New device meant to deter illegal sideshows in downtown KC

A new public safety feature in downtown Kansas City is meant to deter anyone who plans to perform donuts in illegal sideshows, police said.

In recent months Kansas City has seen an increase in illegal street racing activities, with numerous complaints directed at sideshows downtown in particular.

On Monday the city’s public works department installed a number of small disks into the roadway along Grand Boulevard downtown, Maj. Dave Jackson, with the Kansas City Police Department, told The Star. By Tuesday afternoon, about 50 of them were installed throughout the intersection at 13th Street and Grand.

The city hopes to install more of these “pucks” in other areas known for illegal sideshows in the near future.

The small, elevated installations adhere to the concrete and do not interfere with normal driving, Jackson said. But they will get in the way of lateral movement.

If a person decides to do a donut, for example, the “puck” would “make it more difficult for the tire to maintain its direction,” Jackson said.

The city and police department hope the new installations help curb sideshow gatherings.

Since June 2020, KCPD has issued almost 70 citations for sideshows and more than 120 to spectators. In one weekend in early November, they issued another 31 to participants and two to spectators after an estimated 90 vehicles gathered near downtown.

A new public safety feature called “pucks” are installed in downtown Kansas City to deter anyone who plans to perform donuts in illegal sideshows. Bill Lukitsch – The Kansas City Star

‘More aggressive de-escalation’

Last week KCPD released a video highlighting the risks of sideshows, including fines and, in the most extreme cases, jail time. In the video, they announced they were “actively enforcing the law” against sideshows.

Now that the message is out, Jackson said, the department is focusing on strategic enforcement.

“We’ve directed officers that, when safe and appropriate, we will deploy more aggressive de-escalation devices called stop sticks,” he said.

Police officials have said in recent years that their ability to stop sideshows is limited by local ordinance, and that they will not chase vehicles just on traffic offenses because of the greater risks of police chases. This means they have to find other means to dissuade racers from taking to the streets.

DSC_0172 edited.jpg
Roughly 50 or so disc-shaped devices were installed throughout the intersection at 13th Street and Grand Avenue. The devices were installed by the city’s public works department to reduce car stunt activities in the area. Bill Lukitsch – The Kansas City Star

Jackson said there’s been no increase in the resources or the number of officers assigned to address sideshows.

“We’re just giving the officers already there clear direction on what we want done,” he said. “We’ve also instructed our dispatchers and officers to respond to these in as timely a manner as possible.”

The department will also check officers’ car cameras and watch social media to identify and follow up on any license plates seen on vehicles involved in sideshows, even once the event is over, he said.

3 deaths in 2 months

The area of ​​Grand Boulevard in downtown KC was chosen as the first location for the “pucks” in part because of how many sideshows the area sees, Jackson said.

The city and police have received numerous complaints from the business community and from tenants who live in the area. The illegal meet-ups often block other car traffic, as well as bicycle traffic, making the city bike lanes impassable.

But more than anything, they’re dangerous.

In September and October alone, three people in Kansas City were killed as a direct result of illegal sideshows. Two of the deaths happened downtown.

At around midnight on Sept. 6, as a sideshow unfolded in the 3600 block of East Front Street, a spectator was struck by an orange Dodge Charger.

When the police arrived, the drivers, who had been doing donuts in a parking lot, fled the scene. The spectator was taken to the hospital where he died.

On Oct. 2, a Kansas City police officer tried to stop Jose Angel Vega, a driver doing donuts in downtown Kansas City in a 2004 Cadillac CTS. Vega partially stopped at Truman Road and Grand Boulevard, then sped away on Grand, police said.

When Vega ran a red light at 13th Street and Grand, the officer chasing him turned off their siren and lights and stopped the pursuit, according to court records.

Vega continued, reaching speeds of 103 miles per hour, then struck a Chevrolet Silverado stopped at a red light at 11th Street and Grand, police said.

The Chevrolet struck a light pole and Vega, who had a passenger in his car, slammed into a light pole. His Cadillac caught fire.

Both the passenger in the Cadillac and the driver of the Chevrolet were taken to the hospital where they later died.

Vega, 28, was later charged with two counts of second-degree murder and armed criminal action and one count each of resisting a lawful stop, DWI resulting in death and driving with a revoked license for allegedly fleeing police, crashing his car and causing the deaths of two people.

In June, two men allegedly chased down and shot at a car carrying two small children — one of whom was reportedly experiencing a medical emergency — after being involved in a crash while they were performing street stunts on Interstate 70.

An 18-year-old recently pleaded guilty to assaulting an officer who was trying to break up a sideshow of about 50 vehicles and 100 spectators after street racers blocked the intersection at Truman Road and Grand Boulevard a few Sundays ago. In December 2020, drivers blocked traffic in front of the T-Mobile Center for a sideshow.

“A lot of times it seems as though the criminal justice system is directed at people with less resources,” Jackson said. “In this case, these people have high, high levels of disposable income. They’re very well to-do, they have expensive cars that they soup up with expensive features to make them even more dangerous.”

The people that are doing this are very affluent and they come down to people’s neighborhoods where people live and make the streets inaccessible … it’s selfish.”

The Star’s Bill Lukitsch contributed to this report.

Related stories from the Kansas City Star

Profile Image of Anna Spoerre

Anna Spoerre covers breaking news for the Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, she covered crime and courts for the Des Moines Register. Spoerre is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she studied journalism.