ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Channel 9 investigates the strain on local Florida Highway Patrol Troopers trying to stop street racing during this pandemic.
Channel 9 Investigative Reporter Karla Ray learned the problem has gotten so bad that FHP has had to call in auxiliary troopers to help break up the races every single weekend.
Troopers have even caught the street racers shutting down major roadways.
Though some arrests have been made over the last nine months, they’re barely scratching the surface and it’s putting a strain on resources.
Video from a shopping plaza near Sand Lake Road and Orange Blossom Trail shows the moment troopers rolled up on a group they believed was getting ready to street race. As soon as lights are activated, people scramble, and some of those cars try to flee the parking lot before getting boxed in.
Another video, provided by FHP, shows cars parked diagonally on the street. Troopers said that was a street race meetup, too. Those drivers take off as soon as they see law enforcement.
“We are seeing more and more people meeting up to participate in drifting, on private property parking lots meeting up to do street races, and actually closing down roadways like Orange Blossom Trail to have their street race,” FHP Lt. Kim Montes said.
Montes said since the start of the pandemic, with less to do and less traffic on the road, street racers are meeting up more frequently.
“Every weekend my guys go out there, every single weekend. It’s outrageous,” Montes said.
That can make it more dangerous for everyone on the road. Troopers shared video of a crash involving an innocent driver and some vehicles they said were connected to a race near Gatorland.
And it’s not just cars, but motorcycles, too.
“Just basically take over streets, stunt riding, speeding, racing,” Montes said. “We’ve had two fatalities last year, where two motorcyclists were killed in this behavior.”
That also creates a danger for the troopers. Another video shows an accused street racer, Robert Aponte, nearly hitting troopers as he sped away from a gas station parking lot.
According to his warrant, the man turned off his vehicle lights and went over 100 miles an hour on State Road 551, eventually hitting 150 miles an hour and evading investigators, as their squad cars topped out at 147.
It took months, but he was eventually caught and arrested, his car seized. Earlier this month he was found guilty on charges of fleeing from law enforcement, but other charges including reckless driving were dropped.
“When you have 200 cars at an event, and a handful of troopers, you can only catch one person at a time,” Montes said. “We hope we’re sending a message.”