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Tacoma eyeing stiffer penalties to deter rise in illegal street racing

A proposed ordinance calls for jail time and fines for spectators.

TACOMA, Wash. — Illegal street races that have been happening around the region are a topic of concern in Tacoma, where police say they have seen reports of the dangerous events increase.

There have been three incidents in recent days. During a study session at City Hall on Tuesday, police showed a video of an incident at Ninth and Pacific. A large crowd gathered with spectators recording the illegal street race on their phones and posing the video on social media.

"There's a difference when you watch a video and there is a difference when you are in the video, and I experienced being in the video this weekend," said Mayor Victoria Woodards, who added that she was stuck in traffic behind a street race in Tacoma for an hour.

"The spectators would hop in as two cars are doing donuts around each other would hop in and try to avoid being hit by a car," Woodards added.

There's already an ordinance that targets street racers. A new proposal goes even further.

"It would prohibit spectators at these events with spectator defined as people actively participating in the event," said City Councilmember Sarah Rumbaugh.

If a spectator was found guilty, it would be a misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.

"I'm a little uncomfortable with this ordinance, and the 90-day sentence. I think that is a bit extreme," said Councilmember Keith Blocker.

"This isn't about throwing people in jail, it is not about incarcerating them. It is about deterrence," said Councilmember Joe Bushnell.

As the debate continues at City Hall, the mayor is motivated to do something now about street racing.

"When you love Tacoma the way I love Tacoma, it is emotional because I thought about people dying. I thought about a young person being hit or killed in those cars. That is emotional," Woodwards said.

The proposed ordinance will be discussed at City Hall again next month.

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