It’s 3 a.m. and Windermere resident Kat Thomas, who is going through treatment for stage four cancer, is jolted awake from her rare, deep sleep.
Although the noise is disruptive and causes her to wake in a panic, Thomas said the screeching sounds are nothing new.
Locals in the Venetian Isle community and surrounding areas say the street racing has been going on off of Reams Road for months — and doesn’t seem to be letting up.
“I’ve been here for almost two years, and it started not long after I moved here,” Thomas said. “But it was more sporadic; it wasn’t something I ever thought would turn into this. I don’t know what it’s going to take to stop this before a tragedy occurs.”
After repetitive incidents of the loud cars racing down the streets with screeching tires, Thomas said she knew she couldn’t be the only one concerned.
On Monday, Aug. 8, Thomas took to the Windermere & Surrounding Communities Facebook page where she shared her experiences, thoughts and concerns, triggering more than 100 comments from local residents experiencing similar issues.
Resident Mary Swanson thinks there needs to be a stronger police presence overnight to keep people from continuing to participate in the street racing.
“The noise from the street at all times of the day from these individuals is horrendous,” Swanson said. “It will wake us from a deep sleep, and it most often happens on the weekends, but they’re not strangers to the weekdays either. This is not normal neighborhood noise either or normal car noises that you would expect from living off a busy street. It is simply the most obnoxious, loudest cars making as much noise as they can or drag racing each other, and the list just goes on.”
Thomas believes the majority of the racing is done by a bright blue Challenger, an orange Challenger, a four-door silver sedan and a two-door white sports car, which she has observed on several different occasions.
In addition, because of the timing and the recklessness, many residents believe the drivers are most likely young teenagers who live in the area.
Thomas said the group starts at Tattant Boulevard, flying down Reams Road and doing donuts in the circle in front of Venetian Isle before again speeding down to the circle in front of the MAA Windermere apartments to do more donuts. She said the noise generally starts around 11:15 p.m. and goes on sometimes until 3 a.m.
“My apartment is right on Reams Road, next to one of the circles, and I see and hear them doing this all night long, at least four nights a week,” Thomas said. “The sound of screeching tires has woken me out of a dead sleep more times than I can count. This is a neighborhood with people walking their dogs, sometimes late at night. There’s a bar that people walk home from and need to cross the street to get home. These teenagers are going to kill somebody.”
Orange County Sheriff’s Office officials said they are aware of the racing that occurs in the area and keeping the motorists safe on the roads is a top priority for the department. However, from a law enforcement perspective, the activities can be challenging to address.
“These groups of reckless and aggressive drivers occur throughout the United States, (including) here in Central Florida,” the OCSO said in an emailed statement. “(Because) these drivers are mobile, they often flee when law enforcement arrives, and that fleeing makes the streets even more dangerous for other drivers. And oftentimes, the violators have left the area before law enforcement can arrive.”
Thomas said she has called the OCSO non-emergency number numerous times to report the incidents. She said the department gave her the number for the Traffic and Motors division. Officials there said they can set up speed traps — but only with a large number of complaints because of the high demand and limited resources.
Anna Hersh said she recently moved to the area two months ago and noticed the drag racing immediately. Hersh said the drivers are “extremely loud,” and the screeching from the tires is “almost unbearable” — waking her and her dogs up at all hours of the night.
“The worst experience I have had was the other night, when I was walking home from my night job at a bar across the street,” Hersh said. “I couldn’t cross the street into my complex, because a blue Challenger was doing donuts in the circle and refused to stop for me to cross the street. I had to wait for him to do about five donuts before he went racing down the street. It was awful. I felt so unsafe in my own neighborhood, and this was only at 10 p.m.”
Dennis Ela, OCSO captain in Sector 3, said the department is aware of the racing issues. He said they have been a problem in the region for the past eight to 10 years.
Ela said the racing is popularized through films such as the “Fast and the Furious” series, where the conduct is glorified to include running from law enforcement.
“It is no more prominent now than it has been for several years,” Ela said. “The only thing that changes is the time and place that it occurs, which appears to be driven by spontaneous social media communications. I encourage residents to call when this behavior is observed, so we may respond and address appropriately. It is completely beyond our ability to predict when and where it will occur, and it is not possible to staff every area where it does occur throughout Orange County in anticipation of the same.”
The captain said the best method for residents to address these concerns is to call the non-emergency number at (407) 836-HELP as the activity is occurring.
However, Hersh said reporting has not yielded any action.
“Calling the authorities has been a joke,” Hersh said. “I have contacted the non-emergency number a few times and have always gotten someone who (couldn’t) care less about the situation. They always say they will send an officer — but either never do, or when the officer shows up, the drag racers are gone.”