OAKLAND -- A flurry of sideshow activity Saturday, including one sideshow that stopped traffic on a major freeway, have stoked fears that the illegal car stunt events which plagued Oakland for years are mounting a comeback.

The first sideshow, which occurred in daylight, was particularly brazen. A group of motorists brought traffic to a halt on the northbound lanes of Interstate 880 near the Oakland Coliseum complex and began spinning their cars in circles -- a stunt known as doing doughnuts.

At about 6:30 p.m., several cars did doughnuts for supportive onlookers videotaping the action at MacArthur Boulevard and Seminary Avenue, nearby resident Sherry Meek said.

"You can watch the value of your house plummet while it's happening," she said.

Overall, Oakland police recorded 18 calls and incidents related to sideshow activity Saturday separate from the I-880 incident, Sgt. Chris Bolton wrote in an email. The calls came from both West and East Oakland and included one report of 50 to 60 cars parading down city streets.

"We simply lacked the staff to effectively deal with the activity," Bolton wrote.

In one incident, police witnessed a sideshow participant crash his car and flee the scene of the accident, wrote Bolton, who did not say where the crash occurred. The driver has been identified, and police will seek a warrant for his arrest.


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No one was injured and no arrests were made in connection with the I-880 sideshow, which began at 4 p.m. and ended minutes later, before highway patrol officers could arrive at the scene, CHP spokeswoman Diana McDermott said during a Monday news briefing.

One video on YouTube shows several cars spinning in circles in the middle of the smoky freeway, while spectators sat on top of their cars recording the action.

"It was like something out of a video game," McDermott said.

The last reported case of sideshow activity on a freeway occurred in 2002 inside the Caldecott Tunnel.

Saturday capped a particularly busy month for sideshows in Oakland. Police so far have logged 60 sideshow-related calls and incidents this year, Bolton wrote. The total for all of last year was 170. Sideshow activity usually peaks in the summer.

While sideshows are back on the rise, they are still not nearly as prevalent as they were at their peak in 2005, when police received over 700 sideshow-related complaints.

Those sideshows often were marked by hundreds of cars speeding down city streets and were increasingly magnets for gangsters and violence.

The combination of tough anti-sideshow laws and a movement among muscle car enthusiasts to police themselves contributed to a sharp decline in sideshows over several years, until they started increasing again in 2012.

Councilmember Larry Reid, who represents a stretch of East Oakland where the sideshows were most frequent, said his office has not been getting calls about disruptive sideshows. Still, the I-880 sideshow was especially troubling, he said.

"That's crazy in broad daylight to tie up the 880 freeway," he said. "That's just as brazen as the shootings in broad daylight."

Tony Bush Jr., an Oakland muscle car enthusiast, who organizes sideshows where most of the activity is away from public view, denounced the I-880 sideshow.

"It gives everybody a bad reputation," he said. "When things like this happen, the good rapport we developed can get tarnished fast."

Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this story. Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.