An Independence man will have a preliminary hearing in less than two months for charges related to an 11-mile law enforcement chase in February.
Benjamin R. Whitaker, 20, Independence, is charged in Labette County District Court with fleeing and eluding, possession of stolen property (a 2014 Chevrolet Aveo) and interfering with a law officer, all low-level felonies. At Whitaker’s first appearance, Judge Fred W. Johnson set his bond at $15,000. Whitaker told the judge he wanted to return to Montgomery County so he could testify against the man accused of killing his girlfriend, Kimberly Meeks, 19. Meeks was shot and killed on Dec. 14, 2019, while walking with Whitaker near Laurel and West Main streets in Independence. Whitaker ran off before police arrived.
On Feb. 18 in Cherryvale, Whitaker and Tyler J. Hale, 24, Elk City, allegedly stole a 2014 Aveo that was left running while its driver ran into the house to get something. The owner contacted OnStar, the navigation system included with many modern General Motors products, and On-Star gave the owner the car’s location. At 5:45 a.m. Feb. 18, a Labette County deputy clocked a car traveling 114 mph eastbound on 24000 Road near Harper Road, according to the Labette County Sheriff’s Department. The deputy pursued and the car continued traveling on paved and gravel roads for 11 miles. The car crashed at a T-intersection on 21000 Road at Kiowa Road. The occupants were not at the car and were captured in different locations in the county at different times.
On Thursday, Judge Steve Stockard agreed to reduce Whitaker’s bond from $15,000 to $5,000. Whitaker’s attorney, Alan Brereton, asked for his client to be released on his own recognizance; County Attorney Stephen Jones suggested a $7,500 bond. The hearing was conducted via the Zoom web-based conferencing application.
Stockard scheduled a preliminary hearing in the case for Aug. 3.