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Concerns over street racing grow in Portland after deadly weekend

After two bystanders died during street racing events over the weekend, concerns over the issue loom heading into Labor Day weekend.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Street racing is a growing public safety concern in Portland and beyond. 

This week, NBC News highlighted the problem and pointed out that the issue has been difficult to address in Portland for years, getting worse during the pandemic with empty streets.

Back in June, illegal street racers took over the Burnside Bridge and several other city streets. At that time, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell called the issue a big safety concern that required action.

“During these events, people are struck by vehicles, vehicles crash, pedestrians are injured, so we want to make sure we're doing everything we can from an enforcement standpoint to address it,” said Lovell. 

But enforcement is often tough because of the size of the crowds that gather.

Then this past weekend, there were two deadly incidents involving separate street racing events in the city of Portland.

Cameron Taylor, 20, was a spectator at a street takeover on the Marine Drive overpass of Interstate 5 when there was shots fired. Taylor and two other people were shot. Taylor died from his injuries.

RELATED: Multiple people shot near illegal street-racing takeovers in Portland

The same weekend, 26-year-old Ashlee McGill was sitting at a bus stop in the early morning, waiting for a bus on Southeast Stark Street. Police said she was hit by a car that was street racing.

KGW spoke to McGill's mother Misty Nichols before a vigil for her daughter Thursday night.

“It's not fair and it doesn't just hurt the person itself. It hurts the family. Some people aren't gonna get it until it happens to someone in their family. That's not right,” said Nichols.  

The Portland Police Bureau has often said blamed staffing issues for when answering questions about enforcement of street racing and other public safety concerns. 

This week, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said he's heard enough of that. 

"Let's stop talking about our inability to respond to crime in the community, let's stop advertising to criminals that they're going to get away with it," Wheeler said in an open meeting discussion on public safety.

RELATED: Woman waiting for bus in Southeast Portland hit, killed by street racers

But for street racing, the leader of Portland’s police union told NBC News that the penalties for the crime aren't strong enough.

“No, fines aren't enough. We need to work with federal partners to see if there are avenues, interstate commerce charges, things that will have a heavier impact,” said Sgt. Aaron Schmautz, president of the Portland Police Association.

Chief Lovell has talked about partnering with other agencies as well.

For the upcoming Labor Day weekend and beyond, Portland City Commissioner Mingus Mapps said these events need to stop. In a statement, he said, "I urge street racers to stop this activity immediately. Last weekend at least two people died during these illegal events. Portland needs a break from this reckless insanity. Law enforcement will be intervening as capacity allows."

In an email Friday, Portland police told KGW there will be extra patrols for Labor Day weekend, but there isn't a specific plan to address potential street racing. 

"Due to Labor Day DUII enforcement, there will be more officers out specifically looking for poor driving behavior. It is reasonable to assume that folks engaging in reckless driving behavior have a higher chance of being pulled over," the email said. 

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