An Encino man on Wednesday became the first person convicted under a little-known ordinance that makes it a crime to knowingly be a spectator at an illegal street race.
Lawrence Beason, 22, was sentenced in Los Angeles Superior Court to 18 months’ probation and 10 days’ Caltrans service. He also was fined $300 and ordered to stay away from street-racing venues.
“I was just watching,” Beason told police officers, according to prosecutors. The next thing Beason knew, he was in the back of a police cruiser heading to the LAPD’s Devonshire station.
On March 6, Beason and some friends were hanging out on Plummer Street near Canoga Avenue, a popular spot for late-night street racing, said Deputy City Atty. Anthony Paul Diaz.
Unknown to racers and watchers, the Los Angeles Police Department had set up a sting operation with the help of its civilian Volunteer Surveillance Team.
Shortly before midnight, black-and-white police units moved in. The crowd scattered and the car Beason was riding in with three others was pulled over, said a spokesman for the city attorney’s office, Eric Moses.
“He told the police he was just watching and so did his friends and they were all arrested,” said Moses, adding that the cases of the three others are pending. “I thinking they were surprised.”
The north San Fernando Valley, with wide streets that are often deserted at night, is a notorious area for street racing. On popular nights, dozens of cars sometimes gather to speed up empty avenues.
“The people that watch these races are not innocent bystanders,” Moses said. “The crowds egg on the racers and sometimes they bet on the races.”
Before the new ordinance was passed by the City Council on Dec. 1, 2002, watching an illegal street race was an infraction, punishable by a fine.
The city attorney’s office is using the ordinance to address residents’ quality-of-life complaints through its neighborhood prosecutor program.
The president of the civilian surveillance team said the efforts have paid off.
“I don’t know where those street racers went, but they’re not on Plummer anymore,” said Wendell Durrant. “We haven’t had a complaint from a neighbor in weeks.”