Drag races and “street takeovers” spark Chicago police crackdown

Speeding drivers swerved and sped through Chicago intersections again last weekend, and police say they will crack down on continued illegal stunt shows.

Officers arrested nine people, seized seven cars and identified 22 vehicles for future seizure at street stops over the weekend, police said. An ordinance passed by the City Council in June allows police to impound cars involved in stunt driving and issue $10,000 fines.

Despite the escalated fallout, the stunt shows continued, with a pedestrian killed during an alleged drag race over the weekend.

Drivers burned tires in a brazen display in the West Loop early Sunday morning. At another blocked intersection in Pilsen, an angry mob attacked police with bricks, a road sign, a tree and stones as a police vehicle drove into the crowd, video posted on social media shows. The crowd damaged six patrol cars and also used fireworks, police said.

“We will hold you accountable for this behavior, regardless of when. We are going to be relentless in identifying you.” Brown said at a news conference on Monday. “As long as there are no consequences, this behavior will continue.”

The attacks on police vehicles during Pilsen’s car takeover at 3 a.m. Sunday in the 600 block of West Cermak Road are unacceptable, Chief Brian McDermott said.

“Anyone who commits an assault or battery against a police officer will be arrested and prosecuted,” he said. But the attack was not unique.

When officers spotted a driver drifting and making donuts just 10 minutes later in the South Loop, the suspected racer, 19-year-old Omar Daaboul, drove his white Dodge Challenger toward a CPD sergeant, prosecutors said during a bail hearing broadcast Sunday on Youtube.

The sergeant had to jump to the curb to avoid being hit, police said, though Daaboul slammed on the brakes before the sports car hit the officer, according to prosecutors. Daaboul is being held in lieu of $3,000 bond at the Cook County Jail for violating probation in a weapons case. His car had been seen drifting at a car takeover earlier in the evening, prosecutors said.

Car stunts apparently turned deadly on Sunday when a potential drag race between sports cars ended with the death of a 40-year-old pedestrian.

The two Corvettes were heading south in the 6400 block of South Cicero Avenue near Midway Airport around 1:30 a.m., according to a police report obtained. When one of the drivers changed lanes, the car struck another vehicle and Shawman Meireis, a woman who had been in the crosswalk, according to authorities. Meireis was transported to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where she was pronounced dead. She would have turned 41 on Monday, the police report showed.

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The 27-year-old man who was driving the car received two citations, police said. The driver told police that people in a blue Corvette had tried to rob him and said he had tried to run away, according to police. Witnesses at the scene told officers that the two Corvettes appeared to be racing, according to the report.

Police also responded at 1:50 a.m. Sunday to reports of drag racing and cars blocking the road at West Madison and North Morgan streets. There, an 18-year-old received a citation for obstructing the rear license plate of his vehicle. His car was also seized, police said.

Erin Bowler, who watched and listened to drag racing and stunt shows from her Fulton Market apartment last weekend, told the Tribune the events were “surreal.”

“It almost looks like a movie,” he said. She saw cars and a crowd take over the intersection of North Halsted and North Lake streets around 1:20 a.m. Sunday. A man was dangling from a car like donuts, burning tire marks into the street. Engines revved up nearby for two and a half hours, she said.

“It’s really disrupting our building,” Bowler said.

On Sunday, around 10:30 p.m., more cars returned, he said. The vintage vehicles attempted stunts near Halsted and Fulton streets before police arrived and broke up the takeover, Bowler said. He worries about her safety when the cheeky stunt shows begin.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot blamed social media companies for the dangerous stunt shows on Monday, apparently calling for federal regulation and increased policing on the platforms, where city leaders have said the events are being planned.

“The fact that they are not proactive in addressing these issues to work proactively with law enforcement is an absolute abomination,” he said.

The mayor said she wants to see “accountability in the justice system,” including people accused of staging the stunt shows and reckless driving.

A new police task force will focus on deterring stunt shows and enforcing city ordinances designed to stop them, McDermott said. A primary focus of the group will be identifying swerving and running cars so they can be impounded later.

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Superintendent David Brown sarcastically thanked people who posted videos of the street takeovers on social media. Those clips and police surveillance technology are being used to identify the cars, he said.

The Police Department will also use salt trucks, tow trucks and other large vehicles to control crowds gathered for “car caravans,” McDermott said.

“Those of you who think you have gotten away with these crimes may soon find your vehicle towed, impounded and facing a fine of up to $10,000,” McDermott said. More arrests related to stunt shows are expected this week, he added.

Brown did not say how many officers will participate in the auto repossession task force. Stunt shows are not new to Chicago, though they have reached a fever pitch, and cities across the country are grappling with similar events, he said.

He described the shows as well-coordinated efforts designed to evade police. Caravans of cars participating in street takeovers criss-cross the city before landing in one spot, she said. Organizers advertise fake meeting places on public social media accounts and plan the actual date in closed groups or use decoy caravans to lure police away from stunt shows, she added.

“These people are very smart,” he said. “Our strategy is to take his car.”

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The task force was created about four weeks ago when an increase in stunt shows was seen throughout Chicago. Despite a weekend packed with arrests and seizures, police are “not going to win the battle overnight,” McDermott said. However, law-breaking drivers will not be able to keep their shows as costly seizures pile up, the chief added.

Brown called the June ordinance allowing police response to stunt shows a “good start.” Police and council members are discussing possible amendments that would allow spectators to be punished as well, he added.

“We need to do more of that, more amendments to this ordinance so we can take their cars. That will discourage their behavior,” she said. The fine for impounded vehicles could also be increased from $10,000 to $20,000, Brown added.

“Let’s keep going until these chumps get the message,” he said.

Chicago Tribune reporters Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas, William Lee and Gregory Pratt contributed.

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Twitter @jakesheridan

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