“When we wake up, we have to remind ourselves that our daughter is not here, that this is the new reality.”
UPS trucks aren’t meant to go airborne. Like jungle gyms, and oak trees, or the subject of the popular adynaton “when pigs fly,” they’re meant to stay tethered to this earth.
William Littlefield’s 19-year-old daughter, Michelle, was supposed to stay tethered, too—at least for a little while longer, to anyone’s expectation—but the gravity of her life was overcome too soon when a street racer in a Dodge did everything in the name but.
By the time the chain reaction had played itself out, a southbound UPS truck had sheared the top off the Nissan carrying Michelle and her friends northbound from Disneyland. A red Ford, one of more than ten vehicles involved, sat smoldering beneath the rear of the upturned tractor trailer. Or was it the front? It was tough to tell: the 18-wheeler’s violent trip over the concrete median had peeled it apart like string cheese, strewing its cardboard contents across both sides of the I-5 freeway. Packages no one would ever get would burn until dawn.
Three people would never be delivered home.
Dealio Lockhart, the driver of the Dodge Challenger, had lost control at 90 mph while trying to overtake his friend’s Charger—a friend who would immediately flee the scene, mind you. In addition to third degree burns, Lockhart would suffer a lifetime of knowing that—in the eyes of the very laws he’d just flouted—his insouciant attitude towards speed had made him a murderer.
Two years later, as his case slowly wends its way through the Los Angeles court system, the popularity of illegal street racing and its ilk only seems on the rise—not in spite of our laws, but often to spite our laws.
In the San Fernando Valley especially, where roads are long, flat, and often eight or more lanes wide, the latest offense du jour is the “intersection takeover.”
The advent of social media has made it easy to coordinate these spontaneous “sideshow” gatherings. At the push of a button, swarms of street racers from across the Los Angeles basin and beyond converge on the chosen location. As traffic lights flick from green to red these drivers pull in around unsuspecting motorists, their vehicles spilling across lanes—restricting ingress or egress to only those they permit. In the span of a single traffic cycle, the intersection is theirs.
Cars quickly empty of passengers, spectators collecting along the edges of the intersection—a human barrier to a one-ring, swagger circus. In the middle, vehicles spin donuts around each other, filling the air with plumes of burnt rubber and the roar of untamed engines. Invariably, a fleet-footed daredevil will plant himself at the center of the fray, apparently unfazed by the kill-power of man’s modern big cat.
Boxed in with nowhere to go, and with lookers-on rapidly filling any gaps around them, motorists who were simply on their way home are left with few options: do they lock their doors and wait it out until the cops arrive, praying this won’t be the day they become a victim of Racing Roulette, or do they do they abandon their vehicles to the mob and seek safety on foot?
Street Racing…it’s illegal and dangerous. LAPD Central Traffic Street Racing Task Force is being proactive in their work to combat this reckless & criminal behavior ??@LAPDMarcReina pic.twitter.com/lXHNt3quD1
— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) June 23, 2018
Fear of becoming a statistic is not irrational. In fact, it seems downright sensible, considering that the deadly consequences of sideshows and street races are more likely to be faced, almost cruelly, by everyone but the racers themselves.
In Commerce, a 2015 sideshow became the scene of a triple homicide after a driver doing donuts lost control, prematurely ending his run in the crowd of spectators. The youngest victim was 15.
Valentina D’Alessandro had been 16 when first responders discovered her lifeless body wedged in the passenger side window of a crumpled, red Mustang. The only reason she’d been in the car at all was because one of her girlfriends had fallen ill, and the 17-year-old driver—who himself would survive his decision to take part in a spontaneous drag race—had kindly offered them a ride home.
Eric Siguenza and Wilson Thomas Wong (26 and 50, respectively) were killed while watching a street race in an area of Chatsworth referred to colloquially as the “Canoga Speedway.”
It’s the controlled environment of an actual, legitimate speedway where police are hoping racers might soon willingly flock. In an effort to drive criminal speed off our roads, a few creative cops came out with an offer they figured no one could refuse: come to a real track, and race against us. It’s certainly a novel solution. Who wouldn’t want a chance to try to outrun the cops legally?
Until that message reaches a wider audience, however, there isn’t much more officers can do than show up to the party late. It’s a grim reality, but the spontaneous nature of street racing and sideshows, spurned by their glorification in the mega-movie franchise “The Fast and the Furious,” means that for the foreseeable future the police will always be outmaneuvered and outpaced.
Despite numerous attempted crackdowns, street racing is going nowhere fast.
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Check Out These References for Further Reading:
“Out of control.” Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 8 July 2018. http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-street-racing/
“Speed Contest.” State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved 8 July 2018. https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/?1dmy&urile=wcm:path:/dmv_content_en/dmv/teenweb/crazy_btn3/speed
“The Valley is a street racing paradise — and illegal street takeovers are on the rise.” Southern California Public Radio. Retrieved 8 July 2018. https://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2018/05/08/62902/the-valley-is-a-street-racing-paradise-and-illegal/
“Dangerous ‘street takeovers’ for car stunts have San Fernando Valley residents worried.” Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved 8 July 2018. https://www.dailynews.com/2018/05/04/dangerous-street-takeovers-worry-san-fernando-valley-residents/
“Dangerous ‘Sideshows’ In LA Draw Hundreds To Watch Cars Do Donuts.” Gizmodo Media Group. Retrieved 8 July 2018. https://jalopnik.com/dangerous-sideshows-in-la-draw-hundreds-to-watch-cars-d-1827107490