As grand jury indicts Dodge City officer involved in Vanessa Guzman’s death, her family honors her memory
Irvin Ordaz had finished his night shift at Walmart on Jan. 25, 2020, in Dodge City. His fiancée Vanessa Guzman was to pick him up at 5 a.m.
As Ordaz waited, he could hear police and emergency vehicle sirens in the distance.
"I started texting her and got nothing back, so I had a bad feeling," Ordaz said.
Ordaz wasn't supposed to be at work that day, but he had taken on an extra shift.
With no ride and no response from Guzman, Ordaz began walking. He could see lights in the distance toward Matt Down Lane and Wyatt Earp Boulevard. He knew Guzman would be driving in that area from their residence on Park Street.
"I just walked down and found the accident," Ordaz said. "I recognized the car but didn't want to believe it. Then I got closer, and that's when it hit me. I was in shock."
According to a news release from the Dodge City Police Department, Guzman was pronounced dead by medical personnel when they arrived at the scene.
"The police took me home to tell the parents," Ordaz said. "Her mom, aunt and grandparents all lived near each other, so I had to go tell everyone what was going on. I still have nightmares today."
Police were en route to possible break-in
At 4:56 a.m., Guzman was driving her 2016 Hyundai Accent northbound on Matt Down Lane. Driving westbound was a Dodge City police vehicle — it wasn't using its emergency lights and sirens.
The police car struck Guzman's Hyundai on the passenger side
According to the Kansas Highway Patrol crash log, the vehicles traveled northwest with the Hyundai flipping over the metal guardrail near the intersection before stopping upright in the north ditch.
Guzman was ejected from the vehicle.
The police vehicle, driven by Dodge City Police Cpl. Shane Harris, came to a rest on the westbound shoulder near the guardrail.
According to the DCPD, officers were responding to a report of a break-in.
"There was a call from a citizen on 28th Avenue about someone trying to get into her house through the front door," DCPD Police Chief Drew Francis said at the time. "Three officers responded. One officer was able to get to the scene and did not locate anyone outside. Two others officers were en route to the call at the time of the crash."
In a Jan. 28, 2020, Facebook post, the police department said it turned over body camera footage to the Kansas Highway Patrol, which was investigating the crash.
The post stated the camera footage was also shown to the Guzman family for review.
The Facebook post said officers responding to the call were told to downgrade their response, adding, "At the time of the crash, the officer was still responding to the call but was not responding as an emergency vehicle under lights and sirens."
Grand jury returns indictment
After 17 months, it was announced on June 22 that a grand jury had been convened by the Ford County Attorney's Office. The grand jury returned an indictment against Harris.
According to Ford County Attorney Kevin Salzman, the indictment charges Harris with involuntary manslaughter or, in the alternative, vehicular homicide.
Family's attorney Tom Diehl said the family wasn't involved in the grand jury proceedings.
"Presently, we have no comment about the ongoing criminal proceedings as they have only just begun," said Diehl, who is with Ralston, Pope & Diehl, of Topeka.
A Dodge City Daily Globe open records request showed Harris is still an employee of the Dodge City Police Department.
The Daily Globe asked city public information officer Abbey Martin whether Harris has been placed on administrative leave or suspended. Martin declined to answer.
"As there are ongoing investigations in place around this case, we must decline to comment at this time," Martin said.
Harris's first appearance and arraignment hearing will be scheduled for a later date.
Couple met in Wendy's drive-through
Guzman was working in 2013 at Wendy's restaurant in Dodge City when she received a message on Facebook from Ordaz.
"Yeah, we met on the Internet," Ordaz said. "She was working at Wendy's, and I went through the drive-through and ended up looking her up and then we started hanging out."
Guzman was a nursing student at Dodge City Community College. Guzman left school when she became pregnant and Ordaz took a job at National Beef.
"We were together nine years, and our daughter is now 7 years old," Ordaz said. "She was a beautiful mom, man, everything she did was for her daughter. She didn't get into material things, as long as me and my daughter were happy, she was happy.
"She did everything like an old-school mom. She was the best."
Sarai Guzman, Vanessa Guzman's sister, talked about how kind her sister was.
"She was super mommy. She would get things done ever since she was little," Sarai Guzman said.
Family members said Vanessa Guzman would take charge of gatherings, especially during the holidays.
"She put the Christmas tree up and did Thanksgiving and always on time," Sarai Guzman said.
Members of Vanessa's family — her mother Adriana Pena; her grandmother Abby Pena and numerous cousins — all pointed to her promptness.
"Always had a smile on her face," Adriana Pena said. "That smile captured a lot of hearts."
Family keeps Vanessa's memory alive
The family gathered at the crash site Monday. The now-hallowed ground on which they stood holds a memorial to Vanessa. It's taken care of by her uncle Francisco Pena.
The family said Francisco Pena comes to the site every few weeks to mow the grass. He wants to keep his niece's memory intact.
"She was my everything, and me and her grandfather miss her a lot," Abby Pena said. "She would do my pedicures for me."
The family had a candlelight vigil at the site in February 2020.
Ordaz said his daughter, who was 5 when her mother died, has been in therapy to cope with the loss.
"It helped a lot," Ordaz said. "My first instinct was to worry about my daughter. She is our life. We spoil that girl."
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