A pair of deaths linked to Portland street racing highlights the violent trend of the pandemic

Police say the woman struck and killed in an apparent street-racing accident in Portland on Aug. 27 had been waiting at a bus stop.

Ashlee McGill, 26, was an “innocent bystander”, police say, when she was hit by a runaway car.

His driver was allegedly competing with another driver near Southeast Stark Street and Southeast 133rd Avenue when he left the roadway, struck another vehicle and crashed into a tree. Nearly a week later, the driver remained in the hospital with serious injuries. The police have not made any arrests.

The next day, according to police, at least four people were shot at an illegal swearing-in event on a crowded street in Portland. One of the people shot, 20-year-old Cameron Taylor, died.

These incidents appear to be part of a rise in illegal street racing in Portland and other US metropolitan areas.

Portland police couldn’t immediately provide data documenting street racing incidents in recent years, but anecdotally, Portland Police Officer David Baer said he has noticed a significant increase.

“These have become quite complex and quite frankly violent events,” Baer said.

In June, street racers reportedly took over the Burnside Bridge one night. Portland police conducted a “street racing mission” that month, during which they arrested seven people for participating in street racing.

Last year, the Portland City Council unanimously passed an ordinance intended to crack down on street racing by tightening penalties for those who close intersections and highways and speed on city streets.

Street racing can sometimes happen spontaneously: two drivers meet at a stoplight, rev their engines, and hit the gas as soon as the light turns green. But mostly, Baer said, officers see these as planned events that draw hundreds or sometimes thousands of people through social media.

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While people can usually imagine upgraded race cars hurtling down their local streets, Baer says he sees “all kinds of vehicles.”

“I’ve seen everything from pickup trucks that I think were taken from the family farm, to minivans and passenger cars,” he said.

In Los Angeles, which has long had a thriving underground racing scene, racing and squatting incidents are up 27% in 2021. Some Angelenos blame movies like the Fast & Furious franchise, going so far as to protest filming of new movies.

Baer doesn’t know why street racing seems to have become more popular during the pandemic. He said a staffing shortage at the police office could be to blame, though that has become a sore spot among city politicians. Some experts speculate that people are eager to show off the cars they’ve been working on during the pandemic, and that social media platforms have made it easier than ever to draw a crowd.

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