Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series.
WATSONVILLE — Late one Sunday night in July, Watsonville Police got a call that a group of people was gathered in a parking lot, and someone was spinning their car in circles in a time-honored activity known as doing “donuts.”
Such a call is nothing new for WPD. Car enthusiasts regularly gather in parking lots in front of the Target on Main Street and the Kmart on Freedom Boulevard to show off their rides. Some occasionally spin donuts and perform other engine-fueled feats seriously frowned on by law enforcement.
This time, however, the caller was reporting that someone had been struck by a newer model red Mustang doing donuts on the 1700 block of Freedom Boulevard.
Emergency officials did not find anyone who had been injured. But the call highlighted the danger of the activity, and the reason law enforcement officials crack down on it.
“Street racing is illegal and extremely dangerous,” said California Highway Patrol officer Julietta Trenado. “Participants and onlookers are frequently killed and injured.”
Watsonville Police Sgt. Donny Thul said that the weekend gatherings increase during the warmer summer months.
When calls come in, police typically take a proactive approach to quelling the activity, Watsonville Police Sgt. Donny Thul said.
“What we want to do is discourage unsafe driving habits,” he said. “We talk to people and make our presence known. Our presence is a deterrent.”
Still another deterrent may be the steep fines and other penalties facing participants.
Anyone cited for reckless driving faces fines of nearly $700, which can climb to $3,000 if someone is injured. Perhaps worse, police can impound the offenders’ vehicles for 30 days.
The owners must then pay a vehicle release fee to their local police departments – $194 at Watsonville Police Department – and then impound fees to the company that tows the vehicle.
Chaz Towing of Watsonville charges a $190 tow fee, and then $110 per day in storage fees.
All of that is in addition to increased insurance rates and a possible suspended drivers’ license.
Under California law, people who come to watch the displays can also be cited.
Thul said that police want to stop injuries and other problems that come from “showboating.”
“If people want to race that’s fine but they should do it on race tracks,” he said.
But people who participate in the gatherings say they are being unfairly labeled.
In the next part of this series, Register-Pajaronian editor Tony Nuñez interviews some of those people.