Lawmakers consider statewide law to punish street race organizers, spectators

A large crowd gathers to watch cars do burnouts in Atlanta. Authorities are looking for ways to crack down on the recent spike in illegal street racing across the city. (Photo courtesy of Ben Hendren)

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Hendren

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Hendren

A large crowd gathers to watch cars do burnouts in Atlanta. Authorities are looking for ways to crack down on the recent spike in illegal street racing across the city. (Photo courtesy of Ben Hendren)

A DeKalb County senator is backing a proposed statewide law aimed at illegal street races that have become a problem in metro Atlanta over the past year.

Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, discussed the legislative bill during a Thursday night panel on laying drag, which highlighted the deadly consequences of these illegal competitions.

The proposed legislation is similar to laws passed by Atlanta, Brookhaven and Doraville, which penalize those taking part in the dangerous events, but it goes further by creating a special registration for the powerful cars often participating in street events.

Bobbie Sanford said her stepdaughter, Jaye Sanford, was killed in November as a result of an illegal street race in DeKalb. Jaye Sanford, 52, and her 16-year-old daughter were driving near Memorial Drive and Columbia Drive about 5:45 p.m. Nov. 21 when they were struck by a speeding vehicle, according to a DeKalb police incident report. Witnesses told police that the at-fault vehicle was racing a second vehicle before the crash.

“My son got the call that there was an accident, and of course realizing that it was on Columbia Drive, he assumed it was just a small fender bender,” she said during Thursday’s event, which was hosted by DeKalb Commissioner Larry Johnson. “Upon his arrival at the scene, his heart dropped when he saw the accident scene.”

Jaye Sanford

Credit: Change.org

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Credit: Change.org

The teenager survived, but Jaye Sanford died at the scene. Darius Maurice Hines, 34, was arrested on 16 charges, including vehicular homicide, trafficking ecstasy, cocaine possession and firearm possession by a convicted felon.

Jones’ bill, which is named the “Jaye Mize Law,” makes organizing or participating in an illegal street race “high and aggravated misdemeanors,” which carry a minimum fine of $2,500. Anyone at a street race as a willing spectator will also be charged with a misdemeanor.

The bill’s early draft, which was submitted Jan. 14, also looks to regulate “high-performance vehicles” by requiring special license plates for cars sold with or modified to have 650 horsepower or more. There are many models of cars manufactured by Dodge, Chevrolet, Ford and more that are sold with high-performance engines exceeding that power.

Any vehicle used to lay drag that qualifies as “high-performance” will also be impounded until the violator’s case is resolved. Jones added that police officers will not have a say in whether to impound those type of vehicles.

A petition in support of the legislation has amassed more than 10,000 signatures.

Police officials from across metro Atlanta have reported an increase in laying drag since last April, when COVID-19 left streets more empty than usual. In some cases, hundreds of spectators have blocked interstates to watch the illegal races.

DeKalb police Lt. Timothy Donahue said the department issued more than 600 citations as part of Operation Deny the Drift last summer. He added that “countless arrests” were also made as part of the effort.

“It’s a phenomenon that has grown out of control,” he said. “We’ve been working very hard with every other metro Atlanta agency and state agencies and our efforts are beginning to pay off. We have seen a noted decline over the last few months in the number of incidents.”

The panel discussion, which was viewed by hundreds, also included car enthusiasts with Camaro Nation ATL. Marcus Mista Berry, vice president of the car club, emphasized that majority of hot rod collectors and high-octane vehicle owners are law-abiding citizens.

“We have a lot of people in the car club community who just don’t do the stuff that you see on the news,” he said.

Berry added that the county may want to pursue options aside from law enforcement. He said it might help if there was a destination in metro Atlanta where these groups, primarily young men, can legally perform car stunts and drag race. As an example, he mentioned a private lot in Detroit nicknamed “the pit” that is monitored by police.

DeKalb Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, who worked with Jones on his bill proposal, said the county has no interest in funding a project like that. However, she was open to private groups creating a such a racing destination.

“There can be no excuse whatsoever, whether you’re young, middle aged or old, to go out on public property, public lands or public streets and put the health and danger of one’s life in jeopardy,” she said.

Jones’ legislation will have its first read before the Senate on Tuesday. If it’s enacted, it will go into effect at the beginning of July.

“I am glad to see that DeKalb County is taking the lead on this, and I’m glad to play my role in what I think is comprehensive legislation, good legislation that give law enforcement (the ability) to deal with this issue,” he said.

Seeking Solutions for Drag Racing in DeKalb County

A virtual discussion about Drag Racing in DeKalb County, Featuring Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, Senator Emanuel Jones, Bobbie Sanford, and DeKalb County Public Safety

Posted by Commissioner Larry Johnson on Thursday, January 21, 2021

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