Two natural disasters were among the top Leavenworth Times stories of 2019.
Two natural disasters were among the top Leavenworth Times stories of 2019.
An expansion of the Leavenworth County Commission and a national championship win by Junior ROTC students also are among the top stories for the year.
Here are 10 of the Times’ top stories for 2019. The stories are not ranked in any particular order.
• Flooding – The Leavenworth area experienced significant flooding along the Missouri River this year.
The river flooded multiple times in the Leavenworth area. On March 23, the river reached 31.3 feet, which was the second-worst flood on record for the area.
The river reaches its flood stage in Leavenworth at 20 feet.
On June 1, the river reached 28.66 feet, which was the fourth-worst flood on record for the Leavenworth area.
While the river is no longer flooded, local officials are cautious about the potential for flooding in 2020.
• Tornado – An EF-4 tornado passed through southern Leavenworth County on May 28.
Only minor injuries were reported in Leavenworth County. But it is estimated that the storm caused more than $26 million in damage in the county.
The tornado entered southern Leavenworth County after having touched down in neighboring Douglas County.
It is estimated the tornado reached peak winds of 170 mph.
• National championship – The Junior ROTC Pioneer Battalion from Leavenworth High School won a national title during a Raiders Championships event in November in Molena, Georgia.
Fifty-one JROTC cadets from Leavenworth High School competed in events at the national meet.
Student Konya Halle won the female division and student Joseph Purvis took first place in the male division in the individual Ultimate Raider event at the national meet.
• Mayor receives national attention – Leavenworth City Commissioner Jermaine Wilson drew national attention after he was selected in January to serve a one-year term as mayor.
Earlier in his life, Wilson served a prison sentence for drug possession.
He later founded Unity in the Community, an organization with a mission of bringing people together.
Wilson was elected to the City Commission in 2017.
In January, he was selected by his fellow commissioners to serve as mayor.
Upon being appointed mayor, Wilson called Leavenworth a city of second chances and opportunity.
Commissioner Mike Griswold recently was chosen to succeed Wilson as the new mayor of Leavenworth. Wilson continues to serve on the City Commission.
• Expansion of County Commission – The Board of County Commissioners expanded from three members to five this year.
The effort to increase the number of commissioners began in 2018.
A group called Give Me Five collected signatures to have the proposed expansion of the commission put before voters.
Voters approved the expansion in November 2018.
In 2019, the county held a special election to allow voters to select the two additional commissioners.
Commissioners Chad Schimke and Mike Stieben joined the board in April.
• Judge’s comments – District Judge Mike Gibbens drew attention earlier this year for comments he made during a sentencing hearing in late 2018.
Gibbens received criticism after he said he considered an underage girl an aggressor in the case of a man who was being sentenced for electronic solicitation. The girl had been identified as a victim in the case.
The sentencing took place Dec. 4, 2018. The judge drew criticism for his comments after the Kansas City Star published a story about the remarks in early February 2019.
The comments came as Gibbens sentenced Raymond E. Soden to five years and 10 months in prison for electronic solicitation. Gibbens granted a departure from what was considered the standard sentence under the state’s sentencing guidelines.
The standard sentence would have been 176 months. But prosecutors had agreed to request no more than 166 months, or 13 years and 10 months, as part of a plea agreement.
Soden’s attorney, Clinton Lee, cited several reasons in a written motion for a sentencing departure including an argument that the victim was an aggressor or participant in criminal conduct associated with the crime for which Soden was convicted.
State law at the time allowed judges to reduce the length of prison sentences by finding victims of certain crimes contributed to the criminal conduct by being an aggressor.
Earlier this year, state legislators changed the law to eliminate this as a mitigating factor in cases of sexually violent crimes or electronic solicitation involving victims who are younger than 14 and offenders who are adults.
Gibbens has announced he may retire in 2020.
• Changes at hospital – In August, Saint Luke’s Cushing Hospital ceased its baby delivery services. Cushing had been the hospital offering these services in Leavenworth County.
The following month, officials with Saint Luke’s Health System announced plans to scale back other services at Cushing.
St. Luke’s Health System transitioned Cushing to what officials call a community hospital model. The Leavenworth hospital continues to operate an emergency department and maintains eight inpatient beds. The hospital also operates a cardiology rehabilitation facility as well as laboratory and radiology services.
• Fire District No. 1 lawsuit – In January, attorneys for the Delaware and High Prairie townships filed a lawsuit concerning a 2003 interlocal agreement that was used to establish Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1.
Fire District No. 1 serves the city of Lansing and the Delaware and High Prairie townships.
The lawsuit came after Lansing officials notified other parties to the 2003 agreement that they intend to terminate the contract in 2020. Lansing officials have announced plans to start a city fire department.
Lansing officials sought to use language in a termination provision of the agreement to divide up the fire district’s assets among the parties.
Attorneys for the two townships argued the termination provision in the agreement was contrary to state law concerning the disorganization of fire districts.
In November, District Judge David King ruled the city of Lansing cannot use the termination provision of the agreement to unilaterally withdraw from the fire district. The judge ruled the agreement cannot be used to require the apportionment of the fire district’s property upon termination.
Attorneys for Lansing disagree with King’s interpretation of the interlocal agreement and have asked the judge to amend his ruling.
• Pursuit leads to fatality – A driver was killed Sept. 30 on Interstate 70 in southern Leavenworth County when his car was struck by the vehicle of a man who allegedly was trying to flee from law enforcement officers.
Nathan Pena, 19, Brookfield, Illinois, died at the scene.
For his alleged role in the incident, Anthony J. Dorsey, 29, has been been charged with felony murder, which is a form of first-degree murder, and fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer.
Dorsey is next scheduled to appear in court Feb. 12 for a preliminary hearing.
• QuikTrip purchases property in Lansing – Lansing officials confirmed in February that a QuickTrip will be opening in the city.
The convenience store will be located on the corner of Main Street and Eisenhower Road at the former location of the Leavenworth County Co-op.
A new QuikTrip building will be constructed at that location. Work at the site already has started.
Improvements are planned for the intersection where the QuikTrip store will be located. The project, which was submitted by Lansing and Leavenworth, has been selected for a new Cost Share Program offered by the Kansas Department of Transportation.