Pair of deaths tied to Portland street racing highlight violent pandemic trend

By April Ehrlich (OPB)
Sept. 4, 2022 1 p.m.

Police say the woman struck and killed by an apparent street-racing accident in Portland Aug. 27 had been waiting at a bus stop.

Ashlee McGill, 26, was an “innocent bystander,” police say, when she was struck by an out-of-control car.

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Its driver was allegedly racing another driver near Southeast Stark Street and Southeast 133rd Avenue, when it swerved off the road, hit another vehicle and struck a tree. Almost a week later, the driver remained in the hospital with critical injuries. Police haven’t made any arrests.

The next day, at least four people were shot at a crowded illegal street takeover event in Portland, according to police. One of the people shot, 20-year-old Cameron Taylor, died.

These incidents seem to be part of a surge in illegal street racing in Portland and other metro areas across the U.S.

Portland police couldn’t immediately provide data documenting street racing incidents in recent years, but anecdotally, Portland Police Officer David Baer said he has noticed a significant uptick.

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“These have become pretty complex and, frankly, violent events,” Baer said.

In June, street racers reportedly took over the Burnside Bridge one night. Portland police conducted a “street racing mission” that month, during which they arrested seven people for participating in street races.

Portland City Council last year unanimously approved an ordinance intended to crack down on street racing by beefing up penalties for those who shut down intersections and roadways and speed around city streets.

Street races can sometimes happen spontaneously: two drivers meet at a stop light, rev their engines and hit the gas as soon as the light turns green. But mostly, Baer said, officers are seeing these as planned events that draw hundreds or sometimes thousands of people through social media.

While people might typically imagine souped-up hot rods speeding through their local streets, Baer says he sees “all kinds of vehicles.”

“I’ve seen everything from pickup trucks that I would think were taken off the family farm, to minivans, to commuter cars,” he said.

In Los Angeles, which has long had a thriving underground racing scene, incidents of races and street takeovers jumped by 27% in 2021. Some Angelinos blame movies like the Fast & Furious franchise, going so far as to protest against filming new movies.

Baer doesn’t know why street racing seems to have become more popular during the pandemic. He said staffing shortages at the police bureau could be to blame, though that has become a flashpoint among city politicians. Some experts speculate that people are eager to show off the cars they’ve been working on during the pandemic, and that social media platforms have made it easier than ever to draw a crowd.

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