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URBANA — Urbana’s chief police investigator is praising patrol officers in Urbana and Champaign for their efforts in arresting two teens in the murder of a Chicago man Wednesday, the first killing of 2022 in Champaign County.

The teens, 17 and 16, are expected to be charged as adults today with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Kristian D. Philpotts, 29, of Chicago.

Mr. Philpotts, a 2016 graduate of Illinois State University in pre-veterinary medicine who also earned a master’s from Eastern Illinois University in 2019, was apparently intending to get a Ph.D., according to a friend.

He was found unresponsive at 6:23 p.m. Wednesday on South Vine Street, just south of Florida Avenue, and taken to Carle Foundation Hospital, where he was pronounced dead 29 minutes later from a single gunshot to the back.

Within hours, Urbana police Lt. Dave Smysor said, the teens were in custody, arrested together in the 900 block of South State Street in Champaign shortly after leaving a residence in a vehicle.

Smysor said police quickly determined that Mr. Philpotts was working as a Lyft driver when he was shot during an attempted robbery.

“It happened inside the vehicle he was renting,” Smysor said. “We have no reason to believe he was doing anything other than trying to make a buck legally.”

Although Smysor said he was unclear on where each of the suspects was seated in Mr. Philpotts’ Jeep, police think he was shot by someone in the back seat, then jumped out of the vehicle and ran.

“He made it a couple blocks south before his body gave out,” Smysor said.

Police continue to try to flesh out their case by determining where Mr. Philpotts picked up the teens, where they were headed and what their intentions were.

Smysor credited patrol officers for quickly gathering information in the areas where Mr. Philpotts was found and a few blocks to the north, where his Jeep was recovered.

“It involved knocking on a lot of doors and people in the neighborhood providing information,” he said. “Patrol officers and sergeants and detectives were able to parlay that information into actionable intelligence that led us to an address in the 900 block of South State Street in Champaign.”

Expanding on that, Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said the teens were apparently knocking on people’s doors in the area where the killing happened, asking if they could use a phone because they had lost theirs.

Rietz said police found phones on the victim and inside the Jeep.

“No one would let them use a phone,” she said, adding that apparently, one of them had a phone with a very low battery and was able to make a call to a family member.

“Officers were out canvassing and saw them get into a car and drive off and got the plate from that car and traced it back to a residence in Champaign,” she said.

Rietz said Champaign police were watching that house on State Street as she was preparing an application for a search warrant for a judge to sign.

“People started to leave and they stopped the cars. These two and two others were in a car,” Rietz said.

Smysor said he thinks one of the accused teens was living at the State Street address.

Champaign patrol officers provided a lot of help to Urbana police, Smysor said.

“Things were moving quick,” he said. “Like a lot of places, we are suffering from manpower problems. They were instrumental in helping us check all the boxes we needed to check.”

Smysor said police searched the State Street residence Thursday but declined to say if they recovered the gun used to shoot Mr. Philpotts.

Although he said police are confident they arrested the right people, they have more work to do.

The killing is the third murder in three weeks in Urbana.

Five people were arrested and charged with the fatal shooting and bayoneting of Trenton Jones, 27, in a Dec. 20 robbery gone bad on North Division Street.

No arrests have been made in the killing of Jordan Atwater-Lewis, 17, who was shot in the head Dec. 30 by a group of people in the 1600 block of East Hunter Street. His was Urbana’s 10th homicide of 2021.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

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