(The Center Square) – After Austin city officials said last month that they were ending their partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety, which has been responding to increased crime in the state capital and as Austin Police Department staffing shortages continue, DPS officers cracked down on another street take over incident involving over 100 cars.
They took action Saturday after Gov. Greg Abbott signed two bills into law last month increasing penalties for illegal street racing and after he in February created a street takeover task force to apprehend criminals who are increasingly obstructing roads, driving recklessly, causing violence and endangering the public and law enforcement officers.
On Wednesday, Abbott ceremonially signed the bills at a press event in Fort Worth alongside the city mayor, police chief, police officers, and lawmakers who filed the bills.
HB 2899 and HB 1442 allow law enforcement officers to impound vehicles used in street racing or reckless driving, provide law enforcement and prosecutors with additional tools to go after organized street racing and street takeovers, and create a new code related to obstructing highways and roadways.
Street takeovers are described as large groups of people taking over intersections, roads or parking lots and drivers oftentimes performing donuts, burn-outs or speeding.
On Saturday night and into Sunday morning, DPS officers responded to four street takeover incidents involving roughly 100 vehicles. At least one person was arrested, however the total number of arrests hasn’t yet been disclosed.
Praising DPS’s efforts, Abbott said, “Dangerous street takeovers will NOT be tolerated in Texas. Great work by Texas DPS and Austin Police to crack down on these incidents in our capital city. New laws I signed this year will increase penalties for illegal street racing.”
The Austin American Statesman reported that one individual was arrested, 19-year-old Yurison Corrales Hidalgo, who the arresting officer said spoke no English.
In one of the four incidents, a driver of a white Mustang failed to stop and a DPS trooper engaged in pursuit. The driver struck another vehicle with two people in it. All three individuals involved in the accident were taken to the hospital, with one in serious condition, Austin-Travis County EMS officials said.
“I, speaking for all Texans, want to share my gratitude for all law enforcement officers putting their lives on the line to ensure public safety,” Abbott said at Wednesday’s news conference. “Street racing threatens everyone’s lives.”
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said, “unfortunately street racing and street takeovers are not a victimless crime. Sometimes what you see on TV or on social media is sensationalized. You see some young kids doing donuts in the middle of the street and you forget that at the other end of that, oftentimes, lives are lost.”
She said Fort Worth recently lost two parents of three young children, a couple who were both 39 years old, killed by street racers.
Most recently, Fort Worth, working with multiple agencies, made five arrests of street racers, she said. But what was critically important was that her office, the Fort Worth Police Department, and others were able to successfully work with lawmakers to get new laws on the books to help them better do their jobs, she said.
“These are difficult times in this country,” she added. “You have large cities falling apart because they are not focused on public safety. The only way you have a thriving large city that is focused on quality of life is because of men and women who are willing to wear a uniform and carry a badge.”
Abbott said, “Texas is a law and order state. As long as I am governor, we will back the blue, protect our citizens, and ensure that law enforcement has the tools they need to secure our streets.”