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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sheriff: Deputy was ambushed

BY STAN FINGER
The Wichita Eagle

WICHITA - Richard Lyons set the trap shortly before noon on Monday by calling 911 to report a theft at his house.

He then hid in the shadows of a tree and brush in the backyard of a house in the 3600 block of South Rock Road with a high-powered rifle, authorities said Tuesday. He waited for a law enforcement officer to show up.

That happened to be Sedgwick County sheriff's Deputy Brian Etheridge.

"It does appear to have been an ambush situation," Sheriff Bob Hinshaw said Tuesday of the shooting death of Etheridge, 26, the first Sedgwick County deputy to die in the line of duty in 12 years.

Lyons, 27, was shot to death a few hours later in a field not far from the house in an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers.

"It's scary," Hinshaw said. "It could have been any law enforcement officer... this was just a call to 911 to get any officer to respond."

Investigators spent Monday night and Tuesday collecting shell casings and other evidence, Hinshaw said, piecing together a chain of events from what was left behind.

Based on that evidence, Hinshaw offered this account:

Lyons called 911 at 11:42 a.m. Etheridge was dispatched to the address just east of McConnell Air Force Base and radioed his arrival at 11:51 a.m.

When no one answered his knock on the front door, he asked dispatchers for contact information for the caller. He then walked around to the backyard of the house and saw no one.

Lyons was hiding in the shadows on the bright, sunny day, and opened fire with a .30-30 rifle — a weapon commonly used by deer hunters — when Etheridge turned his back as he was either approaching the back door or returning to the front of the house, Hinshaw said.

The bullet hit Etheridge in the back, penetrating his body armor and knocking him down. Lyons approached the fallen deputy and tried to fire his rifle again, but it malfunctioned.

He took Etheridge's gun and shot him in the leg before disappearing.

Etheridge radioed for help, and scores of law enforcement officers from throughout the metropolitan area converged on the scene.

The wounded deputy was alert and communicating with the first officers on the scene, Hinshaw said, but their priority at that time was his medical care — not gathering information about the suspect.

Escorted by patrol cars, an ambulance raced Etheridge to Wesley Medical Center, where he underwent surgery.

Authorities established a one-mile perimeter around the house and urged residents inside that area to leave if possible.

Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams said authorities had information indicating Lyons was likely inside the house, so that address remained the focus of their attention even as law enforcement officers combed outlying areas within the perimeter.

Tear gas was deployed twice into the house in attempt to flush the suspect out, Williams said, and SWAT team members were preparing to blast open the front door at about 5:15 p.m. when authorities were notified that the suspect had been spotted hiding near a tree row in a nearby field.

Agents from the Kansas Highway Patrol and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were patrolling a field in a Humvee when one of the officers spotted Lyons' leg as he lay on the ground.

They stopped the Humvee, and Lyons stood up and fired at the vehicle with the deputy's handgun. He then began running, firing several more shots as the ATF agents and KHP officers ran after him.

The law enforcement officers returned fire, striking Lyons "multiple times," Hinshaw said.

Lyons was taken to Wesley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 6:10 p.m.

Investigators hope to talk to neighbors and relatives of Lyons, Hinshaw said, but he doesn't expect every question raised by the shooting to be answered.

"We may never know what the motive is," he said.

Results of the investigation, including the use of force, will be presented to the District Attorney's Office for review.

Flags at Wichita City Hall and other city buildings have been lowered to half staff in honor of Etheridge. They will remain at half staff through Friday, the day of Etheridge's funeral.

"We're just really shocked and saddened by what has happened," Mayor Carl Brewer said. "It has affected all of our law enforcement agencies."

Brewer said the city is providing counselors for police officers who were involved in the shoot-out and others who may be shaken by the violence.

"Every time they make a stop or enter a house, they don't know what's going to happen," he said. "This demonstrated just how much risk there is."

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com.

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