Los Angeles
CNN

Bob’s Market in Angeleno Heights may look like your average LA convenience store, but it’s an icon.

In the Fast and Furious film franchise, it was transformed into Toretto’s, the store owned by the family of the character played by Vin Diesel. Throughout the day, fans from around the world stop for photos outside the shop selling Fast and Furious props alongside the normal crowd of snacks and drinks.

But those movies — known for their fast cars and daring stunts — left their mark on this neighborhood in another way. Fans of the films flock here in their tricked-out cars to show off what they can do, leaving circular skid marks as they do donuts and “swing” around the intersection in front of the store.

For the residents who live here, it’s more than a nuisance. They say the cars’ dangerous and illegal antics are happening at all hours of the day and night, putting lives at risk.

“They come drifting, donuts, spinning like crazy with their explosion-like mufflers,” said Bella, a longtime Angeleno Heights resident who wouldn’t give her last name, adding the smell and smoke of combustion. the tires linger in the air, permeating their homes.

And it’s not just noise and noise pollution. Residents say reckless drivers are putting their community at risk.

“The risk of them hitting someone… that’s the problem we have is you’re putting our lives at risk. You are putting our neighborhood in danger. They don’t stop at stop signs anymore,” Bella said.

Judy Lyness has lived in Angeleno Heights for over 20 years and remembers when no one wanted to come. But now, “you hear these screams … and it happens until the cops arrive,” she said.

Dangerous “street takeovers,” as they are called, are happening across the country. Just last week an entire block in Des Moines was damaged by out of control cars; Salt Lake City police arrested six people for illegal drag racing; in Chandler, Arizona, police say an illegal drag race caused the death of a driver; and near Chicago, a pedestrian was struck and killed in a crosswalk during what police believe was a street race. Another led to the destruction of police vehicles.

Chicago Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez said higher fines and vehicle seizures had little impact on deterring street racing, telling CNN affiliate WBBM, “These incidents don’t They didn’t stop. On the contrary, they got worse and worse.

In Compton, Calif., mid-intersection rumble strips did little to slow takeovers. In the videos, cars can be seen driving right over it.

Southern California has a joint street racing task force between the Los Angeles Police Department, LA County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol. It offers targeted crackdowns including vehicle seizures, citations and gun seizures. It also promotes a weekly event for runners to roll on a drag strip and “burn rubber in the burn zone,” but that hasn’t slowed the takeover of public streets.

“We get a lot of violent crime with these takeover groups. It develops a mob mentality,” the LAPD sergeant said. Jesse Garcia, an officer in charge of the task force. “We have store looting, we have shootings … all directly related to these takeovers.”

The problem has exploded during the pandemic, Garcia said, with 3,000 police calls in 2019 skyrocketing to nearly 12,000 in 2021 — some people come from as far away as Texas just to join the takeovers, he added.

In Angeleno Heights, near the set of the “Fast and the Furious” movies, Garcia said they see a different problem: Tourists seem to be the culprit. Garcia says burnouts, where drivers hold the brake and spin their tires to create smoke, tend to come more from individual cars, not the large-scale takeovers that plague other parts of the city. town.

“We are carrying out direct patrols and we are increasing their frequency,” he said. “The [Los Angeles] The Engineering Department is looking at this area to see what more can be done” to reconfigure the intersection.

Some Los Angeles residents have had enough, taking to the streets to protest last week as filming was set to begin for the franchise’s next film. One protester, Anna Marie Piersimoni, lost Larry Brooks, her husband of over 30 years, when he went out for exercise in May 2020, and never came home.

“The driver spun his car 90, spun, lost control. He hit my husband and six other cars which luckily were unoccupied and parked. My husband had 10 minutes to live after that,” said Piersimoni, who added posted signs limiting speed to 35 miles per hour. “It’s called manslaughter, but it was murder.”

Since it was classified as manslaughter, Piersimoni said the sentence given to the driver was less severe than if he had been charged with murder. She said the driver, who was convicted in April this year, has already been released from jail.

“He was there from early May to mid-July,” Piersimoni explained. “I think people will do less…if they know they’re going to have much more serious consequences.”

Reflecting on her husband, Piersimoni said Brooks, a psychotherapist, was an “incredible father” to their two children – now both adults – and possessed a “sweet and really gentle disposition”. She now wears her wedding ring on a necklace.

“I had a few medical adventures and he was there for me every step of the way. Same when it happened to him. We took care of each other,” Piersimoni recalled. “There are the old things – a little photo, a certain dish that we might have enjoyed, you know, will make me gasp and cry – but those are the new things too.”

When Piersimoni sees footage of street racing, she gets angry.

“I feel furious. There’s another meaning to that word in the movie, Fast and Furious,” she said. “There’s just no reason for it.”

Even though she’s moved across town since losing her husband, Piersimoni says she still hears street racing where she lives now. She and others are calling for a disclaimer to be added to the Fast and Furious movies, believing they glorify street racing.

Universal Pictures did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Hector Elizaolo said it was not a movie but peer pressure that drove him to take over the streets. His brothers introduced him to hot rubber and the thrill of a wild ride.

“I liked the rush, the adrenaline,” the 28-year-old told CNN. “The experience was cool.”

It didn’t last. As Elizaolo baked donuts on a street in Covina, California, he had an audience: the police. Elizaolo received a ticket and her car was seized.

“That day the police arrested me, I lost interest in it,” he said. “I had to pay to get my car out, I had to do community service and it was all a big waste of time.”

As part of a court order, Elizaolo will attend classes and meet Lili Trujillo Puckett. He will learn that he is one of the lucky ones. No one is dead like her, but Puckett will tell her about the daughter she lost in 2013 in a street race.

Puckett is sure reckless drivers can’t begin to figure out what they took from the victims’ families.

“When you lose a child, time will never heal because it’s something you carry with you forever. In fact, you miss that person more. I miss their voice. I wonder what they would sound like now at 25 years,” Puckett said, remembering his daughter Valentina.

Lili Trujillo Puckett hugs her daughter Valentina, who died in 2013 when the teenager driving the car she was in crashed during a street race.  Valentina was 16 years old.

Puckett started the nonprofit Street Racing Kills, after her 16-year-old daughter was killed in 2013 when a teenager driving the car she was in crashed during a street race .

“Valentina – she hit her head and then she went out the window,” said Puckett, who mentors street racers who have been punished by the courts, telling them: “All your dreams and your life are gone. go away… and you’re letting the other side tell you what you took from us.

Bella, the Angeleno Heights resident, wants the City of Los Angeles to do more to stop street takeovers, and she thinks the production company bears some responsibility, even though she said she “loved” seeing filming take place in his neighborhood over the years. years.

“I don’t entirely blame them because they don’t have any control over what the fans do, but they can take some kind of responsibility to maybe do a PSA that insists and says it’s not isn’t sure,” Bella explained. “When that movie comes out and things get a little crazy…we pay the price.”

She said her young daughter is constantly terrified that someone will be harmed because of what she sees – and hears – happening in the neighborhood.

“Can you imagine a small child being woken up abruptly in the middle of the night by what felt like an explosion right outside his window?” Bella said, describing a common occurrence in her home. “She’s crying, she’s screaming and she’s literally out of control, and we’re trying to comfort her as you’re shaking from the sound you just heard outside.”

After so many Fast and Furious films, Bella hopes the production will consider moving on to other locations.

“It’s so dangerous for the locals who live here, and we’re left to pick up those pieces when production ends,” she said.



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