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Headlines for Friday, December 31, 2021


Kansas Doctors Urge Those Feeling Ill to Get Tested

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Doctors in Kansas have a simple message for those who are feeling ill: Get tested. COVID-19 cases are surging across the country, and Kansas is no exception. To make matters worse, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Kansas as among the five states and territories with the highest flu activity levels in the country, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported Thursday.  Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Kansas Health System, said testing is important to determine if those who are feeling sick have COVID-19, the flu or a simple cold. He said all are viruses that can present in similar ways.

Other doctors agree.

“There is absolutely no way based on symptoms that you can distinguish between a common cold, omicron and delta,” said Steve Stites, chief medical officer at KU’s Kansas City, Kan., hospital.  Rachael Liesman, director of KU’s clinical and molecular microbiology laboratories, said the flu began circulating in early December, mostly the H3N2 variety “which tends to be a bit more of a severe flu year than other years.”  Getting tested for COVID-19 is proving challenging. Several testing sites in Kansas are reporting long lines, and at-home testing kits are sold out at many stores.


Health Experts: Depression, Anxiety Rising Among Young People

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) - The U.S. Surgeon General is warning about mental health issues affecting young people. And Kansas doctors say the crisis could worsen during the holidays and winter months. Recent statistics suggest that about half the nation’s young people are reporting increased levels of stress, depression and anxiety. Kelli Netson, a Wichita neuropsychologist, says wait lists for therapists and psychologists mean more people are waiting for mental health care and sometimes ending up in crisis in Kansas emergency rooms. She expects those cases to rise during the holiday break.  “Oftentimes, being at home relieves some stress and pressure from school," Netson said. "But for some kids being at home is a really stressful situation, and they don’t feel safe or supported, or there’s just ongoing conflict with parents who are also stressed out." Netson urges families to consider long walks, meditation or other mindfulness practices to improve mental health. And parents should act quickly if their child talks about suicide. Netson, who works for the KU Medical Center in Wichita, says parents and caregivers should listen to children and share their own strategies for dealing with stress. “You don’t want to lay all of your distress on your child, but providing some validation that they’re not alone, that they’re not the only ones experiencing this, and these are some things that you’ve tried that have worked," she said.  Netson says taking a walk or baking cookies with kids could prompt conversations.


UPDATE: Wyandotte County Emergency Shelter Will Open After All

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Organizers say they plan to open an emergency overnight shelter in Wyandotte County despite being told this week that the mayor would not allow it. The Kansas City Star reports Cross-Lines Community Outreach officials say they have a contract with the county to open the shelter in Kansas City, Kansas. The announcement comes as snow and extremely cold temperatures are forecast for the region this weekend. Mayor Tyrone Garner said earlier this week he would not allow the shelter to open at the former Jack Reardon Center in Kansas City, Kansas. He said he was focused on long-term solutions for homelessness but did not say why he opposed the proposed shelter.


Kansas Woman Convicted in Fatal Hit-and-Run Accident

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas woman faces sentencing next year after being convicted of second-degree murder in the hit-and-run death of a teenager from Leavenworth. The Kansas City Star reports that 28-year-old Amber N. Alexander, formerly of Leavenworth, was found guilty Thursday. Prosecutors presented evidence that Alexander had several drinks before leaving a bar in Lansing and driving to Main Street in nearby Leavenworth in August. Alexander allegedly struck a 16-year-old girl before speeding away and crossing a bridge into Missouri. Sentencing is scheduled for February 2.


Man Charged in May Deaths of Two People in Branson

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — A man is now charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of two people in Branson in May. The Springfield News-Leader reported Thursday that 34-year-old Miguel Angel Melendez-Torres of Branson also is charged with attempted robbery and armed criminal action. The shooting happened May 29 outside of Famous Dave’s restaurant in the popular tourist town. The victims were 38-year-old Krystle Buhl, of Forsyth, and 39-year-old Richard A. McMahan, of Merriam Woods. A probable cause statement says Melendez-Torres allegedly approached a vehicle occupied by the victims after they had gotten off work at the restaurant. The statement says Melendez-Torres demanded money, argued with the victims, then shot both of them in the head.


Settlement Approved in Death of Unarmed KC Man Killed by Police

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal judge has approved a partial settlement in the death of a Kansas City man who was shot by police officers in June 2018. The parents of 34-year-old Robert White contend in the lawsuit that White was un-armed when he was shot 17 times as he was being used as a "human shield" by another man, who was also shot to death. The partial settlement involves The Downtown Council of Kansas City and the area's community improvement district. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. The lawsuit continues against the officers involved, a private security company and the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.  


Kansas City Police Seek Driver Involved in Fatal Hit-and-Run

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Police in Kansas City, Missouri, are searching for the driver who fatally struck a pedestrian on the city's east side. The accident happened Wednesday night on East 42nd Street. Police say a man was struck by a car that fled. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene. His name was not released. Police say they are searching for a Nissan Sentra that may have damage to the front driver's side, based on evidence left at the scene.


Black Hills Energy Customers in Kansas to See Rates Decline

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — About 117,000 Kansas customers of Black Hills Energy will see their overall rates for natural gas service decline under an agreement approved by the state agency that regulates utilities. The decrease will occur even though the order Thursday from the Kansas Corporation Commission allows Black Hills to increase its monthly customer service charge by $1.56 a month from $16.94 to $18.50. The agreement requires the company to give its Kansas customers credits against their bills worth about $3 million each year for the next three years. The credits reflect that the company will pay less in taxes because of changes from federal coronavirus relief measures.


Judge Approves Partial Settlement  in Fatal Shooting by Kansas City Police

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal judge has approved a partial settlement in the death of a Kansas City man who was shot by police officers in June 2018. The parents of 34-year-old Robert White contend in the lawsuit that White was unarmed when he was shot 17 times as he was being used as a "human shield" by another man, who was also shot to death. The partial settlement involves The Downtown Council of Kansas City and the area's community improvement district. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. The lawsuit continues against the officers involved, a private security company and the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. 


New California Law Could Affect Midwest Pork Producers

UNDATED, (HPM) - Harvest Public Media reports that a new California law that prohibits businesses from selling eggs and meat from animals confined in small spaces will take effect on January 1st. Some pork industry groups argue producers haven’t had enough time to change their operations to comply. Proposition 12 says breeding sows must each have 24 square feet of space. Pork producers argue it’ll be expensive to make those changes. Dallas Hockman, with the National Pork Producers Council, says the law puts a strain on the supply chain that was already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic. One northwest Iowa hog farmer says his operation doesn’t meet California’s standard and he’d have to reduce the size of his operation to comply.  California’s Proposition 12 requires each breeding pig to have at least 24 square feet of space. Iowa raises more pigs than any other state, but many of the hog farms don’t meet that requirement. Northwest Iowa hog farmer Dwight Mogler says he would have to reduce the size of his herd and remodel his buildings to comply with the law. Farm industry groups and California grocer and restaurant groups have filed several lawsuits against Prop 12. Ag groups have also asked the Supreme Court to review a challenge to the law.


Kansas Court Upholds Murder Conviction over Road Rage Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a Topeka man over a fatal road rage shooting more than five years ago. The court on Thursday rejected arguments from an attorney for Andre Clark Rhoiney Jr., that the prosecutor made improper statements during closing arguments. The shooting of 28-year-old Michael Stadler occurred in October 2016, when Rhoiney was 23. According to trial testimony, Rhoiney fired two shots at a van that Stadler was in after people in the two vehicles had exchanged words and rude gestures. A Shawnee County judge sentenced Rhoiney to life plus 13 months in prison, with no chance for parole for 25 years.


Wichita Man Sentenced for Fatal Punch

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) –  A Wichita man has been sentenced to more than 3.5 years in prison for a parking lot punch that killed a man. KSNW-TV reports that a Sedgwick County judge on Wednesday also ordered 38-year-old Steven Speakman to spend an additional two years under supervision after his release from prison, and to pay more than $17,000 in restitution. Speakman was originally charged with second-degree murder in the death of Haley Collins, but was found guilty in August of involuntary manslaughter. The two men were arguing on a store parking lot in 2019. Witnesses told police they saw Collins push Speakman, then saw Speakman punch Collins, causing him to fall and hit his head. 


Western Missouri Plumbing Worker Dies in Trench Collapse 

GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. (AP) _– A plumbing worker has died after a trench collapsed in western Missouri. KMBC-TV reports that the accident happened Wednesday in Grain Valley, about 23 miles east of Kansas City. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said crews with Preferred Plumbing, of Kingsville, were installing plumbing lines for homes under construction when the 10-foot-deep trench gave way. The victim's name wasn't immediately released. OSHA is investigating. 


Missouri's A-G: Doctor in Child Sex Abuse Case Should Stay in Jail

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ The Missouri Attorney General's office says a doctor accused of child sex crimes should stay in jail in Arkansas because he has COVID-19. Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a court document filed Thursday that David Smock, of Stockton, should not be released on bond. Smock was arrested Tuesday in Harrison, Arkansas, and remains in jail there. His attorneys have asked that he be given bond or released on his own recognizance. Smock is charged with a total of 11 felony counts of child sex crimes in Cedar and Greene counties. He is the longtime physician for Agape Boarding School, a Christian school in southwest Missouri.


Agricultural Guest Workers to See Pay Raise in 2022

UNDATED, (HPM) - Much of the Midwest, including Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma saw record numbers of agricultural guest workers in 2021. In the new year, those foreign laborers will get a pay raise as a result of a lawsuit filed by farmworker advocacy groups. H-2A visas allow farm workers into the country temporarily and regulate what they must be paid. That pay is periodically reviewed and raised by the Department of Labor. The Trump administration effectively froze that wage review – leaving tens of thousands of farmworkers without a pay raise in 2021.  But the United Farmworkers Foundation sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture, forcing the pay review to go forward. The exact pay boost will depend on the state in which farmworkers are employed – but is expected to be about a 6% increase on average.


Lawsuit: Missouri Shooting Range Made Muslim Woman Remove Hijab
LEES SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) –  A federal lawsuit alleges that a firearms store and gun range in a Kansas City suburb refused to let a Muslim woman use a shooting range unless she removed her hijab. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, and an Independence law firm filed a federal lawsuit against Frontier Justice in Lee's Summit, alleging the gun range's dress code discriminates against Muslim women who wear the religious head covering. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Rania Barakat after she went to the store in January 2020. The suit claims that the range has a history of turning away Muslim customers for wearing hijabs, but that similar but nonreligious coverings, such as scarves, were worn by customers who were not reprimanded the same way Barakat was.  Frontier Justice officials said in a statement that the dress code is designed to keep gun range patrons safe and are not discriminatory. 


Wyandotte County Administrator Planning to Retire Next Week

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The county administrator in one of the most populous counties in Kansas is planning to retire next week. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City announced Wednesday that County Administrator Doug Bach's retirement is effective January 6.  Bach has been county administrator since March 2014. Before that, he was deputy county administrator for 11 years and had leadership roles in multiple departments. His career in Wyandotte County government has spanned three decades.


DA: Death of Kansas Teen in Custody Not Necessarily Criminal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The district attorney for the Wichita area says an autopsy's finding that the death of a Black teen in custody at a juvenile center was a homicide doesn't necessarily mean the center's employees committed any crimes. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett will decide whether to file charges over the death of 17-year-old Cedric Lofton. Bennett's statement Wednesday came after attorneys for Lofton's family described his death as "unjustified." But Bennett said the designation of the death as a homicide means only that someone's intentional act led to another person's death. Lofton died at a Wichita-area hospital on September 26, two days after a struggle with Sedgwick County juvenile  center employees. 


Kansas Boy Starts Businesses, Uses Funds to Help Sister

PLAINVILLE, Kan. (AP) _ Taylor Ayers wanted a job, but at just 13 years of age he was having a tough time finding one. So earlier this year he started his own successful business, and he's using the proceeds to help his sister and other children with special needs. KSNW-TV reports that the Plainville boy started a pet sitting business that is proving successful in the Rooks County community. Taylor says that he realized he didn't really need the money, so he decided to donate to Plainville Elementary School's special education program. His sister, Trissan, is a special needs student. Taylor so far has donated more than $1,600. 


Chiefs Visit Bengals in Showdown of 2 of AFC's Top Teams

UNDATED, (AP) - This weekend, the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs visit Cincinnati to take on the red hot Bengals. The Bengals (9-6) can clinch their division with a win over the Chiefs (11-4) on Sunday. But beating the Chiefs right now just might be the toughest task in football. After a lousy start left them with a losing record seven games into the season, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and the rest of his cohorts have turned things around in a remarkable way. They have ripped off eight consecutive wins, including last week's 36-10 romp over Pittsburgh to clinch their sixth straight division title, and are back near full strength after a COVID-19 outbreak. The Chiefs also have plenty riding on the outcome. They head into the weekend leading Tennessee by one game for the No. 1 playoff seed, which means the lone AFC bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.


These area headlines are curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Kaye McIntyre and Tom Parkinson. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today!  

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