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Mysterious Arrowhead death haunts victim's family

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, at 1:56 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at 9:38 a.m.

Memorial service

A memorial service for Kyle Van Winkle will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at First Christian Church of Smithville, 201 N. Bridge St. Visitation will be Thursday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the church.

Instead of flowers, Van Winkle’s family suggests contributions to The Kyle Van Winkle Memorial Fund in care of Jenni Van Winkle for the education of Kyle’s son.

Memorials and condolences can be left at Van Winkle’s obituary at Legacy.com.

Kyle Van Winkle went to the Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday with about a dozen friends and relatives, many of them fathers with their adult sons.

He, his father and the others convoyed there in two vehicles and tailgated before the afternoon kickoff with a meat-dominated menu of chicken wings, brats and pasta salad from a box.

But early in the game, Van Winkle — the father of a 7-week-old baby — excused himself from his row of friends and relatives to go to the restroom. He never returned.

Instead, he died in mysterious circumstances after a struggle in the parking lot.

Police said Van Winkle entered an apparently unlocked vehicle, resembling one belonging to their group, close to where they had parked earlier.

Although a police spokesman initially said Van Winkle’s body showed no obvious signs of trauma, police investigators on Tuesday confirmed that a small amount of blood was found at the scene. They are awaiting full autopsy results, which could take weeks.

Van Winkle’s death is being investigated as a possible homicide.

His father doesn’t know why Van Winkle went to the parking lot without telling anyone. Police checked stadium records, which did not list him among the people ejected from the stadium.

His father is now haunted by the image of his 30-year-old son walking down the steep stadium steps alone.

“That’s what’s so painful,” said his father, Dean Van Winkle, a Grandview police sergeant. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve second-guessed myself. I wish I would have gone with him.”

But Dean Van Winkle wasn’t worried at the time. Even with the eye of an overprotective father, he saw no signs that his son was intoxicated or feeling ill. But when Kyle hadn’t come back by the end of the first quarter, his father began looking for him.

For whatever reason, Kyle Van Winkle had walked to the parking lot to the exact row where they had tailgated.

But he stopped about 10 vehicles short and got into a green Jeep that looked like one of the vehicles in his convoy.

There were no signs of a break-in on the Jeep, police said.

Witnesses told police the Jeep owner returned to his vehicle with his son, who is about 10 years old, when they realized a sleeping stranger was inside. Police said the owner woke Van Winkle, exchanged words and tried to get him out of the Jeep.

Shortly before 5:20 p.m., the boy summoned help from several tailgaters who had been watching the game on a television in the parking lot.

They engaged in a struggle with Kyle Van Winkle, who collapsed and later died at a hospital.

What happened during the struggle isn’t clear. One witness told police that Van Winkle tried to throw a punch at the vehicle owner. However, police said the vehicle owner was not part of the struggle involving the tailgaters.

Another witness told police she heard one of the tailgaters who intervened say that he had beaten Van Winkle and that Van Winkle wouldn’t “be doing that again.”

Police found Van Winkle’s cellphone on the Jeep’s floorboard.

Officers arrested three men shortly after the death, but they had to track down the fourth man who was arrested.

The three men gave police statements, and police searched one of their homes in Independence.

The fourth man, who is 24 years old, declined to talk to detectives.

Detectives released three of the men, ages 22 to 27, on Monday night and the fourth man Tuesday morning, pending further investigation.

The Star is not naming them because they have not been charged.

“We’re still putting together the pieces of the puzzle,” said Sgt. Martin Cobbinah of the homicide unit. “We know there are still people out there who witnessed this who haven’t come forward.”

Cobbinah asked any witnesses who have not been interviewed yet to call the homicide unit at 816-234-5043.

Dean Van Winkle said his son didn’t have any known medical issues.

His son graduated from Belton High School and William Jewell College, where he played football.

With a business administration degree, Kyle Van Winkle worked as a commercial loan specialist at CommunityAmerica Credit Union. He got married in 2011 and was enjoying being a new father.

Kyle Van Winkle let his relatives know how much he cared about them, Dean Van Winkle said. He exchanged kisses with his parents — both of them — when they would meet.

He told his wife, Jenni, that he loved her every time they parted, even when he was just going downstairs in their house to watch television or to take out the trash, Dean Van Winkle said.

Kyle also expected his wife to send a photo of their baby, William Allen, to him every day. If she forgot, he’d call and ask for one because he wanted to see how they were doing.

What tortures Dean Van Winkle now is the fact that his new grandson won’t get to know Kyle.

“He was great in the seven weeks he had,” Dean Van Winkle said. “He would have been a fantastic father. And now he’s gone.”

To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send email to cvendel@kcstar.com.

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