Drag races, “street takeovers” prompt Chicago police crackdown

Speeding drivers drifted and drag raced through Chicago intersections again last weekend, and police say they will crack down harder on the continuing illegal stunt shows.

Officers arrested nine people, impounded seven cars and identified 22 vehicles for future impoundment at street takeovers over the weekend, police said. An ordinance the City Council passed in June allows police to impound cars involved in stunt driving and issue $10,000 fines.

Despite the ramped up consequences, the trick shows continued, with one pedestrian killed during a suspected drag race over the weekend.

Drivers burned rubber in a brash West Loop display early Sunday. At another blocked intersection in Pilsen, an angry crowd attacked police with bricks, a road sign, a tree and rocks as a police vehicle drove toward the crowd, a video on social media shows. The crowd damaged six squad cars and also used fireworks, police said.

“We will hold you accountable for this behavior, regardless of when. We are going to be relentless in identifying you.” Brown said at a news conference Monday. “As long as there are no consequences, this behavior will continue.”

The attacks on police vehicles during Sunday’s 3 a.m. Pilsen car takeover on the 600 block of West Cermak Road are unacceptable, Chief Brian McDermott said.

“Anyone committing an assault or battery against a police officer will be arrested and prosecuted,” he said. But the attack wasn’t unique.

When officers saw a driver drifting and doing doughnuts just 10 minutes later in the South Loop, the suspected drag racer, 19-year-old Omar Daaboul, drove his white Dodge Challenger toward a CPD sergeant, prosecutors said during a bail hearing Sunday broadcast on YouTube.

The sergeant had to jump onto the sidewalk to avoid being hit, police said, though Daaboul hit the brakes before the sports car struck the officer, according to prosecutors. Daaboul is being held in lieu of $3,000 bail in Cook County Jail for violating probation in a gun case. His car had been seen drifting at a car takeover earlier in the night, prosecutors said.

The car stunts apparently turned deadly Sunday when a possible drag race between sports cars ended in the death of a 40-year-old pedestrian.

The two Corvettes had been speeding south on the 6400 block of South Cicero Avenue near Midway Airport about 1:30 a.m., according to a police report obtained. When one of the drivers changed lanes, the car hit another vehicle and Shawman Meireis, a woman who had been in the crosswalk, according to authorities. Meireis was transported to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn where she was pronounced dead. She would have turned 41 Monday, the police report showed.

The 27-year-old man driving the car was issued two citations, police said. The driver told police that people in a blue Corvette had been attempting to carjack him and said he had tried to flee, according to the police. Witnesses at the scene told officers that the two Corvettes appeared to be racing, the report said.

Police also responded at 1:50 a.m. Sunday to reports of drag racing and cars blocking the road at West Madison and North Morgan streets. There, an 18-year-old was given a citation for obstructing the rear license plate of his vehicle. His car was also impounded, police said.

Erin Bowler, who saw and heard stunt shows and drag races unfold from her Fulton Market apartment last weekend, told the Tribune that the events were “surreal.”

“It almost looks like a movie,” she said. She saw cars and a crowd take over the North Halsted and North Lake streets intersection about 1:20 a.m. Sunday. A man was hanging out of one car as it did doughnuts, burning tire marks into the street. Engines revved nearby for 2 ½ hours, she said.

“It’s really disrupting our building,” Bowler said.

On Sunday about 10:30 p.m., more cars returned, she said. Vintage vehicles tried tricks near Halsted and Fulton streets before police came and broke up the takeover, Bowler said. She worries for her safety when the brazen stunt shows start.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot pinned blame for the dangerous stunt shows on social media companies Monday, apparently calling for federal regulation and enhanced police surveillance across platforms, where city leaders have said the events are being planned.

“Their failure to be proactive in addressing these issues to work proactively with law enforcement is an absolute abomination,” she said.

The mayor said she wants to see “accountability in the court system,” including people being charged for organizing the stunt shows and driving recklessly.

A new police task force will focus on deterring the stunt shows and enforcing the city ordinances designed to stop them, McDermott said. A major focus of the group will be identifying cars that drift and race so that they can be impounded later.

Superintendent David Brown sarcastically thanked the people posting social media videos from the street takeovers. Those clips and police surveillance technology are being used to identify the cars, he said.

The Police Department will also use salt trucks, tow trucks and other large vehicles to control the crowds gathered for the “car caravans,” McDermott said.

“Those of you who think you have gotten away with these crimes, you may soon find your vehicle towed, impounded and face up to a $10,000 fine,” McDermott said. More arrests related to the stunt shows are expected this week, he added.

Brown wouldn’t say how many officers will be participating in the car takeover task force. The stunt shows aren’t new to Chicago, though they’ve reached a “fever pitch,” and cities across the country are dealing with similar events, he said.

He described the shows as well-coordinated efforts designed to evade police. The car caravans that participate in the street takeovers drive through the city before landing in one spot, he said. Organizers announce fake meetup locations on public social media accounts and plan out the real rendezvous in closed groups or use decoy caravans to lead police away from stunt shows, he added.

“These folks are very clever,” he said. “Our strategy is to take their car.”

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The task force was created about four weeks ago when an uptick in the stunt shows was seen across Chicago. Despite a weekend filled with arrests and impoundments, police “are not going to win the battle overnight,” McDermott said. However, the lawbreaking drivers won’t be able to keep up their shows as pricey impounds stack up, the chief added.

Brown called the June ordinance enabling the police response to stunt shows a “good start.” Police and aldermen are discussing potential amendments that would allow spectators to also be punished, he added.

“We need to do more of that, more amendments to this ordinance to be able to take their cars. That will discourage their behavior,” he said. The fine for impounded vehicles could also be raised from $10,000 to $20,000, Brown added.

“Let’s keep going till these knuckleheads get the message,” he said.

Chicago Tribune reporters Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas, William Lee and Gregory Pratt contributed.

jsheridan@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @jakesheridan

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