‘Street Racers’ on Parking Lot Injure Sweeper Operator

On Friday, August 25, 2023, the two-person team operating a parking lot sweeper owned by Oregon-based WSA member, Cantel Sweeping, encountered much more than an overly dirty lot. When they entered the area on that Friday night for a twice-monthly sweep, the lot was packed with perhaps as many as 200 ‘street racers.’

Seeing the sweeper, several individuals immediately confronted the two Cantel employees in the vehicle quite aggressively. Following is the 2:21 news coverage provided by Portland’s KPTV Fox12:

PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) — Street sweepers contracted to clean a loading dock of a north Portland warehouse Friday night found their job impossible to do.

While working the job on North Bybee Lake Court, they tried to clear the area only to be met by street racers who reportedly hit the driver and shattered a window on his vehicle.

The sweeping company, Cantel Sweeping, said one employee was injured with cuts from broken glass to his eyes, arms, nose and throat. The owner of the company has since said the employee is recovering and going to be ok.

Portland police said they responded and saw about 100 cars at the lot.

Leif Gregory, who lives nearby, said he isn’t surprised.

“I live by Lombard (Street) and every once in a while you hear a car zip by,” Gregory said. “It’s something you don’t want to happen but I think it’s going to keep happening.”

Police said they responded to an assault call. A sweeper told them he was hit once, and the back window of the sweeper was broken.

Gregory said he never wants to see anyone get hurt or property get damaged.

“There’s no reason to screw around with the businesses,” he said. “Especially if you’re damaging their property that’s just something someone else has to take care of.”

Gregory said unfortunately, on this side of town, he doesn’t see it stopping anytime soon.

“I don’t think there’s going to be much to stop it,” he said. “As long as it’s happening at times where it’s not going to keep people awake.”

Cantel Sweeping said it’s working with the property owner on solutions to keep street racers out of here. It said for the immediate future, it will change the days of the week they work at the property.

As part of our coverage by WSA, we conducted an audio interview with Michael Wagoner, owner of Cantel Sweeping, to further discuss what occurred as well as to brainstorm about actions that could and/or should be taken if sweepers operators are confronted by a similar situation.

You may listen to the conversation at this link. However, below is a transcription of the major aspects covered:

Michael Wagoner: The incident was basically at a somewhat isolated industrial park that we clean at least twice a month. Normally, we only have one operator in a truck, but this operator was training a new driver so this is one of his first experiences while on the job.

The employees came around into the front of the parking lot and didn’t really notice anything. Then when they drove into the back of the parking lot, by the time they got there it was too late to avoid at least being close to the street racers. Apparently, according to their description, there were approximately 200 people there and a large number of vehicles. So of course they came to a stop. And they were immediately confronted by some of the street racers that in their words, said ‘we own this place.’

If our driver could have just left it wouldn’t have been a problem, I don’t think, but the driver felt like he was trapped. And the passenger probably didn’t use the best tact. He should have just basically said, ‘Hey, we’re just trying to do a job’ and just try to leave. But I think it was a couple of guys that quickly accelerated to ‘This is my turf, and I’m going to do something about it.’

I would say the mob mentality was the biggest issue. I suspect most of the street racers are just there trying to have a good time. But when you get into a mob situation, people that normally wouldn’t do something can do things that they wouldn’t have otherwise, because I don’t think they feel a sense of accountability. Our driver and one of the racers got into a verbal discussion. And then our longer-term employee, who actually was the passenger at that time, had the window down and he started getting punched by not only a guy but by a woman. That was probably the craziest part about it is this woman was the instigator.

Before they could get out of there, somebody had grabbed what I think was a baseball bat and came up to the truck and smashed out the passenger window and also destroyed the windshield. The injury to our operators was primarily from the glass of the windshield because layers of glass were kind of flying around in the cab. That got into one of the guy’s eyes and although one of the guys did get punched, he said it wasn’t that it wasn’t that much of an injury. That sums up our experience.

The biggest change we’re going to make is we’re not going to schedule this property for a Friday night. That was our big mistake. If we had showed up on a Wednesday night I don’t think there would have been anything going on.

WSA: In terms of de-escalation what’s your training going to be on that? Do you say ‘we’re just trying to do our job; we’ll come back another night’ and just back on out?

Michael Wagoner: That’s been our training all along. It kind of starts with what I tell these guys in particular [about self reliance and decision-making]. When we approach winter we have situations that arise due to weather. We don’t have a lot of snow out here, but we do get some ice and it used to bug the heck out of me that these guys would call me at two in the morning, say, ‘What should I do? It’s starting to snow here.’

When that happens I’m lying in bed and have no idea what’s going on out there. I tell them ‘You need to make that choice.’ I have consistently told our guys ‘You are in charge of this decision, I will back you whatever it is. But don’t come asking me what to do. Because I don’t know what the conditions are, you’re in charge.’

That’s true in this case, too, because I didn’t know what the situation was out there. My advice is they need to just leave whenever they can in any dangerous situation. Don’t ever take a stupid risk that might get somebody hurt. In this case, looking back, I think we got lucky. If one of the operators had gotten out of the truck and gotten into an interaction with the mob, it could have been really bad.

WSA: So, how do you feel about telling them to pull out their camera and turn on the video and say, ‘I just want you to know, we’re videoing everything.’ And, maybe even taking that further to say that it’s going online. For example, if one is doing a Facebook live then no matter what happens, like if they take the phone or whatever, it’s going to be on the internet.

Michael Wagoner: I don’t know about doing that. The trucks do have cameras in them and they can push the button and that would take some pictures. I don’t think our driver thought about pushing that button at the time, though. However, the new guy did think about taking out his phone. And he did take a video of the other operator getting punched. His video is what was seen on the news clip.

WSA: If there are any cameras inside the vehicle that can be pointed toward the aggressors, that would seem like a good idea because they’re not going to be able to destroy that camera and the video in most instances is going to be archived already. I’m not so sure it would have done anything in this case, because the machoism had gotten in the way and who knows if telling them that cameras are going will change what they’re gonna do. What it does, though, is if you can identify the people then charges can be brought.

That would be entirely possible, I would think, because they can match those faces today, with the advent of AI and with so many people, especially ones that are in are more likely to do something like that, may well have a mugshot on file already anyway.

Michael Wagoner: I wouldn’t be surprised that if we could have gotten a clearer picture that the police would know whose the car was. But, ultimately, the best advice is for operators to just avoid that situation if at all possible. It’s essentially one of those trap situations where you come into the mouth of it and then suddenly you’re surrounded and there’s no getting out.

WSA: Certainly you don’t want to be macho and this is one of those where ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’ should be the watch words: get meek and get out seems to me like the best thing. Is there anything else? I mean, something else that strikes me is that on a cell phone, you can call 911. And they’ll key into the GPS of where you are and at least the aggressors know the police are on their way. In a situation like that it’s not going to take them very long to get there.

Michael Wagoner: I don’t think our driver thought of calling 911. He did call the police after he got out of the situation. But I like the idea of calling 911. I will mention that at our next all-hands meeting and say that if you get into a situation one thing you could do is just dial 911 on your phone. Even if you can’t really do anything other than just set the phone on the seat, at least there’s going to be some evidence going on.

WSA: Well, that’s right. And if you are saying that you’re under attack, it’s going to be out there on a recording because the call is being recorded by the 911 system. And if you say you’re under attack, you don’t know your address, and to please get the GPS coordinates and get here, they’re going to be able to do that.

Anything else we might want to add?

Michael Wagoner: If you have a potential for a situation like this on a particular property, you need to figure out when you can sweep it when no kind of issues like this will be happening. Another thing I learned from this came when we talked to the property manager the next day. The property manager was well aware that there was street racing on that property. So, I think we’re going to try and do a little better communication with our property managers, because if we had known that in advance we would never have scheduled sweeping for a weekend night just to avoid any chance of conflict.

Note to readers: If you have ideas and/or comments to add to this narrative please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, this is the type of information that is provided on an exclusive basis to the members of the World Sweeping Association on the 1st and 15th of each month via our WSA Member Update. To see the many benefits of WSA Membership, click on the Membership Benefits link shown above.

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