AURORA – Police say the number of highway takeovers and car races has grown to a dangerous level and invited Contact7 Investigates to ride undercover with them to see just how bad the problem has become.
"It's become an epidemic in the metro area and people think they can get away with it," Aurora Police Lt. Jad Lanigan said. "It happens every Friday and Sunday night in the metro area."
On a recent Sunday night, hundreds of drivers gathered after a group calling itself "Nationwide Productions" announced on social media a 10 p.m. meet up at the parking lot of a closed business in Lakewood.
Drivers filled the parking lot at that time.
Flickers of cell phone lights called the group to a central meeting point, where a man told drivers the group would drive to Longmont for its first stop. He cautioned drivers not to break the law. Posts on social media indicate the group makes multiple stops in an evening at locations across the metro.
Many ignored the advice to follow the law once they got onto northbound I-25 just before 11 p.m.
"They specifically get to the highway for a reason and that is to race," Lanigan said.
His department deals with similar situations when car groups set up meetings at night in Aurora.
"They'll do, generally, double the speed limit — wherever they are at. If it's a 50 [mile per hour speed limit], they're doing 100 to 110," he said.
Contact7 Investigates watched four cars do a highway takeover on I-25.
The cars blocked all four lanes of the freeway, causing us — who were following behind — to slow unexpectedly in order to avoid hitting them.
Once the lanes were blocked and traffic was slowed behind them, the cars appeared to race.
Lanigan estimated the cars were going faster than 100 miles per hour.
Later in the night, presumably not knowing who was in our car, several drivers in different cars appeared to be attempting to bait Lanigan and our crew into racing.
They pulled up next to us and revved their engines.
They appeared to use flashing lights on the cars to communicate.
Lanigan said this type of driving is dangerous.
"Our city highways are not designed as a raceway. We're not the Autobahn," he said.
That same night, he took us to a different part of the metro area, in west Aurora near I-70. It was an area dotted with warehouses and little traffic.
"They've actually painted a white line on the road right here in front of us," he said pointing to a line that went across the road. The road continued straight for a quarter of a mile.
Just behind the line, there were dozens of black tire marks on the pavement.
"We all drive these roads and they're not expecting some car to come fly by them or fly up on them at over 100 miles an hour," Lanigan said.
Record number of deadly crashes in Aurora last year
A record 33 people died in Aurora crashes in 2018, though not all involved racing.
That was up from 2017, when 27 people died. In 2016, 32 people were killed. In 2015, 25 died.
Aurora police have tried to stop racing, ticketing more than 20 drivers in a recent weekend night inside city limits.
The department issued 38,420 traffic tickets in 2018. That’s up from 2017, when officers issued 31,875. In 2016, they issued 27,912.
"My biggest fear is that my daughter is coming home late from work one night and somebody clips her car and puts her into a jersey barrier. Now I have to deal with my daughter in the hospital with potentially catastrophic injuries because of their carelessness and recklessness on our city streets,” Lanigan warned.