Release of new 'Fast and Furious' movie prompts police to warn about the dangers of street racing

A car barreling through the air in a high-speed action movie does not follow the same laws of physics in the real world, and law enforcement officials hope to drive home that point in a new anti-street racing campaign unveiled this week.

The California Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies launched the campaign by staging a baby blue Lamborghini crashed into a light pole on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

The effort to deter street racing arrives just as "Fast X" is released nationwide Friday, in what promises to be the last entry in the "Fast and Furious" car-racing action franchise starring Vin Diesel.

Street racing in movies can influence copycats in the real world who think they too can drive on surface streets like a stunt driver, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said during a press conference Thursday.

“The popularity of movies such as the 'Fast and Furious' series and their upcoming latest release we believe is likely to influence copycats because of the movie glamorizing this very dangerous activity,” Moore said. “Movies like this are fantasies.”

It makes sense for law enforcement agencies and others to take advantage of the movie's release to remind the public about the dangers of street racing, said Lili Trujillo Puckett, founder of Street Racing Kills, an advocacy group that shares testimony from survivors and relatives of street racing victims.

"Some people know it's movie magic, but there are some people who seek that thrill from speed after they watch a movie," Puckett said in an interview Friday.

Puckett founded Street Racing Kills after her 16-year-old daughter, Valentina, was killed in a car crash in 2013 after the driver giving her a ride tried to race the car and wrecked it. When she founded the group the following year, Puckett felt alone and didn't see many resources from law enforcement or lawmakers put into combating street takeovers and racing.

On Thursday, she joined the law enforcement chiefs on Melrose Avenue to add her voice to the efforts.

"It really feels amazing to see the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and the LAPD coming together," Puckett said. "We've seen an incremental increase in task forces to fight street racing, not just here in Los Angeles, but we're talking everywhere in the United States going after racing."

The "Fast and Furious" franchise had its humble beginnings in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Angelino Heights. The first movie, released in 2001, prominently featured the neighborhood, which over the years has become a sort of mecca for street racers and movie fans who race through the streets and perform donuts with their cars.

During the filming of "Fast X" in August, protesters marched around the neighborhood demanding more efforts by the city to combat copycats.

Rene Favela, a resident of the neighborhood, was angry about black tire marks on the street outside his home at the time. But the city recently reengineered the street, adding traffic bollards and other barriers that narrowed a large intersection in front of Bob's Market, an iconic location in the "Fast and Furious" movies.

"It's not as bad as it was before," Favela said Friday. "The work they did made it a little more challenging if anyone wants to try and do donuts in front of the store."

He's also noticed an increase in police patrolling the neighborhood and ticketing speeders.

"What you're not going to change in that particular neighborhood are the fans and the tourists, because the movies really popularized street racing," Favela said.

Illegal street races and takeovers spiked during the first few months of the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and have spread across the country, according to law enforcement agencies.

The CHP responded to more than 7,300 reported incidents across the state in 2021, with nearly 123,000 people participating. The number of reported incidents dramatically dipped in 2022, according to the CHP, but the problem still poses a risk to the public.

"Our freeways, railways and bridges have been shut down illegally, causing in some cases folks not being able to make it to the emergency room, and in others just being flat-out late for work," California Highway Patrol Deputy Commissioner Troy Lukkes said during the press conference. "These illegal and dangerous activities put people's lives at risk, damage public and private property, and in some cases even resulted in the death of innocent people."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.