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Chase over headlight ends in suicide

Staff writer

Having one headlight out is what prompted Newton police to try to pull over a Wichita man June 22.

A lengthy chase ended with James Lightfoot, 38, driving his pickup into a pond near Marion Reservoir and shooting himself in the head.

Newton Assistant Police Chief Scott Powell said an officer attempted to pull Lightfoot over at 1 a.m. June 22 because he had one headlight out. Instead of pulling over, Lightfoot fled, driving north on I-135 before exiting on K-15.

Newton officers pursued him into Marion County before losing him at 1:40 a.m. Marion County deputies also gave up at 230th and Diamond Rds.

Undersheriff Larry Starkey initially had been reluctant to have deputies join the chase if the only crime alleged was a traffic offense.

“Then we found out June 24 they found the guy’s truck,” Powell said. “We were ready to go up there with a drone.”

Sheriff Jeff Soyez turned down the offer, Powell said. Instead, cadaver dogs were brought in June 26, and Lighfoot’s body was found.

Powell said Newton police thought Lightfoot had been headed to Junction City to see a girlfriend.

His body was found in a heavily wooded area near Marion Reservoir. He had been dead several days from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, coroner Don Hodson said.

He was found by Sedgwick County deputies with cadaver dogs searching near where Lightfoot’s 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 had been found abandoned June 24, 20 to 30 feet into a pond southeast of 240th and Kanza Rds., with water halfway up its tires.

The search June 26 took a little more than 1½ hours.

He was found several hundred yards southeast of where his pickup was found, coroner Don Hodson wrote in his report.

A 5½-hour search June 24, including a Kansas Highway Patrol airplane equipped with infrared equipment, had failed to locate Lightfoot.

Hodson said he arrived at Lightfoot’s decomposing body after being led a few yards into a wooded area.

“With the knowledge that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation had been notified and was en route to do the scene investigation and body recovery, I did not go any closer than about 10 feet from the subject,” Hodson wrote. “Decomposition was under way, with severe swelling and bloating of the body and decomposition odor.”

Lightfoot’s body was face up with a gunshot wound on the left side of his head and a .380 ACP handgun under his left hand, Hodson wrote.

The Marion County sheriff’s office did not release information about the discovery until 29 hours after the body was found and did not specify where it was discovered or how Lightfoot had died.

The night Lightfoot’s truck was discovered, a Wichita police officer contacted Deputy Landis Goodman to tell him she had gotten a request to do a welfare check because Lightfoot was reported to be hiding in his pickup in a pond avoiding police.

“The keys were not in the truck,” Undersheriff Larry Starkey said after the truck was discovered. He surmised that Lightfoot had someone pick him up.

Wichita Police Captain Aaron Moses earlier said Lightfoot had not been seen or heard from since June 19.

Soyez issued a news release at 3:02 p.m. Thursday, stating that Marion County officers had contacted the Sedgwick County cadaver team the day after the truck was found. Marion and Wichita authorities did not mention this when interviewed about the case earlier that day.

The cadaver team search began at 9 a.m. June 26, according to Soyez’s release, and at 10:35 a.m., one of the dogs led searchers to human remains.

Soyez wrote that the remains were identified as Lightfoot’s, and there were no signs of foul play.

Soyez stated in his release that no further information would be revealed at this time.

Court records show that Lightfoot had an extensive criminal record dating to 2004, mainly drug possession, distribution, and manufacturing cases in Dickinson, Harvey, and Riley Counties with additional convictions for fleeing police, burglary, theft, and other charges. He was imprisoned three times, most recently being released on parole March 30, 2023.

Last modified July 4, 2024

 

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