Tustin reduces street racing by targeting spectators


Illegal street racing has resulted in death and injury throughout Orange County and the entire state.

Over the course of a single night in October 2020, illegal street racing activities in Orange County caused a death and two injuries.

In July, Orange County Register editor Gene Harbrecht was killed when the vehicle he was driving was struck by a driver believed to be involved in an illegal street race in Santa Ana.

“People get injured all the time,” said Officer Steve Brooks of the Traffic Bureau at the Tustin Police Department. “It’s dangerous to everybody.”

The Tustin Police Department has taken measures to keep street racing out of the city. And while those measures don’t involve sophisticated and sometimes dangerous tactics, they seem to be working perfectly, Officer Michael McJunkin said.

“You always see in the movies they go after the street racer and they get into a pursuit,” said McJunkin, who helped organize a task force aimed at combating the deadly activity. “That is not safe and that is not what the Tustin Police Department wanted to do.”

Tustin Police Officer Michael McJunkin talks about the department’s work in combating street racing within the city.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Instead of focusing on the drivers doing the racing or spinning donuts in the middle of intersections, the task force shifted its attention to the spectators – the main reason the racers stage their “show” to begin with, McJunkin said.

The task force’s weapon of choice is the California Vehicle Code, specifically sections 23109 (b), 23109 (c) and 23109.2 (a) (1).

Sections 23109 (b) and 23109 (c) state “A person shall not aid or abet in any motor vehicle speed contest on any highway” and “A person shall not engage in a motor vehicle exhibition of speed on a highway, and a person shall not aid or abet in a motor vehicle exhibition of speed on any highway.”

Street racing usually involves “intersection takeovers,” where dozens of cars or more take over an intersection by parking in a way that blocks all four entrances into the intersection.

By blocking off an intersection, racers can perform donuts, one of the most popular, dangerous, and financially costly forms of street racing, McJunkin said.

“You’re blocking (the intersection), which means you are causing or helping that show happen,” he said. “The blockers, therefore, became our target. We are backed by the law and backed by the administration.”

In addition to the risk of injury, the cost of repairing an intersection marred by vehicles skidding and drifting can be tens of thousands of dollars, McJunkin said.

Without sharing specifics, the task force uses intel to find out when and where the intersection takeovers were going to take place.

“We have our way of doing things covertly and kind of surprise them and essentially, when they run back to their cars, we are there to greet them,” McJunkin said.

Under the vehicle code, aiding and abetting a street race is a misdemeanor and the vehicles blocking the roadway can be impounded for 30 days. The owner of the vehicle can be responsible for the entire cost of impounding.

“Their typical reaction is, ‘oh I was just watching,’ but they park their vehicle right in the middle of the road and leave it sometimes two blocks back,” Traffic Unit Sgt. Jason Wonser said. “The idea is so that nobody can get up to the people who are doing the donut.”

The street racing task force has staged two enforcement operations resulting in the impoundment of 30 vehicles, McJunkin said.

Since the second enforcement operation several months ago, there has not been another intersection takeover in Tustin, McJunkin said. Street racers can’t engage in the activity without taking over an intersection and won’t stage a competition without an audience, he said.

“These guys didn’t have an audience in Tustin anymore because no one wanted to come watch in Tustin anymore,” he said. “Because if they watch in Tustin, they might actually lose their cars.”