You see them all over social media — hundreds of viral videos capturing mayhem in the streets! The videos show street races and takeovers happening across metro Atlanta.
It is dangerous and illegal.
The viral videos have turned metro Atlanta into one of the most popular destinations for street racing and takeovers.
At times, there is no regard for human life as drivers perform dangerous stunts with passengers hanging out the window in front of hundreds of spectators.
“There’s no high like it in the world,” former street racer George Grob said.
Grob now spends his time working on high-performance vehicles in Gwinnett County.
He said social media has been fueling the surge in takeovers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when most people were at home and the roads were empty.
“Everything nowadays is about social media. How many followers, how many views can I get? Can I make money on this and that? And that’s why it went from having fun with your friends and get a couple of videos, to how famous can I get from doing this?” Grob said.
But this isn’t just about earning money. It’s also about earning clout and for some of these drivers, that means playing a risky game of cat and mouse with the police.
“You set up six or seven total addresses that you do and you’re on a live text or a group chat. And you go to the first one and you’re ‘Boom! OK, that one gets busted up.’ Then Boom! Boom! That way you have it all planned out,” Grob said.
But this wild and crazy lifestyle can also come with deadly consequences.
On April 27, Jim Richardson, a teacher and a self-taught musician, was headed home to play in a memorial service when he was seriously injured in a head-on collision involving a suspected street racer fleeing from a state trooper.
“My understanding is it took paramedics and the crew an hour and half to get him out,” said Lane Holman, Richardson’s cousin.
Despite suffering multiple serious injuries, including crushed ribs, a broken leg and a broken hip, Richardson appeared to be on the road to recovery. However, two months after the crash, he suddenly died while spending time at a friend’s house.
“He just collapsed one night after dinner, and he was dead before he hit the floor and it was his heart. Complications from the accident,” Holman said.
Sadly, Richardson’s death is not the only one.
“Members of the community came to me and said, ‘Sen. Jones, we need to do something about this,’” state Sen. Emanuel Jones said. “There’s property that’s being damaged. There’s lives that are being lost.”
Jones helped pass a new law to crack down on street takeovers last year.
Many cities in metro Atlanta recognize their police officers are frustrated and outnumbered, So they’ve taken matters into their own hands.
In Atlanta, authorities can fine spectators up to $1,000 and keep drivers in jail until they face a judge.
In a little under two years, the Atlanta Police Department has made 58 arrests and seized multiple vehicles.
“I applaud the cities that are doing that,” Jones said. “However, the state has a much broader reach and I think it’s incumbent on us to listen to what those other municipalities and counties are doing.”
The Democratic lawmaker said he started pushing for stricter laws after learning about the tragic death of Jaye Sanford.
The 52-year-old DeKalb County mother died after her car collided with an alleged street racer in 2020.
Under the new law, violators can face a suspended license and fines as high as $5,000. The new law also created a new offense called “reckless stunt driving” and allows police to seize cars.
Repeat offenders can face felony charges that carry additional prison time.
“I think that is the responsibility of local governments to allow that expression to take place in safe manners,” said James Woodall, public policy associate at the Southern Center for Human Rights.
Woodall is also an opponent of the current legislation because he believes it was rushed into law without the proper data to back it up.
“We cannot legislate our way out of every single issue. We have to really approach it with data, with research and ultimately come up with solutions that really helps everybody,” Woodall said.
Woodall said there is a way for lawmakers to embrace Atlanta’s car culture while keeping the public safe.
“Let’s provide a space, right, local municipalities providing a space for this activity to take place and not criminalized behavior, rather allow it to happen in a controlled environment,” Woodall said.
But for many of the victims and their families, it’s not enough.
“There’s no point in it. You might have some gratification today. Think about how you’re going to feel — a look back on your life when you’re 60 or 70. Can be proud that you did that?” Holman said.
Jones said that filing a new bill with stricter penalties is one of his top priorities. He would like to see some of the misdemeanor charges be upgraded to felonies.
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