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Headlines for Wednesday, October 7, 2020

 

Most Kansas Counties Enter COVID-19 School Red Zone - But Case Rates Improved Statewide

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Even as some of the state’s largest school districts reopen, most Kansas counties have such a high rate of new coronavirus cases that they have moved into the red zone on a key state benchmark that suggests schools should consider putting the brakes on in-person classes and sports. The Wichita Eagle reports that 75 of the state's 105 counties were in the worst reopening zone for the two week cumulative incident rate, one of five school reopening indicators established by the state. That’s an increase of 10 counties from a week ago. However, individual districts can make their own reopening decisions, often with guidance from county-level health officials.  The addition of more counties to the list comes as the Wichita area and statewide rates for new cases compared to population improved last week.

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Kansas Reports Nearly 64,000 COVID-19 Cases, Including 723 Virus-Related Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - State health officials say Kansas has recorded close to 64,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The Department of Health and Environment reported today (WED) that the state has 63,952 cases, including 723 deaths. That's an increase of 1,244 cases and 17 deaths since Monday. The next update will be released Friday.

Kansas COVID-19 Hospitalizations Spike; Emergency Extended

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republican legislators have signed off on Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s request to extend a state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic. Their action Wednesday came as the state set another record for COVID-19-related hospitalizations. Eight leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature, six of them Republicans, quickly and unanimously approved Kelly’s plan to extend the state of emergency until November 15. Meanwhile, the state health department reported that Kansas had another 1,244 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases since Monday, an increase of 2%, to bring the pandemic total to 63, 952. The state averaged a record 29.14 new hospitalizations a day for the seven days ending Wednesday,

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Report: More than 3,500 Kansas Businesses Closed or Filed for Bankruptcy So Far in 2020 

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - So far in 2020, nearly 3,600 Kansas businesses have shut down or filed for bankruptcy. That’s according to a report from the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office. What that report doesn’t show is just how many more businesses are struggling to survive.  KWCH TV reports the latest blow comes with the announcement that Regal Cinemas across the U.S. (including in Wichita) are soon closing. The struggling movie industry is only part of the much larger problem.  Experts believe the only way some businesses can survive another six months is with another stimulus package from the federal government.  Until then, business owners across the U.S. can only hope for a vaccine in the next couple of months. If not, experts warn, more closures and bankruptcies are inevitable.

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Missouri Court Urged to Strike Down Ballot Notarization Requirement

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Voting rights advocates are urging the Missouri Supreme Court to strike down a ballot notarization requirement for this year's elections. An attorney representing the NAACP and League of Women Voters argued Tuesday that all absentee ballots and mail-in ballots should be counted, regardless of whether they are notarized. A law passed earlier this year did relax Missouri's remote voting laws. It allows certain people at risk from the coronavirus to vote absentee without needing to notarize the ballot envelope. The new law also allows anyone to cast a mail-in ballot, but notarization is still required. Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem upheld that law last month.

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Judge Rules Kansas Polling Site Buffer Zone Constitutional

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled a Kansas law that prohibits electioneering within a 250-foot buffer zone of a polling location is constitutional and does not infringe on the First Amendment. U.S. District Judge Holly Teeter dismissed on Wednesday the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas against Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the Johnson County election commissioner. In her ruling, Teeter cited a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Burson v. Freemen, that rejected a challenge to a similar Tennessee statute. Teeter noted the Kansas electioneering law has also stood unchallenged for nearly 60 years, and that all 50 states have similar laws.

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Debate over Policing Roils Kansas Cradle of Brown v. Board

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A debate over policing is roiling the Kansas cradle of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision against school segregation. Some advocates in Topeka see long-standing tensions between the police and the city's 125,000 residents, particularly minorities. When police used force in 2018 and 2019, Black residents were on the receiving end 35% of the time, though they make up less than 11% of the community's population. But advocates of change have been met by vocal support for the police. A weeks-old Facebook page for a Blue Shield group claims thousands of members. Nervous city officials are between the two camps.

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Wichita Woman Gets Prison for Role in 2016 Triple Homicide

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita woman has been sentenced to six years in federal prison for her role in the killings of three people in central Kansas in 2016. Federal prosecutors say in a news release that 35-year-old Myrta Rangel was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court. As part of her guilty plea in 2018, Rangel admitted that she gave Jereme Nelson a handgun, which he carried it to a meeting in rural Harvey Count to collect a drug debt. Nelson fatally shot Travis Street, Angela Graevs and Richard Prouty with the gun at a rural Moundridge home. Their bodies were found in the driveway on October 30, 2016.

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KCK Couple Sentenced in Mexican Methamphetamine Conspiracy

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KPR) – A married couple has been sentenced to federal prison for taking part in a drug ring that distributed methamphetamine from Mexico in the Kansas City metro.  U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said in a news release that 41-year-old Marlon Gutierrez was sentenced Tuesday to 260 months in federal prison and 43-year-old Karen Ortega was sentenced to 168 months in federal prison. Both are from Kansas City, Kansas.  Previously, co-defendant Edelfonso Gonzalez-Gonzalez was sentenced to 30 years.  Gutierrez and Ortega had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine.  In their pleas, they admitted they rented a house from co-defendant Gonzalez-Gonzalez (in the 3000 block of North 34th Street in KCK).  They lived there with Ortega’s minor children. One condition of renting the house was to monitor the property including a detached garage where the traffickers stored narcotics. Gutierrez, who was a drug courier for Gonzalez-Gonzalez, had a key to the garage. When investigators served a search warrant at the residence they found approximately 20 pounds of methamphetamine, 1.8 pounds of heroin and more than $230,000 in cash.  In her plea, Ortega admitted federal investigators had her under surveillance when she met another conspirator in a Wal-Mart parking lot and sold almost two pounds of methamphetamine for $4,500.

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Report: Driver in Deadly Crash Didn't See Woman Who Is Blind

UNDATED (AP) – A driver who fatally injured a women who is blind in a Lawrence crosswalk told police he didn’t see the woman or her service dog. The crash report said the driver stopped to help after hitting 61-year-old Tamara Lucille Kearney while attempting a left hand turn in his work pickup truck. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Kearney died ten days later on Aug. 8. Her obituary described her as a yoga instructor, Braille proofreader and a clinical massage therapist. Police said previously that her dog, Rex, suffered only minor injuries and was fine. A police officer indicated in the report that he believed that a cellphone may have been a distraction. Prosecutors are reviewing the case.

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KCK Man Admits He Supplied Drug Dealers with Methamphetamine

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Hays Post) – A man who trafficked methamphetamine in the Kansas City metro area has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.  According to U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister, 50-year-old Michael Pruitt, of Kansas City, Kansas, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.  In his plea, Pruitt admitted he supplied methamphetamine in pound quantities to dealers who were part of a drug trafficking organization operating in the metro.  The Hays Post reports Pruitt had storage units where he kept firearms and drugs.  Authorities say he was observed leaving a unit that was found to contain 48 firearms.

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Governor Celebrates Improved Access to Flint Hills Trail in Osawatomie

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (KPR) – Kansas Governor Laura Kelly visited the Flint Hills Trail in Osawatomie today (WED) to help cut the ribbon on recent improvements, including a new two-mile portion of the trail and a parking lot.  The enhancements are designed to improve trail access for pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians who want to enjoy outdoor recreational opportunities in Miami County.  "Public access to trails, parks, and other green spaces plays a key role in growing economic development opportunities, promoting healthier lifestyles, and improving quality-of-life for Kansans statewide,” Kelly said.  In 2018, the City of Osawatomie established the Flint Hills Trail Taskforce to complete a new portion of the trail.  More improvements to the trail are planned.  The 117-mile Flint Hills Trail State Park stretches from Osawatomie to Herington and passes through five counties and several communities along the way. The trail is built on an old rail corridor and is the seventh-longest rail-trail in America. The Flint Hills Trail generally follows the Santa Fe National Historic Trail route and was designated a State Park in 2018.

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Catholic Bishop in Missouri Criticized for Letter on Voting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese has come under criticism for sending a letter urging parishioners to vote for candidates who oppose abortion. The letter is seen by some as an endorsement of Republican candidates, although Bishop James Johnston Jr. does not explicitly endorse a party or specific candidates. The letter says Catholic voters should weigh a candidate's position on God-given rights, particularly the right to life. Johnston told KCUR that he was simply telling people to vote with their conscience. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last year called abortion a “preeminent priority” of the church.

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Elusive Eastern Black Rail Threatened by Rising Sea Levels

UNDATED (AP) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the Eastern black rail a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.  According to the agency, the bird nicknamed the "feathered mouse" is threatened by sea level rise and the increasing frequency and intensity of storms as well as habitat destruction. Populations have declined by more than 75% over the last 10 to 20 years. The "threatened" designation falls short of what some environmentalists were seeking. The Center for Biological Diversity, which first proposed protections for the bird 10 years ago, had hoped it would be listed as "endangered," which would bring more protection for the remaining population.  The small, secretive marsh bird, can be found in Kansas and dozens of other states east of the Rocky Mountains.  Historically, the eastern black rail is known to exist in 35 states as well as Puerto Rico, Canada, Brazil, and several countries in the Caribbean and Central America, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.  While their geographic range is still relatively widespread, they are few in number.

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Police: Man Shot Outside Kansas City, Kansas, Home Has Died

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police say a man shot outside a home in Kansas City, Kansas, has died of his injuries.  Police say in a news release that the shooting was reported around 10:30 pm Monday. Arriving officers found a man in his mid-20s outside the home suffering from wounds. He was taken to a hospital, where he later died. Police have not released the man's name or reported any arrests in the case.

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Kansas Farmer Finds Decomposed Body While Cutting Corn

GOVE COUNTY, Kan. (WDAF) – A Kansas farmer cutting his corn last Friday found the decomposing body of an unidentified man.  FOX4 News reports Gove County Undersheriff Shawn Mesch made the announcement Monday, saying that the body appeared to have been in the field for at least a couple of weeks.  He said the body is believed to be that of a Hispanic male, likely in his 40s or 50s.  No foul play is suspected at this time. The undersheriff said according to an autopsy, the unidentified male died from natural causes.  Mesch said they haven’t yet found a matching missing person’s case, so they are currently in a holding pattern, waiting to identify the body. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is assisting the Gove County Sheriff’s office with this case.

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Finalists for Kansas Supreme Court All Women for 1st Time

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly is set to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Supreme Court from the first all-female group of finalists in state history. But the state’s most influential anti-abortion group is publicly opposing one of the candidates. The Democratic governor has until Dec. 5 to choose among the three finalists named by the state’s nominating commission earlier this week. They are state Court of Appeals Judge Melissa Taylor Standridge, Washington County District Judge Kim Cudney and Wichita attorney Kristen Wheeler. The anti-abortion group Kansans for Life is opposing Standridge because she sided in a 2016 ruling with other judges who said the state constitution protects abortion rights.

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Kansas City Activists Camp at City Hall in Police Protest

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Activists outraged after a Kansas City police officer knelt on the back of a pregnant woman during an arrest are camping outside city hall and plan to stay until the officer and the police chief are fired. They also want the city to cut 50% of the police department's budget and redirect that money toward social service groups. The unusual protest entered its fifth day Tuesday and those gathered on the city hall grounds say they are determined to stay. Mayor Quinton Lucas says city officials currently have no plans to evict the demonstrators. The city council is scheduled to discuss the situation at a meeting on Thursday.

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Former Emporia Postman Charged with Delaying Mail

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A former contract driver for the U.S. Postal Service is accused of opening and destroying mail containing cash. The U.S. attorney’s office says 23-year-old Dennis Tapscott has been charged with delaying mail. The Emporia Gazette reports that the crime is alleged to have occurred in 2019 and 2020 in Lyon County and other counties. If convicted, he faces up to a year in federal prison and a fine up to $100,000. The U.S. Postal Service Inspection Service investigated.

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