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After 51-year-old killed by truck on Kansas Expressway, Springfield police say they'll step up pedestrian ordinance enforcement

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams talks to reporters about plans to step up enforcement of Springfield's 2018 pedestrian safety ordinance on Oct. 5, 2023.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams talks to reporters about plans to step up enforcement of Springfield's 2018 pedestrian safety ordinance on Oct. 5, 2023.

A new pedestrian safety effort by Springfield Police Department is expected to start next week with a handful of officers working voluntary overtime shifts.

Our story begins a week ago, with the death of 51-year-old Todd Tennison.

On Sept. 29, Tennison was sitting near the roadway by the Walmart on North Kansas Expressway. A semi-truck hit and killed him as the driver turned southbound onto Kansas Expressway. That driver then drove away from the scene, police say.

In a Thursday midday meeting with news reporters at police headquarters, Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said the department has uncovered some leads in the ongoing investigation.

“I don’t think we need help identifying the truck anymore," he told reporters.

KOLR reporter Carissa Codel asked Williams, “Have you identified the driver?”

Williams, who had been in meetings Thursday morning, said at that hour he did not know. "And if I did, I wouldn't tell you right now," he added. "It's part of the investigation."

It's typical for law enforcement to refrain from commenting on investigations in progress.

Meanwhile, Chief Williams told reporters that “directed patrol” enforcement of a 2018 Springfield pedestrian safety ordinancehas been on his mind for a couple of months, but the roadside killing of Tennison made matters more urgent.

So sometime next week, Springfield police will step up enforcement of that six-year-old ordinance. It imposes a minimum $100 fine for breaking pedestrian safety rules that — in part — are meant to keep people from jaywalking after sundown, or hanging out on medians at big arterial roadways anytime. It’s not legal for a driver to give money to someone soliciting donations in the middle of a big Springfield road, for example. Nor is it legal for a pedestrian to approach a car on a big roadway unless it’s parked legally.

Williams addressed the possible perception that so-called proactive enforcement would target homeless individuals. He says it doesn’t, and the same rules apply to people carrying advertising signs or engaged in political protest.

Williams said, “Being homeless is not a crime. It’s not illegal. We have a lot of outreach efforts to help folks that are in that situation. Panhandling is not illegal. It’s not a crime. We don’t target panhandlers. We don’t arrest anybody for that. People that may engage in those two activities who may be doing something illegal, absolutely might fall into the, into the enforcement side of this going forward.”

Williams said Springfield’s police department currently has a high level of vacancies — 61 jobs open — so the volunteer overtime shifts of increased pedestrian enforcement will be funded from money the department already has.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.