John Rubio was racing on the Gandy Bridge when he struck a Tampa police car. TAMPA POLICE DEPARTMENT
By JOSÉ PATIÑO GIRONA Tribune staff
Published: August 12, 2013
Updated: August 13, 2013 at 07:40 AM
TAMPA — On sultry summer nights, the crowds still gather to watch the street races.
Two cars sit side by side, waiting for a signal. Tires screech and the cars speed off into the darkness. The crowd roars.
It's been a common scene for decades, especially on or near Gandy Bridge and the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Police know of the problem but acknowledge it's hard to do more than chase the racers to another location.
Still, they try.
On Sunday, a Tampa police sergeant was injured while working an anti-racing detail on the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Police said two drivers hit speeds of more than 100 mph in the late-night race before one man crashed.
John Rubio, 34, of Melbourne, tried to avoid hitting another vehicle that wasn't in the race, police said. He lost control of his car, hit a guardrail and scraped down the road until he hit a police car driven by Tampa police Sgt. Thomas Miller.
Miller saw the driver lose control and tried to speed up to get out of the way. Rubio still slammed into the cruiser from behind.
Miller received minor injuries. Rubio wasn't injured. He was arrested and charged with reckless driving and unlawful racing on a highway, police said.
Police say they know what attracts racers to the bridges.
“It's a long stretch of road,” said Janelle McGregor, spokeswoman for the Tampa Police Department, which has had an initiative for about a quarter century to stop street racing. “It's a flat, straight stretch of road.”
Last year Tampa police investigated 19 cases of street racing from Jan. 1 to Aug. 12. So far this year, they've had 11 cases. All the investigations led to arrests, McGregor said.
Tampa police monitor street races based on intelligence investigators have picked up - often from social media - or simply by routine, McGregor said.
“We monitor the roadways on weekends and late at night when street racing is known to take place,” she said.
On the Courtney Campbell Causeway last year, spectators pulled out their cameras as a gray Honda Civic and yellow Ford Mustang came speeding by, according to a police report.
Two adult men were arrested for racing; a 16-year-old girl was cited as a passenger in a vehicle and released to her parents.
These drivers put not just themselves at risk, McGregor said.
“It creates a danger for the innocent drivers using the roadways,” she said.
Street racing comes and goes in popularity, said Mike Puetz, a St. Petersburg police spokesman.
These days, many of the events are organized through social media. Even on sites such as YouTube, a number of videos of races are posted with references to Gandy Bridge and the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
When police get wind the races are occurring, they organize to stop it, Puetz said.
Police officers investigate, issue tickets and make arrests. They can impound the vehicles used in the races for 30 days. Passengers and spectators can also be cited.
But it doesn't end the cycle.
“At the end of the day it causes those folks not to give up on racing but to move to where police are not at,” Puetz said.