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Headlines for Friday, September 23, 2022



DA: Topeka Police Officers Justified in Man's Shooting Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay says three Topeka police officers were justified when they shot and killed a man in June. Kagay said 38-year-old Christopher Kelley, was shot when he charged at the officers with a knife after threatening an employee at a BNSF property in Topeka. Police Chief Bryan Wheeles said Kelley, a Black man, struggled with mental health issues and cut himself several times before he charged at the officers. Kagay said in a news release that officers tried to negotiate with Kelley for about an hour and used less lethal means before Kelley charged at them.


Poll: Half of Voters Are Focused on the Economy in Kansas Governor's Race

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (KNS) - A new poll on the Kansas governor’s race shows about half of voters are focused largely on the economy. A new KSN and The Hill poll conducted by Emerson College shows 48% of Kansans see the economy as the biggest issue. The state has a historically low unemployment rate. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is touting that, and the state’s $4 billion deal for a Panasonic battery factory. But Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, says Republican Derek Schmidt is trying to attach Kelly to the national economy, like the rising rate of inflation. “He can chip away at her Kansas economy strengths by melding Kansas in with national politics," Beatty said. The polling shows Kelly and Schmidt are neck and neck. Election day is November 8.


Kansas Livestock Association Backs Democratic Candidate for Attorney General

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (KNS) - A major Kansas agriculture group is endorsing Democrat Chris Mann for state attorney general over Republican candidate Kris Kobach. The Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) generally endorses Republicans. But it is again supporting Kobach’s opponent. The KLA supported state Senator Kellie Warren in the Republican primary when she was challenging Kobach. In a statement released this week, the group said it is now backing Mann because he is focused on state issues, such as livestock theft. The Kansas News Service reports that Kobach has crafted a political brand on national issues like immigration and voter fraud. After winning the GOP primary, Kobach said endorsements don’t dictate voters choices. Election day is November 8.


Former Topeka Area Teacher and Coach Gets Maximum 30-Year Sentence for Child Pornography

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - Describing his crimes as "alarming," a federal judge Thursday gave the maximum prison sentence of 30 years to former Seaman High School teacher and coach Jeffrey D. Pierce for producing child pornography. The T opeka Capital-Journal reports that 43-year-old Pierce hung his head after the sentence was pronounced by U.S. District Judge Toby Crouse.  Pierce had admitted in a plea agreement that while pretending to be a teenage girl, he asked nine male youths over social media to send him sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves. The plea agreement allowed Pierce to plead guilty to one count of producing child pornography in exchange for the dismissal of 11 other federal charges. Pierce taught ninth-grade social studies and was an assistant basketball coach at Seaman. He was fired after he was arrested in September 2020. ( Read more.)


Former Olathe Teacher and Coach Charged with Unlawful Sexual Relations Involving Student

OLATHE, Kan. (KMBC) — A former teacher and coach at Olathe Northwest High School has been charged in an incident reportedly involving sex with a student. KMBC TV reports that 47-year-old Steven A. Mesa has been charged with three counts of unlawful sexual relations with an individual over the age of 16, dating back to incidents that were alleged to have happened between July 1 and August 26, 2022. According to a spokesperson with Olathe Public Schools, Mesa had been employed by the district for 21 years.  After learning of allegations against Mesa last month, the district placed Mesa on leave, referred the matter to police, and recommended Mesa's termination. A Board of Education agenda shows Mesa's termination was effective September 1.


Missouri Substitute Teacher Accused of Sending Pornographic Messages to Kids

BELTON, Mo. (KC Star) - A substitute teacher for the Belton, Missouri, School District was arrested Tuesday for allegedly sending inappropriate text messages to children. The Kansas City Star reports that 42-year-old Jason L. Carey was charged with enticement or attempted enticement of a child, second-degree child molestation and two counts of furnishing or attempting to furnish pornographic material to a minor. A student at Belton Middle School reported to a school resource officer that Carey had sent inappropriate social media messages and videos. Investigators say Carey allegedly sent inappropriate messages to other children as well. Carey is being held in the Cass County Jail without bail. ( Read more.)


Crews Battle Fires at Mobile Home Park near Douglas County Fairgrounds

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - A blaze broke out Thursday night in a mobile home park in east Lawrence, displacing several residents. Firefighters arrived shortly before midnight Thursday to battle a mobile home fire near the Douglas County Fairgrounds. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the fire spread to other homes in the area. All affected residents escaped the flames. The mobile home park is located largely north and east of the Lawrence Humane Society building.


3 Kansas City-Area Business Owners Accused of Wiring Drug Money to Mexico

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB) — Three Kansas City area business owners are among 44 people who've been indicted on a drug trafficking conspiracy worth $4.7 million. KSHB TV reports that the indictments were announced Thursday. The three are accused of laundering money related to the drug trafficking of meth and heroin. Federal agents believe they transferred the money through their businesses on behalf of a drug trafficking organization based in Michoacán, Mexico.

The three named in this latest indictment are Ana Lilia Leal-Martinez, Ana Poala Banda and Maria de Lourdes Carbajal, who all own money wiring businesses. Leal-Martinez is the owner of Imagen Leal located in Olathe, Banda owns La Bendicion 2 in Kansas City, Kansas, and Carbajal owns Azteca Imports located in Overland Park. The trio is accused of participating in the conspiracy from February 2020, to June 2022.


3 Kansas Restaurants Close then Reopen After Their Assets Were Seized for Failing to Pay Taxes
TOPEKA (KSNT) – Three Mexican-style restaurants in Clay Center, Wamego and Manhattan were temporarily closed this week by the Kansas Department of Revenue for nonpayment of retail sales taxes. Collectively, the three restaurants owed more than $63,000 in sales taxes. The KDOR seized assets including known bank accounts, on-site cash, business inventory and personal property belonging to the owners. All three locations were later reopened after an acceptable payment agreement was reached.
KSNT reports that the three restaurants with tax warrants executed against them were Viva La Fiesta of Wamego Mexican Cantina, La Fiesta of Manhattan and Viva La Fiesta Mexican Cantina in Clay Center. All three locations are listed as belonging to Juan C. Hernandez and Guillermo Hernandez.


Art in the Park, St. John’s Oktoberfest Among Lawrence Events this Weekend

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - It's a weekend packed with events and activities in Lawrence this weekend. Among them, Art in the Park and St. John’s Oktoberfest. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Art in the Park will be held Saturday and Sunday in South Park. The St. John Oktoberfest will be held Saturday. Visitors can enjoy German food, beer, music and dancing in the St. John parking lot. The menu includes bratwurst, schnitzel, bierocks and more.


Poll Shows Kansas Governor's Race Neck-and-Neck, Attorney General's Race Also Close

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A new poll shows the race for Kansas governor is a virtual dead heat between Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly and Republican challenger Derek Schmidt. The Emerson College poll has Kelly leading Schmidt 45% to 43%, a difference within the poll’s 3% margin of error, with 4% favoring someone else and 8% of voters still undecided. Perhaps more telling is that Kelly appears to be leading three-to-two (46% to 30%) among independent voters. The heated race for Kansas attorney general is also very close. Republican Kris Kobach leads Democrat Chris Mann 41% to 39%, with 16% undecided. Asked for their top priorities in the election, now less than seven weeks away, nearly half of those polled said the economy was their biggest issue, followed by abortion access, health care and immigration.

(– Related–) 

Governors' Races Take on New Prominence, with Higher Stakes

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Governors' races often are overshadowed by the fight for control of Congress during midterm elections. But this fall, the nation’s political future hangs just as much on governors' mansions as it does on Capitol Hill. With abortion rights, immigration policies and democracy itself in the balance, both parties are entering the final weeks before the November 8 election prepared to spend unprecedented amounts of money to win state executive offices. Those elected will be in power for the 2024 election, when they could influence voting laws as well as certification of the outcome.


Nearly 600,000 Borrowers in Kansas Could Qualify for Student Debt Relief

UNDATED (KNS/KCUR) - The White House has released data showing the Biden Administration’s student debt relief plan will benefit borrowers across the country, including nearly 600,000 borrowers in Kansas. A set of state-by-state data shows that hundreds of thousands of Kansas residents are eligible for student loan forgiveness. An estimated 361,000 borrowers are eligible for up to $10,000 in debt relief. An additional 226,000 Pell Grant recipients are eligible for up to $20,000. Kansas City attorney James Boyce, who assists student loan borrowers, says being eligible doesn’t automatically mean people will get relief. “I think the one thing that people need to keep in mind is that... forgiveness is not necessarily gonna' be automatic. You’re gonna have to submit an application," he said. "According to what we’ve been told, that will open sometime in October.” The Department of Education will release additional details on the application process in the coming weeks.


BNSF Wants Rail Accident Victims to Use Arbitration

UNDATED (AP) –  BNSF Railway says in a federal lawsuit that victims of an Amtrak derailment in Missouri should be required to seek settlements through arbitration, rather than filing lawsuits. Four people died and dozens more were injured when an Amtrak train collided with a pickup truck near Mendon, Missouri, on June 27. BNSF owns the railroad tracks used by Amtrak. BNSF says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that victims who bought tickets agreed to terms and conditions that include binding arbitration agreements. The company also is seeking to have any lawsuits filed in state court delayed until the federal court rules on the arbitration issue. 


Missouri County Settles Underwire Bra Jail Dispute for $405,000

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri county has agreed to pay $405,000 to settle two lawsuits filed after some underwire bras set off metal detectors at a jail. The Jackson County Legislature agreed this week to pay that amount to two long-time employees of the county's detention center. The dispute began in 2019, when metal detectors were installed. Some underwire bras set off the detectors. Changes were eventually made for female defense attorneys and visitors but not for female jail employees. Two employees sued, saying they were reprimanded and given duties outside the secure area after repeatedly failing to pass the screening machine.


Emporia State University Cuts Faculty Jobs, Including Tenured Positions

EMPORIA, Kan. (KNS) - Emporia State University has laid off at least 33 employees, including tenured faculty. The move comes in response to declining enrollment. The Kansas News Service reports that the job cuts have stirred a revolt on campus. But Emporia State's actions could have implications for other state schools, as all universities are trying to hold the line on hiking student tuition rates. ( Learn more.)


Kansas Schools Start Stocking Narcan to Combat Overdoses

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - A rise in fentanyl deaths among young people is prompting more Kansas schools to stock a medicine used to treat overdoses. The Kansas News Service reports that most school districts in the Kansas City area are arming school nurses or administrators with Narcan, a nasal spray used to treat suspected opioid overdoses. The Blue Valley school board voted recently to stock the drug in high schools and to train employees to administer it. James Adams is a board member for the Seaman school district in Topeka, where officials have proposed stocking Narcan. He says schools have to consider the emergency treatment to save lives. “It’s a sad thing we have to do, but I looked it up today and it’s all over the internet," he said.  "I mean, type in ‘Narcan space schools’ — a billion results.” Narcan is designed to quickly treat potential overdoses but has no effect on people who don’t have opioids in their system.


KU Still Has Native American Remains, Cultural Artifacts

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - A federal database shows that The University of Kansas has hundreds of Native American remains and cultural objects in the school’s possession. The Kansas News Service reports that school officials are pledging to return the artifacts to tribal nations. Congress passed a law more than 30 years ago that requires colleges and museums to return Native American artifacts to tribal nations. The Lawrence Times reports that a federal database shows KU has human remains from at least 380 people and more than 550 funeral objects still in its collections. Most are stored in a building on campus that houses KU’s Indigenous Studies program. A statement from KU officials says the university made efforts to repatriate items in the past, but that effort was never completed. The university says it's now working with members of the Native American community and outside consultants to return the remains and other objects.


Kansas Inmates: Medical Care Behind Bars Threatens Their Health

LANSING, Kan. (KNS/TCJ) - Kansas prisons have struggled to offer quality medical care in recent years. The state says it’s satisfied with its new health contractor, but inmates say the medical care is so poor it threatens their health. The state's prison medical provider, Centurion of Kansas, has been fined almost 5,000 times for compliance issues. Dozens of current and former inmates in the Kansas prison system told the Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal that their medical care threatens their health. Complaints touch nearly every area of medical care. Delivery of medications can be delayed and even if the medicine comes, inmates say, they are sometimes given treatments that trigger allergic reactions. Meanwhile, cancer screenings and checkups get missed, and if inmates are unhappy with their care, some struggle to get a second opinion.

Prison medical care has been a perennial complaint from prisoners in Kansas. The system ditched its old provider in 2020. It hoped its new medical services contractor, Centurion of Kansas, would usher in an era of better care, but, as one inmate put it, “They will let someone die in here before they try to help.”

The Department of Corrections insists it’s satisfied with the care Centurion provides, pointing out that monthly informal complaints about medical care have dropped considerably from December 2021 to August 2022, dipping from 281 to 32 and saying formal audits of the contractor also show improvement. ( Read more.)


KU Med Snags Major NIH Grant 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KU Medical Center/KPR) – The University of Kansas Medical Center announced that it has received a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health. The money will fund the Frontiers Clinical and Translational Science Institute at KU. The five-year, nearly $27 million grant will be administered by the KU Medical Center and is part of a regional initiative with investigators at KU Med and Children's Mercy Kansas City. The money will be used to support developing research projects focused on traditionally underserved areas, including rural communities in Kansas. It will also be used to train researchers, accelerate health care research projects, and make the results of those research projects more accessible to patients and scientists. Other partners who will benefit from the grant include Kansas State University, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Saint Luke's Health System.

Officials: More than 315,000 Attend 2022 Kansas State Fair

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KPR) - About 33,000 more people attended this year's Kansas State Fair than last year.  Officials say 315,273 people went through the gates in Hutchinson this year. That's up from the 282,000 fairgoers last year. The 2023 Kansas State Fair is scheduled for September 8-17.


Saturday's KU / Duke Football Game in Lawrence Is Sold Out; K-State Heads to Oklahoma

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Saturday’s Kansas-Duke football game is officially sold out. It's the first sell-out for a KU football game since November 2019. The Jayhawks are 3-0 for the first time since 2009. Kick-off is set for 11 am. Meanwhile, the Kansas State Wildcats travel to Norman, Oklahoma, to take on the undefeated Sooners. Kickoff is set for 7 pm Saturday.


Kansas City Chiefs Roll with Darius Harris in Indy as Willie Gay Begins Suspension

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — After losing Willie Gay Jr. to a four-game suspension for an off-the-field situation earlier this year, the Chiefs are leaning on Darius Harris to fulfill his spot in the middle of their defense on Sunday in Indianapolis. Harris has been an important special teams contributor, but has otherwise shuffled between the 53-man roster and the practice squad during three years in Kansas City. He will be tasked along with Nick Bolton in stopping Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, one of the best in the league at his position.


Kansas Public Radio Searches for New Statehouse Bureau Chief

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Public Radio (KPR), at the University of Kansas, is seeking a new  Statehouse Bureau Chief.  This position works primarily at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. The position duties include managing all aspects of KPR’s capital news bureau, which provides broadcast and digital news reports to a number of radio stations in Kansas and Missouri. This position is primarily responsible for reporting on all aspects of state government. This includes but is not limited to covering the Kansas legislative session, the governor, attorney general, supreme court, the state’s congressional delegation and statewide elections. The KPR Statehouse Bureau Chief researches, writes, reports and produces spot news, digital stories and long-form audio features for KPR and its reporting partners.  Learn more about this position.

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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. And follow  KPR News on Twitter.