A robbery at this Sonic Drive-In and a fatal shooting in the parking lot at the Dillons behind it are raising concerns about whether it's safe for teens to hang out there. Dion Lefler The Wichita Eagle
A robbery at this Sonic Drive-In and a fatal shooting in the parking lot at the Dillons behind it are raising concerns about whether it's safe for teens to hang out there. Dion Lefler The Wichita Eagle

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Dillons slaying and Sonic robbery at affluent strip mall shakes school, city leaders

By Dion Lefler


March 07, 2018 06:01 PM

A fatal shooting and a fast-food robbery on back-to-back days at an upscale west Wichita shopping center has a school superintendent worried for the safety of his students who hang out there in their off hours.

The corner of Maple and 135th West is ordinarily a placid tableau of suburban shopping. It has a Dillons supermarket, a Sonic drive in, a Subway sandwich shop, Great Wall Chinese fast food, a karate studio and a Walgreens drug store.

And because it's about the only place near the Auburn Hills neighborhood to get snacks or a beverage, it has long been a popular hangout for neighborhood teens, who mostly live in Wichita and attend Goddard schools.

And where teenagers gather, there will be some drug trafficking, said Justin Henry, superintendent of the Goddard school district.

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"For years we've had concerns about that (shopping center) as a great meeting place for kids," Henry said. "I think it's a false narrative that some people have that there's not drug abuse in suburban districts, because that is a great target for drug dealers."

Until about two weeks ago, there had been three violent crimes at the corner over the past six years, according to police statistics.

And the only high-profile crime was two years ago, when four people hooked chains to an automatic teller machine outside the Walgreens and dragged it away behind a mini-van.

But that reign of near nothing came to an end in the early morning hours of Feb. 19.

A teenager from the neighborhood - who was facilitating a drug deal, police said - was shot in the head in the Dillons parking lot. A day later, a man robbed the Sonic, where many local teens work and/or hang out.

Although neither incident directly involved any of his current students, Henry said he was moved to seek answers. So he contacted the City Council members and the county commissioner from the area. That led to an invitation for Henry to speak to the District 5 Advisory Board.

"I don't know the next step," Henry said. "I don't have any of the answers. But what I did know is I wasn't going to sit on the information. Whether there is or isn't a problem, I don't know that. But I also knew that I wasn't going to be the one to assume there's not and then something happens and it destroys a family or a student's life."

Council member Bryan Frye said he appreciated Henry's proactive approach.

"We don't have a lot of issues" at that corner, Frye said. "But we also don't want to just assume that's always the case. So when we do have some odd crime wave, we want to take it and we want to address it as quickly as we can."

He called several police officers to the District Advisory Board to discuss the situation.

Officer William Perkins gave a rundown on the two crimes.

In the shooting, "What that was was an individual who lives in the area who is considered a drug dealer, was contacted by a friend of his who had some narcotics that she wanted to sell," Perkins said.

"She called him up. He made some contacts with another individual to sell these drugs to. They met in the convenient location, which happened to be the Dillons parking lot. And subsequently this gentleman got shot during that."

Raymond Anthony Alvarez Jr., 21, was arrested Feb. 20 on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and criminal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The shooting victim, Chris Coley, 19, died Monday and the charge against Alvarez was upgraded to first-degree murder, said district attorney spokesman Dan Dillon.

Perkins said the Sonic robbery is thought to have been by the same individual who recently robbed several fast-food places in west Wichita.

The Sonic is especially a magnet for the teen crowd.

Perkins said he's gotten complaints from older people in the area who say "they don't really go up there any more just because they (teens) are hanging around."

District Advisory Board member Jill Kerschen said her daughter worked there about three years ago when she was a teenager.

"She said drugs were running the building because the kids were hanging out there," Kerschen said. "Half the staff would go on break and smoke (marijuana)."

Perkins said police will monitor and provide directed patrols in the area.

But he said it's not the Police Department's job to move kids along if Sonic allows them to congregate there.

"We're going to work more with the managers of the Sonic, come nice weather, come summertime . . . and suggest to them to maybe keep them in an area where they're not hanging around in the driveway to give that perceived perception that something bad is going on."

A man who police said was shot during a drug deal at a west Wichita Dillon's died Monday. Wichita Police responded to a shooting in the Dillon's parking lot on West Maple on Feb. 19. Wichita Police DepartmentCandi Bolden

Dion Lefler 316-268-6527, @DionKansas