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Headlines for Wednesday, January 26, 2022

 

GOP Redistricting Plan Passes in Kansas; Court Fight Could Be Looming

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republicans have pushed their congressional redistricting plan through the GOP-dominated Kansas Legislature without much trouble. An expected court battle loomed after Wednesday's legislative action over whether the proposed map goes too far in hurting the state’s only Democrat in Congress. The House’s 79-37 vote sends Democratic Governor Laura Kelly a bill that would split the Kansas City area into two congressional districts and move the liberal northeast Kansas city of Lawrence into a district with central and western Kansas. The Senate approved the measure last week. Democratic U.S. Representative Sharice Davids would lose some of the neighborhoods in her Kansas City-area 3rd District where her support is strongest.

(–Related–)

GOP Redistricting Map Pairs Progressive Lawrence with Trump-Loving Rural Areas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kansas are close to passing a congressional redistricting plan that ties a community known for its so-called “woke” politics to Trump-loving small towns and farms five or hours more west by car on the expansive plains. Lawrence is a city of nearly 95,000 people in northeast Kansas that’s home to the main University of Kansas campus and it has a reputation for liberal politics. It would become part of the sprawling district for western and central Kansas. That means it would join counties where former President Donald Trump received more than 80% of the vote in 2020. Democrats don’t have the political strength to prevent the plan's passage.
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Pro-Ivermectin Kansas Doctor-Lawmaker Under Investigation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas doctor-lawmaker who has prescribed a parasitic worm treatment for COVID-19 symptoms says the state medical board has been investigating him since the summer of 2020. Conservative Republican state Sen. Mark Steffen disclosed the Kansas Board of Healing Arts’ investigation of him Wednesday during a Senate committee hearing. He was testifying in favor of a bill to require pharmacists to fill prescriptions for the anti-worm treatment ivermectin and the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for off-label uses in treating COVID-19. Steffen is an anesthesiologist and pain-management specialist from Hutchinson. He said the medical board has been investigating him for 18 months over public statements about COVID-19. The board declined to comment.

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Kansas to Pay About $900,000 to Man Wrongfully Convicted

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has said Kansas should pay about $900,000 to a man who spent more than 13 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of sex crimes against a child. Merardo J. Garza, Jr., was convicted in 2008 of sex crimes against an 8-year-old girl in Wichita. His sentence was vacated in 2020 after the girl withdrew her accusation. A Sedgwick County District judge last week approved a resolution of the case, which awards Garza $887,455 and a certificate of innocence. He will also have the arrest and conviction expunged from his records. The agreement still must be approved by the State Finance Council.

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Kansas Governor Requests a Federal Disaster Declaration for December Storms

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Governor Laura Kelly is asking President Joe Biden to declare a major disaster for the state of Kansas because of damage resulting from severe storms with extreme high winds on December 15, 2021.  In her request, Kelly said the storm system generated wind gusts ranging from 60 to 100 mph, causing widespread damage. The high winds and dry conditions also led to wildfires that burned more than 160,000 acres and resulted in the deaths of two people. Kelly’s letter said the weather event was of an extremely rare nature, citing information from the Topeka office of the National Weather Service that registered 90 mph winds at 4,000 feet, which was stronger that any winds recorded at that level since 1955.  Preliminary estimates placed the total damage for all involved counties in excess of $15 million. Kelly’s request is for federal funding to help restore damaged public utilities, roads and bridges. “Severe storm damages can be bad enough,” Kelly said, “but to add to that the losses caused by wildfires creates a heavy financial burden on our Kansas counties. I am requesting this disaster declaration to help our counties repair the damages caused by these storms and wildfires and get things back to normal for our citizens.”

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No Charges Against Missouri Police Officers Who Fatally Shot Suicidal Teen

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri prosecutors will not file charges against police officers in Grandview who shot and killed an apparently suicidal teenager who pointed a BB gun at them. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker says officers who shot 17-year-old Lantz Stephenson Jr. on May 16 at a Grandview park acted within their legal authority as law enforcement officers. Investigators say Stephenson pointed a BB gun that looked like a handgun at officers and ignored officers' demands to drop the weapon before he was shot. Peters Baker's letter said Stephenson told paramedics before he died that he was attempting suicide.

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Fentanyl Seizures Rise Sharply in Three-State Area - Kansas, Missouri, Southern Illinois

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Drug Enforcement Administration division that includes Missouri, Kansas and southern Illinois seized more of the dangerous drug fentanyl last year than in the two previous years combined. The DEA's St. Louis Division says agents and task force officers seized 188 kilograms of fentanyl last year, compared to 82 kilograms in 2020 and 104 kilograms in 2019. Investigators also seized a record 1,848 kilograms of methamphetamine — an all-time high — and 73 kilograms of heroin. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used to treat pain in pharmaceutical settings. The DEA says it is 50 times more potent than heroin.

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UPDATE: Westbound I-70 Has Reopened at Goodland 

(-Earlier reporting-)

Wintry Weather in Colorado Forces I-70 to Close at Goodland

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) has closed westbound traffic on I-70 at Goodland because of winter weather conditions in Colorado. Motorists traveling west on I-70 are advised to use alternate routes or delay travel if possible.  Additional closures may be necessary if conditions worsen. Motorists can follow Northwest Kansas KDOT on Facebook or follow Northwest Kansas KDOT on Twitter for updates.  For up-to-date information on road closures and road conditions, visit www.kandrive.org, or call 511 in Kansas or (866) 511-5368 outside Kansas.

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Kansas Health Officials Report Second Child COVID Death in a Week

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Another Kansas child’s death has been linked to COVID-19. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says the death is in the 10-to-17-year-old age group. Last Wednesday, the KDHE reported a death in the 0-to-9-year-old age group.  KSNW TV reports that the two deaths bring the total number of COVID-19 pediatric deaths to eight in Kansas. The KDHE does not release victims’ genders, locations, exact ages, or the date of their deaths.  Since Friday, KDHE reports a total of 17 more deaths and 71 new hospitalizations linked to COVID-19. The KDHE samples about two percent of the positive cases for variants. Of the recent positive cases, 104 are the omicron variant, while seven are the delta variant.  Of Kansans eligible to get vaccinated, 65.03% have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 55.91% have completed a vaccine series.

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Missouri AG's Mask Mandate Suits Draw Some Strong Rebukes

UNDATED (AP) - Forty-five mask-requiring school districts in Missouri are facing lawsuits filed by Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Some school leaders and elected officials are questioning if he really has the best interest of the state at heart. On Friday, Schmitt filed suit, seeking to halt 36 districts from requiring masks amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases. On Monday, he added nine more. Schmitt says parents should be the ones making health decisions for their children. But a state school board association and at least one district is criticizing the cost of the litigation. Some elected leaders say the lawsuits are politically driven as Schmitt runs for the U.S. Senate.

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Wichita State University Releases Updated 2022 Kansas Employment Forecast

WICHITA, Kan. (KPR) - The Kansas unemployment rate has fallen, as job growth in the service sector rebounds.  Those are some of the findings from Wichita State University's Center for Economic Development and Business Research, which has released its updated Kansas Employment Forecast. In 2021, overall state-level unemployment was estimated to have fallen dramatically from 6.2% to 4%.  Indicative of continuing labor market adaptation and recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, these trends are expected to continue throughout 2022 and 2023, halving the number of Kansans left unemployed in 2020.  The most significant component of job growth in the service sector comes from leisure and hospitality occupations, which have rebounded dramatically in 2021 (6.4% growth from 2020) alongside increasing vaccine availability and an ever-adapting labor force and job market. (Read the full 2022 Kansas Employment Forecast from WSU.) 

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Kansas Governor Calls for Investigation into Teen's Death

UNDATED (AP) – Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has ordered the state agency that oversees foster care to investigate the death of a 17-year-old who was restrained facedown for more than 30 minutes last fall at a Wichita juvenile intake center after his foster father called begging for help because the teen was hallucinating. Kelly called the situation ``tragic`` in calling for the Kansas Department for Children and Families to review the case of Cedric Lofton and see if policies needed to be changed. Her comments come one week after Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett expressed concerns about the handling of Lofton's case when he announced that he wouldn't file any criminal charges. 

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Missouri Redistricting Plan Speeds Toward Senate Debate

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A proposal to redraw Missouri's eight U.S. House districts is speeding toward the Senate floor for debate. A Senate committee on Tuesday advanced a redistricting plan passed just last week by the state House. The plan redraws the boundaries of congressional districts to account for population changes noted by the 2020 census. It's projected to continue current political divide of six Republican and two Democratic representatives. But some Republicans want to split the Democratic stronghold of Kansas City among multiple districts to give Republicans a shot at winning seven seats. That's expected to produce an intense debate on the Senate floor.

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Man Convicted in Death During Police Chase in Emporia

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A 24-year-old Emporia man has been convicted of murder in the death of a man while he was fleeing police last year. The Emporia Gazette reports Lyon County District Court Judge Lee Fowler found Devawn Mitchell guilty Tuesday after a bench trial. Prosecutors said Mitchell was fleeing from officers in Emporia last March when he collided with a pickup truck, killing 64-year-old Steven Henry. Experts testified Mitchell was driving about 100 mph when his car hit Henry's truck. Mitchell is scheduled to be sentenced March 11.

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Records: KC Police Used Force More Often on Black People

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police data obtained by the Kansas City Star shows that Black people are far more likely to be subjected to use of force by police in Kansas City, Missouri. The Star reported Wednesday that more than 57% of use of force incidents from 2019 to July 2021 were against Black people, who make up just 28% of Kansas City’s population. Police Capt. Leslie Foreman says use of force is “based on the actions of another person, not on the race of that person,” and that Kansas City officers were focused on relationship building in the community. Mayor Quinton Lucas says the data deserves further examination.

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Kansas City Detective Convicted in Killing Leaves Department

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A white Kansas City police detective convicted in the fatal shooting of a Black man is no longer with the police department. The Kansas City Star reports a police spokeswoman said Eric DeValkenaere's last day with the department was Monday. She said state law prevents her from saying if DeValkenaere was fired, resigned or retired. DeValkenaere was convicted in November of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the 2019 death of 26-year-old Cameron Lamb. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 4. Defense attorney Molly Hastings has said she plans to appeal DeValkenaere's conviction.

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Wichita Priest Won't Be Charged with Child Sexual Abuse

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett says he will not file charges against a Roman Catholic priest accused of sexual exploitation of a child while he was in Wichita in the 1990s. Bennett said in a news release Wednesday the statute of limitations has expired on the alleged crime. The Catholic Diocese of Wichita put Rev. Michael Schemm on administrative leave last November after receiving a report involving a child between 1993 and 1996, when Schemm was assigned to St. Elizabeth Seton in Wichita. Bennett said under Kansas law, the statute of limitations ended in 2009, when the alleged victim turned 28.

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Police Identify Man Accused in Wichita Hotel Shootout with Police

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County authorities have identified a man accused of exchanging gunfire with deputies outside a Wichita hotel before he was arrested following a seven-hour standoff. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office says 26-year-old Kory Anziana, of Wichita, was arrested and faces a count of aggravated assault and several other charges. Officials say the confrontation began early Monday when Anziana fled a traffic stop. Police say when Anziana's vehicle became high-centered near a Regency Inn, he got out and fired at two deputies, who returned fire. No one was injured. Authorities say Anziana ran into a hotel room where five people loosely associated with him were staying. After several hours, those people left the room and Anziana was arrested.

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Police Identify Man Shot to Death in Kansas City, Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police have identified a man shot to death in Kansas City, Kansas, near the Missouri border over the weekend. Police say 24-year-old Alec Byers, of Kansas City, Missouri, died in the shooting that happened after 11 p.m. Sunday near State Line Road. Officials say emergency dispatchers received calls about a person having been shot inside a vehicle, and arriving officers discovered Byers, who had already died from gunshot wounds. No other information about the shooting has been given. No arrests or suspect information has been reported in the case.

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Topeka Man to Face Murder Charge After Toddler Shoots Teenager

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man will stand trial for murder after a toddler used a gun to accidentally kill a teenager in June. Shawnee County District Judge David Debenham ruled this week that prosecutors had enough evidence to try DeJuan Yelverton for first-degree murder and armed criminal action. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Yelverton pleaded not guilty to the two charges. He pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a weapon by a felon. Prosecutors allege Yelverton left a gun hanging off the top of a refrigerator. A toddler later got the loaded gun and accidentally shot 13-year-old DaMya Hudnall in the head. She died a few days later.

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Missouri Man Convicted in Wife's Death Faces Abuse Trial Involving His Daughter

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man convicted of killing his wife and burying her body will face a second trial on charges that he abused the couple's young daughter. During a hearing Monday, a Boone County judge rejected a defense request that the trial for Joseph Elledge be moved to another county because of extensive publicity regarding his wife's death. The judge did agree that jurors would be brought in from Warren County. Elledge was convicted in November of killing his 28-year-old wife, Mengqi Ji, a Chinese woman who he met at the University of Missouri. In the new case, he faces three felony charges involving his daughter.

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Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline Led Effort to Promote Fake Trump Electors in 2020

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCUR/KNS) - Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline is back in the news.  Kline is director of a group called The Amistad Project, which bills itself as “the nation’s leading election integrity watchdog.” Recent news reports reveal that The Amistad Project was active in promoting fake slates of pro-Trump electors.  On Friday, The New York Times reported that as members of the Electoral College were set to meet on December 14, 2020, and certify electors in all 50 states, a lawyer for The Amistad Project tried to deliver a fake slate of pro-Trump electors to the Michigan Legislature but was turned away by state troopers. The Times reported that Kline on the same day fanned across right-wing media outlets promoting the fake elector plan.  The House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol has been looking into the role the fake elector slates played in former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.  Documents obtained by American Oversight, a government watchdog group, show that Republicans in seven states sought to replace valid presidential electors from those states with pro-Trump slates. Earlier this month, the attorneys general of Michigan and New Mexico asked federal prosecutors to open a criminal investigation into the matter. (Read more.)

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CNN’s Sanjay Gupta to Receive KU’s Top Journalism Award

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, will come to the University of Kansas this spring to receive KU's top journalism award.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Gupta has been selected to receive the 2022 William Allen White Foundation National Citation.  He's scheduled to come to KU April 21 to receive the award.  “The William Allen White Foundation Board of Trustees continues their tradition of selecting a journalist who is making an impact on the profession,” Ann Brill, dean of the School of Journalism, said in a news release. “In Dr. Gupta’s case, that impact extends to the entire world.”  Gupta has investigated multiple health trends and phenomena, including the COVID-19 pandemic.  Gupta joined CNN in 2001.  He continues to be a practicing neurosurgeon.  

Gupta was selected for the national citation by a vote of the William Allen White Foundation Board of Trustees. The award, named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from Emporia, has been recognizing outstanding journalists since 1950. Past winners include Cokie Roberts, Seymour Hersh, Walter Cronkite, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Helen Thomas, Charles Kuralt, Bernard Shaw, Bob Woodward, Gordon Parks, Bob Dotson and Frank Deford.

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Bills-Chiefs Most-Watched TV Program Since Super Bowl

NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL's epic playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs was the most-watched event on television since the last Super Bowl. Nielsen said it reached nearly 43 million television viewers on Sunday night. During the fourth quarter in Kansas City, the game's audience share was 90 — meaning 90 percent of the television sets on at the time were tuned in to the game. All four games ended with a score breaking up a tie game, so the television audiences swelled instead of falling off. As the Bills-Chiefs game went into overtime, for instance, the Nielsen company said an estimated 51.7 million people were watching.

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Winning Ways: Are the Chiefs Suddenly the NFL's New Dynasty?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs have won a record six straight AFC West titles and will be hosting their record fourth straight AFC title game when Cincinnati visits Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. Already, the talk is beginning of a blossoming dynasty in Kansas City. But if the Chiefs are not yet there, what exactly will it take for Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes to take the franchise into such a wholly subjective place? Perhaps a third straight Super Bowl trip with a win over the Bengals this weekend, or following up last year's loss to Tampa Bay with a second title in three years would do it.

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Chicago Bears Hire Chiefs' Ryan Poles as General Manager

CHICAGO (AP) — Ryan Poles, the Kansas City Chiefs executive director of player personnel, has been hired as Chicago’s general manager. The move comes almost 15 years after the former offensive tackle signed with the team as an undrafted free agent and then failed to make the final roster. Poles has spent the previous 13 seasons in the Chiefs’ front office. He was the team’s director of college scouting in 2017 when Kansas City drafted Patrick Mahomes with the No. 10 overall pick after Chicago took Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2. Poles succeeds Ryan Pace. The team has yet to hire a coach to replace Matt Nagy.

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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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