More than 60 people gathered to watch an illegal street race in Chatsworth early Thursday that turned deadly when a "very powerful" Ford Mustang plowed into the crowd, killing two spectators, Los Angeles police said.
The collision occurred after 2 a.m. in an area known for street racing near Canoga Avenue and Plummer Street. LAPD Det. Bill Bustos said that two vehicles were engaged in a "pre-planned street race."
Police identified the driver of the Mustang as Henry Michael Gevorgyan. Authorities are now searching for the 21-year-old and said they will seek murder charges against him.
"Please turn yourself in, it's just a matter of time before we get you," Bustos said during a news conference early Thursday evening. "The community knows who you are."
However, Bustos said investigators know little about the second car or its driver.
Officers identified one of the fatally injured spectators as Eric Siguenza, 26. The name of the second person killed was not released. A third spectator, who was seriously injured, was identified as Luis Antonio Gonzalez, 21.
The detectives said that although some of those who gathered for the race remained on the scene to assist the injured, everyone was gone by the time police arrived. He said officers are searching for witnesses and hoping to recover video from anyone who filmed the race on their cellphones.
The Mustang was traveling westbound when the driver lost control and the car swerved to a northwesterly direction, striking the pedestrians on the sidewalk. It hit the curb and spun 180 degrees after hitting a berm and a utility pole before coming to rest on the sidewalk.
Police did not have an estimate of how fast the car was traveling. The driver was a male believed to be in his 20s, they said.
About the deceased, Bustos said, "We believe they were spectators to an illegal street race that was loosely organized."
They were described as men in their mid-20s.
One died at the scene, the other at the hospital. The injured spectator, a male about 21 years old, was hospitalized in serious condition.
"It's an isolated area, it's a commercial area, it's not residential," Bustos said. "We've had a problem here."
"We aggressively try to control illegal street racing because it puts in danger everyone in the community."
At the nearby Chatsworth Business Park, which houses several Los Angeles County offices, Jenny Tutunjian and Maria Aguirre, county employees, stood on a berm next to police tape and shook their heads.
"I always see doughnuts all over the street," Tutunjian said, referring to the skid marks.
"Every morning, you see them every morning. It's even worse after the weekends," Aguirre said.
The women said they weren't surprised by the accident. They said workers in the area believe racers are attracted to the area because the streets are wide and mostly deserted at night.
Tutunjian said several buildings in the area have been vacant for some time and that even if they were open, there is no one around overnight to report street racing.
The Mustang had paper license plates from World Auto Group, a car-leasing brokerage in Glendale.
One of the company's partners, Mike Garabetian, said the firm doesn't lease too many Fords. He said he didn't know whether the Mustang in the crash was leased by World Auto Group.
He said the company's plates are sometimes stolen and put on other cars because they're made of aluminum, considered more attractive than regular paper ones.
"We get at least one or two calls a month from clients who have had their plates stolen," Garabetian said.
A 26-year-old Reseda resident who did not want to be named because he said he has attended numerous illegal street races on Plummer Street as a spectator drove to the scene of the crash early Thursday to see what happened.
He had been invited to the race, he said, but didn't attend.
He said there are usually weekly races in the area and along nearby Sherman Way. The man said street racers often use a product known as VHT, a black compound sprayed or poured onto the street to increase the traction of a car's tires.
Near Plummer Street and Canoga Avenue was a large, empty bottle that police officers said had contained VHT. The man said it was located near where the drivers usually line up to start the races.
The man said the races on Plummer Street usually start at the intersection, with cars lined up two by two to race in a straight line west down Plummer.
He said the races are usually two cars at a time, one pair right after the other in quick succession so they can finish the events quickly before police find out.
The man, who said was a mechanical engineer who worked on cars, said that "from the looks of it, the car didn't hook well" on the VHT and didn't get traction, "which caused it to ricochet off the track."
The man said street racing was popular in the San Fernando Valley, but it has changed with the advent of social media. Races are organized quickly, and while they used to be attended by smaller groups of people who all knew each other, now the crowds get out of control.
He said the cars are going faster and being put together less professionally because people can buy parts off the Internet.
"It's just more dangerous now because of the speeds that they can get. They're driving high-powered cars."
The races have gotten more dangerous and more frequent, he said, since the Los Angeles County Raceway (LACR) in Palmdale, which had a popular drag strip, shut down in 2007. People now have nowhere to go to race, he said.
As the man spoke, another walked by, looking at the fresh skid marks and yelled, "They need to open a track, and this will stop! This is just going to keep happening!"