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Headlines for Wednesday, August 31, 2022



Drought Conditions Trigger Emergency Assistance for Kansas Producers

UNDATED (Kansas Farmer) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture says some Kansas counties now qualify for emergency haying, grazing and other assistance. Kansas Farmer magazine reports that a large portion of western Kansas continues to be classified as being in “exceptional” drought and it doesn’t seem to be easing up any time soon. In the last 60 days, even those areas that may have had near-normal rainfall couldn’t compete with the excessive heat, further drying out the region’s crops. That has resulted in two-thirds of the state suffering from severe, extreme or exceptional drought conditions for eight or more consecutive weeks.  USDA’s Farm Service Agency says emergency assistance is available for farmers and ranchers with livestock , honey bees and farm-raised fish. For more information, contact a local USDA Service Center, or visit fsa.usda.gov/disaster

(Earlier reporting...)

Corn in Kansas, Texas and North Carolina Rated as Worst in Nation this Growing Season

UNDATED (Successful Farming) - Corn farmers in Kansas, Texas and North Carolina have been challenged by drought and more this year. Between the three states, 313 counties have USDA disaster designations. Successful Farming magazine reports that the corn condition in these three states is rated as the worst in the U.S. at this point in the 2022 growing season. In Kansas, 44% of the corn crop is rated in poor to very poor condition. USDA says only 26% of the corn crop is rated in good to excellent condition. Of the state's 105 counties, 68 have USDA disaster designations, mostly because of drought. In mid-August, the U.S. Drought Monitor indicated about 87% of the state was affected by drought conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme and exceptional. Corn harvest is now underway in Kansas.


Solar Flares Could Disrupt GPS Systems Used by Kansas Farmers

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas farmers battered by drought now have more weather to worry about... in outer space. The Kansas News Service reports that solar flares could disrupt the GPS equipment farmers rely on. GPS powers a lot of the technology that runs Kansas farms these days. More than two-thirds of grain farms use satellite guidance to steer their planters and harvesters in the most precise, efficient way possible. But that tech can be disrupted by space weather — specifically solar flares, which are expected to increase in intensity over the next several years. Terry Griffin, an agricultural economist with Kansas State University, says even just two days of disrupted GPS during a critical time could really add up for Midwestern farmers. “It could be easily a billion dollar loss of efficiency," he said.  Griffin says farmers should prepare by coming up with backup plans to keep their farms going without GPS.


Kansas District Settles Lawsuit over Student Pronouns

UNDATED (AP) – A Kansas school district has settled a lawsuit filed by a teacher who was suspended because she refused to use a student's preferred pronouns. Former Fort Riley Middle School math teacher Pamela Ricard sued the Geary County School District in March after she was suspended for three days in the spring of 2021. She said the district refused her request for a religious exemption from its policy on preferred pronouns. She also said she was told not to tell a student's parents about their child's preference if that's what the child wanted. Under the settlement announced Wednesday, the district agreed to pay $95,000 to Ricard, who has retired from the district. 


Fire Heavily Damages Fort Scott Catholic Church

FORT SCOTT, Kan. (KSNW) – The state fire marshal is investigating a fire that heavily damaged a Catholic church in southeast Kansas.  KSNW TV reports that the blaze broke out Monday night at Mary Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Fort Scott. Fire crews from Fort Scott and neighboring communities battled the blaze until early Tuesday morning. One Fort Scott Firefighter sustained a minor injury. He was treated and released from the hospital.  The historic church predates the Civil War.


Kansas Plans to Plug Thousands of Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas will plug thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells over the next several years. The Kansas News Service reports that the federal government is spending billions of dollars to deal with abandoned wells that can leak the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere and pollute groundwater. Kansas gets $25 million to start, but could ultimately get more than double that amount. If so, state officials hope to plug about half of the estimated 11,000 abandoned wells in the state.  Farmers and other landowners continue to find abandoned wells scattered across Kansas. Oil and gas drilling in this region began in the mid-1800s. Often the state doesn’t have any records of where old wells are located.


Kansas Governor: Affordable Housing a Top Priority

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - During a speech in Wichita Tuesday to the annual Kansas Housing Conference, Governor Laura Kelly said affordable housing tops her list of priorities. "This housing shortage is an undeniable barrier to growth for our state," she said. "Only with housing can we attract and retain the workers we need to continue the strong job growth and business investment we've seen over the past few years." Last year, the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation oversaw a statewide housing needs assessment - the first in more than 20 years. It found a shortage of housing for middle-income residents and insufficient investment in preserving and upgrading older housing stock. The legislature passed a bill in May that includes several investments in affordable housing. Among them are state income tax credits for investors in the construction of residential housing.


Search Continues for Inmate Who Walked Away from Kansas Prison

LEAVENWORTH COUNTY, Kan. (Hays Post) — Minimum-custody inmate Michael Shane Stroede has been placed on escape status after it was reported that he walked away from Lansing Correctional Facility on Tuesday. The Hays Post reports the 43-year-old Stroede was reported missing when he could not be located at the minimum-security unit. This walkaway does not impact the security or operations of the medium-maximum secure compound in Lansing. Stroede is serving a nine-year sentence for a 2021 drug conviction in Rice County. Stroede has seven prior convictions that include theft, burglary, drug distribution and criminal damage to property. Stroede is 5-feet-10 inches tall, 180 pounds with Hazel eyes and shaved head. He has several tattoos across his upper body and arms. Anyone with information on Stroede can call the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at (800) 572-7463 or local law enforcement at 911.


KC Police Locate Vehicle Connected to Fatal Hit-and-Run that Killed Teacher, Father of 10

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB)  — Police in Kansas City have located a vehicle they believe is connected to a hit-and-run that killed a math teacher and father of 10 over the weekend. KSHB TV reports that Charlie Criniere died Saturday morning after being hit by a car while biking. Investigators had been searching for a white 2017 to 2020 Acura MDX and located it Tuesday. They're still working to locate the driver. Criniere, who was a math teacher at Martin City K-8 School and father of 10, is remembered by his close friends as a second dad to the children who live in his neighborhood.

(Earlier reporting...)

Family and Friends Mourn Loss of Teacher, Father of 10 Killed in Kansas City Hit-and-Run

KANSAS CITY, Mo (KSHB) — A community of people are grieving the loss of their father, husband, friend, teacher and faith leader. KSHB TV reports that Charlie Criniere was killed in a hit-and-run incident on Saturday while out riding his bike.  The Criniere’s had 10 kids. He taught middle school math at Martin City K8. Police are still searching for the person responsible for Criniere’s death. As of Monday, a GoFundMe page for Criniere’s wife and kids had already raised more than $111,000 of its $150,000 goal.


Kansas Psychiatric Hospital Patient, Employee Charged

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (WDAF) — A patient and an employee at Osawatomie State Hospital are suspected of having a sexual relationship, and face charges after leaving the psychiatric facility together. WDAF TV reports that officers booked 18-year-old Salvador Reyes III into jail.  He was charged Monday afternoon with conspiracy to commit aggravated escape, aggravated escape from custody, and interfering with law enforcement. Officials say 20-year-old Jamey Anderson, who worked at the hospital, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit aggravated escape, aiding in escape, unlawful sexual relations, and obstructing apprehension or prosecution.

The hospital notified the Osawatomie Police Department that Reyes and Anderson were missing around 5:30 Monday morning. The Miami County Sheriff’s Office said video showed Anderson and Reyes leaving the hospital in her Toyota Rav 4. Investigators found the SUV about five hours later near Hillsdale Lake and determined it ran out of gas. Investigators said the pair then tried to walk away. After several reported sightings from the public, officers located Reyes and Anderson in a tree line east of the dam.


Kansas Woman Indicted for Coercing Minor to Produce Child Porn

WICHITA, Kan. (KPR) – A federal grand jury in Wichita has returned an indictment charging a Kansas woman with two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. The charges include production, possession and distribution of child pornography. According to court documents, 34-year-old Brandi Snyder, of Americus, is accused of persuading and coercing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is leading the investigation.


Defense Fund Established for Kansas Men Charged in January 6 Capitol Riot

OLATHE, Kan. (KCUR) - More than 1,000 people have donated about $70,000 to help pay the legal fees of two Kansas Proud Boys charged in the January 6th Capitol riot. The families of Olathe residents William Chrestman and Christopher Kuehne have set a collective goal of $800,000 to pay for legal fees and other expenses. Both men were charged with multiple felonies in connection with their participation in the riot. The families used the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo for their fundraising efforts. Chrestman has been jailed in Washington D.C. since his arrest in February 2021. Kuehne is free on bond.


K-State Entomology Students Win $25,000 for "Best Idea to Feed the World"

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KPR) – A team of entomology students at Kansas State University have captured a $25,000 prize in a contest aimed at tackling one of the world’s most pressing issues: food security. The students proposed an idea that insects could use plastic as a food source, ultimately helping mankind with such challenges as managing the world’s food supply and recycling waste.  Hannah Quellhorst, a K-State doctoral student from Lebanon, Indiana, said insects can be beneficial and they can be pests. "We sought to find a way that insects could help us solve the issue of food insecurity, food waste and plastic contamination in the environment," she said.  A team of nine K-State students and entomology department head Brian McCornack initiated the idea based on an innovation challenge sponsored by Wilbur-Ellis, one of the world’s largest family-owned agribusinesses, as part of that company’s 100-year anniversary.

K-State team member Mollie Toth, a graduate student from Blue Springs, Missouri, kick-started the idea by suggesting that insects can use non-traditional food sources for energy, such as plastics. So, the team went to work: By engineering or selecting bacteria that can degrade plastic and live symbiotically within an insect’s gut, insects could use plastic as a food source. “Food waste – ranging from agricultural production to restaurants – would then be supplemented with plastic waste, and these diverse waste streams become food for insects,” Toth said. “The resulting insects can then be fed to livestock – chickens, cows, fish and more – and insect manure is an excellent source of nutrients for crops.”
In early August, the team’s vision paid dividends when Wilbur-Ellis selected it as the first-ever grand prize winner of its innovation award, termed the Best Idea to Feed the World. The recognition comes with a $25,000 prize. “What’s great about our idea is that we envision it to be scalable from large factories that service metropolitan areas down to the backyard compost where consumers can begin degrading plastics alongside their banana peels,” said team captain Cameron Osborne, a doctoral student from Fresno, California.

A team of K-State students in the Department of Grain Science and Industry won 1 of 4 honorable mention prizes - and a $5,000 award - in the same contest. Their project suggested using ocean agriculture (growing crops and seafood in a large body of water in a fixed location) to reduce the amount of land required for traditional agriculture. 


K-State Offers Free Training Videos to New Teachers

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - Kansas State University is now offering free training videos to the growing number of substitutes and other new teachers. The Kansas News Service reports that teacher shortages mean more substitutes will be leading classrooms this fall. “Teaching 101” is a new series on YouTube produced by K-State's College of Education. In 10 short videos, K-State alumni and some Kansas Teachers of the Year offer advice on topics like managing a classroom and creating lesson plans. The goal is to provide practical tips for people who are leading classrooms but don’t have a degree in education. The videos, which also promote K-State’s online degree programs in education, were produced in response to a statewide teacher shortage.  They are available on the K-State College of Education YouTube channel.


25 Kansas Districts and About 140 in Missouri Have 4-Day School Weeks

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Star) - More public school districts in Kansas and Missouri are now holding classes for only four days a week, a number that has increased in recent years. The Kansas City Star reports that the reasons are varied, ranging from budget constraints to a desire to attract and retain teachers. A total of 25 school districts in Kansas are now operating on a four-day week schedule, representing 56 individual public schools. The total enrollment in these schools is around 4,746 students.  Ann Bush, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Education, said they don’t have specific data on how long Kansas districts have been using a four-day week. “However," she said, "some have been using a four-day week for as many as 20 years, while others are more recent."  An estimated 141 districts in Missouri now operate on this reduced schedule. 2010 was the first year a Missouri district switched to four-day weeks, and the numbers have increased significantly in the past few years. The number for Missouri is an estimate from researchers at the Missouri State University College of Education.


City of De Soto Prepares for Massive Electric Battery Plant

DE SOTO, Kan. (KNS/KCUR) - City leaders in De Soto say they hope to preserve the community’s small-town feel even as it becomes the home to Panasonic’s new, $4 billion electric battery plant. Kansas officials announced in July that Panasonic chose the community of 6,000 for a factory that will manufacture electric vehicle batteries for Tesla and other car makers. City Administrator Mike Brungardt says that before the plant can be built, the city will need to upgrade up to $60 million worth of local infrastructure. But he also says De Soto is concerned about growing its city staff, available workforce and affordable housing. The factory is receiving a significant amount of state tax incentives. Brundgardt says they expect construction to start sometime in 2024 at the site of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.


Kansas Mental Health Hospitals So Overcrowded Patients Wait in Hallways

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) — Patients facing mental health crises are waiting in a Wichita hospital hallway because psychiatric wards are full. The Kansas News Service reports that inmates in the Sedgwick County Jail wait up to a year to get transferred to the Larned State Hospital simply for evaluations. And hospital workers get choked, kicked or yelled at by people who can’t get intensive mental health care. Hospital administrators told lawmakers at a recent hearing that a lack of mental health services and overcrowding puts both patients and health care workers in danger at hospitals in south and central Kansas. “The money we’ve spent and the space we have created has been grossly overwhelmed in recent years with the need,” said Robyn Chadwick, president of the Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Hospital in Wichita. “We do need help.” Chadwick urged lawmakers to expand the capacity of mental health beds in Kansas. She spoke to the Special Committee on Mental Health Beds and said her hospital is stretched thin.

New hospitals are on the horizon. Governor Laura Kelly recently toured the soon-to-be-completed youth facility in Hays. Once it’s completed in January, it will be the state's only facility west of Wichita to offer acute care for kids with severe mental health needs.  Kelly was also in Wichita recently to push for a 50-bed facility in Sedgwick County. Sedgwick County has tried to build a mental health hospital since 2018, but nothing has materialized. The state has allocated $15 million for the hospital and Kelly wants to see another $25 million in COVID relief funds sent toward the project. Sedgwick County applied for $40 million in federal economic stimulus money for construction. “It’s essential,” Kelly said, “It’s overdue, and we don’t have time to wait.”

State officials said the Larned State Hospital could take in more people, but the hospital lacks the staff to expand its capacity.  Kelly recommended lawmakers create tuition forgiveness programs or offer in-state tuition to out-of-state health students. ( Read more.)  


Wanted Missouri Fugitive Captured in Kansas

CHEROKEE COUNTY, Kan. (KOAM) – A Missouri Fugitive has been arrested after a police pursuit in Kansas. KOAM TV reports that Cherokee County sheriff's deputies were searching an area for the fugitive, 39-year-old Larry Flowers, on Saturday. Just after noon, a deputy spotted Flowers driving a white Ford truck north of Riverton.  Flowers fled when the deputy attempted to stop him.  Another sheriff’s deputy successfully deployed a tire deflation device east of Columbus.  Flowers however, continued to flee, eventually going into Crawford County. As the pursuit came to an end, he rammed a Crawford County patrol unit before veering off the roadway. Flowers was taken into custody and deputies located and seized methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia inside the vehicle. Flowers was transported to the Cherokee County Jail on 14 outstanding warrants for his arrest, including felony aggravated crimes in Missouri.  Flowers now faces additional charges in Cherokee and Crawford Counties in Kansas.


Haskell Indian Art Market Returns for First Time Since 2019

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - The Haskell Indian Art Market is set to return for the first time since 2019. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the popular market, which sells Native American arts and crafts, is back this year after a pandemic hiatus. The market will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Haskell Pow Wow Grounds. Steff Fernando, the Haskell Indian Art Market coordinator, told the Journal-World that the event helps student organizations earn money. The market plays host to vendors selling jewelry, paintings, pottery, sculptures, beaded items, food and more. The market also traditionally includes powwow-style dance performances on both days, and those performances will return this year. The market is open from 10 am to 6 pm Saturday and from 10 am to 4 pm Sunday. Admission and parking are free.


Sunderland Foundation Grants $2 Million to LMH Health Foundation

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) – The Kansas City-based Sunderland Foundation has granted $2 million to LMH Health Foundation in support of the Lawrence hospital's initiative to expand and update its cancer center. The LMH Health Foundation previously announced its intent to seek philanthropic support to update the cancer center’s space and expand its square footage. Previously, the Sunderland Foundation provided a $2 million gift to LMH Health to support the hospital's West Campus expansion, and a number of other important projects. More than $6.1 million in philanthropic support has been given or pledged to date toward the hospital's cancer center initiative. The Sunderland Foundation was established in 1945 by Lester T. Sunderland, who served as president of the Ash Grove Cement Company for 33 years.


Big 12 Looks to Potential Early Extension of Media Rights

IRVING, Texas (AP) — The changing Big 12 Conference plans to have discussions with ESPN and Fox about a potential early extension of its media rights deal. The current deal goes through the 2024-25 academic year. New Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark says with the changing landscape of college athletics, the league welcomes the opportunity to determine if an early extension is in the best interest of all parties. Oklahoma and Texas are set to leave for the Southeastern Conference at the end of the Big 12's current deal. Football independent BYU, along with American Athletic Conference schools Cincinnati, Houston and UCF join the current 10-team Big 12 next summer.


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. And follow  KPR News on Twitter.