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Headlines for Monday, February 26, 2024

A graphic representation of eight radios of various vintages, underneath the words "Kansas Public Radio News Summary"
Emily Fisher

Kansas Getting 4th Warmest February Since Late 1800s

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — Kansas is experiencing one of its warmest Februarys on record. The National Weather Service says that as of February 22nd, this is the 4th-warmest February in Kansas since 1893. Missouri is also experiencing its 4th-warmest month since then. Above normal temperatures and a higher risk of fire danger are in store through Tuesday, with highs in the 70s. A cold front is expected to move into Kansas Tuesday night, with high temperatures dropping into the 30s and 40s on Wednesday.


Wildfire Season Underway in Kansas

LIBERAL, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas is entering wildfire season, which traditionally peaks in February and March. In southwest Kansas, a grass fire burned more than 350 acres last week. According to Meade County fire officials, the blaze was most likely caused by a harvesting machine. Ninety-five percent of wildfires in Kansas are caused by human behavior. Aaron Williams is a fire management officer for the Kansas Forest Service. “What we are seeing more and more now is fires burning year-round," he said. Williams says controlled burns are part of fire management. But small actions can cause uncontrolled fires to spread quickly.

On Monday, Governor Laura Kelly issued a verbal state of disaster emergency declaration for wildland fires. The proclamation will continue through the rest of the week due to increased fire weather conditions. That declaration allows resources to be used to provide state assistance. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management will staff the State Emergency Operations Center beginning Tuesday to assist counties and local emergency responders if requested.

KSN reports that firefighters responded to several fires in Kansas on Monday, including one in Kearney County, south of Lakin. Other fires were reported in Kingman, McPherson, Reno, Rice, Seward, and Stafford Counties.


Arrest Made in Death of Lawrence Woman

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) – A man has been arrested in connection with the death of a Lawrence woman last week. The Lawrence Police Department said Monday that it arrested 40-year-old Julius Robert Beasley on suspicion of first-degree murder and felony interference. The department said via press release that Beasley was detained for questioning in connection with the death of Chrystal White on the day of the killing, February 22. Beasley was then held in the Douglas County Correctional Facility on unrelated warrants. The case has now been turned over to the Douglas County District Attorney's office.


Teachers Testify Before Kansas House Committee on Classroom Challenges

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) – Teachers in Kansas say behavior problems and other issues in the classroom are taking a toll on their own mental health. The Kansas News Service reports that a group of teachers from across the state addressed Kansas lawmakers recently during a House committee meeting. They said more students are dealing with trauma at home, and it affects their performance and behavior in the classroom. Marysville High School teacher Carla Wolfe says schools aren’t doing enough to support teachers’ mental health. “A lot of districts pay lip service to it. And they’ll say stuff like, ‘Make sure you get some rest’ and ‘Take care of yourself.’ But there are no mental health resources for teachers in my district,” she explained. Teachers urged lawmakers to fully fund special education so that schools can have more counselors and social workers.


One Dead, Three Injured in Sunday Shooting in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB) — A dispute between several people in a Kansas City parking lot led to gunfire, leaving one person dead and three others injured. Kansas City police say officers responded to a shooting early Sunday morning in the 4700 block of Independence Avenue. KSHB TV reports that four people were shot. One was killed and one remains hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. No suspect information has been released.


Kansas Inmate Dies at Lansing State Prison

LANSING, Kan. (KPR) — An inmate serving time for kidnapping and murder has died in prison. The Kansas Department of Corrections announced Sunday that 51-year-old Eric Avilla died Saturday at Lansing state prison. The cause of death will be determined by an independent autopsy. Avilla was serving a 20-year sentence for convictions of kidnapping and second-degree murder in Sedgwick County. He was sentenced following the death of his girlfriend Alina Burkman at a Wichita K-Mart. Per protocol, the KBI is investigating.


Dodge City Election Procedure Challenge Begins in Federal Court

UNDATED (KNS) – A federal trial challenging the municipal election system in Dodge began in Wichita Monday. The Kansas News Service reports that plaintiffs accuse Dodge City of suppressing Latino votes. The trial stems from a complaint filed in December 2022 against Dodge City’s commissioners and the at-large election system used to vote them in. Plaintiffs Miguel Coca and Alejandro Rangel-Lopez allege the process marginalizes Latino voters and blocks them from electing candidates they chose. The suit says that although 65% of Dodge City’s population is Hispanic or Latino, a Latino person has not been elected commissioner in more than 20 years. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, the UCLA Voting Rights Project, and others on behalf of the plaintiffs. Dodge City officials declined to comment.


Funeral Mass Held for KC Woman Killed During Celebration of Chiefs’ Super Bowl Victory

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hundreds of mourners attended a funeral mass for a Kansas City-area DJ who was killed during a celebration rally of the Chiefs' Super Bowl victory. Lisa Lopez-Galvan was remembered Saturday during a funeral mass as a loving mother and wife who saw each day as a chance for excitement and laughter. The 43-year-old Lopez-Galvan was one of about two dozen people shot when gunfire erupted February 14 outside the city’s Union Station where she, her husband and adult son had joined an estimated crowd of 1 million people for the festivities. As the rally ended, a dispute led to gunfire. Authorities say it started over a belief that people in one group were staring at people in another group.

Lopez-Galvan was remembered during the 90-minute service as a loving wife and mother whose smile could light up a room and who saw each day as a chance for excitement and laughter. With her casket near the front of the Redemptorist Catholic Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Mourners — some wearing Chiefs jerseys — also heard a mariachi band play and sing.

Along with her husband and young adult son, the 43-year-old had joined an estimated crowd of 1 million people for the parade and rally. As the festivities ended, a dispute over what authorities described as the belief that people in one group were staring at people in another group led to gunfire.

Lopez-Galvan, a music lover who played at weddings, quinceañeras and an American Legion bar and grill, was caught in the middle of it. Everyone else survived.

Two men are charged in her death, and two juveniles face gun charges. Her family responded to the charges this week with a statement expressing thanks to police and prosecutors. “Though it does not bring back our beloved Lisa, it is comforting,” the statement began.

Players and celebrities alike have reached out to her family. Pop superstar Taylor Swift, who is frequently in the stands during Chiefs games because she is dating tight end Travis Kelce, donated $100,000 to Lopez-Galvan's family.

And because she was wearing a Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker jersey at the celebration, he responded to requests on social media seeking help in obtaining a similar jersey — possibly so the mother of two could be laid to rest in it. “While the family is mourning their loss and grappling with their numerous injuries, I will continue to pray for their healing and the repose of Lisa’s soul,” Butker said in a statement.

Rosa Izurieta and Martha Ramirez worked with Lopez-Galvan for about a year at a local staffing firm but had known her since childhood. They remembered her as an extrovert and a staunch Catholic who was devoted to her family, passionate about connecting job seekers with employment and ready to help anyone.

And, they said, working part time playing music allowed her to share her passion as one of the area’s few Latina DJs. “This senseless act has taken a beautiful person from her family and this KC Community,” the radio station KKFI-FM, where she was the co-host of a program called “Taste of Tejano,” said in a statement.

Izurieta and Ramirez said Lopez-Galvan’s Kansas City roots run deep. Her father founded the city’s first mariachi group, Mariachi Mexico, in the 1980s, they said, and the family is well known and active in the Latino community. Her brother, Beto Lopez, is CEO of the Guadalupe Centers, which provides community services and runs charter schools for the Latino community.

Lopez-Galvan and her two children went to Bishop Miege, a Catholic high school in a suburb on the Kansas side, and she worked for years as a clerk in a police department there. “This is another example of a real loving, real human whose life was taken tragically with a senseless act,” Beto Lopez said in an interview last week on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”


Kansas Man Guilty of Causing Crash that Killed Officer, Pedestrian and K-9 Last February

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas man has pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter for speeding through a red light and killing a Kansas City police officer, his K-9 partner and a pedestrian. Officer James Muhlbauer, 42, Jesse Eckes, 52, and Champ the dog were all killed in the crash last February. Prosecutors have said Jerron Lightfoot was traveling at least 85 mph just before the collision. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors have agreed to recommend no more than 10 years in prison, though Assistant Prosecutor Lauren Whiston says she anticipates that Lightfoot's lawyers will ask for a more lenient sentence when the 20-year-old returns to court in April. Lightfoot told the judge that he got lost that night last February while he was driving back toward Kansas. Muhlbauer, who was married and a father, was a 20-year veteran of the force. Champ had been a K-9 with the force for a year. Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves attended Friday's plea hearing along with several uniformed police officers, but she didn't comment on the case.


3 Charged in 'Targeted' Shooting That Killed Toddler at a Wichita Apartment, Police Say

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two men and a teenager have been charged in a shooting that killed a toddler at a Wichita apartment complex.

The men, ages 21 and 25, made first court appearances Monday on charges of first-degree murder and criminal discharge of a firearm in the death of 1-year-old Taidyn Anderson. A 17-year-old is charged in juvenile court.

Bond for the adults is set at $1.5 million, and neither of their attorneys returned phone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Police have described the Feb. 19 shooting as “targeted.” They also said in a statement that multiple rounds were fired from a handgun into the apartment.

Police said two 24-year-old women sustained critical but non-life-threatening injuries in the shooting. A man and two children — 5-year-old and 10-month-old girls — also were in the apartment but weren't hurt.

“Violence in the community should outrage all of us, especially when it results in a death, and in this case the death of a small child,” Chief Joe Sullivan said in a statement when the three were arrested.


Medicaid Expansion Would Cover More Kansans

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas is one of only 10 states that has not expanded Medicaid. Doing so would result in an estimated 152,000 more low-income Kansans enrolling in the health care program. That's according to new estimates from the Kansas Health Institute. KHI president Carrie Bruffett says that includes more than 45,000 children who would be newly eligible or whose parents would be more likely to enroll them. "Other state experience has shown that children's coverage and percentage of those who are eligible who do enroll does go up when states have expanded their Medicaid programs," she said. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is pushing an expansion proposal with a work requirement that she says would be revenue-neutral. The work requirement has exceptions for caregivers, students, veterans, and other groups.

According to KHI, Medicaid expansion would grow the state’s Medicaid rolls by an estimated 106,000 adults and 45,000 kids. KHI analyst Sheena Smith says the majority of those adults work, but still can’t afford to pay for health insurance. “Over half, almost 60%, worked at least 20 hours a week," she said. Polls show a majority of Kansans support expansion. But it’s unlikely Kansas will expand Medicaid this year due to fierce opposition by Republican leaders in the Legislature, who say it’s too expensive.


Southeast Kansas Could Become Hot Spot for Jet Biofuel Manufacturing

COFFEYVILLE, Kan. (KNS) — At least two companies hope to build new biofuel factories in southeast Kansas. Demand is growing globally for sustainable aviation fuel, also called SAF, but just one factory makes it in the U.S. Texas company CVR Energy recently discussed its vision for a plant near Coffeyville. In a call with investors, CEO David Lamp said demand is growing. "There’s a lot of interest coming from Europe, Canada and West Coast on SAF in general," he said.

CVR Energy is considering building a factory near Coffeyville to churn out half a billion gallons each year of renewable jet fuel and diesel. It will finish preliminary engineering and cost estimates soon and then seek investment partners. Another company - Azure Sustainable Fuels in Canada - wants to build a nearly $1 billion renewable jet fuel plant in the same county. Montgomery County approved tax incentives for that in December. The biofuel market is growing because of federal tax credits, regulations in West Coast states, and aviation industry goals. Montgomery County already has a new soybean crushing factory that makes a key ingredient for biofuel.


KPR Community Spotlight in February Falls on MART

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KPR) — This month's KPR Community Spotlight falls on the Manhattan Area Resettlement Team, or MART. Learn more about MART here.


Cleats Left Behind After Jackie Robinson Statue Was Stolen Will Be Donated to KC's Negro Leagues Museum

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The bronze Jackie Robinson cleats that were left behind when a statue of the player was stolen from a Kansas park are being donated to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Thieves cut the statue off at its ankles last month, leaving only the feet behind at a Wichita park where about 600 children play in a youth baseball league called League 42. It is named after Robinson’s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major leagues’ color barrier in 1947. The Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, has plans to incorporate the cleats in a display.

Bob Lutz, executive director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the sculpture, said the museum in Kansas City, Missouri, was “enthusiastic” about incorporating the cleats into its display on Robinson. The display also includes a damaged plaque honoring Robinson. The sign was erected in 2001 outside the birthplace of Robinson near Cairo, Georgia. Community members there discovered last year that someone had shot the plaque multiple times. “It’s kind of sad in its own way, that we’re building this little shrine of Jackie Robinson stuff that has been defaced or damaged,” said Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “But it gives us an opportunity to speak to who he was, the characteristics and value of what he represented, even in the face of adversity. And that message really never goes out of style.”

Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of Black American ballplayers. He’s considered not only a sports legend but also a civil rights icon. Robinson died in 1972.

Fire crews found burned remnants of his statue five days after the theft while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles away. One man was charged this month in the theft. Police said there was no evidence it was a hate-motivated crime, but rather the intent was to sell the metal for scrap.

Donations poured in after the theft, totaling around $300,000, Lutz said. The amount includes a $100,000 gift from Major League Baseball.

Lutz, whose friend, the artist John Parsons, made the statue before his death, said the mold is still viable and anticipated that a replacement can be erected within a matter of months. He estimated it would cost around $45,000 to replace the statue itself. While there also will be security and lighting expenses, that leaves lots of extra money that can be used to enhance some of the league's programming and facilities, Lutz said. “It’s just amazing how many people are interested in this story,” Lutz said.


EPA Announces Changes to Seasonal E-15 Fuel Sales Restrictions for 8 Midwestern States

UNDATED (HPM) — Eight Midwestern states, including Missouri, will be able to sell E-15 year-round starting next year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the move Thursday. Harvest Public Media reports that ethanol advocates say the decision is an economic boost for Midwestern farmers and motorists. Governors of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin asked for the change back in 2022. Lindsay Mitchell with the Illinois Corn Growers Association says the EPA announcement is a win for producers. "It’s really so important for corn farmers and for the ethanol industry to have some sort of certainty — and at least we have that going forward," she explained. Previously, the EPA had banned E-15 sales during the summer months. That’s out of environmental concerns that ethanol produces more smog at higher summer temperatures. Some environmental advocates say the move is a step in the wrong direction.


This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers. Our headlines are generally published by 10 am weekdays and are updated through 7 pm. This ad-free news summary is made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.