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Headlines for Tuesday, May 23, 2023

 Colorful image of antique radios introducing a summary of the day's top news headlines.
Kansas Public Radio

Oil Company Detected Flaw in Keystone Pipeline Ten Years Before Washington County Spill

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) - The Canadian oil company, TC Energy, discovered that a piece of the Keystone oil pipeline had warped in Washington County about 10 years before it burst last December. An investigation found that TC Energy inspectors realized something was wrong in 2012 because it was hard to run a cleaning tool through the pipe. A crew dug up the pipe to see how much it had warped. The company decided not to fix the pipe. Instead, they asked the inspection contractor to modify its tools to pass through the warped spot more easily. Independent investigators say the warped pipe added more stress to a faulty weld that is considered to be a key factor in the spill. The pipeline rupture dumped nearly 13,000 barrels of oil onto farmland and into Mill Creek in rural Washington County. It was the largest oil spill since the pipeline started operating. Investigators say construction workers probably warped the pipe piece accidentally when they installed it in 2010. (Read more)


Suspect in KC Teen’s Shooting Wants Trial Sealed from Public

CLAY COUNTY, Mo. —The 84-year-old Kansas City, Missouri man accused of shooting a Black teenager wants his felony case sealed so it’s not open to the public. An attorney for Andrew Lester told a Clay County judge Monday that his client has been harassed and threatened following national media coverage of the April 13th incident. Lester allegedly shot 16-year-old Ralph Yarl after the Staley High School junior mistakenly rang his doorbell. Lester is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action in connection with the shooting. He has pleaded not guilty. Lester’s attorney told the court continued media coverage could ruin his client’s chance for a fair trial. Lester was not in court for the hearing. His attorney says he is not well. County prosecutors are fighting the effort to seal the case. The judge has not yet made a decision. Yarl is recovering at home from his injuries.


Inmate Found Dead in Cell at Jackson County Jail

HOLTON, Kan. (KSNT) – The Jackson County Sheriff’s office is reporting that an inmate has died in custody in the county jail. KSNT reports that the inmate was found unresponsive by jail staff shortly before 3:00 Tuesday morning. Attempts to revive the inmate were unsuccessful. Jail officials have not released the identity of the individual. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the incident.


Former Kansas Police Officer Sentenced for Sexual Assaults, Window Peeping

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas police officer has been sentenced to 23 1/2 years in prison for a series of sexual assaults committed while he was an officer.

Todd W. Allen, 52, pleaded guilty in April to 12 felony sex crime charges and five breach of privacy charges. Prosecutors said the sexual assaults involving 10 female victims, including a 15-year-old girl, occurred while Allen was a Hutchinson police officer.

Allen was arrested on Aug. 17, 2022, and was initially charged with 24 counts, including 17 felonies. He was sentenced on Monday.

Prosecutors said Allen stopped vehicles carrying the victims and ordered them out of their cars, claiming he wanted to question them about drugs. He then took them to the back of the car and assaulted them, The Hutchinson News reported.

The invasion of privacy charges alleged Allen looked through windows at victims' homes. He committed those crimes while he was a security guard after he left the police department in 2019.

Allen’s lawyer, Chrystal Lee Krier of Wichita, argued that he should be sentenced to probation, because he had never previously been in trouble with the law and because he used only his fingers while assaulting the victims. She called him a “model member of the community.”

Senior Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Rodebaugh spoke of how all the victims, including those who had Allen look into their windows, remained terrified until he was caught and suffered emotional trauma despite a lack of physical injuries.

Allen apologized, saying he had not thought about the mental issues that his victims would face.

(–Additional Reporting–)

Former Hutchinson Officer Sentenced for Rape, Kidnapping

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNT) — A former Hutchinson Police Officer has been sentenced to 23.5 years in prison for rape and other charges after accepting a plea agreement with the state. Reno County District Attorney Thomas Stanton says former Hutchinson Officer Todd Allen pleaded guilty Monday and was convicted of on 17 counts including charges of rape, kidnapping and aggravated indecent liberties with a child. KSNT reports that Hutchinson Police arrested Allen in August 2022 in connection with several cases dating back to 2012. Allen was a police officer at the time of the reported crimes. He resigned in 2018. After he is released, he will be on parole and will also be required to register as a sex offender the rest of his life. Allen’s lawyer asked the judge to move Allen to an out-of-state facility for the former officer’s safety. The judge said that placement of inmates is up to the Kansas Department of Corrections.


UPDATE: Names of Victims in KC Nightclub Shooting Released

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF) — Police have released the names of three people killed in a shooting at a Kansas City nightclub early Sunday morning. The victims shot and killed at the Klymax Lounge have been identified as 24-year-old Antoinette Brenson, 33-year-old Clarence Henderson and 41-year-old Jason McConnell. Two other people at the nightclub suffered critical injuries in the shooting. Police say they are still hospitalized. Officers responded to the shooting around 1:25 am Sunday at the Klymax Lounge (4244 Indiana Avenue) and found five victims. WDAF TV reports police are still looking for the suspected shooter.


Lawrence School Board Approves Sale to Non-Profit Housing Group

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) – The Lawrence School Board has finalized the sale of a former alternative high school building and the surrounding property on the city’s southwest side. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the board unanimously approved the sale of 8.78 acres of land adjacent to Holcom Park for $1.2 million. At its regular Monday meeting, the board signed off on the sale to the local nonprofit group Tenants to Homeowners. The community group develops and manages affordable homes and provides education for renters on buying a home. The organization now manages about 125 properties, almost all of them in the east side of the city and it has been looking for land to expand its holdings to the west side of Lawrence. The former alternative high school building at 2600 W. 25th St. is currently being used for storage and has not been used for school classes for seven years. The board also voted to sell the former East Heights Elementary school building on Haskell Ave. The district will issue a request for proposals and review bids at a later date. State law requires that all proceeds from the sale of the properties must go to the district’s capital outlay fund, which can only be used for building or capital expenses.


Lawrence Police: Suspect in Custody After Trying to Kill a Woman

LAWRENCE, Kan. (WDAF) — The Lawrence Police Department has arrested a suspect in a Sunday night incident in central Lawrence. Police say Sean Martin Reese is now in custody. WDAF reports that detectives believe Reese stabbed a woman and planted explosive devices in her home. He surrendered to police Monday night. When Lawrence officers responded to a home near 13th and Rhode Island Streets on Sunday evening, they found a woman with multiple stab wounds. She was transported to a nearby trauma center. Investigators suspected that Reese had placed explosives in the home. They obtained a search warrant and, with assistance from the Leavenworth Bomb Squad, discovered several home-made explosive devices and removed them from the home.


Kansas Woman Dies After Falling into Creek in Glacier National Park

WEST GLACIER, Mont. (AP) — A 28-year-old woman from Kansas has died after falling into a creek in Glacier National Park and being swept into a gorge, park officials said. The woman fell from a rocky overhang into Avalanche Creek on Monday afternoon, spokesperson Gina Kerzman said. Bystanders waded into the creek and pulled the woman out. They performed CPR and called 911. Emergency responders declared her dead at the scene, park officials said. Her name and hometown have not been released.


Wichita Seeks State Money to Help Cancer Victims Near Toxic Site

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) – Wichita community members are asking state officials to pay for the health care of people who may have been impacted by living on top of a toxic site near downtown Wichita. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment told residents at a community meeting that a study had found increased rates of liver cancer among people living above the contaminated groundwater. The plume of toxic groundwater is northeast of downtown Wichita. The study does not determine what caused the health disparities. State and local health officials encouraged residents to talk to their doctors about exposure to contamination. But several community members asked how they should pay these medical bills. State and local elected officials said earlier this month they would seek funding to bring in free cancer screenings.


Suspected Murder-Suicide in KCK Claims Life of Another Victim

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (WDAF) — Investigators say a third person has died from injuries suffered in a quadruple shooting at a Kansas City, Kansas, hom. Investigators announced Monday that 50-year-old Penny Smith died of the injuries she sustained last week. KCK police officers went to a home in the Piper neighborhood (near North 123rd Street and Yecker Avenue) just before 11 pm Thursday, where they found three injured women outside. Family members say eight children witnessed the shooting from inside a van. Investigators say Smith’s 30-year-old daughter, Kristy C. Throw of Shawnee, died from her injuries shortly after the shooting. Smith’s husband, 51-year-old Christopher Smith, died from a self-inflicted gunshot injury. Detectives believe he shot the victims before taking his own life. A third woman injured in the shooting remains hospitalized. Loved ones say the third victim, Chelsea Throw, was shot six times and remains hospitalized.

A GoFundMe account has been established to help support surviving family members.


Kansas Governor Touts Economic Success, $16 Billion in Business Investments Since 2019

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) – Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is touting her administration's economic development success since taking office in 2019. Kelly says Kansas has attracted more than $16 billion in private sector investment during her time as governor. As a result, she says more than 57,000 jobs were created or retained. In both 2022 and 2021, Kansas ranked first in the nation in private investment per capita and won the nation’s foremost economic development award, the Governor’s Cup from Site Selection magazine.


Kansas Farmers Abandon Wheat Fields After Extreme Drought

WICHITA, Kan. (Reuters/KPR) - Many farmers in Kansas, the nation's biggest producer of wheat used to make bread, are abandoning their crops after a severe drought and damaging cold ravaged their farms. Reuters reports that some wheat farmers are intentionally spraying their fields with crop-killing chemicals and claiming insurance payouts, betting the grain is not worth harvesting. Reuters took part in a three-day tour of the state. Other growers are turning over dismal-looking fields to cattle for grazing. Abandoning fields will lead to a smaller U.S. wheat harvest. High rates of abandonment deal an economic blow to farm towns and force wheat buyers to look elsewhere to purchase the grain.

PureField Ingredients, operator of a wheat protein facility in Russell, says it will need to buy wheat from other parts of the state due to high abandonment in western Kansas. Nationally, winter-wheat farmers plan to abandon 33% of the acres they planted, the highest percentage since World War I, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Kansas farmers are expected to abandon about 19% of the acres planted last autumn, up from 10% last year. But farmers, grain traders and representatives of major food companies who traversed the state on an annual crop tour last week warn of an even greater percentage of unharvested acres. Kansas farmers are expected to produce just 191.4 million bushels of wheat this year, the smallest since 1963.

The poor crop may leave Kansas State University's College of Agriculture with less funding than its typical $1 million a year from the Kansas Wheat Commission. That's because the commission is funded by sales of wheat.

Parts of Oklahoma are suffering too. The Oklahoma Wheat Commission says that in six northern counties, an estimated 65% to 70% of the crop will not be harvested.


Dust Storms Return to the Midwest, One Blamed for 72-Car Pile-Up in Illinois

UNDATED (HPM) — A rare dust storm in Illinois this month caused a 72-car pileup on an interstate. Climate experts say it points to a bigger problem — soil erosion. Harvest Public Media reports that the massive dust storm was caused by unusually dry conditions and excessive wind. Eight motorists were killed when blowing dust from freshly plowed fields led to “zero visibility” on a stretch of Interstate-55. State climatologist Trent Ford says dust storms are extremely rare in Illinois – but there are still lessons to be learned. “I think there's a major discussion to take place about how we can minimize the risk of these kinds of events happening - and honestly minimize the risk of wind erosion of our soil anyway," he said. Ford says traffic advisories during dry, windy weather could help alert drivers of dangerous conditions. And land management practices like planting cover crops can protect topsoil from the wind.

Ford says factors contributing to the accident were in place long before the wind picked up. “A dust storm is kind of like wildfire, where you have conditions that lead up to it, that are actually completely separate from the conditions that actually set it in motion," he said. Ford says a lack of April rainfall led to several inches of dry topsoil that was further loosened by farming activity.


Baker University's Softball Team Headed to World Series

BALDWIN CITY, Kan. (KPR) - The Baker University softball team is making its first trip to the NAIA Softball World Series this week. The NAIA Softball World Series begins Thursday in Columbus, Georgia, and the Baker Wildcats will open against a familiar opponent - Central Methodist of Fayette, Missouri. The Wildcats, with a record of 47-10, split a doubleheader with Central Methodist in April. Each game was decided by a single run. Baker advanced to the World Series by winning its opening round last week on the Wildcats home field in Baldwin City. Thursday’s game begins at noon.


Montana Governor Signs Law to Define 'Sex' as Only Male or Female

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Republican Governor Greg Gianforte has signed a bill defining the word “sex” in state law as only male or female — joining Kansas and Tennessee, which have similar laws that LGBTQ+ advocates argue will deny legal recognition to nonbinary and transgender people.

Medical professionals say the laws also ignore that some people are born as intersex — a term that encompasses about 60 conditions in which a person is born with genitalia, reproductive organs, chromosomes and/or hormone levels that don’t fit typical definitions of male or female.

The sponsor of the bill said the change is needed to clarify from a legal standpoint that “sex” and “gender” don’t mean the same thing.

The Montana bill “is an attempt to erase trans, nonbinary and two-spirit people from the code, thereby removing the rights, privileges and considerations that trans, nonbinary and Two Spirit people would have under the law," said SK Rossi last month, testifying against the legislation on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign.

"Two-spirit" is a Native American term for people with both male and female spirits.

The bill, which Gianforte signed on Friday, was approved during a legislative session that also passed a ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors and saw transgender lawmaker Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr expelled from the House floor, following a protest against Republican lawmakers who had silenced her.

Other states have or are considering adopting similar legislation to Montana's, to define “sex,” which would block residents from changing the identifying labels on their birth certificates and driver’s licenses. Laws in Kansas and Tennessee are scheduled to take effect on July 1, while Montana's would take effect on Oct. 1.

Transgender people opt to change the sex on their birth certificates and driver’s licenses so their documentation matches their identity.

Lauren Wilson, president of the Montana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians, said the bill’s assertion that there are exactly two sexes isn’t true from a medical standpoint.

The bill defines female as having XX chromosomes, and a reproductive and endocrine system that produces or would produce ova, or eggs. Male is defined as having XY chromosomes and a biological system that produces or would produce sperm.

The bill was amended to say that anyone who would fall under the definition of either male or female, “but for a biological or genetic condition,” would fall under the initial determination of male or female.

“The amendment added to address intersex people actually makes the bill more inaccurate as well,” Wilson said.

A bill before the Texas legislature was amended to allow a delay in reporting the biological sex of a child if it could not be determined at birth.

The Montana bill “has no basis in science and seeks to reduce every single one of our existences to our reproductive capacity," argued Keegan Medrano, the policy director for the ACLU of Montana.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Carl Glimm, said the legislation was necessary after a 2022 court ruling in which a state judge said transgender residents could change the gender markers on their birth certificates. That ruling — which conflated sex with gender — blocked a bill sponsored by Glimm the previous year that would have only allowed a birth certificate change if the person had undergone a gender-affirming surgical procedure.

Montana's health department later passed a rule saying that no changes could be made to the listed sex on a resident's birth certificate unless it was incorrectly recorded due to a transcription error.

A person's biological sex cannot be changed, Glimm argued, in presenting his bill to the House Judiciary Committee last month.

“You may claim to be able to change your gender or express your gender in a different way, but you can never change your biological sex," he said.


This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Tom Parkinson and Kaye McIntyre. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day. These ad-free headlines are made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.