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Headlines for Tuesday, May 17, 2022

 

DEVELOPING: 2 Men Killed in Shooting Outside Lawrence Hy-Vee Store

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - Police say two men were killed in a shooting outside a Lawrence grocery store Tuesday night. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that first responders were called to the Hy-Vee store on Clinton Parkway at 9:41 pm Tuesday. According to Lt. David Ernst, two people had been shot in the store parking lot. One of the men was dead at the scene and the other died later at an area hospital. Ernst says the investigation remains in its preliminary stages. The identities of the deceased were not released Tuesday night, and police had provided no explanation on a possible motive behind the shootings. Anyone with information on the incident is asked to contact the Lawrence Police Department at (785) 832-7509 or Crime Stoppers of Lawrence and Douglas County at (785) 843-TIPS. (Read more.)

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UPDATE: Former University of Kansas Soccer Player Identified as Lawrence Homicide Victim

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KAKE) - Lawrence police say a man has been arrested in connection to the death of a former University of Kansas soccer player. KAKE TV reports that 25-year-old Regan Noelle Gibbs (Marek-Gibbs) was found mortally wounded Monday evening at an apartment in the 2500 block of West 6th Street. She died at the scene. The suspect, 26-year-old Chad Joseph Marek, was arrested on suspicion of murder. Lawrence police said the victim and suspect lived together and that "domestic violence is being investigated as a contributing factor." The investigation is ongoing. Police have not released a cause of death. WIBW TV reports Regan was a goalkeeper for the University of Kansas women’s soccer team during the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons. She was from Naches, Washington. (Read more.)

(Earlier reporting...)

Lawrence Police Charge Man with First Degree Murder

LAWRENCE,  Kan. (KPR/LJW) - Police have charged a 26-year-old Lawrence man with first-degree murder. Police were called to a north-central Lawrence residence at 7:26 pm Monday, where officers encountered Chad Joseph Marek and a mortally wounded woman. The victim, 25-year-old Regan Noelle Gibbs (Marek-Gibbs), was declared dead at the scene. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Marek was booked into the Douglas County Jail. Pro Tem Judge Blake Glover set a $1 million bond. The suspect and victim shared an apartment. The investigation is ongoing. (Read more in the Lawrence Journal-World.)

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Authorities Locate Van Suspected in Crash that Killed 10-Year-Old Eudora Girl

EUDORA, Kan. (KMBC) — The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has located a vehicle they believe was involved in a hit-and-run crash that killed a 10-year-old Eudora girl over the weekend. The crash happened Saturday evening near Lawrence on East 1900 Road at the K-10 off-ramp. Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister said someone driving what was believed to be a 2018-2019 white Ford van pulled forward at a stop sign and hit a motorcycle, which did not have a stop sign. That motorcycle was driven by a 54-year-old man and his 10-year-old granddaughter. The girl who was killed has been identified as 10-year-old Brooklyn Brouhard, of Eudora. (Read more.)

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Kansas Students Will Soon Be Able to Attend Any School in the State

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS/KCUR) - Students in Kansas will soon be able to attend any public school in the state, no matter where they live. Governor Laura Kelly signed the open enrollment bill Monday. Starting in the 2024-2025 school year, students will be able to attend any public school within the state, as long as the district has capacity. Supporters of the change say it will give families stuck in struggling school districts a chance at sending their kids to better schools. The Blue Valley and Olathe School District released a joint statement on their concerns after the bill was first introduced. They said the bill would force local taxpayers to pay for non-resident students and would further limit resources for local students. The bill also included more than $6 billion for the state’s public schools.

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Report: Rural Kansas Airports at Risk of Closing

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) - A nationwide pilot shortage has put some rural Kansas airports in danger of losing their only commercial airline carrier. The Kansas News Service reports that the uncertainty is already affecting local economies.  For Kansans living in Liberal, Dodge City and Hays, there’s only one airline that flies to and from the local airport: SkyWest. So when that airline filed paperwork this spring to terminate services, it sent shock waves through these communities. Liberal area economic development director Eli Svaty says small towns like his still need air service — and not just for the convenience of travelers, but to draw the new businesses and workers that grow the local economy. “Not to say that you lose the airport, you lose the town. But it is critical that… we find something that can assure people that it's okay to live out here in rural Kansas because we still have great air service," he said. For now, the federal government is forcing SkyWest to continue some service to these towns while the airports try to find a replacement airline.

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Still No Decision on Kansas Congressional Maps

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) — The Kansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday on the congressional district lines the legislature drew. The defendant in the case was Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who’s also running for governor. Schmidt did not argue though. Solicitor General Brant Laue did that for him. Laue said politics have always been involved in drawing congressional districts. “The United States and the Kansas Constitutions wisely entrust this task to the political actors in the Kansas Legislature,” Laue said. The legislature drew a map, but it’s one Democrats don’t like. The northern part of Wyandotte County would go into Congressional District 2 that’s represented by Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner.

People in southern Wyandotte and Johnson County would still be represented by Congresswoman Sharice Davids, the only Democrat from Kansas in the U.S. House, but the Republican party hopes they can take the seat away from her if the new lines stay in place. Democrats think that’s why Wyandotte County was split up in the map and not Johnson County. Justice Dan Biles asked Laue why Johnson County wasn’t split up. Laue said it was the legislature’s decision. “You’ll see in the record that the members in the legislature that articulated reasons, and they’re in the legislative record, said among other things that Johnson County was considered the ‘economic engine of Kansas,’ and a group of chambers of Commerce asked them not to split Johnson County,” he continued.

The plaintiffs, led by Sharon Brett, legal director of the ACLU of Kansas, say the map gives minority Democrats essentially no chance at electing the Congressional representative they want, claiming the map the way it was drawn, racially dilutes their vote. “They were moved out of Congressional District 3 and into Congressional District 2 where their votes, I believe as one expert put it, will ‘border on electoral irrelevance,” she said in front of the Supreme Court Monday.

Schmidt spoke to the media after the arguments were made. “There’s a reason that this is the first time in Kansas history that the plaintiffs challenging a federal map have come to state court and asked it to apply state law,” he said. “It’s because they know they would have lost in federal court under the current state of federal law, where the U.S. Supreme Court has said, ‘There is no political gerrymandering claim available.'” There’s no word when the Supreme Court will decide on the map the legislature drew, but lawmakers are back in session Monday, May 23. (Read more.)

(AP version...)

Kansas Court Wrestles with Barring Political Gerrymandering

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top Kansas government attorney has argued that congressional redistricting is naturally political and the Kansas Supreme Court shouldn't try to decide when partisanship goes too far. But Kansas Solicitor General Brant Laue found himself chastised Monday by one of the justices for making what the justice called a "boys will be boys" argument. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the state's appeal of a lower court ruling striking down a Republican congressional redistricting law making it harder for the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation to win reelection this year. Justice Dan Biles challenged Laue and suggested that partisan gerrymandering can never be a legitimate state interest.

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Amid Drug and Immigration Concerns, Kansas Senator and Five Sheriffs Visit Southern Border

TOPEKA, Kan. (Topeka Capital-Journal) - As Kansas law enforcement and politicians grapple with how to address a worsening drug crisis and immigration concerns, Kansas Republican Senator Roger Marshall and five Kansas sheriffs are headed to the southern border. Marshall and the sheriffs will be in Texas on Thursday for a day of briefings, tours and meetings with border patrol officials. "I look forward to traveling down to the southern border with these heroic sheriffs so we can continue to bring awareness and solutions to the crisis that has turned Kansas into a border state," Marshall said in a statement. "The crisis at our southern border is our biggest, most immediate national security threat." Joining Marshall are Shawnee County Sheriff Brian Hill, Jackson County Sheriff Tim Morse, Saline County Sheriff Roger Soldan, Franklin County Sheriff Jeff Richards, and Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden.

The senator's office said the trip comes "amid the pending expiration of Title 42 and the growing fentanyl crisis." Title 42 is a public health order started under former President Donald Trump designed to expel asylum-seeking migrants from the United States' borders to avoid spreading COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection has been working to end the pandemic policy, though the process has been bogged down in federal court.  In fiscal year 2021, more than 1 million people were expelled under Title 42. So far in fiscal year 2022, more than 535,000 people have been expelled. Marshall accused President Joe Biden of "a dereliction of duty" by maintaining "his open borders policies."

With fentanyl pouring across the border, this has turned into a public health crisis as well," Marshall said. "Fentanyl is the deadliest drug our country has ever seen and is effecting Kansans at record rates. With just one teaspoon of fentanyl having the ability to kill thousands of people and a deadly amount being able to fit on the tip of a pencil, we must do everything in our power to stop this terrible scourge."

Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran expressed a similar sentiment when speaking with law enforcement officers and the FBI director in Topeka earlier this spring. "We need to get resources on our borders," Moran said of addressing drug smuggling. "What comes across is a key component, and it needs a lot more attention than it's receiving."

Fentanyl's body count has grown in recent years and is now responsible for the most overdose deaths of any opioid, at least in the Wichita area, according to Sedgwick County forensic laboratory reports. Statewide data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment also show a rise in overdose deaths. The 54% increase year-over-year was attributed to fentanyl, though the drug had the same number of deaths as methamphetamine. Meanwhile, CDC data showed Kansas had the sharpest increase in drug overdose deaths of any state in the nation. (Read more.)

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Do Kansas Colleges Offer Too Many Degrees? Some Experts Say Yes

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) - Together, the state's six major public universities offer more than 1,500 degree programs. And some experts say that’s too much. The number of people enrolling at public colleges in Kansas keeps heading downward — a trend that could bring on more than the usual budgetary nips and tucks. The most drastic changes, and cuts, pose a particular threat to regional schools in Hays, Emporia, and Pittsburg that could steal away a source of jobs and prestige that help define the communities that surround the campuses. Any changes to higher education in Kansas look bound to face resistance — from faculty, students, administrators and businesses invested heavily in one campus or the next. Yet the Kansas Board of Regents voted unanimously in February to hire the Maryland-based RPK Group, a business and education consulting firm, to review degree programs at all six major universities. It will analyze areas of duplication, workforce needs and the varying rates of demand among academic programs.

Kansas taxpayers subsidize six traditional, four-year universities and more than two dozen smaller community colleges and technical schools. Nearly 250,000 students are enrolled in at least one class. Collectively, they pay nearly $800 million a year in tuition. The state kicks in another $580 million in funding. Together, the big six universities — the University of Kansas, Kansas State, Wichita State, Emporia State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State — offer more than 1,500 degree programs. “It is not sustainable, and things that aren’t sustainable will ultimately stop,” said Rick Staisloff, founder of RPK Group. “If we don’t want it to stop, it means we have to get ahead of the curve and start making change now.” (Read more.)

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Uncertainty Remains Following Ruling on Use of Personal Pronouns in Kansas School District     

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (KNS/KCUR) - A recent ruling by a federal judge in Kansas may create confusion about how teachers can refer to LGBTQ students. U.S. District Judge Holly Teeter temporarily blocked a Kansas school district’s policy which bars teachers from notifying parents if a student requests to use pronouns other than the ones assigned at birth. Pamela Ricard, a teacher at Fort Riley Middle School, sued the school district claiming the school’s requirement to use a student’s preferred name or pronouns when they didn’t align with the student’s biological sex violated her religious beliefs. Judge Teeter, however, denied Ricard’s request to block the district’s policy that requires teachers to refer to students by preferred first name and pronouns. Teeter’s preliminary injunction expires Wednesday.

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New U.S. Hospitals Face Fiscal Crisis over COVID Relief Money

THOMASVILLE, Ala. (AP) — A handful of U.S. hospitals are facing a financial crisis that officials say was caused by the federal government's rules for pandemic relief money. A trio of hospitals in Alabama, Kansas and New Mexico say they're not getting as much assistance as other hospitals because they're so new they can't prove financial losses from before the pandemic. In rural southwest Alabama, Thomasville Regional Medical Center says it's in danger of closing after just two years. Like Thomasville Regional, Rock Regional Hospital in Derby, Kansas saw revenues dry up soon after opening, said Barry Beus, the hospital CEO. It’s still experiencing staff shortages because of the pandemic and having to pay a premium to travel nurses to work shifts on the wards, he said, all while working with consultants and members of Congress just trying to stay afloat. Three Crosses Regional Hospital opened in 2020 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and piled up a staggering $16.8 million in losses in just three quarters while receiving only $28,000 in aid, said Landon Fulmer, a Washington lobbyist working with all three hospitals to obtain additional funding. Federal health officials say all three hospitals have gotten some money from the CARES Act, and no health providers are getting all their losses reimbursed. 

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House Dems Propose $28 Million to Address Formula Shortage

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats have unveiled a $28 million emergency spending bill to address the shortage of infant formula in the United States. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, says the bill would help the Food and Drug Administration take important steps to restore the formula supply in a safe and secure manner. Supporters say the money would increase FDA staffing focused on the formula shortage to boost inspections, prevent fraudulent products from getting onto store shelves and acquire better data on the marketplace. The House is expected to take up the emergency spending measure later this week.

*** Click here to see the Kansas Department of Health and Environment list of infant formulas that can be purchased with Kansas WIC benefits.
*** Click here to see a KDHE list of WIC-eligible infant formula substitutions

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Biden Administration Sends $5 Billion to Cities for Safety as Road Deaths Soar

WASHINGTON (AP) — Upcoming data shows traffic deaths soaring in the U.S. The Biden administration is steering $5 billion in federal aid to cities and localities to address the growing crisis. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Monday announced the availability of money over five years under his department’s new Safe Streets & Roads for All program. The goal is to spur cities to adopt detailed plans to reduce traffic deaths by slowing down cars, carving out bike paths and wider sidewalks and nudging commuters to public transit. Fatalities among pedestrians and cyclists are rising faster than those within vehicles. Roadway safety advocacy group BikeWalkKC in Kansas City, Missouri, wants communities to foster walkable neighborhoods.

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Lawsuit: Students Taunted Black Student, Threatened Lynching

UNDATED (AP) – A lawsuit alleges that administrators at a Missouri school district that is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation failed to protect a Black teen from repeated racial taunts that culminated with him being threatened with a lynching. The suit filed this month in state court described what happened as “outrageous” and sought unspecified damages against the 3,500-student Kearney school district, which is just north of Kansas City. The district said in a statement that it doesn't respond to pending litigation but is committed “fully to ensuring that every student can learn in an environment free of discrimination in any form.

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Man Convicted 19 Years After Woman’s Rape Near Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/LJW) — Nineteen years after a woman was raped near Topeka, a man has been convicted of the crime. The conviction came after authorities determined his DNA linked him to the crime. Pernell Adam Mack Jr., was convicted last week of rape, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and aggravated criminal sodomy, District Attorney Mike Kagay said in a news release. A sentencing date hasn’t been set. Kagay said Mack and another person raped the woman at her home south of Topeka after robbing her and pistol-whipping her. The investigation did not produce leads to possible suspects at the time, he said. On February 14, 2020, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said DNA left at the scene connected Mack to the crime, Kagay said. Mack was arrested and charged in April 2020. No one else has been arrested in the case.

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Kansas Woman Arrested in Connection with 2002 Missouri Hospital Patient's Death

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say they've arrested a former respiratory therapist who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of a patient 20 years ago. The Livingston County Sheriff's Office says deputies in northeastern Kansas arrested 41-year-old Jennifer Hall last Thursday, under the name Jennifer Semaboye, of Overland Park. She was charged this month in the 2002 death of Fern Franco — one of nine people who died at Hedrick Medical Center in Chillicothe over several months in 2002. Authorities say Hall worked as a respiratory therapist at the hospital when the patients all died from cardiac collapse. Matthew O'Connor, who has represented Hall in the past, said no evidence exists to connect Hall to the deaths. Hall has previously denied any involvement.

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Kansas Highway Patrol Identifies Woman Who Died After Car Struck a Deer

FINNEY COUNTY, Kan. (Hays Post) — Authorities have identified the victim of a fatal car/deer accident in Finney County as 41-year-old Amanda Robyn Wurtz, of Plains. The Kansas Highway Patrol reports that Wurtz was northbound Sunday on Pierceville Road at Plymell Road in a 2013 Ford Edge and hit a deer. The vehicle traveled off the road to the right, rolled and come to rest on its top. She was pronounced dead at St. Catherines Hospital. She was not wearing a seat belt, according to the KHP. (Read more.)

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"From Crisis to Death:" Probing Wichita Teen's Last, Desperate Hours

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — When police were called to deal with a teenager in the throes of a mental health crisis, everything went wrong. Cedric "C.J." Lofton had had a troubled life, and his final hours were horrendous — he was dragged from the porch of his foster home, taken to a juvenile facility instead of a mental hospital, and shackled face down until he lost consciousness. No one has been charged in C.J.'s death; the prosecutor in the case raised questions about nearly everyone involved in C.J.'s care, from the juvenile workers to the foster care system, and said this death never should have happened.

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Man Charged in Fatal Hit-and-Run Outside Arrowhead Stadium

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police say a man has been charged in a fatal hit-and-run crash that happened last year outside of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Television station WDAF reports that 19-year-old Thomas Weyer is charged with one count of leaving the scene of a fatal crash in the October 10 death of 66-year-old Steven Hickle, of Wichita. Investigators say Hickle had left the stadium during a rain delay of a Chiefs game and was crossing a street when he was hit by two vehicles that left the scene. Court documents say an anonymous tip led police to Weyer, who initially denied involvement, but later admitted hitting Hickle after being told police had learned his vehicle was at the scene of the fatality at the time of the hit-and-run crash.

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Kansas Legalizes Sports Betting, then Gets Sued by Casino

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has legalized sports betting. But the state was sued almost immediately last week by a state-owned casino operator over an unrelated part of the law designed to revive a long-closed greyhound track in its area. State officials and others weren't sure when sports fans would be able to start making wagers. The lawsuit is from the Kansas Star Casino operated by Boyd Gaming about 15 miles south of Wichita. The casino has a contract with the lottery and says that contract has been breached because the new law allows improper competition from new gambling devices at Wichita Greyhound Park.

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Kansas Governor Vetoes Republican Plan to Ban Mask Mandates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has vetoed a bill that would prohibit government mask mandates in Kansas and curb the power of state and local health officials during outbreaks of infectious diseases. The measure vetoed Friday was the Republican-controlled Legislature's response to mask mandates and other restrictions that outraged many conservative constituents during the coronavirus pandemic. It would prevent state and local government officials from issuing mask mandates and prevent state and local health officials from ordering law enforcement agencies to help them enforce orders dealing with infectious diseases. But the measure passed with less than the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a veto.

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Rare White Bison Calf Born at Kansas Park

HAYS, Kan. (KAKE) - The bison herd at north-central Kansas park has a new addition: a white calf. The Hays Convention & Visitors Bureau said on Facebook that "Ghostbuster," the white bison at Frontier Park, gave birth Sunday evening. The Facebook post says the local parks department arranged a swap with a bison breeder to "freshen up the herd" that was beginning to have issues calving each spring. The park also added a bull to the pen. (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 am weekdays, 11 am weekends. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today.

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