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Headlines for Thursday, January 5, 2023

News Summary updated image
Emily Fisher
/
KPR

Douglas County DA Halts Prosecution of Eudora Woman Accused in Day Care Death

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - Citing a lack of evidence, the Douglas County District Attorney’s office has decided to “cease prosecution” of a woman who was accused of killing a baby in 2016 at a Eudora day care where she worked. According to the Lawrence Journal-World, District Attorney Suzanne Valdez announced the decision to stop pursuing the case against Carrody Buchhorn in a news release Wednesday evening. Valdez cited a report from a forensic pathologist her office had retained in the case, which she said concluded that the baby, Oliver “Ollie” Ortiz, “died from natural disease and pathophysiologic processes unrelated to child abuse.” "I have concluded that at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence to proceed with the prosecution of Ms. Buchhorn,” Valdez said in the release.

The 48-year-old Buchhorn was arrested seven months after Ollie’s death in 2016 and has spent the years since in jail, prison or under house arrest. She was convicted of second-degree murder in 2018, but her conviction was overturned when the Kansas Court of Appeals ruled that she had received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. A divided Kansas Supreme Court allowed the appeals court decision to stand.

Buchhorn has always maintained her innocence. In an interview with the Journal-World shortly before Christmas, Buchhorn discussed her harrowing experience throughout the yearslong case, which she estimated cost her family around half a million dollars in legal fees, including the loss of their Eudora home.

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TC Energy Diverts Kansas Creek as Oil Spill Clean-Up Continues

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) - Canadian oil company TC Energy will divert a creek in northern Kansas to help clean up oil that spilled out of the Keystone pipeline last month. TC Energy already installed emergency dams to stop thousands of barrels of oil in Mill Creek from moving downstream. This stops oil that floats on the water’s surface. But the creek continues to flow through large underwater holes in the dams. Scientists warn that the kind of oil released in Washington County gradually sinks and then spreads underwater. TC Energy says it will temporarily divert the stream to bypass a four-mile stretch of oil-filled creek that needs intensive cleanup. The company hasn’t said how long it expects the work to take.

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FDA Allows Abortion Pills at Pharmacies - with Restrictions - in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) - The Food and Drug Administration has said it will allow retail pharmacies to dispense abortion pills. But the Kansas News Service reports the move will only have a small effect in Kansas. Pharmacies will be able to apply for certification to dispense mifepristone, also known as RU-486, as part of a two-pill regimen approved to end pregnancies in their first 10 weeks. Currently, Kansans can only get the drug from a clinic or doctor. It will still require a prescription. But patients in Kansas would still need to visit a clinic in person and undergo an ultrasound before getting that prescription. Dr. Iman Alsaden is the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “How much it will actually have impact in Kansas just remains to be seen," he said. Representatives for CVS and Walgreens, two of the state’s largest pharmacies, said they’re reviewing the FDA announcement. Abortion pills are used in around two-thirds of Kansas abortions. Doctors say the change at FDA will do little to expand abortion access in Kansas. Abortion remains legal in the state up to 22 weeks.

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Kansas State Senator Richard Hildebrand to Step Down

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ/KPR) - A top Republican lawmaker has retired from the Kansas Senate less than a week before the start of the next legislative session. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that Republican Senator Richard Hilderbrand, of Baxter Springs, resigned his office effective Sunday. The legislative session starts Monday. Hilderbrand did not say why he’s stepping down. He has served in the Senate since 2017 and was elected to a leadership position as majority whip. He chaired the Public Health and Welfare Committee during the COVID-19 pandemic, moderating testimony and debate over proposed legislation on mask mandates, vaccines, and related issues. He also chaired the Kansas Senior Care Task Force and was vice chair of the influential Federal and State Affairs Committee.

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Topeka VA Area Selected for New Kansas Veterans Home

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - Topeka could soon be the site of a new veterans home serving northeast Kansas. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that land adjacent to the Colmery-O’Neil U.S. Veterans Affairs Medical Center was selected for the new veterans home. Govenor Laura Kelly announced the news Wednesday. "As the daughter of a Purple Heart recipient, I am committed to honoring the service of Kansas’ veterans and their families," Kelly said.

The veterans home will have 72 private rooms divided into "households" and "neighborhoods" intended to increase community while providing services. One household comprised of 18 beds will be a dedicated memory care unit. Construction of the home is contingent on federal VA funding. The governor's office said it expects to learn this spring whether the VA will fund the project in fiscal year 2024. The cost of the project is estimated at $49 million. The state has already secured $17.2 million in matching funds required by the VA. Kansas Senator Jerry Moran vowed to help secure federal funding. Moran is the top Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committees.

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Kansas Man Finds Live Grenade in Garage

HOISINGTON, Kan. (KSNW/KPR) — A potentially explosive situation developed in central Kansas this week. A man in Hoisington found a live grenade in his garage. KSNW TV reports that the man discovered the grenade Wednesday morning while cleaning out his garage (in the 500 block of E 1st Street). When officers arrived on the scene, it was confirmed that the hand grenade was live with the pin still in it. The McConnell Air Force Base Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team in Wichita immediately responded. The team took the grenade to a Hoisington compost site where it was destroyed.

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Kansas Lawmakers Get Back to Business Next Week with More Money in the Bank

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas lawmakers get back to work on Monday. Whatever state lawmakers decide to do this year, they should have more money to do it. Total state tax collections for the month of December came in at $1.1 billion. That's $140 million above expectations. Governor Laura Kelly will outline her budget priorities to state lawmakers next week when she delivers her State of the State address. Kansas Public Radio plans to carry her speech Wednesday at 6:30 pm.

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Can Kansas Do More to Ease Teacher Shortage?

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - One of the issues lawmakers are expected to consider this session? The state's teacher shortage. This school year, Kansas school districts reported more than 1,600 vacancies.Deans of education at public universities in Kansas say the state could ease the teacher shortage by lowering college costs for people who want to become teachers. A task force created by the Kansas Board of Regents wants to expand a state scholarship program for teachers. The program is currently available only for hard-to-fill positions in parts of the state. Task force chairman Rick Ginsburg is dean of education at the University of Kansas. He says the state should also start paying student teachers. “We are one of the only fields where people do internships that they don’t get paid for, and they actually pay for credit hours to do it," he said. A draft report offers 15 recommendations to reduce the teacher shortage in Kansas. Lawmakers will review the suggestions.

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Kansas Lawmakers Will Revisit Medical Marijuana in 2023

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - State lawmakers in Kansas will try again to bring medical marijuana to the state after attempts failed in recent years. Senator Rob Olson chairs a special committee that looked into the issue in advance of lawmakers returning to the Statehouse next week. His plan will include strict regulations on things like who can grow medical marijuana. “The bill I’m going to write is, I think, going to be fair to the state, very tight, very regulatory," he said. The restrictions could help attract more Republican support. It’s not yet clear if that will be enough to win the support of GOP leaders. One Democratic lawmaker wanted the bill to include changes to criminal justice issues including expunging past marijuana convictions.

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Tribe Asks to Take over Former Boarding School in Kansas

FAIRWAY, Kan. (AP) — The Shawnee Tribe is asking to take over ownership of a historical site in Kansas that might contain unmarked graves of Native American students. The site, formerly known as the Shawnee Indian Manual Labor School, was one of hundreds of schools run by the government and religious groups in the 1800s and 1900s that removed Indigenous children from their families to assimilate them into white society and Christianity. It is owned by the Kansas Historical Society. The city of Fairway manages daily operations.

In October, state officials announced that they planned to conduct a ground study to search for unmarked graves on the 12-acre site. That process stalled after the Shawnee Tribe said it had not been consulted enough and raised questions about the proposed study. Tribal leaders contend that state and Fairway officials have not properly maintained the site.

The Kansas City Star reports that the tribe released an architectural survey Tuesday that found the three buildings remaining at the Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway need millions of dollars in repairs.

The Oklahoma-based tribe commissioned the study from Architectural Resources Group last year because leaders are "concerned about the future of this historic site," Chief Ben Barnes said in a statement Tuesday. "Over the last year, we have had numerous conversations with the city and state about the need to save this special place," Barnes said. "When it became clear that there was no plan in place, we began conversations about the possibility of the Shawnee Tribe assuming responsibility for restoring and repairing this site."

Officials with the Kansas Historical Society and the city of Fairway rejected the suggestion that the site be transferred to the tribe. Patrick Zollner, acting executive director of the Historical Society, said the organization has already made several improvements, is planning more restoration work and remains committed to telling the history of the site.

In a statement released Tuesday, Fairway officials questioned whether the tribe had the resources to pay for needed renovations and repairs. They also questioned what the tribe would do with the land, and said the city and state may not have any authority over how the land was used.

Tribal leaders estimate the repairs would cost up to $13 million. If given ownership, the tribe said it would repair the buildings in multiple phases while meeting historical preservation requirements.

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Mega Millions Lottery Jackpot Nearing $1 Billion for Next Drawing

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Call it the Golden Age of lottery jackpots. Or to put it another way, what's up with all the massive lottery prizes? The latest haul up for grabs is a $940 million Mega Millions jackpot, with a drawing set for Friday night. The prize ranks as the sixth largest in U.S. history. That comes less than two months after a player in California won a record $2.04 billion Powerball jackpot. Players also won lottery prizes topping $1 billion earlier in 2022 and in 2021. But while it may seem the lottery gods are showering players with repeated chances at hard-to-fathom riches, the credit for the big prizes is actually due to math — and more difficult odds.

In the fall of 2017, lottery officials approved changes to Mega Millions that significantly lengthened the odds from one in 258.9 million to one in 302.6 million. They made similar changes to Powerball in October 2015, worsening the odds from one in 175.2 million to one in 292.2 million. The idea was that by making jackpots less common, ticket revenue could build up week after week, creating giant prizes that would attract attention and pull in more players who had grown blasé about $100 million or $200 million top prizes.

Of course, those uber-rich winners aren't quite as wealthy as it would seem. That's because the advertised jackpots are for winners who agree to take their money over 29 years in an annuity. Winners almost always choose the cash option, which for Friday's drawing would be $483.5 million. One-third or more of those winnings would go toward federal and in some places, state, taxes.

Still, it's a lot of money, and lottery players at the Riverside Red X, a large grocery and liquor store in Riverside, Missouri, said it would change their lives forever. Karol Palmer, of Parkville, said she would "pay off everything" and take care of her three children and seven grandchildren if she won the Mega Millions prize. The 80-year-old said she also would buy a house at a lake. "I might not be able to use (the lake house) for very long, given my age," she said. "But who knows, I might live to be 100. You have to dream a little."

Alvin Brockington, of Kansas City, Kansas, said his priorities would be paying his bills, helping everyone in his family, buying a house for his mother and traveling. He said he has a sister in California whom he hasn't seen for 30 years so he would take the entire family to see her, or fly her and other relatives to visit him. "Then I would get down on my knees and ask God to lead me to the people who really need help," he said. "They say money is the root of all evil but it is really the person who has the money, what kind of person they are and what they do with it." Brockington, a retired railroad worker, said he also plays other lottery games. Noting that the Powerball jackpot was also up to hundreds of millions, he laughed and said, "I'd take that. I'd take $1 million dollars from any game. I'm not greedy. Even that would help a lot."

Robert Bowring, 70, of Kansas City, said after sharing the prize with his family, he would find a good organization that would assist people who need help. Bowring said "everything is about sharing. If you have that much money, you have to spread it around."

Mega Millions is played in 45 states as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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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 ismade possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.