Long history of street racing at Long Wharf

A man signals the start of an illegal street race on Long Wharf Drive in New Haven in 2008.
A man signals the start of an illegal street race on Long Wharf Drive in New Haven in 2008.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — New Haven’s Long Wharf Drive and other city roads have been popular spots for illegal street racers. But sometimes those races have ended in arrests, injury, and even death.

2008 was one of those years when it seemed street racing was everywhere. In May, News 8′s Bob Wilson produced a special report titled ‘Need for Speed’ about illegal racing in New Haven and Hartford, and efforts by police in Berlin to stop illegal racing. As Bob described it then, street racing is a high speed game of cat and mouse being played out across Connecticut.

“We never race at one spot twice, because we don’t want to make the spot hot,” one racer said.

At speeds in the triple digits.

“You have people that go 100, 130.”
“That fast?”
“Yeah!”

It’s not just a couple kids with some souped-up cars on the Berlin Turnpike. “You probably have at least a thousand,” the unnamed racer said.

And police back up that number. “It never stops, really it’s difficult to curb,” Lt. Chris Ciuci, Berlin Police Department, said.

It wasn’t just the Long Wharf area in New Haven that has had problems with racers. Also in the summer of 2008 News 8 reported on street racing causing problems on River Street in the Fair Haven section of New Haven.

News 8 reporter Crystal Haynes reported that New Haven PD’s response to that was to install bollards, or barriers, to control traffic by choking the street down to one lane.

News 8 Reporter Crystal Haynes on River Street in June, 2008.
News 8 Reporter Crystal Haynes on River Street in June, 2008.

Police say River street is a popular drag racing destination; you can see by all the skid marks in the road here. And the say if the chokes or bollard work on this street, you might see them at other hot spots like Long Wharf or Route 80/Middletown Avenue

“We’ve got assigned there, officers on extra duty clearing out the parking lots of different businesses, said Stephaine Redding, New Haven Police Department, “but then they just move to another part of the city, so we really hope that this is going to be something that we can permanently put in place in a number of locations in the city and put an end to the drag racing.”

But the dangers are there, to the drivers and their cars, to other drivers, and even spectators. One time News 8 captured video of a racer’s car shortly after it burst into flames.

One person was killed when they were struck by a car racing on Long Wharf Drive in New Haven, Aug. 17, 2008.
One person was killed when they were struck by a car racing on Long Wharf Drive in New Haven, Aug. 17, 2008.

Illegal street racing lead to death on August 17, 2008. Misael Ruiz was killed along Long Wharf Drive after a race car went out of control and into the crowd. The driver took off, but was eventually caught and arrested. In a telling sign of how difficult it was to keep a lid on the illegal street racing, police had broken up a race only an hour before the deadly crash.

How long has racing been going on at Long Wharf? Robert Lanza, then a captain and head of patrol in the New Haven Police Department, told the New Haven Independent in August, 2008, that races have ‘happened for the whole duration of his 28-year tenure on the force.’

By November, New Haven officials had taken a big step in trying to stop racers on Long Wharf Drive, with repainted lane lines and the installation sand-filled containers to narrow the road.

Barriers installed on Long Wharf Drive in New Haven, Nov., 2008.
Barriers installed on Long Wharf Drive in New Haven, Nov., 2008.
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