Crime & Courts

What neighbors saw before discovery that led to murder, arson charges

Two days before firefighters found Reyona Caldwell’s body in the basement of her home on North Ash, one neighbor saw her arguing with Dane Wright — the man now charged with murdering her, setting their house on fire and endangering her three children.

That argument between the couple marked the last time the neighbor saw the 36-year-old woman, he said Wednesday.

Then, about 20 to 25 minutes before fire crews responded to the house fire last Friday afternoon, another neighbor saw Wright carrying a child’s car seat from the home and back out of the driveway in a white Ford sedan. The neighbor did not see any children.

At Wright’s first court appearance Wednesday afternoon, prosecutors charged the 29-year-old with first-degree murder in Caldwell’s death. Police have said she was bludgeoned before the house was set on fire. Police have not said when she died. Prosecutors also charged Wright with arson and three counts of endangering a child.

Wright and Caldwell and her three young sons moved to the home at 321 N. Ash a few months ago. Caldwell’s former co-workers say she and Wright had one child together.

Wright remains in jail on a $500,000 bond.

A representative of the public defender’s office, which will defend Wright against the charges, would not comment after Wednesday’s brief court appearance. Wright’s next court hearing is set for June 21.

Wright said in an affidavit that he has been unemployed longer than six months, that he had $600 available and that he is single, with one dependent.

One of the couple’s neighbors told a reporter that he witnessed what appeared to be an argument between the couple two days before the discovery of Caldwell’s body, and that it was the last time he saw her.

On Wednesday, the neighbor sat on his porch and recalled what he saw that day: As Wright pulled into the driveway in a white Ford, Caldwell “jump out of the back seat” while the car was still slowly moving. She lit a cigarette by the curb. Later, he saw the two on the porch and could tell by their body language and hand gestures that they were arguing, but he couldn’t hear them.

He said he shared that account with police, but he asked not to be named.

Two days after the argument, Dean Hollis, another neighbor, said he noticed Wright backing out of driveway after carrying out a car seat for a small child. But Hollis didn’t see any children, he recalled Wednesday.

Twenty to 25 minutes after Wright left, Hollis saw smoke coming from the couple’s house — at an attic vent and at a window air-conditioning unit. Hollis called 911 to report the fire. Hollis said he shared his account with police after firefighters responded.

After firefighters discovered Caldwell’s body in the basement, authorities issued an Amber Alert for her three children, ages 11, 5 and 2.

That night, police found the children uninjured at a South Broadway motel and arrested Wright nearby.

On Sunday afternoon, more than a day after Wright had been booked into jail on suspicion of murder, he was seen on jail security cameras hitting his head against a cell wall, according to sheriff’s Lt. Lin Dehning and jail reports. Wright lay down on the floor afterward.

A deputy checked on him shortly before 5 p.m. and asked what was wrong but didn't get an answer, Dehning said.

Clinic staff checked Wright, he said, and cleared him to stay in his cell after finding minor injuries.

Caldwell, the woman with whom he shared a home, was a clerk in the medical unit at the Sedgwick County Jail. Her friends and former co-workers at the Jose Pepper’s restaurant on East 13th St., where she had been a longtime head waitress, held a vigil in her memory at her home.

At her front porch on North Ash, the mourners left a large picture of her and a multitude of bouquets, some artificial and some freshly cut.

Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle