Ex-Tupelo cop runs over prior girlfriend

James H. Kitchens

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — A former police officer has been arrested on a manslaughter charge after his car fatally struck a pedestrian over the weekend, Mississippi authorities said.

Oktibbeha County Investigator Brett Watson told the outlet that the pedestrian who was struck, Brittany Rhea Phillips, 26, was brought to the OCH Regional Medical Center by ambulance where she was pronounced dead early on Sunday morning. According to WTVA, her body has been sent to Jackson where an autopsy will be performed. WCBI also reported that deputies believe the incident stemmed from a “domestic situation” but did not elaborate.

Her ex-boyfriend, James Heath Kitchens, 30, has been charged with manslaughter.

Phillips was a model and entrepreneur whose Facebook page indicates that she was the owner of Couturhea, an online boutique, and beauty shop Beauty Perfected. Phillips was also pursuing a degree in kinesiology at Mississippi State University and had worked for two years at Oktibbeha County Hospital. It also indicates that she was beginning a minor in biological sciences and was pre-med at the university. In addition to her work as a model, Phillips also worked as a ring card girl for the Professional Fighters League since 2016.

A local photographer, Belmont Images Magazine, wrote on Facebook, “I don’t know if any of you ever met Brittany Rhea Phillips, but she was taken from us last night in a domestic violence event at her home in Starkville. She leaves behind a lot of fond memories of countless photoshoots over the years along with two young children. I met her back in 2011 when she was as skinny little 16 year old from Starkville. We could tell then just how good of a model she was going to be. She ultimately traveled the world doing what she loved to do. She will be missed.”

Phillips was the mother of two kids, a 7-year-old girl and a baby boy, who was born on February 2 of this year. Kitchens is the father of her youngest and frequently posted pictures with his son, including a series of photos in the spring where he is dressed in his police uniform while holding their baby.

The Tupelo Police Department confirmed that Kitchens was a Tupelo officer from January 2019 to May 2020, WTVA-TV reported.

Kitchens’ last public photo on Facebook with Phillips was posted on May 31 and was captioned, “Enjoying a night out with this beautiful woman of mine.” On September 23, Phillips posted to her account a series of photos showing the family of four enjoying the outdoors. The couple’s relationship status at the time of Phillips’ death is unclear.

Kitchens was being charged with manslaughter and was being held at the county jail on a $25,000 bond. The Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office told Heavy they are not releasing any further information about this case at this time. Kitchens has since bonded out.

Investigator Brett Watson said Phillips was hit about 8 p.m. Saturday. She died early Sunday, deputy county coroner Billy Miller confirmed to The Dispatch.

Authorities said the investigation was continuing.

It was not immediately clear whether Kitchens had an attorney who could speak for him.

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