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Wednesday, June 27, 2007
California Cracks Down on Street Racing
Recently, the cars that two teens had so painstakingly souped up and tricked out were crushed as part of a crackdown on illegal street racing in Southern California.
"That's my heart, my dream," said Charles Hoang, 18, of Chino as his 1998 Acura Integra was put into a compactor. "That's my girlfriend, the love of my life. The cops can crush my car, but they can't crush my memories."
Illegal street racing caused or is suspected in 13 deaths in Southern California since March. Hoping that would-be racers would think again after looking at the mashed machines, authorities destroyed six vehicles at an auto graveyard.
The thrill-seeking, adrenaline-pumping pastime is rampant in Riverside and San Bernardino counties east of Los Angeles, with their wide streets that attract racers.
Over the past two years, in San Bernardino County alone, almost 1,000 drivers and spectators have been arrested for investigation of street racing action. Police are required to obtain a court order to destroy the cars. They must verify that the serial or identification numbers on a vehicle or its parts are removed, altered or destroyed.
Despite reducing illegal racing and related fatal collisions, police know the underground hobby still thrives.
"We are making a dent," Ontario police Cpl. Jeff Higbee said, "But it's summertime and ... we expect to see more activity."
Last year, Hoang was caught racing his prized car. He spent at least $10,000 to get it into top shape. The 350-horsepower engine could reach 160 mph, Hoang said, boasting that it could beat a Corvette or even a Ferrari.
Police found a stolen transmission when they opened the hood. Hoang produced a receipt for the transmission purchased from his father’s auto shop, and doubted the item was hot.
"Everything on that car was practically brand new," Hoang lamented as he watched his car get moved to auto death row. "They should take out the stuff that matters, auction it off, and give the money to charity."
Racers put such heavy stress on their vehicles that they often burn out or blow up parts. Higbee said the demand for expensive replacement parts has created a "theft mill" where additional cars — usually Hondas or Acuras — are stolen and stripped of the necessary parts.
"If you have to race, take it to a legal venue," Higbee said. "But as long as they keep racing illegally, we keep crushing their cars."
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