Police must crack down on Lower Wacker drag racing, City Council member warns: ‘Somebody is going to get killed’
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) issued the warning after dozens of spectators, surrounded by a flaming ring of gasoline, jumped through the fire moments before a driver did donut stunts around the flames.
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) on Monday demanded that Chicago police crack down on drag racing on Lower Wacker Drive after a driver did donut stunts around spectators who were surrounded by a circle of burning gasoline.
It happened at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday on Lower Wacker at Columbus, according to the website CWBChicago, which posted video of the incident.
That video shows dozens of people standing together, surrounded by flames, moments before a drag racer drives donuts around them. All but three of four of the spectators leaped away, through the fire, before the car started spinning in circles around the flames. Those remaining in the circle appeared to be recording the stunt on their phones.
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Reilly was horrified by the brazenness of the incident.
Over the years, he has spearheaded countless legislative crackdowns to raise the fines and penalties leveled against drag racers and car drifters.
On Monday, Reilly maintained city laws are plenty tough — they’re just not being enforced.
“I know CPD resources are spread very thin overnight — but this latest incident shows just how emboldened these people have become. There is clearly no fear of being arrested or facing consequences, if these car drifters feel comfortable enough lighting the middle of the intersection of Columbus and Lower Wacker drives on fire with gasoline,” Reilly wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“CPD really needs to focus their attention on this now — or it’s only going to get a whole lot worse when it’s actually warm out in a few weeks. Somebody is going to get killed down there. After seeing that video and how stupid they’ve become — it’s just a matter of time.”
Reilly noted that, over the last decade alone, the City Council has approved “greatly enhanced” penalties for drag racing and “drifting.” That’s the term for, as he put it, “skidding in circles.”
“These are impoundable offenses [punishable by] thousands in fines. This problem isn’t for lack of tough laws. We’ve put those on the books for CPD. This is an enforcement issue that needs to be prioritized. At the beginning of every summer season, we ask for increased enforcement missions at intersections on Lower Wacker, including at Columbus Drive,” Reilly wrote.
Just over a year ago, the City Council launched its latest crackdown against motorcycle clubs wreaking life-threatening havoc on DuSable Lake Shore Drive and city streets.
Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) was disgusted, but not at all surprised, by the ring of fire.
“One thing we know they do is they video all of these escapades and they post them on social media. And they even give each other awards for the most dramatic stunts. So somebody obviously thought, ‘If I add fire, I’m gonna win the competition,’” Hopkins said.
“It’s just a gradual escalation in this activity. That’s why it has to be stopped. We have to start impounding these vehicles. Nothing else is gonna get the attention of these violators. They’re doing it for the thrill. They don’t care if it’s against the law. They don’t care if it’s endangering the public. The only thing they care about is their vehicles that they spend hours modifying, decorating and painting.”
With temperatures rising and motorcycle engines revving, Chicago alderpersons approved an ordinance championed by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) empowering Chicago Police Department officers to impound motorcycles, dirt bikes and other “non-highway vehicles” accused of drifting and drag racing.
The ordinance also imposed stiff fines against motorcyclists who operate without license plates. That’s even after CPD vowed to “swarm” motorcycle rally points and use helicopters, license plate recognition cameras and noise monitors on DuSable Lake Shore Drive to stop motorcycle clubs from continuing to wreak havoc.
After reading about the ring of fire over the weekend, Dowell joined Reilly in demanding action.
“These people should be promptly arrested and charged appropriately,” Dowell wrote in a text message to the Sun-Times.
“This isn’t my ward. But, I expect the Police Department to act affirmatively and strongly if this occurs in any part of Chicago.”
At a press conference at police headquarters Monday afternoon, Police Supt. David Brown said that no one called to report the drag racing as it was happening, but a CPD pod camera did record some video.
“We are looking to see who we can hold accountable,” Brown said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she watched the harrowing video.
“Unfortunately, Lower Wacker is an attraction for drag racing. Has been, frankly, for quite a long time. Way before my time. But what I’m most concerned about is people being injured,” she said.
“When young people — or whoever they are — engage in that kind of high-speed driving, going in a circle, making the donuts, as we used to call them, somebody’s gonna get injured. Somebody’s gonna end up in a hospital or worse. So we’ve got to do more to make sure that Lower Wacker is safe and not used as a drag racing scene.”
During a committee hearing last year, then-1st District Cmdr. Jake Alderden told alderpersons that, during warm weather, it’s an “almost everyday occurrence” to have a drag racing subculture of motorcyclists ranging from “20 to over 800” rampaging through downtown, the South Loop and along the lakefront.
“We have groups of off-road vehicles ... frequently around the museum campus, all through Grant Park, going very close to small children. Most of these motorcycles don’t have license plates displayed. If they do have a license plate, they bend the license plate back so that it can’t be observed by an officer or a plate reader,” Alderden said on that day.
“These groups almost always do not stop for the police when we attempt to make a traffic stop. In fact, in many instances, they encircle police cars and attempt to get the officers to chase them,” Alderden said.
Deputy Chief Michael Pigott told alderpersons at that hearing that the recklessness with which motorcycle clubs operate is putting motorists, pedestrians and police officers at risk.
“This is a very dangerous game that they’re playing. We need to act and get more tools before members of the public get hurt,” Pigott said.
“We can’t chase them. We can’t create a reckless, dangerous situation and they’re not stopping for us. When we do eventually get a handful of them, the ordinances aren’t an effective deterrent. ... We need these enhanced penalties. Not just a $60 fine. That’s just the cost of them doing business.”
Contributing: Andy Grimm