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Fleeing sideshow driver crashes in Turlock

More than 200 vehicles came out for an illegal sideshow at the former Crows Landing Naval Air Station, prompting a response from the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, which sent vehicles fleeing in all directions.

The impromptu gathering was broken up just before 7 p.m. Sunday, said Stanislaus County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Luke Schwartz. As the sheriff’s department arrived at the scene, cars started leaving in a hurry, causing heavy traffic on southbound Highway 33.

One vehicle that left the scene was a silver Mustang, which was fleeing at an estimated 110 miles per hour, according to the sheriff’s department. Given the reckless behavior of the Mustang’s driver, the sheriff’s department did not initiate a pursuit, but the department’s helicopter did follow overhead and provided information about the location of the vehicle.

The vehicle took off along some dirt roads before getting onto northbound Highway 33 and then turning to head towards Turlock. The Mustang was passing other vehicles and hitting speeds around 100 miles per hour.

The Mustang was headed towards Turlock and the driver was ignoring all stop signs out on the rural roads.

“The vehicle continued driving erratically and with blatant disregard for the safety of other motorists,” Schwartz said.

The sheriff’s department was concerned the driver would injury others in a crash and so the decision was made to deploy a spike strip to slow him down. The spike strip was set up on West Main Street, just east of Tegner Avenue in Turlock.

The spike strips were successful and blew out three of the vehicle’s tires. It slowed the car down to an estimated 10 miles per hour. The Mustang driver collided with another vehicle in the intersection of West Main Street and Highway 99 on ramp.

When the vehicle came to a stop the driver fled on foot and two occupants remained inside the vehicle. However, the driver did not get very far before he was apprehended by law enforcement.

The Mustang driver was identified as Sergio Valencia, 24, of Merced. He was arrested on suspicion of reckless driving, engaging in speed contests, and hit and run with property damage.

The driver of the vehicle that was struck sustained minor injuries and was not transported to the hospital.

Sideshows originated in Oakland in the 1980s. The participants take over a particular area and perform stunts like spinning out around a crowd of onlookers. The spots taken over can vary from a parking lot to a deserted street to a busy intersection to a highway.

The events are usually organized on social media with locations closely guarded. Law enforcement efforts could be having an impact because some of the Instagram profiles that shared sideshow videos and events have removed all their posts.

Some communities have sought to stop sideshows by passing local ordinances that make it illegal to watch a sideshow or street race.

In May of this year, the California State Assembly passed AB 2000, which prohibits street racing and sideshows from occurring in parking lots across the state. 

“Far too frequently, street racing and illegal sideshows devastate families, harm innocent bystanders, and cut short young lives,” said Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, who authored the bill. “Communities in the San Fernando Valley and across California are sick and tired of this reckless behavior. This bipartisan legislation will crack down on dangerous activity and help to save lives.”

Across the state, COVID-19 has caused a sharp rise in illegal street racing activity as drivers took advantage of roads emptied by stay-at-home orders. In 2020, the California Highway Patrol responded to more than 25,000 calls involving illegal street racing activity statewide, an alarming increase of more than 3,500 calls from the year before.

In Southern California, street racing and sideshows have become extremely popular. In August and October of 2021,  respectively, a Calabasas teen was among three people killed by apparent street racers in a three-vehicle collision in Burbank caused by street racing, and a Woodland Hills woman was killed and seven others were injured after a driver lost control while racing. Just last week, police arrested three dozen people at several illegal street takeovers in and around Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

Statewide law enforcement groups have identified driver’s license suspensions as an effective tool for deterrence of illegal street racing activity. Expanding on AB 3, which was signed into law last year, AB 2000 allows courts to issue a driver’s license suspension for the exhibition of motor vehicle speed during a sideshow taking place in a parking lot—an area not currently covered under law—and thereby helps to further deter individuals from engaging in these dangerous activities.

“AB 2000 will help us save lives, and prevent further crashes and drivers going to prison for manslaughter,” said Lili Trujillo, Founder and Executive Director of Street Racing Kills, a non-profit created in 2014 after Trujillo’s 16-year-old daughter, Valentina, was killed in a street racing incident. “An exhibition of speed in a parking lot is way too common now and people are being hurt and killed, AB 2000 is definitely a great tool to help us save lives.”

“There are countless stories every week throughout California about illegal street races and dangerous sideshows shutting down streets, causing accidents, damaging neighborhoods, and endangering lives,” said Assemblymember Vince Fong (R-Kern County). “They are unpredictable, destructive, and can lead to senseless deaths that devastate families. AB 2000 is an important and needed step in cracking down on illegal sideshows to make our communities safer and save lives.”