By Dave Rogers
---- — MERRIMAC — Three Lawrence residents face up to 21/2 years in jail after being charged by police with racing on Interstate 495 south in Merrimac early Tuesday morning, weaving in and out of lanes at speeds in excess of 90 mph.
Cauly A. Abreu, 21, 400 South Broadway; Jonathan Almonte, 21, 27 Bellvue St.; and Gabriely Quiles, 20, 123 Margin St., all of Lawrence, were issued summonses for racing along with speeding and marked lanes after a state trooper working a paid detail pulled them over in Haverhill.
According to state police, Abreu and Almonte, operating a Honda SUV and a Honda sedan respectively, and Quiles, behind the wheel of an Acura sedan, were spotted in the rear view mirror of Sgt. Frank Puopolo traveling at a high rate of speed and conducting aggressive lane changes around unsuspecting motorists.
Puopolo said upon noticing the three cars, he accelerated to 90 mph and determined they were still gaining on him. He then slowed down until the drivers passed him. Puopolo eventually caught up with all three, pulling them over along the Whittier Flats area of the highway in Haverhill. Puopolo said he first noticed the racers’ headlights north of Broad Street and followed them up a hill past the Merrimac rest area before pulling them over.
None of the suspects, Puopolo said, admitted to racing nor did passengers riding along in at least one of the cars.
“I was in the right spot at the right time,” Puopolo said.
The Merrimac section of Interstate 495 south near Broad Street is often heavily congested and the scene of many accidents, sometimes with fatal results. The speed limit is 65 mph, and the road is relatively straight. It is notoriously known to local emergency responders as the Merrimac Triangle, due to the number of accidents that occur there. It’s a reference of sorts to the Bermuda Triangle, a section of the Atlantic Ocean where a number of aircraft and ships have come to grief.
State police are still conducting an investigation into the incident but according to Puopolo, the actions of the three fall into what he called spontaneous racing, as opposed to coordinated races which involve spotters with cell phones, blockers, racers and passengers filming the races for social media sites.
As an example of spontaneous racing, Puopolo said motorists looking to race will pull up to another vehicle to see if the other driver is willing. If both parties agree, the two begin traveling down the highway at terrifying speeds, jerking around slower vehicles until the race is over.
Unsuspecting motorists are often caught fully unprepared for the sight of two cars barreling towards them, opening the door to a potentially deadly collision.
“As these cars move around you, you don’t know what to do,” Puopolo said.
The best advice for motorists caught in the middle of these races, according to Puopolo, is to drive normally. Call police but avoid the temptation to speed up in an attempt to track down their license plate or stop them.
“If you do something jerky (change lanes quickly) or aggressive, they’re not expecting that,” Puopolo said.
In an effort to combat both spontaneous and coordinated racing, state police are conducting coordinated initiatives to bust racing rings and taking steps to educate the public about the dangers and penalties associated with the actions. Puopolo said the cars of choice for coordinated racers are mechanically altered Honda sedans and other imports. But spontaneous racers can be driving just about anything, he added.