Crime & Courts

Suspect in shooting of Kansas tax agent was focus of investigation

Police give details about shooting at Kansas Department of Revenue

Police investigate a shooting at the Kansas Department of Revenue at 1800 N. Amidon Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (Video by Fernando Salazar)
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Police investigate a shooting at the Kansas Department of Revenue at 1800 N. Amidon Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (Video by Fernando Salazar)

Update 8:56 p.m.

Kansas Department of Revenue tax agent Cortney Holloway, who was shot in the incident, has been upgraded from critical to serious condition.

Update 8:50 p.m.

Sedgwick County Jail records show Ricky Todd Wirths, 51, was booked into jail shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder. He is being held without bond.

A tax warrant issued by the Kansas Department of Revenue on June 1 indicates Wirths owes nearly $200,000 in unpaid taxes.

Original story

A state Department of Revenue employee was shot several times and critically wounded Tuesday afternoon allegedly by a man who “was losing everything” due to unpaid taxes.

The shooting took place at around 2:40 p.m. on Tuesday inside the taxation side of the state office building at 21st and Amidon, Wichita police Officer Charley Davidson said. The 35-year-old man who was shot was involved in an investigation into the suspect, Davidson said. The investigation involved Department of Revenue and deputies from the Sedgwick County sheriff’s Civil Section going to a residence near 35th North and Arkansas, he said.

A Sedgwick County dispatcher said people inside of the driver’s license station in the 1800 block of West 21st Street reported hearing shots from inside the building. The first 911 calls came shortly before 2:45 p.m.

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The suspect was arrested about half an hour after the shooting, police Sgt. Chad Beard said. He was stopped by law enforcement officers on 35th Street North just west of Arkansas, down the street from his house.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback identified the man who was shot as state Department of Revenue tax agent Cortney Holloway. “This is a state employee who was doing his job and enforcing the law,” Brownback said in a statement. He asked the public to pray for Holloway and his family.

Holloway suffered gunshot wounds to his chest, leg and finger, according to emergency radio traffic. He was taken to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis in critical condition.

“We do not believe this was a random event,” Davidson said.

Oscar Rodriguez received a phone call from his mother who was at the DMV when a shooting occurred at the Twin Lakes Shopping Center in north Wichita.

About half an hour after the shooting, police used yellow crime scene tape to mark off the parking lot in front of the building. They were outside of offices that say Kansas Department of Revenue, with “Taxation” on one side and “Driver’s License” on the other.

Oscar Rodriguez, 42, who was at the shooting scene Tuesday afternoon, said his mother was inside of the building, standing in line to get an identification card when she thought a man with a gun tried to get inside the building, and someone locked the doors to try to keep him out. Rodriguez said his mother, who called family during the mayhem, said someone was telling people inside of the building to take cover under desks and tables.

His mother, he said, was whispering when she first called because she wasn’t sure what was happening.

“She’s safe. She still doesn’t know what’s going on,” Rodriguez said, adding that his mother said police were searching inside of the building.

Dave Hiegel, who said he has known Wirths for 22 years, said “it really shocked me” to see a video of his friend being arrested.

“I don’t even know how to process it yet,” Hiegel said as he stood next to 35th Street a few houses down from where Wirths lived.

“I guess he was losing everything,” Hiegel said. “That would be hard to swallow.”

The tax warrant shows Wirths owes $196,455.36 for four tax periods spanning 2012 to 2015.

EMS workers wheel out a shooting victim from the driver's license bureau near 21st and Amidon on Tuesday. (Video by Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

“He’s always worked,” Hiegel said of Wirths. “He’s a hard worker.”

He did dirt work with his father, installed windows for a few years and most recently had done parking lot and pavement sealing, Hiegel said.

A nearby neighbor, who did not want to reveal her name, said Wirths was friendly. He invited her children to play with children who visited his home, she said, and let her children play fetch with his Labrador retriever.

“I was totally surprised when I heard about this,” she said.

Robert Choromanski, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said he talked to workers who were in the office at the time of the shooting, who described the scene to him.

He said the employees were badly shaken up by the shooting.

“There were bullet holes in the cubicle walls,” Choromanski said.

He said there was no security for workers inside the facility and they had complained about that to management.

Holloway works in the tax compliance division, where employees often are required to seize people’s property to pay their back taxes and emotions run high.

“There’s no security in that building,” Choromanski said. “There’s nobody to screen you to see if you have any weapons on you. There’s no metal detector, nothing. You just walk in. You can meet with anybody you have an appointment with or whoever’s on call on lobby duty to meet with people in the lobby.”

He said the work can get even more dangerous when workers have to go to people’s homes to take their property.

“A lot of the same people that work in that building go out into the field to enforce tax warrants, and they have no security when they go out,” he said.

“Many of our guys feel unsafe going out into the field without some type of security escorting them whenever they need to repossess a boat, a car, or foreclose on a home,” he said.

The state will offer counseling to employees in the office.

The Twin Lakes tax office where the shooting took place will be closed the rest of the week. The driver’s license office adjacent to it will be closed Wednesday, but will reopen Thursday.