Can reckless speeders be stopped?

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

No matter what efforts law enforcement might take to curb aggressive or dangerous driving, Sgt. Andy Bell of the Missouri State Highway Patrol says, driving is a privilege, not a right, and drivers “must take responsibility for their actions.” 

Unfortunately, lack of responsibility can cause tragic crashes such as the one last week in Independence that killed 41-year-old Christina Pappas and seriously injured her 19-year-old daughter.  

They were westbound on U.S. 40, blocks west of Blue Ridge Boulevard when, according to Independence Police, an eastbound Porsche driven by Martin Withers of Kansas City veered into the westbound lanes at high speed to try to pass traffic. Withers, 32, also died in the ensuing collision.  

According to the account started by Pappas’ friends, her 15-year-old son received the call about his mother’s death on his birthday. Court records show Withers had a warrant for failure to appear in court for charges of driving with a suspended license and resisting arrest. 

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While Eastern Jackson County might not have the obvious instances of crowds randomly – and illegally – blocking off street blocks for racing or “doughnuts,” such as Kansas City has witnessed at times over the past year, officers know or can learn of streets and areas where cars tend to speed, sometimes even in an organized racing manner. 

Lt. Joe Fanara of the Blue Springs Police Department explained how the department’s three radar trailers can be placed around the city to glean information to aid patrol efforts. Police can learn speeds, averages and heavier time frames of those speeds. 

“It gives us a lot of information so we can deploy officers better,” he said. 

Fanara said his department also invites citizens to call police and alert them of severe speeding or dangerous driving in a neighborhood or on a certain street. 

Besides the usual radar gun set-ups, police also might do some saturation patrols or set up a DUI checkpoint during times of higher traffic and travel, such as the imminent Memorial Day weekend. Many times, those local efforts are covered by state or federal government grants or reimbursement. 

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Bell, who’s with Highway Patrol Troop A in Lee’s Summit, said the Patrol first commits to public education – using social media and visiting places to emphasize traffic safety and share information. Patrol efforts include routine patrols in densely traveled areas, speed saturations, motorcycles and increased patrol during peak travel times to greater visibility – and ideally deterrence. 

Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said she knows there are certain multilane boulevards and thoroughfares in the city where speeding can be common, and even at times Blue Ridge Boulevard in front of her home. She has long bemoaned one of the effects of Missouri Senate Bill 5, passed after traffic enforcement inequities brought to light by the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo. – people with municipal court tickets don’t show up to court and police have no immediate recourse.  

Not only can it harm a city budget, but it also can embolden traffic offenders.  

“I know from our prosecutor, from our cops, from the judge,” she said, “word gets out, and (offenders) know through the grapevine if they get a ticket they don’t have to come to court.” 

“Repeat offenders, the cops know who they are, and they’re able to bring charges against people and they don’t receive any penalty. Maybe they catch them later on something else.” 

Still, Weir says she has a difficult time making a direct correlation between that ongoing battle between municipalities and the state and the circumstances of many serious crashes. 

“Ultimately,” she said, “people who behave recklessly don’t care about the consequences, no matter what.”