Friends and family described Roger L. Tetu as an iconic patriarch who spent his days "tinkering" around the yard, shoveling snow, planting flowers, cutting grass and feeding the squirrels.

He was crossing the busy intersection in front of his home to pick up some litter on Tuesday afternoon when a car slammed into him and sped away.

Police said the 78-year-old died in front of the home where he had lived for 56 years.

Tetu was walking west on Margaret Street and crossing Earl Street at about 4:30 p.m. when the car driving northbound on Earl hit him.

"The car was located last night nearby," police spokesman John Keating said on Wednesday, but there was no one in the Dodge Neon.

"We are looking for a specific person we believe may have been driving," Keating added. 

By Wednesday afternoon, a memorial of teddy bears, streamers and balloons had been set up on the corner. Family members and friends brought gifts to the home throughout the afternoon and several passersby honked their horns and called out "God bless."

Tetu raised all 10 of his children at the home -- including Monica, who was 8 years old when she was killed in the neighborhood by a hit-and-run driver on July 20, 1970.

His 18 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren visited weekly.

In recent years, he had become more spiritual, spending more quiet time in his basement and building a butterfly garden. "He was always looking to become a better person," Nicole Tetu, a granddaughter, said. "He had a fulfilling life."

Tetu's East Side neighborhood overlooks downtown St. Paul, and neighbors said cars regularly speed through the rolling streets.

"Being outside in the front yard sort of became taboo," said Nicole Tetu. "We became a back-yard family because of how dangerous this corner was."

There are few stop signs and the few painted lanes and crosswalks have long since faded. "There are always accidents at that corner," said Mike Germain, who lives a few houses down from Tetu. "I don't know what it is. Maybe it's just bad luck. It's pretty shocking to hear that this happened to such a nice guy."

Bao Navue said Tetu had been a familiar figure in her childhood years as she often saw him on her walk home from school. "It's kind of sad knowing that we won't see him there anymore," she said. • 612-673-4482 • 651-735-6195