A Hughson teenager was arrested for helping to organize a series of large illegal sideshows that took over a number of roads throughout Stanislaus County requiring a crackdown by multiple police agencies.
Sideshows are where mobs of unruly drivers meet at a public location to take over the street to race, spin donuts surrounded by a crowd, and ride outside the car (called ghost riding) – many while sharing the illegal acts on social media. Tom Olsen, the Public Information Officer for the Modesto area office of the California Highway Patrol, said such gatherings pose a significant threat to public safety and impede traffic. They also tie up a lot of police resources.
While a number of drivers were cited throughout the county, Johnathon Alex Wessman, 19, of Hughson, was arrested at the In-N-Out Burger on Pelandale Avenue in Modesto where he was livestreaming a sideshow at that location. Wessman was heard instructing others where the next sideshow location would be. A Modesto Police spokeswoman said Wessman admitted organizing prior sideshows with the goal of having one per month. The Hughson teen, who was arrested in December for evading a police officer and out on bail, was charged with suspicion of unlawful assembly, being involved in a speed contest, conspiracy to commit crimes.
In some cases, vehicles were towed.
The first report of a sideshow was reported to the CHP at approximately 11:30 p.m. Saturday when an estimated 100 cars showed up to take over the roadway at Maze Boulevard and Hart Road. The gathering involved mostly teenagers and drivers in their early 20s and some came as far away as Bakersfield, Sacramento and the Bay Area because it was posted on social media. When CHP and Sheriff’s deputies arrived the group began to scatter but six were cited and one lost his car to impoundment. The participants appeared at different locations including at Keyes Road and the frontage road south of Keyes where the youth threw rocks and other objects at officers who swooped in, said Olsen.
The Turlock Police Department reported they were called to numerous sideshows within the city limits on Saturday night and into Sunday morning. In some cases there were more than 100 vehicles present in a parking lot.
Other sideshows formed on Sisk Road north of Modesto and Hammett Road north of Salida. Modesto Police responded to a gathering of about 50 cars on Sisk Road and blocking the entrance at Vintage Drive near Best Buy. The presence of police scattered the group again with some resurfacing at the In-N-Out where Wessman was live streaming images on Instagram and apprehended. Authorities say he was responsible for organizing the first gathering on Maze Boulevard.
While sideshows are not new to the area, Stanislaus County has been seeing more of them because of social media sites, such as the 209 Takeover YouTube channel. In response to the problem officers are seeking permission from judges to impound cars of sideshow participants for 30 days – often at costs of up to $2,000 in tow and impound fees.
Olsen advises any persons who happens upon a sideshow – such as the instances in which the entire freeway is blocked – to keep their doors locked, call 911 and not engage with the mob.