After a convict on a crime spree shot Deputy Robert Kunze above his protective vest and before the mortally wounded deputy collapsed, the lawman managed to kill his attacker.
If Kunze had not kept fighting in his dying moments, Sheriff Jeff Easter says, at least two other people could have been murdered.
They were two innocent witnesses to the deadly struggle, standing or hiding just feet away on a stretch of rural Sedgwick County blacktop when the shots rang out Sunday afternoon. There’s no reason the deputy’s killer wouldn’t have turned on the witnesses or motorists passing through or officers rushing to the scene, Easter said.
As Easter described it in an interview with The Eagle on Tuesday, the wounded Kunze “gets up and fights. That’s what I’m most proud of him — doing what he was trained to do.”
“Without a doubt in my mind, he (Kunze) prevented loss of other life because of the two witnesses standing there” when the shots rang out, Easter said. “They’re witnesses to him (the suspect) murdering a sheriff’s deputy. That puts them in harm.”
Before the 41-year-old deputy collapsed Sunday afternoon, he shot and killed 29-year-old Robert Greeson, the convict who shot Kunze as the deputy tried to handcuff him. Greeson already had an extensive criminal history, including a conviction for aggravated battery.
At the least, Kunze’s actions protected the two witnesses — an adult and a teenager — standing there, Easter said.
“They were in grave danger if he (Greeson) would have survived,” Easter said.
“Because if you’re willing to kill a law enforcement officer …. (you’ll) take the life of anybody.”
The witnesses, Easter said, are part of a family who called 911 Sunday afternoon about a suspicious character. An emergency dispatcher sent Kunze to the call on 295th Street and West 21st, north of Garden Plain and about 21 miles west of downtown Wichita.
Greeson, who ended up that afternoon with a stolen truck on West 21st near 295th Street, had carried out a carjacking the night before, the sheriff said.
With Greeson on a dangerous crime spree, any deputies or motorists passing through that intersection Sunday could have become the next victim if the gravely wounded deputy hadn’t prevented it, Easter said.
According to emergency radio traffic of the shooting, Kunze told a dispatcher in a strained voice, “I’ve been shot.”
On Tuesday, Easter confirmed that those were the deputy’s last words over his radio.
On Sunday night, Easter gave this account:
At 1:18 p.m. Sunday, Kunze and another deputy were dispatched to a suspicious-character call at 295th and 53rd North. The call involved someone driving a black truck near the caller’s pickup and two ATVs.
The people who reported the suspect followed him.
At 1:42 p.m., Kunze arrived. He found the suspect on 21st near 295th.
The hood was up on the suspect’s black pickup, which had been stolen but not reported at that point.
The two witnesses who had followed were parked with another vehicle in front of the suspect’s vehicle.
At 1:48, the deputy pushed the orange emergency button on the radio he carried to signal that he was in trouble. Kunze said he had been shot.
The preliminary investigation determined that when Kunze patted down the suspect, he found a gun in the suspect’s waistband. After the deputy put the weapon away from the two of them and began to handcuff the suspect, they began fighting.
The only video is from the deputy’s vehicle. As of Sunday night, it wasn’t clear how much of the fight was caught on the video. At that point in the investigation, investigators knew that the deputy’s gun had been fired. But it wasn’t clear if Greeson had been able to get to the other gun.
Investigators now know those facts, Easter said Tuesday. “We know exactly what happened.”
But he said it was too soon to decide whether to share the rest of the investigation’s findings.
On Sunday night, Easter disclosed that Kunze was shot in his upper torso, above his protective vest.
Greeson was shot in his torso and waist area.
At 1:49, a second deputy arrived and saw the two witnesses hiding behind a truck.
The suspect was lying face down in a ditch. A .40-caliber handgun was next to the suspect.
The gun would turn out to be stolen in an incident that Kunze responded to about four hours before he was shot.
Kunze was lying on his side.
Both the deputy and the suspect were not responsive.
Despite first aid at the scene and treatment afterward, Kunze, a 12-year-veteran, was pronounced dead after being taken to a Wichita hospital.