Large sideshows at Keyes Road and northeast Turlock disrupted traffic the night of Cinco de Mayo, disrupting traffic and taxing law enforcement resources from throughout the county.
The lawless behavior prompted condemnation by local officials.
Earlier Wednesday evening, a large sideshow had taken over the Keyes Road overpass, which prompted a sizeable law enforcement response including the California Highway Patrol and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department.
“People were racing all over the county,” said Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Sgt. Luke Schwartz. “The street racing and sideshows were prolific and became a drain on resources to multiple law enforcement agencies.”
Later in the evening a Turlock fire engine was surrounded and vandalized by a mob of people who had taken over a Turlock intersection for a car sideshow. The incident was captured on a cell phone video and widely shared on social media, prompting outrage and calls for action among city and county leaders and residents alike.
Video of the 11:05 p.m. incident at the intersection of W. Monte Vista Avenue and Berkeley Avenue shows the fire engine with lights and siren activated slowly trying to move through the intersection. Young people run alongside the engine, climb on top and the side and start pulling off equipment, including the fire hose.
“The fire engine was able to escape the crowd and found a safe location to pull over and quickly secure the loose fire hose,” said Turlock Police spokesperson Sgt. Michael Parmley.
Turlock Fire Capt. Jason Bernard said none of the fire firefighters were injured during the incident and were quickly able to retrieve the equipment, which allowed the engine to be back in service within a minute.
Turlock police officers responded to the scene, but most of the participants had already scattered to other locations, including Monte Vista and Fresno avenues in Denair.
Sideshows originated in Oakland in the 1980s. The participants take over a particular area and perform stunts like spinning out around a crowd of onlookers. The spots taken over can vary from a parking lot to a deserted street to a busy intersection to a highway. In all locations the potential for danger and violence is very real. Also that night, sideshows were reported all over the Bay Area, with the San Jose Police Department investigating a homicide at one.
Law enforcement face several challenges in the effort to stop sideshows. First, the events are usually organized on social media with locations closely guarded. Those setting up the sideshows also have other locations already set, so if one proves unusable, they move onto the next spot. Law enforcement has to make a large response for it to have any impact, which can require multiple agencies coordinating together and often times the efforts are hampered by the onlookers. For example, in July 2020, the Turlock police department responded to a sideshow at the intersection of Thor and Marshall streets. The first officer to arrive saw a vehicle spinning donuts, but the patrol car was surrounded by a crowd of unruly people hitting and kicking the patrol car, giving the other vehicle’s driver an opportunity to flee.
Whether or not to pursue a vehicle fleeing a sideshow can be a weighty decision for law enforcement, particularly if it’s for a vehicle code violation.
“Depending on the circumstances of each situation, along with weighing the danger to the public and the ability of apprehending these violators, officers may decide to or not to take enforcement action,” said Parmley. “There are a lot of different factors to consider for each of these incidents.”
In 2019, a bill was introduced to make sideshows illegal in California, but the bill died in committee.
“It is not illegal to simply watch one of these sideshows, however, it is discouraged due to all of potential hazards that occur during these events and the criminal activity that typically accompanies them,” said the Turlock chief.
The Turlock Police Department said additional resources will be used to stop sideshows in Turlock. Parmley said a plan is in place but could not elaborate on it at this point.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa of Hughson believes the county needs to take a multi-pronged approach in stopping sideshows.
“This just can’t continue,” Chiesa said. “The response is going to have to be a multi-agency effort and use different approaches.”
He pointed to an operation carried out in 2020 at the Crows Landing Naval landing field as a successful strategy. In that operation law enforcement laid down spike strips at all five exits, preventing the vehicles from scattering. Dozens of vehicles were towed and a multitude of citations were given out that night.
Chiesa also said an increased use of license plate readers around the county could help law enforcement catch some of the participants.
“That alone would not solve this issue, but it would be another deterrent,” he said.
Many communities are dealing with sideshows and some have found unique approaches to curbing the incidents. San Joaquin County has formed a multi-agency task force to target the sideshows and street racing. The recently started task force conducted a crackdown that resulted in 20 vehicles being impounded and more than 100 motorists cited.
The city of Antioch placed temporary bollards in the intersections frequently used for sideshows to keep the drivers from performing stunts.
Cities in Pierce County in Washington started passing local ordinances that make it illegal to watch a sideshow or street race.
The Turlock Police Department asks that anyone with information call Officer Donna Anthieny at (209) 668-5550 extension 6631. You can also contact the Turlock Police Department’s Tip Line at (209) 668-5550 extension 6780 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.