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Charges, arrests mount in Western Washington street racing crackdown

Police cars block Pike Street by Pike Place Market near the scene of a shooting in Seattle, Washington, on January 22, 2020. (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

How do you stop illegal street racing? You start arresting people and taking their cars. A tri-county emphasis continues to build cases to keep the large events from happening.

At least 70 people have been arrested and are facing prosecution, or soon will be, for organizing, participating, and even just watching these takeover style events. That’s a huge increase from June when we first reported on the emphasis in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. The charges range from misdemeanors to felonies, and the police continue to build cases.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Chase Van Cleave believes it’s starting to have an impact.

“People start seeing their friends get arrested and their cars towed and then having to show up to court, it really, I think, opens the eyes of people who think about going and saying, ‘I don’t want to be that person,'” Trooper Van Cleave said.

So the word is out, and many jurisdictions are reporting fewer events since the emphasis started.

“Events are still happening,” Van Cleave said. “People are still planning events, but it’s not as prominent, which is success.”

Investigators continue to watch for the large gatherings and focus on them.

“You can never stop the group of friends that go out and burnout in the McDonald’s parking lot, that I think we know,” the trooper said. “The groups of 50, 100, or 200 people getting together and taking over right next to the Space Needle or on 167 or on any public roadway, where it puts people at risk, that is what we are really focusing on.”

There was a medium sized motorcycle takeover of the Space Needle turnaround Friday night. Riders were burning out and doing tricks, according to video posted on Twitter.

We received a lot of feedback when we shared the story in June, with people asking why the police are focusing on this when there are so many other things they could be enforcing. Trooper Van Cleave says it’s a public safety issue. No one wants to be stuck on the freeway when hundreds of cars just stop, and you become trapped.

Two bystanders were killed in an Auburn takeover event last year, when a driver lost control and slammed into the crowd. Another driver was killed in north Seattle in July in a suspected street racing event.

And that’s why the police are going to keep on this.

“We’ve seen improvement, but by no means do we feel like this is not an issue or it can’t come back,” Van Cleave said. “It just requires this level of attention and this level of focus to keep it going in the right direction.”

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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