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Most Colorado street racers get breaks in court

A 9Wants to Know analysis of more than 3,000 street racing citations reveals a vast majority of cases end with plea deals or cases dismissed.

DENVER — Every day in Colorado, police issue at least one street racing citation that could suspend someone’s license, but most people busted for racing on public roads avoid the stiffest penalties allowed under the law.

9Wants to Know reviewed 3,026 street racing citations issued by police in Colorado since 2016 and found 84% either end with plea deals or dismissals. 

Jail is less common, with 11% of people convicted for street racing actually serving some time in lockup.

For families who have suffered the loss of loved ones and for law-enforcement officers who come face-to-face with fatal cases, the numbers revealed by 9Wants to Know are frustrating.

“People are dying. People are getting killed,” said Heather Williams, mother of Annika Williams, 21, who was killed by two men suspected of street racing in Westminster in November. “We have to put a stop to this. We have to do something. And if we can, by speaking out, we can keep another family from going through this.”

RELATED: Parents hope for change after daughter is killed in crash caused by suspected street racers

Credit: Heather Williams
Annika Williams, 21, was killed by two men suspected of street racing in Westminster in November, her mother Heather Williams said.

“It's kind of disappointing when we work hard to reduce the danger involved with this kind of behavior, to see it reduced in court to a very minimal charge,” said Capt. Paul Rogers, who oversees the patrol division for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO).

Hover over each county to see the percentage of street racing cases that were convicted of street racing or other crimes. Graphic by Zack Newman.

'I’ve got no brakes, bro!' (But he got a break in court.)

In one notorious street racing case known among local law enforcement, Shawn McGilvery, 45, was hit with five traffic citations, including speed contest, that could have resulted in a suspended license.

McGilvery’s street racing in June 2020 played out on a popular YouTube channel in which a videographer captured McGilvery driving a souped-up Audi at 145 mph on Interstate 25 in Douglas County. His vehicle erupted in flames.

McGilvery and his YouTuber passenger survived the dramatic incident. The video has, so far, garnered nearly 3 million views.

According to court documents, McGilvery told a responding Colorado State Patrol trooper “he was not street racing;" however, the YouTube clip showing the racing was posted two months after police and firefighters responded to the car fire.

Credit: Colorado State Patrol
According to court documents, Shawn McGilvery told a responding Colorado State Patrol trooper “he was not street racing."

Investigators saw the YouTube video titled “On Fire at 150 MPH with NO BRAKES!” and subsequently filed charges against McGilvrey one year later, in June 2021.

Despite the YouTube evidence, McGilvery avoided losing his license and pleaded guilty to one count of reckless driving. McGilvery's case is among the 82% of street racing cases in Colorado that end with plea deals.

9NEWS reached out to McGilvery over the phone, but he quickly hung up after claiming he couldn’t recall the incident.

“I have not and do not street race,” McGilvrey said over text message. “The video you referred to is made for entertainment purposes only, it’s TV.”

Through a records request of investigative documents, 9Wants to Know also learned the Colorado State Patrol suspected McGilvery of insurance fraud.

CSP documents reveal that an insurance fraud investigator learned McGilvrey told his insurance company he was not street racing but was “out on a cruise” when his vehicle caught fire.

CSP records indicate his insurance company paid out $53,541 to the lienholder on his Audi and another $2,754.25 to McGilvery.

Credit: 9Wants to Know

A spokesperson for the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office said the insurance fraud aspect of the case was still pending but couldn’t explain why charges weren’t filed last year.

About two weeks after 9Wants to Know inquired about the insurance fraud, prosecutors filed three felony charges against McGilvrey, including insurance fraud, in late April of this year.

Because of the new pending case, prosecutors said they could not comment.

The prosecutor’s perspective

The 9Wants to Know analysis of street racing cases reveals that street racing charges stick about 10% of the time in Adams County.

On the original charges, Douglas County has a street racing conviction rate of 39%, and Denver is at 21%.

Credit: Anna Hewson, 9Wants to Know

Prosecutors responsible for getting convictions on street racing cases defended the numbers yet admitted that more could be done to hold street racers accountable with more focused enforcement.

“We have to be mindful of creating a bottleneck in the clerk court system, when we have 20,000 cases that are being filed a year,” said Adams County Deputy District Attorney Kenneth Boyd.

“We'd like to take a lot of these cases to trial, but that's not the reality of how the system is set up,” Boyd said when asked why his office can’t go for convictions on every case.

Most of the time, those accused of street racing are sentenced for another charge. 9Wants to Know found 82% of street racing cases reached some type of sentence. The street racing charges may not have stuck, but others did in those cases.

This data documents what cases are sentenced for if they are not sentenced for a street racing charge. Each sentence may have multiple components. Graphic by Zack Newman.

“We're trying to either plead them to a street racing type of charge, like speed contest or speed exhibition, or we're trying to find something, again, that enhances the consequences or satisfies us that this particular defendant is going to suffer consequences for this behavior,” Boyd said.

Boyd said the other consequences they are looking for include community service, a suspended license or a strike against their license.

“I would tell the community that we're working with all the tools we have in the system to try to address this problem as best we can,” Boyd said.

From 2016 to 2021, there were 503 street racing charges filed in Adams County. Of those cases, 78% ended with some sort of sentence.

Boyd said he wants judges to take these cases more seriously and to issue harsher penalties. 

A statewide street racing task force was created in 2021. Tips to law enforcement can be reported on their website.

9Wants to Know spent months analyzing court data for this story. See the data and the process behind the analysis here: https://github.com/ZackNewsMan/street_racing_9WTK

If you have any information about this story or have another news tip, you can contact jeremy@9news.com

Reach investigative reporter Zack Newman through his phone at 303-548-9044. You can also call or text securely on Signal through that same number. Email: zack.newman@9news.com.

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