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Headlines for Thursday, November 25, 2021


Kansas Health Official: COVID Cases Rising Ahead of Holiday

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas health advisor says the coronavirus pandemic is starting to worsen in Kansas again as families prepare to gather over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that health advisor Marci Nielsen blames less mask use and more indoor gatherings. Nielsen said the state is now seeing more than 1,000 cases a day. Nielsen told the governor’s Safer Classrooms Workgroup that the state’s vaccination rate for youth ages 12-17 has consistently been about seven percentage points below the national rate. Fifty-four percent of all Kansans are fully vaccinated, which puts Kansas in the bottom half of all states and territories.


Missouri Judge: Local Health Orders Tied to COVID-19 Are Illegal

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge has ruled that local health orders imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state are illegal and should be lifted. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled that orders such as quarantines and business closures violate the Missouri Constitution’s separation of powers clause affecting the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The lawsuit was filed in 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when St. Louis city, St. Louis County and other jurisdictions were issuing health mandates aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus.


Kansas Supreme Court Takes Up Overturned Day Care Death Case

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has agreed to consider an appeals court decision overturning the conviction of a day care worker in the death of a 9-month-old. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office is seeking to have the murder conviction against Carrody Buchhorn reinstated. The office appealed after the Kansas Court of Appeals ruled in August that she should get a new trial because her attorney did not adequately question a coroner’s ruling on how 9-month-old Oliver “Ollie” Ortiz died. He was found unresponsive at the Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home in Eudora.

(–Additional Reporting–)

Kansas Supreme Court to Consider Eudora Woman’s Murder Conviction

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW/KPR) —The Kansas Supreme Court has agreed to consider a Eudora woman’s 2018 murder conviction. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the state’s highest court has granted a petition for review from the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, which is appealing a Kansas Court of Appeals ruling earlier this year to overturn Carrody Buchhorn’s murder conviction. The DA’s office is seeking to have the conviction reinstated. Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden told the Journal World that the petition for review was accepted but a date in court had not yet been scheduled.  A jury previously found Buchhorn guilty of second-degree murder after 9-month-old Oliver “Ollie” Ortiz was found unresponsive at a Eudora day care. She was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. In August, the Kansas Court of Appeals ruled that Buchhorn received ineffective assistance of counsel during her 2018 trial, which it said denied her the right to a fair trial. The court said her attorneys failed to properly question a coroner’s ruling on how the boy died, among other issues. In the ruling, the court granted the right to a new trial.  After the conviction was overturned, Buchhorn was released from custody in September on a $100,000 bond. 


Kansas State Parks Will Offer Free Admission on Black Friday

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — All 28 state parks in Kansas will be free to visit on Black Friday. The Kansas City Star reports that entrance fees will be waived for all visitors, including guests from out of town. Linda Lanterman, director of Kansas State Parks, in a statement that being “being outside in nature does wonders for our physical and mental health." Outdoor equipment and sporting goods store REI spearheaded the tradition of outdoor excursions on Black Friday in 2015. Instead of participating in the holiday shopping rush, the store closed all of its locations for the day and encouraged employees to spend time outdoors instead. In the years since, many state parks have followed suit. Some also are hosting free events or other deals to draw in visitors.


Kansas Regulators Want Answers on Evergy's Planned Projects

UNDATED (AP) - Kansas energy regulators are asking whether billions of dollars in planned energy projects by a company serving 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri will lead to unnecessary electric rate increases. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Kansas Corporation Commission on Tuesday ordered Evergy to explain $10.4 billion in expenditures it plans through 2025. The state’s chief utility regulator issued the order after a months-long review of a “sustainability transformation plan” that Evergy announced last year. Evergy has said the plan is needed to improve the reliability of its electric service and to better position the company for the future. Others argue that the plan is designed to boost the company’s stock value to benefit a big stockholder.


Embattled Kansas City Police Chief Says He'll Retire in 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The embattled Kansas City police chief has announced that he is retiring just four days after a white officer on the force was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting of a Black man. Chief Rick Smith, who has faced repeated calls to resign, will retire in 2022. Captain Leslie Foreman, a spokeswoman for the department, made the announcement in a statement Tuesday. She said Smith made a commitment to stay in the position no more than five years when he was hired in August 2017. The announcement followed a city hall meeting earlier in the day with Smith, Mayor Quinton Lucas and the Board of Police Commissioners’ president, Mark Tolbert. The mayor’s office provided no details about the meeting.


Veteran Officer to Lead Topeka Police Department

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man who has spent his entire 27-year law enforcement career with the Topeka Police Department will now lead it. City Manager Brent Trout on Tuesday introduced Bryan Wheeles as the new police chief, effective immediately. He has served as interim chief since January, when Bill Cochran retired. The following month, Cochran took a newly created job as Trout's chief of staff. Wheeles will earn an annual salary of $145,754. He joined the department in 1994 and was named deputy chief in 2017.


Topeka High Mourns Loss of Teacher Found Unresponsive

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka teacher has died after he was found unresponsive in his classroom. WIBW reports that emergency responders were called to Topeka High School just before 8 am Tuesday. They rushed 40-year-old John Keller to an area hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. In an email sent to parents, Principal Rebecca Morrisey confirmed the situation and said the family had requested privacy. The district indicated a mental health team would be available to students in need once they return from holiday break.


Man Gets Life Sentence for Carjacking, Fatal Wreck in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man has been sentenced to life in prison for a carjacking and an accident that led to the death of another man. Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced the sentence Wednesday for Darren Matthew Johnson. Johnson was convicted in May of charges that included first-degree murder committed during an inherently dangerous felony and aggravated robbery. The carjacking happened on June 22. A short time after the carjacking, police saw the stolen Kia Soul, which sped away before running a red light and colliding head-on with another vehicle. The backseat passenger in the Kia, Ricardo Rodriguez, died at the scene.


No Prison Time for Drunk-Driving Wreck that Killed Man, Son

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man will not go to prison for a 2018 drunk-driving accident that killed an off-duty Wichita police officer and his young son. The Wichita Eagle reports that a judge on Tuesday agreed to a plea agreement recommending three years of probation for James Dalrymple of Valley Center. The victims' family gave their blessing to the sentence. The accident happened April 27, 2018, killing 37-year-old Stacey Woodson and his 10-year-old son, Braeden, who were on a motorcycle. In addition to probation, Dalrymple must pay Woodson's widow $3,375 in restitution, complete 200 hours of community service and attend addiction meetings and a victim's panel.


Missouri Man Exonerated in 3 Killings, Free After 4 Decades

UNDATED (AP) — A Kansas City man who was jailed for more than 40 years for three murders has been released from prison after a judge ruled he was wrongfully convicted in 1979.  Sixty-two-year-old Kevin Strickland said Tuesday that he would like to get involved in efforts to “keep this from happening to someone else.” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and other legal and political leaders worked to free Strickland because they said evidence used to convict him had been recanted or disproved since his conviction. Attorney General Eric Schmitt fought his release, saying he believes Strickland is guilty. Strickland was convicted in the April 25, 1978, deaths of 21-year-old Larry Ingram, 20-year-old John Walker and 22-year-old Sherrie Black.


The Missouri Law That Led to Strickland Decision

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A judge’s decision to release longtime inmate Kevin Strickland, of Kansas City, was made possible by a new Missouri law intended to free people who were imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. The law gives local prosecutors the authority to seek hearings asking a judge to free a prisoner if new evidence shows the inmate was wrongfully convicted. The legislation was spurred by the case of a St. Louis man, Lamar Johnson, who has been in prison for 26 years for murder. Lawmakers who crafted the provision in a larger crime bill said prosecutors needed a legal mechanism to present new evidence and free wrongfully convicted prisoners. Judge James Welsh ruled Tuesday that Strickland had been wrongfully convicted.


Donations Pour In to Help Man Wrongfully Convicted in 1979

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Donations are pouring in to help a man who was freed from a Missouri prison after a judge found that he was wrongfully convicted in 1979 in a triple killing. The GoFundMe fundraiser to benefit Kevin Strickland had surpassed its $430,000 goal and donations are still arriving. Many of the donors expressed outrage that the 62-year-old would not receive compensation from the state of Missouri. The state only allows wrongful imprisonment payments to people exonerated through DNA evidence, so Strickland doesn't qualify.  Judge James Welsh, a retired Missouri Court of Appeals judge, ordered Strickland's release Tuesday, finding that evidence used to convict him had since been recanted or disproved. He walked out of prison Tuesday afternoon after spending 43 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.


Suspect in 6 Killings in Kansas and Missouri Pleads Not Guilty to Federal Charge

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A man accused of killing four people in the St. Louis area and two in a Kansas suburb of Kansas City has pleaded not guilty to a federal gun charge. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that 26-year-old Perez Deshay Reed entered the plea Tuesday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. He remains jailed without bond. The federal charge accuses Reed of transporting a gun across state lines with the intent to commit a felony. Reed is accused of fatally shooting two people in St. Louis city, two in St. Louis County and two in Kansas City, Kansas. The shootings prompted the FBI to refer to him as an alleged serial killer.


Widow Frustrated by Lack of Progress in Hit-and-Run Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas widow says she’s still waiting for answers, more than 40 days after her husband was fatally struck in a hit-and-run accident outside of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Steven Hickle of Wichita left the stadium early on October 10. He was struck by two hit-and-run drivers while trying to cross Blue Ridge Cutoff. Laurie Hickle told the Kansas City Star that her last conversation with Kansas City police was several weeks ago when they told her they found one of the vehicles involved. She says she is frustrated that the drivers who may have been responsible for her husband’s death have failed to step forward or cooperated with police.


Omaha Man Critically Injured After Being Struck Near Chiefs Game

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 49-year-old man from Omaha, Nebraska, is hospitalized in critical condition after being struck while crossing a road on the Truman Sports Complex property in Kansas City, Missouri, during a Chiefs game. Police say the man was struck by a Chrysler Sedan Sunday afternoon, about 25 minutes after the start of the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs. The driver stopped at the scene. Last month, 66-year-old Steven Hickle of Wichita, Kansas, was killed when he was struck by two hit-and-run drivers near Arrowhead Stadium. His death prompted a bicycle and pedestrian safety advocacy group to renew calls to make the area safer.


Kansas Special Session Wraps-Up, State Will Help Workers Resist Biden's COVID Vaccine Mandates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will soon make it easy for workers to claim religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine requirements and promise unemployment benefits to people who are fired after refusing the shots. Kansas expects to join other states in resisting federal mandates from President Joe Biden after the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a measure Monday night. Governor Laura Kelly angered some fellow Democrats in the Legislature by promising to sign the GOP's measure. Meanwhile, Republicans frustrated the Kansas Chamber of Commerce by embracing proposals that it opposed. Supporters called it a victory for personal liberty. The votes were 24-11 in the Senate and 77-34 in the House during a one-day special legislative session. (Read more.)

(Additional reporting...)

Kansas GOP Lawmakers OK Helping Workers Defy Federal COVID-19 Mandates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kansas have approved a measure that would make it easy for workers to claim religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The bill approved Monday night also would provide unemployment benefits to people who are fired for refusing the shots. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly said she would sign the bill but most Democratic lawmakers opposed it. They said it was a symbolic measure that won't provide any real protections for workers who refuse to get vaccinated in the face of federal mandates imposed by President Joe Biden. However, Republicans called it a victory for personal liberty. The votes were 24-11 in the Senate and 77-34 in the House. (Read more.)


Judge Sends Wichita Woman to Prison for Ex-Stepdad’s Murder

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County judge has sentenced a Wichita woman to life in prison for murdering her ex-stepfather during a plot designed to get back at him for allegedly molesting her as a child. Twenty-seven-year-old Micaela L. Spencer was sentenced Tuesday to at least 50 years for murder along with a total of 51 months on other charges connected to the killing of 50-year-old William “Billy” G. Callison in 2019.  Authorities say Spencer and her then-boyfriend, twenty-eight-year-old Royce A. Thomas, lured Callison to his death by promising him sex in exchange for $45 and some marijuana on May 12, 2019. They stabbed him repeatedly with pocket knives after meeting him at his camper.


Lawrence’s Old-Time Christmas Returns After Pandemic Year Off

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW/KPR) —Lawrence’s Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade will return this year after the event was cancelled last year because of the pandemic. The event, featuring all horse-drawn floats and carriages, is one of the most unusual holiday traditions in the country. The Lawrence Journal World reports that this will be the 28th parade. Currently the parade has 60 entries with participants coming from Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Horses in the parade will be dressed in holiday regalia, and there will be no motorized entries. As always, the final stagecoach will feature with Santa and Mrs. Claus. The parade’s route will be slightly different this year. It will still start at Seventh and Massachusetts streets, but the procession will continue beyond South Park, the usual stopping point, and end at 15th Street instead. The two extra blocks of seating will help with the parking situation and allow people to spread out more. The parade is set for at 11 a.m. on December 4th.


Agbaji Scores 18 Points; Number 4-Ranked KU Tops North Texas 71-59

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Ochai Agbaji had 18 points and Christian Braun added 16 as the number 4-ranked University of Kansas Jayhawks beat North Texas 71-59 in the first round of the ESPN Events Invitational on Thursday. Agbaji became the 63rd player to reach 1,000 points in KU history when he hit a 3 to open the scoring 2 ½ minutes into the game. North Texas got 23 points from Tylor Perry.


Reliever Wade Davis Retires After 13 Major League Seasons

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Free agent pitcher Wade Davis is retiring at age 36 after 13 major league seasons. The three-time All-Star played for the Kansas City Royals in 2021 and helped them win the 2015 World Series title. Davis was 63-55 with a 3.94 ERA and 141 saves in 161 chances for Tampa Bay, Kansas City, the Chicago Cubs and Colorado. He made 88 starts and 469 relief appearances and was an All-Star from 2015-17. His retirement was announced by his agency, Jet Sports.


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

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