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Headlines for Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Governor Declares State of Emergency as Weekend Rains Lead to Flash Flooding in Parts of Kansas  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Laura Kelly has declared a state of emergency for several Kansas counties hit by flash flooding and severe storms over the weekend. Residents of the north-central Kansas town of Natoma have been assessing damage left by a major flash flood. Rick Dunlap is mayor of the Osborne County town of nearly 300 people. He says the flooding caused more damage than even the flood of 1993. Saline County also saw major damage Sunday, with water in several homes. Residents say the water came up so quickly they had little warning. And in Topeka, lightning downed a tree that fell into a home. The threat of lightning and heavy rains forced administrators at the University of Kansas to cancel all three of the commencement ceremonies scheduled for Sunday.

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University of Kansas Reschedules 2021 Commencements 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Hundreds of University of Kansas graduates who had their graduation canceled Sunday because of severe weather will have another chance to attend commencement ceremonies. Chancellor Douglas Girod has announced that graduation ceremonies for the class of 2021 will be held Sunday, May 23, at Memorial Stadium. The university called off all three ceremonies on Sunday for the class of 2021 amid worries about lightning. Class of 2021 KU graduates still made the most of the day. Students and their families congregated on the Hill for photos, and graduates took turns walking through the Campanile. Girod said Monday he realized many people and their families would not be able to attend the rescheduled ceremonies but he said the university wanted to provide a ceremony for the class. It was the second straight year the university had to call off commencement. The 2020 ceremonies were postponed after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The class of 2020 is also scheduled to celebrate its commencement on Sunday.  

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3-Year-Old Kansas Boy Dies After Being Run Over by Truck

GODDARD, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County authorities say a 3-year-old boy died after being accidentally run over by a truck driven by a family member. Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter says officers responding to a home in Goddard Monday evening found Kannon Agnew dead at the scene. The sheriff says the boy was outside with his father and three other children when he stopped to change his shoes, which were on the wrong feet. The 40-year-old driver was moving the vehicle to hook it to a trailer and didn't see the child sitting there. Easter says the investigation will continue but the death appears to be "a horrible accident."

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Police Identify Man Shot to Death in Kansas City, Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas, have identified a man killed last week in a wooded residential area on the northwestern edge of the city. Police say officers were called to the area the afternoon of May 11 and found 38-year-old Francisco Herrera-Flores, of Kansas City, Kansas. Police say Herrera-Flores had been shot. Police say 36-year-old Guadalupe Benitez-Pizarro, of Sante Fe, New Mexico, has been arrested and charged with second-degree felony murder in Herrera-Flores' death. Benitez-Pizarro is being held in the Wyandotte County Jail on a $250,000 bond.

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Former Tyson Employee in Emporia Pleads Guilty in Fraud Scheme

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A former Tyson employee in Emporia faces sentencing in July after admitting that he defrauded the company of more than $416,000. Federal prosecutors say David John Ranger used company cards to transfer funds into his personal accounts while he was working as plant maintenance manager in Emporia. He also created a fictitious company and claimed the company was providing services to Tyson. Prosecutors say he used the money from the scheme to pay his personal expenses. The fraud began in December 2012 and ended in April 2019. Ranger pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud on April 28.

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Kansas Lawmaker Faces 3 Battery Charges over School Incident

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas House member has been charged with three counts of misdemeanor battery. The charges filed Monday against Republican Representative Mark Samsel of Wellsville accuse him of having made "rude, insulting or angry" contact with two teenage students in a classroom while working as a substitute teacher. He was initially arrested last month for battery and now faces three charges. The charges arose from a student reporting an April 28 incident. Videos from students provided to the Kansas City Star appear to show Samsel pushing a student and lecturing about masturbation, teen suicide and God. Samsel's first appearance in Franklin County District Court by video conference is scheduled for Wednesday morning. A criminal complaint alleges that Samsel made physical contact with two teenage students and harmed one of them. Republican House Speaker Ron Ryckman responded in a statement saying he’s concerned about the charges, but the case needs to play out in court before there are any penalties.  

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Students Line Up for Vaccines Amid Push to Relax Mask Mandate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas schools are stepping up efforts to administer COVID-19 vaccines to newly eligible 12-to 15-year-olds as more districts relax mask rules or face pressure to do so. Hundreds of students from public and private schools gathered Monday to get vaccinated at Topeka High School. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the students were joined by Governor Laura Kelly, who touted the effort as the state aims to increase its vaccine uptake. School districts from Manhattan to Olathe are conducting similar clinics and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, as well as the Kansas National Guard, is chipping in support as needed.

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Wyandotte and Douglas Counties Discuss Dropping Mask Mandates 

KANSAS CITY, KAn. (KNS) - The last two Kansas counties that require people to wear masks because of the coronavirus pandemic are deciding whether to change the rules in response to new federal guidelines.  After meeting Monday night, the Wyandotte County Health Department recommended continuing to enforce the current mask order until it expires on May 29th. Wyandotte County Commissioner Melissa Bynum supports continuing the mask order because only 25% of Wyandotte County residents have been fully vaccinated. Bynum says the extra two weeks gives people time to get vaccinated before the order is rescinded. “At some point, we need to ask people to step up and help themselves and I think that’s the point we’re at in our community” Bynum said. Douglas County is the only other county in Kansas that still has a mask mandate in place. Douglas health officials are expected to recommend that the county lift the order when the commission meets Wednesday evening. Last week, Governor Laura Kelly said the state would immediately adopt the new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those guidelines say people who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear face coverings indoors or outdoors except in crowded situations where social distancing is not possible. 

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UPDATED: Kansas COVID-19 Case Count Exceeds 312,000; Death Toll Hits 5,040

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported Monday that there have been 312,073 cases of COVID-19, including 5,040 deaths related to the coronavirus, since the pandemic began. That's an increase of 368 cases and two deaths since Friday. Another update is expected Wednesday.

(An earlier version of this story contained a typo from KDHE regarding the total COVID-19 case numbers to date, which also affected the case number increase since last Friday.)
 

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State of Kansas Providing Loans to Help School Districts Facing Abnormally High Utility Bills

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas businesses and school districts hit with abnormally high natural gas bills from February’s cold snap can now get help from the state. Kansas is making $20 million dollars available to businesses and school districts that saw massive spikes in natural gas bills. The Wabaunsee school district, for example, saw its February gas bill go from about $4,000 to more than $50,000. The loans of up to $500,000 will be issued by local banks and funded by the state. They’ll need to be paid back within three years. The state has already funded about $80 million in loans to cities in need. The Attorney General’s office is investigating whether natural gas suppliers price gouged during the emergency.  

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Kansas Schools Offer Summer Programs for Kids to Catch Up

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) — Some Kansas schools are offering summer programs to help kids catch up with course work after schools moved to virtual learning during the pandemic. But some school administrators say they are disappointed by a lack of interest among students and parents. Wichita schools invited more than 21,000 students to free K-8 summer camps aimed at boosting reading and math skills but only about 20% of those invited say they plan to attend. That mirrors a nationwide trend, as many burned-out families are declining offers of free summer school. Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson says recovering the learning time lost during the pandemic is going to be difficult, but it can be done. “We’re hopeful that with multiple summer schools, multiple extended school years and tutoring services, we can make this up” Watson said.  Kansas schools will get about $1.3 billion in federal aid over the next three years for summer school and other programs.

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Missouri Opts to Eliminate Extra Federal Unemployment Funds

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS) - Missouri Governor Mike Parson is eliminating the $300 unemployment payment from the federal government because he says it's causing a labor shortage. Now, U.S. Senator Roger Marshall says Kansas Governor Laura Kelly should follow suit. Marshall told KCUR's Up to Date that people collecting both Kansas and federal unemployment can receive the equivalent of up to $20 per hour. Studies show that people receiving unemployment benefits are more likely to apply for jobs but Marshall says he's heard from "literally thousands" of businesses that say they can't find enough workers. "The number one concern right now for the economy is getting people to come back to work" Marshall said. "And, the number one impediment is that we're paying people $20 an hour." Marshall says some employers have raised wages 10% or 20% but, he says, if they increase wages any further, they won't be able to make a profit.

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Kansas Chamber Cuts Ties with U.S. Chamber over Endorsement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has cut ties with its national counterpart over the national group's support last year for reelecting the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Representative Sharice Davids over Republican challenger Amanda Adkins in last year's campaign to represent the Kansas 3rd Congressional District. The national chamber's support for Davids prompted the state chamber to not renew its membership in the national group. Adkins is a former Kansas Republican Party chair who served 12 years on the Kansas chamber's board. Kansas chamber President and CEO Alan Cobb said some of the state group's members were frustrated by the U.S. Chamber's endorsement of Davids.

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Missouri Lawmakers Pass COVID Business Protections

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers have approved new legal protections against coronavirus lawsuits as one of the final actions of their 2021 session. The bill would shield hospitals, manufacturers and other businesses from lawsuits over alleged wrongdoing during the pandemic. The bill now goes to Governor Mike Parson, who made it one of his priorities. If signed by Parson, it would take effect in August. The bill would prevent lawsuits against businesses unless someone can prove they were exposed there and sickened by the coronavirus, and that the business was acting recklessly.

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Fatal House Explosion in Holton Caused by Propane Leak

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities in Jackson County say an apparent propane leak caused a fatal explosion at a home last week. Sheriff Tim Morse says a great amount of propane leaked into the home in rural Holton on May 10. The blast killed 61-year-old Billy "Lu" Griffiths and seriously injured his wife, Teri. It's unclear exactly what sparked the gas but the sheriff says the explosion was not believed to be a criminal act.

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Man Charged in Leavenworth Shooting Death

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) _ A Leavenworth man has been charged with first-degree murder in a shooting death of another man in Leavenworth on May 4. County Attorney Todd Thompson says 21-year-old Cordell Marqueise Stewart has been charged in the death of 31-year-old Floyd Ross Jr.  Police say they responded to a report of shots fired in Leavenworth. They found Ross lying in the street suffering from gunshot wounds. He was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead.

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Proposal Would Put Missouri Gas Tax Hike to Public Vote

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A conservative advocacy group’s Missouri chapter is seeking to put what’s expected to be the state’s first gas tax hike in years to a public vote. The secretary of state says the director of Americans for Prosperity-Missouri filed the referendum petition. Missouri's Republican-led Legislature last week approved a gradual increase in the state’s 17 cents per gallon gas tax to 29.5 cents over five years. Republican Governor Mike Parson is expected to sign the bill into law. Missouri voters have repeatedly voted down increases to the gas tax.

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Driver Killed When Car Splits in Half After Hitting Tree

FAIRWAY, Kan. (AP) - One person is dead after their vehicle slammed into a tree in the Kansas City area with enough force to split the car in two. The crash happened Sunday morning along Shawnee Mission Parkway near 55th Street in Fairway, Kansas. The Johnson County Sheriff's Office said that because of excessive speeds, the vehicle appears to have split in half after it struck a tree on the side of the road. The driver died in the crash. The driver's name wasn't immediately released Sunday. The crash remains under investigation. 
  
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17-Year-Old Dies After Being Shot by Police at Kansas City Area Park
 
GRANDVIEW, Mo. (AP) - Authorities say a 17-year-old who was shot by police in suburban Kansas City after confronting officers with a gun has died. The Missouri State Highway Patrol says Lantz Stephenson Jr., of Grandview, south of Kansas City, was shot about 6:45 am Sunday at a park in Grandview, and died at a hospital. The patrol said in a post on Twitter that an "apparent suicidal" person was at the park with a gun. Highway patrol spokesman Sgt. Andrew Bell says the person called 911 and said he had a gun and wanted to confront officers. Bell says he approached the Grandview officers aggressively before two officers fired. No officers were injured. 

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Kansas City Works to Preserve Satchel Paige Home

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS) - Kansas City, Missouri has issued a request for proposals to restore and redevelop the house of legendary Negro League and Major League Baseball pitcher Satchel Paige. Beth Breitenstein with city planning and development says they hope to find a contractor to restore the home. “It’s a historic property” Breitenstein said. “It’s something that this community deserves to have as an asset for years to come.” City officials say the RFP stressed that the redevelopment should be something that benefits the area. They would like to see the home rehabilitated as a community center or museum. Paige purchased the house in the Santa Fe neighborhood in 1950, and he lived there until his death in 1982. The 111-year-old house has sat vacant since about 2004. It was damaged by fire in 2018 but was purchased by the Kansas City Homesteading Authority, which used a $150,000 grant for repairs. 

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