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Headlines for Thursday, December 23, 2021


Lawrence May Close Winter Emergency Shelter if Volunteers Don't Sign Up

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - The Emergency Winter Shelter is Lawrence may be forced to close, if more volunteers don't sign up to help out.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 28 people showed up at the Community Building Tuesday night, looking for a warm place to stay as temperatures fell below freezing. But officials say volunteers are in short supply, so the city run winter emergency shelter may be forced to lock its doors. Dozens of people experiencing homelessness have been living unsheltered outdoors. Many have been staying in encampments near the Kansas River. Others are camping - or car camping - at Clinton Lake State Park.  The primary shelter for homeless people in Douglas County - the Lawrence Community Shelter - has been forced to reduce its capacity due to the pandemic.  This, in turn, prompted the city to open the winter emergency shelter at the city's Community Building.  Roger Steinbrock, with the Parks and Rec Department, says the emergency shelter is now in desperate need of dozens more volunteers if the facility is to remain open.

(–AP Version–)

Volunteer Shortage Endangers Lawrence Emergency Shelter

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence officials say a shortage of volunteers is jeopardizing the ability to operate a winter emergency shelter that was set up because the city’s main homeless shelter had to reduce its occupancy during the pandemic. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Lawrence Community Shelter has the capacity to serve 125 people most of the time and 140 people during the winter. But it has been housing only a maximum of 40 people during the coronavirus pandemic. This fall, the Lawrence City Commission voted to allow the city to use two buildings to provide overnight shelter during the winter for up to 150 people. But city officials say the city may have to close the shelter if more volunteers don’t come forward.


Experts Warn of "Perfect Storm" in Missouri as COVID Cases Jump

ST. LOUIS (AP) - New cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 are surging throughout Missouri. Health leaders are warning of an approaching "perfect storm" if more people don't get vaccinated and take other precautions. Missouri is seeing a seven-day average of daily new cases of more than 3,000. The average dipped below 1,000 in October. Hospitals in St. Louis and the Kansas City area say they are already overwhelmed. That's even before Christmas gatherings and before the fast-moving omicron variant fully takes hold. Data tracked by The Kansas City Star shows the Kansas City region is now averaging around 844 new COVID-19 cases per day over seven days. That's the highest number since January.


Kansas Communities Try to Rebuild, Recover from Wildfires

PARADISE, Kan. (HPPR/KNS) - Last week’s wind storm sparked more than a dozen wildfires across western and central Kansas. For many ranchers, the fires cost them their land, their cattle and their livelihoods. But surrounding communities have sprung into action to help them. Rooks County farmer and volunteer firefighter Matt McCune has been one of the many people helping to distribute supplies and organize local recovery efforts on social media. But he says recovery there will require time and lots more help. “I'm hoping that this deal stays on the forefront. But you know, usually a couple weeks from now, these events drop off of people's minds, but you know, this could take forever to get this stuff back built back up," he said.  The most immediate need of most ranchers includes getting financial help to pay insurance deductibles and getting the materials and labor they need to rebuild their fences.

Extreme winds fueled widespread grass fires across western and central Kansas last week and now, the ranchers, farmers and communities who lost so much are beginning to pick up the pieces. When a massive wildfire tore through Russell County, Rich Koester’s ranch was right in the middle of it. He says the fire scorched all of his 800 acres and killed more than a third of his cattle. "It just went over the top of everything and burned it fast and a lot of the cattle didn't have a chance…and see, I don’t know how any of mine survived. I thought maybe... I would have lost all of them.” It’s a similar story for many ranchers across the region, where fires burned over 160,000 acres, and people are now focused on rebuilding. (Read more.)


Man Arrested in Connection with Double Homicide in Fort Scott

FORT SCOTT, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Fort Scott police have arrested a person of interest after two people were found shot to death inside a home. Police were called Tuesday night after someone found a woman had been shot. Arriving officers then found a man who also had been shot.  Both victims, identified as 48-year-old Melissa L. Mitchell and 53-year-old Leonard D. Zimmerman, were pronounced dead at the scene. KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood says 23-year-old Dawson J. Mitchell was arrested Wednesday afternoon on charges including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Dawson Mitchell had been sought as a person of interest in the case but has so far, not been charged in connection with the deaths. (Read more in the Wichita Eagle)


Two High-Profile Cases Dismissed by Douglas County District Attorney's Office

LAWRENCE, Kan. ( - Two high-profile criminal cases in Douglas County are ending. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Douglas County District Attorney's office announced Wednesday that the long-running murder case against Rontarus Washington, Junior, and the rape case against Albert N. Wilson will both be dismissed. Washington had already spent about five years in jail pending his initial trial, and was eventually released from custody to await his second trial.  Wilson was convicted on one count of rape in 2019 and sentenced to more than a decade in prison, but was granted a new trial. The Douglas County District Attorney, Suzanne Valdez, said that her office would work with Wilson's attorneys to reach a resolution to that case that would not require another trial.

(–AP Version–)

Kansas Prosecutor Drops Charges in 2 High-Profile Cases

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A prosecutor in a Kansas college town has dropped charges against two Black men whose murder and rape cases became a rallying cry for racial injustice protesters and celebrities. District Attorney Suzanne Valdez announced Wednesday that she had moved to formally dismiss the first-degree murder case against Rontarus Washington Jr. and the rape case against Albert Wilson. Valdez said in a statement that the case had languished in the courts long enough to raise questions about the integrity of the criminal justice system itself. The case has faced a series of delays and one mistrial resulting from a hung jury.


Andover Officer Shoots Suspect Who Allegedly Drove at Police

ANDOVER, Kan. (AP) _ A man is hospitalized in serious but stable condition after being shot by a police officer in the Butler County town of Andover. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting that happened around 11 pm Wednesday after a resident reported a suspicious person inside a self-storage facility. KBI says four Andover officers arrived and found the man, identified as 25-year-old Nicholas T. Waggoner, in one of the storage units. The KBI says that when Waggoner was allowed to get into his pickup truck to retrieve his driver's license, he put the truck in reverse and backed up in the direction of the officers. One of the officers shot Waggoner. 


Man Found Shot to Death at Southern Kansas Lake

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities in southern Kansas are investigating after a man was shot to death at a fishing lake. The Cowley County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call just after 6 pm Wednesday reporting a shooting at Cowley State Fishing Lake. After a search of nearly two hours, deputies found 37-year-old Joel Leon-Santos of Arkansas City, who had been shot. The coroner pronounced him dead at the scene. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is urging anyone with information on the shooting to come forward. No further details were released. 


KCK Police Investigate Fatal Shooting of Juvenile

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Police in Kansas City, Kansas, are searching for a suspect in the fatal shooting of a juvenile. The shooting happened Wednesday night. Officers called to the scene found a male juvenile with what police called "apparent gunshot wounds." He was pronounced dead. Police did not disclose the juvenile's name or age. The department's Major Case Unit is now investigating.  


Kansas City Police Investigating Two Overnight Killings

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police in Kansas City, Missouri, are investigating two more killings, bringing the yearly total to 154. A man was killed around 11 pm Wednesday in an altercation outside of an apartment building on East Linwood. Police say the victim was "cut or otherwise injured." No arrests have been made. Police were called to a shooting around 2:45 am on Northeast Ridgeway Avenue. The male victim was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. People at the scene said the shooting happened as the victim was involved in a disturbance with another man. The suspect fled. A short time later, a person of interest was taken into custody.


More Kansas Children to Get Free or Reduced-Price Lunches

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas children who receive Medicaid services will soon qualify automatically for free or reduced-price school meals. The Kansas News Service reports that the change will mean less paperwork for schools and families. Cheryl Johnson is director of child nutrition for the Kansas Department of Education, and she knows the importance of school breakfasts and lunches. "When kids are hungry and are listening to their little tummies roar or growl - or whatever you want to call it - they can’t learn," she said. Until now, Kansas families who qualify for food assistance were automatically enrolled in the free-lunch program. But everyone else had to apply. Starting next school year, those who receive health care through Medicaid will also get free or reduced-price school lunches, without additional paperwork. Kansas is now one of 27 states participating in the direct-certification program.


Kansas Democratic Governor Breaks with President Biden in Appeal to GOP Voters

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has signaled her efforts to appeal to moderate Republican and GOP-leaning independent voters whose support is necessary for her to win a tough reelection race in Kansas next year. A recent example was her signing Republican legislation aimed at helping Kansas workers resist COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Kelly is like other governors in Michigan and Wisconsin in trying to win a second term against midterm political headwinds helping Republicans. She's doing it in a state former President Donald Trump carried twice. Her attempt to stake out ground in the political center has irritated some Democrats in the short term. But others argue it's a tactic that could work for her.


Governor Wants to Give Kansans $250 Tax Refunds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is proposing to give Kansas residents who filed state income tax returns last year a one-time rebate of $250. Kelly dropped the idea Wednesday on a skeptical Republican-controlled Legislature as she faces a tough reelection race. Kansas can afford one-time rebates because the state's budget picture has improved and because the payments won't permanently reduce state revenues. Top Republican lawmakers said they prefer permanent tax cuts and accused Kelly of a move aimed at boosting her chances of reelection. Kelly's plan would provide $250 to individual tax filers and $500 to married couples filing jointly. About 1.2 million people would rebates totaling $445 million.  


Prosecutors: Kansas Lawmaker Not Eligible for Diversion in Domestic Battery Case

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) - Kansas prosecutors say a 21-year-old Democratic state lawmaker who is charged with domestic battery is no longer eligible for diversion.  Kansas City, Kansas, Representative Aaron Coleman was arrested following a disturbance involving his brother. The Johnson County District Attorney's office said Wednesday that the issue is that a warrant was issued for Coleman after a motion to revoke his bond was filed in the wake of his arrest last month on suspicion of drunken driving.  A hearing is set for January 7.  


Kansas Supreme Court Considers State's Eviction Process

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas Supreme Court has created a group to review the state's eviction process and look for ways to make it more fair and equitable. The Kansas News Service reports that the group will offer recommendations in February. More tenants and renters are representing themselves in court for the eviction process. Judge Sarah Warner doesn’t know why this is happening, but she says it became more common during the pandemic. This is just one issue the committee will examine.  COVID changed how courts operate, and Warner says now is a good time to rethink the eviction process. “This pandemic is not the disruption that any of us wanted in the court system. But perhaps it was the disruption that we needed," she said. The review also comes months after the moratorium on evictions was lifted. Warner says the number of eviction cases has risen, but it has not exceeded pre-pandemic levels.  


Commission Calls for End of Native American Mascots in Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A commission created by Governor Laura Kelly is calling for the end of Native American mascots in schools and sports teams, an expansion of Medicaid and increased access to contraceptives. The Kansas News Service reports that the commission has released dozens of other recommendations focused on racial justice. The commission offered recommendations on policing in 2020, but released dozens of new recommendations in its latest report: increasing vaccine equity, diversifying workforces and not allowing police school resources officers to discipline students. The 100-page report focused on social determinants of health. It proposed changes to child care, education policies and tax policy. The recommendations aim to help state and local governments consider new legislation. (Read more.)


Missouri Board Moves to Discipline Galloway for Audit of Hawley

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - An accounting oversight board is trying to discipline Missouri's Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway over a critical audit of Republican Senator Josh Hawley. The Board of Accountancy alleges that Galloway's office violated privacy rights in an audit of Hawley during his time as state attorney general. Galloway is also a certified public accountant. The 2020 audit of Hawley includes interviews with some of his staff. The Board of Accountancy says the auditor can only disclose the finished audit reports and not other evidence. Galloway's office has already sued the board for previously threatening to discipline her over the audit.


Sentencing Scheduled for Southeast Kansas Man in 2019 Shooting Death

INDEPENDENCE, Kan. (AP) - Sentencing is scheduled for February 15 for a Coffeyville man who pleaded no contest to first-degree murder in the 2019 shooting death of a young woman in Independence. On Wednesday, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced the plea by 20-year-old Benjamin Job Mason II. The case was prosecuted by Schmidt's office. Kimberly Meeks was shot to death on December 14, 2019, as she and a man were walking. Authorities said the shooter fired at them and drove away.  


Family of Slain Kansas City Man Disappointed After Killer Sentenced to 6 Years

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Relatives of a slain Kansas City man expressed frustration Wednesday after the killer was sentenced to six years in prison. Jackson County Judge Bryan Round told the family of Cameron Douglas that his hands were tied before he sentenced Jason Cook to the maximum term allowed. Cook initially was charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the January 2019 apartment complex killing. But a Jackson County jury instead decided to convict Cook of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action after his defense attorney argued that Cook was acting in self-defense. The jury recommended that Cook serve three years on each count.


Feds: Missouri Gun Law Poses "Clear and Substantial Threat"

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Federal authorities argue that new state law forbidding local police from enforcing federal gun laws is hampering efforts to protect the public. A blistering court brief filed Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice outlines multiple examples. The brief said that after an Independence police officer was killed in a shootout in September, Missouri state law enforcement initially refused routine federal assistance in tracing the murder weapon. The Department of Justice says the Missouri state crime lab, operated by the Highway Patrol, also is refusing to process evidence that would help federal firearms prosecutions.


Steelers Now Must Face Ingram After Trading Him to Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was brutally honest about his decision to trade disgruntled defensive end Melvin Ingram to the Chiefs, saying “we prefer volunteers as opposed to hostages” in the Pittsburgh locker room. Well, perhaps Tomlin should have weighed Kansas City’s circumstances at least a little bit. Ingram’s trade last month for a sixth-round draft pick resulted in an about-face for the Chiefs defense, which now faces the Steelers on Sunday in an important game in the playoff race. Kansas City is leading the AFC at 10-4 while the Steelers are 7-6-1 and trying to stay alive in the AFC North.


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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