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Headlines for Thursday, December 16, 2021

 

Windy Weather Brings Fires and Power Outages to Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS/KCUR/KPR) - High winds scraping across the Kansas landscape Wednesday ripped down power lines, sparked fires and fanned flames that blew smoke from the Flint Hills through Kansas City and as far as the Great Lakes. In Trego County, west of Hays, Kansas, exhausted volunteer firefighters battled what they could well into the night and prepared to head back out Thursday morning to tame grass fires singing acres of prairie and farmland. At times, the winds gusted more than 100 mph in parts of Kansas, stoking wildfires from the Great Plains to the Missouri River Valley.  The winds blew down trees, ripped away roofs and tangled enough power lines that Evergy, the state’s largest electric utility, reported as many as 170,000 customers without power. Some flights to Kansas City International Airport were diverted and outgoing flights were delayed after air traffic controllers were briefly evacuated from the cab of the tower. Across Kansas, the winds limited visibility and sent semitractor-trailers weaving. Interstate 70 and a handful of other highways in western Kansas were closed down for hours. Strong winds in Great Bend toppled a church steeple, damaged the roof of the high school auditorium and knocked out power to numerous homes. 

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At Least 5 Dead as Midwest Rocked by Hurricane-Force Winds

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Authorities say at least five people died when a powerful storm system swept across the Great Plains and Midwest, spawning hurricane-force winds and likely tornadoes in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Officials say a 65-year-old man was killed Wednesday night when a 40-foot tree fell on him outside his home in southeastern Minnesota. The Iowa State Patrol says a semitrailer was struck by high winds and rolled onto its side in eastern Iowa, killing the driver. The Kansas Highway Patrol says three people died in traffic accidents due to blowing dust. More than 20 unconfirmed tornadoes were reported Wednesday, mostly in eastern Nebraska and Iowa. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses remain without power Thursday.

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Fires Remain a Concern Across Kansas After Strong Wind Storm

UNDATED (AP) — Firefighters and emergency responders are battling fires spreading across parts of central and western Kansas after a powerful storm blew through the state. The Kansas Forest Service says 400,000 acres burned in 11 counties in western Kansas, with smaller fires in other counties. The high winds churned up heavy dust, and three people died in two accidents in southwest Kansas because of reduced visibility. Emergency management officials say several homes, outbuildings and other structures were destroyed by Wednesday's fires but no deaths have been reported. The fires were fueled by winds that reached up to 90 mph in some spots, combined with dry grasses and low humidity.

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Warm Kansas Fall Weather Breaks Records

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KNS) - November and December this year in Kansas have been some of the warmest on record.  Since Thanksgiving, more than 100 high temperature records have been set in Kansas and with warm weather in the forecast this week, more records could be shattered. Chip Redmond is a meteorologist at Kansas State University. He says the statewide average temperature since the start of December is nine degrees above the historical normal. “Nine degrees is hard to overcome," Redmond said. "We’d need some pretty substantial cold to just come out normal for December.”  Redmond says above normal temperatures in late fall and winter mean pests like mosquitoes are active longer. The higher temperatures also increase drought and worsen grassland fire risk. Climate change has so far pushed average winter temperatures in Kansas up about 4 degrees since 1970.

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Kansas Confirms Its 1st Case of COVID-19 Variant Omicron

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant, raising fresh concerns for hospitals that are already dealing with a rise in COVID-19 patients. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said in a news release Thursday that the infected person is a vaccinated adult in Franklin County in the northeast of the state. The person has not received a booster. The health department says no additional details will be released about the person to protect their privacy. Janet Stanek, the acting head of the department, says the detection of the variant comes as no surprise.

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University of Kansas to Allow Admissions Without ACT Tests

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Board of Regents has approved new admissions standards that create a path for students to attend the University of Kansas without taking the ACT or SAT standardized tests. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the board on Wednesday unanimously voted to allow admission of students with a 3.25 or higher high school GPA. Chancellor Douglas Girod said that high school grade point averages do a better job than ACT scores of predicting college success. The university now will admit students who have a 3.25 or higher GPA or those with a 2.0 GPA and score at least 21 on the ACT. 

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Police: 3 Killed When SUV, Firetruck Collide in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo (AP) — Three people were killed when a firetruck collided with a sport utility vehicle, then plowed over a sidewalk and into a building in a Kansas City entertainment district. Police said the collision happened Wednesday night as the truck was headed to an emergency call with its lights flashing and sirens blaring. The impact forced the firetruck and the SUV over a sidewalk, where a woman was hit. The vehicles came to a stop in a building that had been home to the Riot Room, a bar and music venue that recently closed. Two victims were found soon after the crash in the sport utility vehicle. Police say the pedestrian’s body was found in the rubble Thursday.

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Delayed Kansas Highway Construction Back on Track, New  Projects Planned

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) _All of the Kansas highway projects delayed in 2016 because of a state budget crunch are now on their way to construction and the list of new projects is growing. The expansion of a stretch of U.S. 50 near Dodge City and the widening of a section of K-68 south of Kansas City had been on the drawing board since 2010.  Both are now proceeding. Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz says getting them done clears the way for new work.  “This is significant for communities who were promised these projects decades ago; and because we have now met the legislative requirement that allows us to construct new IKE projects,” Lorenz said. IKE is the state’s Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program. Lorenz says 25 new projects totalling $750 million are being added to it.  They include expanding a section of I-35 in Johnson County, the addition of passing lanes to US 169 near Iola and rebuilding interchanges in Wichita and Hays. 

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Medicaid Now Certifies Kids for Free Lunch in Kansas, 7 Other States

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has added eight states to the 19 where students receiving Medicaid coverage will be automatically added to the program offering free or reduced-price school lunches. A news release Tuesday says those states are Kansas, Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The department says this expands demonstration projects that have certified more than 1 million students for free meals and nearly 260,000 for reduced-price meals since the 2012-2013 school year. It says the 27 states now involved represent about 75% of students nationwide.

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Kansas Chamber of Commerce Endorses Warren for Attorney General

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - An influential business organization in Kansas is taking sides early in the race for state attorney general. The political action committee of the Kansas Chamber is backing conservative state Senator Kellie Warren, a Leawood lawyer, in the Republican primary for attorney general. The early endorsement signals the Chamber’s opposition to former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach, a hardline conservative, is running for attorney general after losing the race for governor in 2018 and a Republican Senate primary last year. Those losses concern many Republicans. Former federal prosecutor Tony Mattivi is also in the running for the GOP nomination for attorney general. Lawrence trial lawyer Chris Mann is the only Democrat in the race. Republican Derek Schmidt, the state’s current attorney general, is running for governor. 

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Kansas Utilizes Federal Funds to Expand Broadband Access

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - More than 70,000 Kansans still don’t have internet access, but that could change with funding from a federal infrastructure bill signed into law last month. A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts looks at how states are using federal grants to boost broadband access. The report finds that Kansas has moved quickly to help bridge the digital divide. The new infrastructure bill includes $100 million for Kansas to expand broadband infrastructure and internet access. 

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Rock Band Tool's Drummer Arrested for Assault, Anti-Gay Slur

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police say the drummer of the rock band Tool has been arrested and charged with a municipal assault violation for allegedly using an anti-gay slur during a confrontation at Missouri's Kansas City International Airport. Court documents show Kansas City police arrested 60-year-old Malibu, California resident Danny Carey on Sunday. Police say Carey used an anti-gay slur and repeatedly jabbed someone in the chest with two fingers. The municipal assault violation is punishable by 180 days in jail, a $250 to $1,000 fine, or both. A spokeswoman for the band Tool says neither Carey nor the band are commenting.

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Bankers Say Rural Economy Remains Strong in 10 States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new monthly survey of bankers in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states shows the economy remains strong in the region, but some bankers said they are worried about how inflation will affect farmers. The overall economic index slipped from November's 67.7 to 66.7 in December but any score above 50 suggests growth.  The report released Thursday said high inflation is a concern as land costs and the price of supplies farmers need are expected to keep growing next year. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

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Names of Wichita Police Accused of Misconduct to Stay Secret

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new contract allows the Wichita police department to continue keeping the names of officers accused of wrongdoing secret. The Wichita City Council approved the contract Tuesday. The department has kept the names of officers disciplined for misconduct or use of excessive force secret for years. Community activists say the practice undermines confidence in the police and supports the idea that the department is more interested in covering up police actions than being honest with the community. City and union officials say police should not be treated differently from other city employees, whose personnel records are not open to the public.

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Report: Kansas Has Shortest Prison Probation Length

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A new report says Kansas has the shortest average length of probation of any state in the country, but it sends more people back to prison for supervision violations than most other states. Kansas and Massachusetts are the only two states where the average probation length is nine months. The report from Pew Charitable Trusts says Kansas is doing well with short probation lengths, because shorter supervision can reduce recidivism and the burden on caseworkers. The study says Kansas policies appear to be working, but more research is needed.  Kansas does have the 12th highest rate of incarcerating people for supervision violations. One potential cause is the state’s offender registry list. Critics of the list say it is too burdensome and has no impact on public safety.  

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New Mental Hospital for Youth Planned for Hays

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) - A new psychiatric hospital for younger patients Is coming to western Kansas as the need for mental health services continues to increase. The new facility will offer individual and family therapy sessions, and medication management for people under 18.  Governor Laura Kelly announced KVC Hospitals is contracted to run the 14-bed treatment center until 2027. The opening of the new facility is expected to ease the backlog for services at the Larned State Hospital in central Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that wait lists at Larned continue to grow and the hospital can't meet the demand. Those struggles have only worsened as the pandemic has strained people's mental health. The hospital will start admitting patients in 2023. 

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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.

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Kansas City Police: Teen Dies After Being Shot

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police in Kansas City , Missouri say a teenager has died after being shot several blocks south of Swope Park. Police say officers were called to the area around 7 p.m. Tuesday for reports of someone on the ground experiencing a medical emergency.  Medics who also arrived on the scene determined the teen had been shot and rushed him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police later identified the victim as 17-year-old Kaleb Martin. Police said they did not immediately have any suspects in the case. 

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Death of Infant Ruled a Homicide, Kansas City Police Say

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police announced Thursday that the death of a 4-month-old boy has been ruled a homicide. Police said in a news release that officers rushed to a Kansas City home on September 11 after getting a report that the infant wasn’t breathing. Emergency crews performed CPR and were able to get a pulse. The child was rushed to a hospital but died. Police said the homicide unit received the final ruling from the medical examiner that the death was a homicide on Wednesday. No other details were immediately released, including the name of the baby or the cause of death.

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Chiefs Add Linebacker Willie Gay Jr. to COVID-19 List; 3rd Player This Week

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs added linebacker Willie Gay Jr. to the COVID-19 list on Wednesday, one day before they play the Los Angeles Chargers in a game that could go a long way toward deciding the AFC West. The Chiefs placed wide receiver Josh Gordon on the list Monday and defensive tackle Chris Jones on it Tuesday. All three of them played in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, which kept Kansas City a game ahead of the Chargers in the division. There is an outside chance Gordon or Jones could play if they return two negative tests 24 hours apart.

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Toys for Tots in Need of 20,000 More Toys this Holiday Season

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (KPR) - Toy drive organizers in Overland Park are in need of 20,000 more toys this holiday season.  The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation and Overland Park Convention Center are requesting community assistance to address the local toy shortage.  Organizers say they are trying to provide toys to more than 56,000 area children who are in need this holiday season.  To donate, guests are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy for donation and drop it off at the Overland Park Convention Center through December 16.  “Based off our numbers, it looks like we’ll be falling short by about 20,000 toys this year — that’s 20,000 kids who won’t get a Christmas if we’re not able to produce,” said SSgt. Warren Ory, Marine and local Toys for Tots campaign coordinator. “We are looking to the community for help. If you could find it in your hearts to donate, we are really in need for ages 0-2 and 11 plus.”  Last year, the local Toys for Tots served more than 34,000 children in the greater Kansas City area.  The Overland Park Convention Center will once again serve as the largest donation site for the area Toys for Tots drive.
 
Toys for Tots assists children up to age 16. Items to consider for pre-teens and teens include, but are not limited to, sporting equipment, bags, balls, books, backpacks, cosmetics, purses, watch/wallet gift sets, bath gift sets, board games, radio control cars and trucks, hand-held electronics, skateboards/helmets, curling irons, hair straighteners, and hair dryers.

The Overland Park Convention Center will be open for public donations Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. Due to COVID-19, guests are asked to drop items off at the security entrance located on the east side of the convention center off Woodson Rd. (Directional signage is provided.)

Learn more at opconventioncenter.com/toys-for-tots or by calling 913.339.3000.  

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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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