Update: Driver, passenger identified in high-speed chase fatality

Two men were killed Friday after losing control during a chase and striking a semi-trailer. (KSN photo / Chris Arnold)

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) — A shoplifting at a Newton Walmart led to a police chase Friday afternoon that ended in the death of two men. Police said three individuals attempted to pay for merchandise in a self-checkout lane with fraudulent credit cards which were declined. They got away with items worth approximately $600.

Newton Police Chief Eric Murphy told KSN an officer caught up with a red Pontiac reportedly involved in the report heading west on Highway 50 with two men inside. He called in the license plate and found that the car was reported stolen.

Officers then attempted to stop the car and it took off at a high rate of speed. Speeds during the chase reached 110 to 115 mph.

As the car approached the Haven / Buhler road east of Hutchinson stop sticks were deployed to try to stop the car. The driver of the car swerved to avoid them and lost control, striking a tractor-trailer that was stopped at the intersection.

Lee Billinger. (Courtesy Kansas Dept. of Corrections)
Lee Billinger. (Courtesy Kansas Dept. of Corrections)

Chief Murphy told KSN that the two men in the car were most likely killed upon impact.

The driver of the vehicle was identified by the Kansas Highway Patrol as 27-year-old Wendell Lue Hicks, III.  His passenger was identified as 48-year-old Lee Francis Billinger. Both men were from Hutchinson.

Wendell Lue Hicks, III. (Courtesy Kansas Dept. of Corrections)
Wendell Lue Hicks, III. (Courtesy Kansas Dept. of Corrections)

The driver of the semi was taken to the hospital as a precaution but is expected to be okay.

Murphy said two vehicles were involved in the reported shopliftings in Newton and the other vehicle, a Ford Taurus, was found unoccupied in Hutchinson. Police say a woman involved in the Walmart theft was suspected of driving that car. So far she has not been found.

The Kansas Highway Patrol is on the scene working the car crash and will be giving the Newton Police Department information regarding the occupants

KHP and KDOT are working to detour traffic at the intersection. The intersection will be closed until the investigation is complete.