The intersection of Canon Drive and Lomitas Avenue became the impromptu venue for a disruptive and dangerous “vehicle takeover” on Feb. 18, when more than 100 cars convened at night to perform “reckless driving maneuvers” for a large crowd, this according to the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD). Officials made multiple arrests, but the incident represents a recurring problem of dangerous group automotive activity that has grown more frequent during the pandemic, authorities say.
The gathering was the largest of its kind the city has seen, but BHPD Public Information Officer Lt. Giovani Trejo qualified that assessment.
“It is the largest we have seen here in Beverly Hills, but definitely not larger than what other cities have experienced,” Trejo told the Courier.
BHPD first received reports of “a large-scale sideshow” at the large six-way intersection around 11:30 pm. According to a statement issued by the department on the alert system Nixle, reports described at least 100 vehicles blocking each point of the intersection with a crowd of at least 150 spectators. While cars engaged in dangerous stunts, according to reports, audience members “lit large-scale fireworks.”
“After forming a safe tactical plan, BHPD officers convoyed into the center of the incident causing all vehicles and spectators to flee immediately. Officers stopped several vehicles which led to the arrest of multiple suspects,” the department said in the Nixle release.
“BHPD does not tolerate illegal vehicular events, such as this, and will respond in force to uphold the safety and security of the community.”
Sharona Nazarian, who lives near the intersection, described a scene of “confusion and uncertainty” as she and her husband were awoken by the fracas, prompting her to call the police.
“Cars had blocked off the roads and were doing donuts in the center of the intersection,” she told the Courier. “When the police arrived, the crowd dispersed into the residential areas.”
BHPD made three arrests of suspects, two of whom were charged with placing a barricade on a highway to facilitate a speed contest, a vehicle code violation, and spectating at an illegal speed contest, a municipal code violation. A third suspect was arrested and charged with engaging in a speed contest and spectating at an illegal speed contest. Police also detained two minors and released them to parents or guardians.
BHPD also seized two vehicles, a 2001 Lexus LS430 and 2009 Chevy Silverado.
While BHPD has had advanced notice of prior vehicle takeovers, which are sometimes advertised on social media in advance, they did not have prior knowledge of plans for Friday’s event.
With such large groups, arresting all participants or seizing all vehicles becomes impractical, if not dangerous.
“We would need several dozens of police officers, patrol cars and tow trucks to surround and impound all the vehicles involved. These conditions create innumerable threats to the safety of the officers,” Trejo said. “The response must be calculated and well-orchestrated. One officer at a time does not make a difference and it may create a situation where the officer may be forced to defend his life by using whatever level of force is necessary.”
Trejo also noted that “these crowds have turned violent toward police in the past.”
The City Council previously took up the issue of vehicular gatherings in a November hearing, when Councilmember Julian Gold, M.D., proposed weekend nighttime closures of Rodeo Drive to prevent similar incidents. Over the prior year, from November 2020 to November 2021, BHPD received six different calls for service on Rodeo Drive in response to “loud and unruly groups of cars and bicyclists,” according to a report compiled by the city.
“Candidly, I am beyond concerned that it’s only a matter of time before somebody really gets hurt, or one of these cars is out of control and then we have a number of injuries right in the middle of Rodeo Drive,” said Gold. “I just think that that would be a huge tragedy that we can avoid.”
The Council decided that the move would be prohibitively expensive but requested other possible solutions. The Council has not reexamined the matter since November.
Acting Captain Renato Moreno shed light on the phenomenon, explaining that the incidents “involve either car clubs or exotic cars coming in, shutting down the streets and being loud or doing photo opportunities or even doing donuts in the intersections.”