By Noelle Alviz-Gransee and Virginia Barreda, Des Moines Register
A 4-year-old boy is dead and three other people were injured after a driver who was allegedly street racing on a busy Des Moines road crossed the median Tuesday night and struck the car the boy was in.
City officials called the collision “senseless and selfish” and pledged police resources to catch those responsible.
Witnesses told Des Moines police that before the crash, two vehicles were “street-racing” in the northbound lanes of Fleur Drive around 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
Then one of the cars, a 2022 Genesis sedan driven by a 35-year-old Urbandale man, crossed over the Fleur Drive median.
“The Genesis first crashed into a 2016 Honda Accord, driven by a 38-year-old, female, Norwalk resident,” whose passengers included the 4-year-old and an 8-year-old boy, police said. “The Genesis next crashed into a 2021 Chevrolet Equinox, driven by a 40-year-old female.”
The Urbandale man was not seriously injured, according to a statement from the Des Moines Police Department. Witnesses reported that the second street-racing vehicle continued northbound on Fleur Drive, the police report said.
The 4-year-old boy, an 8-year-old boy and the woman driving that car were initially considered in critical condition as was the driver of the second car. All the victims other than the 4-year-old were hospitalized as of Wednesday morning but were expected to recover, police said.
By Wednesday evening, Des Moines police had not identified the people involved and had not released information about any arrests.
Des Moines: ‘Senseless and selfish act’ caused the loss of a child
“On behalf of the City, I want to extend our heartfelt condolences to the family over the loss of their child to this senseless and selfish act. We also offer Des Moines Police our full support” as they investigate the crash, Des Moines City Manager Scott Sanders said in a statement to the Des Moines Register.
If the incident turns out to be a fatal street-racing incident, it will not be the first time the city has experienced problems, including fatalities, with people speeding in competition on city streets in recent years.
This summer, police said two drivers who were street racing lost control of their vehicles and crashed into at least four homes on East 14th Street in Des Moines. A silver 2018 Chrysler 300 and a black 2020 Dodge Charger were abandoned at the scene, police said.
In June of this year, two Des Moines men were sentenced on vehicular homicide charges after a third man died during an 2021 street race.
Sanders said the city is in the process of formulating Vision Zero, a traffic plan to curb traffic deaths and enhance safety on Des Moines roads.
But “such efforts will always be undermined when some motorists recklessly disregard traffic laws and engage in dangerous, destructive actions that take the lives of innocent victims,” he said.
Des Moines City Council member Josh Mandelbaum, who represents the area where the crash occurred, said the death was an example of what can happen when people drive at unsafe speeds.
This is the 20th traffic fatality in Des Moines in 2022, he said, meaning the city has had more traffic fatalities this year than homicides. Monday evening, police said they were investigating the city’s 18th homicide of 2022.
The city has implemented measures to enforce speed limits, Mandelbaum said, including adding a traffic camera on Grand Avenue. But, beyond enforcement, the city should continue working toward street design improvements, he said.
“We can enforce, but we need those design and big-picture tools that apply everywhere or discourage the behavior altogether that are ultimately going to be most affected in curbing this behavior,” he said.
Mandelbaum said the Tuesday night crash was unusual because it took place on the main thoroughfare between two drivers. Street racing usually takes place on an “off-the-beaten-path” road, often with a congregation of people, he said.
Regardless, “street racing is a problem and the fact that folks are engaging in street racing is a challenge,” he said. “We should be doing everything that we can to change our roads to make them safer for everybody who uses them.”
‘How are you going to handle a mob of 200 cars?’
Des Moines council member Linda Westergaard said the deadly crash on the busy street was “sickening.”
“I just think of my kids. That could’ve been my daughter so easily,” she told the Register. “That could be my grandchild.”
Westergaard, who represents the northeast part of the city, said residents often call her about street racing in the neighborhoods. She said she’s been working on the problem for two years in her ward.
After the August racing collision, when racers crashed into homes on East 14th Street, Westergaard said she met with several business owners in the area who jointly put no trespassing signs on their storefronts, allowing police to arrest street racers using any of the businesses’ parking lots, if called.
Other business owners have hired private security to patrol the area. But Westergaard says those efforts go only so far. It’s expensive, and street racers tend to change locations, she said. And, while the police have been responsive, Westergaard says racers are “out of control.”
“They’re out on the south side, they’re on Dixon, and now they’re out on Washington. I mean, they move around and there will be 200 cars. How are you going to handle a mob of 200 cars?” she said.
Noelle Alviz-Gransee is a general assignment reporter at the Des Moines Register. Follow her on Twitter at @NoelleHannika or email her at [email protected].