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Imagine Killing Someone in a Street Takeover and Getting Away With It

The sentence you just read may sound farfetched, but up until 2023, it was a reality for some street takeover participants in California. Street takeovers, also known as sideshows, are gatherings of hundreds of spectators and multiple cars coordinated via social media. Typically, they illegally take over an intersection to perform dangerous stunts or race. Many participants, spectators and innocent bystanders have been seriously injured and killed in these displays in recent years.

Incredibly, some wealthier drivers have managed to avoid serious charges in these crashes because of previously vague California traffic laws that don’t specifically address street takeovers and racing. Their attorneys managed to use this legal loophole to their clients’ benefit and the dismay of families of the victims.

But all that changes starting in 2023. SB 1472, also known as Ryan’s Law clearly spells out what reckless driving as it relates to sideshows and racing is. The law, which is named for Ryan Koeppel, a young man who was killed by a street racer, will make it easier for state prosecutors to criminally charge reckless drivers who kill and injure others in street takeovers. The law is not retroactive, meaning families who lost loved ones before 2023 can’t press for fresh criminal charges. But that doesn’t mean they have no legal recourse.

“Any car accident death is tragic, but to lose a loved one due to a street takeover is particularly senseless,” said J.J. Dominguez of The Dominguez Firm. “While the passage of SB 1472 will make it easier to charge offending drivers, this is small comfort to those who lost loved ones before 2023. To see the driver responsible be given a slap on the wrist or even walk free is particularly devastating. Victims’ families should be aware that they have the right to sue the person responsible for their loss in civil court, regardless of what happened in criminal court. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help them file a case against the driver in question,” he concluded.

Rooted in the lure of empty streets at the start of the pandemic lockdowns, reckless and aggressive driving has surged since 2020. Today, news headlines regarding sideshow injuries and deaths have become commonplace all around the country. One particularly tragic death occurred on Christmas night 2022 in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Hyde Park. There, a young female spectator was killed when a driver lost control while performing donuts.

For their part, the police have their hands full trying to stop this sharp rise in sideshows. Many cities have discussed speed reduction infrastructure. For example, small raised bumps known as Botts’ Dots in intersections can be an effective deterrent. These bumps make it difficult for drivers to drift or perform other dangerous stunts.

Even though no amount of money can make up for the loss of a close family member, obtaining financial compensation from a defendant who was able to avoid criminal charges can provide a sense of emotional closure to their next of kin. This money can be particularly helpful if the deceased left behind children. And moving forward, D.A.s have a strong new law on the books to help them prosecute and convict these reckless drivers.