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Headlines for Tuesday, December 28, 2021

 

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.

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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.

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Missouri Seeks Help Recovering from Deadly Tornadoes

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Missouri Governor Mike Parson is asking for federal assistance in recovering from a deadly tornado and multistate stormfront that hit earlier this month. The governor has asked FEMA to declare the tornado a major disaster. If granted, the designation will allow seven southern Missouri counties to access federal assistance repairing damaged buildings and other infrastructure. The December 10 tornado killed at least two people in Missouri. The same storm system also generated tornadoes that killed dozens of people in four other states with the worst damage in Kentucky.

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Authorities in Southeast Kansas ID Second Shooting Victim

LONGTON, Kan. (AP) - Authorities in southeast Kansas have identified the second victim of last week's shooting in Elk County. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Elk County Sheriff's office say 57-year-old Robert Stricker was shot and killed on December 23 outside a home in Longton. The second victim was previously identified as 55-year-old Dewayne L. Smith. Both men were from Longton. The KBI said investigators believe the men were killed while attending an outdoor gathering by 41-year-old Lyle Miller, who died from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound at a home near the shooting site. Authorities have not said what prompted the shootings.  

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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.  

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KBI Investigating Death of Lakin Man Found on Christmas Day

LAKIN, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is joining the Kearney County Sheriff's Office to investigate the death of a man in western Kansas. The KBI says 23-year-old Cristofer J. Davilla-Cardoza was found with stab wounds on Christmas morning in the parking area of an apartment building in Lakin. The man was pronounced dead at the scene. No arrests have been made. Lakin is about 25 miles west of Garden City.

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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.)

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Kansas Man Sentenced to Life in Prison in Double Killing

COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) - A southeastern Kansas man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing two people in 2020. On Monday, the Kansas Attorney General's office announced the sentence for 30-year-old Mark Hopkins II of Columbus. He won't be eligible for parole for 50 years. Hopkins pleaded guilty last month to two counts of first-degree murder. Blaze Shank of Scammon and Kylan Shook of Pittsburg were shot to death in rural northeastern Cherokee County in June 2020. Hopkins and another inmate escaped from jail in May but were captured days later in Oklahoma. Charges against a second suspect in the shootings are still pending.

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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.

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5 More Killings Mean 2021 Second-Worst Year on Record in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Five killings in Kansas City, Missouri, during Christmas week have brought the 2021 total to 156, making it the city's second-deadliest year on record. Only last year was worse, when Kansas City had 182 homicides.  The entire Kansas City metropolitan area, including the Kansas suburbs, has seen 215 homicides in 2021.

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Kansas Lawmaker Not Yet Charged over Arrest in Late November

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A 21-year-old Kansas lawmaker has not been criminally charged a month after his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving because the testing to determine whether he was under the influence has not been completed. Democratic state Rep. Aaron Coleman of Kansas City was set to have a hearing today (TUE) in Douglas County District Court, but it did not occur. A Kansas Highway Patrol trooper arrested Coleman November 27 on Interstate 70 near Lawrence. A prosecutor said in a report to the court that test results were still pending. Coleman also faces a domestic battery charge in neighboring Johnson County over an October 30 arrest following a fight with his 18-year-old brother.

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Former Schlitterbahn Co-Owner Pleads Guilty to Drug Charge

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) _ The former co-owner of the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas where a young boy died on one of its rides has pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge. Jeff Henry is scheduled to be sentenced March 4 after he pleaded guilty earlier this month (DEC) to possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it. Prosecutors say Henry was in the Kansas City suburb of Merriam in 2018 when police found drugs and an alleged sex worker in his hotel. At the time, Henry was facing a second-degree murder charge for the death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab on a Schlitterbahn water slide in Kansas City, Kansas. The charges in that case were later dismissed.

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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.  

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Family Still Hoping for Answers in Woman's 1998 Killing

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Twenty-three years after a Kansas City, Kansas, woman was killed, her family is still hoping for justice. WDAF-TV reports that relatives of Christina Ranae King gathered Monday evening to pray and release balloons in her memory. King was fatally beaten on Christmas Day in 1998, leaving behind a daughter who was 10 at the time. The vigil was organized by an advocacy group that works to promote transparency in law enforcement. Organizer Khadijah Hardaway says cases like King's are why the police department should open a cold case unit. A police spokeswoman says the case remains open and that developing a cold case unit is a top priority for Chief Karl Oakman.

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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.

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Kansas Identifies Nearly 7,000 New COVID-19 Cases Since Last Wednesday

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports that there have been nearly 7,000 new cases of COVID-19 identified since last Wednesday, including 119 *new* hospitalizations. State health officials also report 14 new virus-related deaths across the state since Wednesday.  In all, Kansas has recorded more than 512,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 7,000 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began.

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Lawrence Volunteers Answer Call to Keep Winter Shelter Open

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW/KPR) _ Last week, the City of Lawrence announced that it might have to close the city-run emergency winter shelter because there were not enough volunteers to staff the facility. Since putting out the plea for more help, the city received nearly 100 responses from citizens willing to volunteer at the shelter. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that, at least for now, the city will be able to continue opening the shelter on nights when the temperature is forecast to fall bellow 35 degrees. Stephen Mason, Lawrence's volunteer coordinator for the shelter, said it's difficult to know if there will be enough volunteer help to keep the shelter open on all the nights it's needed throughout the winter. Mason says the number of volunteers needed depends on how many people show up to seek shelter and that depends on the severity of the weather. Mason said he received inquiries from 96 people interested in volunteering and told the Journal-World that the city is "deeply grateful to everyone who has already responded to the call.”  Those interested in volunteering at the winter shelter can contact the organizers at lawrenceks.org/winter-emergency-shelter/volunteer.

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Long Road to Recovery for Western Kansas Ranchers After Wildfires

PARADISE, Kan. (AP) — Ranchers in western Kansas have begun to recover from the deadly wildfires that torched their land earlier this month, but they acknowledge it will be a long process. Two men died and the Kansas Forest Service estimates that around 163,000 acres of land were burned on December 15 in fast-spreading fires driven by wind gusts of up to 100 mph. Rich Koester, whose ranch ear the Russell County town of Paradise was among the many that were damaged, is typically busy caring for newborn calves or preparing his herd for winter this time of year. Instead, he’s burying livestock. He told High Plains Public Radio that the fire killed more than one-third of his 200-head herd.

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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' 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 Sunday afternoon, the online fundraiser had collected more than $8,000.

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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. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today!   

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