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Headlines for Monday, December 20, 2021


Cleanup Continues Following Numerous Wildfires in Central and Western Kansas

UNDATED (KPR) - Clean-up efforts continue in western Kansas, following multiple wildfires that erupted during high winds last Wednesday.  The fires, described as "catastrophic," burned farms, ranches and more than 400,000 acres.  At least two men died, including a rancher in Wichita County and a man in Ellis County.  Officials in Leoti say an 84-year-old rancher and farmer, Richard Shimanek, died at a hospital after he was burned while trying to save his home. In Ellis County, the remains of 36-year-old Derrick Scott Kelley were found near his burned-out pick-up truck.  In addition to the human fatalities, hundreds of horses and cattle were killed - many of them burned alive. Osborne County Emergency Preparedness Director Chris Rhodes says one local rancher lost about 80 head of cattle and several areas had to be evacuated, including the town of Natoma, which also experienced severe flooding earlier this spring.  “It is a very difficult thing to have to move from one disaster to another," Rhodes said. "Just when you're done picking things up and putting things back together to have the possibility of your house burning down it's got to be a horrible thing to go through.” The Kansas National Guard and Kansas Forest Service deployed planes and helicopters to drop water on the fires, which continued to burn into Thursday and Friday.   


December 15 Storms Across Central, North-Central U.S. Classified as Derecho

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — A line of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes that swept across the central and north-central U.S. last week has been classified by the National Weather Service as a serial derecho — the first on record in December. At least 45 tornadoes have been preliminarily confirmed in the December 15 storms that crossed the Great Plains and Midwest amid unseasonably warm temperatures. Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota took the brunt of the damage. Five deaths were blamed on the weather. A derecho shares similarities to a hurricane, but it has no eye and its winds come across in a line. The similarity is in the damage, which is likely to spread over a wide area.


Kansas Grapples with 3rd Surge of COVID-19

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas health care workers are struggling with a third surge of COVID-19 that has packed hospitals in recent weeks. The delta variant picked up momentum again last month. Hospitals are struggling to find enough beds. And even with help from traveling nurses, they don’t have enough workers.  "Hospitals are full," said Steven Stites, chief medical officer for the KU Health System. "There's no place to go. Our staff are tired. We’re gonna run out of travelers, and omicron is at our doorstep.” Kansas and Missouri have both confirmed cases of the omicron COVID variant. Omicron spreads fast and doctors fear the next few months could be even worse than last winter.  


Kansas Patients Needing to Be Transferred Stranded for Days

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Rural Kansas hospitals are struggling to transfer patients as COVID-19 numbers surge, with some patients left stranded in emergency rooms for a week while they wait for a bed. Space also was in short supply last winter and again over the summer when the delta variant first hit the state. Motient, a company contracting with Kansas to help manage transfers, says the situation improved slightly this fall, but now is worsening again. And it isn’t just rural hospitals looking for beds. Overwhelmed hospitals as far away as Minnesota and Michigan have been calling looking for beds in larger Kansas hospitals. Often there simply isn’t room.

Hospitals in Kansas, Missouri Report Spike in COVID Cases

MISSION, Kan. (AP) - An increase in COVID-19 cases has hospitals in Kansas and Missouri delaying surgeries, turning away transfers and holding patients in emergency rooms while they wait for beds to open up.  These hospitals are also desperately trying to hire more traveling nurses. Dr. Steven Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System, says he's particularly alarmed that the surge is coming even before the omicron variant hits the region in full force.  In Merriam, Kansas, the number of COVID-19 patients with active infections at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission tripled from 12 in mid-November to 37 as of Thursday.


Oracle Buys Medical Records Company Cerner for $28 Billion

UNDATED (AP) — Oracle is buying Kansas City-based electronic medical records company Cerner in an all-cash deal valued at about $28.3 billion. Oracle will pay $95 per Cerner share. Hospitals and physicians offices use Cerner software to record and share health and medical data. The companies said Monday that Cerner systems will become a unit of Oracle. Shares of Oracle are down more than 3% in morning trading.


Police: Two Found Dead in Independence, Missouri, Home

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) - An investigation continues after two people were found dead inside a home in the Kansas City suburb of Independence, Missouri. KMBC-TV reports that a man and a woman were found Sunday afternoon by one of their parents. Police say two children under the age of 10 also were in the home, but were unharmed. Police have not released a cause of death but said there were no visible gunshot wounds or reports of gunfire. The Jackson County Medical Examiner's office will determine the cause of death. Names of the victims have not been released.  


Kansas Officials Work to Speed Distribution of Eviction Aid

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas officials continue working to speed up the distribution of aid money to help people avoid eviction. Ryan Vincent, who leads the state agency overseeing the program, said more than 40% of the $169 million allocated to the state program has been given out so far.  Kansas, like most states, fell short of the federal goal of distributing at least 65% of the aid money by November 15. Vincent said Kansas has been making steady progress and roughly 32,000 Kansans have received help. And Kansas isn't in danger of having the federal government reclaim some of the money because the state had distributed at least 30% of the aid by the November deadline.


Osawatomie State Hospital to Accept Voluntary Admissions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The state of Kansas plans to lift a moratorium on voluntary admissions at Osawatomie State Hospital beginning next month.  The hospital for adults with mental health issues stopped taking voluntary admissions in 2015 after receiving citations for not doing enough to help suicidal patients and routinely housing three patients in rooms meant for two because of space limitations.  The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services announced the change last week, saying Osawatomie State Hospital would start taking voluntary admissions on January 3rd.  As part of the plan, it created a new class of mental health providers called State Institutional Alternative, which will allow private psychiatric facilities to accept patients who have been approved for admission to state psychiatric hospitals.


Tyson Meatpacking Moving Toward Automation as Agriculture Embraces Robotics

UNDATED (HPM) -Meatpacking giant Tyson Foods plans to spend $1.3 billion dollars over the next three years to automate parts of its processing lines. According to Harvest Public Media, Tyson says the automation will cut more than 3,000 difficult, hard-to-fill jobs in its plants through 2024. Mostly debone-ing roles in chicken operations. Economist and researcher Daron Acemoglu says it’s a sign of the times. "The agricultural part of automation is something that’s very active right now. Companies are trying to develop robots for picking fruits, other parts of the agricultural production chain. I think it’s the next frontier in some sense," he said.  The robotization is driven by labor shortages and soaring demand for meat, according to Tyson.


Missouri Authorities: Teens Playing with Gun Before Child Was Killed

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) - Court documents say a 19-year-old who is charged with fatally shooting his 15-year-old friend had been playing with a gun before the weapon discharged at an Independence home. Elijah Soliz was charged Friday with first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the December 11 shooting. A police detective wrote in the probable cause statement that Soliz described the shooting as accidental.


Kansas City Man Convicted of 15 Illegal Gun Sales

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Kansas City man has been convicted of illegally selling 15 guns, including some that have been linked to shootings. Federal prosecutors said 27-year-old Mickael Oliver will face at least seven years in prison when he is sentenced. Prosecutors said four of the guns Oliver or his associates sold were stolen, and at least one of the guns was sold to a convicted felon. Three other Kansas City-area residents were charged in connection to the case, and two of them have already been sentenced to prison. Oliver was charged after he illegally sold guns to a confidential informant who had been working with federal agents.


Quick-Thinking Deputy Helps Woman Hit by Train in Kansas

PARSONS, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are crediting a quick-thinking deputy with saving the life of a woman who was struck by a train in southeastern Kansas. The Labette County sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post that Deputy Gabe Vitt was in Parsons when he heard dispatchers tell emergency crews that the woman had been hit late Sunday while on foot. Vitt was only a couple blocks away from the crossing and arrived in time to apply a makeshift tourniquet to the woman’s partially severed leg. The post said Vitt then consoled the woman until other rescue crews arrived. The post thanked Vitt for keeping the woman “calm and coherent during a life threating (sic) event.”


Man Sentenced After Hidden Shotgun Injures Wichita Officers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A 46-year-old man who hid a shotgun that went off and injured two police officers has been sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. James Hathorn was sentenced Tuesday after he pleaded guilty in September to four charges. Hathorn admitted that he was living with his girlfriend in a vacant house without permission. He wasn't there when officers went to the home in February to investigate a burglary. In his plea, Hathorn said he had hidden a modified shotgun in the side pocket of a recliner. One of the officers bumped the chair and the gun went off, seriously injuring two officers.


Two Years Later, Still No Arrests in Leawood Man's Death

LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) _ Two years after Zach Morrisey was shot to death in Leawood, his relatives say they're still waiting for answers. Morrisey was killed on December 21, 2019. He was shot in the parking lot of a Leawood apartment complex as he was sitting inside a car with a friend. No arrests have been made. Morrisey was 24. Morrisey's cousin, Shannon Ross, told WDAF-TV that the family is frustrated by not knowing what led to the shooting at that moment in time.


Wichita Police Chief Ramsay to Leave Department

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The Wichita police chief who was one of the first law enforcement officials to call the death of George Floyd a murder has announced that he's resigning. Gordon Ramsay says he plans to resign from his position on March 1. Ramsay said he wanted to spend more time with family.  Ramsay said his diversification of the police department is one of his proudest accomplishments.


From Masks to Book Banning, Conservatives Take on Educators

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A recent Wyoming school board meeting was yet again packed with opponents of mask mandates when things took an abrupt turn and a parent started reading out sexually explicit passages from a book available in school libraries. Conservatives across the U.S. have taken a renewed interest in removing books they find objectionable from school libraries.  It's part of a broader effort that includes pushing back against controversial teachings about social justice, race and history. The fresh focus on public education as a political issue began with parents crowding school board meetings to oppose mask mandates and other COVID-19 measures. Library organizations say the book opposition sends a bad message to young people.


AP Source: Several Asymptomatic NFL Players Test Positive, Including KC's Travis Kelce

UNDATED (AP) – Several asymptomatic, vaccinated NFL players tested positive for COVID-19 on the first day of “targeted” testing, a person familiar with the results told The Associated Press on Monday. Overall, 47 players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the most in a single day since the pandemic began. The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because of privacy issues, didn’t specify how many of the players are asymptomatic and fully vaccinated. Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce and Lions quarterback Jared Goff are among the players who landed on the reserve list. Players who test positive must quarantine until they’re cleared to return. Under the NFL’s revised protocols which went into effect Monday, asymptomatic, vaccinated players can return in less than 10 days.


Chiefs Alone in First Place in AFC After Some Weekend Help

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs are alone with the best record in the AFC, one game ahead of the Patriots and Titans and two up on the Chargers, Colts and Bengals. That's crucial with three games remaining because there is only one bye for the playoffs, and that team also earns home-field advantage throughout the AFC postseason. Kansas City begins the stretch run against Pittsburgh, which is fighting for its postseason hopes, on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Then comes road trips to Cincinnati and Denver, two more teams that are trying to keep their playoff chances alive.


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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