On July 16, 2013, a silver Audi S4, its 22-year-old driver drag racing down Roosevelt Boulevard, struck and killed a woman and her three children as they tried to cross the wide highway at Second Street in Olney. The uninjured driver, Khusen Akhmedov of Lancaster, was later found guilty of third-degree murder and sentenced to 17 to 34 years in prison.
Two years after that crash, on July 29, 2015, two 19-year-olds were racing a black Acura TL and a gold Chevrolet Impala in the parking lot of a Bustleton business park. Christopher Bloomfield of Lawndale, behind the wheel of the Acura, was pushing 80 mph when the car hit a curb and smashed into a tree, killing three passengers and leaving a fourth with brain damage.
Bloomfield pleaded guilty to three counts of vehicular homicide while intoxicated, and one count each of aggravated assault while driving under the influence and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. He was sentenced to 11 to 25 years in prison. The Impala driver, Ryan Farrell of Bustleton, was not injured but is expected to stand trial early next year on charges of vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaughter.
The seven dead, the severely injured man, the forthcoming trial, and the unending pain for the families in these two incidents serve as reminders that the dangerous and illegal tradition of drag racing has not faded from Philadelphia.
Northeast Philadelphia’s Seventh Police District, where both fatal crashes happened, has played host to plenty of drag races over the years.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Lipscomb, who prosecuted the case against Bloomfield, said the business park on Sandmeyer Lane off Red Lion Road is known as a drag racing hot spot.
In fact, the parking lot could be seen in a video from Akhmedov’s Facebook page that showed two other vehicles racing.
News reports from the mid-’90s painted a scene out of the Fast & Furious movie franchise. Raucous crowds, sometimes in the thousands, would gather on the sidewalks along Delaware Avenue and between the competitors in box-store parking lots.
Police Inspector Ray Convery, who has worked in several parts of the city known for drag racing, said it’s still an issue.
“It’s all big-box stores that are closed at night with open area,” he said. “There’s room back there where you can build up speed.”
The trouble spots these days, he said, still include the parking lots behind big box stores along Columbus Boulevard and Delaware Avenue and the industrial park in the Northeast, as well as South Philly’s Packer Avenue.
“I don’t know that it has increased,” he said. "I would say it has maintained the same enthusiasm with the young kids.”
In March, a new captain assumed control of the Seventh District, and so far no drag racing has been reported, the result of more effective policing, police said.
The most effective way to police the problem, experts say, is to increase patrols in those trouble areas.
Convictions can bring monetary fines, forfeiture of the vehicles, license suspensions, and revocations.
But another way for cops to fight back, Convery said, is also to charge people sitting in cars and watching, but not participating, as accessories to the crime.
“If you’re just sitting there watching,” said Basil D. Beck III, a Norristown lawyer who specializes in defending drivers in drag-racing cases, “you’re drag racing also."
Beck said more bystanders are being ticketed for drag racing, facing potential suspension of driver’s licenses just for being spectators, but most pleading to a lesser sentence.
“I don’t think there are a lot of traffic court judges and district attorneys in Philly who are really anxious to see somebody get their driver’s license suspended,” he said, “unless they’re just a menace.”
Vehicles typically involved in drag racing, Convery said, include souped-up Hondas and sporty Audis — fuel-efficient foreign models that pack more punch in an ever-escalating war of stronger, faster, better.
“The cars now are faster,” Convery said. “What the kids don’t realize is that there is so much power under the hoods of those cars, it’s like a missile going down the street. It’s so easy to lose control."
The best solution Convery saw was in the Northeast in the ’70s and ’80s, he said, when racers would fly up and down Decatur Road.
“So how did they fix it?” Convery said. “They put a police station at the end of the street.”