Speeders are fast; police are furious

Officers launch zero-tolerance crackdown over two weeks

By Chrystian Tejedor
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

September 16, 2006

Two red sports cars lined up side-by-side at a red light on U.S. 441.

Sheriff's Deputy Mike Musto, in an unmarked squad car, sidled up right behind them.

The light flashed green. The drivers accelerated. The red Infinity coupe left the convertible in its dust.

"I thought we were going to have a race," Musto said, punching buttons on his radar display, training the car's computer on the two cars in front.

"You go out to 441 and there's a lot of open road where they can get turned on."

The fizzled-out race wasn't quite what officers expected on this major western thoroughfare that cuts through South Florida, where drivers meet at gas stations or supermarket parking lots, then line up on the highway and race one another to the next red light, deputies said.

Now several police departments have had enough.

In a two-week blitz, Palm Beach County sheriff's deputies, state troopers and police officers from Boynton Beach, West Palm Beach and Lake Worth made eight arrests for street racing and issued more than 202 citations for speeding and other infractions.

Musto, a deputy assigned to the Aggressive Driving Unit, made his first traffic stop five minutes into Thursday night's patrol, which stretched from 7 p.m. to midnight.

It wasn't someone in a street race; it was a man driving a beige Ford Taurus. Musto's radar caught him driving 71 mph in a 50 mph zone on U.S. 441 just south of Wellington.

As the man made a left onto Palomino Drive, Musto's car lit the darkened street with a blast of red and blue.

The driver accepted his speeding ticket and went on his way. Musto resumed the hunt.

While the operation was mostly aimed at discouraging teens from racing, deputies also used a zero-tolerance policy for speeders and drivers with other traffic violations, such as having burned-out headlights.

"No more. This is it. Law enforcement is fed up with it, the general public is fed up with it," said Palm Beach County Sheriff's Deputy Will Ferel, who helped design the operation.

"We've been dealing with complaints about this for years, so we've put together a zero-tolerance policy that also lets us conduct traffic enforcement on the roads.

"We also wanted a way to educate them and to give them an opportunity to take this somewhere else ... and not put innocent people at risk."

Ferel and other deputies handed speeders pamphlets with information on the Moroso Motorsports Park in Jupiter where drivers can attend racing schools and drag race on a track.

For a while, it was slow-going Thursday night.

Lightning periodically sparked through the clouds and deputies wondered whether the weather or last week's crackdown scared the street racers away: deputies arrested six men who raced on Lake Worth Road from U.S. 441 to Lyons Road and back on Sept. 7.

They were charged with reckless driving and illegal street racing.

Just when it looked like Thursday night would be a bit sleepy, the police radio crackled about 10 p.m. Ferel, the sheriff's deputy driving in another unmarked car, spotted a beige Toyota Camry and a white Chevrolet S-10 racing on Lyons Road near Boynton Beach Boulevard.

"These were two friends who were playing around," Ferel said.

"I told my passenger `Watch, they're lining up, they're lining up, there they go.' They got up to 101 mph -- double the speed limit."

Deputies closed in and ordered the two drivers to stop at Lyons and Lantana roads.

The 16-year-old driver of the Camry and the 16-year-old driver of the S-10 were handcuffed and placed in the back of squad cars.

Sheriff's Sgt. David Bradford examined the Camry before it was towed.

It seemed normal on the outside, only the dual exhaust and the black front bumper hinted there was something more to it.

"He put breathers on it to make the engine go faster," Bradford said looking under the hood.

"A lot of times they'll put a tank of [nitrous oxide] like in the Fast and the Furious. But [in this car], everything is wired so it'll get more air."

Those improvements seemed to give the Camry's driver a bit of fun, but got him in trouble, Musto said.

"He's got it set up to do what he got caught doing tonight," Musto added. "It was his undoing."

William Kennedy and his brother, tow truck drivers from D&D Automotive, were called to take the cars away. The former racers have seen races turn fatal.

"I've seen cars wrapped around telephone poles," said Kennedy, who raced in his brother's Ford Mustang GT. "We were racing a Porsche doing 145 mph in a 45. We got a $502-bragging rights ticket."

After the paperwork was done and the cars were towed, Musto again prowled U.S. 441 in search of the next speeder and racer.

"It's the thrill of the hunt from the start of the morning to the end of the night," he said.

Chrystian Tejedor can be reached at ctejedor@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6645.

Copyright 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel