Late nearly every night, Vicki Kipper says, she hears the roar of drivers racing outside her Highland Avenue home, occasionally punctuated by the crunch of a speeding car tearing the side mirror off a parked car.
"You hear them before you see them," said Kipper, who has lived on Highland for 26 years. "We also hear cars getting hit all the time out here."
During the day, Highland is one of the busiest arteries in Los Angeles, with stop-and-go traffic funneling into the business district north of Melrose Avenue and the residential area of Hancock Park to the south.
But once the crush lifts after 8 p.m., speeding vehicles use a nearly three-mile stretch between Sunset and Wilshire boulevards as an impromptu racetrack, according to Highland residents and local officials.
Taking advantage of traffic lights that seem to be perpetually green and encouraged by the rare sight of Los Angeles streets empty of police and gridlocked cars, drivers sometimes burn rubber at up to 70 mph on the street, which is posted for 40 mph, residents said.
At times, drivers rushing north toward the Hollywood Freeway or heading south after a few drinks at the bars on Sunset spontaneously begin racing other cars. And although police said Highland racing is nothing like the organized events in the San Fernando Valley that can draw hundreds of spectators, both can have disastrous consequences.
Police believe Carlos Steven John, 21, was racing while drunk when he smashed his BMW into two cars early Saturday at Highland and Sunset, killing the driver and passenger of one car and injuring the driver of the second. John, of Los Angeles, now faces at least one murder charge.
But the problem is not isolated to young drivers of flashy sports cars. Resident Anthony Filosa, 67, said he has seen tour buses and trucks well over Highland's 6,000-pound weight limit barrel down the street.
After a decade of work revitalizing Hollywood, the crowds flocking to the area now party harder, stay out later and drive faster, said Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes the area.
"It's no longer a town that goes to bed at 10 at night," LaBonge said. "In the middle of the night, people do dumb things."
The city has built three traffic islands in recent years to make Highland look narrower, hoping to dissuade nighttime drivers who speed at the sight of a wide, open expanse, LaBonge said.
Residents have tried to have more stoplights added, traffic diverted to nearby La Brea Avenue and even speed bumps installed, said Filosa, a retired Superior Court commissioner and traffic committee chairman of the Hancock Park Homeowners Assn.
But because Highland is a major thoroughfare during the day, residents' suggestions were either impractical or ineffective, Filosa said. Drivers still ignore posted speed limits and blaze through the stoplight at Rosewood Avenue only to screech to a stop at the light on Melrose, jeopardizing cars trying to turn.
"We can't do much about the problem," Filosa said. "Almost anybody, due to frustration because L.A. traffic is normally so bad, thinks that when you have the opportunity to go fast, you should."
Officials and residents agree that without a greater police presence on Highland at night, the speeding will continue. Filosa said he rarely sees police once the street is dark.
The Highland stretch is one of the top five places where the Los Angeles Police Department's West Bureau wants to focus special attention, Deputy Chief of Operations Kenny Garner said.
In 2007, police arrested 33 drivers on Highland north of Beverly Boulevard on suspicion of driving under the influence, out of 933 total DUI arrests in Hollywood, Garner said. Police in the Wilshire Division made 16 arrests on Highland out of a total of 508 south of Beverly.
But the bureau's drunk driving team patrols only from about 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., leaving Highland relatively abandoned in the early morning, Garner said.
"Stopping speeding on Highland is not going to be a quick fix," Garner said. "There's no way we're going to catch all the drunk drivers, but we're putting extra resources into it."
Kipper, mother of two grown children, said she no longer relies on police to protect her family from speeders. After her family's cars were struck and swiped several times by racers at night, Kipper said, she paid for an expensive makeover for the driveway and frontyard so the cars could be parked off the street.
Many of the family's friends prefer to park around the corner to avoid being hit, she said.
"It's scary at night when my kids come home and try to pull into the driveway and people come flying unexpectedly down the street," she said.