CHICAGO - Chicago police could soon have a new and powerful tool to combat the epidemic of drifting and drag racing that draws hundreds of spectators to watch daredevil drivers do donuts, sometimes around a circle of burning gasoline.
Monday, the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety approved an ordinance championed by downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) that would empower the Chicago Police Department to impound vehicles used in such stunts — whether or not the vehicle’s owner is present.
The unanimous vote follows yet another harrowing, dangerous and deafening incident that drew hundreds of spectators to the Near West Side intersection of Clinton and Monroe streets early Sunday. The noisy gathering kept area residents up for hours. Responding officers had fireworks thrown at them, and their police vehicles were kicked.
"Honestly when I woke up, I thought it was a fever dream. I didn't think it was real because it was so early in the morning. I thought I imagined it," said Tylar Weddington.
That incident was eerily similar to what happened in May on Lower Wacker Drive at Columbus Drive, when a driver did donuts and figure-eight stunts around spectators surrounded by a circle of burning gasoline.
"Donuts in the middle of the street, shots fired, fireworks, so it’s a concern," said Ald. Marty Quinn (14th Ward). "This criminal, lawless activity is tormenting our residents and they’ve had enough."
Another problem spot has been the strip mall parking lot near 71st Street and Pulaski Road. But now, newly installed cement barriers and two retractable gates will prevent anyone from coming in or out of the lot after business hours.
Reilly said CPD must find a way to stop the daredevils before somebody gets killed — and his ordinance is aimed at doing just that.
If passed, the ordinance – scheduled to go before the full city council for a vote on Wednesday – would empower police to literally stop drivers dead in their tracks by seizing their most precious possession: the vehicles they use for the attention-grabbing antics.
"It’s common knowledge today that this knows no zip code, it’s all over the City of Chicago," said Quinn. "That's why I think this ordinance we passed today in committee is a strong ordinance that has teeth."
Before impounding the vehicle, CPD would be required to mail the owner a "notice of intent to impound" that includes a statement of probable cause and a police report of the incident that includes the date and time of the violation and a description of the vehicle. The owner would have the right to contest the impoundment before an administrative hearing officer.
"What’s great about this ordinance is that it doesn’t require the police to engage in a hot pursuit to impound the vehicle. We simply need to capture the appropriate evidence the vehicle was engaged in this activity and record that evidence. That can be then used to impound this vehicle on any city street in the city of Chicago when we find it," Reilly said.
"When officers responded to the Clinton and Monroe incident over the weekend, they were met with fireworks being shot at them and certainly were outnumbered and did not have flatbed trucks or any of the equipment necessary to engage in the impoundment. This is a way get the bad actors after the fact when we do have resources available."
In most cases, video evidence used to justify the impoundment will be provided by the offenders themselves, Reilly said.
"Oftentimes, these people are dumb enough to post it in high-definition on social media platforms. … They’re actually busting themselves. So let’s avail ourselves of their wonderful footage and use it to take their cars away," Reilly said.
"If you look at these videos … where cars are spinning in circles, they’re almost always surrounded by a couple of hundred people in a crowd. And sometimes, people inside of these circles lighting fires and shooting off fireworks. It is an absolute recipe for disaster and it is just a matter of time before we’re gonna see people killed in these incidents. It shouldn’t have to come to that."
Prior to the final vote, alderpersons from across the city described similarly harrowing incidents in their wards.
Ald. Felix Cardona Jr. (31st) described a "ring of fire in the middle of Six Corners" on the Northwest Side. Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) complained "lawless actors" had taken over a parking lot in his Southwest Side ward in mid-May "and started a shoot-out."
South Side Ald. David Moore (17th) even asked whether the ordinance would empower police to impound motorcycles used in wheelies.
Reilly told him he "didn’t focus on that particular practice," but was more than willing to co-sponsor a "trailer ordinance" to do just that.
Moore also noted the impoundment ordinance "sets a precedent" for average citizens to capture video of vehicles running red lights and supply that evidence to police.
"That’ll be the next ordinance. … It opens the door for that, which I don’t mind," Moore said.
Asked if he planned on "pursuing this type of approach with other enforcement needs," Moore replied: "No, but I may."
Earlier this month, downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) complained Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to give NASCAR the green flag to hold three straight years of stock-car races through downtown Chicago streets would "egg on" participants in a sub-culture that thrives on becoming celebrities by posting daredevil stunts on social media.
FOX 32 Chicago contributed to this report.