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Headlines for Thursday, June 3, 2021

Voting Rights Advocates Sue over 2 New Kansas Election Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — National and Kansas-based voting rights advocates are suing Kansas state election officials over two Republican-backed election laws passed this year. VoteAmerica and the Voter Participation Center filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, a day after the League of Women Voters of Kansas, Kansas Appleseed, and Loud Light sued in Shawnee County. The organizations contend the new laws are designed to suppress voter turnout and make it more difficult for groups to help voters navigate the election process. Both lawsuits ask courts to find the laws unconstitutional. Supporters of the election changes, which were pushed by Republican lawmakers, say the laws will help ensure the integrity of elections by reducing fraud. Many political analysts and statisticians say that true voter fraud (i.e., deliberate intent to subvert the vote rather than a misunderstanding of deadlines and requirements, the result of clerical errors, or legal address issues) is extremely rare. 

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Kansas to Pay $826,000 to Man's Estate over Wrongful Conviction

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state-court judge has ordered Kansas to pay more than $826,000 to the estate of a man who died in February following his release from prison after serving more than 12 years over a wrongful murder conviction. The order Wednesday resolves a lawsuit filed in November by Olin “Pete” Coones only days after a Wyandotte County judge threw out his 2009 first-degree murder conviction. Coones received a life sentence in connection with the 2008 death of his late father’s caregiver. His defense argued that she framed him for murder when she killed herself and her husband because of investigations into how she handled money for Coones's father.

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Widow of Kansas Man Killed in Evergy Accident Wins Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Texas jury has awarded $222 million to the widow of a man who was killed in an accident at Evergy's Jeffrey Energy Center power plant in Kansas. The jury found Team Industrial Services, a Texas-based subcontractor for what was then called Westar Energy, was 90% responsible for the death of Jesse Henson, of Manhattan. Henson and a co-worker, Damien Burchett, of Overbrook, were burned alive by steam at the plant near St. Marys in June 2018. Westar, which is now called Evergy, was found to be 10% responsible. The men were engulfed by hot steam while checking on a loss of power. Burchett's relatives have filed a separate lawsuit.

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31-Year-Old Parolee Arrested over Topeka Woman's Shooting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have arrested a 31-year-old man on parole in connection with the fatal weekend shooting of a woman at a Topeka mobile home park. Local news organizations reported that federal marshals took Kajun Brock into custody Wednesday night in Topeka. Police had described him as a person of interest in the death of 32-year-old Shakeita Young. Brock was being held Thursday in the Shawnee County jail and its online records showed that his bond was $1 million. State records showed that Brock served time in prison on charges including robbery and assaulting a law enforcement officer before being paroled in May 2020.

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Police Identify 43-Year-Old Woman Found Dead in Salina Park

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Salina police have identified a woman who was found dead in a park as a 43-year-old local resident. News reports said police have not said how Kristie Fisher died and are still gathering information about her death. Police responding to a report early Tuesday morning found Fisher lying face down near the south entrance of Lakewood Park. She was declared dead at the scene.

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Wichita Police: Man Killed in Riding Mower Accident

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Wichita man is dead after he became pinned under water by an overturned riding lawn mower. Authorities say 42-year-old Juan Salazar died after the accident Wednesday afternoon on the city's east side. Salazar was mowing residential property when the mower slid into a lake and pinned him. Witnesses told police that Salazar was submerged for about 10 minutes before first responders found him. Medics pulled him from the water and performed CPR, but could not revive him. Police said Salazar worked for a lawn service. 

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Former High School Coach Pleads Guilty to Sex with Student

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former high school coach has admitted to having sex with a former student in Holden. Forty-four-year-old Joshua Hood pleaded guilty Wednesday to eight sex-related felony counts. Hood was sentenced to five years of probation and agreed to forfeit his teaching license. Hood coached in Holden during the 2003-2004 school year. The Jackson County Prosecutor's office said he had several sexual encounters with a student under the age of 17. He has been a coach since 2013 in the Park Hill School District. The district said it is unaware of any similar conduct since Hood was hired at Park Hill.

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Kansas Deputy Suspended Following Domestic Violence Arrest

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy has been suspended following his arrest over the weekend on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic violence disorderly conduct. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office says Deputy Clayton Blackwood was arrested Saturday stemming from an incident involving Blackwood's domestic partner. Records show the woman involved also was arrested. Authorities say Blackwood has been with the Sedgwick department for five years. He was suspended without pay pending the outcome of criminal and internal investigations.

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Patient Influx from Other States Increases Number of Kansas Abortions in 2020

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The number of abortions performed in Kansas increased by 9.1% last year. That's largely because more women from Oklahoma and Texas traveled north to terminate pregnancies there than in 2019. Advocates on both sides said Tuesday that much of the increase likely occurred because Republican governors in Oklahoma and Texas sought to ban most abortions last spring. Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly refused to do so. The state reported that 7,542 abortions were performed in Kansas in 2020, up 626 from 2019. The number for patients from Oklahoma and Texas jumped to 566 in 2020 from 110 in 2019.

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Videos Show Disputed Police Shooting of Kansas City Man

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A group of Christian ministers is raising questions about the fatal police shooting of a Kansas City man. Police shot and killed Malcolm Johnson at a gas station on March 25 while attempting to arrest him for questioning in an earlier shooting. The Missouri State Highway Patrol says Johnson was shot after he shot and wounded a police officer during a struggle. Two videos taken at the gas station that were released this week show the struggle and the shooting. The ministers contend the videos contradict the patrol's earlier version of what happened, and they are calling for the officers involved to be taken off the street during the investigation.

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Wichita Man Who Randomly Stabbed Woman Sentenced to 24 Years

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 32-year-old Wichita man who stabbed a woman in a random attack has been sentenced to about 24 years in prison. Wade Dunn was sentenced Wednesday for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated battery. Police say Dunn stabbed a 28-year-old woman about 30 times as she was loading laundry into her car with her baby left alone inside her house. He did not know the woman. She survived and the child was not injured. Authorities say Dunn escaped from the Mirror Residential Reentry Center hours before the attack. Dunn testified at his trial that he was high on drugs at the time of the attack.

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Man Killed in Lyons House Explosion Identified

LYONS, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in Rice County have identified the man killed in a house explosion last month in the town of Lyons. The victim was identified on Thursday as 65-year-old Terry Sawyers. Firefighters responded to the home on May 27. The fire chief says Sawyers was found dead in the home where he had lived for 10 to 12 years. The cause of the explosion has not been determined, but Lyons Police Sgt. Cory Ryan says there was no crime. Results of an autopsy of Sawyers are expected in July.

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U.S. Supreme Court Justices Reject Johnson & Johnson Appeal of $2 Billion Missouri Case 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is leaving in place a $2 billion verdict in favor of women who say they developed ovarian cancer from using Johnson & Johnson talc products. The justices did not comment Tuesday in rejecting Johnson & Johnson's appeal. The New Jersey-based company argued it was not treated fairly in facing one trial involving 22 cancer sufferers who came from 12 states and different backgrounds. A Missouri jury initially awarded the women $4.7 billion, but a state appeals court dropped two women from the suit and reduced the award to $2 billion. The jury found the company’s talc products contain asbestos and asbestos-laced talc can cause ovarian cancer. The company disputes both points.

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Court Upholds $6.5 Million Award for Man Badly Hurt by Police Taser

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld a $6.5 million jury award for a man who was injured by a former Independence police officer during an arrest in 2014. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals last week denied former officer' Timothy Runnels' argument that he was entitled to qualified immunity. KCUR Radio reports that Runnels used a Taser on Bryce Masters for up to 20 seconds during a traffic stop. He then dragged an unconscious Masters for several feet before dropping him facedown on the pavement. Masters was 17 at the time. Runnels was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to deprivation of Masters' rights.

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Missouri Court Strikes Down Public Labor Union Restrictions

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court has struck down a 2018 state law that imposed new requirements on some public sector labor unions. In a 5-2 ruling Tuesday, the Supreme Court said the law violated the constitution's equal protection rights by exempting public safety unions from the new requirements imposed on other types of unions. The law passed by the Republican-led Legislature required other public sector unions to hold recertification elections every three years and to get annual approval from employees to deduct dues from paychecks. The Supreme Court majority said there was no rational basis to treat public safety unions differently.

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Kansas Communities Use Mobile Clinics, Teams for COVID Shots

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — With demand for COVID-19 vaccines at mass clinics, some Kansas communities are making their inoculation efforts more mobile. If people can’t leave their homes for a COVID-19 vaccination, public health officials in Johnson and Wyandotte counties in the Kansas City area can send someone out. Wyandotte County is signing up churches, businesses and apartment complexes for group shots — and going to them. The state has seven trailers allowing it to set up vaccine clinics at remote sites, including Kansas Speedway and Melvern Lake south of Topeka later this week. A University of Kansas Health System official jokingly suggested having ice cream trucks also give vaccinations.

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Kansas COVID-19 Case Count Passes 314,000; Death Toll Rises to 5,080

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported Wednesday that there have been 314,523 COVID-19 cases in Kansas, including 5,080 virus-related deaths, since the pandemic began. That's an increase of 526 cases and four new deaths since Friday of last week. Case totals were not updated Monday due to the Memorial Day holiday. Another update is expected Friday.

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KDHE Head Says Lottery Prizes Under Discussion to Boost Vaccination Rates 

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) – Kansas health officials are discussing some type of prize drawing to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Dr. Lee Norman says the state health department is in talks with Kansas Lottery officials. Norman says the state will not offer a $1 million dollar prize, like Ohio and Colorado are doing. But he says some type of prize drawing for people who are vaccinated is likely. About 42% of Kansans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That trails the national average of about 50%. Norman says the number of daily vaccinations in Kansas continues to fall.

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Ethanol Maker POET Buys Plants from Koch-Owned Flint Hills

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — South Dakota-based ethanol company POET has purchased the biofuels assets of Flint Hills Resources, including five ethanol plants in Iowa and one in Nebraska. The deal announced Tuesday also includes ethanol distribution terminals in Texas and Georgia. POET, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is increasing its production to 33 biofuels production plants in eight states and will have a capacity to produce 3 billion gallons annually. The Iowa ethanol plants are in Arthur, Fairbank, Iowa Falls, Menlo and Shell Rock. The Nebraska plant is in Fremont, and the ethanol terminals are in Buda, Texas, and Camilla, Georgia. Flint Hills Resources is owned by Wichita-based Koch Industries.

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Ex-Postal Worker Fined for Destroying Mail Containing Cash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former postal worker in eastern Kansas has been ordered to pay $1,100 in fines and restitution for destroying mail and presumably stealing cash contained in that mail. The Wichita Eagle reports that 24-year-old Dennis Tapscott, of Emporia, was fined Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Wichita. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine, $575 in restitution and a $25 special assessment fee. He pleaded guilty last week to one count of delaying mail. Prosecutors say that between August 2019 and January 2020, Tapscott opened and destroyed mail containing cash that was intended for 12 other people in Greenwood and Lyon counties.

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Missouri Supreme Court Lifts COVID Directives for Judiciary

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court is lifting directives for the state’s courts aimed at protecting the safety of employees and the public during the coronavirus pandemic. The Jefferson City News Tribune reports that court officials said the restrictions were being lifted June 15th because of a decrease in the national and local levels of COVID-19 cases and the effectiveness and availability of vaccines. The Supreme Court last revised its directives in March, saying local courts could operate in one of four operating phases. Each phase reflected differing approaches to in-person proceedings, personnel and staffing, and courthouse operations.

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Midwest Economy Report Stays Strong, Shows Inflation Worries

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new monthly survey shows the economy in nine Midwest and Plains states remaining strong in the wake of a devastating global pandemic, but the survey's index gauging inflation soared to a record high. The Creighton University Mid-America Business Conditions for May released Tuesday came in at 72.3, down slightly from April's record high of 73.9. Any score above 50 on the survey's indexes suggests growth. But the survey's wholesale inflation gauge for the month surged to a record 96.3 from April's previous record of 96.2, and nearly 1 in 3 supply managers surveyed said rapidly rising input prices were their greatest 2021 economic challenge. The monthly survey covers Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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UPDATE: White-Knuckle Thriller for AMC as It Sells Stock into Frenzy

UNDATED (AP) — The wild ride for the summer’s blockbuster stock, AMC Entertainment, is getting even crazier. The movie-theater company’s stock plunged nearly 40% after it announced plans to sell 11.6 million shares to raise cash, while warning buyers they could lose all their investment. But it erased the loss in just a few hours and then bounced between gains and losses before ending Thursday with a drop of 17.9%. It’s the latest stupefying move for one of the “meme stocks” that have rocked Wall Street. Many professional investors say these stocks are set to fall, but that’s not deterring an army of smaller-pocketed investors sticking with them.

(-Related-)

AMC, This Summer's Blockbuster Stock, Warns of Plot Twists

LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP/KPR) - AMC may sell up to 11.6 million of its shares with a trading phenomenon pushing stock in the movie theater chain up almost 3,000% this year, and 140% just this week. AMC is emerging from pandemic lockdowns that threatened the existence of the company and industry analysts have yet to fully explain the extreme volatility that is being driven by large numbers of online traders that seem to have disregarded the rough path the company faces in its recovery. AMC acknowledged that phenomenon Thursday in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission when it announced the potential sale of shares "from time to time." AMC is headquartered in the Kansas City suburb of Leawood.

AMC Embraces Meme Stock Status, Share Price Nearly Doubles

LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP/KPR) - AMC Entertainment is looking to keep in closer contact with some of its newer investors, as the movie theater chain embraces its meme stock popularity. AMC says it's launching AMC Investor Connect, an initiative that will put the company in direct communication with its individual shareholders to keep them up to date about important company information and provide them with special offers including invitations to special screenings and a free large popcorn at a movie this summer. AMC's retail shareholder base has grown to more than 3 million owners over the last several months.

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Man's 'Cutting' Death in Kansas City Being Investigated as a Homicide

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police say the "cutting'' death of a man in Kansas City, Missouri, is being investigated as a homicide. The death of 56-year-old Rickey Bishop was reported Thursday. Police were called Wednesday night to a home. Police Captain Leslie Foreman said officers found Bishop inside suffering from an "apparent laceration.'' He was taken to a hospital where he died. One person is in custody, but police provided no further details about that person. 

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Missouri River Winter Water Release Expected to Be Minimum

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Only two years after historic flooding along the Missouri River ravaged parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, officials are now dealing with what's shaping up to be one of river's driest years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that the forecast from last month hasn't changed: Significantly less water is expected to flow into the river this year because conditions remain so dry and snowpack is below normal levels. Officials say only about 69% of the normal amount of water is expected to flow into the Missouri River this year, which would be the 22nd driest year in the upper basin since 1898.

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