POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Lakeland’s central location makes it a hotspot for unauthorized street racing and auto encounters in industrial parks on weekends, according to police.
âThis has been a constant problem for us for a few years,â said Asst. Lakeland Police Department Chief Hans Lehman.
Lakeland police were notified of one of these events Sunday night at 6870 First Park Boulevard.
The event drew 300 people and resulted in 53 arrests, most of which involved people from out of town.
Detectives also seized seven firearms and a variety of illegal street weapons, and impounded 31 vehicles for illegal street racing.
Those arrested are charged with trespassing and speed racing on the property.
âWe felt like it was for a charity event,â said Brandon Scandaliato, 23, of Port Richey, Fla.
Scandaliato told 8 On Your Side he saw a social media post announcing Sunday’s event as a legal fundraiser for cancer research.
âThey wanted us to donate money and as soon as we started having fun that’s where the cops came in. They used what we love to do to have fun,â he said. âThe only time we make donuts is when we raise money for charity. “
Scandaliato said he watched the cars making donuts and going at high speed.
“They are in an empty parking lot having fun and making donuts,” said Joseph Scandaliato, Brandon’s father.
“Stuff like that makes me want to stop doing it,” he said.
This was, according to police, the goal of this weekend’s âOperation No Need for Speedâ.
âIf you lose control, if one of these cars loses control, they’re going to take out a lot of people. There are people standing in the middle and video from the inside, âAsst said. Chief Lehman.
The video also shows passengers hanging from the windows.
Lehman said these events are taking over industrial parks and warehouses while they are closed.
With Lakeland being on the I-4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa, it has become a favorite spot for these gatherings.
The concern is not only what happens in these properties, but also what happens next.
âThey can split up and go on the freeway, Hillsborough and FHP had to deal with this, where they will deliberately slow down the traffic and then they will start running ahead,â Asst said. Chief Lehman.
The owners are trying to curb this trend.
âCut down on the raff riff before someone is really injured or killed,â said Greg Ruthven, president of The Ruthvens, which owns 3.5 million square feet of warehouse space in central Florida.
Ruthven’s properties were also affected.
Some groups have organized parties on the properties.
Security video shows law enforcement breaking down one of the cars encountered before it spirals out of control.
Some of their tenants work weekends. The circulation of semi-trailers is common.
âWhile it might look like a good piece of asphalt or concrete or donuts to turn, a warehouse is not the place to do that. They have to be on a racetrack, âsaid Ruthven.
The hope is that operations like the one that happened on Sunday will deter these events.
âSeveral comments were made as people were leaving that they weren’t coming back to Lakeland,â Asst said. Chief Lehman.