Fast, furious and fined

In early May, some St. Anthony Park residents south of Como Avenue got a wake-up call—literally—that the street-racing season was underway.

In the early hours of Saturday, May 7, dozens and dozens of highperformance cars moved through the neighborhood in caravan style, clogging Raymond Avenue and causing considerable unease among residents.

“About 1:30 a.m., about 50 cars came past my house” north of Energy Park Drive, Adam Granger reported in a subsequent online posting. “It was amazing and surreal. They weren’t speeding, and the nuisance they caused was due to the sheer number of them, not to any single behavior.”

Farther south on Raymond, near Territorial Road, Brad Engelmann awakened to find the street jammed in front of his home.

“I will admit, this racing stuff has not previously bothered me,” he said. “At times there were openings on Raymond and cars would accelerate around the corner in front of Long Avenue, many making Uturns in crowded traffic.”

What was all this about?

Sgt. Chris Byrne, of St. Paul Police Traffic Enforcement, said it was likely street racers moving en masse to their next race site. His job is to curtail such activity.

Street racers, he explained, are groups of young people, mostly male, who congregate on Friday and Saturday nights at various sites around the metropolitan area. In many cases, they are influenced by the Fast and Furious movie series and the Street Outlaws show on TV.

For racing, they favor highways or places such as the warehouse district around University Avenue and Vandalia Street that feature long straightaways. (While fleeing police at the University and Vandalia location in 2009, a race spectator slammed her vehicle into one driven by an innocent bystander, killing him.)

Regular police patrol officers are busy and don’t have time to do much more than disperse the racers they encounter. But Byrne heads up a traffic unit that has more resources to bring to bear on the problem.

On the evening of May 21, in the first of a series of sting operations that will continue in the months ahead, police converged on the Uni- Dale Mall at University Avenue and Dale Street, where Byrne estimated that 200 to 250 cars, trucks and motorcycles had gathered.

After being dispersed, many of the drivers entered nearby I-94, with some cars subsequently exceeding 100 mph and motorcycles reaching 150 mph.

St. Paul police were assisted by state troopers and a highway patrol helicopter. By the time the operation concluded, the two agencies had written 50 citations, made three DWI arrests and towed nine vehicles. A planned sting two weeks later was canceled due to heavy rains.

“It’s one thing to endanger your own life, but some of these people were impaired and carrying four or five passengers in their vehicles,” said Byrne. “At those speeds and with vehicles so close together, all it would take would be one error to cause a tragedy.”

Byrne thinks the crackdown will be effective over time. “We’re getting a better idea of how these people operate and will refine our approach,” he said. “They’re not accustomed to seeing a large response and I think that will become a deterrent.”

Byrne said additional law enforcement agencies might join the effort, including the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office and Minneapolis police.

“Another hot spot is in the Hwy. 280/Broadway area, so if Minneapolis was involved, we could cross the city line as necessary,” he said. Members of Byrne’s staff monitor social media for indications of the racers’ plans, although in many cases they appear to be coordinating their activities via smart phones.

What can members of the public do? If you see a gathering report it to 651-291-1111. If you’re caught in the middle of a race and feel endangered, call 911.

If it’s any comfort, Byrne said most racers aren’t malicious, however reckless they may be.

Roger Bergerson writes about history and community news regularly in the Park Bugle.

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