Sen. Martin, CT Senate concerned about dangerous, defiant street takeovers in multiple towns

May 23, 2023

CT Senate concerned about dangerous, defiant street takeovers in multiple towns

Hartford Courant

May 23, 2023

After extended debate, the state Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to create a special taskforce to generate recommendations for deterring “street takeovers” that have become an increasing problem in multiple towns, including Wethersfield, Simsbury, Tolland, and Bristol.

The group, to be known as the Greater Hartford Regional Task Force to Combat Illegal Roadway Traffic Activity, will include state troopers and local police who have battled against the large gatherings that can include more than 200 vehicles.

Officers recently have been trying to combat well-organized street “takeovers” by riders on dirt bikes, motorcycles, and all-terrain vehicles who block intersections, speed down the roads, perform stunts and draw crowds of spectators at night.

Senators are scratching their heads over the exact causes of the street takeovers, saying they have happened around the country. They voted 35-0 with Sen. Jeff Gordon of Woodstock absent.

“What’s really going on in Connecticut? I don’t think we really know yet,” said Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican who has served more than 30 years in the legislature. “It’s odd, though. … We’re missing something. … Whoever this is, what are they up to? And what do they get out of this?”

The illegal street activity — once prominent in the cities — has moved to the suburbs, where there are often fewer officers on the night shift who are routinely outnumbered and cannot pull over hundreds of defiant drivers on the streets. Chasing motorcycles, for example, can be difficult when they go off-road or head down narrow alleyways, officials said.

“It’s not your grandmother’s crime wave. This is different,” said Kissel, who represents eight towns in north-central Connecticut. “We may not have as many law enforcement officers as we would like to, but that’s another issue. … It’s almost like acting out. There is something different here. … In the beautiful town of Simsbury, they have coyotes, they have bears, and they had a takeover.”

In Tolland on Sunday night, a group of rioters surrounded a car, kicking it as one climbed on top and stomped on the roof in an incident captured on video.

Sen. Tony Hwang, a Fairfield Republican, said the takeovers have recently “exploded” into “thrill-seeking, adrenaline-pumping, dangerous-driving activity” that can lead to dangers on the roads.

Connecticut State Sen. Tony Hwang of Fairfield is concerned about street takeovers that have occurred increasingly across Connecticut.

“They’re doing doughnuts,” said Sen. Herron Gaston, a freshman Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the public safety committee. “It is an extremely dangerous situation for motorists behind the wheel.”

Sen. Henri Martin, a Republican, said the issue has become a problem in his hometown.

“In Bristol, we had one of our streets taken over by, I believe, 200 cars … in the middle of the night, the wee hours of the morning,” Martin told his Senate colleagues. “At the same time, there was a gunshot fired several miles away. It seemed like it was intentional to distract our officers.”

Martin has concerns about public safety as huge numbers of vehicles take over an area.

“People will dance on top of the cars in pretty dangerous stunts,” Martin said. “You have innocent bystanders who choose to be there” but could be injured.

“It seems to be spreading,” Martin said. “It’s being organized through social media. … They’ve got this network, it’s built in, and the police are having a hard time knowing when the next one will take place. … This is an illegal event. They’re taking over something that is a public use, and that is our streets. … We really need to get a harness on this and nip this in the bud.”

On March 25, police reported that nearly 200 cars had gathered in northeastern Simsbury after cutting through Windsor and Bloomfield along Route 189 that straddles the towns. Group members later gathered in the parking lot at Simsbury High School, and police videos showed that officers tried to stop cars at times before giving up the chase as the drivers reached high speeds.

Sen. Paul Cicarella, a North Haven Republican, said there have been incidents in East Haven and surrounding areas that he described on the Senate floor.

“They knew police couldn’t do anything, and they were highly disrespectful,” Cicarella said of the drivers. “It’s happening everywhere.”

Christopher Keating can be reached at [email protected]