Crime & Courts

Gaming agent asked dealership about SUV weeks before Officer Arterburn was run over

Authorities started asking a local dealership whether one of its SUVs had been stolen at least three weeks before a known drug dealer used the expensive car to drive over Wichita police Officer Brian Arterburn.

Eddy’s Chevrolet Cadillac apparently did nothing in response and in one case gave the inquiring Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission enforcement agent “the runaround,” the agent told The Eagle last week.

How and why a drug dealer, Justin Terrazas, came into possession of a $66,000 dealership-owned Chevrolet Tahoe and whether it really was stolen is at the heart of a civil lawsuit that accuses Eddy’s of negligence in connection with the crash. The lawsuit, filed last year by Arterburn’s wife, contends Eddy’s either let Terrazas borrow the Tahoe or loaned it to someone who did. Eddy’s denies that.

The dealership, owned by Brandon Steven Motors, has said in court filings that employees knew the SUV was gone from its lot on Dec. 17, 2016, and that it didn’t report a theft until seven weeks later, on Feb. 7, 2017. Eddy’s has also said it still has “no clear understanding” of how Terrazas ended up with the car.

Attorneys for Eddy’s did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.

In a recent phone interview, former Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission enforcement agent Craig Pentecost said he called Eddy’s Chevrolet Cadillac in mid-January 2017 to ask about a dealer tag on the black SUV. The SUV was seen dropping off women at the front door of the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane.

Pentecost said he was looking into the women’s movements because casino security staff suspected they were trying to solicit men on the casino floor for sex. One had tried to check into a room using a stolen credit card, he recalled.

“We traced them (the women) back to the night before, when they got dropped off at the hotel” using casino security surveillance footage, Pentecost said.

“They were dropped off with that Tahoe with the dealer tag.”

A white man who had facial tattoos and a ball cap — who Pentecost said he later realized was Terrazas after hearing media reports about Arterburn’s injuries — was driving it that night.

“Those three didn’t match the description of somebody who would be driving a brand new Tahoe with a dealer’s tag,” Pentecost said. The casino later banned the women from its property for suspected prostitution, he told The Eagle.

Pentecost said he asked Mulvane dispatchers to check whether the dealer tag had been reported stolen. When he was told no and that it belonged to Eddy’s Chevrolet Cadillac, he said he called the dealership and talked to a woman in management.

“Basically she told me that that was their dealer’s tag, that they weren’t sure where it was at that time, and that she would track it down and call me back,” Pentecost said.

“Of course, I never got another phone call.”

Pentecost wasn’t the only one who contacted Eddy’s about the Tahoe and dealer tag before Arterburn was run over.

According to excerpts of the deposition of a Wichita police officer taken by attorneys in the civil lawsuit, Kansas Star security staff made “several phone calls” to Eddy’s asking whether the Tahoe had been stolen after they spotted it driving through the casino parking lots.

An assistant to Eddy’s general manager told the Wichita police officer who was deposed that “the vehicle had been missing since sometime in December of 2017,” according to the excerpt.

She “had attempted to report the vehicle stolen on multiple occasions” but “had not been allowed to,” the excerpt says.

“She seemed frustrated, frustrated that she had not been allowed to report the vehicle stolen,” the officer testified during the deposition. The assistant told the officer “something along the lines of sometimes they loan vehicles to family members ... and they’re just not sure where vehicles are,” the deposition excerpt says.

It wasn’t until three weeks after Pentecost’s mid-January call that the assistant to Eddy’s general manager officially reported the Tahoe as stolen to Wichita police. An officer called the dealership on Feb. 7, 2017, asking about the Tahoe’s status after police saw it sitting in the driveway of a house they were watching in their search for a man — not Terrazas — who was wanted on a attempted burglary charge.

During that call with police, the dealership said the car was stolen.

Within hours of the Feb. 7 call, Arterburn was run over with the Tahoe as he was putting a tire deflation device on the street to stop Terrazas’ flight from police. He suffered debilitating brain damage that ultimately ended his 25-year career with the Wichita Police Department. He took medical retirement last June.

When authorities finally caught up to Terrazas, they found enough methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in the Tahoe to charge him with drug dealing.

Terrazas, 33, currently is serving a 28.5-year prison sentence for crimes connected to the flight and crash, including aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer and methamphetamine possession.

In January after his criminal sentencing, The Eagle sent Terrazas a written request asking him to explain how he got the car and why. He responded with: “WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?”

He refused the request after The Eagle said it would not pay for an interview.

Arterburn’s attorneys are taking steps to depose Terrazas while he’s in prison to draw out his version of events. Kansas Department of Corrections records show he got off of parole for a prior burglary and theft on Dec. 15, 2016 — two days before Eddy’s says it noticed the Tahoe was gone from its lot.

The civil lawsuit is seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages and a jury trial. A Kansas Supreme Court ruling that last week eliminated the state’s decades-long cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury cases means Arterburn and his wife could stand to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars — or more — for things like pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life if the case is taken to trial and a jury not only finds that Eddy’s is liable for Arterburn’s injuries but is sympathetic to the couple’s plight.

Before Friday’s ruling, juries could award plaintiffs whatever noneconomic damages they saw fit in personal injury cases. But judges were required by law to reduce the award if it was more than the cap, which was most recently $325,000.

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.