One in custody, second still at large in Harvey County vehicle thefts

One of two men suspected in a rash of vehicle thefts in Harvey County remained at large Wednesday afternoon, a Harvey County law enforcement official said.

Multiple law enforcement agencies spent the morning deciphering what Sheriff T. Walton called a confusing caper, which led to the eventual apprehension of a 34-year-old man hiding near a creek south of Bentley, in Sedgwick County.

His accomplice had not been found as of Wednesday afternoon, Walton said. Police did not have a detailed description of the man but said he escaped in a white, 2001 Dodge Ram 4x4 quad cab stolen from Southwest Wheels, a used-car dealership on U.S. Highway 50 in Burrton.

The truck has a rusty grille guard, a raised aftermarket hood and was untagged when it was taken shortly before 6 a.m. Wednesday, Walton said.

Anyone who spots the truck is asked to call 911 or 316-284-6960.

The 34-year-old was arrested late Wednesday morning and taken to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis for treatment of minor injuries from shotgun pellets sustained during the theft attempt at Southwest Wheels. He will be turned over to Sedgwick County law enforcement Thursday morning, pending his release from the hospital, Walton said.

The Harvey County Sheriff’s Office plans to present its case to the county attorney later this week. Expected charges include attempted aggravated battery and multiple counts of burglary and attempted burglary, Walton said.

He gave this account of events leading to the 34-year-old’s capture:

The owner of Harvey County home-based business Southwest Wheels, 18305 W. U.S. Highway 50, called 911 at 5:54 a.m. Wednesday to report a man had stolen his 2001 Dodge Ram.

The owner then went outside and found a second man — the 34-year-old — trying to steal a Chevy S-10 pickup loaded with tools.

“This guy comes peeling out of the shed in reverse,” nearly striking the owner and hitting a tree, Walton said.

The owner, armed with a shotgun, fired once. When the 34-year-old got out, he fired again.

“He yells, ‘You hit me! I’m shot!’ ” Walton said of the 34-year-old, “then limps off to the east.”

A manhunt ensued shortly before 7 a.m. in a field near 167th Street West and 109th Street North, south of Bentley.

At 7:45 a.m., police received a report of another stolen vehicle — a 2010 Chrysler minivan — taken from a house in the 17000 block of Southwest 24th, a mile to the south.

About 30 minutes later, a farmer had spotted the minivan driving across a pasture and through two gates toward a creek. Authorities found it wrecked and abandoned near 215th Street and West 109th.

“This is a wooded area. It’s got a windy, bendy creek going through it, so in comes a number of agencies,” Walton said.

“We’re in a pretty desolate area. There’s nothing out there.”

Law enforcement used a K-9 unit, thermal imaging cameras and aircraft to track the 34-year-old to a patch of weeds by the creek five miles from the minivan.

He was arrested at 10:21 a.m.

Walton said during the search, authorities also found a stolen Chevy Silverado from Butler County and Southwest Wheels owner’s personal motorcycle in a ditch along Highway 50.

Police think the vehicle thefts are related, Walton said.

Sheriff’s officers from Harvey and Sedgwick counties, the Kansas Highway Patrol and police from Halstead, Newton and Wichita assisted in the search.

Contributing: Rick Plumlee and Tim Potter of The Eagle

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