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Headlines for Friday, October 14, 2022



Conditions Ripe for Outbreak of Wildfires in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - For the second day in a row, most of Kansas remains under extreme fire danger. A Red Flag Warning will be in effect from noon through 7 o'clock tonight (FRI).  Gusty winds, low humidity and warm temperatures could lead to extreme fire behavior if wildfires break out.


Topeka Police Fatally Shot Man Armed with Knife

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Topeka police officers shot and killed a man early Thursday after he walked toward them with a knife as they tried to intervene in a carjacking. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says a woman called 911 around 12:30 am Thursday to report that a 33-year-old family member, Taylor Lowery, was inside the home, armed with a knife and behaving erratically. The woman was able to escape, and Lowery drove away from the home in a sport utility vehicle. Officers spotted him a short time later at a gas station convenience store, where they saw him attempting to steal a parked car with two women and an infant inside.


Former Kansas Officer of the Year Indicted for Rape, Sexual Battery

DODGE CITY, Kan. (KWCH) - Kansas’ 2021 Officer of the Year has been indicted on charges of rape and aggravated sexual battery. KWCH TV reports that a Ford County grand jury returned an indictment against former Dodge City Police Officer Guillermo Gutierrez this week. In 2021, Gutierrez was chosen as the statewide Kansas Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. He was the first law enforcement officer from southwest Kansas to receive the award. The charges stem from an incident alleged to have occurred on May 19, 2022, in Dodge City. Records show Gutierrez is accused of having non-consensual sex with a woman he knew was under the influence of alcohol. Gutierrez’s first appearance and arraignment have been scheduled for November 10. A grand jury doesn’t decide if a person is innocent or guilty, only whether there is enough evidence and cause to move forward with charges. Dodge City’s police chief said Gutierrez left the department in August.


Poll Shows Strong Support for Medicaid Expansion in Kansas

UNDATED (KNS) - A new poll finds strong support for expanding Medicaid among registered Kansas voters. 72 percent of Kansans are in favor of expanding KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program. That includes majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. The poll was conducted by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which supports Medicaid expansion. Megan Word is the group’s Kansas government relations director. She says the state’s failure to expand Medicaid has consequences for cancer patients. “What we've seen through our research is that states that have refused to increase that eligibility for Medicaid have worse survival rates for most cancers in both early and late stages," she said. Previous attempts to expand Medicaid in Kansas have failed due to opposition by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly says she would continue to push for expansion if reelected next month. Her Republican challenger, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, opposes expansion in its current form.


Kansas Group Tries to Tackles Problem of Rising Rates of Black Infant Mortality

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - Kansas has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the U.S., and for Black babies, the picture is especially bleak. They are three-and-a-half times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies. The Kansas News Service reports that during the pandemic, Black infant mortality surged 58% in Kansas. Peggy Jones-Foxx, president of the Wichita Black Nurses Association, says birth workers in Wichita are trying to address the crisis. She says they help coach women on how to stay healthy during pregnancy. The workers present prenatal education classes, part of a a new partnership between the nurses association and the University of Kansas School of Medicine. ( Read more.)


Republican Kris Kobach Aims to Rebrand in Kansas AG Race

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans in Kansas are talking a lot about whether there is a new Kris Kobach. The former two-term Kansas secretary of state is attempting a political comeback as the GOP nominee for state attorney general. Many Republicans think he's better this year about staying on message and has a better organized campaign than he did when he lost the governor's race in 2018 and a U.S. Senate primary in 2020. Kobach's critics scoff at the talk and point out that he's outlined a long-term plan for banning abortion despite a statewide vote in August affirming abortion rights. Kobach faces Democrat Chris Mann in the November 8 election.


Group Advocates for Keeping Kansas Justices also Hopes to Defeat Constitutional Amendment

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - A coalition of women in politics and women’s advocacy groups is organizing ahead of the November 8 election.  The group -- Keep Kansas Free -- held a news conference in Wichita Thursday, encouraging voters to retain the state’s Supreme Court justices and vote against a constitutional amendment that would limit the governor’s authority. The bipartisan coalition also encouraged voters to back candidates who will uphold the results of the August 2 abortion vote. Jill Docking is a Wichita co-founder of Keep Kansas Free. She says it’s important to approach the issue of abortion in a bipartisan way. “We got a lot more done that way. I think it’s important to be bipartisan because healthcare is not a partisan issue," she said. Similar news conferences were also held in Topeka, Lawrence and Overland Park.


KU Physicist Wins MacArthur Foundation's Genius Grant

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - The MacArthur Foundation has named a University of Kansas physicist as one of its 25 fellows this year. The so-called genius grant comes with $800,000 for recipients to use as they see fit. KU physicist Steven Prohira (pro-HEAR-uh) studies ultra-high-energy neutrinos… subatomic particles from outer space. He calls them bridges between the known and unknown. "Physicists know a lot about how nature works, like at this point, but there are still things that we're still trying to figure out and that's the fun stuff," he said. Because the particles don’t have a positive or negative charge, they pass through space in a straight line that points directly back to their source. But they’re rare. So, Prohira is experimenting with new ways to detect them using radar. That could enable scientists to capture more data from these elusive particles and learn about their origins deep in the cosmos. “It's remarkable, I don't have really words to explain it, because it's such an unusual and rare thing. You know, I'm still in disbelief... I'm just shocked," he said.

(Earlier reporting...)

KU Physicist Wins Coveted MacArthur "Genius" Award, an $800,000 Grant

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - A University of Kansas researcher has won a coveted MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a “genius grant.” The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 35-year-old Steven Prohira, an assistant professor in KU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, is one of 25 winners of an $800,000 fellowship grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.  The organization announced the award winners Wednesday. Professor Prohira was recognized for his work to invent a device called a “Radar Echo Telescope.” The foundation calls it a “game-changing” technique to detect hard-to-find cosmic neutrinos that researchers believe carry important data from outside our solar system.

A MacArthur Fellowship is considered a top-tier award in the world of academia, in part because it provides its $800,000 stipend — paid over five years — with “no strings attached.” The fellowship grant is rare, in part because individuals can’t apply for it. They are nominated by a group of individuals — chosen by the foundation but never revealed to the public — who are tasked with finding extremely creative people worthy of the fellowship. “The purpose of the MacArthur Fellows Program is to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society,” the foundation says on its webpage. ( Read more.)


Kansas Bank Robbery Suspect Arrested
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (KSNT) – Authorities have captured a man they say robbed a bank in Morris County this week. The suspect, 35-year-old Christopher J. Callaham, of Junction City, is accused of robbing the Bank of the Flint Hills in White City on Wednesday. Authorities say Callaham was taken into custody Wednesday at a hotel in the Junction City area. KSNT reports that members of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, Junction City Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation participated in the search for Callaham. He was arrested on a felony warrant for aggravated robbery and then booked into the Geary County Detention Facility. He also faces additional charges.


Woman Free on Bond While Awaiting Retrial in 2002 Topeka Killings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KPR) _ A woman accused of killing a Topeka couple in 2002 is free on bail for the first time in a decade. Dana Chandler, now 62, was released this week from the Shawnee County Jail. Chandler has always maintained her innocence. While she' out of jail, prosecutors prepare to try her for a third time in the Topeka killings of 47-year-old Mike Sisco and 53-year-old Karen Harkness. Last month, a judge lowered Chandler's bond from $1 million to $350,000.  She's set to face her third trial in February.


One Person Killed, 3 Others Injured in Head-On Crash in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (The Lawrence Times) - One person was killed and three others injured in a fiery, head-on crash in Lawrence this week.  The Lawrence Times reports that a 48-year-old Lawrence man was killed in the crash Wednesday night after two vehicles collided. The driver of one vehicle was pronounced dead at the scene. Three people inside the other vehicle were hospitalized. An investigation into the crash continues.


Kansas Not Among States Suing over Alleged Ag Monopoly

UNDATED (KNS) - The federal government and states like Nebraska, Iowa and Texas are suing two of the biggest pesticide makers in the world. They say Syngenta and Corteva paid distributors to make it hard for farmers to find generic versions of their brand-name chemicals. The Kansas Farmers Union cheered the lawsuit. Nick Levendofsky is the group's executive director. “If you’re taking money out of the farmer’s pocket, that’s taking money out of a community as well. That’s what has been happening in rural America for so many years.” But Kansas didn’t join the lawsuit. Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office declined an interview about that. The lawsuit claims the alleged scheme cost U.S. farmers millions of dollars a year.


Class Action Lawsuit for Black and Brown Farmer Debt Relief Announced
UNDATED (HPM) - A class action lawsuit has been filed against the U.S. government on behalf of Black and brown farmers. Harvest Public Media reports the lawsuit alleges that the government broke its promise of debt relief to socially disadvantaged farmers. The American Rescue Plan Act promised $4 billion dollars of debt relief to farmers of color by the US Department of Agriculture. That relief was stalled by lawsuits from multiple banks and white farmers. The Inflation Reduction Act passed this August repealed that legislation and replaced it with relief mostly for economically distressed farmers of any race. Many farmers of color might not receive that money anymore, says Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney that filed the suit: “...the black and brown farmers relied on the promise from the government, well there are several farmers facing foreclosure.” A USDA spokesperson said without the Inflation Reduction Act funding… the debt relief would have been tied up in court for years.


Great Plains Music and Arts Festival Lands in Lawrence Saturday

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The Great Plains Music and Art Festival is coming to Lawrence this weekend. Saturday's festival features a dozen bands, art booths and food trucks. Organizer Tom Pfeiler says the festival has been in the works for several years but they needed an outdoor venue near Lawrence that could accommodate several thousand people. "We didn't have a park big enough, with enough parking spots close enough that you could have a big event in a pretty place and we finally have the opportunity to do that now," he said. The festival will take place Saturday at Sesquicentennial Point overlooking Clinton Lake. The musical line-up for the festival includes: The Band That Saved the World, SUNU, Cory Phillips and the Band of Light, Maria the Mexican, and others. Ticket information and directions to the site are available at greatplainsfest.com.


Remains of Kansas Soldier Killed in WW II Identified, Will Be Buried in Springfield, Missouri

FORT KNOX, Ky. (KPR) – The remains of a Kansas soldier killed during World War II will be interred October 27 at a veterans cemetery in  Missouri. U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Moses F. Tate was a native of Seneca, Kansas. During World War II, he was assigned to the 415th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 9th Air Force. Tate served as a gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator aircraft.  His plane crashed August 1, 1943 after it was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire during a bombing raid in Romania. The raid was part of Operation TIDAL WAVE, the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries at Ploiesti, north of Bucharest, Romania. Tate's remains were not identified following the war.  Remains that could not be identified were buried as "Unknowns" in the Hero Section of the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan, Ploiesti, Prahova, Romania. He was just 23-years-old when he died. Graveside services for Tate will be performed by Greenlawn Funeral Home, Branson, preceding the interment. Click here for additional information about Staff Sgt. Tate.

To learn more about the Department of Defense’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving in action, visit the DPAA website or visit its Facebook page.


Kansas Parental Permission Law Sparks Concerns

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - A new law requires Kansas schools to get parental permission before administering any non-academic survey or questionnaire. The Kansas News Service reports that's causing confusion among teachers and putting some lessons on hold. The provision is part of a school funding law passed by Kansas lawmakers last spring. It was aimed primarily at surveys that gauge student attitudes on everything from drug use to mental health. But Leah Fliter, with the Kansas Association of School Boards, says teachers are worried that even routine worksheets could run afoul of the law. “If it says, ‘What did you do on your summer vacation?’ they’re concerned that somebody’s going to say, ‘Well, you can’t ask my kids that, because that says too much about our family structure,’” she said. Supporters of the law raised concerns about probing questions related to students’ religious or political beliefs. Education officials say schools need parental permission if they plan to collect and retain any personal data. State Representative Kristey Williams, a Republican lawmaker who pushed for the new law, says it doesn’t prohibit teachers from talking to kids. She says it’s aimed at data such as religious beliefs or sexuality being collected by outside agencies. “There is a pretty dramatic increase in the amount of surveying that is going on in our schools. And parents need to know and be informed first," she said. Some Kansas schools have put social and emotional lessons on hold as they await guidance from state officials.


Kansas Education Leaders: Harassment, Anger Add to Teacher Woes

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - More teachers in Kansas are leaving the profession after only a few years, and education leaders say politics could be a reason. New data presented to the state Board of Education Tuesday show that teacher retention rates are the lowest they’ve been in more than a decade. Only 86% of teachers made it to their third year of teaching this academic year. That’s down from more than 92% the previous year. Jim Porter is chair of the Kansas Board of Education. He says widespread criticism of school lessons and teachers have prompted many to leave. “There are people that I consider to be excellent classroom teachers that just quit because they no longer were allowing themselves to be disrespected," he said. Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said schools need to expand mentoring programs for teachers.


Kansas ACT Scores Fall, Mirroring National Trend

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - Scores on the A-C-T college admissions test nationally have hit their lowest point in more than 30 years. That's according to a report released Wednesday. Scores for Kansas students are falling, too. Nationwide, the class of 20-22’s average composite score on the ACT was 19.8 out of a possible 36. It’s the first time since 1991 that the average score was below 20. Kansas graduates performed only slightly better. Their average composite score was 19.9 - down one full point over the past five years. It’s the seventh consecutive year of declines for Kansas students. College readiness in math and English has been steadily declining. Among the class of ‘22, only about one in five students met all four A-C-T benchmarks for success in college.

Quality of Life Concerns Weigh Heavily on Rail Contract Vote

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ The lack of some benefits most workers can readily count on -- like paid sick leave and regularly scheduled weekends -- combined with demanding schedules, is driving some railroad workers to veto labor contracts featuring big raises and bonuses. This week's vote by the third-largest railroad union against the contract raised the possibility that a crippling nationwide railroad strike could still happen even though that union pledged to return to the bargaining table. One other union that rejected its deal earlier has already negotiated a new pact, and six smaller railroad unions have approved their agreements so maybe the major freight railroads will still be able to work things out with their employees.


Fate of Missouri Boarding School on Hold as Hearings Delayed

UNDATED (AP) - Hearings are again on hold in the state of Missouri's effort to shut down a Christian boarding school whose staff members have been accused of abuse by numerous current and former students. A Cedar County judge canceled hearings that had been scheduled for Thursday and Friday to consider Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt's request to close Agape Boarding School. New hearing dates have not been set. Schmitt's office filed a motion in early September to close the school, calling it "an immediate health and safety concern for the children residing at Agape.''


Missouri Man Who Killed 3 Because They "Wouldn't Leave' Pleads Guilty"

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ A Missouri man who said he killed his wife and in-laws because they "wouldn't leave'' entered a guilty plea Thursday in the case. Fifty-year-old Jesse Huy admitted to three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of armed criminal action in the deaths of 48-year-old Tonya Huy and her parents, 71-year-old Ronald Koehler and 78-year-old Linda Koehler of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Investigators say Huy called authorities in March 2021 to report he killed three family members inside his home near the small town of Strafford in southwestern Missouri. Tonya Huy's parents were visiting to help their daughter after her recent back surgery.


Federal Judge Weighs Effort to Halt Student Loan Forgiveness

ST. LOUIS (AP/KPR) - A federal judge in St. Louis is weighing the fate of the Biden administration’s plan to forgive student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans. A court hearing was held Wednesday, but it's unclear when the federal judge will rule on the lawsuit, which was filed by six states - including Kansas. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to halt the student loan forgiveness plan, which would cost American taxpayers as much as $400 billion. Whatever the judge decides, an appeal is likely. Democratic President Joe Biden announced in August that his administration would cancel up to $20,000 per person in student loan debt for a huge numbers of borrowers.


Clinics Offer Free Vasectomies, Citing Surge in Demand

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Free vasectomies will be available next month at three Planned Parenthood clinics in Missouri amid a surge in demand for the the procedure after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri performed 42 vasectomies in July alone, compared to 10 in the same month last year. Female sterilizations rose to 18 that month from just three in July 2021. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has been hearing similar reports of increased demand from around the country.


Shakeup in Farm Supply Retail Industry

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - Sioux City-based Bomgaars says its recent acquisition of dozens of stores from a Missouri-based company has made it the nation's second largest farm and ranch retailer, behind Tractor Supply Company. Bomgaars announced in a news release Wednesday that it has acquired 73 stores from Orscheln Farm and Home, of Moberly, Missouri. The acquisition was part of a larger mega-deal approved Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission for Tennessee-based Tractor Supply Company to take over Orscheln Farm and Home, which has 167 stores in 11 states. The deal brings Bomgaars' total number of locations to 180 in 15 states throughout the central United States, while adding 1,400 new employees. Bomgaars also will acquire Orscheln’s 330,000 square-foot distribution center in Moberly, Missouri.


Kansas Public Radio Seeks New Statehouse Bureau Chief

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Public Radio 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. 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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KU Basketball Fans Ready for Late Night in the Phog at Allen Field House

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) After winning the NCAA men’s basketball championship last season, the Kansas Jayhawks will unveil their 2022-23 team at the annual Late Night at the PHOG tonight (FRI). Jayhawks coach Bill Self says the team plans to turn the page from last season. But the public’s first look at a KU practice won’t be without unfurling the national title banner and presenting the championship rings. Self says he’s had a sneak preview of the ring. "Any bling would probably look good on your finger, but I thought it looked pretty good," he said. After the ceremonies, the entertainment will be provided by DJ Diesel, which is the stage name for basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. Self says he’ll be meeting Shaq for the first time. Kicking off the activities at Phog Allen Fieldhouse will be a women’s basketball scrimmage. Last season, the KU women's basketball team qualified for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013.


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.