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Headlines for Thursday, December 30, 2021


Health Experts: Depression, Anxiety Rising Among Young People

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) - The U.S. Surgeon General is warning about mental health issues affecting young people. And Kansas doctors say the crisis could worsen during the holidays and winter months. Recent statistics suggest that about half the nation’s young people are reporting increased levels of stress, depression and anxiety. Kelli Netson, a Wichita neuropsychologist, says wait lists for therapists and psychologists mean more people are waiting for mental health care and sometimes ending up in crisis in Kansas emergency rooms. She expects those cases to rise during the holiday break.  “Oftentimes, being at home relieves some stress and pressure from school," Netson said. "But for some kids being at home is a really stressful situation, and they don’t feel safe or supported, or there’s just ongoing conflict with parents who are also stressed out." Netson urges families to consider long walks, meditation or other mindfulness practices to improve mental health. And parents should act quickly if their child talks about suicide. Netson, who works for the KU Medical Center in Wichita, says parents and caregivers should listen to children and share their own strategies for dealing with stress. “You don’t want to lay all of your distress on your child, but providing some validation that they’re not alone, that they’re not the only ones experiencing this, and these are some things that you’ve tried that have worked," she said.  Netson says taking a walk or baking cookies with kids could prompt conversations.


UPDATE: Wyandotte County Emergency Shelter Will Open After All

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Organizers say they plan to open an emergency overnight shelter in Wyandotte County despite being told this week that the mayor would not allow it. The Kansas City Star reports Cross-Lines Community Outreach officials say they have a contract with the county to open the shelter in Kansas City, Kansas. The announcement comes as snow and extremely cold temperatures are forecast for the region this weekend. Mayor Tyrone Garner said earlier this week he would not allow the shelter to open at the former Jack Reardon Center in Kansas City, Kansas. He said he was focused on long-term solutions for homelessness but did not say why he opposed the proposed shelter.

(Earlier reporting...)

Wyandotte County Will Not Open Emergency Shelter

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) –  Despite a severe cold snap approaching, Wyandotte County will not open an emergency overnight shelter. That's a decision that some service providers worry could have fatal consequences. The Kansas City Star reports that service providers preparing to open the shelter in Kansas City, Kansas, instead learned that the Unified Government won't allow it. The decision leaves the county without any overnight cold weather shelters. Temperatures are expected to drop to around zero degrees this weekend. Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Tyrone Garner wrote in a statement to the Star that his goal is to address homelessness in the long term, but he didn't respond to specific questions about the decision to not move forward with a shelter. 


Settlement Approved in Death of Unarmed KC Man Killed by Police

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal judge has approved a partial settlement in the death of a Kansas City man who was shot by police officers in June 2018. The parents of 34-year-old Robert White contend in the lawsuit that White was un-armed when he was shot 17 times as he was being used as a "human shield" by another man, who was also shot to death. The partial settlement involves The Downtown Council of Kansas City and the area's community improvement district. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. The lawsuit continues against the officers involved, a private security company and the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.  


Kansas City Police Seek Driver Involved in Fatal Hit-and-Run

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Police in Kansas City, Missouri, are searching for the driver who fatally struck a pedestrian on the city's east side. The accident happened Wednesday night on East 42nd Street. Police say a man was struck by a car that fled. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene. His name was not released. Police say they are searching for a Nissan Sentra that may have damage to the front driver's side, based on evidence left at the scene.


Black Hills Energy Customers in Kansas to See Rates Decline

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — About 117,000 Kansas customers of Black Hills Energy will see their overall rates for natural gas service decline under an agreement approved by the state agency that regulates utilities. The decrease will occur even though the order Thursday from the Kansas Corporation Commission allows Black Hills to increase its monthly customer service charge by $1.56 a month from $16.94 to $18.50. The agreement requires the company to give its Kansas customers credits against their bills worth about $3 million each year for the next three years. The credits reflect that the company will pay less in taxes because of changes from federal coronavirus relief measures.


New California Law Could Affect Midwest Pork Producers

UNDATED, (HPM) - Harvest Public Media reports that a new California law that prohibits businesses from selling eggs and meat from animals confined in small spaces will take effect on January 1st. Some pork industry groups argue producers haven’t had enough time to change their operations to comply. Proposition 12 says breeding sows must each have 24 square feet of space. Pork producers argue it’ll be expensive to make those changes. Dallas Hockman, with the National Pork Producers Council, says the law puts a strain on the supply chain that was already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic. One northwest Iowa hog farmer says his operation doesn’t meet California’s standard and he’d have to reduce the size of his operation to comply.
California’s Proposition 12 requires each breeding pig to have at least 24 square feet of space. Iowa raises more pigs than any other state, but many of the hog farms don’t meet that requirement. Northwest Iowa hog farmer Dwight Mogler says he would have to reduce the size of his herd and remodel his buildings to comply with the law. Farm industry groups and California grocer and restaurant groups have filed several lawsuits against Prop 12. Ag groups have also asked the Supreme Court to review a challenge to the law.


Federal Prosecutors Seek Evaluation of Serial Killer Suspect

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to schedule a hearing to determine whether a suspected serial killer is mentally competent to stand trial. The U.S. Attorney's office filed a motion Tuesday seeking the hearing for 26-year-old Perez Deshay Reed before trial on federal gun charges. Perez is charged with killing a total of six people in the St. Louis area and in Kansas City, Kansas. The federal charge against him is transporting a gun across state lines with the intent to commit a felony. State and federal investigators said Reed used the same weapon in all six killings.


Kansas Court Upholds Murder Conviction over Road Rage Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a Topeka man over a fatal road rage shooting more than five years ago. The court on Thursday rejected arguments from an attorney for Andre Clark Rhoiney Jr., that the prosecutor made improper statements during closing arguments. The shooting of 28-year-old Michael Stadler occurred in October 2016, when Rhoiney was 23. According to trial testimony, Rhoiney fired two shots at a van that Stadler was in after people in the two vehicles had exchanged words and rude gestures. A Shawnee County judge sentenced Rhoiney to life plus 13 months in prison, with no chance for parole for 25 years.


Kansas COVID-19 Cases Still Climbing; Death Toll Hits 7,001

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) – The number of people in Kansas who have died from complications caused by the coronavirus now exceeds 7,000.  The Kansas Department of Health and Environment released its latest numbers Wednesday.  State health officials say they're identified 7,083 new cases since Monday and 37 new, virus-related deaths.  All told, the state has recorded more than 519,000 cases and 7,001 deaths since the pandemic began.  Governor Laura Kelly has directed all state flags to fly at half-staff through sundown Friday to honor the Kansans who have died during the pandemic as well as the family members they left behind.  A new set of COVID numbers will be released Friday.

By the Numbers:

Total COVID-19 cases identified in Kansas: 519,544 cases, an increase of 7,083 since Monday.
Total COVID-19-related deaths in Kansas: 7,001, an increase of 37 since Monday. (Read more.)


COVID Cases Rise in Douglas County as Officials Consider Mask Mandate

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW/KPR) – COVID-19 cases are rising again in Douglas County with the number of active, confirmed cases topping 1,200. The Lawrence Journal World reports that public health officials will discuss the approval of a new mask mandate with the Douglas County Commission. The county’s Unified Command group will meet next week to hear recommendations from public health officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino. The Douglas County Commission is responsible for approving any countywide mask mandate.  Health officials say they would not consider making that recommendation to the commission before January 12. The Douglas County Health Department reported 1216  active cases as of Wednesday, that's an increase from the case count of 987 on Monday. Another update will be released Friday.


Kansas Now One of Seven States with High Flu Activity

UNDATED (AP/KPR) – Flu season has arrived on schedule in the U.S. after taking a year off. Hospitalizations for influenza are rising and two child deaths have been reported nationally.  Last year’s flu season was the lowest on record, likely because of COVID-19 measures — school closures, distancing, masks and canceled travel.  Those COVID precautions likely prevented the spread of influenza.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this winter will bring more of a normal flu season. During last year’s unusually light flu season, one child died. In contrast, 199 children died from flu two years ago, and 144 the year before that. In the newest data, the most intense flu activity was in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., and the number of states with high flu activity rose from three to seven. In CDC figures released this week, states with high flu activity included Kansas, New Mexico, Indiana, New Jersey, Tennessee, Georgia and North Dakota.  Health experts say it's still not too late to get a flu shot, since influenza typically peaks between now and February but activity can last as late as May.


Kansas Police Officer Dies After Battle with COVID-19

NORTH NEWTON, Kan. (AP) –  A 46-year-old Wichita area police officer has died from complications of COVID-19.  Brian Rousseau died Tuesday. He had been a patrol officer in for the North Newton Police Department since 2018 after previously working for 18 years with the Newton Police Department.  North Newton Police Chief Randy Jordan called Rousseau ``a terrific officer and a terrific person.'' He is survived by his wife and two children. The virus has now claimed more than 7,000 lives in Kansas. 


Nebraska Man Charged in Crash that Killed 4 from Topeka

PLATTSMOUTH, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska man has been charged with four misdemeanor counts of motor vehicle homicide in connection with a crash that killed four people from Kansas earlier this year. Ronald Dubas, of La Vista, was charged in Cass County earlier this month. Dubas posted bail and is out of jail ahead of a January 11 hearing, but court records don't list an attorney representing him.  Prosecutors said the 56-year-old man's pickup truck crossed the centerline and collided with a 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt on U.S. Highway 75 just south of Union, Nebraska on January 31. Four people in the car from Topeka died in the crash. A 20-year-old woman who was riding in the front passenger seat survived the wreck.


Wichita Man Sentenced for Fatal Punch

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) –  A Wichita man has been sentenced to more than 3.5 years in prison for a parking lot punch that killed a man. KSNW-TV reports that a Sedgwick County judge on Wednesday also ordered 38-year-old Steven Speakman to spend an additional two years under supervision after his release from prison, and to pay more than $17,000 in restitution. Speakman was originally charged with second-degree murder in the death of Haley Collins, but was found guilty in August of involuntary manslaughter. The two men were arguing on a store parking lot in 2019. Witnesses told police they saw Collins push Speakman, then saw Speakman punch Collins, causing him to fall and hit his head. 


Western Missouri Plumbing Worker Dies in Trench Collapse 

GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. (AP) _– A plumbing worker has died after a trench collapsed in western Missouri. KMBC-TV reports that the accident happened Wednesday in Grain Valley, about 23 miles east of Kansas City. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said crews with Preferred Plumbing, of Kingsville, were installing plumbing lines for homes under construction when the 10-foot-deep trench gave way. The victim's name wasn't immediately released. OSHA is investigating. 


Missouri's A-G: Doctor in Child Sex Abuse Case Should Stay in Jail

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ The Missouri Attorney General's office says a doctor accused of child sex crimes should stay in jail in Arkansas because he has COVID-19. Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a court document filed Thursday that David Smock, of Stockton, should not be released on bond. Smock was arrested Tuesday in Harrison, Arkansas, and remains in jail there. His attorneys have asked that he be given bond or released on his own recognizance. Smock is charged with a total of 11 felony counts of child sex crimes in Cedar and Greene counties. He is the longtime physician for Agape Boarding School, a Christian school in southwest Missouri.


Lawsuit: Missouri Shooting Range Made Muslim Woman Remove Hijab
LEES SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) –  A federal lawsuit alleges that a firearms store and gun range in a Kansas City suburb refused to let a Muslim woman use a shooting range unless she removed her hijab. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, and an Independence law firm filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Frontier Justice in Lee's Summit, alleging the gun range's dress code discriminates against Muslim women who wear the religious head covering. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Rania Barakat after she went to the store in January 2020. The suit claims that the range has a history of turning away Muslim customers for wearing hijabs, but that similar but nonreligious coverings, such as scarves, were worn by customers who were not reprimanded the same way Barakat was.  Frontier Justice officials said in a statement that the dress code is designed to keep gun range patrons safe and are not discriminatory. 


Kansas Lawmakers Consider Early Release of Prison Inmates

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) –  A bill in the Kansas Legislature could allow inmates to have up to 10% of their prison sentence reduced every time they donate blood. Republican Representative Brett Fairchild’s bill only applies to low-level crimes. He says lawmakers are looking for ways to let some inmates serve shorter sentences. “It's become so expensive (to) hold people in prison, and the size of our prison population (has) gotten pretty large, both in Kansas, and perhaps the United States," he said. One controversial plan would allow some inmates to be released if they’ve served at least half of their sentences, but they’d remain under post-release supervision. Another proposal would release inmates earlier if they’re close to death. Lawmakers could consider the bills after the legislative session begins next month.


Murder Suspect Arrested in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A man has been arrested in connection with a killing in Kansas City, after residents came forward to tell police of the man's possible involvement in the crime. The fatal shooting happened Monday evening. Officers called to the scene found a man fatally shot on the front porch of a home. Officer Donna Drake told reporters at the scene that several people spoke to responding officers, leading to the man being taken into custody. Rosilyn Temple of KC Mothers in Charge says the fact that those at the scene came forward further proves that the community is tired of the violence.  


Wyandotte County Administrator Planning to Retire Next Week

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The county administrator in one of the most populous counties in Kansas is planning to retire next week. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City announced Wednesday that County Administrator Doug Bach's retirement is effective January 6.  Bach has been county administrator since March 2014. Before that, he was deputy county administrator for 11 years and had leadership roles in multiple departments. His career in Wyandotte County government has spanned three decades.


UPDATE:  DA: Death of Kansas Teen in Custody Not Necessarily Criminal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The district attorney for the Wichita area says an autopsy's finding that the death of a Black teen in custody at a juvenile center was a homicide doesn't necessarily mean the center's employees committed any crimes. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett will decide whether to file charges over the death of 17-year-old Cedric Lofton. Bennett's statement Wednesday came after attorneys for Lofton's family described his death as "unjustified." But Bennett said the designation of the death as a homicide means only that someone's intentional act led to another person's death. Lofton died at a Wichita-area hospital on Sept. 26, two days after a struggle with Sedgwick County juvenile  center employees. 

-Earlier Reporting -

Autopsy: Death of Black Kansas Teen in Custody Ruled a Homicide

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP / KNS) –  An autopsy report says that a Black teenager's death following a physical struggle with staff at a Kansas juvenile center was a homicide. KMUW Radio and the Kansas News Service report that the autopsy report released Monday contradicts an earlier, preliminary finding that 17-year-old Cedric Lofton hadn't suffered life-threatening injuries.  The report said Lofton's heart and breathing stopped after he was handcuffed while lying on his stomach. Lofton had briefly been in the custody of the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center in Wichita when his altercation with staff members occurred September 24. He was taken to a local hospital and died two days later. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said he is reviewing the report. (Read more.)


Kansas Prison Dental Instructor's Conviction Overturned

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) –  A Kansas appeals court has overturned the conviction of a former state prison dentist who repeatedly touched a prison inmate. The appeals court ruled last week that Tomas Co's repeated touching of the inmate was inappropriate but did not meet the legal definition of being lewd. Co was convicted in January 2020 of having unlawful sexual relations with the woman while he supervised a dental lab at Topeka Correctional Facility. Prosecutors alleged Co molested six inmates at the women's prison between 2011 and 2018 but he was found guilty on only one count. Co left his job at the prison in 2018.


Branson Police: Skeletal Remains Identified

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) – Branson police say skeletal remains found last week in a wooded area were those of David Koenig, an amateur mixed martial arts fighter who had been missing for nearly two years. A man looking for deer antlers found the remains last week (December 22).  Police say the remains were those of Koenig, who was last seen on February 8, 2020.  A forensic pathologist examined the remains and found no trauma. The examination determined that foul play was not believed to be a factor in Koenig's death. Branson police and several other agencies had conducted searches for Koenig since his disappearance.  


State Legislatures in U.S. Poised to Act on Abortion Rights

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) –  An expected decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming year to severely restrict abortion rights or overturn Roe v. Wade entirely is setting off a renewed round of abortion battles in state legislatures across the U.S. Republican-led legislatures are likely to press for full bans while Democratic-led ones are expected to push for more robust protections for those seeking abortions. In Vermont, voters are likely to be casting ballots in November on a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights. In Kansas, voters could be casting ballots in the August primary on a proposal to amend the state constitution to say it provides no specific right to abortion.


Family Raises Money to Pay for Funeral After Teen Found Dead

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) –  A Kansas City family is raising money to help pay for the funeral of an 18-year-old boy who was found dead more than two weeks after he was reported missing. Amara Jones was reported missing on December 4, and his body was found last week, not far from his home. Kansas City Police spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina said told the Kansas City Star on Sunday that the investigation into Jones's death remains open, but investigators do not suspect foul play. Family members said on the GoFundMe site they set up that Jones was one of nine children. As of Wednesday morning, the online fundraiser had collected nearly $10,000.


Chiefs Visit Bengals in Showdown of 2 of AFC's Top Teams

UNDATED, (AP) - This weekend, the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs visit Cincinnati to take on the red hot Bengals. The Bengals (9-6) can clinch their division with a win over the Chiefs (11-4) on Sunday. But beating the Chiefs right now just might be the toughest task in football. After a lousy start left them with a losing record seven games into the season, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and the rest of his cohorts have turned things around in a remarkable way. They have ripped off eight consecutive wins, including last week's 36-10 romp over Pittsburgh to clinch their sixth straight division title, and are back near full strength after a COVID-19 outbreak. The Chiefs also have plenty riding on the outcome. They head into the weekend leading Tennessee by one game for the No. 1 playoff seed, which means the lone AFC bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.


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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