A 25-year-old Kent man faces unprecedented charges on two counts of accomplice to vehicular homicide for his alleged role in promoting a street “drifting” or “swinging” event that resulted in the death last year of two young women in Auburn.
Probable cause documents were filed Tuesday, Oct. 5 against Jerick Judd in King County Superior Court for his reported role in the deaths of Makenna Heustis, 19, and Kelly Acosta, 23. Both women died in December following injuries after they were struck by a vehicle that went out of control while “swinging” in the 3700 block of I Street Northwest on Nov. 27.
Rondale Hendricks, 20, of Tacoma, was charged Dec. 14 with two counts of vehicular homicide for allegedly killing the two women who attended the “swinging” event and were watching the car spin. Hendricks’ trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 7 at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.
Judd remained in custody Tuesday at the county jail at the Regional Justice Center with bail set at $100,000. He is expected to be arraigned within a week or so when he will enter a plea to the charges.
“It’s quite clear that this phenomenon of street racing, drift racing, illegal racing would not have happened and (Heustis and Acosta) would not have died but for the actions of this promoter,” King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said at a Tuesday press conference outside of the Maleng Regional Justice Center. “This is the first time we have used the accomplice statute in this way, in a vehicular homicide. But it underscores the clear danger to public safety and to every spectator attracted to these events.”
Washington State Patrol Trooper Chase Van Cleave, who investigated the case as part of a new multiagency task force formed in March to curtail street racing and drifting activities, explained in probable cause documents about this activity that has popped up across the nation.
“Drifting,” also known as “swinging” is when the driver of a vehicle intentionally accelerates and oversteers in hard corners or in circles which causes the rear of the vehicle to lose traction and whip around. During these events, vehicles while spinning are typically surrounded by a large group of onlookers who will occasionally stand in the center of the swinging vehicles.
“This is a highly and inherently dangerous activity that has resulted in multiple injuries and deaths in our (King) county,” Van Cleave wrote. “There has also been other violence associated with the events including multiple assaults, shootings and a firearm-related homicide.”
The Kent and Auburn police departments are part of the regional task force.
“I commend our partners at the Washington State Patrol, Kent Police Department, Auburn Police Department, and the Regional Racing Task Force for their diligent investigation which led to today’s arrest and charges,” Satterberg said. “While sometimes glamorized, reckless racing and drifting outside appropriate venues is exceedingly dangerous, as the events of last November make clear. We want the public to know that we will hold people responsible for these dangerous events – including event organizers like Mr. Judd.”
According to court documents, Judd used an Instagram car club page to get people to attend the events and tell them the locations, including the gathering in November when Acosta and Heustis were hit as spectators. A third woman also was injured, but survived. Eventually, investigators tracked down Judd’s cellphone number and home address. They also found out he reportedly organized another street event in early December, after one of the two women had died.
One Instagram member messaged Judd prior to the December gathering.
“Someone just died at one of our meets and you said you were going to lie low for a bit.”
Judd allegedly replied.
“Yeah we are but we already had this planned so not gonan bail out last min! We are staying low like I’m not even going on my own car lol!”
Then Judd added, “We had this event planned way before that happened.”
Judd reportedly organized another event just last month, according to court documents.
“In recent years, illegal street racing has grown increasingly dangerous, sometimes resulting in the tragic and needless loss of life,” said Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla. “The successful investigation and prosecution of the offenders in this case should serve as a strong message to would-be illegal street racers and the race organizers that we take their dangerous and often violent actions seriously and we will work tirelessly to identify those involved and ensure they are held accountable for their crimes.”
Illegal street racing has gone on for decades in the industrial area of Kent. The “swinging” events began just in the last couple of years where groups of people and their vehicles take over intersections or even block sections of freeways.
“This is more than just Auburn; this is a regional issue and today this incident shows just how serious of an issue it is,” said Auburn Police Cmdr. Mike Hirman. “We appreciate and thank all our partners who have worked extremely hard to get this done and we also thank the King County prosecuting attorney for filing the charges against the organizer of the street racing event.”
Nearly 70 people have been arrested this year by the regional street racing task force, according to the State Patrol. Many have been charged with crimes or will face charges.
“We have found they go from events in Kent to Des Moines to Tacoma and back to Snohomish County,” said State Patrol Capt. Ron Mead. “We had to adapt our approach to deter this type of behavior and intervene and make arrests.”
Satterberg said his office is confident in the accomplice charges.
“It’s just as complicit as actually participating in the race if you promote,” he said. “This was nothing but a reckless driving festival.”
Mead emphasized near the end of the press conference to remember the families of the two victims.
“Behind these charges, while we are focusing on the individual that organized this event, there is the death of two young women,” he said. “There are families that are forever changed as the result of these tragedies. We should never lose sight on the victims of this. It’s very easy to get focused on the charge. …but we are trying to do this so families aren’t going into another holiday season with the loss of a loved one. That’s really what this is all about. It’s about saving lives.”