Police: Street takeovers continue to increase across L.A. County
LASD officials said calls related to street takeovers increased by about 60% from 2020 to last year
By Ruby Gonzales
The Whittier Daily News
LOS ANGELES — Lili Trujillo Puckett's 16-year-old daughter, Valentina d'Alessandro, was sitting in the back seat of another teenager's car when he started racing another driver in Wilmington one early morning after a party.
Driving at up to speeds of 80 mph along Avalon Boulevard, the teen's Ford Mustang and the other car ripped through residential Wilmington. Police at the time said the teen ran a red light at Anaheim Street, plowing into a Toyota Highlander crossing in front of him.
Valentina wasn't buckled in. The force of the crash partially ejected her, and she died.
The crash occurred in 2013, almost a decade ago. Trujillo Puckett says the street racing scene across Southern California has only gotten worse since then.
"Not even in my wildest dreams would I have imagined it would get as bad as it has gotten," Trujillo Puckett told members of the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission on Wednesday.
"Unfortunately a lot of people are going to die, and have died."
Police, public officials, parents and local residents have been increasingly concerned about the uptick in racers across the region frequently taking over intersections to perform dangerous stunts, doing donuts in their cars as onlookers watch from feet away. The takeovers have mostly frustrated police, who play a nightly game of cat-and-mouse with car groups as they try to shut them down before someone gets hurt.
Officials said some takeovers also have increased on local freeways, with car groups stopping traffic to perform stunts.
"They'll go out on the freeways and highways and stop traffic, block all cars," said California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Baldonado. "People don't realize who may be behind that: Someone in an ambulance transporting a loved one to the hospital. Now what? Now they're stuck in traffic."
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Last night, we conducted another successful street racing/takeover operation in South LA. We disrupted/prevented 10 takeovers. Drivers & spectators cited, & cars impounded. Zero tolerance for this dangerous activity! @LabradaAl @LapdWoodyard @LAPDHQ @LAPDSouthTraff @Dongrahamjr pic.twitter.com/A7RoLxeBfD— Capt Hom (@LAPDCaptainHom) August 29, 2022
The CHP busted one street takeover in Pomona on Sunday, Sept. 4 when between 100 to 150 vehicles were present at a shopping center at Rancho Valley Drive and Rio Rancho Road. Some of the cars were doing burnouts in the shopping center parking lot. The CHP and the Pomona Police Department trapped some of the cars as they tried to flee and later made 27 arrests. They also impounded 19 cars.
Whether it's because of incentives for social media glory, access to sophisticated vehicles, or a COVID-19 pandemic era need to blow off some steam, law enforcement officials say calls for service related to street racing takeovers spiked in 2021.
Sgt. Michael Downing of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said calls increased by about 60% from 2020 to last year: For all of 2020, the Sheriff's Department responded to 860 street-racing related calls for service. In 2021, that number jumped to 1,380. And this year alone, the calls are already at 838.
"(Calls) jumped during COVID, and this year we're on track to meet or exceed last year's calls for service," he said during the Civilian Oversight panel meeting. "A lot of it is in the South Bay area. It's more prominent there than in other parts of the county."
Baldonado said police have been trying to get ahead of the street racing issue, without much luck.
"This problem has dated years and years and years back," he said.
Baldonado sketched out different ways local police have tried to increase their staffing dedicated to stopping street takeovers. They've applied for funding grants to keep their work going. But complicating the picture has been a lack of movement by state legislators skeptical of increasing criminal penalties for car sideshows: San Fernando Valley state Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian's bill to specifically criminalize street takeovers failed in 2019. He said he's been working with other legislators to recraft the bill.
Trujillo Puckett said both arrests and deaths of teenagers involved in street racing activity are tragic outcomes for families.
"I see a takeover gone wrong. I see someone getting hurt, I see someone going to jail. I see the parents crying and I know exactly what they have been through," she said. "I know exactly what they're feeling. I know it's 100% preventable."
In the meantime, she said the best thing concerned parents and groups like hers can do is try to educate as many young people as possible about the dangers of street racing.
"There's a lot of work to do," she said. "But there's a lot of work being done."
(c)2022 The Whittier Daily News, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.