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Headlines for Monday, October 24, 2022


Kansas Republicans Connect Fentanyl Epidemic to Border Security as Campaign Issue

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - As fentanyl death counts rises, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Kansas Republicans are making the drug a campaign issue, trying to connect rival Democrats to national issues of crime and immigration. From social media to television ads to stump speeches to debates, Republican politicians up and down the ballot have taken particular interest in the synthetic opioid during campaign season. "Who will support our law enforcement, keep our families safe and who will get fentanyl off the streets?" U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall asked the crowd at the Topeka stop of the Kansas Republican Party bus tour. "Derek Schmidt," the crowd responded. "There is nothing that constitutes a political game in the flow of drugs and narcotics and harm into this state, and that is the responsibility of the governor of the state of Kansas," Republican gubernatorial nominee and current Attorney General Derek Schmidt said of fentanyl. "If Joe Biden comes up with yet another way to open our borders, to bring in more fentanyl to our streets, what are we going to do?" immigration hardliner Kris Kobach, who is running for attorney general, asked the crowd. "Sue Joe Biden," the crowd responded.

The Schmidt campaign has made crime a major talking point with less than a month to go until Election Day with a flurry of TV and digital ads. The campaign's most recent ad, which focuses on immigration, called out fentanyl and touted former President Donald Trump's "tough border policies." "I'm running for governor for the people who know somebody or love somebody whose lives have been disrupted by fentanyl because we won't secure the southern border in Joe Biden's administration," Schmidt said in a debate hosted by the Johnson County Bar Association. He told the group that the biggest threat facing Kansas is "the flow of drugs across the southern border of the United States."

Democratic Governor Laura Kelly responded by saying she believes in secure borders. "But if we really want to deal with the fentanyl issue and other substance abuse issues facing our state," Kelly said, "then we need to finally once and for all expand Medicaid so that people can access the services that they need to deal with the issues that they're suffering from."

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, drug overdose deaths rose 73% over the past decade, from 275 in 2011 to 477 in 2020. In 2020, a little over half of drug overdose deaths — 254 — were caused by opioids. Most opioid deaths involved synthetic opioids, which includes fentanyl. In Kansas, fentanyl overdose deaths have increased each year since 2017. But the spike has accelerated with deaths more than doubling in 2020 and 2021. The State Child Death Review Board, which reports to Schmidt, reported last month that 11 Kansas children died from fentanyl in 2020. (Read more.)


Minimum-Security Inmate Walks Away from Lansing Correctional Facility

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR/KSNT) –  A minimum security inmate has been placed on escape status after walking away from Lansing Correctional Facility on Sunday. Authorities are now searching for 39-year-old Joshua W. Renfro, who was serving a 30-month sentence for violating an extended protection order conviction in Allen County. Renfro has four prior convictions dating back to 2001. Renfro is white, 6 feet 1 inches tall, 175 pounds with Hazel eyes and brown hair. He has tattoos on his torso, neck, hands, arms and legs. Anyone with information on Renfro's whereabouts can call the Kansas Department of Corrections at (913) 727-3235 ext. 58224 or the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at (800) 572-7463. (Read more from KSNT.)


Kansas Undersheriff Faces Trial in Fatal Beanbag Shooting

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A rural Kansas undersheriff who shot and killed an unarmed man with a homemade beanbag round faces trial in Kansas City, Kansas. The case against Vergil Brewer is likely to focus on whether his lack of knowledge and training with the munitions amounts to reckless involuntary manslaughter. Jury selection begins today (MON) for Brewer, the undersheriff in Barber County at the time of the deadly encounter with Steven Myers on October 6, 2017, in Sun City, Kansas. Defense attorney David Harger did not respond to messages seeking comment on the case.


Small Central Missouri Town Devastated by Destructive Wildfire

WOOLDRIDGE, Mo. (AP/KPR) — Roughly half of a small Missouri town burned Saturday after a wildfire spread quickly from a farm field and destroyed or heavily damaged 23 buildings. No one died and only one person was injured, but residents in the central Missouri town of Wooldridge had to be evacuated. The blaze was sparked in a field by a combine that was harvesting crops. Cooper County Fire District spokesman Jim Gann said Sunday that between 4.6 and 5.4 square miles burned before the fire was controlled. Wooldridge is a town of less than 100 people near Columbia along the Missouri River. A separate fire Sunday prompted some evacuations in the Kansas City area.


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.


Missouri Arbitrator: Kansas City Firefighter Lied About Fatal Crash

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An arbitrator ruled that a Kansas City firefighter lied to police after he drove through a red light and crashed into several vehicles, killing three people last year. Judge Miles Sweeney said in his findings that the evidence from eyewitnesses, traffic cameras and the scene of the crash contradicted what Dominic Biscari told investigators about slowing down as he approached the intersection and slamming on the brakes when he saw an SUV pull in front of him. Sweeney recommended that Biscari pay $32 million to the victims' families and the owner of a building that was destroyed when the fire truck slammed into it last December.  A separate civil lawsuit remains pending against the fire department and the city.


Court Temporarily Blocks Biden's Student Loan Forgiveness

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal appeals court has issued a stay temporarily blocking President Joe Biden's plans to forgive student loan debt. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued the stay Friday evening. Attorneys for six Republican-led states, including Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, are asking a federal appeals court to reconsider their effort to block the Biden administration’s program to forgive billions of dollars in student loan debt. It’s unclear what the decision means for the 22 million borrowers who already applied for the relief. The Biden administration had promised not to clear any debt before October 23 as it battled the legal challenges, but the soonest it was expected to begin erasing debt was mid-November. 

The challenge to the plan is being brought by the attorneys general of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas, and South Carolina. The attorney general of Iowa is a Democrat, but the Iowa governor, who is a Republican, signed on the state's behalf. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is currently running for governor in Kansas; Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat. 

(– Earlier reporting –)

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.


Topeka City Councilman Resigns; Replacement to Be Appointed

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – A member of the Topeka City Council has announced his resignation. KSNT reports that Councilman Mike Lesser of District 9 has resigned and will officially leave his position on the council as of November 1, according to Deputy Mayor Spencer Duncan. His replacement will be determined through an application process that must open within one week of that date. Duncan told KSNT that the Topeka City Clerk is responsible for publishing a notice of the vacancy in the official city newspaper saying that applications for the position are open. The deadline for submitting applications will be 5 pm, two weeks from the notice’s publication date. All applications must be sent to the city clerk in City Hall. Each application must include a statement of qualifications and personal background, address why the applicant wishes to serve in the office of council member and a statement detailing what the applicant sees as the number one problem facing Topeka city government and how the applicant would seek to address the problem if chosen to serve. Each applicant must submit a $50 filing fee or send in a petition signed by 50 qualified electors from District 9. The mayor and council members will publicly interview every applicant during the next regular council meeting after the application deadline unless an alternate date is chosen.


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.


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.)


Topeka Zoo Enacts Measures to Protect Animals After Shawnee County Bird Flu Confirmation 

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – KSNT reports that the Topeka Zoo is taking additional safety precautions for its bird species in light of the recent identification of bird flu in Shawnee County. Bird flu, or highly pathogenic avian influenza, was recently found in a Shawnee County backyard flock of birds. The Kansas Department of Agriculture has quarantined the farm, depopulated the birds there and established a reporting zone that covers parts of Topeka. KSNT reports that the Topeka Zoo is home to over 30 different species of birds, and has taken several precautions to help protect the feathered animals housed there. Dr. Shirley Llizo, Director of Animal Health at the Zoo, said that the zoo has stopped stocking the swan feeders located near the pond to help discourage wild birds from landing there. Staff members have also been instructed to wear covers over their shoes when walking through places that wild birds traffic to reduce the possibility of spreading the bird flu to other exhibits.

The Topeka Zoo was already on alert when the latest bird flu reports were announced. Earlier this year, the Topeka Zoo, along with several other Kansas zoos, took precautions to protect their birds when it was found that the bird flu was being spread by wild waterfowl. Dr. Llizo said that it’s not possible to bring all of the zoo's birds indoors due to a lack of available space, and that many of the birds would be too stressed with such a move.


Douglas County Authorities Investigate Dozens of Suspicious Grass Fires

LAWRENCE, Kan. (WDAF) — Authorities in Douglas County are investigating six suspicious grass fire incidents that have occurred over the past two months. WDAF TV reports that firefighters say all six fire incidents are in the same area southeast of Lawrence and south of Eudora. Investigators told reporters that the fires have other similarities and authorities believe they may have been intentionally set, and they are especially interested in vehicles that may have been in the area of one of the fires.

The locations of some of the most recent suspicious fire incidents include:

  • October 21 – A grass fire in the 1800 block of N 1000 Road.
  • October 17 – Three fires started within minutes of each other between the 1700 block and the 2100 block of N 900 Road.
  • October 10 – Seven fires started within 30 minutes of each other between the 1400 block of N 1100 Road and the Johnson County line.
  • October 6 – Five fires in the afternoon in the 1500 block to the 2400 block of N 1100 Road.
  • September 29 – Eight fires in the afternoon in the 1400 block to 2400 block of N 1100 Road.
  • September 25 – Several grass fires along K-10 in the area of E 1900 Road.

Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister said none of the fires have caused any significant damage to property or resulted in any injuries, but they are suspicious in nature and their proximity to Kansas Highway 10 is a cause for concern. Consolidated Fire District No. 1 has increased staffing and is performing patrols of the area in hopes of catching whoever is responsible. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office asks anyone who may have noticed something suspicious in the area of one of the fires to call the Sheriff’s Office at (785) 841-0007, or Douglas County Crime Stoppers at (785) 843-TIPS (8477). The State Fire Marshal and Kansas Highway Patrol are also involved in the investigations.


Walgreens Pharmacies in Topeka Facing Closures, Hour Changes Due to Staffing Issues

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – Walgreens is responding to temporary closures of some of their Topeka pharmacies due to staffing closures. WIBW reports that several customers said the unusual hours of operation and closed doors at some Topeka Walgreens pharmacies have caused problems for them and their doctors. The Walgreens pharmacies at Southwest 37th and Topeka, 21st and Fairlawn, 37th and Wanamaker and 29th and Gage were closed on Friday, October 21. That's four of the eight Walgreens pharmacies in Topeka. A Walgreens spokesperson told WIBW that they had to reduce pharmacy hours because of staffing shortages, and that the chain is trying to make adjustments with minimal disruption to customers.


Lawrence Man Wins Kansas Lottery Second Chance Promotion 

TOPEKA, Kan. (Salina Post) – A Lawrence man has won the $75,000 Grand Prize in the Cosmic Cash second-chance promotion at the Kansas Lottery headquarters in Topeka. The Salina Post reports that David Garza of Lawrence was one of ten finalists who had entered their non-winning $5 and $10 Cosmic Cash instant tickets in the PlayOn contest. A $5 ticket earned one entry in the drawing, and a $10 ticket earned two entries. The promotion had a total of 230,632 entries and ran from May through October of this year.


KDOT Facing Snowplow Staffing Shortages as Winter Approaches

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – KSNT reports that the Kansas Department of Transportation says it doesn’t have enough workers for the upcoming winter season. KDOT is currently hiring seasonal workers. Snowplows become a major part of road safety during the winter. As part of a plan to help cope with the staffing challenges, KDOT will be making snow and ice preparations hours before any snow is anticipated. KDOT Highway Maintenance Superintendent David Studebaker told KSNT that workers pre-treat roadways with a salt brine or a combination of salt brine and beet juice to prevent ice accumulation. The transportation department says it has experienced winter staffing shortages before and is confident its crews will be able to clear the roads efficiently. 


Kansas Economic Policy Conference Will Explore Policies for Economic Resilience

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — The 2022 Kansas Economic Policy Conference at the University of Kansas this 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.


Patrick Mahomes' 3 TDs Lead Kansas City Chiefs Past 49ers 44-23

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes threw for 424 yards and three touchdowns to rally Kansas City back from another double-digit deficit in the Chiefs' 44-23 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Mahomes got off to a rough start in this Super Bowl rematch with his early interception putting Kansas City in a 10-0 hole but that once again proved to be no problem as he led the Chiefs to touchdowns on six of the next seven drives. The comeback improved Kansas City to 13-9 with Mahomes when falling behind by at least 10 points with the most memorable coming in a Super Bowl win over the 49ers following the 2019 season.


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.


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. Follow KPR News on Twitter for breaking news and links to other stories and issues of local and regional interest.

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