Gubernatorial Uncertainty, Wildfires, Prison Unrest Among Top Stories In 2017
The uncertainty surrounding Gov. Sam Brownback's departure for an ambassador post and prison disturbances were among the top 10 stories in Kansas in 2017.
Brownback prepares to depart
President Donald Trump nominated Brownback to become the country's next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in July. The nomination came after bipartisan majorities in the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature enacted a $600 million-a-year income tax increase amid massive budget shortfall and questions about funding schools, putting an end to Brownback's nationally watched tax experiment.
But the post was in limbo after the U.S. Senate failed to vote on confirming him before finishing its business for the year, lengthening an already awkward transition to a new governor. Amid the uncertainty, the field of candidates vying to run for governor in 2018 grew to more than 20.
Disturbances erupt at state prisons
Several inmate disturbances were reported, including one that caused $80,000 in damage at a Norton prison and another that led to a five-day lockdown at an El Dorado facility. Some of the unrest was blamed on the movement of inmates among state prison facilities in preparation for the construction of a prison to replace the 1860s-era facility in Lansing. The unrest also focused attention on understaffing and high turnover, leading Brownback to raise the pay of corrections officers.
Gunman opens fire in shooting that appears racially motivated
Gunfire erupted in a crowded suburban Kansas City bar, killing one Indian national and wounding another in an attack that some witnesses said was racially motivated. Adam Purinton faces state murder and attempted murder charges and a federal hate crime charge in the February shooting in Olathe that killed 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla. Another Indian man was injured, along with a man who tried to intervene.
State battles record-breaking wildfires
Kansas had another year of record-setting wildfires. In March, about 2,000 firefighters battled a series of blazes that consumed more than 1,000 square miles, killed a truck driver, forced several thousand people to evacuate, and damaged or destroyed dozens of structures. Thousands of cattle also died.
Men freed from prison after convictions are overturned
Lamonte McIntyre was imprisoned for 23 years for a double homicide in Kansas City, Kansas, before he was freed in October after the district attorney dropped the charges. Documents made public during an eight-year effort to exonerate McIntyre allege that for decades, a homicide detective used his position to sexually harass African-American women, including McIntyre's mother.
Richard Anthony Jones also was freed in June after spending nearly 17 years in prison for a 1999 robbery in Roeland Park after supporters found another man who looked enough like him that the victim and other witnesses said they could no longer be sure who committed the crime.
Child welfare head leaves amid concerns
The head of the state's child welfare agency, Phyllis Gilmore, announced her retirement amid growing concerns and several high-profile deaths. Among them was the death of 3-year-old Evan Brewer, whose body was found encased in concrete. The boy's grandfather, former Wichita mayor and gubernatorial candidate Carl Brewer, said the family filed multiple requests with the Kansas Department of Children and Families to check on Evan before the toddler's remains were discovered.
The state agency also released records about its involvement with 7-year-old Adrian Jones before he was starved and tortured to death in 2015 and his remains were fed to pigs.
Congressional races garner attention
Republican Ron Estes won a closer-than-usual congressional election in Kansas as the races for two other congressional seats heated up in advance of the 2018 midterm election. Estes defeated Democrat James Thompson by 6.2 percentage points after Thompson mounted a strong challenge in a historically GOP district. Estes was state treasurer before the election.
Also attracting attention was the upcoming race for the 2nd Congressional District that includes Topeka and Lawrence in part because Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins isn't seeking re-election. Meanwhile, the 3rd Congressional District seat now held by Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder is a key Democratic target after Hillary Clinton carried the district in the presidential race.
Sexual assault case divide small town
A northeastern Kansas man charged with sexually assaulting several women was found guilty in June of raping and sodomizing two of his accusers. The case against 22-year-old Jacob Ewing sharply divided his hometown of Holton. When Ewing was first arrested, many townspeople supported him and criticized his accusers.
Human remains found in storage unit
A homeless man told police he dismembered his wife in a Kansas City, Missouri, hotel room and then slept in a Lenexa storage unit with her remains and his two young children. Justin Rey, 35, is jailed on $1 million bond in Johnson County on child endangerment charges. He also is charged in Missouri with abandonment of a corpse and in California with an unrelated 2016 killing. He isn't charged with killing his wife, who died in October.
Tax agent shot, wounded in Wichita
A man who owes almost $400,000 in taxes was charged with walking into a tax office in Wichita in September and shooting a state tax agent who was working on his case. Ricky Todd Wirths, of Wichita, is charged with attempted first-degree murder. The day of the shooting, agents had gone to Wirths' home to seize assets.