Richard Thomas Gunhammer Jr., 18, appeared in state court in Kennebec, South Dakota, on Thursday, Nov. 21 on several charges, including felony counts of stealing a shotgun and a Jeep in Kennebec early Tuesday morning, Nov. 19, Lyman County State’s Attorney Steve Smith told the Capital Journal on Thursday.
Gunhammer and four other young men committed several thefts in Kennebec early Tuesday and as law enforcement responded, three of them sped out of town in a stolen pickup truck and crashed, killing an 18-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy and injuring an 18-year-old man.
Gunhammer and a juvenile boy allegedly stole a Jeep and went a different direction. They were taken into custody later that morning, after all the activity caused school officials to cancel classes.
Gunhammer has been in jail in Chamberlain in neighboring Brule County since Tuesday. But he was slated to be released Friday afternoon on a personal recognizance bond because of the funeral service for his brother, who turned 17 only days ago and died in the pickup truck crash four miles north of Kennebec about 4:30 a.m., Tuesday morning, according to court officials.
Gunhammer and the juvenile had left the Jeep in Kennebec and ran into fields east of town, where they were found hiding about mid-morning on Tuesday, according to Smith.
The five young men apparently arrived in Kennebec together and began breaking into vehicles and taking two, Smith said.
As reports came in of the crimes, Lyman County Sheriff Steve Manger went out to check on them about 4:30 a.m.,Tuesday, Smith said.
Sheriff Manger followed a 2007 Dodge Ram 2500 pickup truck driving north out of of Kennebec on state Highway 73 that had been reported stolen, according to reports from Smith and Tony Mangan, spokesman for the state Highway Patrol..
Meanwhile, Sheriff Manger had seen Richard Gunhammer and the juvenile boy driving a Jeep they are suspected of stealing in Kennebec.
Following the pickup, Manger saw that about four miles north of Kennebec, the pickup went into the ditch and rolled, ejecting the three young men who had been inside.
The driver, who was 18, and a 17-year-old passenger were pronounced dead at the scene, Mangan said in a news release.
An 18-year-old man riding in the pickup had serious but non-life-threatening injuries, Mangan said. The man was taken to the hospital in Chamberlain and then airlifted to a Sioux Falls hospital.
Mangan said he could not release the names of the three in the pickup truck until the weekend because they had invoked Marsy’s Law provisions restricting information that can be made public by law enforcement agencies.
But court documents indicate the 17-year-old victim in the rollover was Gunhammer's brother.
Gunhammer appeared in court Thursday in his initial appearance on charges of the theft of the Jeep, valued at more than $5,000, and a shotgun reportedly taken out of a vehicle in Kennebec, valued at up to $2,500. Each of those counts is a class 4 felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years.
Goldhammer is also charged with aggravated entry to a vehicle, a class 6 felony with a maximum penalty of two years in prison, as well as four misdemeanor counts alleging he eluded and obstructed law officers, possessed stolen property of less than $500 in value, and used a vehicle without being authorized to by its owner.
On Thursday, Gunhammer was given a PR bond “due to family circumstances,” involving his younger brother’s wake and funeral this weekend in Lake Andes, at the request of his defense attorney, Katie Thompson of Pierre, according to court documents.
Gunhammer’s release is under several typical conditions such as no bars or drinking and keeping in regular contact with his attorney; but his conditions also includes the order that he remain under house arrest with his uncle’s family in Wagner.
His next court date is Dec. 12.
Gunhammer’s younger brother was from recently Sioux Falls and originally from Wagner, South Dakota, and a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, according to his obituary.
Gunhammer also grew up in Wagner, according to his social media page.
The wake services for Gunhammer’s younger brother, who turned 17 just days before his death, were scheduled for 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 22, in the White Swan Community Center in Lake Andes. His funeral service was at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 23, in the Center, with burial at St. Paul’s Catholic Cemetery in Marty, South Dakota, according to information on the website of the Crosby-Jaeger Funeral Home in Wagner.
Prosecutor Smith said contrary to rumors spread on social media, Sheriff Manger did nothing to cause the chase or the crash.
Manger "stayed at a safe distance" behind the fleeing pickup. A video from his vehicle shows how the two-minute incident played out, Smith said.
The sheriff “did nothing that would have caused any kind of risk or created a risk situation that caused this vehicle to roll over,” Smith said. The sheriff kept “a safe distance (from the pickup) and felt horrified when he saw that vehicle, for reasons not clear, lose control in the middle of the road and roll over. . . For some reason, maybe from what was going on inside the cab of the pickup, the driver lost control.”
Highway 73 is a two-lane paved road and is straight at that site, with no curves, Smith said.
Several hours after the rollover, Gunhammer and the juvenile boy who had been in the Jeep were found in a field east of Kennebec and taken into custody.
No information is being released about the juvenile boy with Gunhammer in the Jeep, and not much about the 18-year-old who was hospitalized, Smith said.
Local officials decided to call off school for the day, because Gunhammer and the juvenile boy had left the stolen Jeep near the middle school in Kennebec, there was a report they had stolen a shotgun from a vehicle in town, and they were still not in custody after sunrise.
“For the prudence of student safety and to assure everyone’s safety until whoever was involved was in custody, the principal and the school board made the decision to not open school that day,” Smith said. “It showed good decision-making.”
(Capital Journal Reporter Del Bartels contributed to this article.)