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Sun Valley Residents Laud Crackdown on Drag Racing

Illegal hobby persists, but some say new city measures are helping keep it in check.

June 21, 2003|Hilda Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Over four decades, Cor Van Beek watched illegal street racing in Sun Valley grow from moderate gatherings to elaborately orchestrated functions involving flag men, stop watches and lookouts armed with walkie-talkies watching for police. The number of loud cars also grew.

"They would rev their engines ... vrooom!" said Van Beek, 74, imitating the cars that once zoomed down Peoria Street. "It was a horrible sound -- they burned rubber, then they would take off ... and leave big marks in the street."

But the noise, the rubbish left behind by spectators and the occasional loss of a neighborhood pet run over by a speeding car seemed to have subsided a year ago when city and law enforcement officials installed speed bumps along the street. It was one of the more successful tactics implemented to curtail the illegal nighttime hobby, Van Beek said.

"No more racing on the street," he said. "All of the sudden we enjoy our life here."

The quiet was momentarily shaken early Thursday when two men died after the car they were racing in on Glenoaks Boulevard careened out of control and crashed into a power pole.

Authorities said Vahe Parseghian, the 19-year-old driver from Sunland, died at the scene and his passenger, Tadeh Badalian, 18, of Glendale died at Pacifica Hospital of the Valley in Sun Valley. The driver of the car they were racing sped from the scene, but police said a 19-year-old Northridge man turned himself in Friday.

Races sometimes thundered through Peoria Street but usually occurred on Glenoaks Boulevard, a wide, four-lane industrial street. Van Beek said racing on the boulevard did not bother him because he could not hear the commotion. He said he even attended a few of them through the years. But cars inevitably ended up thundering past his home once police arrived and Peoria Street became an escape route.

"This would happen every Friday and Saturday night," said Brad Smith, 47, a nine-year Peoria Street resident.

Smith, a construction worker, said initial attempts by police to scare the racers by issuing citations or increasing impound fees were unsuccessful.

"In the old days, [police] weren't arresting them, they were just scattering them," Smith said. "It would make them stop for a while, then they'd be back. They'd pay the fines, then they'd come back."

But owners caught racing their cars will not be able to retrieve their cars from impound lots once a new forfeiture law takes effect next month. The Los Angeles City Council recently approved legislation allowing the city to permanently take possession of illegal racing cars. The cars will be auctioned off and the money deposited into the city's general fund.

City and law enforcement officials believe that under the new law, racers may be reluctant to race for fear of losing their cars.

Also, police can now arrest spectators on a misdemeanor, under a law passed by the City Council last year. Previously, they could only hand out citations. Last month, a 22-year-old Encino man was the first to be convicted of watching a street race and was sentenced to 18 months' probation and 10 days of Caltrans' service, fined $300 and barred from illegal racing venues.

The measures are welcomed by Van Beek, though he bristles at the "no parking anytime" zone created on his street. His son recently received a $160 ticket for parking there. Still, he's pleased with the crackdown on racing.

"We were getting close to selling the house," Van Beek said. "Now that everything is accomplished, why should we move?"

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