Police curb drag racing along strip in Maspeth

By Dustin Brown

Police staged a massive crackdown on drag racing along Page Place in a heavily industrial section of Maspeth Saturday night, issuing dozens of violations as part of their ongoing effort to defeat a longstanding quality-of-life issue.

Between 10 p.m. Saturday and 2 a.m. Sunday, police wrote 44 moving violations, 30 parking summonses and three criminal court summonses as part of “Operation Pit Stop,” which pooled forces from numerous units of the New York Police Department to break up the popular weekend hangout.

They also arrested one person for operating a vehicle without a license, police said.

“You go where the crime is, and the crime is at night,” said Capt. Peter Loehle of the 104th Precinct. “We go out there and hit them pretty hard.”

The stretch of Page Place between Grand Avenue and Maspeth Avenue has attracted drag racers from across the city and beyond for at least a year, jamming the street with spectators and drivers alike for a few-hour dose of adrenaline.

Two cars generally line up at the intersection with Grand Avenue and race northbound along Page Place, while at other times single cars speed along the roadway.

“What we found is worse than I could ever imagine,” said Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden, who visited the site last month with a television news team and neighborhood activist Roe Daraio, the president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together known as COMET.

“Midnight they start to assemble and they race until the wee hours,” Holden said. “Just as far as you could see there were cars, there were kids — anywhere from teens to 20s and 30s, from all walks of life.”

Daraio said she brought the drag-racing problem to the attention of the police last summer when it went “totally out of control.”

In a letter to Daraio dated Dec. 7, Assistant Chief James Tuller of Borough Patrol Queens North said the drag racing issue was “being afforded one of this borough’s highest priorities,” and he recounted the success of “Operation Pit Stop.”

“Since its implementation we have effected numerous arrests, issued a multitude of summonses and seized three vehicles for forfeiture,” he wrote.

The main problem area sits in the 104th Precinct, which community activists have long complained is severely understaffed. Although patrol cars frequently drive through the racing strip, the participants and spectators just scramble at the first sign of a cop — and their numbers are too great for a single vehicle to stop them.

“There is really nothing they could do with one cop car,” Holden said. “They would all scatter and that was very, very dangerous, because they would run red lights and go every direction.”

The crowds then reassemble on Review Avenue in Long Island City, in the 108th Precinct, and sometimes return to Maspeth if the police arrive at the alternate location.

“It was like this ping-pong match going back and forth,” Holden said.

The quarter-mile stretch of roadway is lined predominantly by trucking companies on either side, making the area fairly desolate at night except for truck drivers coming back to their depots.

But Grand Avenue also is a major thoroughfare connecting Queens to Brooklyn.

“I don’t want to see somebody get killed or lose a leg over a drag-racing thing,” Daraio said. “This is why it’s becoming a priority. You could be coming from Brooklyn with your family and you could be killed by one of these kids, or one of these kids could kill themselves.”

Police said they plan to continue to aggressively combat the problem.

“Whenever we receive complaints or become aware of information, the operation will be conducted again,” said officer Jennara Everleth, a police spokeswoman. “It’s considered one of the 104’s quality-of-life problems.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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