Prosecutors on Monday charged a 34-year-old man with first-degree murder, accusing him of killing another motorist last week while fleeing from police in south Wichita.
On Monday afternoon, Keith Ritz made his first appearance in Sedgwick County District Court, where he also heard other charges against him, including fleeing from police, theft of the pickup he was allegedly driving when Tuesday’s fatal collision occurred and driving after being declared a habitual traffic violator.
Police and witnesses have said that a stolen pickup sped north on Wichita Street around 10 a.m., ran a stop sign at Harry and smashed into a pickup driven by 38-year-old Venancio Perez, who died at the scene, two blocks from his home.
The murder charge accuses Ritz of unlawfully killing Perez during an “inherently dangerous felony” — fleeing from or trying to elude an officer.
As District Judge Warren Wilbert read the charges, Ritz, who appeared on a video monitor from the jail, squinted and stood with his arms folded and head tilted to the side.
He remains in jail on a $250,000 bond and faces a March 25 preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to hold a trial. Ritz told the judge that he would try to hire his own attorney.
Police Chief Norman Williams said last week that Tuesday’s collision wasn’t the first time Ritz had fled from police. On Dec. 26, Wichita officers captured Ritz after he allegedly crashed into a light pole while fleeing from police in a stolen Corvette at Harry and Rock Road after an attempted traffic stop. Because he had potentially serious injuries in the December crash, he went to Wesley Medical Center instead of jail, police spokesman Lt. Doug Nolte has said.
When Ritz went to the hospital, police knew he was wanted on a warrant in a felony marijuana possession case, but it wasn’t practical to put a police guard on Ritz while he was in the hospital, Nolte said in an interview last week. Police don’t have the resources to put guards on all suspects who go to a hospital; those decisions are made case by case, Nolte said. Ritz left the hospital on his own.
On Monday, prosecutors also charged Ritz in the December incident with: theft of the 1985 Corvette that crashed, fleeing or trying to elude an officer and driving after being declared an habitual violator.