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Gang fight ignited chase that ended in girl's death, police say

WICHITA — A fight between rival gang members next to Southeast High School ignited the vehicle chase late Thursday morning that culminated in the death of a 16-year-old girl, Wichita police said today.

The drivers of both vehicles engaged in the chase have been arrested and face charges in connection with the death of Yadira Villa, Lt. Ken Landwehr said.

Landwehr gave this account, based on interviews with witnesses and those involved:

As a crowd of students watched, two or three members of rival gangs fought each other in an alley across the street from Southeast shortly before 11:30 a.m. Thursday, during the school's lunch period, Landwehr said.

The fight broke off as members of one gang got into a gray Chrysler and left with acquaintances. A short time later, the Chrysler was spotted by members of the other gang involved in the fight, who were in a Lincoln Navigator.

The Navigator began chasing the Chrysler east on Lincoln, Landwehr said, and speeds reached 50 to 60 miles an hour at times.

There were eight people packed into the Chrysler and seven or eight in the Navigator, he said. Police are still looking for two or three girls believed to have been in the Navigator during the chase.

The pursuit continued through a residential area before the vehicles ended up back on Lincoln. At one point during the incident, Landwehr said, the driver of the Chrysler tried to force the Navigator off the street — though the vehicles never touched.

The Navigator then tried to catch up to the Chrysler to get it to stop so the fight could resume. The driver of the Chrysler lost control of the car at Lincoln and Fabrique. The car skidded over a curb and slid into a tree on the driver's side at 11:33 a.m.

Villa, who was a passenger in the front seat, opened her door and got out just as the driver tried to leave the scene by backing away from the tree and then pulling forward.

Villa was struck by the open door and dragged under the car, which ran over her. She was pronounced dead at the scene at 11:38 a.m., according to police records.

The Navigator had left the area by the time police arrived, but Landwehr said students in the Chrysler knew those in the other vehicle so officers went to various addresses in the city until they found it.

Both drivers are 16-year-old boys who are documented gang members, Landwehr said. Four other people involved in the chase are documented gang members, but Villa was not.

All eight people in the Chrysler were Southeast students, he said, as well as three of the people in the Navigator.

Five people in the Chrysler were injured when the car struck the tree, he said, but police have said none of the injuries were serious.

Evidence in the case will be presented to the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office early next week, which will make final determination on charges to be filed — including whether the drivers should be tried as adults.

Check Kansas.com for updates.

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