Local News

Sunday, Nov 24 2013 07:56 PM

Illegal street racing is slowed by police patrols

BY STEVE LEVIN Californian staff writer slevin@bakersfield.com

Just one week after Bakersfield police targeted illegal street racing activities and issued 62 citations, the usual weekend spots for congregating racers night were virtually deserted late Saturday night.

The Kohl's parking lot on Gosford Road: quiet.

The Lowe's parking lot off Coffee Road: empty.

Town and Country Village shopping center: dark.

And police still issued another 62 citations in southwest Bakersfield during a four-hour effort extending into Sunday morning.

Among the citations, 25 drivers were issued "nonoperative orders," meaning their cars require inspection by the state Bureau of Automotive Repair. The rest received tickets ranging from tinted taillights to moving violations.

Additionally, six cars were impounded, one driver was charged with DUI and another was arrested for violating a citation from a week earlier.

"It was just as successful as last week," police spokesman Sgt. Joe Grubbs said of the most recent effort by about a dozen of the traffic detail's officers. "We're keeping the pressure on."

Police had received numerous complaints from business owners and residents about illegal street racing and reckless driving, plus loitering, littering and highway obstruction prior to the Nov. 16 interdiction. More importantly, at least three people had died in Bakersfield -- including a pedestrian -- in suspected street racing incidents since July.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about 49 people suffer injuries in street racing accidents per 1,000 participants.

On. Nov. 16, police found between 200 and 300 modified cars in the Kohl's parking lot and near the intersection of Ming Avenue and Wible Road. Those spots served as impromptu staging areas for vehicles with illegal engine modifications, unlawfully tinted windows, open element air filters and a host of other customized alterations that violate one or more of a laundry list of state regulations.

City roads in the southwest are most popular because they are long and straight, such as Gosford, portions of which are three lanes in each direction.

"These folks have rights to gather," Grubbs said, while driving his unmarked cruiser through the Kohl's parking lot around 11 p.m. Saturday, nodding at a half dozen modified cars and their drivers. "They have rights to do legal things in the community.

"The problem is when that balance shifts to where it becomes an illegal activity."

He stopped his car a hundred yards away. Within minutes, most of the cars left, and Grubbs drove on.

He stressed that many car enthusiasts do not street race. But the gatherings of dozens of cars in parking lots -- "kind of like a car show type of thing," he said -- result in litter and long black tire marks from cars peeling out, nuisances that lead businesses to complain to the BPD, like Kohl's and others have done.

During the next hour Grubbs stopped at three southwest locations where officers with the department's traffic detail had pulled over modified cars.

BPD officers can order vehicles inspected at any time, Grubbs said.

Saturday night, all three were Japanese imports, the preferred cars of street racers because of their affordability and the plethora of modifying parts locally and online. All the cars cited had illegal engine modifications, like an open air filter, which violates California Vehicle Code Section 27156 prohibiting modifications that increase motor vehicle emissions.

Typically, engine modifications are the most prevalent violations, Grubbs said, such as changes to air cleaners, intake and exhaust systems, fuel lines and fuel systems. Missing front or rear bumpers, and tinted front side windows also are common modifications.

He said the lack of modified cars in the usual staging areas Saturday night could have been caused by alerts on social media among racers to avoid gathering that night.

If that's the case, he said, "we still had some impact from the previous week."

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