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A young mother is shot dead, and it may have all started with a tossed drink

Witnesses to Whitney Gray’s road rage killing heard what sound like a gunshot right after a passenger in the front seat of her minivan threw a drink at a passing SUV, which had passed so closely it almost caused the minivan to wreck, court documents say.

Jackson County prosecutors said Tuesday that Christopher P. Taylor, 39, was charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in Gray’s death.

Gray, 22, was fatally shot Sunday night as she drove in the area of Winner Road and Sterling Avenue.

Taylor, of Independence, was arrested early Tuesday in South Dakota. Authorities used a GPS tracking system to locate Taylor, who was roughly 700 miles away at a hotel.

“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 written statement. “Our community has shown again it will not tolerate such senseless violence.”

It was the second road rage incident over the weekend that ended in separate fatal shootings.

Taylor is being held without bond in the Pennington County jail in Rapid City, S.D. No court date has been set. Authorities do not know if Taylor will fight extradition.

Authorities said that surveillance photos of a white SUV involved in the incident generated tips that led them to Taylor.

According to court records:

Gray went shopping at a grocery store at 23rd Street and Sterling Avenue. Surveillance video captured Gray loading groceries and then driving north out of the parking lot. An SUV followed her minivan at a high rate of speed.

At one point, the SUV allegedly driven by Taylor, passed the minivan so closely that it almost caused a wreck. Witnesses said both vehicles continued north to a traffic signal at Winner Road, where Gray pulled into the left turn lane. Taylor remained in the lane on her right.

Witnesses said they saw a drink or liquid thrown from the passenger window of the minivan onto Taylor’s SUV. Just as the liquid was thrown, the SUV moved forward into the intersection and a witnesses said they heard a loud pop, which may have been a gun shot.

Both vehicles then traveled north on Sterling. Gray’s minivan eventually stopped in the 1600 block of Sterling Avenue as Taylor continued north.

Police arrived and found Gray, who had been shot in the chest, below the neck around her collarbone area. The passengers — a 16-year-old girl; a 3-year-old boy; and an 16-month-old boy — were not injured. Gray died at the scene.

The day following the shooting, detectives spoke to James R. Taylor, who described his son, Christopher Taylor as a loner that was paranoid of the government and made every effort to “stay off the grid.” James Taylor said he saw media reports of the fatal shooting and noticed the SUV that was being sought by investigators looked like the 2004 Toyota Sequoia that his son drove.

James Taylor also told investigators that the shooting happened near his son’s neighborhood. James Taylor said he called his son after he became worried that his son was involved in the shooting.

The phone call went straight to voice mail, which James Taylor said was unusual. A call from another relative to Taylor also went straight to his voice mail. Taylor’s boss said he didn’t call or show up to work, which was uncharacteristic. The boss also was unable to reach Taylor by phone.

James Taylor said he went to his son’s residence and noticed the SUV was not there. A landlord let James Taylor inside and noticed missing were some of his son’s clothes, camping gear, an assault style rifle, handgun and ammunition. Also missing were $50 in gold pieces, 100 ounces of silver and an acoustic guitar.

Investigators later went to the car dealership where Taylor purchased his SUV and tracked him to the hotel in South Dakota.

A GoFundMe campaign has been started for Gray’s funeral expenses. Donations can be made here: https://www.gofundme.com/funeral-and-child-expenses-2ummspj7. The campaign website shows a picture of Gray with her two young sons.

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar

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