By Michael E. Miller
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By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
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Fred Albuquerque, a 20-year-old from Coral Springs, pulls in with his 2001 Ford Focus, hooked up with a full body kit, spoiler, three television sets (one on the dash, one each embedded in the neck rests), a PlayStation 2, and DVD player. "I'm very obsessed with it," he declares. "I've probably spent 20 grand." He plans to install three more TV screens. Why? "Attention," he responds. He was lucky enough to bag JBL as a sponsor, which means the audio company gave him the $11,000 worth of speakers that jam the back of his car in exchange for his agreement to attend a set number of car shows in one year. He's looking forward to tomorrow, when he plans to drive to a car-audio competition in central Palm Beach County. "I wanna go to the car show, get the trophy, and go home the winner, man," he blusters.
The Davie police, however, greet that hubris a few minutes later by issuing Albuquerque citations for the dashboard TV, loud music, loud muffler, and neon lights beneath the car.
On July 5, shortly after 10 p.m., Davie police swoop into the Tower Shops parking lot. Officers in four squad cars and on two motorcycles shout at the import crowd that they need to get out immediately. Clearing the parking lot, however, is a secondary mission for two obvious reasons: No one demands that the muscle-car owners leave straight away, and many of the import owners are stopped by police for just trying to leave.
The owner of a modified blue pickup finds that his battery has died, and some of his friends remain parked beside him. "The battery's dead, and we're waiting for a jump," he tells a female officer who's rousting him.
"You're not all stranded, are you?" she rejoins.
She departs, and minutes later another squad is there. "What kind of car club are you if you can't even keep your cars running?" the cop scoffs. The officer, still seated, eyes one of the women smoking a cigarette and asks for her ID. She's 21 years old, he discovers. "You're a little old to be hanging around here, aren't you?" he posits derisively.
Dozens of cars are stopped, in some cases for no reason at all.
According to Major Scott McInerney, who is in charge of special operations for the Davie Police Department, the crackdown was a "special enforcement" prompted by complaints of noise and insults to patrons on Friday nights. "It's not the intent to allow them to stay there and party all night," he adds. "We have a file of complaints. There have been complaints about burnouts. We're looking for reckless driving. We're just trying to avoid another tragedy. The message is that if you're coming here to race, it won't be tolerated."
Still, it's hard to understand how citations for neon-lighted undercarriages and similar picayune offenses benefit the public.
Police, of course, have pursued drag racers for half a century, but the June 2001 release of The Fast and the Furious, a film that glamorized Southern California street racing, led to a crackdown on imports here, according to many veteran street racers. For example, just before Christmas last year, the Florida Highway Patrol arrested 172 people in a drag-racing dragnet on Okeechobee Road two miles south of Krome Avenue in Miami-Dade County.
But the occasional high-profile accidents also keep the heat on. About a dozen deaths in the past three years in Broward and Miami-Dade counties have been attributed to drag racing, most involving teens, according to the FHP. In one of the deadliest, police claimed that 16-year-old Michael Yousko died while drag racing in March 2000 on Stirling Road in Davie. Yousko's Toyota flipped over the median and flew into a Mazda, killing him and two passengers in the other car. Police charged Dale M. Quimby, the 18-year-old with whom Yousko was racing, with manslaughter and vehicular homicide. A jury convicted him of reckless driving and culpable negligence, for which he received 180 days in jail.
Some police officers are more deft than others in dealing with street racers.
Just after 11 p.m. on a Monday in unincorporated Boca Raton, a sheriff's deputy turns into the parking lot of Lowe's on Highway 441. Scungio and Gore and their buddies watch through the light rain, which has helped clear away the show cars that were here earlier. "We've had a complaint of loud music," the deputy says. No radio is playing, nor has one been on for at least a half-hour. The guys glance at each other. "Why the fuck do you have to hang out in my zone?" the deputy wisecracks, hitting just the right note.
"Where should we go?" someone asks.
"Broward," he quips, then surveys the dearth of good-looking cars. "So this is the fucking car show. Who's going to want to look at this shit?"
"Girls," another voice pipes up.
The deputy stares: a rain-drenched, goofy-looking bunch of guys, bereft of female company, standing in a dark parking lot. "Yeah, the girls are just swarming here, aren't they?" he ribs. "You guys are fine," he announces, sliding back into his car. "Enjoy yourselves."
It's just past 10 p.m. on a Monday in July at the vast parking lot of the Lowe's store on Highway 441 in west Boca Raton. A storm has drenched the area and moved to the east, but it's obvious from the lightning to the west that another downpour is on the way. Still, the import lovers aren't deterred from showing up at this staple meeting spot. Soon, a couple dozen vehicles have gathered. The guys with the fastest cars -- about a dozen strong, including Jesse Scungio -- sit in the back of a pickup and on its tailgate. Chris Gore, a round-faced 24-year-old with a winning smile, cajoles each newcomer to flick his lighter; it's a prank, however, and a coil inside delivers a handsome jolt. Gore owns GR Technologies, a tiny shop in Plantation where he builds fast cars, which are among the swiftest at the Davie Miami Subs.