CHEROKEE — An early evening wreck Tuesday claimed the life of an area prosecutor.
According to the Kansas Highway Patrol crash log, at about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, Steven W. Wilhoft. 58, was Traveling west on Kansas Highway 126, near the Kansas Highway 7, junction in his 2014 Nissan Sentra, when Edgar D. Romero, 43, of Houston, Texas, who was traveling south on K7 in a 2006 Freightliner semi, failed to stop at the stop sign and hit the passenger side of Wilhoft’s car.
Wilhoft was taken to Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg, where he died of his injuries.
Both drivers were wearing seatbelts and Romero was not injured.
According to the Parsons Sun, Wilhoft — a 1992 Washburn School of Law graduate — started working as an attorney in Parsons for the Richard Tucker law office, then in private practice before joining the county attorney’s office and then finishing the unexpired term of former County Attorney Robert Forer. Wilhoft was elected two times as county attorney and served in office for seven years, leaving in January 2007 for the Kansas Attorney General’s Office.
He was assigned to prosecute cases for the Southeast Kansas Drug Enforcement Task Force in area counties and also acted as an assistant attorney general attached to the AG’s Criminal Litigation Division. He has been one of two prosecutors of capital murder suspect David Cornell Bennett Jr. in Parsons.
Colleagues in Pittsburg were stunned by the news.
“Steve was a passionate attorney, representing the interest of the State of Kansas for over a decade,” Crawford County Attorney Michael Gayoso said Thursday. “He assisted our office on numerous cases and always fought for what he believed was right. What happened was tragic and he will be missed by many.”
Deputy Crawford County Attorney Reina Probert and Assistant County Attorney John Gutierrez who both attended law school with Wilhoft remember him as a tough prosecutor and kind man.
Gutierrez said when Wilhoft would return to his home state of Colorado for a visit he would return with fresh green chillies for Gutierrez.
Gutierrez said he and Wilhoft would make sure to have at least one meal together when attending conferences.
“We’d go out at least one night and eat dinner and just talk about our families,” Gutierrez said.
Probert said Wilhoft, who was in the year behind her in law school, had a passion for the law, but also for helping other attorneys.
“He was such an inspiration to me,” she said. “He would always make himself available to other attorneys.”
Probert said it was not unusual for her to call Wilhoft asking about a case and ten minutes later have an email with links to other relevant cases.
However, Probert said, it was his kindness which stuck out to her.
“He was a zealous advocate for the law,” she said. “But he was also a great guy, great family man, great Christian man.”
Gutierrez said Wilhoft had his impish side as well.
“When he was right and he knew it he would not budge,” Gutierrez, who knew Wilhoft from their first day in law school, said. “When we were arguing against each other in the courtroom, and he knew he was right, after the judge ruled in his favor he’d give you this grin that said ‘told you.’”
However, Gutierrez said, even when he was sending someone to jail or prison, he was always concerned that the offender get help while incarcerated.
“He always thought the best in people would come out,” Gutierrez said.
Services will be 3 p.m., Monday, at the Parsons Municipal Auditorium. Burial will follow at Oakwood Cemetery. The family will receive friends from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Forbes-Hoffman Funeral Home. Friends may call after 10 a.m. Sunday at the funeral home.
— Patrick Richardson is the managing editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @PittEditor.