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Headlines for Thursday, July 22, 2021

 

Tentative Agreement Reached to End Strike at Topeka's Frito-Lay Plant

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ/KCUR) - A tentative deal has been reached to end a strike at Topeka's Frito-Lay Plant.  Negotiations between the company and the union representing workers have concluded. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the two sides reached a tentative deal after three days of talks between the company and Local 218 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union. Union representatives said Wednesday night that members will vote on the latest contract offer Friday.  The Topeka newspaper reported that the agreement would raise wages by 3% this year and guarantee more time off.  If union members vote to approve the proposal, it would bring the local strike that began July 5 to an end. The local union represents about 850 employees at the Topeka plant. More than 500 of those workers have been on strike, citing a lack of pay raises in recent years and dismal working conditions.  

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Kansas Pins Hopes for Stopping Delta Variant on Vaccinations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is pinning the state’s hopes of keeping the COVID-19 delta variant in check on more people getting inoculated because it is spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated. Kelly acknowledged Thursday that there’s not enough time before K-12 schools resume classes in mid-August to get all students ages 12 and older fully vaccinated. But she added that the state will focus on giving at least the first of two doses to as many as of them as possible. She called more vaccinations the only thing that’s going to stop the fast-spreading delta variant. The number of confirmed delta variant cases in Kansas has tripled this month, to more than 1,100.

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KU Health System Declining to Take Patient Transfers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A major Kansas health system is declining to take patients from outside hospitals because it has too few open beds with cases of the faster-spreading COVID-19 delta variant surging. Chief Medical Officer Steve Stites at the University of Kansas Health System said Wednesday that the space problem now at the system's main hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, is worse than it was last fall. He said the hospital had open beds then because people were wearing masks and social distancing and doctors weren’t seeing other infections. Stites said the health system is turning down between one and six patient transfers a day. Statistics released by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday showed a total of 325,728 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with an increase of 1,541 cases since Monday.  The death toll stands at 5,218, which is an increase of 20 deaths since Monday. 

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U.S. Virus Cases Nearly Triple in 2 Weeks

MISSION, Kan. (AP/KPR) — COVID-19 cases have nearly tripled in the U.S.  The spike in infections is straining hospitals, frustrating doctors and pushing clergy into the fray. Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6. Health officials blame the delta variant and flattening vaccination rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

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Kansas City Area Doctors Urge Mask Use in School for the Unvaccinated

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KNS) — A group of Kansas City-area doctors is urging school districts to require masks for non-vaccinated students and teachers this fall. The open letter to school leaders is signed by 100 physicians. It comes as outbreaks of the fast-spreading delta variant continue to increase across Kansas and Missouri. The doctors say districts should open schools but follow strict COVID protocols. That means mandatory masks for all students and teachers in preschool through sixth grade, where children are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. The letter echoes recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Many districts in Kansas, including Wichita and several near Kansas City, have already announced plans to make masks optional.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the local school district will not require vaccinated students to wear masks this coming school year.

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Kansas School Districts Rush to Head off Labor Shortage

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas students go back to school next month and some districts are in a hiring frenzy as a nationwide labor shortage begins to impact education. The state’s largest district in Wichita needs to hire about 80 teachers and more than 150 para-educators. Schools also need substitute teachers, custodians, and bus drivers. The Kansas Department of Education says districts statewide are in need of workers. Wichita schools raised pay for substitute teachers by 14% and will offer bonuses to attract workers. Para-educators will get health insurance and new bus drivers get a $1,000 signing bonus.  

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Missouri Launches $10,000 Vaccine Lottery to Boost Shots

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri is offering people a chance to win $10,000 to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Republican Gov. Mike Parson announced the vaccine incentives program Wednesday. All vaccinated adults and teenagers are eligible. The state will award $10,000 to 900 lottery winners through the program. Teenagers will get $10,000 scholarships. The state also is giving local health departments the chance to offer $25 to anyone who gets a vaccine moving forward. The programs are aimed at increasing vaccinations in Missouri, which lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have initiated shots.

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No Injuries Reported in Ellsworth County Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion

ELLSWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a natural gas pipeline has exploded in a rural western Kansas cattle pasture, igniting a large plume of fire seen by motorists on nearby Interstate 70 in Ellsworth County. No one was injured in Thursday’s explosion about 15 miles northeast of the city of Ellsworth. Emergency manager Keith Haberer says pipeline owner Northern Natural Gas shut off gas to the pipeline to put out the flames.  A grass fire ignited by the explosion also was brought under control.

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Kansas City Police: Man Killed in Overnight Shooting

KANSAS CITY, Mo (AP) — Police say a man has died in an overnight shooting in a southeastern Kansas City neighborhood. Police say the shooting happened around 2 am Wednesday near Ruskin Way Park. Officers who were working another call in the area heard gunfire and responded, finding a man later identified as 34-year-old Duan Jones with a gunshot wound. Jones was pronounced dead at the scene. Police say they have no suspects in the case.

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Spirit AeroSystems Plans to Hire 4,600 Workers by 2024

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Spirit AeroSystems says it plans to hire more than 4,600 workers in Wichita by 2024 and expand its manufacturing plant in south Wichita. It's a turnaround for the aviation company, which lost more than 5,000 jobs because of the pandemic and because the 737 Max was grounded due to two fatal plane crashes. The Wichita City Council received the company's hiring forecast Tuesday. Spirit ended 2019 with more than 13,200 employees in Wichita, which dropped to about 8,000 by the end of 2020. The company said it plans to have 12,619 employees in Wichita by 2024.

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Sedgwick County Removes EMS Director  

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) — Dr. John Gallagher has been removed as Sedgwick County’s director of emergency medical services. The decision comes after the county commissioned a third-party investigation into the department. Many EMS employees were critical of Gallagher's leadership and of the 2019 decision to merge the Emergency Medical Services Department with the Office of the Medical Director.  County Manager Tom Stolz says he made the decision to remove Gallagher after an independent investigation of the department commissioned by the county. Stolz also said the EMS department and the Office of the Medical Director will be separated into two branches again. The county commission will immediately start searching for an interim EMS director and a temporary medical director.

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Evergy Reports Numerous Complaints About Scam Calls

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — Evergy, the largest energy company in Kansas, is warning that scammers are threatening customers with disconnection of service in a fraudulent attempt to collect payments. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Evergy has received numerous customer complaints about scammers falsely claiming to be company representatives and asking customers for immediate payment. The scammers threaten to disconnect service unless the victim provides credit card numbers or other personal information. Evergy officials say that real company representatives never call customers about late payments on the same day as a scheduled disconnection and will never ask customers to make payments with a prepaid debit card or gift card. Evergy advises customers who have gotten the scam calls to report the crime to local law enforcement.

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Lawsuit: Kansas Altered Software to Hide Election Records

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A judge is considering whether Kansas’s Republican secretary of state ran afoul of the state’s open records law by ordering the removal of an election database function that generates a statewide report showing which provisional ballots were not counted. Civil rights advocates say the decision will have far-reaching implications for government transparency. Shawnee County District Judge Teresa Watson heard arguments last week in a lawsuit filed by voting rights activist Davis Hammet. Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab has ordered the removal of a database function after a court last year ruled that the information is a public record.

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Watchdog Group Files FEC Complaint About Out-of-State PAC Money

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) — The Washington, D.C.-based, Campaign Legal Center has filed a federal complaint against two Kansas political action committees. The complaint says the political groups did not disclose ties to national organizations connected to party leaders. Erin Chlopak is Director of Campaign Finance Strategy at the non-profit group. “They were set up in a way so that they sort of appeared as if they were local super PACS, spent lots of money to influence elections and didn’t disclose that they were essentially completely funded by these national super PACS,” Chlopak said.  The center alleges the Plains PAC and Sunflower State PAC were actually funded with more than $8 million that came from national Republican and Democratic groups. Chlopak says she hopes the complaint will help make it clear when national advocacy groups are funneling money into Kansas races such as the races for governor and Congress next year.” The groups have not responded publicly to the complaint.

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Kansas GOP State Representative Ron Howard of Wichita Dies at Age 67

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House speaker's office says conservative Republican state Rep. Ron Howard of Wichita has died. He was 67. The speaker’s office and fellow legislators said Howard died Tuesday from a lengthy illness. Howard missed most of the GOP-controlled Legislature’s annual session this year but returned to Topeka in early May to help Republicans override Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of income tax cuts. Supporters had just enough votes for the necessary two-thirds majority in the House. Howard was a former employee of aircraft manufacturer Boeing when he began serving in the House in January 2019 after unseating a Democratic incumbent in 2018.

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Man Convicted in Deaths of Two Victims in Topeka in 2018

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 34-year-old Washington County man has been convicted in the deaths of a woman and her cousin in Topeka. Richard Showalter, of Greenleaf, was convicted Tuesday for his role in the beating and stabbing deaths of 28-year-old Lisa Sportsman and her 17-year-old cousin, Jesse Polinskey in July 2018. Showalter was the third man convicted in the case. Lisa Sportsman was the estranged wife of 43-year-old Bradley Sportsman, of Hollenberg, who pleaded guilty in October to two counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to almost 46 years in prison. The third suspect, 22-year-old Matthew Hutto, of Clay Center, was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

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Police Say Man's Shooting Death at Wichita Apartment Was Accidental
 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say the shooting death of a 19-year-old man at a central Wichita apartment complex was accidental, and officers have arrested an acquaintance of the victim. Police say the shooting happened Tuesday night when 21-year-old Jordan Williams, of Wichita, was handling a handgun inside an apartment and it accidentally fired. The bullet hit 19-year-old Jyrez Ricks of Wichita, who was later found dead in the apartment complex parking lot. Police say Williams remained at the scene and was arrested on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter.

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UPDATE: Wichita Police ID Man Killed in Crash While Fleeing Police

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police have identified a 28-year-old man who died in a crash near Park City while he was fleeing from officers. Police say Gabriel Christian Seim was behind the wheel of a small sport utility vehicle that sped away from a traffic stop and collided with a pickup truck. The truck driver suffered injuries that are not considered life threatening. Police spokesman Charley Davidson says that before the traffic stop, officers had received a report of Seim selling drugs while armed. Police who spotted Seim's vehicle pulled him over and say he sped away when officers ordered him out the vehicle. Davidson says police found possible evidence of drugs in Seim's car after the crash. 

(Earlier reporting...)

Wichita Police Say Man Dies in Crash While Fleeing Police

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a 28-year-old man died in a crash near Park City while he was fleeing from officers. Police spokesman Charley Davidson said the crash happened Wednesday afternoon when the man's vehicle collided with a pickup truck. The truck driver suffered injuries that are not considered life threatening. Davidson said officers began looking for the man after a report he might have been involved in drug trafficking while armed. KAKE-TV reports police pulled the suspect over for a traffic violation but he drove off and then collided with the truck. Davidson said after the collision, police found possible evidence of drug trafficking in the suspect's car. No names have been released.

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Abuse Claims Against Missouri Reform School Settled

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Four civil lawsuits alleging sexual and physical assault by the owners of a southwest Missouri reform school have been settled. An attorney for four former Circle of Hope Girls Ranch students told The Kansas City Star that the settlement amounts are confidential. About two dozen girls were removed from the Christian boarding school last year during an investigation into abuse allegations. Boyd and Stephanie Householder own the school. They now face 100 criminal charges including statutory rape, sodomy, physical abuse and neglect. The plaintiffs in the civil suits allege they were raped, thrown against walls and starved.

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Missouri Governor Gets Federal Pandemic Loan for Farm

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's Republican Governor Mike Parson received roughly $6,300 for his beef cattle ranch through a federal program designed to help small businesses during the pandemic. The Kansas City Star reports that Parson was approved for a $6,288 loan in March. The loan is part of a federal effort to prop up small businesses so they can continue meeting payroll during the coronavirus pandemic. Parson's loan has already been forgiven.

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Rabid Bat Found in Shawnee County

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas county health department says it found a rabid bat. A spokesman says the Shawnee County Health Department was notified that the bat tested positive for rabies Tuesday. A Shawnee County health official says a dog pulled the bat out of a tree July 12. There are no signs that the bat had contact with humans. But the dog will be monitored for 50 days as a precaution. The health department says people should not touch wild animals and should get their pets vaccinated.

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Kansas Immigration Advocates Speak Out on New DACA Ruling

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) — A federal judge in Texas ruled last week that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program is unlawful.  Undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, known as Dreamers, are still protected under DACA but the judge ruled that new applications can no longer be processed or approved. Yeni Telles is with the group Sunflower Community Action in Wichita. She says when the ruling came, several people contacted her, worried for their safety. “This decision broke dreams; the dream of being able to obtain a job, the dream of obtaining a social security card, a driver’s license, all those things the dreamers have been waiting for.” Telles says.  Sunflower has been able to help about 20 people with applications this year. Now, the status of those applications is uncertain.

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Full Federal Appeals Court to Consider Missouri Abortion Law

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to rehear a case over Missouri abortion restrictions. The court last week decided to take up the case on its own motion. At issue is a 2019 state law that would ban abortions as early as the eighth week of pregnancy and prohibit abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis. A three-judge panel of the court last month upheld a lower court's injunction prohibiting Missouri from enforcing the provisions. Missouri’s Republican attorney general, Eric Schmitt, earlier this month asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case and to use it to decide whether to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a nationwide right to abortion.

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Texas, Oklahoma Reportedly Reach Out to SEC About Joining Conference

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — The University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma have reportedly expressed interest in leaving the Big 12 to join the Southeastern Conference. The Houston Chronicle newspaper cited an unidentified official and says an announcement could come in the next couple of weeks. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and the two schools all declined comment and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby did not return messages. Such a move would give the SEC 16 football teams. It would be a devastating blow to the 10-member Big 12.

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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 and by 1 pm on weekends. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today!   

 

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