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Sideshow suspects' cars towed in S.J. sweep
By Christian Burkin
Record Staff Writer
December 10, 2007 6:00 AM
Law enforcement officers swept through San Joaquin County early Sunday morning, serving seizure warrants against vehicles suspected of involvement in street racing and sideshows.
They met, along with trucks from several local towing companies, at Centro Mart at West Charter Way and Turnpike Road around 7 a.m. But officers had already been out for hours, trying to locate as many as 34 listed cars in Stockton, Lodi and Tracy. They got 19.
The vehicle seizures were a joint operation between the Stockton Police Department and the Stockton-area office of the California Highway Patrol, paid for by a grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety. The cars were towed, and will be impounded for up to 30 days, leaving their owners to pay an estimated $900 to $1,000 to retrieve them, police said.
Some owners were upset their vehicles could be taken despite what they called a lack of evidence.
"They don't have any videos of me," objected Edzequiel Buligon of Stockton whose heavily customized Dodge Neon was towed.
Buligon said his car is modified only because he likes the way it looks, and that when he races, he does so legally, at the Sacramento Raceway Park.
In October, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill allowing law enforcement agencies to seize vehicles belonging to those suspected of involvement in street racing and sideshow activity and to hold them for up to 30 days at the owner's expense. The law, authored by State Senate Leader Don Perata, D-East Bay, further stipulates that owners can retrieve their vehicles free of charge before the 30 days are up if they can prove they were not involved or aware the vehicle was being used in illegal activity.
Stockton police Officer Pete Smith, a department spokesman, said that in every case a law enforcement officer had witnessed the seized vehicle racing or participating in a sideshow - activities that Stockton police are now calling "aggressive driving."
"These are court-ordered impounds," he said.
That didn't sit well with Evelyn Chavez, whose 2000 Chevrolet Corvette was among the first vehicles seized. Chavez said the warrant against her vehicle read that it had been seen racing on Austin Road southeast of Stockton around one year ago.
Chavez, 22, said she only uses her Corvette to get to work.
"If I was racing why didn't I get pulled over?" Chavez asked a reporter.
"Quite frankly, she made a good point there," Smith said when he heard of Chavez's question.
Smith said the answer is that there are a lot of cars at sideshows and street racing events, and officers see more than they can safely catch.
"They deal with what they can," Smith said. "Just because you fled the scene doesn't mean you got away with it."
Contact reporter Christian Burkin at (209) 546-8279 or [email protected]