Illegal street racing on Denver-area roads and highways endangers bystanders

DENVER - It's a weekly activity that puts anyone driving in the Denver metro area at risk on Sunday nights.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are trying to crack down on street racing.

7NEWS found multiple street racing events taking place after 9 p.m. on Sunday nights. The races take place on long straight two-lane roads, like Quivas Street near Interstate 25 and Sixth Avenue in Denver and off Smith Road near Interstate 70 and Tower Road in Aurora.

The racing also happens on the highway, like on Dec. 23 on southbound Interstate 25 at Yale Avenue.

"Out of nowhere, I get hit from behind," said street racing victim Elise Ruiz. "I woke up with my car on the side, with me on the ground and I look back and I see my kids in their car seats hanging."

Ruiz said her vehicle rolled, but did not know how many times. Her kids, nearly three years old and 18 months old were bruised, but unharmed.

Police said the driver who hit her was driving a stolen BMW. The vehicle was ditched on the highway and the driver ran off. He was caught and is now facing charges in the crash.

"They really should think about other people that are on the road and quit acting irrational and driving crazy out there because you can really do some damage," said Ruiz. "I heard they were going about 100 miles per hour. People's lives are at stake. Not only theirs, but other people."

On Feb. 16, 11-year-old Michael "Mikey" Espinoza was killed in a hit and run auto-pedestrian accident on Federal Boulevard at West Colfax Avenue. Oswaldo Lopez, 21, was later tracked down and questioned in connection with the death. Lopez allegedly told police he was street racing against a motorcycle and was going 60 mph when his car struck the boy in the middle of the street.

"It puts those people in danger that are just trying to get home," said Douglas County Undersheriff Tony Spurlock. "The probability of you, as a citizen, driving down the road and being involved in a car crash, or being ran off the road is a very high likelihood and it puts you in harm's way."

On Feb. 23, Spurlock had reason to worry about drivers having to avoid racers on the highway.

Hundreds of drivers filled an empty parking lot for a car meet up near C-470 and University Boulevard at 9 p.m. The location was posted on the group's Facebook page late Sunday afternoon and then deleted once the event started.

"We do know that a large number of cars will show up at 'Point A' and they will travel to 'Point B' and in between there, they block the road, they put cars in front, they race for a particular distance and then they all get back in with everyone else, driving appropriately," said Spurlock.

During the car meet up, deputies patrolled through the lot, pulling over a handful of drivers.

"If they're not doing anything wrong, that's fine. They can show their cars and have a good time for the evening," said Spurlock. "We want you to have a good time, we want you to show your car, but we don't want you to put people in harm's way and if you're going to do that, we're going to be prepared for that and we're going to apprehend you and we're going to charge you for that."

Douglas County Sheriff's Deputies were staged at the intersections nearby, as well as along C-470 to watch for street racing.

"If they do go drag racing, we have the technology in our cars to turn on our in-car cameras and we'll be able to identify the car (and) identify the license plate," said Spurlock. "We can get arrest warrants at that point for those individuals, as opposed to getting involved into a big pursuit or a chase. The danger is, is that some of these people, because they are involved in racing, if we start to chase them they're going to run and that's dangerous."

At the street races that 7NEWS witnessed off Quivas Street, the heats ended when one Denver Police officer arrived and turned on the car's red-and-blue lights.

"By going down there and turning on your lights, everybody leaves," said Denver Police Commander Bill Nagle. "Their communication is excellent. They'll twitter a backup location and they can all assemble there in just a few minutes."

The officer stayed behind with red and blue lights on, but did not give chase.

"We cannot chase unless it is a known violent offender. For a stolen motor vehicle or for this type of activity, we don't have the authority to chase. We can try to engage them and put the lights and siren on, and if they run we cannot chase," said Nagle.

Instead of going after one or two racers, Nagle said police can record license plate numbers and go after the owners of the vehicles with a public nuisance violation, which results in the car being impounded.

"If we can get an operation where we can get in and get license plates and seize the cars, that sends a very strong message," said Nagle. "I tell you, hit people in the pocket book and it has a more profound effect than if you just say, 'Don't do that.'"

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