Monday, December 1, 2008

Bikers ride for babies

By Megan Tilk

September 21, 2008

What started as 387 bikers in 2004 grew to the 603 bikers who rode through St. Joseph Saturday.

The annual March of Dimes Bikers for Babies ride began at St. Joe Harley-Davidson at noon and ended 65 miles later at Terrible’s St. Jo Frontier Casino.

The March of Dimes is a nonprofit health organization in the fight against prematurity.

“We’re not here because it’s cool, but it is,” said Forrest Schubert, whose family was the ambassador family for a second time.

“We’re not here to show off tattoos or do burnouts ... ” Mr. Schubert said. “One in eight babies are born prematurely, and that is why we’re here.”

During the opening ceremony, a flock of doves was released. For every seven white doves, one black one was in the mix to represent the one baby born prematurely.

Mr. Schubert and his wife’s twin daughters were born prematurely.

For a minimum of $20 a person, bikers enjoyed the ride through St. Joseph and a free lunch.

Marlene Leimen, a small-built 58-year-old, holding a motorcycle helmet said this year was her fourth year to join in on the ride.

“It’s a nice ride. We enjoy getting out and having fun, and it’s for a good cause,” Mrs. Leiman said just before hopping on her bright yellow Sportster and jetting off.

The 603 riders raised more than $20,000 for the March of Dimes.

For more information on the March of Dimes Bikers for Babies, visit

Left to die, she fought to live

By Megan Tilk
September 21, 2008
Photo: Zachary Siebert: News-Press
FAUCETT, Mo. —The 19-year-old’s beaming green eyes and giant smile almost hide the scar that stands as a reminder of a night that could have ended her life.
Kimberly Dejonge was living what seemed a normal life. Residing in Atchison, Kan., and working as a convenience store clerk, she never thought she would fall victim to a criminal.
The night of June 19, she was working at the Stop-N-Go in Winthrop, Mo., when a man entered the store, slit her throat and stabbed her multiple times. The man robbed the store then took off, leaving Ms. Dejonge to die.
Seeing Ms. Dejonge Saturday, one never would have guessed the horror she had suffered were it not for her scars.
Surrounded by family, friends and some unfamiliar faces, Ms. Dejonge shined. Everyone gathered in her honor in hopes of raising enough money to cover mounting medical bills.
Friends of the family George and Laurie Duncan, along with Jim Corkins, hosted a benefit for Ms. Dejonge on a farm just outside of Faucett, Mo., Saturday afternoon.
“Kimmy has always had the greatest personality ever,” Ms. Duncan said, fighting off tears. “Words can’t describe this child.”
For Ms. Dejonge’s older brother, Jason Dejonge, the night was unbelievable.
“My first thought was, ‘She’s dead.’” Mr. Dejonge said.
Mr. Dejonge remembers the doctors discussing the possibility of brain damage while Ms. Dejonge was in surgery. Now he likes to think that he helped play a part in what kept her alive.
“Me, our brother and our grandpa raised her to be tough,” Mr. Dejonge said. “I just hope she doesn’t take it for granted that she’s still alive. It was an eye-opener for everyone.”
Ms. Dejonge remembers that night from a different perspective.
“My first thought was, ‘I’m going to die like this,’” Ms. Dejonge recalls. “The second thought was, ‘I have too much to live for, I’m going to fight to the end,’ and that’s what I did. I just fought as hard as I could.”
Ms. Dejonge has a few more doctor visits in her future but looks to be cleared from physical therapy soon. She also plans to attend Heritage College in Kansas City.
Ms. Dejonge said she doesn’t harbor any hard feelings.
“Every day is a good day to wake up,” Ms. Dejonge said.
Sean E. Cave, 38, of Atchison, Kan., has been charged with first-degree assault, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action. He remains in the Buchanan County Jail.
Anyone wishing to donate to the Benefit for Kimberly Dejonge can send donations to 2868 S.E. Halleck Road, Faucett, MO 64448.

Popcorn, movie nights featured at Buchanan County Jail

By Megan Tilk       September 20, 2008

After cutting inmates’ desserts from their jailhouse menus in an effort to save money, Buchanan County Sheriff Mike Strong is now offering popcorn and movie nights.

While touring some neighboring jails, Mr. Strong realized that the Buchanan County Jail could use a fresh coat of paint. He also learned what kept the other jails looking so fresh — inmate incentives. So he began popcorn and movie nights.

Mr. Strong said after maintenance workers repaired the graffiti and paint-chipping damage done over time by inmates, he began allowing non-violent offenders the opportunity for a late night PG-rated movie and popcorn to try to ensure the damage wasn’t done again.

“There’s no nudity, no violence or anything that would agitate or excite the prisoners in anyway,” Mr. Strong said. “If they abuse it, they don’t get it.”

Mr. Strong said in the last six weeks that jailers have conducted the program that he can only remember one time the privilege was taken away.

So why remove privileges such as dessert but grant a movie night?

“When you stop and think about it, it comes down to money,” Mr. Strong said. “Look at this as preventive maintenance.”

Mr. Strong, who is up for re-election in November, believes that cleaner facilities lead to fewer inmate infections, fewer chances of inmates hiding contraband and fewer accidents.

Galen Higdon, Mr. Strong’s Republican opponent, remembers movie nights at the Buchanan County Jail years ago.

“There’s always room for programs to help pass the time,” Mr. Higdon said. “Most of the people that are in there, for the most part, are accused of a crime and not yet convicted.”

“If it’s working, don’t change it, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Mr. Higdon said.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gas prices rise as Ike hits Gulf Coast

A Hurricane Ike related story for St. Joseph.

St. Joseph News-Press

Less than 24 hours after Hurricane Ike made landfall in Galveston, Texas, the effects on fuel prices could be felt throughout St. Joseph. On Friday, most gas stations across the city had prices ranging from $3.50 to $3.53 per gallon for unleaded. Overnight, that price jumped by as much as 15 cents at some stations.

On Saturday, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt directed Attorney General Jay Nixon to investigate gasoline suppliers and stations for potential evidence of price gouging in response to Hurricane Ike.
The Gulf of Mexico coast along Louisiana and Texas is home to 42 percent of U.S. refining capacity. Many refineries located along the gulf were either shut down or without power due to Ike, according to Mr. Blunt’s office.
Following Hurricane Katrina, the state took legal action against 10 stations relating to gas prices.
While many gas stations in St. Joseph along the Belt Highway, Frederick Boulevard and in Downtown listed prices in the lower $3.60 range, two stations in St. Joseph’s South Side had gas for $3.49.
Some people took advantage of prices in the $3.50 range at the Sam’s Club-Wal-Mart station, which had gas at $3.50 for members and $3.55 for nonmembers.
Debbie Scherer, from Atchison, Kan., said Saturday that she didn’t really notice an effect from Hurricane Ike.
“The gas prices go up anyway,” Ms. Scherer said. “The hurricane is just another excuse.”
Ms. Scherer said she tries to keep an eye on prices, regardless of the weather.
Michelle Nelson of St. Joseph took advantage of the member benefits and got her gas for $3.50 a gallon.
“I don’t think we needed the hurricane to affect the already high gas prices,” Ms. Nelson said.
Hurricane Ike was downgraded to a tropical storm around 2 p.m. Saturday and looks to affect more than just gas prices in the area.
Officials from the National Weather Service say Tropical Storm Ike will continue to make its way into Arkansas and Southeast Missouri today, bringing heavy rain to areas south of Kansas City.
Rain from Ike will also make its way into our area, where flood watches and warnings have remained in effect for more than 24 hours and will continue to remain in effect through much of today.

Accident kills teen, injures his brother

This was from the first and only fatal wreck that I covered as a Police Reporter.

St. Joseph News-Press

WINTHROP, Mo. — A highway wreck ended the life of a 19-year-old from Overland Park, Kan., Wednesday evening.
Joshua Groshong died after the 1997 Chevrolet Camaro he was riding in collided nearly head on with a Dodge truck just before 6:30 p.m.
The driver of the Camaro, his brother, Danny Groshong, 18, was headed west on U.S. Highway 59 three miles east of the Amelia Earhart bridge when he apparently tried to pass several vehicles, said Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Sheldon Lyon.
The Camaro then traveled along the eastbound shoulder trying to avoid the oncoming Dodge. The Dodge, driven by Jacob Stutz, 18, of Rushville, Mo., also entered the shoulder, where they collided. Both vehicles ended up in the ditch along the south side of the roadway.
Danny Groshong was transported by ambulance to Atchison Hospital, and was later taken by LifeNet to the University of Kansas Hospital with what Mr. Lyon called critical injuries.
Mr. Stutz was transported with non-life threatening injuries to Atchison Hospital where a spokeswoman said he was not a patient late Wednesday.
Citations are still pending as the investigation of the accident continues by the Highway Patrol. Mr. Lyon said alcohol may have been a factor in the crash.
“Right now all we have is a statement from the driver of the truck as to what happened, but what we would really like is for anyone who was maybe getting passed or a witness to the accident to call and give a statement just to help the investigation along,” said Mr. Lyon.
The Highway Patrol is asking for anyone who may have witnessed the accident to call Troop H headquarters at 387-2345.
The highway was partially reopened about an hour after the accident happened.

Hidden treasures abound

This was an interesting little event.

St. Joseph News-Press

SPARKS, Kan. — Nestled deeply between tall corn fields located about 25 miles just northwest of St. Joseph, the unincorporated town of Sparks has one of the state’s hidden gems.
Tightly packed on about 25 acres of what used to be a booming railroad town sits hundreds of tents and tables filled with most items imaginable.
The Sparks Flea Market began Thursday and will end tonight.
A reminder of what the town used to be like sticks out among the plastic tents in the form of a dance hall or church.
Tom Winters and his two brothers, along with Ray Tackett, have organized the event since its beginning in 1982.
They reminisce about the old town and share stories from past markets with anyone willing to listen. Between the foursome they can locate in the flea market tents where the old school buildings, banks and houses used to be. The men, all in or near their 60s, own or lease much of the land that is used to host the flea market.
Although they anticipate 40,000 to 50,000 people will come to Sparks throughout the weekend, this year isn’t their biggest because of a poor economy.
“Vendors are what bring the people back,” Mr. Tackett said.
“And how do we get the vendors? We take good care of them,” Mr. Winters added.
Next year the men plan to team up with the Great U.S. Highway 36 Treasure Hunt, which will mean an additional market. This weekend’s flea market was the second one this year.
Dan and Sue Cooksey have been at the flea market since the early 1990s. They spend the weekend selling almost 300 pounds of kettle corn and pork rinds.
“We enjoy seeing old faces,” Mr. Cooksey said.
The two, from Laredo, Mo., said they meet all kinds of people looking for different items among the hundreds of booths.
“There was a guy the other day looking for tack or horse riding supplies,” Mr. Cooksey said. “Then someone else comes looking for marbles.”
A majority of the vendors are selling antiques but others have clothing, board games, car parts and much more — even just mason jars full of buttons.
Howard Engelbrecht with the ex-officers of the American Legion were selling items for a good cause. Mr. Engelbrecht was selling blue and white bath towels.
The towels came from Heartland Regional Medical Center’s surgical wing and have been laundered and sanitized.
Proceeds from the towels go toward scholarships from the Bill and Mary Russell Scholarship Foundation for nursing students in the St. Joseph area.
“I like to do things that make you feel good in here,” Mr. Engelbrecht said, tapping on his chest.
Another flea market can be found just 10 miles up the road in White Cloud, Kan.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Citizens take action

This was a fun one to do.

St. Joseph News-Press

Armed with radar guns, several citizens in St. Joseph now have their sights set on speeders.
Citizens who are concerned with speeders in their area can do something about it with the help of Sgt. Bill McCammon of the St. Joseph Police Department.
Wednesday night, two St. Joseph residents did just that. Danielle Hunt and Jim Korell with the Central Neighborhood Watch Group spent just more than an hour in the back of a sport utility vehicle armed with a pen, paper and a Police Department-issued radar gun.

“We live on some pretty busy streets and there are a lot of kids running around,” Ms. Hunt said.
As they sat in the back of the SUV, aiming the radar gun out the back window, it suddenly became fun.
“Thirty-two, 34, 38,” Mr. Korell would say trying to guess the speed of the approaching vehicles as Ms. Hunt operated the radar gun.
Suddenly a zippy, sports car shot through the pack.
“Here we go, here we go,” the two shouted as they lunged forward to try to read the license plate.
“You want to catch them,” Mr. Korell said. “But a lot of the time people are slowing down, which is good. But you just wanna nail ‘em.”
Mr. Korell and Ms. Hunt both underwent a brief training session and a background check, required by the Police Department, before they were allowed to participate in the program.
Mr. McCammon said the pair are the third group to participate in the program so far. The Police Department sent 18 warning letters to speeders as a result of the first two groups’ efforts.
“We are not allowed to write tickets,” Ms. Hunt said. “We note the vehicle information and the speed they were going, if it is more than 10 miles over, and that gets turned into the Police Department.”
The Police Department then processes that information and distributes written warnings to speeders whose information added up. If a number was written incorrectly or the make or model were not a match, that speeder got lucky, Mr. McCammon said.
Ms. Hunt and Mr. Korell clocked three different vehicles all traveling 14 miles over the posted speed limit as well as five other offenders, including a pizza delivery car, all in less than an hour and a half.
Residents wishing to participate in the program can fill out a request form on the Police Department’s Web site or in person at the Law Enforcement Center. The Police Department has two radar guns available for citizen use.
“I felt like we accomplished something,” Mr. Korell said as they ended their watch.

On the scene in 9 minutes flat or less

Another POD. This was on ambulance response times - a hot topic in St. Joseph.

St. Joseph News-Press

Vickie Pickett remembers a day when waiting for an ambulance could sometimes seem like forever. Now, sometimes they arrive before she’s ready for them.Ms. Pickett is a night medic at the Vintage Garden South assisted living center. She joined Vintage Garden South three years ago and remembers waiting several minutes with her elderly patients before an ambulance would arrive.

“I just called one not too long ago, and they were here before I had the paperwork ready for them,” Ms. Pickett said.
About three years ago, Heartland Regional Medical Center received numerous complaints from citizens and from the St. Joseph Fire Department about ambulance response times. Heartland officials decided to make some changes, and they hired Tom Little as the director of ambulances.
Mr. Little was notified of 59 different concerns that Heartland needed to address with its ambulance department. He says now almost all 59 concerns have been addressed, including the addition of two more ambulances and new ambulance-waiting locations in the city.
For a majority of the day, Heartland has four different ambulances on standby at various locations. They also have the help of the Fire Department’s first responders on every call.
Mr. Little said there is a great need for the assistance of the Fire Department to be on every call.
“It’s crucial to have them there,” Mr. Little said. “They can get there almost three minutes ahead of us.”
Although Fire Department responders aren’t allowed to transport patients, the extra time they are there allows for initial care and assessment prior to a Heartland ambulance crew arriving to take the patient to the hospital.
How quickly the Fire Department arrives at an emergency is important, because statistics show Heartland ambulances still are coming up short in one national standard. Heartland tries to get to life-threatening situations (also called priority one calls) in less than nine minutes 90 percent of the time.
From July 2004 through June 2005, Heartland responders made it to life-threatening scenes within nine minutes just more than 60 percent of the time. Since July 2006, Heartland has made it to priority one calls within nine minutes more than 85 percent of the time.
The goal is to arrive at priority two calls, or non-life threatening situations, in less than 12 minutes. They have met their priority two goal 100 percent of the time since July 2006.
Those numbers have made the job a little more difficult for the Fire Department.
“We’re really having to hustle to beat them now,” said Steve Daniels, chief training officer for the Fire Department.
Responders from the Fire Department often use firetrucks as their transportation to a medical call, which Mr. Daniels says sometimes slows them down. However, getting smaller vehicles doesn’t appear to be an option.
“We don’t have the space,” Mr. Daniels said. “A lot of the (fire) stations are single structure buildings that just don’t have enough room for an SUV or car for us to drive on medical.”
There is one truck and one sport utility vehicle in the entire Fire Department that get used for medical calls, Mr. Daniels said.
Mr. Daniels isn’t fond of the idea of sending out a $3.25 million piece of fire equipment on a medical call.
“We’re taxpayers too, and if there were a better idea, we would take it,” Mr. Daniels said.
Even with the expense, Mr. Daniels also feels the need for both sets of responders — the Fire Department and Heartland ambulance crews.
“The two people that ride in a Heartland ambulance may not be enough to handle the situation,” Mr. Daniels said.
The Fire Department sends a minimum of three people on a medical call, which can come in handy with multi-victim situations or serious wrecks, he said.
According to Mr. Little’s statistics, the Fire Department responders have met their goal of a six-minute response time 87 percent of the time since December 2007.
Mr. Daniels would like to see that number improve to 95 percent of the time. He’d also like all firefighters to become emergency medical technician (EMT) certified. Currently, about 70 of the 132 firefighters have that certification. Mr. Daniels said it is now a requirement for all new firefighters to be certified.
Another change Mr. Little made was to EMT certify all dispatchers who take the 911 phone calls.
When a resident calls 911 for a medical emergency, the call first goes to the St. Joseph and Buchanan County Law Enforcement Center before it is routed to Heartland to dispatch an ambulance.
“It’s important to have EMT-certified dispatchers, because if it’s a case where they have assessed by phone that a baby needs CPR, they can give the caller instructions to get it started before first responders even arrive,” Mr. Little said.
While there is still progress to be made, Mr. Little said the accomplishments of the ambulance department are great.
“Heartland gets no tax dollars to run its ambulance crews,” Mr. Little said.
The department runs off a $3.5 million operating budget each year and saw a $1.2 million dollar loss (expenses over patient fees) last year.
With high gas prices, Mr. Little said it now costs about $186 a day to fill each ambulance with diesel fuel.
Regardless of the cost and grief taken, both Heartland and the Fire Department feel they must continue to support each other.
“This town’s not big enough for two ambulance services, and the one it has needs everything it can get to continue running,” Mr. Little said.

Sheriff Strong runs for re-election on his record

I was able to cover the Buchanan County Sheriff's election. Some would say it was the most heated and controversial race for the county. Prior to the primary I sat down with each of the four candidates to do a profile.

St. Joseph News-Press

When it comes to running a sheriff’s department, Mike Strong has the know how.The Benton High School graduate and St. Joseph native has been Buchanan County’s sheriff for almost four years. Mr. Strong is up for re-election in the Aug. 5 primary against fellow Democratic candidate Ron Fisher.“It was always my intent to run again,” Mr. Strong said in regards to a possible re-election.While his first goal is to win the election, he also puts the re-organization of the department, increasing the patrol division and cost saving measures on his to-do list.“We’ve made a lot of gains but there is always somewhere to go,” Mr. Strong said.

Under his supervision the Sheriff’s Department has landed under budget several times. For 2007, the department came in $176,000 under budget even after a cut in maintenance funding, Mr. Strong said. A change to the food inmates are served saved $40,000 in a matter of two months.
While he remains proud of the fact that he was able to reduce the department’s accumulated holiday time by 80 percent, he plans to continue that trend, which he said has saved the department more than $200,000.
County records show a more than 5,000-hour decline in holiday hours from December 2006 to May 2008. However, the number of vacation hours in that time period went up slightly, by about 1,600 to 23,173 hours.
By increasing the patrol division Mr. Strong hopes to leave a better presence on the streets and roads of the county.
“When we make a stop for a traffic violation, a lot of times we find drugs or other things,” Mr. Strong said.
Mr. Strong’s competition, including two Republican candidates, have said they’d get rid of part or all of the department’s fleet of sport utility vehicles. With no intentions of changing the SUVs deputies currently drive, Mr. Strong stands firm against his opposition.
“If it’s a case of a rolled tractor or a washed out road we can absolutely get to people,” Mr. Strong said. “We can’t afford two fleets to have cars and the Durangos.”
Mr. Strong also prides himself that just three weeks after he took office in 2005 an online sex offender registry was put in place under his supervision.
Drug Strike Force Capt. Mike Donaldson stands behind Mr. Strong in his quest for re-election.
“He keeps his campaign promises,” Mr. Donaldson said. “He’s got over 30 years in law enforcement including the last 15 in management and the last four as sheriff.”
Mr. Donaldson says he has witnessed the gains within the department under Mr. Strong’s leadership.
“He’s been under budget the last two years and has taken some unfair shots,” Mr. Donaldson said.
Mr. Strong feels that he’s the most qualified and has the most experience and that he has close hometown roots.
“My family has served in this community for over 30 years with a good reputation,” he said.
Mr. Strong hopes the community will give him a chance to complete the job by allowing him to continue on as sheriff for four more years.
“He’s done a good job, scratch that, he’s done a great job,” Mr. Donaldson said

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Carter targets budget in run for sheriff

I was able to cover the Buchanan County Sheriff's election. Some would say it was the most heated and controversial race for the county. Prior to the primary I sat down with each of the four candidates to do a profile.

St. Joseph News-Press

Campaigning with young enthusiasm, management experience and a strict plan of attack, Brian Carter, a Republican candidate for Buchanan County sheriff, is preparing for the Aug. 5 primary election.
The Missouri Western State University criminal justice department graduate hails from Bethany, Mo., and has worked for Buchanan County since early 2000. Mr. Carter, an evening shift supervisor in corrections for the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Department, said he’s had intentions of running for sheriff ever since he started in law enforcement.
Mr. Carter will face off against fellow Republican candidate Galen Higdon during the primary.
“I believe it’s time for some changes ... The department needs to be run more effectively and efficiently and held to a different level of accountability,” Mr. Carter said.
Reducing the current budget is one of Mr. Carter’s priorities. His plan includes reducing the budget by a minimum of $300,000 by restructuring current staffing and replacing the current fleet of sport-utility vehicles the department currently uses.
“They truly are a showroom model with a larger battery,” Mr. Carter said.
While he plans to replace the Dodge Durangos with police-packaged cars, possibly purchased from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, he does plan to keep a few mid-sized four-wheel-drive vehicles that are more cost-efficient.
Mr. Carter also has concerns surrounding the warrants division.
“There is a lingering burden of unserved warrants that grows larger by the day in Buchanan County,” Mr. Carter said. “It costs the county nothing more than a phone call or a letter to get that person in and paying their fines.”
Increasing patrol and implementing new school programs are also on Mr. Carter’s “to-do list.” Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, along with safe schools planning and gang tracking are ways he aims to improve on current programs. Mr. Carter says DARE is in about 75 percent of schools nationwide, but not in rural county schools.
A co-worker and member of Mr. Carter’s campaign staff, Rick Dierenfeldt, said Mr. Carter can inflict the most change in the department.
“I have witnessed his dedication and determination in a law enforcement setting and with family and friends,” Mr. Dierenfeldt said. “He has the innate leadership ability to get people excited about their jobs.”
Mr. Carter believes his experience as a patrol supervisor, a Buchanan County emergency management director, a director for the Region H Homeland Security Division and as a community volunteer and Sunday school teacher will give him the extra edge over his competition.
“I am young and energetic,” Mr. Carter said. “There is no self-seeking purpose behind me campaigning, it’s simply a means to give back to the community and to let the community have a deciding factor in the direction the department should go.”

Deputy says he belives disciplinary action was politically motivated

A little controversy heated up the race for sheriff.

St. Joseph News-Press

A Buchanan County Republican candidate for sheriff has decided to speak out about disciplinary action taken against him related to a vehicle pursuit.
Brian Carter, a road patrol supervisor at the time of the incident, pursued a man suspected of domestic violence on March 19. Mr. Carter’s police vehicle and a civilian vehicle were damaged in the chase.
The News-Press previously reported that disciplinary action had been recommended by a review board against Mr. Carter following an internal investigation. At that time, both Mr. Carter and Sheriff Mike Strong declined to elaborate on the circumstances due to personnel issues. The News-Press formally requested documents related to the pursuit but was denied access.
Mr. Carter has since chosen to comment on various aspects of the issue.
“There have been several occurrences involving personnel changes within the department that would certainly lead one to believe that this has the potential of being politically motivated,” Mr. Carter said.
Three months after the incident, Mr. Carter was transferred from the patrol division to the corrections department.
Mr. Carter questions the time and validity of the disciplinary actions. The primary election is Aug. 5. Mr. Strong is running for re-election as a Democrat against Ron Fisher, a deputy within the department. Mr. Carter is running as a Republican against Galen Higdon, who is also a deputy.
Rick Dierenfeldt, also involved in the pursuit, was recently transferred from corporal of the patrol division to deputy in the court marshal’s department — a move he was told was because of “a recent inability to perform the duties of the patrol division and for the good of the department.”
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised at the course of events that took place,” Mr. Dierenfeldt said. “However, I will continue to serve in my current position to the best of my ability and with a positive attitude.”
Mr. Carter filed an appeal in response to the disciplinary action, which did not go in his favor.
“The attorney advised through research on the issue that he discovered Buchanan County is one of the only counties in the state of Missouri that does not have an appeals process, which gives any elected Buchanan County official, including the sheriff, absolute power and authority in personnel matters — with or without cause,” Mr. Carter said.
Mr. Strong denied any further comment on the matter, citing personnel issues. He does, however, expect sentencing for Joshua P. Vantiger, 24, of St. Joseph, who was charged in the pursuit, by the first part of August.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fisher's campaign 34 years in the making

I was able to cover the Buchanan County Sheriff's election. Some would say it was the most heated and controversial race for the county. Prior to the primary I sat down with each of the four candidates to do a profile.

St. Joseph News-Press

Ron Fisher has known for most of his 34-year career that he would some day campaign to be Buchanan County sheriff.
The St. Joseph native knew when he was a 21-year-old St. Joseph Police Department officer that he wanted to lead the county’s law enforcement officers. But he never anticipated such a tough race.
“I filed with two minutes to go because I knew how hard an incumbent is to beat,” Mr. Fisher said.
As a Democrat, Mr. Fisher will face current Sheriff Mike Strong in the primary set for Aug. 5.
“I’m 55 years old, and when you turn 60, a lot of times they don’t want you in law enforcement anymore,” Mr. Fisher said, citing some examples of close friends being asked to retire.
Mr. Fisher currently is a marshal and deputy sheriff at the Buchanan County Courthouse, where he has worked for almost nine years. Before that, he was a patrolman, detective and sergeant for the Police Department.
Mr. Fisher plans on putting the protection of citizens and the safety of officers first in his campaign, followed by budget concerns.
“I want to make sure they get the best bang for their buck when it comes to taxation,” Mr. Fisher said.
He also hopes to implement a booking fee for individuals who are arrested, which is a similar set up to what he said Joplin, Mo., and Springfield, Mo., currently use. The fee would be in the ballpark of $10 for each time a person is taken into custody.
As for the fleet of sport utility vehicles the department is currently driving, Mr. Fisher hopes to slowly replace them.
“We’re stuck with them now,” Mr. Fisher said. “We’ll have to drive them a while until we can swap them out with an Impala or other police-packaged car.”
Mr. Fisher hopes his knowledge of the city and many of its citizens can give him the extra edge needed to become the next sheriff.
“I’m a people person and I’ll listen,” Mr. Fisher said. “Public safety isn’t always fun and games, but you can still treat people with respect and kindness.”

New system will help locate 911 cell phone callers

This was my first POD story.

St. Joseph News-Press

Her job involves everything from livestock on the loose, wrecks, drunken falls and shots fired. No matter what the event, Joan Clayton relies on her communications system to help her locate exactly where a 911 phone call is coming from.
Ms. Clayton has worked in St. Joseph and Buchanan County’s 911 communications center for 23 years and soon, for the first time, she will be able to determine the location of an individual placing a call from a cell phone.
On June 30, the St. Joseph City Council approved the purchase of the roughly $282,000 worth of equipment needed to make the switch. The current system lacks the ability to identify the whereabouts of callers on a cell phone.
“We’re all really excited,” said Ms. Clayton. “If people in a stressful situation call and can only vaguely tell us where they are this system will help us find them faster.”
Tabby McClanahan, public safety network administrator, says law enforcement officials have been trying to get their current system replaced for almost five years, but other priorities such as a new two-way radio system came first. Funding for the new system will come from Capital Improvements Program, or CIP, funds.
“We will be the first department in the region to have this system,” Ms. McClanahan said.
Johnson County, Kan., has purchased the system but hasn’t installed it yet, said Ms. McClanahan.
The system, which the department hopes to have up and running by August, allows for two additional operators over the current system.
“Right now we have to manually gather call counts but this new system will automatically do that,” Ms. McClanahan said. “Those numbers provide good workload indicators, which tell us the number of personnel needed during peak call hours.”
During the month of June, Ms. Clayton and the operators at the 911 communications center received 4,588 emergency calls and 16,386 calls on their non-emergency lines.
“Our job is helping people, and this system is going to make it much easier and faster for us to help them,” Ms. Clayton said.

Higdon runs for sheriff on stewarship, values platfrom

I was able to cover the Buchanan County Sheriff's election. Some would say it was the most heated and controversial race for the county. Prior to the primary I sat down with each of the four candidates to do a profile.

St. Joseph News-Press

With more than 29 years of experience, strong moral values and some of the biggest signs in town, Republican candidate for Buchanan County sheriff Galen Higdon hopes he has what it takes.
The St. Joseph native knew at a young age that law enforcement was in his future. His father was a St. Joseph Police Department officer.
After 29 years patrolling the county roads Mr. Higdon, a current sergeant with the patrol division, noticed a change in the direction the department was heading and thought he could do a better job. Mr. Higdon made his decision to run for office two weeks before filing for the position began.
He said his wife of 34 years and his three daughters said his decision to run for sheriff was long overdue.
“I enjoy what I’m doing and the enforcement part is something I really enjoy doing,” Mr. Higdon said. “Now I think it’s time I set my values on to some of the younger guys and get them to enjoy what they do.”
As a showing of his values Mr. Higdon is asking fellow deputies not to assist in his campaign process.
“It’s so I don’t feel like I owe them anything,” Mr. Higdon said. “It’s happened before and higher positions were used as a repayment.”
Some of the key areas Mr. Higdon hopes to improve on if elected include reducing budget spending, doing away with the current vehicle fleet and boosting morale within the department.
“I want to be a better steward with peoples’ tax money and spend it a little wiser,” said Mr. Higdon. “Eliminating the fleet of Durangos will cut fuel costs and maintenance spending.”
Mr. Higdon says he sees no use for the department’s large fleet of the four-wheel-drive vehicles.
“Those cars are not even police vehicles,” Mr. Higdon said. “If you look at the warning on their sun visor it says don’t travel at excessive speeds or make sharp maneuvers — we’re cops.”
Mr. Higdon plans to trade off a majority of the “gas guzzling” fleet and buy quality used, police packaged cars. He said in the time he has spent driving a Durango around the county he has never had a need for its four wheel drive or extra ground clearance features.
“The county road crews are fantastic today as well as MoDOT and St. Joseph maintenance. If a snowstorm hits, it’s not long before those roads are clear,” Mr. Higdon said.
Mr. Higdon will face off against fellow Republican sheriff candidate Brian Carter in the Aug. 5 primary.
The two men give Republican voters something to be proud of, said Ken Beck, a board member with the Northwest Missouri Republican Club.
“Higdon brings a quality to the sheriff’s office that needs to be looked at,” Mr. Beck said in reference to the years of experience Mr. Higdon has. “I think the Republican Party should be very proud of what the two men bring to the party.”
Mr. Higdon is a former vice president of the Missouri Sheriff’s Deputy Association and feels that gives him the extra experience necessary as a sheriff for Buchanan County.
“As the former vice president, I know how to manage money and I want to bring back moral values to the department and safeguard the people of Buchanan County,” Mr. Higdon said

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of profiles of the four candidates for Buchanan County sheriff.

2-Vehicle wreck causes 2nd accident when righted SUV rolls down hill

This was from one of my funniest days on the job. I was an eye-witness.

St. Joseph News-Press

What started as a two-vehicle accident Saturday afternoon at the intersection of North Third Street and East Highland Avenue ended up as two separate accidents.
While officers attempted to clear the scene of a previous accident involving a Ford Explorer that had rolled over, an employee of Collision Repair Specialists used a tow truck to tip the vehicle back onto its tires. Once the Explorer landed, it then rolled backward down a hill and struck two parked vehicles and a street sign in front of 305 E. Highland.
The owners of the parked vehicles, Michael and Kristen Hart, arrived shortly after the accidents occurred.
“I was kind of in shock,” Ms. Hart said.
She was enjoying a birthday supper when her son, who was at home and heard the accidents happen, called to deliver the news.
St. Joseph Police Officer Matt Biggs, who was nearly struck by the out-of-control Explorer, was eventually able to reach into the driver’s side window of the Explorer once it began to slow down and stop the vehicle before it could do more damage.
The initial accident occurred when Laura L. Gerdes, 57, of Elwood, Kan., was travelling east on Highland and her Explorer was struck by a northbound Ford Windstar, driven by Devina Barnett, 23, of St. Joseph. The force from the impact caused the Explorer to spin and roll, coming to rest on the driver’s side facing west, said Police Officer Wyatt Laipple.
Ms. Gerdes was extricated from the Explorer and taken to Heartland Regional Medical Center, where a spokeswoman said she was in fair condition late Saturday.
Ms. Barnett was cited with failure to stop or yield to oncoming traffic.

Monday, June 30, 2008

No injuries in train derailment in Atchison

I covered a train derailment in Kansas. Thank goodness I was smart enough to take my camera as the picture I took for fun ran with the story in the paper.

Twenty-five to 30 train cars were involved in a derailment in Atchison, Kan., Friday evening. No one was injured, but a hazardous materials response team was likely to be called in as a precaution because three cars contained radioactive materials.

St. Joseph News-Press

ATCHISON, Kan. — A train heading westbound through Atchison derailed at the U.S. Highway 59 and Fourth Street intersection at 5:55 p.m. Friday.
Between 25 and 30 train cars were involved, but no one was injured on the train or at the intersection, said Atchison Fire Chief Michael McDermed.
The Atchison Police Department quickly secured the scene. Mr. McDermed said a hazardous materials response team would more than likely be flown in as a precautionary measure because three train cars contained radioactive material. The cars were considered a low-gradeconcern because they didn’t appear to be damaged in any way.
Officials weren’t sure Friday night what caused the derailment. Mr. McDermed said BNSF Railway officials and the hazardous materials team would have to be on the scene before the determination could be made.
Train and vehicle traffic through the intersection was rerouted. The train rails and roadway at the intersection sustained heavy damage in multiple areas. The tracks involved are considered a major westward route through Atchison, and trains will probably be rerouted for several days until the tracks can be repaired, Mr. McDermed said.
An Atchison man, Robert Jacobson, witnessed the accident. He said he regularly watches the trains as they pass.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen something like this when it actually happened,” Mr. Jacobson said. “It was pretty noisy, like thunder.”
The train was carrying a variety of items, which were itemized on a list provided by the driver of the train to authorities. Many of the items were commodity type materials. One grain car did appear to have a slight leak, Mr. McDermed said.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

I was fortunate enough to get to cover one of the biggest fires in St. Joseph's history. We had multiple stories from multiple reporters. This was my take.

St. Joseph News-Press

The effects of the fire that broke out in Downtown St. Joseph Wednesday afternoon could be felt over much of the city.
As onlookers began to appear from all directions, concerns began to build. The almost 90-degree heat, combined with the smoke and water from the fire, forced many businesses nearby to shut down for the day. It also made the work of the almost 30 firefighters that much more difficult.
Joe Colwell, a Heartland Regional Medical Center paramedic, was called to the scene to help make sure the firefighters remained in good condition.
“The biggest concern with something like this is heat exhaustion and burns,” Mr. Colwell said.
Paramedics monitored each firefighter’s blood pressure and made sure they were hydrated. Two firefighters were taken to a medical clinic due to superficial facial burns that weren’t considered to be serious, said Battalion Chief Russell Moore.
Volunteers from the Salvation Army and the Red Cross also were on scene, handing out drinks and snacks to those fighting the blaze. A volunteer with the Salvation Army said more than 50 bottles of water and Gatorade were used.
The blaze was an estimated 2,000 degrees, according to Fire Chief Jack Brown.
Onlooker Brian Phillippe chose to use his break from work as a chance to witness the fire.
“We have a half hour, so we thought we’d come here,” Mr. Phillippe said.
Smoke from the fire could been seen from Country Squire, where he works, at Frederick Boulevard and Buckingham Street. Mr. Phillippe said he received several picture messages on his cell phone from other onlookers already on scene while he was still at work, so he decided to come Downtown.
Power was cut to some of the businesses in the area, including to Pony Express Bank on Felix Street. However, power was restored shortly thereafter.
Several of the buildings on Seventh Street, though unaffected by fire, smelled of smoke on the interior.
Ashley Haer showed up for work at American Family Insurance on Seventh Street just after the fire started. The five-story building was downwind from the fire.
Ms. Haer found her office filled with smoke. Her manager instructed her to evacuate the office once the power went out. She took it as an opportunity to witness the fire.
Ms. Haer returned to work about three hours later.
“I know there was some smoke and water issues with the fifth floor, but nothing other than a little smoke down here,” Ms. Haer said.
The building just received a new roof last fall, Ms. Haer said, but she was unsure of any damage at the time of the fire.
Legal Aid of Western Missouri, which is located on the fourth floor of the building, remained open through the fire, but with the help of open windows, employees managed to do some ventilating of their own.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Leap Frogs dropped over Kauffman

Yet another time I was thankful I took a camera. My photo ran with the story on the front page.
Cruising around in a C-130 with Kansas City Chiefs player Donnie Edwards wasn't a bad day either.

Photo/Megan Tilk

The U.S. Navy’s Leap Frogs jump out of a Missouri Air Guard C-130 over Kauffman Stadium on Thursday. The Leap Frogs delivered the game ball.

By MEGAN TILK St. Joseph News-Press 6/13/2008

KANSAS CITY — The sky filled with colored smoke and parachutes Thursday as the U.S. Navy’s Leap Frogs descended into Kauffman Stadium to kick off a Royals home game.
It’s an event one St. Joseph native likes to think wouldn’t happen without him on the job.
Tyler Lingerfelt, a 2003 Central High School graduate, is an aircraft loadmaster for the Missouri Air Guard. His job involves being “in charge of everything in the back,” as he put it, referring to the cargo area from where the parachutists jump.
Tethered by a single strap as the cargo door opened at 6,000 feet above land, Mr. Lingerfelt walked to the edge as if he’d done it a thousand times.
Both of Mr. Lingerfelt’s parents are in the Air Guard, as well.
“It’s a cool job, in that I show up at 11 a.m., drop Navy SEALs out of an aircraft at a baseball game and am done by 2 p.m.,” Mr. Lingerfelt said.
He remained in constant contact with the pilot through a headset as he stood on the edge. Soon, he let the Leap Frogs know it was all right for them to begin their wind tests prior to the jump.
The members of the Navy Parachute Team then took formation and soon were floating through the air
The six men come from San Diego with the goal of boosting recruiting efforts for the Navy.
For those witnessing the routine from Kauffman Stadium, the Leap Frogs meant more than a cool show. One of the members carried the opening game ball as he jumped from the aircraft.
One of the Air Guard members helping pilot the craft, a previous Missouri Western State University football player, commuted on his own dollar from Orlando, Fla., to be a part of the show.
For Lt. Col. Michael Becker, the highlight of his work day included a special passenger aboard the aircraft: Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Donnie Edwards.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever flown one of these with an NFL player,” Mr. Becker said.
Mr. Edwards chose to miss out on visiting St. Joseph for the offseason practice Thursday at MWSU when he was asked to ride along by a member of the Leap Frogs.
“I don’t serve in the military, so this is my serving,” Mr. Edwards said, “meeting these men and women and letting them know we appreciate what they do.”
Mr. Edwards plans to do more than watch as the Leap Frogs jump the next time he catches up with them. He said he wants to jump as well, after his football career.