The owner — and an Independence police report — name Amanda Perry as the suspect in the theft. Perry died in the front passenger seat of the fleeing Jeep when it crashed Friday into a car, ultimately killing four people.
Beverly Stark, 67, of Independence said her Jeep was stolen on Wednesday, May 30, when her 43-year-old son, Scott Stark, took the vehicle to the QuikTrip at 23rd Street and Lee's Summit Road to fill it up with gas.
While driving to the QuikTrip around 5:30 p.m., Stark says her son noticed Perry, "an acquaintance," walking in the day's 90-degree heat.
"He knew her, not very well, but well enough," Stark said. "She was walking outside and it was hot, so he offered to give her a ride."
When he and Perry arrived at the QuikTrip, he went inside, leaving the keys in the ignition with Perry, Stark said.
"He came outside, and the car was gone," Stark said.
In an interview with The Star, Scott Stark offered few details but confirmed what his mother told The Star. He said he knew Perry through a mutual friend, who also is listed in the police report.
Scott Stark said he searched for the car for about three hours before reporting the vehicle stolen at about 8:41 p.m. that night.
"I was on foot and had people looking for it," Scott Stark said.
The next morning, Beverly Stark said she received a call from Excelsior Springs police, who had confiscated one of the Jeep's license plates. The Independence police report confirms that the plates were recovered Thursday.
"The police told me that apparently a young man driving my car had hit some trash cans in an Excelsior Springs neighborhood," Beverly Stark said.
Independence police noticed the Jeep on Friday afternoon and tried to pull over the driver, whom police identified as 24-year-old Victoria Brown.
In the front passenger's seat was Perry.
Police said Brown fled and engaged in a 100-mph flight from police. As she came around a curve, she slammed into a turning Dodge Avenger, killing Perry in the Jeep and three of the four occupants in the unsuspecting Dodge.
"I’m devastated over it," Beverly Stark said. "That innocent people had to die and suffer — it’s just heartbreaking."
Perry's lifelong friends told the Star that she struggled in recent years but remembered her as an "innocent kid." They could not piece together why she was in the car with Brown, someone they did not know.
Brown initially was charged with three counts of second-degree murder and resisting a lawful stop, with another murder charge possible with the death of the fourth victim.
AaRon Daniel, 29, and Shawn Johnson, 30, cousins who both lived in Kansas City, and Anthony A. Belton Jr., 24 of Kansas City, were killed when the Jeep T-boned their Dodge.
Johnson, who had just gotten off work, was running errands for his mother. Daniel was on the way to see his newborn daughter who had been born two days before.
The crash has sent shock waves through the community and raised questions about the Independence Police Department's decision to engage in a high-speed chase for a nonviolent crime.
Court records show that police said they had lost sight of the Jeep by the time it T-boned Daniel's Dodge Avenger.
In cases such as the one Friday, where a stolen vehicle is identified, officers are supposed to consider alternatives to attempting to make an immediate arrest, according to the department's policy. Those alternatives include requesting a police helicopter to track the vehicle and deploying stop sticks.
Critics in and outside of law enforcement say chases aren't usually worth the risk they pose to the public.
Beverly Stark, however, said that she sees police pursuits as necessary.
"They’ve got to catch these people. Maybe not a high-speed chase, but if they don’t chase them, people are going to be doing it all the time," she said. "They're going to get away with it, and too many people are getting away with crimes nowadays."