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Headlines for Wednesday, October 6, 2021

 

U.S. Marshals Arrest Lawrence Man Accused of Murder; Suspect Apprehended in Tennessee

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The Lawrence Police Department says a 19-year-old man accused of murder has been apprehended in Tennessee. The U.S. Marshals Service arrested 19-year-old Andrel Darnell Spates, Jr., of Lawrence, for suspicion of first-degree murder in the death of 21-year-old Christian Willis. Willis was killed September 8 in Lawrence (in the 1500 Block of Kentucky Street). Authorities say Spates will be transported to the Douglas County Jail pending an extradition hearing in Tennessee.

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Topeka Police Investigate Suspicious Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police say the death of a person in Topeka appears to be suspicious. Officers were called to a North Topeka neighborhood near the riverfront Tuesday evening to check on the welfare of a person. Arriving officers found an unresponsive person at the scene. Paramedics pronounced the person dead a short time later. Police did not reveal the person's identity or give any details about the death, other than to say the death is considered suspicious and is being investigated.

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Judge: Kansas City's Plan to Divert Police Funds Was Illegal

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge has ruled that Kansas City officials violated state law when they moved toward shifting 18% of the police department’s budget into community services. Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Campbell sided Tuesday with a five-member state board overseeing the police department’s budget and operations. The Kansas City Star reported that the police board's lawsuit over funding argued that once the City Council determined in March how much to allocate to the department, it couldn’t change it later under state law. The City Council voted in May to shift $42.3 million into a special fund that could be used for community services.

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Missouri Man Executed for Killing 3 Convenience Store Workers in 1994 Robbery

BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man has been put to death for killing three workers while robbing a convenience store nearly three decades ago. The execution was carried out over objections from racial justice activists, lawmakers and even the pope. Ernest Johnson died from an injection of pentobarbital at the state prison in Bonne Terre. The state moved ahead despite a clemency request from the pope and despite claims by Johnson’s attorney that doing so would violate the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits executing intellectually disabled people. In addition to low IQ scores, Johnson had fetal alcohol syndrome and lost brain tissue when a benign tumor was removed 13 years ago.

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Kansas Governor Bypasses Lawmakers, Creates Child Advocate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Laura Kelly has created an independent office to review complaints against the Kansas foster care system and recommend changes in child welfare policies. Her order establishing the new agency fulfills a longtime goal of advocates for abused and neglected children. The Democratic governor’s move to create the office by executive order also bypasses the Republican-controlled Legislature. It deadlocked on the issue earlier this year after some lawmakers pushed to put the new office under the state attorney general. Some Democrats saw that as a partisan move because Attorney General Derek Schmidt is widely expected to be the GOP nominee challenging Kelly next year.

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Missouri State Officials Grilled over Report on Missing Foster Kids

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri state lawmakers are seeking answers after a federal investigation found that nearly 1,000 foster children went missing in 2019, and at least one was sex-trafficked. A House committee on Tuesday grilled social services administrators. The report says Missouri doesn't do enough to identify at-risk kids, take steps to prevent them from running away or find them once they go missing. Missouri officials say state workers might have done more to find the children but just didn't document their efforts. Republican state Rep. Dottie Bailey of Eureka called the report's findings “disturbing.”

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Missouri, Kansas College Students Protest Sexual Assaults

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Students gathered Tuesday at college campuses in Missouri and Kansas to protest sexual assaults. The Kansas City Star reports that a demonstration at the University of Missouri's flagship campus in Columbia drew a crowd of at least 100 people. Another 40 protested at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In Kansas, about two dozen people gathered outside of Strong Hall at the University of Kansas. The demonstration, organized by a group called Strip Your Letters, was the fourth held at the school since a woman told Lawrence police last month she'd been raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house during a party. Students also called for change at Kansas State University.

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UPDATE: Woman Shot by Wichita Police Released from Hospital

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A woman who was shot and wounded by police at a Wichita grocery store has been released from the hospital and taken to jail. The Wichita Eagle reports that 31-year-old Danielle Robinson, of Salina, was booked Tuesday on three counts of aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and one count of aggravated robbery. Wichita police Captain Jason Stephens said two officers were dispatched Monday night to a Whole Foods store in response to reports of a woman with a gun. He said she was shot after she refused to drop her weapon and fired at officers.

(Earlier reporting...)

Wichita Police Shoot, Wound Armed Woman at Grocery Store

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say officers have shot and wounded an armed woman at a Wichita grocery store. The Wichita Eagle reports that officers rushed to a Whole Foods store after receiving a report that someone was in the parking lot with a gun. They spotted the woman crouched down in the store entrance with the firearm upon arriving and fired shots at her. Police said she then retreated inside the store where there were shoppers and staff. Officers followed, and she was hit by at least one bullet. Police described her injuries as non-life threatening. No shoppers were hurt.

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Audit: Cybersecurity Weak for Many Kansas School Districts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new legislative audit says that many Kansas school districts aren’t taking basic steps to protect their computer systems and the privacy of sensitive information collected about students. The report released Tuesday by the Legislature’s auditing agency based its conclusions on a survey sent to the state’s 286 local school districts, with 147, or 51% responding. The audit said that more than a quarter of the school districts surveyed didn’t have antivirus software on all computers. The auditors said that only 34% of districts said they scanned computers for vulnerabilities at least once a month, while 35% said they never did it.

(-Related-)

Kansas County Spends over $70,000 to End Cyberattack

WESTMORELAND, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas county paid more than $70,000 to end a cyberattack that crippled its computer systems for about two weeks. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the attackers had demanded more than $1 million. But Pottawatomie County administrator Chad Kinsley said the county told the hackers that it was small, with just about 25,000 residents, and couldn’t even come close to meeting their demand. The county said in a news release that it instead paid $71,250 to the attackers and $356 in exchange fees.

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Kansas Looks to Extend Medicaid Eligibility to Cover Maternal Health

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas health officials are looking into making a temporary change in Medicaid eligibility rules permanent to reduce postpartum deaths. State health officials are looking for ways to help new mothers suffering from postpartum depression and other health problems and say those issues disproportionately affect minorities and low-income women. In Kansas, where nearly 40% of births are covered by Medicaid, that means tens of thousands of women are at risk. Federal changes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily reduced those risks by extending Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to a full year. The director of the state’s Medicaid program says that could reduce postpartum deaths, because about one in four new mothers covered by the extension developed problem conditions more than two months after giving birth. 

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Solemn Ceremony Aims to Remember Victims of Lynching in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition will conduct a special Soil Collection Ceremony Saturday under the Kansas River bridge, on the south bank of the Kansas River, near Lawrence City Hall. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. The public is invited to witness the event, which includes the filling of glass jars with soil from where three Black men - Isaac King, George Robertson and Pete Vinegar - were lynched from the bridge on June 10, 1882.  This soil was collected by the Coalition earlier in September and has been drying to prepare it for placement in jars that will become a permanent memorial at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a national lynching memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Speakers on Saturday will include retired Pastor, Rev. Verdell Taylor Jr, of St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church. Representatives of the Lawrence Black community will fill the jars with soil, some of which will be sent to Watkins Museum of History. The ceremony can be accessed by driving along the gravel road on the north side of 6th and Kentucky. Signs will be posted, and limited parking is available. Social distancing and masking guidelines will be in place. (Read more.)

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Procedural Hearing Set for Missouri Man Seeking Exoneration

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A hearing about procedural issues is scheduled for Friday in the case of a Kansas City man who is seeking to be exonerated in a triple murder committed more than 40 years ago. Judge James Welsh scheduled the hearing Tuesday during his first case management conference after being assigned the case of Kevin Strickland. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker announced in May that new evidence indicated that Strickland did not commit the murders. The purpose of Friday’s hearing is to determine what evidence can be admitted into court during a future hearing that will determine if Strickland should be freed. Welsh also will rule on the role the attorney general should play in the case.

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Lee's Summit Students Walk Out over Alleged LGBTQ Bullying

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — Hundreds of students at a suburban Kansas City high school walked out of class this week over allegations of LGBTQ students facing repeated harassment and bullying. Students tell the Kansas City Star that Lee's Summit High School administrators have done nothing to protect bullied students, even after receiving repeated reports of the bullying. And the mother of one student says her daughter was punched in the face last week by a boy after confronting him about harassing and bullying her gay friend. The mother, Melanie Davies, says the incident led to a fight between bullying students and the students being bullied, and that the bullied students were suspended along with the bullies. A district spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the alleged bullying or fight.

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Fed up by Pandemic, U.S. Food Workers Launch Rare Strikes

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A summer of labor unrest at U.S. food manufacturers has stretched into fall. Around 1,400 workers at Kellogg Co.’s U.S. cereal plants walked off the job this week. In Kentucky, a strike by 420 workers against Heaven Hill Distillery is in its fourth week. The actions come on top of strikes this summer by Frito-Lay and Nabisco workers. Labor experts say pandemic gave food workers a rare upper hand. Labor shortages make it difficult to replace them, and the pandemic put a spotlight on their essential – and sometimes dangerous – work.

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2 Southern Missouri Men Charged in Kidnapping of Woman Photographed Nude in Cage

WINDYVILLE, Mo. (AP) — Two southern Missouri men have been charged in the kidnapping of a woman missing since July after photos of her, nearly naked and apparently locked in a cage, were found on one of their phones. Fifty-eight-year-old James Phelps and 56-year-old Timothy Norton have been in jail since mid-September on a kidnapping charge in the disappearance of Cassidy Rainwater. Their attorneys didn’t immediately return Associated Press phone messages Tuesday seeking comment. The Springfield News-Leader reports that Phelps told police in August that Rainwater had been staying on his property while she “got back on her feet.” But he said she left in the middle of the night, possibly to go to Colorado. The photos of Rainwater were later discovered on Phelps' phone.

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Local Governments Struggle to Hire Public Sector Workers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Some local Kansas governments are operating with 10% of their positions unfilled, making it hard to deliver the services that citizens expect. Across the state, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that Kansas has seen a 4.7% drop in the number of public sector workers, which translates into about 12,000 vacant jobs, but some towns are being hit harder. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the pandemic has made the situation worse because the competitive labor market makes it hard to replace older employees who decided to retire. And private companies, which are also struggling to hire, have more flexibility in pay and benefits than city governments generally do. 

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Prairie Village Advances Ban on ‘Conversion Therapy’

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. (AP/KPR) — A Prairie Village City Council committee has advanced a proposed ban on conversion therapy, which will now be considered as an ordinance before the full city council. The goal of conversion therapy is to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The Shawnee Mission Post reports that the council had directed city staff to draft an ordinance similar to the one adopted last year in Roeland Park, which prohibits mental health professionals from using conversion therapy. If the committee’s proposal is adopted, violators would be charged up to $1,000 fine, but would not face jail time. The controversial practice has also been banned in Lawrence and Kansas City.

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New Rules on Missouri Abortion Clinics Set to Take Effect

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - More rules on Missouri abortion clinics are set to take effect. Additional regulations on pelvic exams and record keeping at abortion clinics are set to take effect on October 13. The regulations also require the health department to refer rule violations to state Medicaid funding auditors. Missouri Republicans have been trying for years to block all Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, which already is banned from using public funds for most abortions. State senators last week recommended that the state health department and Medicaid auditors share inspection information, similar to the new agency rules. 

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Natural Gas Prices Expected to Remain High Through Winter

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Natural gas prices are more than double what they were at this time last year and experts predict prices will remain high through the winter. Utility companies pass the cost of natural gas directly on to their customers. As the price of wholesale natural gas increases, so will the fee Kansas utilities charge every month. For Kansas Gas Service customers that fee this month is $5.67 per thousand cubic feet of gas used. Last October, it was $3.76. Other large gas utilities such as Atmos Energy and Black Hills Energy have made similar increases. The price could remain high all winter. If it does, some people could see their monthly bill increase by as much as $30 to $40 dollars compared to last year. 

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Former Missouri Congressman Todd Akin Dies

WILDWOOD, Mo. (AP) _ Former Republican U.S. Representative Todd Akin of Missouri has died. Akin's family released a statement announcing that the former congressman died late Sunday at age 74 from cancer. Akin's comment in 2012 that women's bodies have a way of avoiding pregnancies in cases of "legitimate rape'' sunk his bid for the U.S. Senate that year and became a cautionary tale for other GOP candidates. He represented a Republican-leaning eastern Missouri district that included St. Louis-area suburbs for 12 years before running for the Senate. His career was overshadowed by the outrage from the post-primary comment in a television interview after he was asked whether he would support allowing abortions in cases of rape. 

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USDA Issues New Loan Program for Meat Producers

ROLLA, Mo. (HPM) _ The U.S. Department of Agriculture is allocating another $100 million for a program designed to improve supply chains for meat and poultry processing. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed that the U.S. lacks adequate meat processing capacity in a health or economic crisis. That has meant less grocery-ready meat and higher prices. The USDA hopes the loan guarantees will help build new meat processing plants and storage facilities and expand existing plants. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says it will stabilize the country’s food supply. “I think it’s going to create a sense of confidence in the supply chain, which hopefully, will result in fair returns for our producers, and fair prices at the checkout counter for our consumers," he said. The USDA will roll out details on how to apply for the money by the end of October. 

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Child COVID-19 Vaccination Rates Lag in Many Kansas Counties

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Data from the Kansas health officials show that some counties are seeing youth vaccination rates for COVID-19 far below the national average. A school pandemic workgroup received information from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment this week showing that in about a quarter of the state’s counties, less than 20% of vaccine-eligible children, aged 12 to 17, had received at least one vaccine dose as of September 24. U.S. regulators in May expanded the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as 12. The national vaccination rate for youth is 57%.

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Man Sentenced to More than 5 Years in Prison for Setting Kansas City Church Fire

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A man has been sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for setting fire to a Kansas City church last year. Federal prosecutors in Missouri say 39-year-old Christopher Durant, of Kansas City, Missouri, has been sentenced to 63 months in federal prison after pleading guilty in April to one count of arson. Prosecutors say Durant set fire to Beyond Thee Four Walls Ministries on August 26, 2020, days after he had approached church staff asking for water and was turned away. Investigators say surveillance video showed Durant breaking church windows with chunks of asphalt, then placing burning objects inside the church through a mail slot and the broken windows. 

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Two Killed in Small Plane Crash in Western Missouri

WARRENSBURG, Mo. (AP) _ Officials in western Missouri say two people have died in an ultralight plane crash. Television station KCTV reports that the crash happened late Sunday morning northwest of Warrensburg. County fire officials say the two people killed were the only ones aboard the ultralight aircraft. Officials have not released the victims' names. An investigation into the crash is underway.  

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Shooting Death in Geary County Investigated as Homicide

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Sheriff's deputies in northeastern Kansas have identified the victim of a fatal shooting over the weekend as 22-year-old Enfinnity Latania Hayes of Fort Riley. Topeka television station KSNT reports that deputies were called Sunday night to a hospital in Junction City where a person with gunshot wounds had been brought. The Geary County Sheriff's Office says the person later. The shooting is being investigated as a homicide. The Geary County Sheriff’s Office says the shooting was believed to have taken place at the Milford State Park.

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Corps of Engineers Considers Nature-Based Flood Control

UNDATED (AP) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is known for working against nature by damming rivers and building levees to keep waterways at bay. But a new initiative seeks natural flood control solutions as climate change brings increasingly frequent and severe weather events that test the limits of concrete and steel. The head of the initiative says it makes sense to use all available tools to combat flooding and destruction from intense rains, storms and sea level rise. But the Corps is often constrained by its own rules and the way it evaluates the costs and benefits of projects it undertakes.

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Kansas Farmers Making Progress Harvesting Their Fall Crops

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Fall harvest is well underway in Kansas with farmers already bringing in more than half of this year’s corn crop. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that 51% of the corn crop has been cut, well ahead of the 43% average for this time of year. Kansas growers have also harvested 19% of their sorghum crop, along with 14% of the soybean and 10% of the sunflower crops.

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Remaining, Renewed and New Big 12 Rivalries After Red River

UNDATED (AP) — The Big 12 will still have some longstanding rivalries once Texas and Oklahoma split for the Southeastern Conference. Century-old games like Kansas versus Kansas State and Baylor versus TCU remain. There is also Farmageddon between Iowa State and Kansas State that will be played for the 105th season in a row October 16. That is the same day Baylor hosts No. 10 BYU. The Cougars, fifth-ranked Cincinnati, Central Florida and Houston will be Big 12 teams within two to three seasons.

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Blood Donations Urgently Needed; American Red Cross Reports Worst Blood Shortage Since 2015

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The American Red Cross is experiencing an emergency blood shortage, the worst in six years. A sharp drop in blood donor turnout has contributed to the lowest post-summer blood inventory level since 2015.  In some areas, the blood inventory is less than a day's supply. Officials say they must collect 10,000 additional blood products each week over the next month for the blood supply to recover and meet hospital and patient needs. Donors of all blood types are needed, but especially those with type O blood.  The blood shortage is now so severe that the Red Cross is giving away prizes to those who donate. Those who give blood soon could get a limited-edition, football-inspired Red Cross T-shirt, free haircut coupons from Sport Clips and a coupon for a free Zaxby’s® chicken Sandwich or other freebies.  More information is available at RedCrossBlood.org (Read more.)

To Make an appointment to give blood or platelets, use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call (800) RED CROSS (800-733-2767). 

Find a list of area blood drives.

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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 a.m. weekdays. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today!  

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