St. Petersburg police crack down on street racing after death of teen boy

The agency is increasing its presence in areas known for street racing.
St. Petersburg Police are increasing their focus on illegal street racing, following the death of a 13-year-old boy at an event late last month.
St. Petersburg Police are increasing their focus on illegal street racing, following the death of a 13-year-old boy at an event late last month. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Feb. 24

The St. Petersburg Police Department is ramping up its response to street racing after the death of a 13-year-old boy who police say was hit and killed by a motorcycle going more than 100 mph at an illegal race.

While the department has long worked with other agencies to address street racing on Gandy Boulevard, it has implemented new enforcement strategies following the death of Ethan Martin, a teen boy who was taken to the event by his father, police officials said. The department has arrested the boy’s father, the motorcyclist and the motorcycle’s owner in connection with Martin’s death.

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Police have posted signs at 109th Avenue North and 28th Street, near where the boy was killed, informing the public that officers will shut down illegal street racing.

Sgt. Michael Schade of the St. Petersburg Police Department told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month that police have identified 28th Street North as a hot spot for illegal street racing, along with Gandy Boulevard and Fourth Street North.

St. Petersburg police spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez said the agency is sending patrols to monitor these roads for street racing, as well as on 16th Street North and Dr. M.L.K. Jr. Street North. An officer is assigned to rotate through these locations from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. with emergency lights activated to deter street racing, Fernandez said. The agency’s DUI unit has also been monitoring these areas.

Schade said the agency has seen a decrease in street racing since the fatal crash in January.

“We’ve seen some social media stuff that indicates that they’re going to other parts of the state and not even coming to this area right now,” he said.

Street racing organizers appear to be shifting their attention to south Miami. Many of the people who attended the races in St. Petersburg weren’t from the city, Schade said.

“We’ll see people from Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco ... but they’re not local to St. Petersburg or Pinellas County,” Schade said.

Other agencies in recent weeks have also cracked down on street racing in their areas. Tampa police have been staking out areas where street racing events are scheduled and arrested 14 people in a crackdown on a street racing event scheduled for Gasparilla weekend in late January. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office made nine arrests during an anti-street racing operation earlier this month and conducted more than 150 traffic stops.

The Pinellas Park Police Department also sends officers to monitor areas where street racing is known to take place, Sgt. Alex Matson told the Times. However, he said, these roads are typically in areas that border the city and don’t fall within city limits.

While the recent street racing fatality has steered people away from holding local events, Schade said he’s not optimistic that the boy’s death has acted as an overall deterrent. Instead, he thinks street racers have just shifted their focus.

“I think they’re just going to different areas,” Schade said. “And I suspect eventually they’ll be back.”