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Motorist bound over on murder charge in death of man run down in park

 Credit: Derek Seifert / U.S. Air Force
Credit: Derek Seifert / U.S. Air Force (KKTV)
Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 6:05 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A 41-year-old man was running across an open field when a sports car struck him from behind, fatally injuring him, witnesses testified Tuesday during the preliminary hearing of Chad Thomas Cuevas, 52.

Cuevas was bound over on a charge of premeditated first-degree murder in the death of Emerson D. Downing, 41, of Topeka.

Downing died of "blunt force injuries" to his head and neck during the homicide, which is death "at the hands of another," forensic pathologist Tiffany Hollenbeck testified during Cuevas' preliminary hearing.

Hollenbeck did the autopsy on Downing at the Shawnee County Coroner's Office. Downing died on February 17.

Downing suffered a dislocation of his brain stem, Hollenbeck testified. "It was a significant dislocation," Hollenbeck testified.

Surveillance video at Kansas Power Train, a nearby North Topeka business, showed a black sports "car running over a person" and chasing other people across a field, according to Charles Stover, a business employee.

Another Power Train employee, Daniel Canady, testified he heard someone yell, " 'You gonna (epithet) die today!' I witnessed a black car run over a gentleman. It did not appear to brake," Canady said.

The car "hopped" when it struck Downing, he said.

Downing was fatally injured in Curtis Memorial Park in North Topeka.

Witness Levi Brecheisen testified he saw four people being chased by a black sports car.

One man, Downing, "was compressed into the ground substantially," Brecheisen said.

When the black car was recovered by the Kansas Highway Patrol and Topeka Police Department just south of I-70 at Emland and Gage, officers found grass and mud inside the car in the driver and passenger area, Police Detective Tim Noonan testified. Noonan is retired.

Cuevas will be arraigned at 11 a.m. on August 14 before Shawnee County District Court Nancy Parrish. A date for Cuevas' trial hasn't been scheduled.

On Tuesday, Topeka police identified Topeka's first murder victim in 2020 as Emerson D. Downing, 41, of Topeka.

Emerson was killed when he was struck in a hit-and-run incident in a North Topeka park on Monday.

On Tuesday, Shawnee County District Court Judge Penny Moylan set the bond of Cuevas, 51, at $1 million professional surety or cash.

Cuevas next is to appear in district court on June 3. If the district attorney’s office files charges in the Emerson slaying, Cuevas’s hearing would be rescheduled to a sooner date.

Cuevas told the judge he intends to retain his own defense attorney.

A court official said Cuevas has a criminal history including making a terroristic threat, driving under the influence of alcohol, and criminal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Topeka Police say witnesses heard an argument just after 1 p.m. Monday and called authorities.

Police Lt. Manny Munoz said witnesses then saw a vehicle run over Downing, and take off on Topeka Blvd. Downing was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he died.

The incident occurred near the Soldier Trail in the 1500 block of N.W. Tyler. Munoz said the people were not on the paved walking path itself, but rather in an area used to make their own way between the trail and local streets and alleys, both on foot and by car or bicycle.

Police found Cuevas a short time after the incident near S.W. Emland Dr. and Gage Blvd., which is south of I-70.

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