"Illegal" Street Racing Show Shuts Down Highway With Police Help

Wednesday, July 2nd 2014, 6:35 pm

A show about illegal street racing in Oklahoma is raising some serious red flags, this after the show's producers close a major US Highway. And News 9 has learned a local police department was helping them.

State Highway 81 in Union City was shut down for about 10 hours Saturday night while the crew taped the show. Burn out marks and a black oily substance still remained on the highway Wednesday.

The Discovery Channel show Street Outlaws is said to be about illegal racing on the streets of Oklahoma City, but in reality they were shooting about 20 miles outside OKC in Union City.

When News 9 photojournalist Cody McDonell showed up with a camera Saturday night he was told he had to leave. A guy wearing a T-shirt flashed a badge and identified himself as a "police officer in Oklahoma".

"It is a permitted area. It is closed," he said. 

And even though News 9 was on a public street, a Union City police officer stepped in and threatened to throw our photojournalist in jail.

"If you don't want to leave I will put you under arrest," he said. 

Officers on the scene said since this was permitted area we were not allowed to be there. On Wednesday Union City Police Chief Robert Ague said we were creating a hazard.

"Creates a hazard for the motoring public and whenever you have vehicles sitting off on the side of the road it creates a traffic hazard," he said.  

OSU Associate Professor and First Amendment expert Dr. Joey Senat says, in either case, we were well within our rights as a news organization to be there.

Those who live in the area say the racing on the highway has become a common occurrence.

"There for a while it was every week for a couple weeks," said Jenny Shieber.   

Shieber says she has no serious issues with the closing of the highway. But the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) says they received complaints from drivers on Saturday night.

A permit says the show's producers paid $25 to block off the highway beginning at 6 p.m. Ague says they did not notify the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) or OHP.

"Anytime you would shut down a US Highway that was designated a commercial motor vehicle oversized road route without prior approval, we really frown on that," said Lt. Betsy Randolph with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Randolph says this case brings up a host of concerns.

"If the roadway is going to be shut down we really would rather it not be for illegal purposes as in illegal street racing," said Randolph.

In addition, Randolph says they don't believe there was the proper traffic notices or alternative routes set up. And there's also the issue of the mess left behind.

"The burden on cleaning up the highway on this sort of event goes back to the taxpayers," said Randolph.