A thrown drink apparently was the final straw in a road rage incident that claimed the life a young Independence mother Sunday evening.
Early Tuesday, authorities found and arrested the man who allegedly fired the shot that killed 22-year-old Whitney Gray as she drove on Sterling Avenue in Independence with her two young sons seated in the back.
Christopher P. Taylor, 39, was charged today with second-degree murder and armed criminal action. Jackson County prosecutors have asked that he be held on $100,000 bond.
A multi-agency fugitive task force found Taylor at a hotel in western South Dakota, 700 miles from Independence, thanks to the GPS tracking device in his white 2004 Toyota Sequoia. According to a release from the Rapid City Police Department, Taylor remains in Pennington County Jail awaiting extradition.
Independence Police, talking to witnesses and viewing video tape from local businesses, described what happened around 7:35 Sunday evening, starting at 23rd Street and Sterling.
After finishing grocery shopping, Gray pulled out of the Price Chopper, turned north on Sterling and stopped at the light at 23rd. Inside her silver Chevrolet minivan were three youths – a 16-year-old girl and Gray’s two sons, ages 3 years and 16 months.
Video shows a large white SUV northbound “at a high rate of speed” coming to a stop behind Gray. The light changed, and surveillance video shows the SUV following Gray closely. Witnesses also said Gray was tailgating. He passed her on the right, and a witness said that was so close it almost caused a wreck.
Both came to a stop, side by side with the minivan in the left lane, at the red light at Winner. Witnesses saw a drink or liquid thrown from the front passenger window of the minivan onto the SUV. Then the SUV moved into the intersection, and witnesses heard a pop they thought was a gunshot.
Both vehicles went north, but Gray barely made past the railroad tracks. She got to a driveway on the west side of Sterling. When police arrived, shortly after Fire Department personnel, they found her bleeding heavily with a gunshot near her collarbone on the right side. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Neither Gray’s sons nor the 16-year-old passenger was injured.
Police released an image of the SUV to the media, and Taylor’s father became concerned when he saw it on TV news Monday morning. He tried to reach his son but couldn’t. Neither could Taylor’s mother or boss, and Taylor hadn’t showed up for work or called in – all out of character, the father said.
Police had tied the vehicle to Taylor due to surveillance video at the QuikTrip on U.S 40 and Sterling. The video revealed a Toyota Sequoia with a license plate registered to him and showed a single person exiting and getting back into the white SUV and leaving northbound on Sterling shortly before the shooting.
At Taylor’s home, the father found several items to be missing: clothing, camping gear, a .40-caliber handgun, an assault-style rifle, ammunition, several pieces of gold and silver and an acoustic guitar.
The father told police where Taylor had bought his Toyota Sequoia, and that dealer used the Gold Star tracking system to locate the vehicle at a motel in Box Elder, South Dakota. That’s in the western part of the state next to Rapid City.
According to Rapid City Police, authorities worked with hotel employees to coordinate Taylor’s arrest, which occurred without incident.
"The Independence Police Department and our community deserve praise for working together to bring this suspect to justice," Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker said in a release. "Our community has shown again it will not tolerate such senseless violence."