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Drag Racing Hot Spot Has History of Tragedy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For more than two generations, young speeders from four counties have come under the cover of darkness to the remote streets of Sylmar to race their cars.

Whether it is on the most popular speed strip--San Fernando Road near Balboa Boulevard--or one of the lesser-used straightaways nearby, Los Angeles police can count on chasing away racers at least four nights a week.

But police said the department’s lack of resources prevents it from eradicating the problem, which can turn deadly. There have been four deaths associated with drag racing in Sylmar in the last two years, the latest early Sunday.

The death occurred on a nearby freeway when a teen-ager speeding to the race site at Balboa and San Fernando rear-ended a car carrying a family of four, police said. A mother was killed and her husband and two young children were injured.

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Mark Botta, 18, was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and gross negligence in the crash. He was released on $25,000 bail Monday and is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 16 in San Fernando Municipal Court.

Capt. Tim McBride, commander of the Foothill Division, which includes Sylmar, said police have long struggled to control drag racing.

“Four nights a week we have a drag-racing problem,” McBride said Monday. “A lot of time the cruising begins and they get together and decide to go race. They move to one of the racing locations. We are not talking about four or five cars. We are talking about hundreds of kids going out there.”

The cat-and-mouse game police and the racers play is as much a tradition as the racing itself. Police said that on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights police officers check the race spots and often thwart races. But just as often they are unsuccessful.

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“As with all problems, resources are our primary obstacle,” McBride said. “We have more calls for service than we can handle with our present resources.”

Sylmar became a hot spot for drag racers more than 20 years ago, and the tradition remains, police said. California Highway Patrol Sgt. Robert Del Mese said some drag racers that come to the area are following in their father’s footsteps.

Of the four deaths related to drag racing since 1991, only one involved a mishap during a race. But there have been two murders attributed to gang animosities at the drag races in the last year.


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