Crime & Courts

Gang fight precedes crash that killed Southeast student, police say

A fight between rival gang members near Southeast High School ignited the chase Thursday in which a 16-year-old student died, Wichita police said Friday.

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

Villa was a junior at Southeast, district officials said Friday.

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 in an alley across the street from Southeast shortly before 11:30 a.m., during the school's lunch period.

The fight broke off as members of one gang got into a gray Chrysler with acquaintances and raced off.

When members of the other gang in a Lincoln Navigator spotted the Chrysler a short time later in a nearby residential area, a pursuit began.

The vehicles raced east on Lincoln at up to 50 to 60 mph.

"During that time, the Chrysler attempted to run the Navigator off the road," Landwehr said. "The Navigator was attempting to stop the Chrysler so the fight could resume."

The driver of the Chrysler lost control at Lincoln and Fabrique. The car skidded off the street and over a curb and bounced off a tree on the driver's side.

Villa, who was a passenger in the front seat, opened her door and got out just as the driver tried to leave, Landwehr said. The open door knocked Villa under the car, which ran over and killed her.

She was pronounced dead at the scene at 11:38 a.m., according to police records.

Eight people — all of them Southeast students — were packed into the Chrysler. Another seven or eight people — at least three of them Southeast students — were in the Navigator, Landwehr said.

Police have identified five males who were in the Navigator but are still looking for two or three females who may have been in the vehicle as well.

Five students in the Chrysler were injured in the crash and taken to local hospitals for treatment. None of the injuries were serious.

The Navigator had left the crash scene by the time police arrived, but Landwehr said students in the Chrysler knew those in the other vehicle. Officers found it Thursday night.

Both drivers are 16-year-old boys who are documented gang members, Landwehr said, but they were not involved in the fight that ignited the chase.

Four other people involved in the chase are documented gang members, but Villa was not.

The driver of the Chrysler has been booked on suspicion of felony murder, while the driver of the Navigator has been booked on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter.

At one point, police were looking into a report that someone in the Navigator flashed a gun at the Chrysler.

"We have not found any gun, we do not know if a gun was used," Landwehr said. "We have not found any evidence of that at this time."

Evidence in the case will be presented to the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office early next week, Landwehr said.

The fatal crash featured several dangerous elements, he said: teenagers packed into vehicles not designed to hold that many people, and inexperienced drivers driving at high speeds while trying to force someone else off the road.

"There's a lot of things that can go wrong in that scenario," Landwehr said.

"Unfortunately, tragedies like this happen much too often."

While there had been "localized fights" over the past month or two between rival gangs, he said, there was no indication of an escalation in gang-related activity at Southeast or any other high school in the city.

Police are concerned about the potential for retaliation.

"We don't want this to go any further," Landwehr said. "Let the judicial system work its way through this.

"Let us handle it."

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