Official: Wichita parole absconder is suspected driver of fleeing car that struck car carrying toddler

Police were pursuing this car when it collided with another vehicle at the corner of George Washington Boulevard and Pawnee on Tuesday morning. The collision injured four people including a small child. (Nov. 4, 2014)
Police were pursuing this car when it collided with another vehicle at the corner of George Washington Boulevard and Pawnee on Tuesday morning. The collision injured four people including a small child. (Nov. 4, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

A 22-year-old man suspected of being the driver involved in a southeast Wichita collision that critically injured a 16-month-old girl was wanted as a parole absconder, a state official confirmed Wednesday.

The suspected driver, who ran a red light, was fleeing a Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy.

Kenneth W. Libich has been on absconder status since October, when he stopped reporting as part of his parole supervision, said Jeremy Barclay, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections. Barclay said that Libich is the man suspected of driving the fleeing car in Tuesday’s collision.

Libich has been on parole in Sedgwick County after being convicted of criminal possession of a firearm and theft, Department of Corrections records show. He was on a low level of supervision, Barclay said.

The KDOC had a warrant issued Oct. 28 for Libich’s arrest because he had absconded, Barclay said.

A 16-month-old girl injured in the two-car collision remained in critical condition at a Wichita hospital Wednesday evening, officials said.

Although the girl’s injuries mean she is “still in danger … from what I understand, there are positive signs, so we remain hopeful that the little girl will be OK,” sheriff’s Lt. Lin Dehning said Wednesday. He said sheriff’s supervisors have been regularly checking on the girl’s condition.

In a statement Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office said, “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family of the little girl who was hurt in this collision.”

She was riding in a child-safety seat in a car driven by her father that struck the fleeing car, Kansas Highway Patrol Lt. Dave Hundley said.

The man driving the fleeing car is being detained but has not yet been booked into jail, Dehning said.

Although the Highway Patrol is still investigating the collision, it appears obvious from the initial investigation that the fleeing car was going well over the 40-mph speed limit, Hundley said.

All vehicle pursuits are reviewed, but there is no indication that the deputy who tried to stop the car violated the sheriff’s policy, Dehning said. He noted that the pursuit was brief – 33 seconds – and that a Wichita police supervisor monitoring the situation called off the chase “the split second” the collision occurred.

Dehning said he couldn’t say why the police supervisor issued an order for the chase to be halted.

“Deputies have a duty to pursue,” and in this case the deputy was trying to stop people suspected of auto theft, Dehning said.

“The one person who could have stopped this is the suspect,” he said.

The collision was reported at 8:19 a.m. Tuesday at Pawnee and George Washington Boulevard, authorities have said. All four people hurt – two from each vehicle – were taken to Wesley Medical Center. The toddler’s father, 34-year-old Rodelio Gales, has been released from the hospital, according to a hospital operator.

A Highway Patrol accident report said Destiny Brown, 32, was a passenger in the fleeing car. She is also no longer a patient at the hospital.

The driver, identified in a Highway Patrol report as Libich, of Wichita, was under hospital protection, and the hospital said it couldn’t provide an updated condition report for him. He was in critical condition Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office provided this account in a statement:

A little after 8 a.m. Tuesday, victims of a car theft notified the 911 system that the people who stole their vehicle were near 31st Street South and Oliver. The caller told a dispatcher that the suspects “were now in a blue Toyota that left northbound on Oliver.”

A sheriff’s deputy drove up behind the blue car as it turned northwest onto George Washington and activated his lights and siren to begin a traffic stop, “but the suspect in the blue Toyota accelerated.”

“Within 33 seconds the suspect ran a red light at Pawnee and was struck in the driver’s side by a tan Toyota Camry,” the statement said.

The Kansas Highway Patrol is investigating the collision; the Sheriff’s Office is investigating the auto theft with the aid of the Wichita Police Department.

Contributing: Stan Finger of The Eagle

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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