CHICAGO — Speeders swerved and ran through Chicago intersections again last weekend, and police say they’ll crack down harder on the ongoing illegal stunts.
Officers arrested nine people, impounded seven cars and identified 22 vehicles for future seizure in street raids 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 fines of $10,000.
Despite the increased consequences, the tricks have continued, with a pedestrian killed during a suspected drag race over the weekend.
Drivers burned rubber in a daring West Loop display early Sunday. At another blocked intersection in the Pilsen neighborhood, an angry crowd attacked police with bricks, a sign, a tree and rocks as a police vehicle raced toward the crowd, a video on social media showed. The mob damaged six cars of the group and also used firecrackers, police said.
“We will hold you accountable for this behavior no matter when. We will be relentless in identifying you,” Superintendent David Brown said at a news conference Monday. “Until there are consequences, this behavior will continue.”
Attacks on police vehicles during Pilsen’s 3 a.m. Sunday morning on Cermak Street are unacceptable, said Chief Brian McDermott.
“Anyone who commits assault or battery on a police officer will be arrested and prosecuted,” he said. But the attack was not unique.
When officers saw a driver drifting and doing donuts just 10 minutes later in the South Loop, the suspected drag racer, 19-year-old Omar Daaboul, drove his white Dodge Challenger toward a CPD sergeant, prosecutors said during a hearing for the warrant that aired Sunday on YouTube.
The sergeant had to jump to the curb to avoid being hit, police said, although Daaboul braked before the sports car hit the officer, according to prosecutors. Daaboul is being held on $3,000 bail in the Cook County Jail on a probation violation in a weapons case. His car was seen drifting at a car pickup earlier in the evening, prosecutors said.
Car stunts apparently turned deadly on Sunday when a possible back-and-forth race between sports cars resulted in the death of a 40-year-old pedestrian.
The two Corvettes were speeding south on South Cicero Avenue near Midway Airport at about 1:30 a.m., according to a police report taken. When one of the drivers changed lanes, the car hit another vehicle and Shawman Meireis, a woman who was in the crosswalk, according to authorities. Meireis was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn where she was pronounced dead. He would have turned 41 on Monday, the police report showed.
The 27-year-old man driving the car was issued two citations, police said. The driver told police that people in a blue Corvette were trying to carjack him and said he tried to flee, according to police. Witnesses at the scene told officers the two Corvettes appeared to be struggling, the report said.
Police also responded at 1:50 a.m. Sunday to reports of tailgating and cars blocking the road at West Madison and North Morgan streets. There, an 18-year-old was cited for obstructing the rear license plate of his vehicle. His car was also seized, police said.
Erin Bowler, who saw and heard stunts and drag matches unfold from her Fulton Market apartment last weekend, told the Tribune the events were “surreal.”
“It’s almost like a movie,” he said. He saw cars and a crowd occupy the intersection of North Halsted and North Lake streets at about 1:20 a.m. of Sunday. A man was hanging out of a car doing donuts, burning tire marks on the road. The engines revved for close to 2 ½ hours, he said.
“It really upsets our building,” Bowler said.
On Sunday at about 10:30 p.m., more cars returned, he said. Vintage vehicles tried tricks near Halsted and Fulton streets before police came and broke up the takeover, Bowler said. She worries for her safety when the brazen stunts begin.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot blamed the dangerous stunts on social media companies on Monday, apparently calling for federal regulation and increased police surveillance across the platforms, where city leaders have said the events are planned.
“Their failure to be proactive in addressing these issues to proactively work with law enforcement is an absolute abomination,” he said.
The mayor said she wants to see “accountability in the justice system,” including those charged with staging the stunts and reckless driving.
A new police task force will focus on preventing stunt shows and enforcing city ordinances designed to stop them, McDermott said. The main focus of the team will be to spot drifting and racing cars so they can be impounded later.
Brown sarcastically thanked people who post videos of the street takeovers on social media. Those clips and police surveillance technology are used to identify the cars, he said.
The Police Department will also use salt trucks, tow trucks and other large vehicles to control the crowds gathered for the “caravans,” McDermott said.
“Those of you who believe you have gotten away with these crimes may soon find your vehicle towed, impounded and face a fine of up to $10,000,” said McDermott. More arrests related to the stunts are expected this week, he added.
Brown would not say how many officers will be part of the car recovery task force. Stunts are not new to Chicago, though they have reached a “fever” and cities across the country are experiencing similar events, he said.
He described the performances as well-coordinated efforts to evade the police. The caravans participating in the street squats travel through the city before landing in one spot, he said. Organizers announce fake meeting locations on public social media accounts and plan the real rendezvous in closed groups or use decoy caravans to lead police away from the stunts, he added.
“These people are very smart,” he said. “Our strategy is to take their car.”
The task force was formed about four weeks ago when a spike in stunts was noticed throughout Chicago. Despite a weekend full of arrests and arrests, police are “not going to win the battle overnight,” McDermott said. However, drivers who break the law will not be able to continue their appearances as the fines pile up, the chief added.
Brown called the June ordinance allowing police response to stunts a “good start.” Police and mayors are discussing possible amendments that would allow spectators to be fined as well, he added.
“We need to do more of that, more amendments to this ordinance to be able to take their cars. This will discourage their behavior,” he said. The fine for impounded vehicles could also increase from $10,000 to $20,000, Brown added.
“Let’s keep going until these hookers get the message,” he said.
(Chicago Tribune reporters Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas, William Lee and Gregory Pratt contributed.)