HOUSTON – They’re the kings of concrete and our streets are their playground. KPRC 2 Investigates went undercover to see inside the culture, cars and controversy of illegal street racing in Houston.
On any given weekend, often at night, but sometimes in broad daylight, people, mostly young men, some unlicensed and uninsured are risking their lives and yours.
“When we hear the words ‘illegal street racing,’ we think of that horrible night when we lost our parents,” said Jesse Sabillon Jr. as he stood next to his brother Allen.
In April 2016, the Sabillons’ parents -- 60-year-old pastor Jesse Sabillon Sr. and Marisa -- were killed instantly when a car that was street racing, ran a light and broadsided them.
“Individuals just don’t think about the repercussions of what could happen,” said Allen.
And it keeps happening.
Mangled car after car, people of all ages and walks of life injured or killed and for what?
HCSO Starting New Traffic Crimes Unit
“They’re not experienced drivers. They just like the speed and they want to be that next YouTube sensation,” said Sgt. Ana Ortiz with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
Check YouTube and Instagram and you’ll find dozens of videos of Houston-area meetups and street racing.
Just two weeks ago, on Washington Avenue, in the middle of Houston, in the middle of the day, cars were racing down the street.
Fans stacked on the median as high-power cars sped past each other, and around slower, everyday traffic. Then suddenly one of the illegal race cars lost control and hit a spectator. We don’t know how the guy is doing, because authorities tell us, nobody called for help. Seconds after the crash, the driver fled the scene.
“I’m here on a weekly basis,” said Ortiz. Ortiz said the incident is under investigation, but this has become a greater problem.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office has started a new unit, the traffic crime unit, headed up by Ortiz, a 16-year veteran. They’ve got their work cut out for them.
Harris County calls for service
For three years running, street racing calls for service have gone up in every HCSO district every year.
Ortiz says many of the same folks flying down the street also take part in parking lot meetups. They’re coordinated through closed social media groups and messaging.
Movie Theater parking lots are especially popular during the pandemic because they’re empty.
But populated strip malls are popular too. Over a series of recent weekends, Channel 2 Investigates went undercover to catch footage across Harris County of these get-togethers.
One dangerous maneuver we witnessed was hood surfing, a spectator jumping on the hood of a car and going for a ride. Sometimes the police get there in time to break it up and make arrests, sometimes they don’t.
At one eastside theater off Highway 90, on Nov. 7, a Saturday, when deputies arrived, attendees drove right through a fence and sped through an apartment complex to get away.
But most of this sort of trouble is on the opposite side of the city.
According to Ortiz, the hotspots are on the westside, “290, Beltway 8, Grand parkway where the speed limit happens to be 70 miles per hour.”
When it comes to actual racing the Grand Parkway between I-10 and 290 is a favorite. It’s a 20-mile stretch.
Another 17 miles of 290 between the Grand Parkway and the Beltway is also popular.
Two Years, Still Pending
Not far from the Grand Parkway, on Morton Road, sits a memorial to a brother and sister who died in late January 2019.
“Life Flight came and took my daughter. My son they took to Texas Children’s, but both didn’t make it,” Jose Chavez said in a November 2020 interview.
The Chavez family SUV was broadsided by a speeding Camaro, and Chavez believes the car was going close to 90 miles per hour.
His son, Elijah, 6 and his daughter, Norah Lynn, 3, now have crosses displayed in their memory on the roadside.
No street racing related charges have been filed to date against the driver of the Camaro. It remains unclear if there was another car and driver involved in the incident.
“What I do know is that there is a culture of illegal racing in this area,” Chavez said.
And there is no shortage of victims, people getting hurt, or people getting killed.
“Innocent bystanders who have nothing to do with this,” said Sabillon Jr.
“My kids will never get to know my mom and dad. They’ll never get to impart that wisdom. It’s not easy,” said Allen.
There have been at least three deaths connected to street racing in Harris County in the last three months.
Recent Street Racing Crashes
Here’s a look at some alleged street racing crashes in the Houston-area over the last six months.
Montgomery County doesn’t experience as much street racing as Harris County. According to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, here is the number of arrests that have been made for people charged with racing in the county going back to 2017:
Street racing punishments
The crime of racing on a highway in the Texas Transportation Code (Section 545.420) can be a misdemeanor if no one is hurt or up to a second degree felony (2 to 20 years in prison) if someone is seriously injured or killed.
Legal drag racing
The National Hot Rod Association is a drag racing organizing, that hosts professional events all over the country. On Friday nights, NHRA member tracks open up their drag strips to the public for legal racing. You need a street legal car, a valid license, proof of registration and insurance on the track. There are two NHRA Member Tracks in the Houston area. Houston Motorsports Park in Northeast Houston and the Houston Raceway Park Powered by Pennzoil in Baytown.
NHRA Member Tracks
MEMBER TRACKS Division 1 Division 2 Division 3 Division 4 Division 5 Division 6 Division 7
Houston Motorsports Park
Friday, Nov. 27.
Anyone with a driver’s license can race.
Any type of tire, any type of vehicle.
$15 admission for guys, and ladies get in free.
Kids 6-12 $5, 5 and under are free.
Gates open at 6:30 p.m.
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