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Columbus officials to crack down on street racing after officers targeted by gunfire

Michael Coghlan
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Flickr Creative Commons

Columbus police responded to an illegal drag race Saturday evening and said they were shot at. Officials now want to crack down on street racing.

Columbus law enforcement and Mayor Andrew Ginther want to send a message to street racers in the city after police were shot at while trying to break one up Saturday night.

Police responded to a report of an illegal street race at 11 p.m. in the 4100 Block of Indianola Avenue in Clintonville, and said that about 100 vehicles were present and several spectators of the race were seen vandalizing cars in the area.

Police say shots were fired at the officers as they exited their vehicles. No one was injured and no arrests have been made.

A video provided by the Columbus Division of Police shows a white Dodge Charger doing donuts in front of a crowd at a street intersection. Gunshots can be heard later in the video as cars started leaving the intersection.

The incident is now prompting law enforcement to crack down on street racing by using the framework of its "Operation Wheels Down" from 2022 to crack down on reckless driving by ATVs and dirt bikes in the city.

In a news release issued Monday, Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant said street racing and events that take over a street are dangerous and are in complete disregard for the safety of others.

“We want the message to be clear. You race, you lose. It is that simple. If you race, we will find you and arrest you and impound your vehicle," Bryant said.

"Operation Wheels Down" led to dozens of arrests and charges filed, as well as the recovery of a number of stolen guns and vehicles. Law enforcement also impounded vehicles as evidence in many of the cases.

Police expect street racing to increase as the weather gets warmer.

The news release said that in early April a person was killed in a south Columbus crash believed to be connected to street racing.

No new policies have been announced, but Pete Shipley, spokesperson for City Attorney Zach Klein's office, said officials will be pursuing maximum fines and penalties for crimes in connection to street racing.

Lee Tucker, the owner of FunTrail Vehicle Accessories at 3966 Indianola Avenue in Clintonville, said he heard about the street race just up the road from his business the next day from a friend.

"We've never seen this kind of a problem before and I've actually been in this location since 1986," Tucker said.

Tucker said the shooting and street racing is a concern for him and hopes his neighbors in Clintonville feel the same. He said he thinks it will be hard for the police to track down street racers because he thinks it is randomly and spontaneously organized in multiple neighborhoods across the city.

That area of Indianola Avenue has several businesses, like FunTrails, but also a neighborhood on the west side of the street with single family homes and apartments.

"I grew up in Columbus in the North End and they used to drag race on Old Morris Road back in the 70s, but this seems like a really strange place to have a drag race ... a two lane road in the middle of a residential area," Tucker said.

CPD spokesperson Melanie Amato said street racing does occur randomly and is harder to track down. She said the city did see a decrease in reckless driving since "Operation Wheels Down" started last year, but the true test of its effectiveness will be after the summer when more street races typically happen.

"We always hope it will decrease," Amato said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.