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Headlines for Wednesday, November 24, 2021


Kansas Health Official: COVID Cases Rising Ahead of Holiday

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas health advisor says the coronavirus pandemic is starting to worsen in Kansas again as families prepare to gather over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that health advisor Marci Nielsen blames less mask use and more indoor gatherings. Nielsen said the state is now seeing more than 1,000 cases a day. Nielsen told the governor’s Safer Classrooms Workgroup on Tuesday that the state’s vaccination rate for youth ages 12-17 has consistently been about seven percentage points below the national rate. Fifty-four percent of all Kansans are fully vaccinated, which puts Kansas in the bottom half of all states and territories.


Missouri Judge: Local Health Orders Tied to COVID-19 Are Illegal

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge has ruled that local health orders imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state are illegal and should be lifted. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled that orders such as quarantines and business closures violate the Missouri Constitution’s separation of powers clause affecting the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The lawsuit was filed in 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when St. Louis city, St. Louis County and other jurisdictions were issuing health mandates aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus.


Man Gets Life Sentence for Carjacking, Fatal Wreck in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man has been sentenced to life in prison for a carjacking and an accident that led to the death of another man. Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced the sentence Wednesday for Darren Matthew Johnson. Johnson was convicted in May of charges that included first-degree murder committed during an inherently dangerous felony and aggravated robbery. The carjacking happened on June 22. A short time after the carjacking, police saw the stolen Kia Soul, which sped away before running a red light and colliding head-on with another vehicle. The backseat passenger in the Kia, Ricardo Rodriguez, died at the scene.


Kansas Regulators Want Answers on Evergy's Planned Projects

UNDATED (AP) - Kansas energy regulators are asking whether billions of dollars in planned energy projects by a company serving 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri will lead to unnecessary electric rate increases. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Kansas Corporation Commission on Tuesday ordered Evergy to explain $10.4 billion in expenditures it plans through 2025. The state’s chief utility regulator issued the order after a months-long review of a “sustainability transformation plan” that Evergy announced last year. Evergy has said the plan is needed to improve the reliability of its electric service and to better position the company for the future. Others argue that the plan is designed to boost the company’s stock value to benefit a big stockholder.


Embattled Kansas City Police Chief Says He'll Retire in 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The embattled Kansas City police chief has announced that he is retiring just four days after a white officer on the force was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting of a Black man. Chief Rick Smith, who has faced repeated calls to resign, will retire in 2022. Captain Leslie Foreman, a spokeswoman for the department, made the announcement in a statement Tuesday. She said Smith made a commitment to stay in the position no more than five years when he was hired in August 2017. The announcement followed a city hall meeting earlier in the day with Smith, Mayor Quinton Lucas and the Board of Police Commissioners’ president, Mark Tolbert. The mayor’s office provided no details about the meeting.


Veteran Officer to Lead Topeka Police Department

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man who has spent his entire 27-year law enforcement career with the Topeka Police Department will now lead it. City Manager Brent Trout on Tuesday introduced Bryan Wheeles as the new police chief, effective immediately. He has served as interim chief since January, when Bill Cochran retired. The following month, Cochran took a newly created job as Trout's chief of staff. Wheeles will earn an annual salary of $145,754. He joined the department in 1994 and was named deputy chief in 2017.


Topeka High Mourns Loss of Teacher Found Unresponsive

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka teacher has died after he was found unresponsive in his classroom. WIBW reports that emergency responders were called to Topeka High School just before 8 am Tuesday. They rushed 40-year-old John Keller to an area hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. In an email sent to parents, Principal Rebecca Morrisey confirmed the situation and said the family had requested privacy. The district indicated a mental health team would be available to students in need once they return from holiday break.


No Prison Time for Drunk-Driving Wreck that Killed Man, Son

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man will not go to prison for a 2018 drunk-driving accident that killed an off-duty Wichita police officer and his young son. The Wichita Eagle reports that a judge on Tuesday agreed to a plea agreement recommending three years of probation for James Dalrymple of Valley Center. The victims' family gave their blessing to the sentence. The accident happened April 27, 2018, killing 37-year-old Stacey Woodson and his 10-year-old son, Braeden, who were on a motorcycle. In addition to probation, Dalrymple must pay Woodson's widow $3,375 in restitution, complete 200 hours of community service and attend addiction meetings and a victim's panel.


Ex-Kansas Officer Who Sued Sheriff's Deputy Killed by Police

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas, say a former police detective, who last year sued a sheriff’s deputy for running over him in a rural field, has been fatally shot by a police officer after disarming another officer and pointing the service weapon at both of them. Kansas City Police Chief Karl Oakman says Lionel Womack was killed during the encounter Monday after police received 911 calls about a man standing in a road pointing at the sky and trying to jump in front of traffic. Oakman said Tuesday that the officers had no choice and that the whole incident took place in 26 seconds.


Missouri Man Exonerated in 3 Killings, Free After 4 Decades

UNDATED (AP) — A Kansas City man who was jailed for more than 40 years for three murders has been released from prison after a judge ruled he was wrongfully convicted in 1979. Sixty-two-year-old Kevin Strickland said Tuesday that he would like to get involved in efforts to “keep this from happening to someone else.” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and other legal and political leaders worked to free Strickland because they said evidence used to convict him had been recanted or disproven since his conviction. Attorney General Eric Schmitt fought his release, saying he believes Strickland is guilty. Strickland was convicted in the April 25, 1978, deaths of 21-year-old Larry Ingram, 20-year-old John Walker and 22-year-old Sherrie Black.


Judge Exonerates Kansas City Man Convicted in 3 Killings

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge has ruled that a Kansas City man was wrongfully convicted for three murders and will be released after more than 40 years behind bars. Sixty-two-year-old Kevin Strickland was exonerated on Tuesday. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and other legal and political leaders worked to free Strickland because they said evidence used to convict him had been recanted or disproven since his conviction in 1979. Attorney General Eric Schmitt fought his release, saying he believes Strickland is guilty. Strickland was convicted in the April 25, 1978, deaths of 21-year-old Larry Ingram, 20-year-old John Walker and 22-year-old Sherrie Black. He has always denied any involvement in the murders.


The Missouri Law That Led to Strickland Decision

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A judge’s decision to release longtime inmate Kevin Strickland, of Kansas City, was made possible by a new Missouri law intended to free people who were imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. The law gives local prosecutors the authority to seek hearings asking a judge to free a prisoner if new evidence shows the inmate was wrongfully convicted. The legislation was spurred by the case of a St. Louis man, Lamar Johnson, who has been in prison for 26 years for murder. Lawmakers who crafted the provision in a larger crime bill said prosecutors needed a legal mechanism to present new evidence and free wrongfully convicted prisoners. Judge James Welsh ruled Tuesday that Strickland had been wrongfully convicted.


Suspect in 6 Killings in Kansas and Missouri Pleads Not Guilty to Federal Charge

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A man accused of killing four people in the St. Louis area and two in a Kansas suburb of Kansas City has pleaded not guilty to a federal gun charge. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that 26-year-old Perez Deshay Reed entered the plea Tuesday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. He remains jailed without bond. The federal charge accuses Reed of transporting a gun across state lines with the intent to commit a felony. Reed is accused of fatally shooting two people in St. Louis city, two in St. Louis County and two in Kansas City, Kansas. The shootings prompted the FBI to refer to him as an alleged serial killer.


Widow Frustrated by Lack of Progress in Hit-and-Run Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas widow says she’s still waiting for answers, more than 40 days after her husband was fatally struck in a hit-and-run accident outside of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Steven Hickle of Wichita left the stadium early on October 10. He was struck by two hit-and-run drivers while trying to cross Blue Ridge Cutoff. Laurie Hickle told the Kansas City Star that her last conversation with Kansas City police was several weeks ago when they told her they found one of the vehicles involved. She says she is frustrated that the drivers who may have been responsible for her husband’s death have failed to step forward or cooperated with police.


Omaha Man Critically Injured After Being Struck Near Chiefs Game

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 49-year-old man from Omaha, Nebraska, is hospitalized in critical condition after being struck while crossing a road on the Truman Sports Complex property in Kansas City, Missouri, during a Chiefs game. Police say the man was struck by a Chrysler Sedan Sunday afternoon, about 25 minutes after the start of the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs. The driver stopped at the scene. Last month, 66-year-old Steven Hickle of Wichita, Kansas, was killed when he was struck by two hit-and-run drivers near Arrowhead Stadium. His death prompted a bicycle and pedestrian safety advocacy group to renew calls to make the area safer.


Kansas Special Session Wraps-Up, State Will Help Workers Resist Biden's COVID Vaccine Mandates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will soon make it easy for workers to claim religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine requirements and promise unemployment benefits to people who are fired after refusing the shots. Kansas expects to join other states in resisting federal mandates from President Joe Biden after the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a measure Monday night. Governor Laura Kelly angered some fellow Democrats in the Legislature by promising to sign the GOP's measure. Meanwhile, Republicans frustrated the Kansas Chamber of Commerce by embracing proposals that it opposed. Supporters called it a victory for personal liberty. The votes were 24-11 in the Senate and 77-34 in the House during a one-day special legislative session. (Read more.)

(Additional reporting...)

Kansas GOP Lawmakers OK Helping Workers Defy Federal COVID-19 Mandates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kansas have approved a measure that would make it easy for workers to claim religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The bill approved Monday night also would provide unemployment benefits to people who are fired for refusing the shots. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly said she would sign the bill but most Democratic lawmakers opposed it. They said it was a symbolic measure that won't provide any real protections for workers who refuse to get vaccinated in the face of federal mandates imposed by President Joe Biden. However, Republicans called it a victory for personal liberty. The votes were 24-11 in the Senate and 77-34 in the House. (Read more.)


Man Killed, 2 Kansas Police Officers Injured in Altercation

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a man was killed and two Kansas City, Kansas, police officers were injured in an altercation. Police spokeswoman Nancy Chartrand said police responded Monday afternoon to the city’s Coronado neighborhood after receiving a report that someone was standing in a road looking at the sky and jumping in front of traffic. She said an altercation ensued and a gun was discharged. She said it wasn’t immediately clear who fired the weapon or whether it went off intentionally or accidentally. She said the man who had been the focus of the call died at a hospital. She said two officers also were taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. No other details were immediately released, including the name of the man who died.


Judge Sends Wichita Woman to Prison for Ex-Stepdad’s Murder

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County judge has sentenced a Wichita woman to life in prison for murdering her ex-stepfather during a plot designed to get back at him for allegedly molesting her as a child. Twenty-seven-year-old Micaela L. Spencer was sentenced Tuesday to at least 50 years for murder along with a total of 51 months on other charges connected to the killing of 50-year-old William “Billy” G. Callison in 2019.  Authorities say Spencer and her then-boyfriend, twenty-eight-year-old Royce A. Thomas, lured Callison to his death by promising him sex in exchange for $45 and some marijuana on May 12, 2019. They stabbed him repeatedly with pocket knives after meeting him at his camper.


Man Charged in Hit-and-Run That Killed School Secretary

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man has been charged in a hit-and-run crash that killed a popular secretary at a Kansas City high school. The Kansas City Star reports that Arnold King II was charged Monday with first-degree involuntary manslaughter, leaving the scene of a fatal crash and tampering with a motor vehicle in the September 17 death of 31-year-old Valeria Villa-Alvarado. According to court documents, Kansas City police officers were waiting for a check to be completed on a vehicle that was spotted in an area known for prostitution and drugs when the driver sped off. A dispatcher then told officers that the SUV was stolen from Overland Park. The crash happened minutes later.


Mercer Bailey, Who Spent 47 Years with AP, Dies of Complications from COVID-19

BELTON, Mo. (AP) — Mercer Bailey, whose 47-year career with The Associated Press began with the use of Morse Code and concluded in the early days of the internet, has died of complications from COVID-19. Bailey’s family said he died Saturday at a hospital in Belton, Missouri. He was 94. Bailey was 17 when he joined the AP’s Atlanta bureau in May 1943. His wide-ranging career included a 20-year stint as assistant bureau chief in Kansas City, Missouri, a position he held until his retirement in 1990. In 1981 he got out of a hospital bed to help cover the Hyatt Regency Hotel skywalk collapse that killed 114 people.


Reliever Wade Davis Retires After 13 Major League Seasons

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Free agent pitcher Wade Davis is retiring at age 36 after 13 major league seasons. The three-time All-Star played for the Kansas City Royals in 2021 and helped them win the 2015 World Series title. Davis was 63-55 with a 3.94 ERA and 141 saves in 161 chances for Tampa Bay, Kansas City, the Chicago Cubs and Colorado. He made 88 starts and 469 relief appearances and was an All-Star from 2015-17. His retirement was announced by his agency, Jet Sports.


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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