Archive for June, 2016

I tell you, when you leaf through the pages of The Star or check its website periodically, you have to steel yourself for the horrific stories you often read.

I’m talking about the stories of mayhem and violence — stories laid out in neat columns under unemotional headlines that don’t begin to reflect the upheaval and sorrow that the underlying events have wrought on Kansas City area families.

If you’re a feeling person, these are not stories you can read and dismiss and flip to the next page. They scorch the soul.

It’s absolutely tragic that we have so many such incidents — and stories — in our area. But Kansas City isn’t Mayberry. For all its fountains, the Country Club Plaza, Ward Parkway, Zona Rosa, Hawthorne Plaza etc., this is a big, gritty metro area where awful things happen every day.

Take a closer look at some of the perpetrators and victims whose stories have been starkly chronicled in black and white.

:: Twenty-four-year-old Caitlin Vogel of Stilwell died Tuesday night when a car driven by an incorrigible drunk driver, James Richard McAllister, ran a stop sign at 191st and Nall and broadsided Vogel’s vehicle. Twenty four years old. Just starting her adult life and her job as an autism instructional assistant in the Olathe School District. Think about the patience and dedication it takes to work with autistic kids day after day. to society’s benefit, Vogel did it…She should not have died, and McAllister is the worst sort of uncaring punk. He’s 27 and has at least two prior DUI convictions. He’s charged with involuntary manslaughter, which, unfortunately, is about the strongest crime that can arise from an unintentional vehicular death.

:: Far away from that scene but still in the Metro area, 58-year-old Michael R. Sear of KCK was killed early last Saturday when he was rear-ended on Interstate 29, not far from KCI, by 24-year-old Nicholas N. Sanders. Rear-ended! Can you imagine how fast Sanders had to be going to kill a someone with his vehicle while traveling in the same direction?

Get this…Sanders’ blood alcohol content was a stratospheric .313 — the highest I’ve ever heard of in a DUI case and nearly four times the legal limit of .08.

Sanders, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter, told investigators he had drunk three beers and three shots of whiskey earlier that evening at a Kansas City bar. My guess is he underestimated by about 10 of each.


Kyle Van Winkle and infant son

:: In Jackson County Circuit Court Wednesday, 27-year-old Joshua T. Bradley pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was placed on five years probation for beating Kyle Van Winkle to death in the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot in 2013. Van Winkle, a credit union employee, was essentially drunk and harmless after having accidentally gotten in the wrong vehicle during a Chiefs’ game. Through a confluence of stupid events, including the young son of the “wrong-car” owner yelling that the interloper had stolen cookies (cookies!) from the car, Bradley came along and beat the crap out of Van Winkle, even continuing to punch him after Van Winkle was down and defenseless…At the time, Van Winkle and his wife had a seven-week-old son.

Bradley’s family must have money because they were able to hire one of the best defense attorneys in town, Patrick Peters, who lined up an expert witness — a physician — who would have testified that Van Winkle died of a stroke…The only saving part of this is that if Bradley screws up on probation, he will have to start serving a 7-year sentence that the judge suspended in favor of probation.

:: A 16-month-old boy will not have a chance to enjoy his childhood and grow up to be an adult, apparently because 31-year-old Nathaniel A. Littlefield of Kansas City beat the boy to death after the boy’s mother went to work and left her son in Littlefield’s care. The Star’s story says, “Littlefield admitted to repeatedly striking the child in the face and head, but he said he did so in an attempt to revive him.” I guess Littlefield wants us to thank him for his resuscitation effort. He’s charged with child abuse and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

:: And this just in…34-year-old Randy Michael Garrison of Orrick in Ray County was charged with two counts of second-degree murder for allegedly abandoning his two young sons to die in a 2013 fire. Three-year-old Roger Garrison and 1-year-old Ashton Garrison died in a trailer fire on Dec. 10, 2013 in Orrick. His own sons…The ultimate irony here? Weeks after the fire, friends and former Excelsior Springs classmates raised money and donated household items to Garrison.

Sadly, we live among a significant number of vicious and irresponsible people — people who will take a life and think very little of it.

What can we do about it? Very little, very little — mostly just hope we don’t find ourselves in the intersection with the drunk stop-sign runner or sitting in the wrong car eating somebody else’s cookies.

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Gov. Sam Brownback and the state of Kansas today made the front page of The New York Times…Not surprisingly, it wasn’t a favorable story.

The headline was “Kansas’ Blame Game Over School Funding Crisis.” The story was about the fierce kickback Brownback and the Republican-dominated State Legislature are getting over the state’s budget crisis and how it is hurting elementary and secondary education.

Interestingly, three of the people who are quoted in the story as being critical of Brownback and the Legislature are Republicans. One, Dinah Sykes, who lives in Prairie Village, is so upset she is running for a State Senate seat, challenging the Republican incumbent in the August primary.

Sykes, whose photo appears on the front page, along with the story, is quoted as saying: “We’re getting a bad reputation: that our state doesn’t care about public education.”

LeEtta Felter, a Republican who is a school board member in Olathe, says in the story that “any responsible entity has a rainy-day fund except for the state of Kansas.” It had a rainy-day fund, but it got washed away because of the budget crisis owing to the Brownback-sponsored state-income-tax cuts of 2013.

Another Johnson County Republican, Cindy Neely, told The Times the sentiment she regularly hears from people is, “We need different representation in Topeka that will stand up to the governor.”

…When I was in The Star’s Johnson County bureau in 2004 and 2005, I remember a political reporter named Jim Sullinger — now retired — doing story after story about the pitched battle between conservative and moderate Republicans in the Legislature. The battle had gone on for years, so long that some editors at The Star — and probably readers, too — would roll their eyes at the latest incremental development in the battle. Well, the conservatives finally won out, and those stories stopped.

For the last several years, all of Kansas has been paying the price for the conservatives’ victory. Now, perhaps, moderates are about to mount a comeback. And while I’m not too keen on the prospect of a new, years’ long sequence of stories about a renewed conservative-moderate battle, it would be a healthy, positive development for the state.

And, come to think of it, we really wouldn’t be subjected to as many stories as we were before because The Star has its own budget crisis, and the number of reporters doesn’t approximate what it was back in the 1990s and early 2000s.


Congratulations to The Star on the hiring of veteran reporter Steve Vockrodt of The Pitch. (Congratulations to Vockrodt, too, of course!)

Vockrodt’s last day at The Pitch was yesterday; he starts at The Star Monday. Vockrodt has had a number of ground-breaking stories since starting at The Pitch in 2013. Before that he was with the Kansas City Business Journal for six years. He’s also a University of Kansas graduate.


Steve Vockrodt, new hire at The Star

This marks the first time in years, to the best of my recollection, The Star has hired an established, experienced journalist for the newsroom. Several years ago, The Star made a high-profile catch when it hired Vahe Gregorian away from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But Gregorian is a sports columnist, and sports is the only department where The Star has made an all-out effort to maintain the the quality and substance the paper enjoyed until the mid-2000s, when print advertising started falling off a cliff.

Star editors have toyed with the idea of hiring Vockrodt for a couple of years. I don’t know what finally prompted them to make the leap, but I’d like to think it was the appointment early this year of Tony Berg as publisher. At his introductory speech In January, Berg told reporters and other editorial employees he would fight for them and that he understood the work coming out of the newsroom is “what makes us so important in the community we work in.”

Vockrodt will be primarily a business reporter. Watch for his byline…

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