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Headlines for Wednesday, December 29, 2021

 

UPDATE: Kansas COVID-19 Cases Still Climbing; Death Toll Hits 7,001

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - The number of people in Kansas who have died from complications caused by the coronavirus now exceeds 7,000.  The Kansas Department of Health and Environment released its latest numbers today (WED).  State health officials say they're identified 7,083 new cases since Monday and 37 new, virus-related deaths.  All told, the state has recorded more than 519,000 cases and 7,001 deaths since the pandemic began.  Governor Laura Kelly has directed all state flags to fly at half-staff through sundown Friday to honor the Kansans who have died during the pandemic as well as the family members they left behind.  A new set of COVID numbers will be released Friday.

By the Numbers:

Total COVID-19 cases identified in Kansas: 519,544 cases, an increase of 7,083 since Monday.
Total COVID-19-related deaths in Kansas: 7,001, an increase of 37 since Monday. (Read more.)

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COVID Cases Rise in Douglas County as Officials Consider Mask Mandate

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW/KPR) -COVID-19 cases are rising again in Douglas County with the number of active, confirmed cases nearing 1,000. The Lawrence Journal World reports that public health officials will recommend that the Douglas County Commission approve a mask mandate if cases hit the 1,000 mark. The county’s Unified Command group will meet next week to hear recommendations from public health officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino. The Douglas County Commission is responsible for approving any countywide mask mandate.  Health officials say they would not consider making that recommendation to the commission before January 12. The Douglas County Health Department reported 987 active cases as of Monday. Another update will be released later today (WED).The health department says only 28% of all Douglas County residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated and have received the booster shot.

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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 Police Officer Dies After Battle with COVID-19

NORTH NEWTON, Kan. (AP) _ A 46-year-old Wichita area police officer has died from complications of COVID-19.  Brian Rousseau died Tuesday. He had been a patrol officer in for the North Newton Police Department since 2018 after previously working for 18 years with the Newton Police Department.  North Newton Police Chief Randy Jordan called Rousseau ``a terrific officer and a terrific person.'' He is survived by his wife and two children. The virus has now claimed more than 7,000 lives in Kansas. 

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Nebraska Man Charged in Crash that Killed 4 from Kansas

PLATTSMOUTH, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska man has been charged with four misdemeanor counts of motor vehicle homicide in connection with a crash that killed four people from Kansas earlier this year. Ronald Dubas, of La Vista, was charged in Cass County earlier this month. Dubas posted bail and is out of jail ahead of a January 11 hearing, but court records don't list an attorney representing him.  Prosecutors said the 56-year-old Dubas' pickup truck crossed the centerline and collided with a 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt on U.S. Highway 75 just south of Union, Nebraska on January 31. Four people in the car from Topeka died in the crash. A 20-year-old woman who was riding in the front passenger seat survived the wreck.

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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 Boarding School Doctor Arrested in Arkansas

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ A Missouri boarding school doctor accused of several child sex crimes has been taken into custody in Arkansas. The Kansas City Star reports that 57-year-old David Smock was captured Tuesday night in Harrison, Arkansas, near the Missouri state line. He had been considered a fugitive for several days. Smock has been the longtime physician for Agape Boarding School, a Christian school that remains under scrutiny after five staffers were charged in September with assaulting students. Smock was charged December 23 with second-degree statutory sodomy, third-degree child molestation of a child less than 14 years of age and enticement or attempted enticement of a child less than 15 years of age. Agape Boarding School is in Stockton, Missouri, 130 miles south of Kansas City.

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Pedestrian Dies After Being Struck by Car in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A pedestrian in Topeka was killed after being struck by several vehicles, and a teenage driver is in custody for allegedly fleeing the scene. The accident happened around 7:10 am Tuesday near 21st and Fillmore. Police say 41-year-old Dennis Leroy McFeeters Jr. of Topeka was in the street when he was struck by a passing motorist, then by several other vehicles. McFeeters was pronounced dead at the scene. Police say the 18-year-old driver of the vehicle that first struck McFeeters fled the scene but later turned himself in. 
 
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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 multi-state storm front 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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Wyandotte County Administrator Planning to Retire Next Week

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The county administrator in one of the most populous counties in Kansas is planning to retire next week. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City announced today (WED) that County Administrator Doug Bach's retirement is effective January 6. Bach has been county administrator since March 2014. Before that, he was deputy county administrator for 11 years and had leadership roles in multiple departments. His career in Wyandotte County government has spanned three decades.

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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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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 Tuesday 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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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 below 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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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 this (WED) morning, the online fundraiser had collected nearly $10,000.

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Kansas Jayhawks Women’s Team Cancels Game Due to COVID Concerns

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW/KPR) -The Kansas women’s basketball team’s scheduled game against Northwestern State was canceled just before it was about to begin Tuesday night in Lawrence because of COVID-19 issues within the KU program. KU athletics officials say the game will not be rescheduled. This is the first cancelation related to COVID issues in the KU basketball program but the Jayhawks’ men’s team has canceled or postponed  two games in the past week because of COVID concerns with the opponent’s basketball squads. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the December 21 game at Colorado and tonight’s (WED) home game against Harvard were canceled because of COVID issues on the opposing teams. The Jayhawks will face Nevada tonight (WED) at Allen Fieldhouse after Harvard dropped out due to several players testing positive. 

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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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