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Columns : Editorial

Death Race

The highways are getting redder as a popular new form of street racing takes a toll.

November 01, 2007  |  by - Also by this author

There's probably no more frightening sound in the world than the voice of someone who is truly broken. They speak in halting patterns. Every word that they utter comes from a deep well of sorrow. And the listener knows that every second on this earth is another eternity of agony for the speaker.

As cops, you spend a lot of time with broken people: With parents whose children have been murdered, with wives and husbands whose soul mates have died in tragic accidents. You know the sound of the broken better than anyone.

But the rest of us-the vast number of Americans who think that having our luggage arrive late for a business trip or having a computer crash is a tragedy-have very little experience with the broken. So when we encounter these people, the experience can be haunting.

Last month, I heard the voice of a broken man on a Los Angeles-area radio talk show. The man's name is Stephen Groce. This is his story.

At 44, Stephen Groce was enjoying life as a family man. Then last month he experienced an unspeakable tragedy.

Turning into the mobile home park in the east Los Angeles County suburb of El Monte where he lived with his wife Dora and two small children, Groce saw a terrible accident. The car was burned beyond recognition. Like most motorists, he probably thought, "I'm glad that wasn't me," and pulled into his complex, secure in the belief that his family was safe. His wife had taken the kids to the doctor.

Groce soon discovered that his family never made it to the doctor's office. They all died in the burning car that Groce passed on his way back to his home.

El Monte police say that this horrific tragedy was the result of a street race. They say that in afternoon rush hour traffic Robert Canizalez, 19, and Martin Morones, 21, let their testicles overrule their brains.

The two cars driven by Canizalez and Morones reportedly sped through an intersection at the same time that the Groces' family car was pulling out. A Mustang, allegedly driven by Canizalez, center punched the Groces' car, pushing it 50 feet into a pickup truck where it burst into flame.

"It was a fierce crash," Det. Ralph Batres of the El Monte Police Department told the Associated Press. "The explosion that resulted was immense."

Morones and Canizalez were each charged with three counts of murder. Canizalez was apprehended at the scene. Morones reportedly fled on foot. At presstime, he was still at large.

California authorities say the tragic murder of the Groce family-you can't call this crap an accident-was the result of a popular new form of street racing called "cutting the gap."

This is not "American Graffiti" or even "Fast and Furious" style street racing. Races aren't arranged on deserted roads or even late at night on city streets. They are impromptu affairs in heavy traffic, and the idea is to drive like mad, weaving in and out of the lanes.

Yeah, it's just like a video game, except with one major difference.

As Stephen Groce told the hosts of the John and Ken talk show on Los Angeles radio station KFI: "When you crash in a video game, you just push restart when you crash and kill people. In real life there is no restart."

Sometimes broken people can accomplish great things in their grief. Witness the work of John Walsh in creating "America's Most Wanted" in the wake of the brutal murder of his little boy. Maybe Stephen Groce will spend the rest of his life crusading against street racing. He's off to a good start.

And so is the county DA who is prosecuting Canizalez and Morones. If these two young men are convicted, they need to be thrown in prison for a very long time, and no plea bargain should be accepted. Then their story needs to be incorporated into all driver training programs in high schools nationwide. Cutting the gap is nothing short of attempted murder. It should be treated that way.

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