Fairfax Stops Race Drivers in Their Tracks
Sunday, March 9, 2008
The two cars inched up to the white line, a 2003 Volkswagen and a 1987 Toyota, engines revving and tires spinning. When the light turned green, police said, they sped away, reaching speeds of more than 70 mph in a 40 mph zone in a matter of seconds.
As luck would have it, a Fairfax County police officer was behind them on Burke Centre Parkway.
The officer quickly stopped the drivers, Louis Violetta and Oscar Cornejo, both 18, and charged the Fairfax residents with racing on a highway, the latest example of the dangerous phenomenon of street racing in the Washington region, police said. Eight spectators were fatally injured Feb. 16 in Prince George's County while watching an illegal street race.
Fairfax police began cracking down on street racing in 2001, but they called special attention to the Feb. 26 arrests at a news conference to underscore the county's intolerance for illegal racing.
"We want to get the message out that street racing is not tolerated in Fairfax County," police spokeswoman Camille Neville said in the parking lot of the West Springfield District police station. Nearby, Cornejo's black Volkswagen GTI and Violetta's white Toyota Supra were parked against a fence, impounded and with their license plates stripped.
"If you do it," Neville said, "you will be arrested and ticketed, and your vehicle could be impounded and seized, and you could face up to a year in jail. . . . It's not tolerated here, bottom line."
Violetta and Cornejo, who were released on summonses pending court proceedings, did not return telephone calls. They could face imprisonment for up to 12 months, fines of up to $2,500, license suspensions for two years and the loss of their cars.
The officer "was in the right place at the right time" when Cornejo and Violetta pulled up in their cars about 10:15 p.m., Fairfax Police Capt. Shawn Bennett said. With the officer behind them, the two cranked up their engines and spun their tires before taking off west on Burke Centre Parkway, police said.
The two cars exceeded 70 mph before the officer was able to stop them. Neither driver resisted. "In any of our residential neighborhoods in Fairfax, that speed is intolerable. We can't have that," Bennett said.
Police said that the race appeared to be impromptu and that no spectators or other cars were involved. Although that intersection is at a long straightaway, police said it is not known as a street-racing hot spot.
In 2001, there were plenty of such hot spots in the county. "The Fast and the Furious," a movie depicting the street-racing culture of Los Angeles, had caused illegal racing's popularity to explode, and police saw people come to Fairfax from as far away as Pennsylvania to race.
Fairfax responded with helicopters, undercover officers and night-vision surveillance, and the crackdown led to 32 arrests for illegal racing in 2001 and 66 in 2002. With the enforcement efforts, cases have been declining. Last year, according to county estimates, the number of racing arrests was 19.
Racing participants recently told The Washington Post that Fairfax police are known to be particularly tough, and police said they have seen blog postings urging racers to stay away. "It's well known among this subculture not to come into Fairfax County, and that's the reputation we want to have," Bennett said.
Despite their apparent success, police said the Prince George's tragedy, in which a motorist not involved in the race drove into a smoke-shrouded crowd of people gathered on a dark rural road to watch as two drivers roared away, has reinforced the need to stay vigilant.
"There are messages here," said Bennett, who was at a local high school talking to students about illegal racing on the morning of the Feb. 16 crash as part of the county's ongoing efforts to educate students and police officers. "There is an enforcement effort, but also an educational effort, and we're going to be firm in both of them.''