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Headlines for Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Kansas Students Suffering from Depression, Thoughts of Suicide

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - New data shows increased depression and thoughts of suicide among Kansas middle- and high-schoolers. A survey of nearly 71,000 Kansas students is an annual snapshot of their safety and well-being. This year showed double the normal increase in feelings of sadness or hopelessness. About 30% of students reported thoughts of depression or suicide, and about two thirds of those were girls. The survey has been tracking mental health in Kansas young people over the last five years. The number of students saying they feel depressed has risen by about two-and-a-half percentage points each year. According to the survey, nearly 300 11-year-olds reported having tried to kill themselves. Rachel Phillips, project manager at the Greenbush Southeast Kansas Education Center, which administers the survey, said, "While this information is quite sobering, it’s critical to realize that the conversation with kids is important to have in discussing healthy ways to manage these thoughts. So when we look at students and we worry about what they may do later on, down the road, I think this data tells us it’s important to act now." Phillips says participating school districts will get specific data to address issues in their communities.  

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Tuition at Kansas Colleges Likely to Stay About the Same

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Students at public universities in Kansas might pay nearly the same tuition for the upcoming year as they did last year. Tuition proposals submitted today (WED) to the Board of Regents were generally the same as the last academic year. The regents will vote on the proposals next month. This would be the third straight year that Kansas public universities kept tuition flat. And it comes despite concerns of major budget problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic. For 2021, most colleges proposed keeping existing costs. Kansas State proposed a $57 increase for in-state students, while Emporia State proposed a nearly 30% decrease in out-of-state tuition.

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Kansas Governor Pressured to Nix Extra Unemployment Funding

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is facing increasing pressure from companies, business groups and prominent Republicans to have Kansas stop paying an extra $300 a week in benefits to unemployed workers. Today (WED), the top three Republicans in the Kansas House called on Kelly to end the additional benefits. They did so in response to a letter to the governor from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and 180 organizations arguing that many businesses are having problems hiring workers to "return to full capacity" following coronavirus pandemic restrictions. Some unemployed workers say the extra benefit has allowed them more time to look for work and put pressure on employers to raise wages. Kelly has said she's reviewing the issue.  

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UPDATED: Kansas COVID-19 Case Count Reaches Nearly 312,600; Death Toll Rises to 5,053

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reports today (WED) that there have been 312,591 cases of COVID-19 including 5,053 virus-related deaths. That's an increase of 518 cases and 13 more deaths since Monday. Another update on case numbers is expected Friday. 

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New CDC Data Show Rural Areas Lagging Behind in COVID Vaccinations

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the rates of COVID-19 vaccinations show rural parts of the country are lagging behind urban areas. 49.7% of the population is vaccinated in Kansas urban areas while the rate in rural areas is 41.3%. George Diepenbrock, spokesman for the Lawrence-Douglas County Department of Public Health, told KSHB-TV that large vaccination events initially helped inoculation rates but demand for the shots has dwindled. Douglas County includes Lawrence, the smaller cities of Eudora, Lecompton, New guidance from the CDC recommends that public health departments work with doctors, pharmacies, and faith groups in rural areas to address the disparity in 

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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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Hy-Vee Drops Mask Requirement

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hy-Vee grocery stores has announced that they will no longer require vaccinated customers and employees to wear masks in their stores unless face coverings are required by a local ordinance. A spokesman for the grocery store chain told KSHB-TV that the change will go into effect immediately. Face masks are still recommended for people who have not been fully vaccinated.

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Kansas House Member Pleads Not Guilty to Battery Charges Stemming from Incident at School

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP / KNS) A Kansas House member has pleased not guilty to battery. Republican Rep. Mark Samsel, of Wellsville, was arrested after videos began circulating online of him arguing with teenage students and pushing one of them while he was working as a substitute teacher. Today (WED), Samsel pleaded not guilty to three counts of misdemeanor battery. He was also given three weeks to undergo a mental health evaluation. His next hearing was set for July 12. The charges against Samsel arose from a student reporting an April 28 incident involving the state lawmaker in what videos showed to be a noisy classroom in his hometown of Wellsville.

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Man Charged with $127,000 Fraud Involving COVID-19 Aid

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Federal prosecutors allege a Manhattan man defrauded a Wichita bank out of more than $127,000 in COVID-19 assistance. Clifford Townsend has been charged with two counts of bank fraud, two counts of making a false statement to a bank and two counts of money laundering. Prosecutors say Townsend filed a claim with the Paycheck Protection Program, saying that his business had 15 employees. In reality, the company (Global Network Corporation) did not have any employees. Townsend allegedly used about $27,000 of the money to buy a BMW and wired $80,000 into a brokerage account in the name of the business. Townsend's initial court appearance is scheduled for Monday.

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Nevada Pilot Injured in Helicopter Crash in Southwest Kansas
 
ULYSSES, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a crop-duster from Nevada has been seriously injured in a helicopter crash. The Grant County Sheriff's Office and the Kansas Highway Patrol say the crash happened yesterday (TUE) afternoon as the pilot was spraying crops west of Kansas Highway 25. Investigators believe the helicopter hit a power line, causing the crash. The pilot, identified as 47-year-old Ripson Wong, of Henderson, Nevada, was taken to a hospital in Ulysses with serious injuries.

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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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Douglas County Traffic Court Back in Business

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Douglas County traffic court is resuming operations after more than a year. The District Attorney’s Office says court is again being held at 8:15 am every Friday. Traffic court had been on hold since March of 2020 due to the pandemic. Due to confusion regarding the reopening of traffic court, the DA’s office is not currently requesting that the court issue driver’s license suspensions or warrants for failing to appear. The ultimate decision, however, rests with the court itself. Officials say anyone issued a citation with an appearance date should appear in court on the date and time shown unless the citation has been resolved through a plea arrangement or diversion agreement ahead of time. Those with outstanding citations may contact the DA's office at (785) 838-2443 or via email: datraffic@douglascountyks.org.

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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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Police Arrest One Person After Kansas City Woman Fatally Shot 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Officers called to an apartment in a historic neighborhood south of downtown Kansas City for reports of gunfire found a woman fatally shot. Officers were called around 2 a.m. Wednesday to the apartment in Hyde Park. Arriving officers found a woman inside the apartment who had been shot. Medics pronounced the woman dead at the scene. Police say one person was arrested. Authorities have not released the name of the woman killed or details about what led to the shooting. 

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Kansas City Police Begin Homicide Investigation After Finding Body

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police in Kansas City, Missouri have launched a homicide investigation after find the body of a man who had been missing for nearly a week. Police say the body of 52-year-old Gilberto Gutierrez was found Monday morning in the Swope Parkway-Elmwood neighborhood. Police have not said how Gutierrez died, but had issued a missing persons alert for him on May 11, when he was last seen near his farm in south Kansas City. Police say that they were working with the medical examiner to determine Gutierrez's cause of death. 

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Missouri Man Charged in Deaths Now Accused of Fraud

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri farmer accused of attempting to cover up a $215,000 cattle fraud scheme by killing two Wisconsin brothers has been indicted on a federal mail fraud charge. A federal grand jury in Kansas City, Missouri returned an indictment against 27-year-old Garland Joseph Nelson. Nelson is already awaiting trial on state murder charges in the deaths of 24-year-old Justin Diemel and 35-year-old Nicholas Diemel, of Shawano County, Wisconsin. Their burned remains were found in Missouri and Nebraska after they disappeared while visiting Nelson's farm in Braymer in northwest Missouri in July 2019. The federal charge filed Tuesday focuses on the financial deal that brought the brothers to Missouri. Braymer is about 75 miles northeast of Kansas City.

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