Action News Jax Investigates: Street racers ignoring laws and safety in Jacksonville

The engines rev, the tires squeal and the crowd cheers.

It sounds like a scene from the Daytona Speedway, but it’s the middle of the night on Jacksonville streets.

Action News Jax found dozens of videos of dangerous driving recorded by underground car clubs and posted online. We captured the aftermath with the help of Action News Jax Skyvision drone -- tire marks scrawled across parking lots.

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In downtown Jacksonville, Justin Jett says he has seen it all.

“It is an animal house,” he told Action News Jax Investigative Reporter Emily Turner.

Jett lives in the Berkman and says side shows and racing cars are a weekly occurrence.

“It’s the same cars, the same people and they do the same thing for the past year,” Jett said.

Video he sent us from his balcony shows cars screaming up Bay Street during a busy time of night, cars doing burnouts at intersections and revving their engines across from the bars. He said it’s like this almost any Saturday or Sunday.

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It’s not just loud and disruptive, he says, it’s unsafe.

“There have been situations where there are cars have done donuts and almost knocked people off scooters,” Jett said.

In July, street racing turned deadly. Police say two racing drivers crashed. They survived, but an innocent woman in a third car died.

That kind of driving is on the rise. We pulled the numbers from the Duval County Clerk of Courts. In 2019, 25 people were charged with racing on the highway. Last year, that number more than doubled, to 54. So far, this year, there have already been 41.

As those numbers climb, the funding to combat the trend is cut, at least at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

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According to a statement from JSO, “monies allocated to the JSO by the City that were previously used for specialized deployments has decreased in recent years. As a result, deployments overall have had to be reconfigured in the way they are planned and conducted.”

The statement goes on to say routine deployments include traffic deployments and use the traffic division to respond to complaints, especially during problematic hours.

Many of the videos we found on social media show police on site, though none of them show officers ticketing the drivers. But just blocks from JSO headquarters, Jett said he hasn’t even seen officers respond.

“On the non-emergency line, they do their spiel, they take your number, your complaint. But getting someone out here to do anything its few and far between,” Jett said.

Street racing is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in county jail and a $500 fine. If a death occurs because of racing, a driver could receive a mandatory minimum prison term of four years for racing manslaughter. Spectators who watch a race could be fined between $250 and $500.

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