POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Lakeland’s central location is making it a hot spot for unsanctioned street racing and car meets at industrial parks on the weekends, according to police.
“This has been an ongoing problem for us for a couple of years,” said Asst. Chief Hans Lehman from Lakeland Police Department.
Lakeland police officers were given a tip about one of these events Sunday night at 6870 First Park Boulevard.
The event attracted 300 people and netted 53 arrests, most of which involved people from out of town.
Detectives also seized seven guns and a variety of illegal street guns, and impounded 31 vehicles for illegal street racing.
The people arrested are accused of trespassing and speed racing on the property.
“We were under the impression that it was for a charity event,” said Brandon Scandaliato, 23, of Port Richey, Fla.
Scandaliato told 8 On Your Side he saw a social media post advertising Sunday’s event as a legal fundraiser for cancer research.
“They wanted us to donate money and as soon as we started having fun, that’s when the cops swarmed in. They used what we like to do as fun against us,” he said. “The only time we do donuts is when we raise money for charities.”
Scandaliato said he was observing the cars that were doing donuts and driving at a fast speed.
“They’re in an empty parking lot having fun and just doing donuts,” said Joseph Scandaliato, Brandon’s father.
“Stuff like this makes me not want to do it no more,” he said.
That, police say, was the point of this weekend’s “Operation No Need for Speed.”
“If you lose control, if one of those cars loses control, they’re going to take out quite a few folks. There’s some folks who stand in the middle and video from the inside,” said Asst. Chief Lehman.
Video shows some passengers hanging out of windows as well.
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 prime spot for these get-togethers.
The concern is not only what happens at these properties, but also what happens next.
“They can splinter off and go out to the interstate, Hillsborough and FHP has had to deal with that, where they’ll purposefully slow traffic down and then they’ll start racing ahead of it,” said Asst. Chief Lehman.
Property owners are trying to tamp down on this trend.
“Cutting down the riff raff before somebody really gets hurt or killed,” said Greg Ruthven, president of The Ruthvens, which owns 3.5 million square feet of warehouse space in central Florida.
Ruthven properties have been hit as well.
Some groups have hosted parties on the properties.
Security video shows law enforcement breaking up one of the car meets before it got out of hand.
Some of their tenants work on the weekends. Tractor trailer traffic is common.
“Although it might look like a great piece of asphalt or concrete or spin donuts, a warehouse is not the place to be doing that. They need to be on a racetrack,” said Ruthven.
The hope is that operations like what occurred on Sunday will discourage these events.
“There were several comments made as people were leaving that they were not coming back to Lakeland,” said Asst. Chief Lehman.