Lawmakers seek to slow street racers

first_imgFlorence Thompson spent the past decade in vegetative state, an innocent victim of a street race that left her on life support. On Thursday, with her family surrounding her bed at Community Hospital in San Bernardino, Thompson’s life-support system was disconnected. Convicted of street racing in the collision that smashed up Thompson’s car, Monty Gill, now 42, spent 15 days in jail, paid a $110 fine and served 150 hours of community service. Now, a bill in the state Assembly would dramatically increase the penalties of drivers convicted on first-time street racing offenses, upgrading the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony in cases involving injuries. The most recent victim was 63-year-old In Cha Kim of Norwalk, who died in Oct. 23 when her car was hit by a speeding Acura on Alondra Boulevard. Kim’s car was hit by a souped-up Acura driven by Julio Esparza, 21, who was going about 70 mph in a 40mph zone, racing a friend, said Deputy District Attorney Joe Weimortz said the Acura’s driver, Julio Esparza, 21, was racing against another car, doing 70 mph in a 40 mph zone. Elsewhere, nine people have been arrested for street racing so far this year, according to the California Highway Patrol’s Santa Fe Springs office. Last year, 7,640 California drivers were convicted on engaging in speed contests, a 9percent jump from 2004, Department of Motor Vehicles statistics show. Street racing caused nearly 500 accidents and more than 40 deaths since 2001, according to DMV figures. “Street racers migrate to business areas that don’t have traffic at night,” said CHP Sgt. Matt Boothe of the Santa Fe Springs office. “Younger drivers have an invincibility complex and think these things will never happen to them.” Some experts, including Boothe, believe the spike in street racing convictions can be linked to the growing market in small, high-performance cars. Many models are now affordable for older teens and young adults. “These kids are able to get higher performance cars for less money,” said Boothe. Illegal vehicle modifications that increase performance are targeted by the statewide Dragnet program, initiated in 2001. The program trains police officers to identify and fine illegal modifications. But it also provides legal places to drag race, such as Irwindale’s Speedway, and works with local district attorneys to prosecute street racing-related fatalities as second-degree murder. In 2004, the Industry City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal to be a spectator at an illegal street race. The city is a favorite spot for racers because of its long, straight streets, which are mostly empty after workers go home for the day. Last year, Los Angeles County passed a series of enforcement measures, including an ordinance allowing police to confiscate and destroy vehicles used in street racing and charging spectators with a misdemeanor. Tim Coyle, coordinator of Dragnet, said he supports Benoit’s bill. “This bill would make penalties specific to street racing. We want to target that because we’ve had so many people die,” Irwindale police Officer John Fraijo, who has trained about 300 officers since last summer through the Dragnet program, said illegal street racing has changed for the worse over the past decade. “Now they aren’t drag racing like back in the day. They are racing on the freeways, in and out of traffic, three-wide against opposing traffic, racing with tons of spectators on both sides of the road and at risk of losing control and hitting a person,” Fraijo said. said Coyle. [email protected] [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2108, 3026160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl eventAB 2190, by Assemblyman John Benoit, R-Palm Desert, also would set a minimum prison sentence of four to 10 years for drivers found guilty of causing someone’s death in an illegal street race. “If you’re caught street racing for the first time now, and you have an accident and cause someone to be paralyzed for life, it’s a misdemeanor,” said Benoit. Although the bill was rejected Tuesday in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, which disagreed with some of its wording, Benoit said he plans to bring an amended version back for reconsideration. “I expect, with a high degree of certainty, that it will come out of the next meeting,” said Benoit. Street-racing has long been a problem in the Whittier area. Since 1999, at least seven people have been killed in street racing collisions. last_img

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