Auburn police temporarily closed a portion of 15th ST SW over the weekend. The proactive overnight closures were a means to combat illegal street racing that has been on the rise.
“Historically, this behavior seems to be relatively seasonal with the activity spiking in the warmer months,” explained Auburn Police Patrol Commander Sam Betz. “But lately the illegal behavior has seemed to increase for unknown reasons.”
Beginning Friday, January 17 through Sunday, January 17, 15th ST SW was closed between W Valley HWY and Outlet Collection Way each night. The closures began at 9:00 pm and ended at 5:00 am.
According to Betz, the goal of the closures was to mitigate issues that arise from illegal racing while using the least invasive efforts. Being a holiday weekend police believed racer activity was probable.
Street racers will gather for organized car meets, typically attracting over 50 cars and racers. With easy access off of SR-167, The Outlet Collection is a prime location for these large car meets.
“The Outlet Collection closes at 9:00 pm and doesn’t open again until 11:00 am, so closing that access between 9:00 pm and 5:00 am seemed to be the least intrusive to all,” stated Betz. “This area is also mostly industrial and, while we attempt to avoid inhibiting freedom of movement for any citizen, we also believed that the reward was worth the risk in this case.”
A group of about 50 vehicles was contacted in the 2500 Block of B St NW early Monday morning. Most vehicles drove away when law enforcement arrived, according to Betz. “Four individuals were cited and released for Unlawful Race Attendance.”
Betz stated the department will be reviewing additional methods of risk mitigation and enforcement.
Illegal, But More Importantly Not Safe
While speed, aggressive and reckless driving, and racing are illegal, safety is the primary concern to police.
Unlike Rebel without a Cause or Fast and the Furious, the racing activity is not limited to two cars drag racing. Police have documented incidents of speeding and reckless driving in parking lots and on roadways.
In September over 100 street racers shut down SR-167 to race and do tricks. Washington State Trooper Rick Johnson told KOMO News, “Obviously it’s not a safe thing to do and, frankly, not legal.”
Illegal street racing presents inherent risks to drivers participating, spectators in attendance, and citizens in the communities the events occur.
“I believe, based on my own experience, that most people that are racing on our public roadways do not possess the knowledge or skill of vehicle dynamics to drive in the manner that they do safely,” said Betz. “Nor do they do it in an area that is safe for observers or other unrelated drivers in the area.”
In November 2020 three bystanders in attendance of an Auburn car meet were struck when a driver was ‘drifting.’ One of those struck was taken to MultiCare Auburn Medical Center for their injuries. Makenna Heustis (19) and Kelly Acosta (23) were taken to Harborview Medical Center. Both Heustis and Acosta later died from their injuries.
For Betz, November’s fatal collision is much more recent an example of the dangers of illegal street racing, “than any of us want to experience.”
To write this article the Auburn Examiner spoke with Auburn Police Commander Sam Betz, reviewed street racing data, and read articles related to street racing incidents from national and local news sources, including KOMO News, Q13 News, and The Tacoma News Tribune.