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Jury selection starts for Wichitan accused of murder in fatal crash

Published on -5/12/2014, 2:50 PM

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By Rick Plumlee

The Wichita Eagle

Jury selection began Monday in the first-degree murder trial of a Wichitan accused of killing another motorist while fleeing police more than a year ago.

Keith Ritz, 35, faces multiple charges in Sedgwick County District Court as the result of an incident that occurred March 5, 2013.

He allegedly stole a pickup and was fleeing police when he ran a stop sign at Harry and Wichita and collided into a pickup driven Venancio Perez, 38, according to police reports.

Perez died at the scene -- two blocks from his home.

The murder charge accuses Ritz of unlawfully killing Perez during an "inherently dangerous" felony -- fleeing from police.

The police chase had been called off at the time of the collision, Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams said at the time.

The suspect was gradually pulling away from the pursuing officer because the officer was slowing or stopping at each intersection as a precaution, Williams said.

The trial also includes charges from an incident that occurred Dec. 26, 2012. Ritz allegedly stole a 1985 Corvette that crashed into a light pole following a police chase that was initiated by a traffic stop, according to police.

Because he had potentially serious injuries from that crash, he went to Wesley Medical Center instead of to jail, police said.

When Ritz went to the hospital, police knew he was wanted on a warrant in a felony marijuana possession case. But limited resources made it not practical to put a police guard on Ritz while he was in the hospital, police said.

Ritz left the hospital on his own.

He is charged with nine crimes.

From the March 5, 2013, crash, he is charged with first degree murder, two counts of fleeing or attempting to elude an officer, theft and driving while a habitual offender.

In the Dec. 26, 2012, incident, Ritz is charged with two counts of fleeing or attempting to elude an officer, theft and driving while a habitual offender.

The case is being heard by Judge David Kaufman.

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle

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