Austin Street Racing ‘Takeover’ Results in Damaged Police Vehicles, Fire; 2 Arrested

Amy Gamm
By Amy Gamm
February 20, 2023US News
Austin Street Racing ‘Takeover’ Results in Damaged Police Vehicles, Fire; 2 Arrested
Police respond to an incident in Austin, Texas, on March 12, 2018. (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)

The Austin Police Department (APD) is investigating a series of street racing “take overs” that occurred over the course of five hours on Saturday night, resulting in damaged police vehicles, onlookers throwing rocks and bottles, an injured officer, and fireworks setting spectators ablaze.

“Last night’s street racing in Austin injured one APD officer and damaged several police cars,” the APD said in a tweet on Sunday. “APD is committed to stopping this conduct. Lawbreaking in this manner will result in enforcement and arrest. Our community’s safety is the #1 priority for APD.”

Police were successful in apprehending two people and charging them with evading arrest, according to an APD statement released on Sunday. “The investigation into this incident continues, and further charges may be filed,” the department said.

Mayhem Caught on Video

Multiple videos on social media went viral on Saturday night, showing cars driving recklessly and doing “donuts” in a downtown Austin intersection while onlookers threw fireworks, rocks, and bottles.

Texas statehouse reporter for the Dallas Morning News Allie Morris posted a video on Twitter that shows a large crowd of onlookers recording the scene on their cell phones while several cars spin and careen through the intersection, one after the other, as flares and fireworks light up the night.

Another post shows an Austin police cruiser arriving to break up the scene only to be rushed by a massive crowd, which surrounded the vehicle and began pushing against it. The cruiser attempted to back away from the situation as the crowd started launching fireworks at it, which exploded on the hood and across the front windshield.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) reported that two of its patrol cars responding to the scene were damaged in North Austin near the metro-area suburb Pflugerville “after a crowd threw rocks and other objects at them, shattering windows.”

The New York Post described a video on Twitter that showed a pickup truck driving through flames on the ground while doing donuts at an intersection.

“A small explosion led to fire spewing toward a crowd of people who were briefly engulfed by the flames,” the outlet wrote, adding that multiple people caught on fire and started stripping off their clothes and running for safety “as others attempted to pat them down while still cheering and laughing.”

Series of 4 Separate but Related Violent Incidents

According to the APD news statement released on Sunday, starting around 9 p.m. local time the previous day, police responded to four separate but related incidents of people driving recklessly, blocking traffic at intersections, and shooting off fireworks throughout the city.

“One officer sustained a non-life-threatening injury, was treated at a local hospital, and was released,” APD reported. The department didn’t mention any other injuries that the drivers of the cars or people in the crowd may have sustained.

APD said the cars were driving in circles “doing donuts,” which drew crowds and escalated as onlookers threw rocks and bottles at police cruisers, pointing lasers at officers, and even shooting off fireworks at police and into the crowd.

The first incident occurred at the downtown Austin intersection of Barton Springs Road and South Lamar Boulevard, according to the APD statement.

When police finally cleared the intersection around 9:45 p.m., the “car club” moved on to a second location. At around 10:30 p.m., it resumed its reckless driving, blocking traffic, and drawing lawless crowds before police again cleared the intersection, and the cars moved on to a third location.

The fourth and last incident finally ended around 2 a.m. at the Metric Boulevard/Braker Lane intersection, but not before someone in the crowd had started a fire, the APD stated.

Some Blame Austin Lawmakers’ ‘Defund the Police’ Policies

The Austin Police Association went to social media to blame the Democratic policymakers in Austin and the “defund the police” mentality they push.

“Austin policy makers are directly responsible for the overall safety of their citizens & visitors,” the police union posted in a tweet. “Looks like they failed to make the right decisions & continue to defend, destroy, & demoralize public safety. Austin was one of the safest cities, NOT anymore.”

Other lawmakers shared the police union’s opinion.

“Many thoughts on this maddening lawlessness in Austin last night,” Republican Texas state Rep. Jeff Leach said in a post to Twitter. “But more than anything: God bless our brave men and women in blue! Especially those working in cities where they’re undervalued and under attack, like in Austin.”

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who once represented the “exact intersection in Austin for four years” where the street racing began, also reacted on Twitter about the incident. “I apologize to the APD officers who have to put up with this crap, only to have city leaders play games with your contract,” he wrote.

Eyewitnesses told local news outlets that it took police over 30 minutes to respond to the first incident.

“I don’t think they could get here because traffic was backed up on every street from every direction,” Brian Hillsman told local news outlet KXAN. “When the cops did finally show up, it took a while for them to have any sort of presence. It was unreal,” he said.

Another, Duke Whitman, told the Austin American-Statesman that it took way too long for the police to show up to the first incident, allowing over 250 people to gather.

Observing the incident from a safe distance through his binoculars on his balcony, Whitman said he saw “multiple people in the crowd get hit by the cars doing doughnuts.”

“My concern is 30- to 40-minutes response time for something that is relatively large,” he said. “It wouldn’t take much for something like that to get way out of hand.”

APD also reported in its statement that it took over 20 minutes to arrive “due to no units nearby.”

A shortage of 911 operators in Austin may also have contributed to the slow police response, according to Local Council Member Alison Alter.

Alter told the Austin American-Statesman that she was put on hold for 28 minutes when she unknowingly drove up on Saturday night’s first chaotic location, got stuck in the resulting traffic, and attempted to call 911.

A Fox News report in October 2022 found that the average hold time for Austin residents calling the emergency line is two-and-a-half minutes, which falls well below the national standard of 90 percent of calls answered within 15 seconds.

Saturday’s Street Racing Takeover Believed to Be Planned

According to the Austin American-Statesman, a large group had promoted the “event” on Instagram and planned to meet for the Lone Star Car Show in Austin at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The same Instagram account later posted videos of the incident at the Barton Springs Road and South Lamar Boulevard location, which kicked off the night of chaos.

One of the videos, the news site reported, showed “two women hanging out of a car” while it spun in the street.

The Statesman reported that it had reviewed “multiple Instagram accounts” and found that the event appears to have been coordinated with various “takeover groups” from multiple cities across the state, including San Antonio and Houston.

One such group had a time set at 6 p.m. on Saturday to meet in Temple, Texas, about 70 miles northeast of Austin, before heading into the city.

According to the New York Post, “takeovers usually involve hundreds of people and multiple cars gathering in an unauthorized area like an intersection or interstate and blocking traffic while performing dangerous and chaotic stunts and activities.”

Neither Democratic Austin Mayor Kirk Watson nor Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have put out a statement regarding Saturday night’s violence.

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