The man who raced off in a stolen pickup Tuesday morning during a police chase and collided with a second pickup – killing the other driver – has a history of fleeing from law enforcement officers, Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams said Wednesday.
The collision at Harry and Wichita in south Wichita shortly after 10 a.m. on Tuesday killed a 38-year-old man, whose identity investigators were still attempting to confirm Wednesday morning, and sent the 34-year-old suspect to a local hospital, where he was under guard, Williams said. Later Wednesday, the victim’s partner identified the victim as Venancio Perez.
Wichita police Lt. Doug Nolte confirmed an arrest had been made in the case Wednesday afternoon, but he said police would not release the suspect’s identity.
Jail records show Keith Allan Ritz, 34, was booked under suspicion of first-degree murder, theft and traffic violations, including flee and elude, at 3:35 p.m. Wednesday. He also is being held for possession of a controlled substance stemming from a 2012 drug case, jail and Sedgwick County District Court records show.
“It’s a tragedy that has affected our community,” Williams said. “An innocent citizen died because of the driver’s actions.”
Williams gave this account of the incident:
An officer working a case involving a stalled vehicle at Kellogg and Broadway at about 10 a.m. Tuesday was approached by a person who reported a possible stolen vehicle in area of Osie and the Arkansas River.
“He said the guy is armed with a knife, and he may have a fake or toy gun inside the vehicle,” Williams said.
As officers moved to that area a few blocks southwest of Kellogg and Broadway, they spotted a green 2004 GMC parked at Osie and Exchange. As an officer approached the vehicle on foot, the driver began making suspicious movements inside the truck.
The officer drew his gun and the vehicle slowly pulled forward until the driver turned into the driveway of a house in the 1700 block of South Exchange, south of Harry and just east of the Arkansas River.
The suspect then backed out of the driveway and sped away, Williams said. He drove south on Exchange, then turned left onto Funston. The officers in two patrol cars pursued the suspect with their emergency lights and sirens activated. The suspect was “gaining speed” as he drove east on Funston, Williams said.
One of the officers pursued the suspect east on Funston while the other went to a parallel street and drove north on Palisade in an attempt to get ahead of the suspect’s vehicle and lay down spike strips to flatten the GMC’s tires, Williams said.
The suspect was gradually pulling away from the pursuing officer because the officer was slowing or stopping at each intersection to make sure it was clear before proceeding, Williams said. Meanwhile, the suspect was “driving through those intersections without even slowing down or stopping.”
The officer saw the suspect turn north on what turned out to be Wichita. He saw “a large puff of smoke, which indicates there had been a crash,” Williams said.
The suspect had run a stop sign and collided with the black pickup being driven by the victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene. The pursuing officer did not see the actual collision, Williams said.
A Patrol South supervisor called off the police pursuit, Williams said.
“Unbeknownst to the supervisor, the accident had already happened,” he said. “It happens so fast.”
The entire incident unfolded in a minute or less, Williams said. A preliminary review indicates the officers followed proper protocols relating to police pursuit, he said.
“This is not the first time he has run from the Wichita Police Department,” Williams said of the suspect.
He was driving a stolen 1985 Corvette on Dec. 26 when he fled an attempted stop at Harry and Rock Road. He ran into a light pole, then got out and tried to run away before being apprehended, Williams said.
The GMC involved in Tuesday’s collision was reported stolen at 6 a.m. on Friday from the 4800 block of West 13th Street, Williams said. The GMC’s original license plate was removed and replaced with one for a 1988 Honda that was stolen Monday from 1335 N. Wilbur Lane.
The stolen Honda was recovered in the 3800 block of South Broadway.
Contributing: Tim Potter of The Eagle