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Headlines for Friday, October 21, 2022


State of Disaster Emergency Issued in Kansas for Risk of Wildland Fires

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Governor Laura Kelly has declared a State of Disaster Emergency due to a high risk of wildland fires this weekend. The primary threat for wildfires is Sunday. The declaration authorizes the use of state resources and personnel to assist with response and recovery operations in affected counties. There is a threat for fires for the majority of the state with dry conditions with low relative humidity, gusting winds, and an abundance of dry grass and other flammable vegetation.

“Outdoor burning of any kind is strongly discouraged, whether getting rid of unwanted brush or enjoying a backyard barbecue. It only takes a spark to start a fire that can quickly get out of control," Kelly said. The state's Emergency Operations Center will be staffed Saturday and Sunday to monitor the situation and assist counties with requests for state assistance. The Kansas Forest Service will have aviation assets on standby along with ground resources. The National Weather Service says portions of southeast Kansas are at elevated risk for wildfires.


Kansas Farmers Continue to Struggle Under Extreme or Exceptional Drought

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The latest information from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows Kansas is getting drier. Thursday’s report shows most of the state in either “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought.” Kansas farmers say this year’s drought is among the worst they’ve seen, impacting nearly every crop and nearly every county in the state. KWCH TV reports that the extended drought has impacted every corner of the farming industry. With more than two million Kansans now living in areas experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, Kansas Farm Bureau Director of Commodities Mark Nelson said it’s been more than 10 years since we’ve seen conditions like this. But this time, he says, it’s even more widespread.


Officials Plan to Truck 6,000 Gallons of Water from Missouri River Across Kansas

UNDATED (Missouri Independent) - A plan is underway to truck 6,000 of gallons of water from the Missouri River nearly 400 miles across Kansas and almost to the Colorado border. The Missouri Independent reports that half of the 6,000 gallons drawn from the river will be poured onto a property in Wichita County. The other half will be taken into Colorado. Groundwater Management District 3, in southwestern Kansas, received a permit from state water authorities for the project, which is expected to cost the district $7,000. The district manager Mark Rude said it’s designed to prove large-scale movement of water could be a tool to keep the Ogallala Aquifer from drying up. Other groundwater management officials say the effort is a distraction from the far more urgent task of conserving water that’s quickly disappearing from under the feet of western Kansans.

The Ogallala Aquifer, America’s largest underground reservoir, has been in decline for decades — since soon after farmers started pumping the underground water to cultivate crops following World War II. Some parts of the aquifer have half the water they had before irrigation on the aquifer began. In some areas, there’s only about 10 years of water left.


Parsons Couple Gets Max Sentence for Sex Crimes Against Children

WICHITA, Kan. (KPR) - A Kansas man and woman have each been sentenced to 60 years in prison for committing  sex crimes against children. Prosecutors requested the statutory maximum for each count, to run consecutive to each other. In June, 26-year-old Dustin Strom, of Parsons, pleaded guilty to producing child pornography. In July, 28-year-old Thommie-Lyn Stansky, of Parsons, also pleaded guilty producing child pornography. Prosecutors say Strom and Stansky admitted that while living together as a romantic couple in 2021, they filmed themselves sexually abusing a four-year-old and a two-year-old. Homeland Security Investigations and the Kansas Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force investigated the case.


KU Grant Aims to Reduce Teacher Burnout

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - The University of Kansas will use a $10 million grant to increase diversity in the education field and help reduce burnout. The project comes at a time when burnout is causing many educators to leave the profession. The SWIFT Education Center team - a part of the Life Span Institute at KU - is working with more than 50 principals and leaders in Black, Hispanic and Native American communities across the country. Co-director Amy McCart says one reason teachers are burned out is pressure on educators to meet academic standards. "When there is not the foundational elements of well being in place that includes attention to human need and safety, security and freedom," she said. KU will be offering the assistance to districts in California, Arizona, Tennessee and North Carolina.


Kansas Governor Campaigns in Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - Kansas Governor Laura Kelly made two campaign stops in Wichita today (FRI). The first was at Wichita’s Advanced Learning Library, where she and the Kansas Department of Transportation announced $11 million dollars in funding for 14 transportation projects across the state. The projects include everything from ADA curb ramps in Cheney to the reconstruction of 13th Street in Hays. They’re part of a local cost-sharing program launched three years ago by Kelly’s administration. “This program makes it possible for the state of Kansas and local units of government to work together on infrastructure projects that will improve how we all get around," she said. Kelly later appeared at the grand opening of a new Plumber and Pipefitters Apprenticeship Training Center in west Wichita. Kelly’s visit to Wichita comes as former Vice President Mike Pence is in town campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt. Kansans will vote for governor on November 8.


GOP-Led States Appealing Dismissal of Lawsuit over Student Debt Relief

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Attorneys for six Republican-led states, including Kansas, are asking a federal appeals court to reconsider their effort to block the Biden administration's program to forgive hundreds of millions of dollars in student loan debt. A notice of appeal to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was filed late Thursday, hours after U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey in St. Louis ruled that since the states of Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina failed to establish standing, "the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear this case." Separately, the six states have asked the district court for an injunction prohibiting the administration from implementing the debt cancelation plan until the appeals process plays out.

(Earlier reporting...)

Federal Judge Dismisses Effort to Halt Plan to Forgive Student Loans

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed an effort by six Republican-led states to block the Biden administration's plan to forgive student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans. U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey in St. Louis wrote in the ruling on Thursday that because the six states, including Kansas, failed to establish they had standing, "the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear this case." Suzanne Gage, spokeswoman for Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, says the states will appeal. The other states involved are Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa and South Carolina. Democratic President Joe Biden announced in August that his administration would cancel up to $20,000 in education debt for huge numbers of borrowers.


$20 Marijuana Deal Puts Kansas City Teen in Prison, Leaves Another Teen Partially Blind and Paralyzed

PLATTE COUNTY, Mo. (KCTV) - A dispute over $20 of marijuana has landed a Kansas City teenager in prison for 26 years. KCTV reports that Jay Palmer, now 17, was sentenced to 26 years in prison Wednesday for shooting a then 17-year-old girl in the head during a drug deal in December 2020. In May, Palmer was found guilty by a Platte County jury of second-degree assault, stealing and two counts of armed criminal action. Court documents alleged that Palmer arranged to buy $20 worth of marijuana from the girl via a series of text messages and met her at a park in Riverside. After arriving at the park, prosecutors said a disagreement over the payment method for the drugs took place. When the girl attempted to get the drugs back from Palmer, he shot her in the head.

After the shooting, the girl was taken to North Kansas City Hospital with life-threatening injuries and underwent emergency surgery. At this time, she remains partially paralyzed, blind in one eye, and can only communicate using one- or two-word sentences. “This is a truly tragic case. One teenager will live with serious brain injuries for the rest of her life, and another will spend many years in prison,” said Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd. “And it was all over $20 worth of marijuana."


2 Men Accused of Stealing Firearms from Gun Shops in Basehor, De Soto

WYANDOTTE COUNTY, Kan. (LJW) - Two Kansas City men have been charged with burglary after allegedly using a truck to break into gun shops in Basehor and De Soto and steal 75 firearms. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 19-year-old Deldrick Bryant and 19-year-old Benjamin Custis, both of Kansas City, Kansas, face two counts of burglary of a licensed firearms dealer.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas, the charges relate to two incidents. The first occurred on Sunday at Free State Gun Company in Basehor, where the men are alleged to have stolen an estimated 50 firearms, including rifle platforms, shotguns and pistols. n Monday, the men are alleged to have broken into Up In Arms in De Soto, where an estimated 25 pistols were stolen. Video surveillance from both businesses show a white Ford pickup ramming the doors of the store for the men to gain entry. On Tuesday, the truck was spotted in Kansas City, Kansas, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives attempted to pull the truck over. The truck fled the scene, hitting a parked car while fleeing into Kansas City, Missouri, where Missouri police officers were able to stop the vehicle and arrest its occupants. Police found weapons in the truck that had been stolen from the businesses. Bryant’s home was later searched, and ATF agents reportedly found more weapons there. Custis and Bryant were booked into the Wyandotte County Detention Center and are being held without bond, according to Wyandotte County records.


After Toddler Dies from Fentanyl, Kansas City Police Warn of "Rampant Overdose Problem"

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Star) - Kansas City police say fentanyl-related overdoses have significantly increased over the past two weeks. A toddler was among the most recent victims. Officer Donna Drake, a spokeswoman for the KC Police Department, said law enforcement has responded to four fentanyl overdose deaths, 17 nonfatal fentanyl overdoses and several other suspected fentanyl deaths. The Kansas City Star reports that fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

While fentanyl can be produced in many forms, Drake said police are seizing counterfeit pills most often, which include fake oxycodone, Xanax or Adderall pills laced with the deadly drug that can look identical to prescription pills. She cautioned the public not to take pills that aren’t prescribed to them. Drake said fentanyl overdoses disproportionately affect Kansas Citians between the ages of 16 and 30. “I would emphasize parents talking to their kids and having a conversation. You could potentially save your own child’s life by just saying, ‘Hey, this, this is dangerous. Please don’t be involved in this,’” she said.

In September, Kansas City police made its largest seizure this year, 40,000 pills, and seized fentanyl in brick form on multiple occasions. In March, the KCPD announced that accidental overdoses from fentanyl had climbed nearly 150% from 2019 to 2020 in the metro area, particularly among young people between the ages of 15 and 24.


KC Teen Accused of Threatening Shooting at Park Hill High School

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Platte County Sheriff's Office says a teenager has been accused of making a terroristic threat after allegedly sending a social media message about a shooting at Park Hill High School on Thursday. KMBC TV reports that a school resource officer at Park Hill High was notified by a school administrator of a possible shooting threat at the school. The sheriff's office says a student contacted a school administrator, identifying the person from whom they had received a Snapchat message. Investigators say that when another school administrator talked to the teenager, the teen said he was just joking with his friends and there was not a threat to the school.Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen said any threat to a school, whether real or in jest, is a serious matter and can constitute a crime. Owen also praised the student who reported the message to school administrators.


Groups Ask Feds to Investigate Topeka Police

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Ten community groups are asking the federal government to investigate the Topeka Police Department’s use of force. The groups say police are too quick to shoot Black people. The concerns stem from multiple incidents. In recent weeks, Topeka Police shot and killed two Black men who were holding knives. Officials say using force was justified, but the community organizations point out that white Topekans holding machetes have survived encounters with police. The groups are further concerned that when officers shot at the knife-wielding suspects, they fired in public areas and could have hit innocent bystanders. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that it isn’t clear whether the Department of Justice will investigate these cases.


Avian Flu Surfaces in Shawnee County

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas Department of Agriculture says bird flu is back in the state. The agency confirmed the virus Thursday in Shawnee County. The case was found among a backyard flock of birds. It’s the third reported case of the virus in Kansas this fall. State officials quarantined the site and moved the affected birds to decrease the chance of spreading the virus. The state also reported six cases of the bird flu in the spring. (Read more in the Topeka Capital-Journal.)


Driver Dies After Cement Truck Goes Airborne, Rolls in Central Kansas

RUSSELL, Kan. (KAKE) - A cement truck driver was killed Wednesday when his vehicle crashed in central Kansas. KAKE TV reports that the accident happened around 2:30 pm on U.S. Highway 281, north of Russell. The Kansas Highway Patrol says a northbound cement truck went off the left side of the roadway and through a private fence. The truck then went airborne and rolled an unknown number of times. The driver, 28-year-old Mason Roach, of Great Bend, died at the scene. The Highway Patrol says he was not wearing a seat belt. It's unclear what caused the truck to go off the roadway. It was one of two fatal crashes involving a cement truck in Kansas on Wednesday. In Washington County, a cement truck blew a tire and crashed into a Honda CR-V, killing the Honda's driver.  


Kansas Man Ordered to Pay $120,000 After Sales Tax Violations

OLATHE, Kan. (KSNW) — A Leawood man has been ordered to pay nearly $120,000 after pleading guilty to violating the Kansas Retailers’ Sales Tax Act. KSNW TV reports that 36-year-old Bryan Huff pleaded guilty in Johnson County District Court to misdemeanor charges of violating the sales tax act. A judge accepted the plea and ordered Huff to pay $79,436.72 in restitution, $39,718.36 in penalties and a $5,000 fine. A news release from the Attorney General says the charges stem from Huff’s purchase of luxury automobiles. Authorities say he failed to accurately report the purchase price and failed to pay the actual required sales tax on the vehicles.
The Kansas Department of Revenue investigated the case.


U.S. Heating Costs, Supplies Worry Americans

JAY, Maine (AP) - Many American families are filled with fear and dread as winter approaches because of high energy costs and tight fuel supplies. The U.S. Department of Energy is projecting sharp price increases for home heating compared to last winter. Some worry whether heating assistance programs will be adequate for struggling families. Last month, Congress added $1 billion to Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, bringing the total to at least $4.8 billion. But that level represents a cut from last year, when federal pandemic relief pushed the total energy assistance package past $8 billion.


Kansas Man Arrested in Connection with 1992 Branson Cold Case Assault

BRANSON, Mo. (KYTV) - A Kansas man has been arrested in connection with a cold case assault in Branson, Missouri, that dates back to 1992. KVTY in Springfield, Missouri, reports that prosecutors in Taney County have charged Tony Lee Wagner, of Fort Scott, with two counts of first-degree assault, kidnapping, and forcible rape. The Missouri Highway Patrol calls his arrest a major break in a 30-year-old cold case. The assault happened on August 15, 1992, at the Henning Conservation area in Branson. Authorities say Wagner attacked two women from Texas. One woman escaped and flagged down a driver who contacted the local sheriff’s office.  That's when the decades long search for Wagner began. Wagner is now jailed in Bourbon County, Kansas. If convicted, he faces 10 to 30 years in prison or life.


Railroads Reject Sick Time Demands, Raising Chance of Strike

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The major freight railroads appear unwilling to give track maintenance workers much more than they received in the initial contract they rejected last week, increasing the chances of a nationwide strike. The railroads rejected the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union's request to add paid sick time on top of the 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses they received in the first five-year deal. But Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz said Thursday he's confident that all 12 unions will ultimately approve their deals, so the industry can avoid a strike that would be devastating to the nation's economy.


Kansas Ballot Features Justices, Proposed Amendments

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Some important issues in the Kansas fall election will actually appear at the bottom of the ballot. Kansans will vote on a constitutional amendment that would let state lawmakers overturn rules and regulations set by the governor’s administration. That could affect rules ranging from pollution regulations to foster care policies. Alexandra Middlewood, a political scientist at Wichita State University, says important constitutional amendments are becoming more common in Kansas. “Not only are there more of them, they have a much larger impact on the way the government functions," she said. Voters will also decide whether to keep six of the Kansas Supreme Court justices. Some abortion opponents want to remove the justices because of a ruling that said the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights. Election Day is November 8.


U.S. Attorney's Office Will Have Presence in Kansas on Election Day

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS/KCUR) - The U.S. Attorney’s offices for Kansas and the Western District of Missouri have appointed federal officials to handle voting rights concerns that may arise during the November 8th midterm election. The appointments are part of a nationwide Election Day Program by the U.S. Justice Department to address things like threats of violence against election officials as well as election fraud. In Kansas, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Maag will oversee the effort. In the Western District of Missouri, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Simpson will oversee the effort. In addition, the FBI will have special agents available in each of its field offices to address allegations of election abuses and irregularities.


Education Officials: Chronic Absenteeism Among Kansas Students Has Doubled

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - The number of Kansas students who are chronically absent from school has almost doubled over the past two years. Education leaders say schools need to reverse the trend. The Kansas News Service reports that new data from the Kansas Department of Education show that more than one in four students was chronically absent last school year. That means they missed at least 10% of school, or about a month of instruction. Schools with higher numbers of low-income students, students of color and new, English-language learners recorded higher absenteeism. Education Commissioner Randy Watson says the trend is especially troubling for young students. "Children in the early grades — chronically absent in pre-K, kindergarten, first — are much less likely to be able to read at grade level by the time they get to third grade," he said. Watson also said students who are chronically absent miss critical instruction and tend to drop out of school. It’s not clear what caused the huge drop in attendance, but officials say changes in school habits during COVID-19 likely played a role. Officials say schools should engage with families to see what might be causing students to miss class. Schools can also offer incentives for attendance.


Neosho County Attorney Linus Thuston Faces Criminal Investigation by State Authorities

CHANUTE, Kan. (Kansas Reflector) — Neosho County prosecutor Linus Thuston is under fire. The Kansas Reflector reports that Thuston makes no apologies for cutting deals with child rapists, expanding the use of diversions to pad his office budget, or using his power at the top of the county’s criminal justice system to benefit his private practice clients. Outspoken community leaders are frustrated with the prosecutor's behavior and say he presides over a kingdom of fear in this rural southeast Kansas county. Thuston, a church deacon and Army National Guard veteran, dismisses questions about conflicts of interest, saying people who dislike him just have an ax to grind.

The Kansas Reflector gathered thousands of pages of documents, including some that are confidential, and conducted interviews with numerous sources over the course of a six-month investigation into concerns about Thuston. The current and former Neosho County sheriffs say “justice is for sale” in the form of diversion agreements approved by Thuston, sometimes for felony crimes. The county commission doesn’t trust Thuston’s handling of finances. The Disciplinary Administrator’s Office, which reviews complaints against attorneys for the Kansas Supreme Court, has determined three times that Thuston committed ethics violations but allowed him to keep practicing law. (Read more.)


National Group Investigates Layoffs at Emporia State University

EMPORIA, Kan. (KNS) - A national organization of college professors has announced that it is investigating Emporia State University over the dismissal of dozens of faculty members. The Kansas News Service reports that Emporia State recently laid off 33 employees, including tenured faculty, as part of a large-scale restructuring in response to declining enrollment. The American Association of University Professors calls the move an assault on academic freedom and tenure. The group says it’s investigating whether the firings violated faculty members’ due process. Michael DeCesare , of AAUP, says Emporia State may have ignored procedural standards. “When a professor who’s on a tenured appointment can simply be summarily dismissed, tenure exists in name only at that institution," he said. Emporia State officials have said they adhered to a Kansas Board of Regents rule that let colleges temporarily bypass regular policies on layoffs to address financial problems. DeCesare is urging the university to rescind the notices of termination. He says the layoffs are an attack on academic freedom. Emporia State officials say they don’t agree with the allegations but respect the group’s wish to investigate.


Kansas Economic Policy Conference Will Explore Policies for Economic Resilience

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — The 2022 Kansas Economic Policy Conference at the University of Kansas next week will explore “Building a Resilient Kansas Economy.” The conference takes place October 27 at the Burge Union on the KU campus in Lawrence. Organizers say the conference will bring together community leaders, policymakers and experts to consider timely and relevant questions. “This year’s conference focuses on economic resilience,” said Donna Ginther, director of the Institute for Policy & Social Research, the conference organizer. “Now that we’re moving past the pandemic, as a state, our focus should shift to making investments that position us for growth and prosperity in the next decade."

Kansas Public Radio's Statehouse Bureau Chief, Jim McLean, and Deb Miller, of the KU Public Management Center, will moderate the conversations. Registration for in-person or online attendance is available through the conference website. KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research is organizing the event.


Emporia Officially Honored with Best-Tasting Water Award

EMPORIA, Kan. (KVOE) - Just how good is the tap water in Emporia? Apparently, it's pretty good. KVOE Radio reports that the city continues to get recognized for the high quality of its drinking water. In late August, the city’s tap water was honored for having the state’s best-tasting water. The honor was officially delivered during the Emporia City Commission meeting Wednesday. The award comes from the Kansas Water Environment Association and Kansas Section of the American Water Works Association. The city gets water from the Neosho River, not from nearby wells like other award winners. The latest award follows top honors in 2012 and 2007. Emporia has also fared well in other water-quality competitions. In 2013 and 2017, Emporia won an award for having the best-tasting water in the world.


Help Wanted: Kansas Public Radio Seeks New Statehouse Bureau Chief

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Public Radio is seeking a new Statehouse Bureau Chief. This position works primarily at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. Duties include managing all aspects of KPR’s capital news bureau, which provides broadcast and digital news reports to a number of radio stations in Kansas and Missouri. This position is primarily responsible for reporting on all aspects of state government. The KPR Statehouse Bureau Chief researches, writes, reports and produces spot news, digital stories and long-form audio features for KPR and its reporting partners. Learn more about this position.

The University of Kansas prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, age, ancestry, disability status as a veteran, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, gender identity, gender expression, and genetic information in the university's programs and activities. Retaliation is also prohibited by university policy.


USDA's Livestock Assistance Program Hopes to Help Kansas, Missouri Ranchers Deal with Drought

UNDATED (HPM) - The drought affecting Kansas and Missouri has been severe enough to activate a livestock assistance program in many counties.  Harvest Public Media reports that the program helps ranchers whose pastures have dried out. Ranchers in most of the counties in Kansas and half of Missouri’s counties have become eligible for the USDA’s livestock forage program, which makes cash payments to ranchers in counties affected by severe drought. Many ranchers are culling their cattle herds at a much higher rate than normal because they cannot feed them, says Todd Barrows of the Kansas Farm Service Agency. "That will impact the future of the number of animals available, which is going to impact our meat supply chain," he said. This program and others that assist with water, feed or livestock transportation could help producers keep their herds intact and stay in business.


Topeka Golfer Gary Woodland Shares Lead After First Day of PGA's C-J Cup

SOUTH CAROLINA (KPR) - Former University of Kansas golfer Gary Woodland, of Topeka, shared the lead heading into Friday's second round of the C-J Cup in South Carolina, this week’s stop on the PGA Tour. The 38-year-old Woodland shot a 6-under par 65 to share the first-round lead with Trey Mullinax, a 30-year old from Alabama. Woodland says the weather and course conditions were ideal for putting up a good score. "The weather is supposed to even get better and warm up a little bit the rest of the week with hardly any wind, so you’re going to have to play aggressive out here. The golf course is set up to make some birdies. It’s in great shape, so hopefully I’ll keep playing aggressive and have a little fun," he said. Woodland is looking for his first win since capturing the 2019 U.S. Open championship. In 2022, he’s had five top-10 finishes and has earned more than $2 million on the tour.


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, 11 am weekends. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.

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