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Headlines for Thursday, July 29, 2021

Kansas Governor Requiring Masks for State Workers, State Buildings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Laura Kelly says she’s imposing a mask mandate for Kansas state government workers and visitors to state buildings. She said Wednesday that she's acting in the wake of a “self-inflicted” surge in new COVID-19 cases fueled by the faster-spreading delta variant. Kelly’s announcement came after a central Kansas school district mandated masks in its building and public health officials in two of the state’s most populous counties recommended that even vaccinated residents wear masks in at least some indoor public spaces. Kelly's order takes effect Monday and is set to apply in 84 of the state's 105 counties and to almost 39,000 state government workers.

(-Related-)

Big Kansas School District Mandates Masks for Youngest Kids

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — One of the largest public school districts in Kansas plans to require elementary students to wear masks this fall. The Shawnee Mission school board acted Monday night after a health official in Johnson County warned that the faster-spreading delta variant would lead to widespread COVID-19 among unmasked children. Shawnee Mission joins school districts in Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, in requiring masks for at least some students, but it is the only district among six in Johnson County to do it. The board's vote Monday night was 6-1 in favor of mandating masks in elementary schools. Salina and Lawrence public schools will also require students to wear masks when classes resume in August. 

Ascension Health Announces Vaccination Mandate for All Employees

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - Ascension Health has announced that it will require all employees at its Kansas hospitals to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Ascension is a St. Louis-based, Catholic health care system with 149 hospitals across the country including facilities in Wichita, Hays, Garden City, Pittsburg and Manhattan. The new rule requires all employees to be vaccinated by November 12. That date coincides with its annual flu vaccine requirement. All employees, even remote workers, are required to be vaccinated as well as vendors and volunteers. Employees can apply for exemptions to the mandate for religious beliefs or medical conditions. Ascension is among several hospitals and health systems to announce vaccination mandates.  

Kansas City Mayor to Impose Mask Mandate

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, says he will follow the latest CDC guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and re-impose a mask mandate for indoor activities. Mayor Quinton Lucas said that, with the COVID-19 Delta variant spreading rapidly in Missouri, Kansas City must do its part to help stop the spread of the highly contagious variant. Lucas said he would soon release more details about his plan. Missouri had one of the worst COVID-19 diagnosis rates during the past week. Data from Johns Hopkins University researchers indicate that one in every 360 people in Missouri has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and that the seven-day average of daily deaths has nearly doubled over the past two weeks.  

Mask Order Fights Brew in Kansas City, St. Louis Areas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — St. Louis County’s top elected official insists that a mask mandate remains in place, even though the county commission voted to overturn it. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Wednesday that the mask order that took effect countywide on Monday is valid, despite the County Council voting 5-2 on Tuesday to end it. Across the state, meanwhile, Kansas City's mayor said he would issue a similar mask order that will take effect Monday and last through at least August 28. The St. Louis County mandate and one issued for the city of St. Louis led Missouri's Republican attorney general to sue to stop them.

CDC Mask Guidance Met with Hostility by Leading Republicans

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Republicans are responding with hostility to new masking guidance from public health officials. It's opening a new front in the cultural war over COVID-19 restrictions just as efforts to try to persuade large swaths of unvaccinated Americans to get the shots appeared to be making headway. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors if they live in areas with high rates of virus transmission. Republican governors from Texas to South Dakota slammed the advice as wrong-headed. And on Capitol Hill, clashes between members devolved into insults and screaming matches.

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Delta Variant Fills Kansas Hospital Beds with COVID Patients

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A COVID-19 surge in Kansas fueled by the faster-spreading delta variant is filling up hospitals in some areas. A survey from the Kansas Hospital Association said four times as many patients with confirmed COVID-19 infections were hospitalized this week as were hospitalized in early June. The association said that 116 Kansas hospitals surveyed this week reported having 399 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. For early June, 125 hospitals reported having 99. For about a month, the Salina Regional Medical Center has sometimes has been near full capacity and its chief medical officer says it has struggled to find beds for patients who have needed a higher level of care.

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Topeka City Council Consider Creating $5 Million Tiny Home Village to Address Homelessness

TOPEKA, Kan. (CJONLINE.com) - A proposal for a $5.7 million “tiny home transitional village” could hold up to 200 beds for the homeless at the former site of Topeka’s tent city. Each tiny home costs less than $5,000 and could last 20 years, said Barry Feaker, executive director of the Topeka Rescue Mission, when he presented the plan to city council this week. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the units would be around 64 square feet, have electricity and a heater and air conditioner. He said it’s too early in the process to estimate when something could be completed — Tuesday was the first time he presented the full plan to city council. “Think beyond what has previously been done,” Feaker said. “For about 68 years, there has been a homeless shelter in Topeka, it's called the Topeka Rescue Mission. That is fine. It has its purpose — and we are not doing away with it — but we need to expand our thinking.” The transitional village is one part of the Topeka Rescue Mission’s $8.1 million plan to address chronic homelessness in Topeka. (Read more.)  

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Pandemic Relief Funds Approved for Kansas Entertainment Venues

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ / KPR)  - The federal government has approved more than $40 million in COVID-19 relief for dozens of Kansas live event venues that were shut down during the pandemic. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 90 venue operators in Kansas will receive a combined $46 million through the federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program. Congress created the program as part of the American Rescue Plan. The U.S. Small Business Administration oversees the $16 billion program. Eligible applicants may qualify for grants equal to nearly half of their gross earned revenue, with a maximum of $10 million for a single award. The program is open to live venue operators and promoters, theatrical producers, movie theaters, performing arts organizations and museums. It allows the funds to be spent on payroll, rent, utilities and certain other expenses.  

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Vaccine Clinic Set for Garth Brooks Concert in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Fans attending the Garth Brooks concert at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City next month will be given a chance to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Kansas City Chiefs officials say they have worked with the city to organize the clinic during Brooks's concert on August 7. Chiefs president Mark Donovan said Monday that the team plans to take every opportunity to provide vaccinations. He said the team is considering offering vaccines during Chiefs game days this fall but he wasn't sure if that will be possible. A vaccine clinic was held at Arrowhead Stadium last spring.

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May Storms in Kansas Cause More than $76 Million in Damage

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - The Kansas Insurance Department has announced that destructive weather during the month of May alone caused more than $76.4 million in damage. The estimate is based on nearly 13,000 insurance claims in 101 Kansas counties. Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt said, "The weather this spring impacted thousands of Kansas businesses, farms and residents." The department reports that so far this calendar year, storm losses have caused more than $99 million in damage. For historical storm loss data and guides on how to prepare for storms, the department encourages residents to visit the agency's website at insurance.kansas.gov.

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Kansas City Black Clergy Group Calls for US Probe of Police

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A group of Black clergy members is joining other civil rights groups in seeking a federal investigation into officer misconduct in the Kansas City police department. Pastor Darron Edwards, leader of Getting to the Heart of the Matter, says the probe is necessary because the police department has not responded to calls from the public for more accountability. On Monday, an umbrella group of civil rights groups said it was also seeking a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the department. Previously, Getting to the Heart of the Matter sought to work with police to build community relationships. Edwards says police have stopped working with the group.

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Man Charged with Manslaughter, DUI in Fatal Topeka Crash

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a man involved in a fatal crash in Topeka over the weekend has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence. The Capital-Journal reports that 39-year-old Cesar Carreto Orozco was charged this week in the early Saturday crash that killed a passenger, 37-year-old Erasmo Ramirez Soto of Topeka. Police say Soto was riding in the sport utility vehicle driven by Carreto Orozco when it left the road and struck a business sign. Soto died at the scene. Carreto Orozco was being held in the Shawnee County Jail on $50,000 bond.

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Man Charged with Fatal Shooting at Lake of Ozarks Bar

LAKE OZARK, Mo. (AP) — A 29-year-old Missouri man is charged in the shooting death of another man at a popular Lake of the Ozarks entertainment venue. Prosecutors allege Chad Brewer, of Jefferson City, shot 27-year-old Vonza Watson after a fight May 29 at the Lazy Gators. Brewer faces charges of first-degree murder, delivery of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia. He is being held without bond. Investigators say Watson was shot during a fight between several people. Investigators say they uncovered video footage that showed Brewer raising his arm and firing a shot. Watson was a rapper and visual artist known as VNZA.

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State Treasurer Brings Unclaimed Property Tour to Douglas County

TOPEKA, Kan. (LJW / KPR) _ State Treasurer Lynn Rogers is visiting Douglas County today (THUR) as he continues his statewide tour to educate Kansans about unclaimed property. The goal is to reunite residents with assets that belong to them but that they may my unaware, have overlooked or forgotten. Unclaimed property can be any financial asset that its owner has not claimed. Rogers says there’s more than $400 million in the state’s unclaimed property fund. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Rogers is making stops in Eudora, Baldwin City and Lawrence during this visit.  

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Former Kansas Teacher Charged with Child Sex Crimes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas school teacher has been jailed and charged with child sex crimes. The Wichita Eagle reports 48-year-old Shawn Wingfield was arrested last weekend on two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. A Wichita Northwest High School spokeswoman says Wingfield began working there in 1997. He resigned July 19. Wingfield posted on Facebook last week that he was resigning for his personal health and wellbeing. He's in the Sedgwick County Jail on a $50,000 bond.

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Southeast Kansas Man Sentenced to 25 Years for Distributing Child Porn

PITTSBURG (KSNT) – A judge has sentenced a 38-year-old southeast Kansas man to 25 years in prison for distributing child pornography. KSNT TV reports that Jason Wayne Irving, of Pittsburg, pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography in February. According to court documents, Irving admitted in 2019 that he used his email address to upload and send pornographic photos of children. Google detected his activity and notified the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tip Line. The images were of children being forced to engage in sexual acts with adults. Soon after it first noticed the activity, Google reported the email account again for similar conduct, during which Google was able to link the account to Irving. After obtaining a search warrant for Irving’s smartphone, law enforcement discovered the operation of the Google email account and other accounts that Facebook had reported for child pornography. Additionally, law enforcement found various files of child porn on the phone.

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Woman Sentenced in Crash That Killed 1, Injured 6 Others

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Hutchinson woman was sentenced to 5 and a half years in prison for a crash that killed one person and injured six others. Viola Rhodes was sentenced this week after pleading guilty in May to one count of involuntary manslaughter while intoxicated and six counts of aggravated battery. Rhodes was driving in December 2020 when her car went off a road and overturned, killing 44-year-old Brian Bookout. In exchange for her plea in May, prosecutors dropped a second-degree murder charge. Two other people in the car were hospitalized and four others were treated for injuries at the scene.

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Kansas Man Charged with Animal Cruelty for Neglecting More than 50 Animals

MILTONVALE (KSNT) — A Kansas man, Kevin Vesterberg, is being charged with 10 counts of animal cruelty after more than 50 animals were found neglected or dead on his property. Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS) is the group that discovered the case, which resulted in the start of an investigation launched by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office. “Our lead investigator was investigating a potential puppy mill in Ottawa County when she came across this horrendous livestock abuse case,” Debbie Miller, the Kansas Director of CAPS, said. KSNT TV reports that for the CAPS program, the word horrendous is an understatement. “This is one of the worst cruelty cases she has ever witnessed,” Miller said. Vesterberg was in charge of taking care of these animals that he used for breeding to make money, according to the lead deputy on the case. When the deputy responded to the property in late May he found the neglected animals. There was a wide variety of on the property, like sheep, goats and rabbits. The animals that were still alive had everything from empty water troughs to oozing eyes and hooves that were over a foot long. It is unclear how many remains were found and how many animals are still on the property. There hasn’t been much movement on the case since the local county attorney, Richard Buck, charged Vesterberg with the 10 counts. Vesterberg’s next court date is set for mid-August.

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Kansas Doctor Loses License in Health Care Kickback Scheme

LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) — A Leawood doctor has surrendered his medical license after admitting that he solicited health care kickbacks from a drug company. Dr. Steven Simon surrendered his license this month, after being sentenced in April to three years of probation. He was also ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. Simon admitted that he told a representative for AstraZeneca that he would stop selling one of its drugs unless he was hired for more speaking engagements. KCUR reports the drug company determined it would not offer Simon any further speaking engagements. Doctors can legally accept compensation for speaking engagements, but can't receive kickbacks for prescribing drugs or medical devices.

(–Additional Reporting–) 

Kansas Physician Surrenders Medical License After Pleading Guilty in Kickback Scheme

LEAWOOD, Kan. (KNS) - A Johnson County physician who pleaded guilty to soliciting health care kickbacks has surrendered his medical license. Dr. Steven M. Simon admitted in January that he told a drug company representative in 2017 that he would stop prescribing a drug unless the drug maker hired him for paid speaking engagements. Simon was sentenced in April to probation for three years but only recently surrendered his license to practice medicine. Simon, a pain doctor specializing in physical rehabilitation, had practiced in Leawood since 1984.  Among Kansas City area physicians, he was one of the top recipients of drug company payments over the last several years. In 2015, drug companies paid him nearly $719,000 in fees and expenses to promote their drugs.  

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Wichita Businessman Accused of Failing to Pay Payroll Taxes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita businessman faces 17 federal counts after prosecutors accused him of failing to turn over more than $200,000 in employee payroll tax withholdings collected over nearly five years to the IRS. The Wichita Eagle reports that Jesus Perez-Aguayo was indicted earlier this month by a grand jury on 17 counts of failure to pay over payroll taxes. Each count carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison. Prosecutors say Perez-Aguayo, who also goes by the names Sebastian Chavez and Sebastian Chavez-Campos, collected $211,226 from JLP Construction and JP Remodeling employees from 2015 to 2019 but never turned it over to the IRS. The companies are both painting and construction businesses.

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UPDATE: ESPN Says Big 12 Allegations 'Entirely Without Merit'

UNDATED (AP) — ESPN says Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby's accusations are entirely without merit. The Big 12 sent a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN, accusing the cable sports giant of encouraging at least one other conference to raid the Big 12 in an effort to hasten the departure of Texas and Oklahoma to the Southeastern Conference. ESPN executive Burke Magnus says it's not true and there is “nothing to cease and desist.”

(-Related-)

Big 12 Accuses ESPN of Trying to 'Destabilize' Conference

UNDATED (AP) — Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby tells The Associated Press that ESPN is pushing other conferences to pick apart the league so Texas and Oklahoma can move to the Southeastern Conference without paying a massive buyout. The Big 12 sent a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN on Wednesday, demanding it stop “all actions that may harm the Conference and its members and that it not communicate with the Big 12 Conference's existing Members or any other NCAA Conference regarding the Big 12 Conference's Members, possible conference realignment or potential financial incentives or outcomes related to possible conference realignment." 

SEC Invites Oklahoma and Texas to Join League -- in 2025

UNDATED (AP) — Southeastern Conference university presidents voted to invite Texas and Oklahoma to join the league and create a 16-team powerhouse on the field and at the bank. The latest step in a move that has potential to help reshape college sports came two days after Texas and Oklahoma requested to join the SEC in 2025. That’s when the schools’ media rights agreement with the Big 12 expires. SEC leaders voted unanimously to extend an invitation, effective July 1, 2025. Now the process goes back to the schools. Texas and Oklahoma both have board of regents meetings schedule for Friday with conference affiliation on the agenda.

Big 12's Texas, Oklahoma Make Official Request to Join Powerhouse SEC

UNDATED (AP) - Texas and Oklahoma made a request Tuesday to join the Southeastern Conference — in 2025 —- with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey saying the league would consider it in the “near future.” The wheels are in motion for a monumental move in college sports, but the Longhorns and Sooners are not yet free agents. And it's doubtful they want to wait until the contract that binds them to the Big 12 for four more years runs out to bolt to the SEC. It also might not be in the best interest of the Big 12 to have two lame ducks in the conference much beyond the 2021-22 school year. “It's similar to a divorce, but it's business relationship where multiple parties realize that they just can't be together anymore,” said Darren Heitner, a sports and entertainment attorney based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “You try to come to a resolution where perhaps nobody feels great about it, but at least there's something where they feel as though they're getting some fair value out of the equation.” A day after Oklahoma and Texas notified the Big 12 that they would not be extending a grant of media rights agreement past its 2025 expiration date, the schools publicly stated for the first time they want to join the SEC. Oklahoma and Texas sent a joint letter to Sankey, requesting “invitations for membership to the Southeastern Conference starting on July 1, 2025.” (Read more.)

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

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