Failed Kan. theme park developer to be released

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The man who was sentenced to five years in prison for defrauding investors in a failed Western-themed amusement park near Wichita will be released next week, the Department of Corrections says.

Thomas Etheredge, 59, has served just over three years of his sentence after he was found guilty of seven counts of securities fraud in connection with the Wild West World theme park in Park City. It was only open from May 2007 to July 2007.

Etheredge has been at the Wichita Work Release Center since March 2011 after serving his first year at state prisons in El Dorado and Winfield, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/12lFKNF ). He'll be released Monday.

A Sedgwick County jury found in February 2010 that Etheredge misled investors in the park as construction costs climbed well over budget. Etheredge blamed the park's poor attendance on the wet summer weather in 2007. The federal bankruptcy court tried unsuccessfully to sell the park to investors but its assets were auctioned off in November 2010.

Jack Whitson, Park City's longtime administrator, said it is time to move on and forgive Etheredge.

"Looking back, I really believe his intent was pure," Whitson said. "He wanted very desperately to build a Western theme park, and it didn't work out the way he planned. People get desperate when things happen, and they do desperate things."