GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Neighbors say it got really bad last spring amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
Groups of ‘Fast & Furious’ enthusiasts gathered for drifting and donut sessions at the old Steelcase complex off 36th Street between Eastern and Kalamazoo avenues in Grand Rapids.
But this was no movie set. The parking lot where the drivers were burning rubber til the wee hours backs up against a densely populated neighborhood.
“It was just horrible,” said Nola, a neighbor whose last name Target 8 is not using. “The noise would go and go… It was just like they were in my bedroom. I used to lie in bed and go, ‘Dear God, please have them stop. Please have them stop.’ It went on all last summer.”
So when the screeching tires started up again this spring, Nola reached out to Target 8 for help. She sent audio clips of screeching tires, recorded from her back deck on March 11, March 18 and March 20.
NEIGHBOR: ‘I DON’T NEED TO PUT UP WITH THAT B.S.’
“My godson says I’m being a little hard on the people over there. He says it’s COVID time, they’ve got to have something to do,” Nola said. “I said, ‘Yes, I understand that. Want to throw your whole paycheck into fixing up your car and (ruining the tires)? Go for it.’ But my thing is, don’t do it in my neighborhood.”
Nola wonders why the group can’t find a racetrack or a more isolated parking lot that doesn’t border homes.
She said the cars and bikes gathered almost every night last summer, sometimes until 1 a.m.
“I’m not putting up with it. I’ve got cancer. I’ve got heart disease. I’ve got everything under the sun. I don’t need to put up with that B.S.,” Nola said. “Last summer, I was way too ill to get up and doing anything about this. But this summer, I’m starting to feel a little bit better, and I want something done about it.”
So do other nearby homeowners.
The Grand Rapids Police Department told Target 8 it first received complaints about cars burning up the old Steelcase lot in 2019.
Then there were no complaints until Saturday, March 20 of this year, when GRPD took two calls reporting the problem. By the time cruisers got on scene, the cars were peeling out of the lot.
When Target 8 arrived at the property that same Saturday night, the fast-car gang was gone, but there were three GRPD cruisers sitting in the lot.
“They may have lookouts, or they’re listening to the scanner, because … they got out of there before we were able to go in an do any type of enforcement,” GRPD Sgt. Dan Adams said. “(That) just kind of shows the mentality of the group. They’re taking steps to do something that they know is wrong, which makes it more important for us to address.”
Adding to problem is a pandemic challenge: More cars than ever are driving around with no plates.
GRPD: ‘JUST A MATTER OF TIME UNTIL SOMEBODY GETS HURT.’
While GRPD is concerned about the disruption to neighbors, the agency is most concerned about safety.
“I’m really concerned somebody’s going to get hurt,” Adams said. “(That’s) always my concern in 25 years of doing this, seeing many fatal accidents — kids, young people, not respecting what a vehicle can do and the power it has. They assume they’re wrapped in 2,000 pounds of steel like iron man, and that’s just not the case. Even just squealing your tires, if you hit a patch of ice or a puddle, you go careening into the next vehicle or someone walking on the street.”
Adams noted the problem is bigger than the activity on the old Steelcase property.
GRPD started seeing groups — dozens of cars or motorcycles — driving recklessly through the city a couple summers ago.
“We’ve seen them driving around downtown quite a bit…” Adams said, “a lot of times in the evenings and weekends.”
He said the groups run red lights and break other traffic laws to stay together.
“Not only are they driving on the streets, but it might sometimes be on sidewalks or maybe even some of the pedestrian bridges going across the river,” he said. “We just can’t have that. It’s way too dangerous.”
GRPD had hoped to use the Michigan State Police helicopter that flew recently to track reckless drivers from the air.
“Chief (Eric) Payne’s intent is to try to leverage technology to make the community safer. If it’s not a helicopter, maybe it’s a drone,” Adams said. “This is the help we need from the community and leadership to find these tools that we know we can use in a fair and equitable manner to address these concerns, without having to chase on the streets and put lives in danger.”
GRPD’s chase policy puts lives ahead of property, meaning officers are restricted from pursuing suspects in vehicles unless certain factors exist.
While last weekend’s targeted enforcement took violent suspects and guns off the streets, police said they did not see any groups of reckless drivers during the stepped-up patrols.
Even so, there’s great concern.
“It’s just a matter of time until somebody gets hurt,” Adams said.
PROPERTY OWNER WORKS TO ADDRESS PROBLEM
Ashley Capital, the commercial development company that purchased the 207 acres from Steelcase in 2007, told Target 8 it is taking steps to address the activity on its lot.
“We are taking this as seriously as (neighbors and police) are,” Susan Harvey, senior vice president at Ashley Capital, said.
The company signed paperwork to allow police to issue trespassing citations if the group refuses to leave the property. GRPD says it can also cite the offenders for reckless driving and violating the motor vehicle code.
“Revving your engine, squealing your tires with the intent to draw attention to yourself — that’s actually part of the Michigan motor vehicle code,” Adams said.
Grand Rapids police say Ashley Capital has cooperated with the agency and plans to install six GRPD-provided signs throughout the property.
Susan Harvey said the company cannot, however, restrict access to the multiple entrances because some of the on-site businesses need 24/7 access.
GRPD says it does not yet know the identity of the group that’s using the lot off 36th as a race track. But rest assured, it says it’s watching.