Wild West World Owner Arrested

Two summers ago I was just starting my term as editor-in-chief of The Sunflower News at Wichita State University.

It was an exciting time, but what was also exciting was the opening of a western-themed amusement park mere minutes north of Wichita in Park City, Kan.

The new attraction was called Wild West World, and it was a children-orientate theme park.

I was a bit disappointed with the park, until it started to make news.

In July 2007, two months after the park had opened on May 5, 2007, its owner, Thomas Etheredge, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and shut the attraction down.

I wrote a piece about the unfolding saga because some WSU students were working there and got laid off.

On such student was Kelcy Fowler Mohr.

“My family is so proud,” she said jokingly. “I’m the youngest person to get laid off.”

Now Etheredge is making headlines again.

Kansas Securities Commissioner Chris Biggs announced today in a press release that Etheredge, 54, was arrested Wednesday on a warrant from Sedgwick County District Court.

“Etheredge was arrested on the Kansas warrant at the San Antonio airport and is incarcerated in Bexar (pronounced ‘bear’) County, Texas, pending extradition to Kansas,” the press release said. “Bond is set on the Kansas warrant in the amount of $1 million.”

He is being charged by the Securities Commissioner with 10 counts of securities fraud involving the failed amusement park, according to the release.

“The Commissioner alleges that Etheredge made misrepresentations or failed to disclose material facts prior to obtaining over $800,000 from private investors from February 2005 through March 2007,” the press release said.

Currently, the charges are only allegations, and Etheredge will be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

When I first wrote my first story about the park and its bankruptcy, Etheredge’s attraction was at least $24 million in debt and had laid off 535 employees.

At the time, Etheredge had said he was hopeful the park would reopen if a buyer was found.

On Feb. 13, The Wichita Business Journal did report that Florida-based AHG Holding LLC had purchase the park and was beginning to take steps toward reopening it.

The Journal’s story said AHG purchased the park in June 2008 for “$2.15 million with plans to invest an additional $12 million to $15 million.”

AHG also said they hope to have the park open again by this summer.

I hope it works out. More than that, though, I hope Etheredge gets what he deserves.

From the onset, he struck me as a shady character, especially after filing for bankruptcy two months after opening his amusement park. Now his arrest gives even more credence to my take on what kind of person he is.

I bet he thought all his troubles would go away once someone bought the park and began to work on it.

I guess he was wrong.

Those investors still want what they were promised, which should be a lesson to all entrepreneurs: do what you say you are going to do and don’t cheat people.

According to bankruptcy filings from my first coverage of the bankruptcy, such investors and creditors include the First National Bank of Southern Kansas in Goddard, representing a consortium of five banks, which loaned $6.2 million; Thomas and Cheryl Etheredge, who contributed $3.8 million; Citizens Bank in Wichita, which loaned $1.8 million; the city of Park City, which loaned $1 million; England-based Ruffler Bank, which loaned $500,000; and Summit Church, which loaned $401,895. And at the time, the list was expected to grow.

That amounts to a lot of people who went out on a limb for Etheredge with a lot of money.

If I was one of those investors hadn’t received a return on my investment, I would want something in return, such as a piece of the park.

Don’t you think a Ferris Wheel in my backyard would look cool?

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About toddvogts 839 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Journalism Education Association (JEA), and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), among others. He earned his Master Journalism Educator (MJE) certification from JEA in 2022. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at twitter.com/toddvogts or via his website at www.toddvogts.com.

1 Comment

  1. The $400,000 loaned by Summit Church was actually money that the Etheredges had “donated” to the church (which was the church that was based inside the theme park and also the church that the Etheredges attended) as a tax writeoff with the expectation that the money would then be invested by Summit’s pastor Terry Fox back into Wild West World. Sneaky huh?

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