Street racing claims 3 Southland lives in 1 week. Can anything be done to stop it?

Barona drag strip is one of the last places for street legal racing in Southern California. Many drivers choose the illegal route, with deadly consequences.
Barona drag strip is one of the last places for street legal racing in Southern California. Many drivers choose the illegal route, with deadly consequences. Mae Ryan/KPCC

This past week has been a deadly one in the Southland for street racing.

Two incidents of suspected racing left three people dead and a third crash somehow avoided more fatalities. It all raises the question once again: Can anything be done to stop such a dangerous activity?

The victims ranged in age from those who were at the beginning of life, to those closer to the end.

Eleven-year-old old Damian Medina and his 13-year-old brother, Jonathan, were killed instantly when their car was cut in half in Santa Fe Springs on Dec. 22. (Their father, who was driving, remains in critical condition.) A 90-year-old woman was hit and killed by drivers racing in West Covina on Christmas. Thursday, two cars speeding at what witnesses described as 100 miles per hour, crashed into each other in Woodland Hills. One person was injured.

These incidents seem to be happening more and more — except in Riverside, Ontario and Irwindale. That’s because, in 2007, those cities instituted an aggressive program targeting street racers.

“Back then it was pretty prevalent where races were occurring regularly on weekends whereas now it’s not reported to the levels it was a couple years ago,” said Riverside Police Sergeant Skip Showalter.  He helped lead the effort, which was funded with state and federal money.

The goal was to get racing cars off the road before they could do any damage. Officers were trained how to spot illegal modifications, so they could pull over the driver and issue an expensive smog ticket. Ontario went so far as to crush some of those tricked-out cars, reducing the six-figure vehicles to scrap metal.  

“By the time somebody sees a street race, it’s over. We get there and nothing is being done,” said Showalter. “So you have to be proactive on it. You just don’t know what time someone is going to be involved in these races. You get challenged at a street light and you could engage in a race without even planning on it.”

The grant money for street racing prevention efforts dried up after three years. The benefits have lasted longer than the funding, but without new resources Showalter worries street racing will rev up again.  

“It doesn’t take much for it to come back into popularity again,” he said.

Showalter says all it takes is another "Fast and the Furious" sequel. And there's one coming to a theater near you in May.  

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