of the race or the beganing. I have seen this in many citys
Ok,now what happened was a 66" Impalla was racing down the strip
and broke his U-joint and droped his drive shaft at the end of the
race. Im not sure if he knew he did but it didn't look like he did.
Just as they hit the train tracks the drve shaft caught one of the
rails and threw the car out of controlcausing him to hit the other
car he was racing. Neither of them were injured but could of been
injured very badly. Even though I drive a front wheel drive car and
don't have a drive shaft I still won't race, just because that made
me think,what if somthing were to happen,theres no one around and it
would take an ambulance at least 20 minuts to get to where we race
And thats somthing a lot of racers shoudl think about before they do
it. But at least if your going to do it,make sure you buckle up or
even carry a fire exstiguisher like some out there did, my self
Street race turns deadly in Dana
Reprint From The Orange County Register November 28, 2001
By KELLY TOKARSKI
DANA POINT -- Jeanne Bridges was delighted when her son came into
Tommy's, the San Clemente restaurant where she works. Though they're
close, the late afternoon visit from Raymond Scott Shelly on Monday
"For some strange reason, he came in for dinner, and I waited on him
while he happily sat reading the paper," said Bridges, 60, of San
Clemente. "He was my right arm and the best son I could ever ask
for." It was the last time Bridges would see him alive.
Shelly, 40, of San Clemente, was killed four hours later when his
green Dodge Caravan was propelled 120 feet and set ablaze after
being hit by a yellow Mustang that was racing a black Mustang on a
busy street in Dana Point, authorities said.
His friend and passenger, Jose Valverde of Dana Point, also was
killed. Authorities did not release the names, but family members
confirmed the identities.
Erin Gormley, 18, of San Clemente was arrested on suspicion of
vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol
and marijuana, police said. She was released on $50,000 bail Tuesday
afternoon after a night at the Orange County Women's Jail. Gormley
and a 17-year-old female passenger in a yellow Mustang convertible
were racing with a black
about 9:40 p.m. on Del Obispo Street, sheriff's spokesman Jim
Amormino said. As they rounded a curb near Quail Run, a minivan
pulled out and Gormley struck the van on the passenger side,
Amormino said. The impact flipped the van on its side, and it caught
fire. Neighbors tried to help the van's passengers escape but were
beaten back by the flames. The two men died at the scene. Gormley, a
San Clemente High School graduate, and her passenger were treated
for moderate injuries at Mission Hospital, including a fractured
foot Gormley suffered during the crash, and released. Gormley's
family declined to comment. Amormino said police are searching for
the black Mustang, which sped off after the crash.
The accident follows the death of 16-year-old Steven Katzenberger,
killed in September when his Mitsubishi Eclipse slammed into a tree
during a street race on Camino del Avion in Laguna Niguel. And Jose
Estrada and his 6-year-old daughter Michelle were killed on Flower
Street in Santa Ana when they were hit head-on by a street racer in
Amormino said it's unusual that a female driver was involved.
Dana Hills High student Ashley Daugherty, 17, said street racing
among teens is more common than people think. "I think it's
horrible, and we've all tried to get our friends to stop racing,"
Daugherty said. "It's mostly the boys, not girls, that do it. I know
a lot of boys do." The problem, authorities say, is that street
racing is glamorized by everything from this summer's release of the
movie "The Fast and the Furious" to car clubs centered around
tricked-up subcompact import cars made to be lighter, faster and
"We have not had a lot come to our attention of late, but at one
time it (street racing) was a problem - right after that movie came
out," said Lt. Sam Allevato of the Irvine Police Department. "But
it's seemed to trail off for us." The Irvine department formed a
task force about eight months ago to deal with organized street
racing in the east industrial area of Irvine after arresting teens
street racing late at night, he said. Since then, and as word of the
task force spread, the problem has lessened, he said.
Professional race-car driver and instructor Carl McGinn of Driving
Concepts International in Monarch Beach said most people don't have
the skills to deal with high-speed driving. "It's one of those
issues when you get alcohol involved, kids are more inclined to be
competitive, and when you have two cars of the same make, they
become more competitive," he said. "I would imagine that's what
Tanya Schwied, 17, said the competition wasn't worth it. "You hear
about it and how it's fun, especially if a guy wants to show off his
new car," she said. "But there's other ways to prove your
masculinity than putting others at risk. And I guess that works for
guys - and girls."
Bridges, the mother who lost her son this week, took a candle and a
cross to the accident site Tuesday night, adding to the flowers that
some had put up during the day. "I want to put these things up to
warn other drivers that are trying to drag down the street," she
said. "Maybe it might make people stop and think before they do any
more of this craziness. "Scotty is the third son that I've lost,"
she said, tearfully referring to her 5-year-old son and infant who
died years ago. Bridges said she was informed of her son's death
Tuesday morning. Bridges said he was named after his grandfather -
who was killed by a drunken driver. She said Shelly told her before
leaving the restaurant Monday that he was going to pick up Valverde
and go riding around for a while. Shelly was a talented sous chef
who aspired for a job on a cruise ship and had just gotten his
passport, Bridges said. In the meantime, he was working as a
maintenance manager at the San Clemente Inn and spent his free time
tutoring children. He was single and had no children.
Jenny Valverde, 19, daughter of Jose Valverde, said she awoke
Tuesday morning to the news of his death. She said he is also
survived by his wife, Hildi, and son Nick, 16.
Register staff writer Jessica Peralta and news researcher Eugene
Balk contributed to this report.
Youths, Cops in Raceway Program
This story appeared in the
Antelope Valley Press March 18, 2002.
By RYAN CHADDICK Special to The Valley Press
Picture By Jim (Jake) Jacobson - Sierra Auto Body
- Under normal circumstances, having a police car
follow you at high speeds with red and blue lights flashing is a
problem. Not so for Desert Winds High School graduate Jake Sorensen,
at least not on a recent Friday afternoon.
On that day, Sorensen raced Detective Steve Crowell of the Los
Angeles Police School Association in a demonstration race supporting
the legal racing organization West Coast Super Cops at the Los
Angeles County Raceway. It wasn't so long ago that police cars were
a fairly common sight in Sorensen's rear-view mirror. The
continuation school graduate said he was a "screw-up" until he moved
to Desert Winds three years ago and met auto technology teacher Dave
Otis purchased a 1969 Chevrolet Nova several years ago and donated
it to Desert Winds because, he said, he wanted to start a project
that would help build his students' lives.
Having the car to work on altered Sorensen's life.
"(Building) this car got my head straight," Sorensen said. "Most
guys who put this car together were misfits in other schools. This
project has helped a lot of us."
Otis spoke highly of all his students.
"This is an educational process," Otis said. "It's exciting to see
these young men develop.
"The students have done (the majority) of the work," he added. "They
stripped the car down to almost nothing and completely rebuilt it to
meet the National Hot Rod Racing Association regulations."
The Nova's paint job was donated by Sierra Auto Body shop.
Sorensen is the first student to race the Nova on the quarter-mile
track at the raceway. He beat the police car he was racing with a
This is the kind of story the West Coast Super Cops love to hear.
"As a result of all the street racing deaths, (many police
departments from Southern California) have gotten together to form
the West Coast Super Cops," said Officer Thomas Gibby of the
Monterey Park Police Department. "Our mission is to meet kids and
tell them of the dangers of illegal street racing," Gibby said.
"This track is a drug- and alcohol-free place to be."
The Los Angeles County Raceway - an NHRA championship drag strip on
Avenue T just east of 70th Street East - was set up to do just that
- keep kids off the streets.
Owner Bernie Longjohn said he is trying to keep kids interested in
something other than illegal street racing. "We have a program with
Los Angeles police departments trying to keep kids racing in a safe
environment," Longjohn said.
"We give police departments free tickets (to race on the LACR
track)," said Longjohn. "They give the tickets to kids to show them
a place where they can race legally and safe." Many feel the program
Said Sorensen: "This is a place that is cheap ($10) and legal to
Another Desert Winds graduate, Mike Azeuedo, said LACR provides
great entertainment. "You can race a cop and not get into trouble,"
The raceway is open to young adults interested in racing from 5 to
10 p.m. each Wednesday and Friday night. According to Longjohn, 600
to 800 participants typically come to race or watch.
LACR also has a Web site http://www.lacr.net/ on which more
information about events and outings is posted.
KEEP IT AT THE TRACK!
Hello my name is Marissa Vargas. I am writing to let people hear
my story, maybe to show people that street racing should not be
tolerated. Some would say that as long as they're responsible
enough and have the right driving skills that it's ok. Or if they
are on a clear road! Well none of these matter when it really comes
down to it. From my experience I would know! So here's my story
about why I'm against street racing!
There was once a time when I was all for street racing. Well night I
decided to race, thinking it was ok! I mean there weren't any cars
around, just me and my opponent. I figured: "what's one race??".
This one race has definitely changed my mind forever about street
racing. I was on the starting line getting ready. I was in my civic
hatchback with three friends of my friends. I had been doing this
for awhile now and didn't really think anything of it.
So there we are and we take off full speed, almost at the end of the
road, I'm hitting 110mph when my friend yells at me to slow down.
Not being an experienced enough racer, I hit the brakes, my front
wheels lock and my car slides all the way around
facing the opposite way and goes flying off a twenty foot cliff. The
results of this one little street race was having my car impounded,
totaled I might add, me having to go to court with two misdemeanors,
also facing a charge of reckless driving which
here in Ventura County is automatic jail time. Also the injuries of
my friends that were with me, one with a broken rib and 25 stitches
to his left arm, the other with a broken collar bone, the other with
a concussion, and me with permanent damage to my left shoulder.
All of this could have been prevented if I would have just taken it
to the track. I used to be that person who ignored all of the street
racing warnings up until this moment. This is my story....my advice
to all the racers out there! KEEP IT AT THE TRACK!!
If you'd like to get a hold of me or have any more questions you may
e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
watchers could be cited
Re-Print Antelope Valley Press December 29, 2003.
By BOB WILSON - Valley Press Staff Writer
PALMDALE - People who congregate on streets and roadways to watch
illegal drag races could be ticketed and penalized under an
ordinance before the City Council.
The council already has given the new regulation the first of two
The vote for final approval is expected to come Jan. 14.
If adopted, the ordinance would give Los Angeles County sheriff's
deputies the authority to issue tickets for either infractions or
misdemeanor violations, said Cesar Bertaud, the city's assistant
Those found guilty of infractions may be fined $100 or the first
offense, $200 for the second offense and $500 for the third offense,
Those found guilty of misdemeanor violations may be fined up to a
maximum or $1,000 or sentenced up to a maximum of one year in county
jail, he said.
At some point, under another ordinance yet to be brought forward,
the vehicles of spectators who gather to witness drag races might be
subjected to impoundment or forfeiture, Bertaud said.
For now, and to get the ordinance on the books, the city would
impose only the typical penalties available, he said.
The ordinance was considered late during the council's Dec. 10
At the time, only a newspaper reporter and one member of the public
were in attendance, and the proposal drew no public comment.
The proposal was approved 4-0 in the absence of Mayor Pro Tem
As approved, the ordinance would make it illegal for any person to
"be knowingly present as a spectator at any illegal motor-vehicle
speed contest or exhibition of speed conducted on a public street or
The ordinance defined a spectator as "any person who is present …
for the purpose of viewing, observing, watching or
witnessing the event as it progresses." A spectator would be "any
person at the location of the (racing) event without regard to
whether the person arrived at the event by driving a vehicle, riding
as a passenger in a vehicle, walking or arriving by some other
means," the proposal showed.
A person would be considered present at an illegal speed contest
if he or she "is within 150 feet of the location of the event, or
within 150 feet of the street or highway where preparations are
being made for the event."
Preparations for an illegal speed contest included situations
where people: had arrived as a group at a predetermined location to
an event; were lined up on one or both sides of a street or highway
to watch an event; had impeded the free public use of a street or
highway by actions, words or physical barrier for the purpose of
conducting an event; were in a vicinity where two or more vehicles
had lined up with motors running to participate in an event.
fatally injured in fiery street-racing crash Second motorist
arrested after summoning police.
Re-Print Los Angeles Daily News Wednesday, September 01, 2004
By Jason Kandel - Staff Writer
WOODLAND HILLS -- Just one day before his 19th birthday, a Van
Nuys man was fatally injured during a street race early Wednesday
when he lost control of his car, which slammed into a tree and
ricocheted off two parked cars that burst into flames. Aram
Aleksanyan, who worked at Fry's Electronics in Woodland Hills, was
involved in the crash on Victory Boulevard near Friar Street. Police
officers pulled him out of his mangled Acura Legend as flames closed
in around his car. He was taken to an area hospital where he died
about 2 a.m.
The crash saddened and frustrated local law enforcement
officials, who have been working diligently to halt the rising trend
of traffic fatalities in the Valley.
"Here again we've had another senseless death on the streets
of the San Fernando Valley," said LAPD Deputy Chief Ronald Bergmann,
who heads the Valley Bureau. "When is it going to stop? People need
to drive like their life depends on it because it does."
The man who was racing Aleksanyan, Louis Blaine Rodgers, 24,
of Reseda, stopped his car after the crash, went back to the scene
and summoned police from his cell phone. Rodgers had been drinking
at a Woodland Hills eatery just before the crash, said Los Angeles
Police Department Capt. Greg Meyer, who supervises the Valley
Traffic Division. Rodgers was booked into the Van Nuys Jail on
suspicion of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and
driving under the influence. His bail was set at $100,000.
Police believe that the men, who did not know each other,
began racing at the intersection of Victory Boulevard and Mason
Avenue, heading east at 70 mph through a narrow S-curve at Topham
Street where Aleksanyan lost control of his vehicle. Residents ran
to the fiery scene and Kima Eslami, 40, grabbed his digital video
camera. "Fire was very close," said Eslami, who dropped his camera
to help when he realized someone was inside the wreckage. "Nobody
could get close to the car. We were trying to help him, but we could
not take him out. We waited for the LAPD." Officials used the death
as a rallying cry for additional traffic patrols in the Valley,
which historically outpaces the rest of the city in traffic crashes
because of its long, straight streets.
And while police have effectively cracked down on organized
street racing events, in which hundreds of spectators come to watch,
they acknowledge that spontaneous racing events are difficult to
police. "They meet at a red light. They eyeball each other. They gun
their engines. They go for it," Meyer said. "Sometimes there's a
police officer around. We catch one or both of them. We put them in
jail, and we take away their car for at least 30 days." City
Councilwoman Wendy Greuel sponsored legislation that seizes the cars
of racers and cites race spectators, but it has little effect over
"We've made a big change in organized street racing," she
said. "But today we're sending another message: One foolish choice
and you will not only lose your car, you will lose your life."
Wednesday's incident was the first death related to street racing in
Los Angeles since last June when four people died in three crashes
over a three-week period after the movie "Too Fast Too Furious" came
out. On Monday, two 17-year-old boys were injured in a street race
in the Orange County community of Laguna Niguel. One remains in
extremely critical condition.
Overall, traffic-related deaths in the Valley have jumped 8
percent, totaling 65 so far this year, compared with 57 in the same
period last year.
Aleksanyan had worked as a clerk in the computer accessories
department at Fry's in Woodland Hills since April. He would have
turned 19 today.
Fry's spokesman Manuel Valerio said the company was saddened
by the loss, and for the associates he worked closely with in
Woodland Hills. "We extend our sympathies to his family," Valerio
said. "We are saddened that anyone would die like this at such a
young age, and so tragically." City Councilman Dennis Zine, who
represents the West Valley area, expressed frustration at the latest
traffic-related death, and vowed to make a motion next week at a
City Council meeting to ask Chief William Bratton for more traffic
officers to be deployed to the Valley.
"There's no winners in this," Zine said. "The families are
going to be losing. Law enforcement suffers another casualty. Our
condolences to the family."
street race kills two.
Re-Print LA Times 10/05/04 - By Robert Chacon, News-Press
Counselors help students cope with loss of Village Christian
classmates killed in La Tuna Canyon crash. SUN VALLEY — A Glendale
teenager hurt in the alleged street race Friday was getting better
Monday as Los Angeles detectives continued their search for the
driver of a second vehicle involved in the crash.
The driver of one of the cars, Michael Lee, 17, was upgraded
from critical to fair condition at Providence Holy Cross Medical
Center, authorities said. He underwent emergency brain surgery after
the Friday afternoon crash on La Tuna Canyon Road that left two
passengers in his car dead. All three attended Village Christian
School in Sun Valley.
The passengers in Lee's car who died were Christopher Oliver,
17, of La Crescenta and Nicholas Roth, 17, of Granada Hills.
Los Angeles Police detectives are still searching for the
driver of a Ford F-150 truck that witnesses say was racing against
the car that Lee was driving, Det. William Bustos said, adding that
police have not identified the driver.
"We are in the process of trying to determine exactly what
happened, if there was a crime," he said. "We are interviewing
witnesses who saw what happened."
If the investigation concludes that both drivers were involved
in an illegal street race, drivers of both vehicles will be arrested
for manslaughter, Bustos said.
The mood at Village Christian School was solemn Monday, school
"Our students are saddened, sober and prayerful," Director of
Admissions Patricia Smart said.
Close to 40 counselors from the school, the Los Angeles
Department of Health, and private counselors who volunteered, were
on campus Monday to help students deal with the deaths of their
"They are giving students the opportunity to talk and to
process what happened, to share memories and emotions, and the
faculty is doing the same in the class," said Susan Odekerken, a
school employee who helped coordinate the crisis response.
Michael and Nicholas were on Village Christian's varsity
football team. The school canceled Friday night's game. A memorial
for Christopher and Nicholas had formed at the entrance to the boy's
locker room Monday.
The football team came together for practice Monday.
"When we got together today at 3 o'clock, I told the guys, 'As
tough as it is, we have to get back to our normal routine.' We
talked about what those guys would have wanted and how we would
honor that," Coach Marty Martin said. "The players will wear a
sticker with the number 54 on the back of their helmets for Nick,
and a CO for Chris. He was not part of our team, but he was part of
A Deadly Game
Street racing is fast-growing in the Southland. Too often, it can be
By John Lehrer
Young men and fast cars were an integral part of the American
automotive landscape long before Bruce Springsteen first sang
"Racing in the Street" nearly 30 years ago. The hot rods of the
post–World War II era, coming-of-age movies such as Rebel Without a
Cause and American Graffiti, and 1960s muscle cars such as the Dodge
Charger and Pontiac GTO all claim a revered place in American
popular culture. Tonight, tonight, the highway's bright Out of our
way, mister, you best keep 'Cause summer's here and the time is
right For goin' racin' in the street. — Bruce Springsteen, "Racing
in the Street"
But today's street-racing scene is far different. It's darker,
more frenetic, and more dangerous, and it's not likely to be
recalled nostalgically three decades from now. Law-enforcement
agents agree that street racing is a growing problem throughout the
nation, and especially in Southern California. Locally, a culture
has developed around these illegal and sometimes impromptu races on
freeways, city streets, and country roads. It's fueled today not
only by high-octane gasoline and nitrous oxide, but also by the
$29-billion-a-year aftermarket parts industry, magazines such as
Import Tuner and Sport Compact Car, movies such as The Fast and the
Furious, and depictions of high-speed racing in automakers'
multimillion-dollar ad campaigns. For those who race and the
unsuspecting motorists and bystanders who cross their paths, the
result, all too often, is injury and death. Street racing affects
communities differently, and local law-enforcement agents respond to
it based on their training, previous experience, and available
resources. In many Southern California communities, law-enforcement
groups and private organizations have had to devise creative
solutions to help put the brakes on this growing trend.
Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Police Department
Parents Can Do
Parents can have a tremendous influence on their children's
attitudes and driving behavior. Being aware of the dangers and
appeal of street racing is just the first step. "Be involved with
your kids," says officer Michelle Rodriguez, of the Los Angeles
Police Department, who's worked to curtail street racing since 1996.
"Even if they're good kids, you can't just let them go with the
flow. There's a lot of peer pressure out there, and much of the
media makes street racing look fun and glamorous." "Trust your sixth
sense," says Detective Sergeant Greg Sloan of the San Diego Police
Department's Drag-Net unit. "If your kid is swapping out tires every
month or replacing engines, there's probably something going on.
Level with your kid. Tell him or her that street racing is a crime
with serious penalties, that because of the speeds involved and the
number of people on the roadways, more people are dying than ever.
And that if he or she is arrested, you, the parent, might be held
responsible financially. "Ask your teenager, 'Do you really want to
take the risk?' And maybe if you're persistent and you show them
that you really love them and care about them, they'll come to the
conclusion it's just not worth it."
Encouraging safe, responsible driving in young people is a core Auto
Club value. Toward that end, the Auto Club sponsors the California
Speedway Team, which promotes respect for the automobile and safe
driving and reinforces the message that racing belongs on the race
track. In 2002, the Auto Club also backed SB 1489, which imposed
serious penalties for drivers involved in speed contests; has
participated in and moderated seminars on illegal street racing and
forums on traffic safety with Southern California law-enforcement
agencies; and has sponsored "Beat the Heat" events, legal
alternatives to street racing, in conjunction with the Covina and
Monterey Park police departments. — J.L.
Father's Drag Race
As in the past, the street-racing culture appeals mostly to young
men ages 18 to 25, although young women are increasingly becoming
interested. Its allure transcends regional, economic, racial, and
ethnic boundaries. Instead of large American muscle cars, today's
vehicles are mainly modified import sport compacts: Hondas, Acuras,
Mitsubishis, and Subarus. The social context of street racing also
has changed. "In the 1970s, 75 to 100 cars were out there at a time
in San Diego," says Detective Sergeant Greg Sloan, who heads up the
Drag-Net unit of the San Diego Police Department, the only team in
the country devoted full-time to stopping street racing. "They'd
race long straightaways, streets that weren't heavily used, mostly
on weekends. They spent a lot of time socializing in parking lots
with the hoods up, talking about their cars."
Today, law-enforcement agents say the number of cars and teenagers
involved in some races in Southern California is in the hundreds —
even more than a thousand on occasion. Participants focus more on
racing than socializing. And some street races take place on
highways and roads shared by innocent drivers. "In Ontario, there's
been a call about street racing every weekend for the past five
years," says Corporal John Duffield of the Ontario Police
Department, who's worked since 1999 on the problem. "It's not
unusual to see 200 or 300 cars on a road looking for a race."
Law-enforcement agents have been implementing novel solutions to
this evolving problem. San Diego had been suffering from
increasingly bad street-racing problems for a decade when the
California Office of Traffic Safety provided funding in 2001 for the
Drag-Net unit, which uses a multifaceted approach to control the
trend. For instance, instead of conducting a routine bust, the
officers would videotape races, find out who owned the cars, then
confront the kids and their parents at home. Officers educated city
and county agencies, parents, and the judicial system, schools, and
media, pushing for stronger street-racing laws. They also created
alliances with groups that had developed alternatives to street
racing, such as RaceLegal.com, which organizes about 30 Friday
nights of legal drag racing per year in a parking lot at San Diego's
Qualcomm Stadium. Drag-Net's efforts to establish stiffer penalties
have been largely successful. For example, San Diego and surrounding
cities passed laws to make it illegal to even watch a street race;
violators can be fined and do jail time.
Tougher laws mean bigger consequences for the racers. "We'll arrest
them, fine them, take their licenses, and throw them in jail," Sloan
says. "They'll get on the Internet and tell other racers, 'This
isn't just a speeding ticket anymore. It's going to cost me 10
grand.' And that doesn't take into account the seven years of bad
luck on their car insurance." The police also have been trained to
identify illegal modifications to cars, such as certain exhaust
systems, so they can arrest potential street racers in nonracing
situations. And if a street race causes a death, "not only the
driver who caused the collision but even the driver of the
noncontact vehicle can be charged with murder," Sloan says. "It used
to be manslaughter, which in practice is one to three years jail
time. Now we're talking second-degree murder, which is 15 years to
life." Because of this concerted community effort, the incidence of
street racing and its attendant deaths and injuries are down
significantly in San Diego, from eight deaths and 16 serious
injuries in 2002 to zero deaths and four serious injuries in 2004.
"This doesn't mean the problem is solved," Sloan says. "It takes
continuous vigilance. You have to change the philosophy — to see
street racing as a serious crime that has to be addressed through
education, strict enforcement, and taking racing to the track.
Otherwise, the problem is going to come right back."
Gunnar Nettleship (pictured), 33, loves to drive fast. A service
writer at an auto dealership in Los Angeles and a graphic designer,
he's raced in Sports Car Club of America autocross events since
2002. But Nettleship's fast driving wasn't always legal. Here's his
story. From my late teens through my early 20s, I was into street
racing. We'd race on Pershing Drive, west of LAX. Sometimes we'd go
canyon running: Around 3 a.m., we'd drive Mulholland Highway from
Hollywood to Point Dume — boil brake fluid and ruin a set of brakes
in a single night. Or we'd slide around corners at 60 mph or faster
on huge, empty streets in downtown L.A. We did some stupid,
dangerous things. I could easily have killed myself or somebody
else. The last time I went canyon running, I lost it going into a
corner and put the back end of my Acura over a 75-foot drop. The car
stopped, hanging onto a thick shrub, and I crawled out the window. I
still don't know why I didn't tumble over that drop. That scared me
so bad, it made me slow down. Then, in November 2001, I went to
Laguna Seca for track day and got the bug again. So I started
looking for the cheapest legal way to race and discovered autocross,
a race against the clock on a course set up in a big parking lot.
The Street Touring class is a "run what you brung" kind of thing —
you can drive any street-legal car. I did well at that, and then I
started autocross in shifter-karts, go-karts with tiny motors and
six-speed transmissions. This year, I'm going to the California
Region Superschool to get my club racing license. I talk to a lot of
kids who street race, and one difference I see between them and me
at their age is that they think they're great drivers already, that
all they have to do is spend the money and make their cars faster,
and that's enough. They think they're immortal. But I've learned
that no matter how good a driver you think you are, somebody else
can make the mistake that gets you killed. So why risk your life? I
drive on the street as safely as I can, and when I want to drive
hard and fast, I go to the track. — Interview by John Lehrer
In Los Angeles, for example, the police can confiscate street
racers' cars and eventually crush them. "We wanted to make a strong
statement that L.A. would not tolerate street racing," says Michelle
Rodriguez, senior lead officer for the Sun Valley area, Los Angeles
Police Department Foothill Division, who's been involved with
combating the problem since 1996. "To racers, their cars are
everything. If you crush them, that sends a powerful message." Los
Angeles has had success with other tough laws, too, including
spectator laws (up to six months in jail, maximum fine of $1,000
plus a penalty assessment). Also, the Bureau of Automotive Repair
has trained police to enforce laws dealing with illegal
modifications to a car's engine and exhaust system. Ontario has had
similar successes. "Our street racing is mostly the traditional
one-eighth-mile or quarter-mile drag races," Duffield says.
"Ordinances for street closures, a spectator law, and
vehicle-seizure legislation have worked pretty well. At one large
arrest in August 2003, for example, we detained 150 cars, arrested
nine guys, and seized eight vehicles. And those are permanent
seizures." Many experts agree, however, that enforcement alone isn't
enough to turn the tide. "You have to offer an attractive legal
option," says Stephen J. Bender, a recently retired San Diego State
University professor of epidemiology and biostatistics who in 1998
founded San Diego–based RaceLegal.com. "We average 250 cars and
1,600 spectators per event," Bender says. "We make it as close to
the street experience as possible, and we inspect the cars
carefully. In 200 races and more than 300,000 passes down the strip,
we've had only four minor crashes — and no injuries."
As authorities crack down on traditional street racing, racers have
developed techniques that are more difficult to deal with, among
them spontaneous highway racing. "One or more racers will cruise the
highways late at night, flashing their accessory lights — a common
sign they're looking for a race," says Sergeant Fred Furey, who runs
the Regional Traffic and Auto Theft Bureau for the Orange County
Sheriff's Department in Aliso Viejo. "Another racer will pull
alongside, they'll give each other a sign, and the race is on.
They'll zip in and out of traffic at high speeds, then maybe slow
down and decide whether they want to race again. In some ways, it's
scarier than drag racing, because a lot of innocent motorists get
caught up in it." Regardless of the forms street racing may take in
the future — and it's not likely to be eliminated entirely —
government agencies and concerned individuals and organizations
stand committed and prepared to counter it through law enforcement,
education, and legal alternatives. "The mind-set of the kids doing
this is that they're invincible, that nothing can hurt them," LAPD's
Rodriguez says. "But we've seen what can happen. It's not that we
want to be the bad guys. We just don't want these kids to wind up
dead." John Lehrer is editor in chief of Westways magazine.
Besides the carnage, street racing often involves theft and
insurance fraud. "The interest in modifying vehicles is on the
increase," says Mike Bender, an auto-theft and insurance-fraud
specialist formerly with the Los Angeles Police Department and the
National Insurance Crime Bureau. "Kids want their cars to look good
and go fast, which means they have to modify them with expensive
parts — wheels, exhaust systems, engine kits, spoilers, and so on.
And if they take out a hood and front fender in a crash or blow an
engine, they have to repair it." Sometimes the money for parts comes
from indulgent, unassuming parents; sometimes it comes from a
teenager's job. But sometimes the parts are stolen. Then there's
insurance fraud: "A kid who wants a new look to his car might key
his paint job, 'steal' his car's wheels, or slash his car's interior
and report it to the insurance company as vandalism," Bender says.
"Or if he needs to replace an engine, he might report the car
stolen, and when it's recovered, blame the blown engine on the
'thief.'" Eventually, the money involved in theft and insurance
fraud has an impact on the auto-insurance premiums of honest