Labor Day weekend saw the first incident of organized street drag racing in Santa Clara this year. It was the first such incident that the Santa Clara police have seen in several years, according to Captain Wahid Kazem, Santa Clara Police Department’s PIO.
At midnight, police were called to Lafayette Street and Calle De Primavera, where a crowd of about 50 spectators was watching some 100 cars drag racing on Lafayette Street.
One participant, Milpitas resident Tristen Juergens, 21, led police on chase on Highway 237 and hit a police car before being arrested. Juergens will be arraigned on Oct. 30. Currently, he is charged with evading arrest and misdemeanor hit-and-run. Police are considering additional changes of participating in a speed contest, according to Kazem, pending further investigation of the incident.
“We’re doing everything we can to actively patrol these areas to discourage [racers] from gathering,” said Kazem. “We’re alerting patrols on nights and weekends to be on the lookout for this activity. We’re doing concentrated patrolling in these areas to discourage [racers] from gathering.”
Something that hasn’t been seen in Santa Clara is the dangerous “side shows” that accompany street drag races, he reports.
Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) has received about 25 speed contest calls this year — the majority were south of 101 — but none of them involved organized drag races or sideshows, and none resulted in police reports because the calls were cancelled or nothing was found at the complaint location. This was the case in a Sept. 4 call about street races on Lafayette.
The California vehicle code lumps “exhibition acceleration” and street drag racing together as “speed contests,” so that call designations can be misleading. “If two cars are revving up at a red light and peel out when the light turns, that’s also a speed contest,” said Kazem.
Lafayette Street attracts many of the short-lived exhibition acceleration and speed contest incidents, according to neighborhood residents. The attraction is that it’s a long, straight street and largely industrial, so there isn’t much residential traffic at night, said Kazem.
Resident Gay Bachman, whose house has a view of Lafayette Street, has been disturbed at night, repeatedly, by loud cars, squealing tires, and impromptu races.
“There have been a few occasions where there are a lot of cars for a long time, sometimes looping around and starting again,” she said. “And cars driving really fast side by side.”
There hadn’t been any incidents for a couple of months, Bachman says, attributing that to roadwork on Lafayette Street. She hasn’t called the police so far, although she says she plans to if there are any more episodes in the future. “By the time the police would come, they’ll be gone.”
Another near-Lafayette resident, Marcus Buchanan, says that “speed contests” tend to occur on the nights of Levi’s Stadium events. “I can hear then go off at a distance and hear them cycle around, engines revving at top speed.”
The week before Labor Day’s incident, Buchanan witnessed a cars gathered for a race, but the police broke it up. “I notice Santa Clara PD is showing a visible force here,” Bachman said. “Council Member Watanabe has been really good liaison with the City for the Northside.”
This year, San Jose made watching sideshows a violation that can land spectators with fines as much as $1,000 and six-month jail sentences. San Diego also has made being part of a street racing audience illegal. That city also has a very detailed definition of street racing in its municipal code.
SCPD is considering proposing actions like San Jose’s, and is working on a plan to head off any future problems, said Kazem.
“We have zero tolerance,” he continued. “We’ll arrest or cite [racers], impound vehicles for the maximum time, usually 30 days.” The cost to the owner is very high for the impound fees and fines on top of that, said Kazem adding, “We want to show them that Santa Clara isn’t the place to come for racing.”
The Weekly is interested in hearing from residents about street racing, email firstname.lastname@example.org.