De Soto Johnson County prosecutors filed a second-degree murder charge Tuesday against a 19-year-old De Soto man, accusing him of recklessly driving away while his 17-year-old girlfriend, who later died from her injuries, fell to the ground.
Sheriff's officers said the incident stemmed from a domestic dispute Friday night in De Soto, when Griselda Del Real was riding on the running board of Johnny Landa's SUV and fell.
Landa reportedly left the scene in the 8200 block of Ottawa Street, but he later returned when officers called him. Officers arrested Landa on Saturday, the morning Del Real died at Overland Park Regional Medical Center from her injuries, sheriff's spokesman Tom Erickson said.
The news of Del Real's death made for a somber Tuesday at De Soto High School, where she was a senior. Students and teachers wore pink ribbons, her favorite color.
"She was a sweet girl, and this is just unfortunate that this happened," Principal David Morford said.
Sheriff's officers say Del Real and Landa were arguing over another girl at 10:40 p.m. Friday while he was in his white Cadillac Escalade. At some point, Del Real fell from standing on the SUV's running board and suffered multiple injuries, Erickson said.
"When she came off the vehicle, he didn't stop, he kept going," Erickson said.
Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline on Tuesday amended Landa's charges from aggravated battery up to unintentional but reckless second-degree murder and added an obstruction of justice charge for alleged conduct during an interview with authorities.
Kline said Landa showed "a reckless disregard for human life" during the situation. Landa pleaded not guilty to the charges Tuesday and remained in the Johnson County Jail on $500,000 bond.
Robert Harvey, who lives on the southern side of Ottawa Street about 100 feet east of the 82nd Street intersection, said he heard a vehicle speeding down Ottawa Street with someone shouting "stop," followed by what sounded like a car door slamming and the vehicle driving off. He then heard a louder groaning in the street, saw Del Real and called 911.
Harvey said he saw a white SUV and black car pull up to the injured girl, and someone yelled "oh my God" and they sped off before firefighters arrived.
Del Real had worked at the Taco Bell and KFC restaurant in De Soto for two years, afternoon shift manager Nora Cepeda said.
"All I can say is we lost a very lovely person," she said. "She was a great employee and a friend. She was friendly to everyone."
De Soto students were able to meet with counselors, social workers and school psychologists Tuesday morning.
The school is working with the restaurant to raise money for Del Real's family to help pay funeral and hospital expenses. Morford, the principal, said they had raised more than $1,100 Tuesday afternoon.
Services are scheduled for Saturday but have not been finalized, said Alvie Cater, a school district spokesman.
Visiting a shrine Tuesday that has sprung up at the 83rd and Ottawa street intersection, Griselda Marquez and Susana Marquez said they didn't believe Landa intended to hurt his girlfriend of nearly four years.
"That's what we're hoping," Griselda Marquez said. "That's the only thing that makes sense. "He was troubled, but I think he was very misunderstood."
The two unrelated young women went to school and worked with Del Real, they said. Both now work at Taco Bell, where Landa would regularly visit to spend time with Del Real during her breaks, they said.
Griselda Marquez said she became Del Real's best friend in middle school when the girl's parents, Bertha and Juan Del Real, moved to De Soto. "The Griselda twins" worked at various department stores and fast-food restaurants before both started working at Taco Bell, said Griselda Marquez, who graduated last spring from De Soto High School.
Within the last year, the two girls started to drift apart as Del Real spent more time with Landa, Griselda Marquez said.
"When you thought of Johnny, you thought of Griselda. When you thought of Griselda, you thought of Johnny," she said. "They were always together.
The two young women said Del Real and Landa's relationship didn't appear rocky. The couple were, the two said, "like everybody else."
De Real was a "realist," Griselda Marquez said.
"She was the person that always told you what she thought no matter what," she said. "She would say, 'You needed to hear that.' She was like my mom."
- Staff writer George Diepenbrock can be reached at 832-7144. De Soto Explorer editor Elvyn Jones can be reached at (785) 542-2747.