By Andy Taylor

INDEPENDENCE — A 17-year-old teenager from Caney will be classified as an adult while facing a first-degree murder charge in a February homicide.

On Friday, Judge Jeffrey Gettler ruled that enough factors exists to have Stevan Ranes, age 17, of Caney charged as an adult in the Feb. 8 death of Brock Sanders, also of Caney. Ranes faces one count of premeditated first-degree murder. If convicted, Ranes faces the possibility of life in prison.

Ordinarily, juvenile crime cases are closed to the public. However, Friday’s hearing was open to the public, which allowed for the first details of the Sanders homicide to be disclosed publicly.

According to an autopsy report, Sanders sustained 17 stab wounds and numerous abrasions in a violent
confrontation with Ranes at Sanders’ home at Ninth and Fawn streets in Caney on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 8. The fatal stab wound came in a blow to the right side of the neck, where a knife blade severed Sanders’ carotid artery and damaged his vocal chords. Among the other stab wounds were punctures to the scalp, temple, back and chest.

Dr. Eric Mitchell, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, said the fatal wound likely caused death within seconds of being inflicted.

Mitchell also said abrasions were found on multiple areas of Sanders’ body, indicative of some sort of a struggle or even possibly post-mortem. Horizontal cuts were found on Sanders’ fingers and forearms, an indication of being cut by a sharp instrument.

Mitchell also testified that Sanders’ blood had high concentrations of marijuana and methamphetamine.

Sanders’ body was discovered under a sofa in his living room on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 14 — six days after the deadly altercation. The body was found by Chris Williams and Chad Dunham, detectives with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department. Dunham testified that he noticed blood and hair underneath the sofa when the beam of his flashlight illuminated the area under the sofa.

“At the moment when the body was discovered, we contacted the KBI and started to string police tape around the property in an effort to preserve the scene,” said Dunham. “The house was now a crime scene.”

Law enforcement officers initially investigated the case as a missing persons report when members of Sanders’ family were unable to locate the Caney man after Feb. 8. It evolved into a homicide case after the discovery of Sanders’ body in his home on Feb. 14.

Ranes was a person of interest in the Sanders’ disappearance because he was the last-known person to be in contact with him, according to testimony from Jeremy Newman, KBI special agent. Newman said law enforcement and KBI agents were able to piece together Facebook messages, as well as security camera footage from the Gunny Sack convenience store in Caney, to pin Sanders’ location in the community on Feb. 8.

Newman interviewed Ranes twice at the Caney Police Department on Feb. 13 and 14, when the case was still a missing persons report. Those videotaped interviews were shown at Friday’s hearing.

In those interviews, Newman pressed Ranes for details about social media messages between he and Sanders. The messages revealed that the two had intended to meet sometime on Feb. 8 at Sanders’ house. Those were the last-known messages to come from Sanders’ social media account, Newman said, adding that Ranes was a “person of interest” in the case with the discovery of those messages.

In the second interview, Newman asked Ranes about cuts and bruises that appeared on his hands. Ranes said the cuts came while he was cutting wood. The bruising and swelling on his fingers came, Ranes claimed in the interview, while he was punching walls in his outdoor shed as a way to relieve aggression.

It was during that second interview when Newman is pulled away from the interview by Ron Wade, Caney police chief. That’s when Wade informed Newman that Sanders’ body had been discovered. It was Newman who told Ranes that Sanders’ body had been discovered.

In a third interview, which occurred on Feb. 14, Ranes was formally arrested and given his Miranda rights by Newman. That’s when Newman asked Ranes for details about Sanders’ murder. Ranes then confessed to have confronted Sanders on the evening of Feb. 8 about methamphetamine use between Sanders and Ranes’ uncle. Sanders and Ranes’ uncle were co-workers at Kopco, Inc., in Caney.

That confrontation turned into an altercation that began near the back door to Sanders’ house and continued
indoors, Ranes claimed.

Ranes claimed the stab wounds were afflicted as a matter of self-defense, after Sanders had Ranes pinned to the floor and was attempting to strangle or choke Ranes.

Ranes then said he sat in the house for 30 minutes before deciding to put Sanders’ dead body under the sofa.

“I put him under the coach. I didn’t want to tell my family, and I just didn’t know what to do,” said Ranes.

Asked why he didn’t call police about the matter, Ranes said, “That’s something you wouldn’t tell anyone.”

Called to testify on Friday was Clarissa Clarke, who was Ranes’ girlfriend at the time of the homicide. Clarke said she was not aware of Sanders’ death until Friday, Feb. 10. A quiet and despondent Ranes eventually opened up to Clarke about the killing, saying he stabbed Sanders in the neck.

Clarke did not ask any more questions about the homicide, nor did she contact anyone about it for fear of being drawn into the case. Pressed further by county attorney Larry Markle for her reason in not contacting law enforcement about the homicide, Clarke said, “I did not want to lose him (Ranes).”

Clarke also said she saw red marks on Ranes’ neck that night. Ranes told Clarke that those red marks came from the struggle between he and Sanders.

“Stevan said Brock had him on the ground and started to choke him,” she said.

Another person who testified as to Ranes’ knowledge in the case was Andru Pond, age 19, of Sedan. Pond said he came to Caney on Thursday, Feb. 9 to drop off information at a local income tax preparation firm. He then contacted his friend, Stevan Ranes. After playing video games at Ranes’ grandparents’ (Stevan Ranes lived with his grandparents as part of a court-ordered juvenile placement), Ranes asked Pond to assist him in digging a fire pit in his back yard. Ranes complied and began digging. However, the digging took longer than expected, at which time Pond joked with the Ranes that the pit was “big enough to put someone in.”
Ranes’ grandmother, June Ranes, also checked on their backyard project and joked that the fire pit looked big enough to bury a person.

After June Ranes returned inside the house, Stevan Ranes confessed to Andru that he had something to tell him.

“He said that hole was for someone,” said Pond.

Stevan Ranes then crawled under a portion of the deck in the Ranes’ backyard, where he pulled out a blue jacket that was covered with blood stains.

Pond said he didn’t think more about the incident, believing it to be a joke.

After meeting friends at Wark Memorial Park and the adjacent skatepark that evening, Pond and Ranes returned to the Ranes house at 606 S. Fawn. However, before reaching the house, Ranes turned to Pond and said he wanted to show him something in Brock Sanders’ house, which was located at 600 S. Fawn.

Pond said Ranes used the flashlight app on his cell phone to illuminate an area of concrete near the back door. That’s where Ranes showed Pond some blood stains.

“Stevan then walked in the house and said something to the effect of ‘I wonder if he is still there’,” Pond recalled. “Stevan then lifted up the couch, and that’s when I saw Brock’s body. I said, ‘That’s crazy,’ and Stevan then put down the couch.

“We didn’t talk about it. I went outside and started to smoke a cigarette because I was so nervous. We went back to Stevan’s house, and I just kept calling Stevan a ‘crazy mother f—er’. I kept telling Stevan that he was crazy, and he just said ‘Yea.’”

In Ranes’ house, Pond and Ranes played video games, smoked marijuana and passed out in the late-night hours. The next day, Pond had an invitation to a party at an area called Osage Plains. Pond and his girlfriend bought a bottle of Kentucky Deluxe liquor and went to the party.

“I told her that I saw something crazy in Caney,” he confessed.

Pressed by Markle for a reason for not contacting law enforcement about seeing the body and realizing that he was digging a hole that was believed to be a grave in Ranes’ backyard, Pond confided that he was too traumatized to put anything into action.

“I guess you can I was just in shock,” he said.

Pond finally told a family member about his Ranes’ knowledge of the case and the location of the body. The family member then contacted the Caney Police Department, which then followed up with the discovery of Sanders’ body in his house.

A KBI agent testified Friday that physical evidence showed the deadly altercation had a different set of events then compared to Ranes’ testimony. Newman said the altercation likely began on the front porch of the house and continued in the yard, where the fatal stab wound appears to have taken place, as indicated by the large amount of blood that had pooled on the ground and saturated the soil.

Drag marks on the grass and dirt indicate Sanders’ body was then pulled into the house via a plastic tote, where Ranes then placed the body under the sofa. Blood stains were prevalent along the drag marks and on the plastic tote, Newman said.

“The amount of blood in the yard and on the box did not correspond with Mr. Ranes’ story about the altercation taking place in the house,” said Newman.

Adult classification

Friday’s hearing also was held to determine if Ranes should be tried as an adult. Under state law, persons charged with felony crimes under the age of 18 are afforded certain protections and rehabilitation resources due to their age. To convince Judge Jeffrey Gettler that Ranes should be tried as an adult, two persons with knowledge of Ranes’ previous criminal history as a juvenile addressed the court.

Nancy Finely, who is a court services officer for the 14th Judicial District, said Ranes had two previous criminal incidents. In the first incident, which occurred in 2014, Ranes pleaded no contest to discharge of a firearm and criminal deprivation of property. He was placed on probation and subsequently completed the required courses to complete probation.

He enrolled at Caney Valley Jr.-Sr. High School in August 2014 but was expelled two months later for bringing a knife to school, she said. He then enrolled in an alternative school that was made available through the Caney Valley school system. He ultimately was expelled from the alternative school.

Ranes was then arrested in May 2015 when he was found to be in possession of drug paraphernalia. That conviction led to juvenile detention and placement through a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

Finley said she examined Ranes’ social history and upbringing, where a continued series of social and mental issues caused him act out.

“In reviewing his social history, Stevan said he never felt like he had lived as a child,” she said. “He was not interested in being a child or as a teenager. He wanted to be an adult.”

She also said school was never a priority for Ranes, as indicated by being expelled twice.

He ultimately was removed from his home and placed with his grandparents under a court-ordered placement.

Duane Powell, director of Family and Children Services, said he was involved in Ranes’ care following his drug conviction (and subsequent probation revocation) in 2015. Powell said Family and Children Services personnel provided numerous resources, including family therapy, anger management, drug and alcohol treatment, social skill development. He completed all programs by mid-January 2017.

Asked if Ranes had any other juvenile services resources that could be rendered to him in the Sanders’ homicide, Powell said there were none.

“You have exhausted all your resources?” asked county attorney Larry Markle.

“Yes,” said Powell.

Phil Bernhart, who was Ranes’ court-appointed attorney, appealed to Gettler to retain Ranes’ classification as a juvenile. He said he did not think the corrections system had exerted enough resources to provide Ranes with the needed rehabilitation.

Bernhart also said he described the altercation Ranes and Sanders as “just an intoxicated brawl.”

“This is a case of either manslaughter or self-defense,” said Bernhart “Clarissa Clarke testified about the red marks found on Stevan’s neck, which indicates he was being strangled.”

Markle rebuffed Bernhart’s description of the event. He said Ranes was not intoxicated during the altercation. He also said Ranes should be tried as an adult after taking the killing of Brock Sanders to a premeditated level.

He cited the testimony of Newman, the KBI agent, who believed Sanders may have fled the house and was struck and killed by Ranes in the front yard.

“That decision to leave the house and follow Sanders into the yard was the premeditation,” said Markle.

After conferring 20 minutes behind closed doors, Gettler chose to classify Ranes as an adult. Gettler said Ranes fit the eight criteria set forth in state law for placing a juvenile in an adult court.

Ranes, who has been in custody at a juvenile detention facility, will now be placed in the Montgomery County Jail to await his next hearing, which will take place on Thursday, June 22. Bond has been set at $750,000.

Because Bernhart is the court-appointed attorney for juvenile crime matters, a new court-appointed attorney will be chosen for Ranes because of his classification as an adult.

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Missing: Without a Trace

Forty years later, case of missing Coffeyville native remains unsolved


Forty years after the abduction of a Loy (Gillespie) Evitts, the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department continues to study any clue into the whereabouts of the Coffeyville native.

Evitts went missing on Feb. 28, 1977, during her lunch hour from a law firm located in Kansas City’s trendy Country Club Plaza district. Clues into her disappearance were scarce. No one saw her abducted (surveillance cameras were not prominent in that era). There was no evidence of a struggle. And, Evitts, who was age 29 at the time of her disappearance, herself gave no indication to co-workers of any domestic or job disputes that could have prompted a confrontation and possible abduction.
Instead, by the tone of the news accounts from 1977 and 1978, the story of Loy Evitts’ disappearance is one that baffled all levels of law enforcement . . . and her family, too.

Today, it remains the longest unsolved missing persons case in the Kansas City Police Department . . . and among the longest unsolved missing persons cases in the nation.

“It is a unique case,” said Sgt. Ben Caldwell of the Kansas City Police Department’s missing persons unit. “By all accounts, it is evident that Loy did not have any ties to a high-risk lifestyle — the type of thing that would cause a person to be connected to the criminal element.”

Caldwell said the case is officially classified as an “abduction” rather than “disappearance.” That’s because there were no witnesses who saw Evitts walk away from the Country Club Plaza, or walk along the sidewalks along that trendy Kansas City shopping district.

“Because no one saw her walking away from the Country Club Plaza, it gives us the idea that she was likely abducted,” said Caldwell.

In the weeks following her disappearance, more than 200 people were interviewed. More than 1,000 leads were put forth to law enforcement agencies. Bodies of water in Johnson County, Kan., where Evitts lived with her husband, Don, and Jackson County, Mo., were dragged for signs of a body or any other clues. Nothing was found but mud and silt.

Psychics volunteered their services to find Loy’s whereabouts. No luck.

Even the partial remains of a deceased woman that washed ashore on the banks of the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Ark., were studied for any possible clues. The identification of the decomposed remains did not match Evitts’ body frame.

Anything resembling a shallow grave was investigated, including one that led law enforcement to a highway construction project on I-470 in Kansas City. Police were following a tip that Evitts’ body might have been dumped at the construction site. Methane detection devices were summoned to help detect the methane gas coming from a possible decomposing corpse. Law enforcement came away with no body at all . . . and a big hole to fill.

What about her car? The yellow 1970 MG sports car that she drove to work each day was found parked squarely in the same parking stall at the law firm where she was employed — much like it was every other business day. Not one scratch on the car body, nor even the slightest shred of fiber from Evitts’ clothing, could be found on the vehicle.

Even when reward money was offered by the law firm where Evitts was employed, Kansas City police came away with no takers.

Just this year, Kansas City police officers interviewed Don Evitts, Loy’s husband, who continues to reside in Overland Park, Kan. Don Evitts was determined to not be a person of interest in the case in 1977. He cooperated openly with Kansas City police — and continues to share help with police today. Just this year, Kansas City police officer interviewed Don Evitts, who openly wept at discussing the loss of his wife, Caldwell said.

“He broke down and cried, much like he did in 1977 when he was interviewed by police,” said Caldwell. “He obviously is very heartbroken.”

Evitts has retained some of Loy’s possessions since 1977. Some of those possession contain snippets of DNA material that could help law enforcement make positive identification of remains — should such remains ever be found.

“Obviously, crime fighting has changed tremendously since 1977,” said Caldwell about the prospects of Loy’s genetic materials being used to identify her remains. “However, we’re not much further along in this case than we were 40 years ago.”

* * * * *

The story of Loy Evitts’ mysterious absence rang throughout her hometown of Coffeyville, where family members at the time tried to solicit hope, prayer and support for law enforcement agencies in the Kansas City area. Loy’s parents were the late William and Jewell Gillespie. In a March 1977 story in the Coffeyville Journal, William Gillespie described deep anguish and despair not just in his daughter’s disappearance but in the few, if any, clues into her whereabouts.

“I’ve never been up against the wall or fenced in like this, but I am now,” he told the Journal.

For David Evitts, the disappearance of his sister-in-law is something difficult to grasp.

Sitting on the porch of his childhood home on Martin Street in Coffeyville, Evitts recalls the beautiful young woman who eventually married his younger brother, Don Evitts.

“She had such an elegant, attractive way to her,” recalled David. “Everyone in the family just adored her.”

News of her disappearance consumed not only the Evitts family but also the Gillespie family of Coffeyville, where Loy’s parents tried to seek any tidbits and clues from former classmates and friends. Both sides of the family not only were shocked to hear that Loy had disappeared but even more numb by the lack of closure to the story.

“It was just so difficult for any of us to comprehend,” said David.

David, a retired professional opera singer from New York City who returned to his hometown about 10 years ago, stays in contact with his brother, Don Evitts, who resides in Overland Park. The two brothers talk about sports (they both are huge fans of the Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas City Chiefs), but David is able to pull some feelings from his brother about the loss of his wife.

“Don never remarried, never dated again,” he said. “Loy was the one and only love of his life.”

David Evitts said his brother was harassed on multiple occasions by prank telephone callers, claiming to have had information about Loy’s whereabouts. Even when Don Evitts went to one of his favorite watering holes in the Westport bar area of Kansas City, he came home angry after a bar customer accused Don of killing his own wife.

“That type of stuff really got to Don,” said David. “It put him into a depression that I don’t think he has ever been able to overcome.”

Don Evitts and Loy Gillespie were separated by three years at Field Kindley High School (Don graduated in 1963; Loy earned her diploma in 1966). At her hometown high school, Loy was active in multiple activities. Her high school yearbook from her senior year indicates Loy was active in Kayettes, the senior play, French Club (serving as treasurer and secretary) and also attained a perfect attendance award her sophomore year.

She later attended Kansas State University, where her attractive looks garnered the attention of the student body. She was nominated as K-State homecoming queen in 1969.

Meanwhile, Don returned to the United States in 1970 after a stint in the U.S. military in South Vietnam.

“Don doesn’t talk much about Loy . . . or even his years in Vietnam,” said David Evitts. “But, when he does talk about either issue, there is a great deal of sadness in his voice. He obviously encountered a lot during his years in South Vietnam. And, then he has had to endure the loss of his wife for 40 years. Those two tragic experiences can take a toll on any person’s mind and body.”

David Evitts remains the only family member in the Coffeyville area from both sides of Loy’s family (Evitts and Gillespie).

* * * * *

The only undisputed details about the case of Loy Evitts are this:

• Loy Evitts went missing from her lunch hour on Feb. 28, 1977.

• Her purse was found three weeks later under a bridge in the southeastern portion of Kansas City. The purse was located by three boys who were searching for a lost dog.

• A Grandview, Mo., man was taken into questioning in July 1977, but the individual was never charged for any crime related to the Evitts case.

• Partial remains of a woman were found on the banks of the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Ark., in late 1977. The remains were determined to not carry the same clothing or characteristics of Loy Evitts.

• No charges or arrests were ever made in the Evitts case.

• Over the course of time, the lack of clues and evidence forced Donald Evitts to declare his missing wife as legally deceased.

Forty years later, the Evitts case file is the oldest — and among the thickest — in the missing persons unit of the Kansas City Police Department. A six-inch-thick binder spells out the leads and the clues that Kansas City police followed in the days, weeks and months following Loy’s abduction.

“It’s still an open case,” said Caldwell. “Maybe 40 years later, someone has some information that could help us close this case.”

Persons with any information about the abduction of Loy (Gillespie) Evitts can contact the Kansas City Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit at (816) 234-5136 or call the KCPD’s TIPS hotline, where anonymous tips can be given: (816) 434-TIPS.

Levels of sadness profound for spouse of missing woman

BY Glenn E. Rice
Kansas City Star
Andy Taylor
Montgomery County Chronicle

Nearly every surface inside Donald G. Evitts’ house in Overland Park is covered with model trains.

The 71-year-old Vietnam veteran took up the hobby of building model trains as a form of therapy several years after his wife, Loy Gillespie Evitts, a legal secretary, went out for a late afternoon lunch on Feb. 28, 1977, and mysteriously vanished.
“It helps me keep my mind off what happened that day,” Evitts said.

It was 40 years ago on Tuesday, when the strikingly beautiful, blond Coffeyville native walked out of the law office where she worked to run a few errands but was never seen again.

Today, the story of Loy Gillespie Evitts remains the Kansas City Police Department’s longest unsolved missing persons case. Police think she was abducted.

For Don Evitts, the anniversary of her disappearance brings another round of profound sadness.

“Someone asked me how I’ve coped with it, and I just tell people that it’s just sad . . . very sad,” said Don Evitts.

Don Evitts remembers the day of Feb. 28, 1977 . . . when she did not return to her work from her lunch break. Her boss called Don to ask if it was like Loy to miss work. Don was puzzled when he was told that Loy had not returned from lunch. He called several of her friends, but no one had seen her.

“And then I got pretty frantic about it and called the police,” he said.

Police told Evitts that they could not do anything until she had been missing for at least 24 hours.

After about 30 days had passed, Evitts came to the conclusion that his wife of four and a half years was likely dead. Time has only confirmed his fears.

“She’s been gone this long, you can’t expect her to come back and still be alive,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t think she ran off but we don’t know. We just don’t know.”

Evitts still lives in the same Overland Park home that he and Loy purchased after they were married and moved to the area.

The couple met in their hometown of Coffeyville after Don graduated from Field Kindley High School. He was 19 and she was 17. They went on their first date on Nov. 4, 1965, when they went to the movies to see “Cat Ballou.”

“I was driving a 1953 Studebaker and saw her walking along 8th Street, just west of the old city library,” he said. “I remember thinking how beautiful she was. I was smitten by her immediately.”

They continued to see each other while Donald earned an undergraduate degree at Pittsburg State University. In 1968, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was shipped over to fight in the Vietnam War.

Back home, Loy went to study nursing in Tulsa, Okla., before she transferred to Kansas State University, where she majored in retail.

Evitts let Loy drive his Firebird while he was overseas and wrote every week. Loy decorated a bulletin board she kept in her dorm room with his military photos.

They got married in a small ceremony at the First United Methodist Church in Coffeyville on Nov. 4, 1972. They eventually settled in a small bungalow in Overland Park where Don continues to live.

About a year after his wife disappeared, Evitts started hanging out in Westport bars in Kansas City.

“It cost me a couple of jobs because I was drinking too much,” he said. “I tried to tough it out but when I was alone, I cried. I really cried.”

He assuaged the pain by constructing model train sets and playing the guitar.

Evitts remains cautiously optimistic that someone may step forward and pass along a tip to police that would help them solve the decades-old mystery.

“I learned to never get my hopes up too much because they all failed in the end,” he said. “Surely, someone knows something.”

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The Wait Is Over

Remains of Air Force pilot shot down over Laos in 1969 to be returned home for burial


The wait is over for the family of a Montgomery County native who was shot down on a secret military mission over Laos 48 years ago.

The remains of Major William E. Campbell, who died on that mission on Jan. 29, 1969, have been positively identified through the assistance of scientific forensic evidence.

His remains will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on May 18.

Decades of agonizing . . . no more. Hours of praying, questioning, and worrying . . . things of the past. Bitterness toward an enemy they did not know and a government that withheld vital information about their missing loved one . . . forgiveness can now prevail.

For Cindy Stephenson of Independence, the nearly half-century of waiting and wondering will finally conclude at the nation’s most revered and hallowed cemetery. A proper and fitting burial for a high-ranking military officer who died in battle will end the final chapter of a compelling story that has beset a local family since 1969.

“It will definitely bring closure for all of us,” said Stephenson, one of four children of Major William Campbell.

And, just what was the evidence that finally gave military officials enough confidence to say William E. Campbell was deceased? It was a single tooth — presumably plucked from the Laotian jungles — that guaranteed the closure needed for the Campbell family.

It’s still not known exactly where the tooth was found, but Stephenson said a Laotian villager many years ago notified military officers in that southeast Asian country of the discovery of several human teeth and bones, all of which were taken to a U.S. military forensics laboratory in Honolulu, Hawaii, for processing.

U.S. military scientists have spent the past two years using DNA analysis to connect the tooth to the Campbell family. That positive identification was made in December 2016, she said.

While that positive identification brought closure to Stephenson’s family, it also reopened the history books to the era of the Vietnam conflict — a war that was mired in controversy and, in the case of Campbell’s death, military secrecy.

It also has reopened some memories of heartache for a family that, until recently, had scant leads as to the whereabouts of the downed Air Force pilot.

* * * * *

What is now known about Major William E. Campbell’s final flight was that he was flying his F-4D fighter jet over the Mu Gia Pass of Laos on a mission to bomb a Viet Cong convoy. The Mu Gia Pass was part of an area of southeast Asia that was given the nickname “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” as it connected North Vietnam to its fighting forces in South Vietnam. The most direct channel between North Vietnam and its Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam was through Laos, which bordered both warring nations.

However, the U.S. military never made it known that it was bombing or fighting Viet Cong convoys along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. After all, America in late 1968 and early 1969 was going through transition. President Lyndon Johnson, whose presidency was stung by the stalemate in Vietnam, was leaving office. He halted all aerial raids on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos in October 1968. Incoming President Richard Nixon was elected on a platform to bring some peaceful resolution to the war in southeast Asia.

However, when Nixon came into office on Jan. 20, 1969, raids continued — albeit secretly. U.S. airplanes stationed in Thailand made the aerial treks to its Laotian targets — buried deep in the mountainous, jungle terrain.

Nine days after Nixon’s inauguration, Campbell was assigned on a daylight mission with Capt. Robert E. Holton. Such a daylight mission was rare for Campbell, who flew in a squadron that had been given the monicker “Nite Owls” for their nighttime bombing raids on enemy territory in North Vietnam. In a letter to his family the day before the mission, Campbell noted that his upcoming flight was hampered for several reasons, including that he had been feeling ill, the mission was to be flown during the day rather than the customary night routine, and that he was assigned another co-pilot who was not his regular flight partner.

Upon attempting to bomb a Viet Cong convoy, Campbell’s F-4D aircraft was hit by a ground-to-air missile. A wingman assigned on the mission witnessed Campbell’s airplane exploding when it hit the ground. There was no eyewitness account of Campbell or Horton parachuting to safety, or if either man survived the crash impact.

The U.S. military could not confirm or deny the mission to members of Campbell’s family. His wife, Claretta (White) Campbell, and their four children were living in Independence in 1968 and 1969 while William was stationed in Thailand on what William believed was his final battle assignment. William Campbell had let his family know that after the completion of his tour in 1969, he would be offered a promotion and assume a logistics position in Hawaii. The only bit information that the U.S. military would provide to the Campbell family upon learning of William’s failed mission was that William Campbell was missing in action.

“We were always told to be aware of the blue car that would show up at your driveway,” said Cindy, regarding the official military vehicle that would carry military personnel to alert family members about the death of a soldier, sailor or airman. “And, when the military officials came to our front door, the only thing they told us was that Daddy was missing in action.”

Thus, the waiting began. And, that agonizing wait would take the form of years . . . many years.

Stephenson said her family held hope that her father may have been alive, perhaps as prisoner of war. But, after America’s prisoners of war returned home in February 1973, they learned that William E. Cambell was not among the prisoners.

Their thoughts turned to the inevitable — that William E. Campbell was likely dead.

However, Claretta Campbell, William’s high school sweetheart from Caney who became his wife in 1951, refused to let her children speak of William E. Campbell in the past tense.

Instead, there was always hope that Campbell would someday come home.

“That’s how she always spoke around us and others,” said Cindy. “We never spoke as if he were deceased.”

It was not until 1978 that the U.S. military finally changed Campbell’s status from “missing in action” to “killed in action/body never recovered.” The military did provide some temporary closure for the family — via a funeral ceremony in Las Vegas, Nev., where Claretta Campbell was living at that time.

* * * *

However, there was still something missing — William E. Campbell was still somewhere in southeast Asia, likely dead. Or, perhaps, there could be a remote possibility that Campbell could be an aging prisoner of war in a far-off location.

The U.S. military would provide updates to the family. However, those updates would be countered with other letters discounting previous accounts of located crash sites, discovery of rusted fragments of F-4D jets in Laos, or disputed eyewitness testimony of Laotian villagers about American prisoners of war taken from crash scenes.

“Our family had enough of the U.S. government’s letters, and we finally told the military to not notify us unless there was some positive identification of Daddy,” said Cindy. “I could not even re-read the letters that my dad had sent me prior to 1969. I still have them today . . . but I have never re-read them since I read them the first time.”

Firm proof of Campbell’s whereabouts would not be forthcoming until 1989, when Campbell’s college ring from Texas A&M University (Campbell graduated there in 1952) would be located in a store in Thailand. After two years of negotiations between the U.S. military and the store’s owner, the U.S. government acquired the ring, which eventually found its way to Claretta Campbell. Claretta would wear that ring until her untimely death in 1995 at the age of 64.

After Claretta died, the Campbells’ four children agreed to donate that ring to their father’s alma mater, where it was formally presented at Texas A&M’s “Ring of Honor” in 2002.

How the ring found its way to the Thailand store . . . or where it was found . . . remains unknown to this very day for the Campbell children.

Also during those years when the Campbell family was awaiting word of their father’s remains or whereabouts, they received photographs showing William E. Campbell’s service revolver. It was on display in the Hanoi Air Defense Museum as a war trophy of the Viet Cong’s fight against the American-led South Vietnam forces. The revolver bore the serial number of the one issued to Major William E. Campbell.

The fact that Campbell’s ring and gun were found — even if at different times and different situations — led some members of the family to believe that William E. Cambell might have survived when his airplane went down in the Laotian jungle.

“For a time, we would get information from the military, but it was just too much to accept because it never gave us confirmation of anything, other than a fragment was found, or his ring was found,” said Cindy. “Finally, when my siblings were told in December that the tooth led to a DNA match, then it brought some relief. But, it also brought back memories of the pain we went through. It all started all over again — including the memories of the blue car showing up in our driveway in 1969.”

* * * * *

The U.S. military has used the highest forms of forensic science to identify remains of deceased personnel throughout the world. Technological advances in DNA science — the genetic fingerprint that links generations to generations — are used to positively identify a person’s remains.

However, scientific advances also have allowed military experts to peel back the history on the actual remains themselves. Even something as solitary as a tooth fragment, in the Campbell case, a mandibular molar, can tell a story about how a person lived, what he ate, or even perished.

What the U.S. Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency has determined — just by examining the condition of that tooth — is that William E. Campbell died of “multiple injuries due to aircraft mishap.” The manner of death is certified as “homicide” due to enemy action.

That information, as difficult as it is to read in a lengthy report prepared by the POW/MIA Accounting Agency, brings to close one chapter in the life of William E. Campbell and his family.

However, another chapter has yet to have its final page written.

Just last week, Cindy Stephenson and her siblings met with military officials to begin the process of bringing William E. Campbell home. What is bringing comfort to Stephenson and her families is how the U.S. Air Force plans to treat their family at his final burial. A full military escort will arrive at an airport near Washington, D.C., on May 17 and follow Campbell’s coffin to Arlington National Cemetery the following day. At the cemetery, the ceremony will include the horse-drawn caisson bearing the coffin, a military band, the playing of “Taps”, a gun salute, and the presentation of the coffin flag in its signature triangle shape to the family.

“It is going to be a moving experience for everyone,” said Cindy.

The U.S. Air Force also is working to have the Missing Man Formation provided at the funeral. The Missing Man Formation is an aerial flypast of four aircraft at a funeral for a fallen pilot.

Ironically, a tombstone for William E. Campbell already exists at Arlington National Cemetery . . . because his body was never recovered at the time the marker was erected.

His inscription will carry Campbell’s final rank: colonel. That’s because Major Campbell was notified prior to his final flight that he had been notified of a promotion. An official promotion ceremony was never held.

A final resting place will be established at the national cemetery for Col. William E. Campbell’s remains, as will be the cremains of Claretta Campbell, who, as a spouse of a military officer, was inurned at Arlington following her death in 1995. Cindy Stephenson said her parents will be buried together — the first time they have been together in almost a half century.

“Dad got to come home to Independence for Christmas 1968 and then left for Thailand shortly thereafter,” said Cindy. “That was the last time we ever saw him.”

William and Claretta Campbell were graduates of Caney High School

William and Claretta Campbell had connections to the Caney community. William and Claretta graduated from Caney High School in 1948.

William lived in Caney during his high school years with an uncle and aunt, Howard “Doc” Lambdin and his wife Helen Lambdin. “Dad talked about growing up in the Lambdin house on South High Street,” said Cindy Stephenson, Campbell’s daughter.

William Campbell also is a descendant of W.S. Brown, who was one of Caney’s earliest pioneers and also a member of the Osage tribe.

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Darkened deed under a fatal flame: the story of the death of Ralph Paris


CANEY — Ralph Paris never got a chance to see the spectacle that caught the nation’s eye in 1906.

Paris, a young man from Winfield, Kan., described by a newspaper as being “well-behaved,” was one of about 10,000 visitors to Caney on March 11, 1906, to view a burning gas well that was the center of the nation’s attention for several weeks. That burning gas well fire — spewing from the largest gas well on record at that time — was a spectacle unlike any other. Illuminating the night skies from distances of 50 miles and audible from a distance of 20 miles, the burning well became an instant magnet for tourism.

So, people like Ralph Paris boarded excursion trains bound for Caney, hoping to set their eyes on an industrial wonder that became an industrial inferno.

Sadly, several things got in Ralph Paris’ way: short tempers, lots of alcohol, and an abundance of community arrogance.

For as the mobs of tourists gazed heavenward to see a burning flame in excess of 10 stories tall, they failed to look down to see how they were stepping on the life of Ralph Paris.

* * * *

March 11, 1906 proved to be among Caney’s biggest days of its young life.

Some four miles southeast of the community was a massive gas well that ruptured into flame after being struck by lightning in a freak early-spring storm in February.

The massive size and volume of the gas well — among the largest on record at that time — made it difficult for crews from the New York Oil and Gas Company to extinguish.

Thus began a month-long effort to corral the flame.

After repeated (and failed) attempts to place mega-ton, steel hoods over the fire to snuff out the oxygen, the burning well only grew louder, brighter and more dangerous.

Such a wonder was the gas well that railroad companies capitalized on the event with excursion trains to Caney. That’s what took place on March 12, 1906, when multiple excursion trains brought as many as 10,000 people to the community to view the gas well, even though passengers who disembarked at local depots had to make a long five-mile walk to the well site southeast of the community. Caney townspeople took advantage of the event, opening their houses for meals and lodging and procuring all wagons and hacks to shuttle tourists from local depots to the gas well site.

And, according to local news accounts from that time, the local drug stores, which were able to dispense alcohol for “medicinal purposes,” had a land-office business.

Pure merriment wasn’t the only reason for tourists to imbibe in legal booze. They also sought it to stay warm. After all, a late-winter storm on March 10 covered Caney in a sheet of snow, and frigid temperatures made it downright frigid for beast and fowl.

“The day was bitterly cold and disagreeable and it is said not more than half of the excursionists ventured out to the well,” reported the Bartlesville Weekly Examiner of March 17, 1906. “Caney made ample provisions, however, for the entertainment and comfort of her guests. The lodge rooms, the churches and even the calaboose were thrown open to the visitors, and it took a double shift of bartenders at every drug store in town to supply the demands of the thirsty pilgrims from Kansas City and Coffeyville. The Wichita crowd brought its supplies along. Great hilarity prevailed throughout the day, and the restaurant men and druggists reaped a harvest.”

So, with flasks of “medicine” in their pockets, and the promise of viewing the largest gas well fire on record, tourists naturally migrated toward the well site for the sake of amusement, wonderment . . . and warmth.

According to newspaper accounts, Ralph Paris was one of the out-of-town tourists who came to Caney aboard a Missouri Pacific excursion train that left Wichita and picked up passengers in Winfield, Cedar Vale and Sedan. Newspapers from that era claim the passenger excursion train was a royal mess — with drunken passengers breaking windows in the passenger car, getting into fights with fellow excursionists, and frightening women and children with their whiskey-tainted breaths.

When the beaten-up excursion train rolled into a cold Caney on March 11, tourists were ready for a change of scenery.

Details of what exactly transpired next are fuzzy, due to conflicting accounts from multiple newspaper stories . . . and the amount of alcohol consumed in prohibition Kansas.

However, what is known is that Paris was intoxicated, along with a gaggle of his friends from Winfield, upon arrival in Caney.

Somehow, railroad detectives caught wind of the liquored-up ruffians and confronted them with prospects of arrests. And, on that snow-covered railroad platform in Caney was where a series of confrontations took place between the cops and the drunks.

During the attempts to bring order amid chaos, railroad police officers manhandled several of the intoxicated visitors. Among them: Ralph Paris. Citing eyewitness accounts from other tourists, newspapers claim Paris was merely guilty by association, that the other young men from Winfield were creating problems for train passengers and causing grief to the railroad detectives.

Yet, young Paris, who had never been drunk prior to his intoxication in Caney, was enjoying his new “atmosphere.”

Suddenly, Paris was grabbed by a railroad detective. An altercation took place among the detective and some of Paris’ friends, who were trying to compel the detective that their young friend was not guilty of anything except having a good time.

Paris was thrown to the ground, striking his head on the wooden platform.

He didn’t move when his body impacted the frozen snow.

Heated words were exchanged between the Winfield visitors and the railroad police officers at the Missouri Pacific depot. Ralph Paris couldn’t speak, nor could he defend himself.

Meanwhile, thousands of other visitors looked past the unconscious young man with a swollen skull, and they turned a deaf ear to the cursing between railroad cops and young hot heads.

After all, there was a much bigger thing to see than a mere spat between badges and bullies.

* * * *

What happens next was not disputed. Ralph Harris joined seven other Winfield friends in an overnight stay in the Caney jail on charges of intoxication.

However, the conditions of the city jail were far from the pleasurable.

Bound by iron bars with no stove for heat, nor a blanket for comfort, the jail was nothing more than an open-air refrigerator for the eight arrested men from Cowley County.

When the men were brought to the justice of the peace the next morning to answer to their charges of public drunkenness, Paris could not speak, nor lend a defense.

In fact, it was within the court hearing that observers — and sobered-up Cowley County visitors — took notice of Paris’ condition.

Because Paris remained unconscious and sporting a heavy bruise on the back of his skull, the Winfield visitors took their friend to a local hotel. Paris, the visitors knew, was a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen (AOUW), a fraternal organization. Word began to spread through the fraternal brotherhood in Caney that a fallen Workmen was in a local hotel, in dire need of food, warmth and actual medicine.

However, by the time local Workmen began to gather at the hotel to provide help to their fallen fraternal brother, Ralph Paris had died.

Thus began an investigation into Paris’ death — all while tourists clamored and crowded in Caney’s streets in a quest to view the burning gas well.

* * * *

Buried under the screaming headlines about the gas well and the attempts to quell it were small news accounts of Paris’ death.

A coroner’s inquest was summoned to determine Paris’ cause of the death. Said the Independence Daily Reporter of March 16, 1906, “ . . . death was caused by blows on the head, which injured the neck and spine. Bruises causing blood clots to collect were found in the eyes and at the base of the skull. The head was badly bruised.

“Witnesses . . . told of young Paris being pushed from the station platform and landing on his head after being arrested. They told of conditions at the Caney city jail, where they spent the night without supper, water or beds. Nothing was given to any of the eight prisoners. Paris was physically carried to the police court next day, then back to the jail, but had no medical attention until nearly noon. He was taken to a hotel by the Workmen and died a few hours later.”

The Reporter also said the “story is one that has caused a sensation.”

The Cherryvale Daily Republican of March 13, 1906, took note of the melee between drunken visitors and local cops.

“As the men were arrested, one started to run and the officers came very near shooting one or both of them,” reported the Republican. “The one who was drunk was left lying on the cold ground with the cold north wind blowing directly on his bare head. The writer saw him there for an hour at least and the officers made no effort to move the helpless man to shelter. The crowd who witnessed the affair freely commented on the almost inhuman conduct of the officers and predicted that the young man would likely be ill for a long time as a result of the exposure of the severe weather.”

Fingers started to point toward the railroad detectives, the local police, and any other person sporting a tin star.

However, wild accusations came and went. Some stories were spread that Paris fell on the railroad depot platform himself, a victim to his own drunken stupor.

Denials from law enforcement officers were issued. The Missouri Pacific Railroad remained mum. And, the family of Ralph Paris wanted justice to be served.

It would take many months to sort out the varied stories. It would not be until January 1907 that a settlement of sorts would be reached. The Missouri Pacific Railroad agreed to settle with the parents of Ralph Paris for $4,000 and all related court costs. The family initially asked for $10,000, which would be comparable to about $250,000 by 2017 standards. It was revealed that a Missouri Pacific railroad detective by the name of David Gorman was identified as the one who physically manhandled Paris and threw him to the platform.

“Young Paris was sitting quietly in his seat but was seized by Gorman, dragged from the car and thrown backward onto the platform with great violence,” reported the Topeka Daily Capital on Jan. 22, 1907. “He was then carried in a semi-conscious condition to the jail and left all night without attention, food or warmth; and was fined in police court the next day, Monday, though in a dying condition when taken before the judge. In less than an hour, he was dead, and would have died in the jail had not a fraternal order of which he was a member got him out and cared for him.”

However, the story about Ralph Paris’ death would be buried under the other stories about the gas well. That burning well would roar for another two weeks after Paris died in Caney, and more excursion trains would bring more tourists to Caney for a chance to see the massive fire.

Even when the fire was successfully capped in late March 1906 and the tourists went away, no newspaper stories about the fire’s demise — or the throngs of people that came to view it — mentioned anything about the death of Ralph Paris.

The end of Ralph Paris’ life — brought together by brutal force and a self-inflicted feat of indulgence — was drowned under the foot beats of his fellow man . . . hell-bound to be the first in line at Caney’s biggest tourist attraction.

Indeed, it was Caney’s darkest moment . . . in the shadow of the brightest light in the world.

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INDEPENDENCE — Independence city commissioners and city staff — appearing frazzled, sleepy, and unwashed — for several days, applauded Independence residents early Friday in resolving a water crisis that nearly shut down the community for a period of 48 hours.

Commissioners met in an emergency meeting at 7 a.m., to cancel the water emergencies that had been in place since last Tuesday.

The water crisis was resolved early Friday when the Kansas Department of Health and Environment notified city officials that water from the Verdigris River could be received through the city’s water treatment plant. The water treatment plant began receiving water at 1 a.m., Friday, almost 48 hours since the intake valve was shut due to contaminants that flowed into the river from a chemical fire in Neodesha on Tuesday.

The issue for Independence was not just the contaminant levels in the river but the potential loss of pressurization to the city’s water system. When the intake valve was closed at 4 a.m., Wednesday, the city’s only available water was contained within the water distribution system. Consumption was severely restricted in order to save enough water to keep the system pressurized at about 20 psi. Had that pressurization dropped to below 20 psi, then the water customers would have had a mandatory boil order and a prolonged period of testing until the water system could return to normalization pressurization standards.

By limiting — and sacrificing — water consumption on a week in which holiday gatherings were planned, Independence water customers were able to save enough water to keep the system above pressure.

City commissioners congratulated city staff and city residents for their collective efforts.

“You can’t require someone to not flush a toilet or to not take a shower,” said commissioner Leonhard Caflisch. “That decision has to come from within a person’s own heart and soul. Independence residents understood the call to conserve the water in order to keep the system above pressure. They willed themselves to solve he problem.”

Commissioners also applauded the efforts of city employees — many of whom had not been asleep in two days.

Terry Lybarger, city superintendent, said he received the call from KDHE shortly after midnight that water could be pulled into the city’s water treatment plant for treatment.

“At first, I thought it was another phone call with bad news,” Lybarger told the Montgomery County Chronicle. “But, it was the guy from KDHE who is in charge of water testing. He was yelling in my ear, “The water is good! Turn the plant on! Turn the plant on!”

As soon as Lybarger got the news from KDHE that the water pressure was saved and the water contaminant level was low enough to warrant treatment in the city’s water plant, then the city’s police and fire departments went into overdrive. By 3 a.m., they were on the streets with fliers in hand, distributing the information to businesses and industries and even giving the news to a few sleepy-eyed residents who were awake in the early morning hours. City staff made the announcement official at 1 a.m., via the city’s website, and media outlets disseminated the information by 6:30 a.m., to a community that was awakening to the news that they could finally wash, cook, flush, and drink.

Commissioners said there was deep irony in the water crisis falling on a week of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“People always turn on their water faucets without thinking anything about how that water got there in the first place,” said Caflisch. “I believe no one will ever again turn on their water tap without being thankful for our water.”

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(6:30 P.M., WEDNESDAY) — Effective at 8 p.m. today, the City of Coffeyville is declaring a Stage 3 Water Emergency.  What a water emergency means is all non-essential use of water is prohibited.  All restaurants and delis, car washes and laundromats are to close.  Residents are to limit water to life sustaining use only – drinking, medical needs and food preparation. The City is still waiting on results from KDHE from testing of the Verdigris River.  The current water supply is safe to drink.  Plans are being finalized for bottled water distribution to take place Thursday morning.  Details to follow.
• At 6:15 p.m., the Independence City Commission concluded its second emergency meeting of the day to address the water emergency stemming from the release of chemicals in the Airosol Company fire in Neodesha on Tuesday.

• The Independence City Commission has asked all customers of the Independence city water system and rural water districts that also receive city water to cease all water consumption and usage except for life-sustaining activities. Life-sustaining activities have been defined as any event that is needed to prolong life, such as medical needs (kidney dialysis, etc.). The City of Independence water treatment plant stopped receiving water from the Verdigris River as of 4 a.m., Wednesday.

Rural water districts that receive water from the City of Independence include Montgomery County Rural Water Districts #1, #4 and #8; and Montgomery Consolidated Rural Water District #1.

• The Cities of Caney and Cherryvale are not impacted by the water emergency because they receive water from other sources than the Verdigris River.

• For now, the chief concern for the City of Independence is not the level of contamination within the Verdigris River, which is the city’s lone water source, but that the available water within the city’s distribution system could fall below safe pressure levels. If the pressure within the water distribution system falls below 20 psi, then a boil order would be triggered, and multiple tests would have to be initiated on a daily basis to determine the safety of the water supply. Such testing and boiling could take as long as five days. That’s why city officials are adamant that all water consumption cease immediately so that the existing water supply within the distribution system can remain pressurized above 20 psi.

• The first set of test results taken from the Fall River at Neodesha were announced at the meeting. The test results showed chemical contamination levels that were five times the allowed limit. Those test results were taken from water samples taken at Neodesha. City officials learned that water samples were also taken from the Verdigris River in Independence today (the Fall River joins the Verdigris River south of Neodesha), but those test results will not be released until Thursday morning. City officials said at the meeting that the chemical contaminants at Neodesha may be diluted to some degree by the time the water flows to Independence. However, the testing of those samples hinges on when the samples were taken, the flow of water in the river, and the release of water upstream. The U.S. Corps of Engineers, which operates the release of water from federal reservoirs, has been involved in the discussions to determine if any release from Toronto Reservoir, which feeds the Fall River, would assist in the dilution of those chemical contaminants.

• Until the next set of test results arrive on Thursday, Independence city officials believe the water consumption limitations will be in place for a prolonged period, perhaps through the next several days and into the weekend. However, the water emergency is being described “as a fluid situation” and can change based on test results and water treatment solutions recommended by the EPA and KDHE.

• Gov. Sam Brownback issued an emergency disaster declaration today that will allow for the Kansas National Guard to assist the impacted areas and also allow for the arrival of bottled water. Free bottled water is available to Independence residents at two locations tonight: ICC West parking lot on West Main Street, and at the parking lot of the Independence City Hall temporary site on Laurel Street. Additionally, non-potable water is available at the Independence CIty Hall temporary site. The non-potable water can be used for flushing toilets. Individuals must bring their own containers, such as buckets or small tanks, for filling the non-potable water.

Other water distribution locations will be announced on Thursday.

• The Kansas National Guard is in Montgomery and Wilson counties to assist with the water emergency. In Montgomery County, the Guard is operating a reverse osmosis apparatus at Elk City Lake to assist in the production of water. The Guard also is helping with the delivery of bottled water.

• Independence city officials learned that city staff was working with the Montgomery County Rural Water District #2 for a secondary water source. That rural water district, which covers an area south of Independence, is fed by Big Hill Lake and is not impacted by the water emergency. Staff from both the City of Independence and the rural water district were developing a plan to reverse a connection and allow some rural water to flow into the City’s water system. If that is a success, the additional water would not be used for consumption but merely to maintain the city’s water pressure at above 20 psi.

• The City of Independence has designated a special telephone number that is staffed by city staff 24 hours a day. That telephone number — 620-332-2500 — is to be used solely for information regarding the water emergency in Independence. Persons should not contact 911 to inquire about water emergency information.

• Volunteers are needed to help deliver bottled water to homebound residents. Persons interested in helping with the delivery of water should call 620-332-2500.

• A countywide burn ban has been instituted through Monday. No outdoor burning, including outdoor grilling or fire pits, will be allowed. The burn ban is being put into effect to deter any threat of outdoor fires, which, obviously, would require existing water supplies to extinguish.

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(11:15 a.m., Wednesday) The Independence City Commission this morning declared the fullest stage of its water emergency plan, which calls for all water usage to stop within Independence city (and Montgomery County Rural Water Districts #1, #4 and #8 and Montgomery County Rural Water District #1) fed by the Independence city water treatment plant) until further notice today.

The only water consumption permitted will be life-sustaining activities, such as persons who require water for medical needs, such as kidney dialysis.

The City of Independence stopped the intake of raw water from the Verdigris River this morning at 4 a.m. so that state water regulators can evaluate the chemical content of the water supply. Because the only available treated water is within the water distribution system, city commissioners agreed to stop all water consumption except for life-sustaining activities. The chemical content was being evaluated after a fire at the Airosol Company in Neodesha on Tuesday allowed the release of chemicals, through water runoff and air, into the Fall and Verdigris rivers.

State water regulators hope to have a more definitive determination of chemical content in the Verdigris River later today and will report that information to the city commission at a meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m., today at the municipal court room in the temporary Independence city hall.

Because water consumption is being stopped, all food establishments are being told to make alternate plans to their food services. Industries also are being told to stop water consumption for the manufacture of their products.

Also at the meeting this morning:

• Independence city officials said potable and non-potable water is being brought to Independence later today and will be distributed to local residents. The ICC West parking lot and the temporary Independence City Hall parking lot on Laurel Street will serve as distribution sites for that water. The exact time of when the water will arrive has not been determined but will be made available through social media and other media outlets.

• City officials encouraged Independence residents to find alternate sites for Thanksgiving Day meals because of the water limitations. City manager Micky Webb said residents should find alternate sites that are not located in the Neodesha, Independence and Coffeyville areas — towns that are served by the Fall and Verdigris rivers.

• More than 40 people from multiple agencies, including the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas Division of Emergency Management, and Gov. Sam Brownback’s office, have been working since yesterday to determine the water situation in Neodesha, Independence and Coffeyville. Four large barrels of Verdigris River water were taken to laboratories in Kansas City and Tulsa this morning for further evaluation.

• The Independence City Commission will meet again at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday to receive an update on the water situation from local and state authorities. The meeting will be held at the municipal court room in the temporary Independence City Hall on Laurel street.

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Independence city manager describes mold strains, relocation of city offices


This week, Independence leaders received more specific information regarding the types of health concerns that have been identified through medical testing. Independence City Manager Micky Webb explained that employees filing complaints underwent RAST (radioallergosorbent) mold profile testing to identify the substances potentially causing their illnesses. As a result, the employees tested positive for six mold strains, Webb said.

Webb further explained the mold exposure is believed to have occurred within City Hall because the employees developed symptoms while in the building, but the symptoms resolved after a period of time outside of the building. Additionally, he said, untested mold growth is visible on multiple surfaces in the building’s interior, including on walls, air conditioning units, air vents and other areas.
In evaluating the safety of the facility, Webb said, a professional environmental consulting company has been engaged. After an on-site inspection, a company representative concurred with the decision to vacate the premises.

“The environmental consultants have advised the city that relocation of City Hall services will provide the safest alternative to protect employee health and to minimize public exposure,” Webb said.
“We know we have a problem, which has now been confirmed through medical testing and the evaluation by environmental consultants,” Webb said. “However, we don’t yet know the entire scope of the problem. Therefore, we are taking every precaution to avoid future health risks to our employees and our citizens who do business at City Hall.”

Over the next several days, city departments will relocate operations to temporary quarters in the former Mercy Hospital facility (“Building D”) at 811 W. Laurel. The Independence Police Department, currently located in the basement of City Hall, will be the first department to move, followed by other city services in a phased process. All departments currently housed at City Hall are expected to be operational in Building D by August 12, Webb said, with the exception of the 911 dispatch center, which will transition to a mobile unit outside of City Hall for the next several weeks to allow time for installation of a new 911 communications system at the Laurel Street location. Webb emphasized that there will be no disruption of any emergency services during the relocation process.

All other departments within City Hall will be closed Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 10 and 11, to allow staff to complete the relocation. The regular city commission meeting scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 11, will be conducted as scheduled.

Once City Hall is vacated, Webb said, city leaders and commissioners will evaluate the next steps. He noted the city’s legal counsel advises the city engage an environmental consultant to help address next steps related to the building concerns.

As the relocation plan continues to develop, Webb said, more detailed information will be shared with the community on how to access city departments, as well as information on the status of the City Hall building. Citizens are, encouraged to continue to watch local newspapers and frequently visit the city’s Facebook page – facebook.com/IndependenceKS – and website – independenceks.gov – for developing information.

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Peck, Knox defeated in primary election; Goddard, Dierks, Gettler, Blex are winners


(EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous posting indicating Virgil Peck was the winner in the Kansas Senate, 15th District, was in error due to final ballots not being counted by the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office. Even though the Secretary of State indicated via its website that all precincts in the 15th District had been accounted for in the polling, the actual ballots had not yet been finalized. The story below is an update to the earlier posting).

Virgil Peck, a Republican from Havana who is one of the more conservative members of the Kansas Legislature, was defeated in the Republican nomination for the Kansas Senate, 15th District, on Tuesday.

Peck lost the 15th District GOP nomination to Dan Goddard of Parsons. Goddard received 3,469 votes, or 51 percent, to Peck’s 3,302 votes, or 49 percent.

The 15th District includes most of Montgomery County and Labette County and all of Neosho County.

The difference in the race is 167 votes. Each county will count provisional ballots next week. However, its unknown if there are enough provisional ballots cast to render a change in the Peck-Goddard race. Provisional ballots are cast whenever a voter’s place of residency or voter registration is questionable at the polling site.

If Goddard clinches the nomination with the provisional ballots, he will face Chuck Schmidt, an Independence Democrat, in the Nov. 8 general election.

The Peck-Goddard race was one of several hot races in Tuesday’s primary election. The other hotly-contested battle saw State Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, defeated in his re-election bid. Knox, whose district includes the Elk City area, lost his Republican reelection bid to Bruce Givens of El Dorado. Givens won the 14th District Republican nomination with 6,392 votes, or 52 percent, compared to Knox’s 5,804 votes, or 48 percent.

Givens will now face Mark Pringle, a Democrat, in the Nov. 8 general election. Pringle defeated Carl Shay Jr., in a narrow fight for the Democrat nomination. Pringle had 1,163 votes, or 55 percent, while Shay earned 968 votes, or 45 percent.

The difference in the Shay-Pringle fight is 225 votes. Provisional ballots, which will be counted next week in each county, could yield a change in that race.

In another legislative race of local interest, Doug Blex, a rural Independence Republican, won the GOP nomination for the Kansas House of Representatives, 12th District, by defeating Brad Hall of Independence. Blex received the districtwide Republican total with 1,825 votes, or 61 percent, compared to Hall’s 1,173 votes, or 39 percent.

Blex will now face Democrat Party nominee Jean Kurtis Schodorf of Sedan for the 12th District general election on Nov. 8.

In other contested races in the area, Montgomery County Sheriff Robert Dierks is assured a four-year term to his office after winning the Republican nomination. Dierks defeated Sherlene Stroud by a 2,461 to 481 margin. Dierks will be uncontested in the Nov 8 general election.

Jeffrey Gettler will be the next judge in the 14th Judicial District, which includes Montgomery and Chautauqua counties. Gettler, an Independence attorney, defeated Robert Latin, also an Independence attorney, for the Republican nomination. Gettler received 2,239 votes, or 63 percent, compared to Lattin’s 1,323 votes, or 37 percent.

Gettler will be uncontested in the Nov. 8 general election.

* Robert Dierks: 2461
Sherlene Stroud: 481

(Montgomery County):
Jeffrey Gettler: 1767
Robert Lattin: 1079

(Chautauqua County):
Jeffrey Gettler: 472
Robert Lattin: 244

TOTAL (Montgomery and Chautauqua counties)
* Jeffrey Gettler: 2239
Robert Lattin: 1323

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One year later: how private interest, local decisions influenced Independence’s changing medical scene

Editor’s foreword: The headline in the July 23, 2015 issue of the Montgomery County Chronicle read, “Letter of intent: CRMC to buy Mercy Hospital.” Much has happened since that story was written. Not only did the Coffeyville Regional Medical Center and Mercy letter of intent dissolve, so, too, did Mercy Hospital. The Mercy Health System closed its Independence hospital in October 2015, leaving the community devoid of hospital or emergency services. Since then, several area medical entities, including CRMC, St. John Health System/Jane Phillips Medical Center, Labette Health and Wilson Medical Center have expanded their primary care clinics in Independence. Labette Health has announced plans to build a 17,000 square feet facility that will include its primary care clinics but also an emergency department. Meanwhile, Independence city taxpayers became owners of the former Mercy Hospital facility in a deal that solidified St. John Health System’s presence in the community.
That agreement evolved into a lawsuit filed by Labette Health against Kansas Department of Health and Environment for issuing a memorandum of understanding that allows Oklahoma-based St. John Health System to receive a higher rate of reimbursement from Medicaid/Medicare for radiology and imaging services in Independence — without providing emergency care services in the community.
That lawsuit was rejected by a Shawnee County district court last week. However, it was viewed widely, especially those in the legal and medical communities who kept an eye on the changing medical scene in Independence as a harbinger of things to come elsewhere in Kansas hospitals.
This week, Lawrence attorney Max Kautsch prepared the following chronology of events that not only recounts the decisions that were made in the past year but also how those decisions by key stakeholders put the community in its present condition.
And, all of those decisions ultimately have influenced the timely discussions now occurring concerning the future location of the Independence City Hall.
Without a doubt, what has happened in Independence in the past 12 months has been a swift change in a community’s identity and a community’s reach of vital services. Healthcare has changed. The community has changed. And, others across Kansas are watching Independence to see what happens next.
It should be remembered that the bulk of all discussions concerning the future use of Mercy Hospital in 2015 were handled behind closed doors, pursuant to confidentiality agreements signed by medical providers and the City of Independence. Kautsch’s recreation of events was taken from news accounts that reported on the few public announcements and public decisions regarding Independence’s changing healthcare scene.
Kautsch’s initial story is fully footnoted. However, the Montgomery County Chronicle has removed those footnotes for the sake of space.
The full story will be printed in its entirety — with footnotes — at the Chronicle’s website at www.taylornews.org. — Andy Taylor, editor

When Mercy Hospital in Independence closed its doors in October 2015, it was national news partly because the city, with a population of around 9,500, became the largest in the state without emergency services.
Mercy made its intentions apparent more than a year earlier, and members of the community voiced concern. Local government officials began looking for a way to bring emergency services to town, including assisting Mercy negotiate with other healthcare providers to purchase Mercy’s assets.
When those negotiations failed, Labette County Medical Center, a Kansas healthcare organization already operating a clinic in Independence, proposed expanding those services to include an emergency room.
But instead of acting on that proposal or any other that would result in emergency services for Independence, local government officials abruptly changed course and said residents who need such care should go to a Bartlesville, Okla., hospital—the Jane Phillips Medical Center owned by St. John Health System—a 40-minute drive away.
Shortly after first stating publicly that Jane Phillips was a viable destination for emergency services, the City acquired the Mercy Hospital facilities as a result of city commission action still making news months later.
Then, the City leased the facilities to St. John for use as an outpatient clinic rather than as an emergency room.
The lease agreement also precluded the City from financially supporting any other healthcare provider’s attempt to bring emergency services to town as long as St. John operates there.
In spite of those obstacles, Labette Health initiated plans for an emergency room in Independence in March of 2016 to meet continued demand for hospital and emergency services.
However, that facility will not open until the summer of 2017, at the earliest. Until then, Independence will be without local emergency services.
Meanwhile, St. John, which is part of Ascension Health, a Missouri-based corporation describing itself as the “nation’s largest nonprofit health system and the world’s largest Catholic health system,” is now a key player in the Independence health care market. An agreement signed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will allow the St. John clinic, as soon as July 1, 2016, to receive substantially increased Medicare payments for imaging outpatient services at the clinic. Ordinarily, a clinic would be eligible for such increased revenues only if it were connected with a hospital with emergency services in Kansas. However, the agreement signed by KDHE will allow St. John to gain the increased Medicare payments without incurring the expense of providing costly emergency services in the state. Labette Health has filed a lawsuit to void the agreement, arguing in part that the agreement gives St. John a competitive advantage over Kansas healthcare providers who are required by law to provide needed emergency care before they can qualify to receive increased Medicare payments for other services, but a Shawnee County district court recently rejected Labette’s position.
Even so, the developments in Independence illuminate how the availability of health care can be influenced by local politics, competition among hospitals in static or declining markets, and prospects for enhanced hospital revenues for those willing to take advantage of the highly complex state and federal laws, regulations and public policy governing health care.

Mercy Hospital prepares for exit from Independence
Mercy Hospital had operated in Independence since 1910, but its parent company initiated a review of the facility, called “discernment,” in the spring 2014 with an eye toward “divesting itself” of its assets in Independence. To do so, Mercy negotiated with fellow Catholic organizations, including St. John.
However, Mercy failed to come to terms with St. John, so it began negotiations in the spring of 2015 with southeast Kansas healthcare provider Coffeyville Regional Medical Center (CRMC) to acquire Mercy’s Independence assets, including the emergency room.
In the summer of 2015, negotiations between the two healthcare providers stalled, and Mercy sought the City’s assistance.
Intent on retaining local emergency services, Independence city commissioners voted unanimously “to issue $3 million in bonds…for the purpose of retaining health care services in Independence” and appointed a committee to “look after the best interests of Independence” in the negotiations.
The bonds would issue only on the condition that Independence retain a “degree of health care services” in town, “including emergency or immediate care.”
Likewise, the Letter of Intent (LOI) between the parties indicated that the city was willing to spend the $3 million to ensure, among other healthcare-related objectives, the “provision of emergency/immediate care services at the Mercy facility.”
It was clear that city officials, including City Manager Micky Webb, “believed an emergency department was something of utmost importance for Independence,” and that the Mercy facilities would be used for that purpose.
Unfortunately for the citizens of Independence who shared that belief, even though Mercy and CRMC reached a reaching a tentative agreement on July 15, 2015 that would have left emergency services intact at the Mercy Hospital facilities, the parties ended negotiations on Sept. 1, 2015.
When it was announced that the hospitals could not reach an agreement, the Montgomery County Chronicle reported that “major blow was dealt to the Independence community—and to the future of medical coverage in Montgomery County.”
Webb concurred, stating “it’s a very difficult situation for Independence.”
Two days later, Mercy announced it would be closing its Independence inpatient treatment unit and emergency room on Oct. 10, and its remaining facilities would be open no later than the end of 2015.
Citizens were “shocked” by Mercy’s closure. In a piece titled “Closing a hospital, and fearing for the future,” the New York Times reported “the economic cost of losing the hospital could be stark, local officials said. Though there are two other hospitals within a half-hour’s drive, Micky Webb, the city manager, said companies considering coming to Independence often asked whether there was a hospital in town, and that residents felt more secure with one within a few minutes’ reach.”

Local healthcare in flux; Mercy turns to St. John and the City
After failing to make a deal with CRMC, Mercy Hospital officials announced in early September that they would “negotiate solely with St. John Health System for an assumption of Mercy’s clinics and related services,” but not its hospital or emergency room.
The proposal included a taxpayer subsidy from the City in the amount of $2,250,000 to “guarantee its profits.”
In response, the city commission appointed a Healthcare Committee in early October, 2015, that included City Manager Micky Webb, city commissioner Fred Meier, city attorney Jeff Chubb, and Jim Kelly, Mercy Hospital board chairman (and state representative for the legislative district that includes Independence).
The city commission authorized the committee to negotiate only with St. John to develop a “healthcare plan proposal” that “provides the healthcare we think we need now and in the future in the City of Independence.”
On Oct. 9, 2015, the day before Mercy closed its emergency room, the City issued a press release stating it planned to negotiate with Mercy and St. John for the continuation of some services. At the same time, St. John issued a statement on its website that “Mercy leaders have confirmed a preliminary agreement with St. John Health System and the City of Independence to assume operation of local outpatient services.” The proposal by the City and St. John did not include a provision for any emergency services, although “a long-term vision, but not a contractual obligation, called for creation of an emergency department.”
Despite Mercy’s announcement that it would negotiate only with St. John, Labette Health, based in nearby Parsons, planned to pitch the possibility of bringing an emergency room to Independence that the City would own, with the help of the $3 million in bonds previously earmarked for CRMC.
During the month of October 2015, city officials met behind closed doors with administrators from both St. John and Labette Health to discuss both organizations’ positions. On Oct. 21, 2015, Labette Health made its proposal to the city commission for “an emergency department for Independence.” However, the city commission never considered it.
Instead, after a meeting “with St. John/Jane Phillips officials” on Oct. 27, 2016, city manager Webb told a reporter that although he originally believed Independence needed an emergency room, he now believed “it would ‘be a mistake’ for Independence to have a free-standing emergency department.”
That same day, members of the Healthcare Committee, including Kelly and Webb, told the Independence Chamber of Commerce board of directors that the most favorable plan for Independence would favor a relationship with St. John Health System/Jane Phillips Medical Center” because “[t]he the bulk of traffic for medical care already goes south to Bartlesville and Tulsa, where Jane Phillips Medical Center and St. John Health System have a firm hold.”
Despite the Health Care Committee’s sudden efforts to convince the public that local emergency services were no longer necessary, the city commissioners rejected the St. John proposal by a 2-1 vote.
Then-Mayor Leonhard Caflisch explained his vote against by telling a reporter that the city “was looking for a medical provider that could bring an emergency department” and that because St. John is owned by a Missouri corporation, Ascension Health, the proposal did not provide for sufficient “local decision making.”
The other two commissioners, even Meier, who cast the one vote in favor, expressed concern because it included over $2 million in taxpayer subsidies to benefit a “billion dollar corporation.”
After the city rejected the St. John plan, the commission declared the city’s intent to “open negotiations with interested medical providers — including Wilson County Medical Center in Neodesha, Neosho Regional Medical Center in Chanute, Coffeyville Regional Medical Center, Labette Health in Parsons and even St. John Health System — to open an urgent care or emergency department in Independence.”
At the time, “commissioners admitted that prospects would be slim that St. John…would be willing to entertain another proposal for Independence healthcare coverage.”
However, by Nov. 20, 2015, Kelly, a member of the city’s Healthcare Committee and now the former chairman of the board of Mercy, remained in favor of a relationship with Jane Phillips. In various news reports, he cited “the tendency of patients to go out of town for health care. People in Independence are used to traveling to Bartlesville to shop, Kelly said, and the path from Independence to Bartlesville is well worn. When it comes to health care, he added, ‘the grass is always greener someplace else.’”

City negotiates for Mercy property, but not for
emergency services
Sentiment for emergency services at the Mercy Hospital property was so strong on Oct. 29, 2015, that the Independence City Commission rejected a plan for St. John to assume the property because the plan did not include an emergency room. Nevertheless, on Dec. 4, 2015, city officials made a deal for the property that would allow St. John to operate from the Mercy facilities anyway, even though emergency services would not be available there.
That day, the officials negotiated a Letter of Intent (LOI) with Mercy Hospital for the City itself to acquire the Mercy Hospital facilities. The City would then lease portions of them to St. John. The LOI provided that the transfer would occur with a “Restrictive Covenant” that will “remain in place for as long as St. John Health System…operates a multi-specialty clinic and provides laboratory and diagnostic imaging services in the Independence, Kansas community.” The restrictive covenants on the real estate the city received from Mercy allowed for administration of certain healthcare services, but prevented the establishment of an “abortion clinic,” or even a “counseling service” that “recommends…the consideration of abortion” as an option for its patients.
Even though the City had negotiated the LOI, there was still the matter of getting authority from the city commission in order to make the contract effective and acquire the property. In addition to the pushback the City was likely to receive given the proposal did not include the provision of emergency services, it had another problem: the wife of Commissioner Gary Hogsett, the commissioner most likely to join Commissioner Fred Meier and vote for the transfer, was employed as a doctor at Mercy. As such, Hogsett acknowledged that, by law, he had a “substantial interest” in that hospital. If he had a conflict of interest, Hogsett could not legally vote, and without his tiebreaking vote, the transfer was unlikely to go through, as Mayor Leonhard Caflisch was likely to vote against it.
Jeff Chubb, city attorney for Independence, sought to solve the problem by writing a letter to the Attorney General’s Office to get an advisory opinion on the conflict the day before the vote was to take place.
Chubb’s letter advised the Attorney General’s Office that he believed Hogsett’s vote would be permissible because “one element of a contract is not present: consideration.” In a response dated Dec. 17, 2015, the day of the vote, the Attorney General’s Office essentially concurred, noting that as long as the property was “transferred without exchange of any compensation,” an exception would apply, and Hogsett’s action at the meeting scheduled to take place that night would be permitted by law.
However, the deeds that ultimately recorded the transaction between Mercy and the City dated Dec. 21, 2015, included the restrictive covenants referenced in the Dec. 4 LOI. Although the City did not pay Mercy “compensation” in the traditional sense to acquire the property, the Kansas Court of Appeals has indicated that restrictive covenants are “part of the valuable contract consideration given and relied upon in the conveyance of land.”
There appears little doubt that Mercy, as a Catholic organization with strong pro-life views, benefited from “valuable consideration” by including the restrictions in the transfer. Likewise, the City gave Mercy “valuable consideration,” because in accepting the restrictive covenants, the City’s choices for how to use the property are limited.

Restrictions not
revealed; did city commission sign blank deed?
Unfortunately, the existence of the restrictions was not revealed to the commissioners or the public at the Dec. 17, 2015, city commission meeting when the commission considered, and ultimately accepted, the Mercy real estate on a 2-1 vote. Although the actual deeds recorded shortly thereafter included the restrictions, the vote was taken after the commission only considered what City Attorney Chubb later characterized as a “blank deed.”
City manager Micky Webb later admitted in a commission meeting he knew the restrictions would “follow” the property when the commission considered the issue, but didn’t “open” his “mouth” at the meeting. City Attorney Chubb also later admitted he was aware “since last June or July” that any transfer of the hospital would include such restrictions in accordance with the policy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wichita, but he didn’t say anything, either. Moreover, both of them had been in a position to know that the Dec. 4 LOI included explicit reference to the restrictions. Still, both failed to reveal that information to the commissioners or the public before or during the meeting.
In an attempt to explain how the restrictions appeared in the deeds after the vote was taken City Attorney Chubb was quoted in news reports that must have “added” the covenants to the deeds after the vote was taken, without the knowledge of the City.
Commissioner Hogsett’s vote was in favor of the transfer of Mercy’s real estate to the city. Before casting his vote, Hogsett indicated that after legal consultation, which included a discussion with the city attorney about the Attorney General’s Dec. 17, 2015, letter, the city attorney advised Hogsett that his admitted conflict of interest did not prevent him from voting. However, because Chubb expressly characterized the transaction as one that did not include “consideration” in his Dec. 16, 2015 letter to the Attorney General, that office did not have the opportunity to address whether accepting the property with restrictive covenants created an impermissible conflict of interest for Hogsett. Further, the Attorney General’s Office also advised Chubb that its opinion was not binding, and that the City should get an opinion from the Governmental Ethics Commission, but as of late June 2016, the city had yet to do so. Moreover, Mr. Hogsett has since recused himself on any matters involving Mercy “due to a conflict of interest with Commissioner Hogsett’s wife, Anne, a doctor, who was formerly employed by Mercy Hospital, [and] according to Kansas state statues (sic) make the commissioner ineligible to cast a vote in this matter.”
Why city officials seem to believe those same statutes permitted Hogsett to vote on the Mercy acquisition on Dec. 17, 2015, is unknown. The basis for questioning his eligibility to vote then is the same as now. If Hogsett voted when he had a conflict of interest, then, by law, he could be prosecuted for the conflict of interest violation, punishable as a Class B misdemeanor.
But with the votes cast, the City proceeded to acquire the property and lease it to St. John for $500,000 over five years to operate an imaging clinic. For all intents and purposes, the commission’s vote rejecting St. John’s assumption of the Mercy property on Oct. 29, 2015, had been nullified. Now, St. John not only occupied the property, but it also gained a market advantage because the lease prohibited the City from helping any other hospital organization set up a competing operation.
By Jan. 15, 2016, the $500,000 lease arrangement with St. John had been executed and was public knowledge. Further, on that day, the public became aware of an agreement between the City and Mercy, where Mercy would provide $1.4 million in demolition, remodeling, and construction services at the former Mercy facilities now owned by the City.

Ascension Health: higher Medicare
reimbursements thanks to the KDHE
Meanwhile, St. John and its parent company, Ascension, proceeded with plans to operate an outpatient imaging clinic at the former Mercy Hospital facilities.
The key to the plans was an agreement on April 19, 2016, between the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). According to that document, the KDHE permits Ascension-owned Jane Phillips Medical Center in Bartlesville, Oklahoma “to operate a provider-based outpatient clinic in Independence, Kansas, as a department” of that hospital. According to Labette Health, who brought suit against the KDHE in Shawnee County District Court, the agreement allows Ascension “to receive substantially higher reimbursement” from Medicare for the imaging services it plans to offer in Independence beginning July 1, 2016.
If a clinic is a “provider-based entity,” it receives a special designation under Medicare law allowing it obtain reimbursement from the federal government for both the services rendered and the facilities at which they are rendered. In contrast, “freestanding facilities” are only allowed to bill for the services, not the facilities. The difference can amount to a profit increase of over 60 percent per patient. Ordinarily, the purpose of an arrangement to “reimburse at a higher rate to offset emergency room loses.”
However, St. John does not offer any emergency services in the state. Under Kansas law, in order for an outpatient clinic to be reimbursed by Medicare at a high rate as a “provider-based entity,” a Kansas health care provider is required to get a Kansas hospital license, and a condition of such a license is the provision of emergency services in the state.
Because St. John has no Kansas license, it only would appear eligible, under ordinary circumstances, to be reimbursed for services rendered at the former Mercy Hospital in Independence at the lower, “freestanding facility” rate.
Despite not investing in costly emergency services in Kansas, St. John remained undeterred in its efforts to obtain provider-based status for its Independence imaging clinic, and proceeded on Dec. 29, 2015, with its plans to open by July 1, 2016. Construction continued through the first half of 2016, and it became the beneficiary of the KDHE agreement allowing its Independence clinic to be reimbursed for services rendered as a “provider-based entity” on April 19, 2016.

Judge denies Labette Health’s attempt to challenge the KDHE
On June 27, 2016, a Shawnee County district judge denied Labette Health’s motion for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented St. John’s Independence clinic from becoming a “provider-based entity.”
Labette Health, due in large part to its recent significant commitment to providing needed emergency services in Independence, sought to dissolve the KDHE agreement in court. From it’s point of view, if St. John “is permitted to operate as it proposes, it will have all the benefits of being a Kansas hospital (including substantially higher reimbursement for the services it plans to provide) without a Kansas license and all of its accompanying obligations,” and “the Independence imaging center threatens the viability” of its planned “emergency care” operations in Independence.
KDHE argued that the contract benefiting St. John is valid in part because St. John relied on the prospect of “provider-based” billing in Independence before making further investment in the former Mercy Hospital property, and cites a post on St. John’s website reporting the Dec. 29, 2015, ground-breaking in support.
The KDHE further argued that it has broad statutory authority to contract with any party it chooses, and characterizes Labette Health’s lawsuit as an attempt to “stop a business competitor.” The agency further claims that Labette Health cannot operate in Independence because Independence is outside the Labette County borders.
Although none of those KDHE arguments were specifically referenced in the judge’s June 27, 2016 opinion, the Court still ruled against Labette Health in part because it concluded that the “loss of viability in the Labette satellite facility stems from competition with the Independence imaging center—not from certification by the KDHE.”

One year later:
has the public
been served?
Ascension, the Missouri-based health organization that owns St. John, has won a preferred position in the Independence health care market with the help of the KDHE and Independence officials. Unlike Kansas healthcare providers, who are required to provide emergency services in order to keep their hospital licenses, the KDHE agreement allows Ascension/St. John to forgo investing in such services while still receiving the higher “provider-based” reimbursement rate for imaging services rendered in the state. Not only would this arrangement appear to give Ascension/St. John a distinct competitive advantage over smaller Kansas providers, but it also is inconsistent with public policy that “provider-based” billing is designed to “offset to cost of emergency room expenses.”
Further, Independence city officials gave Ascension/St. John the opportunity to set up shop at the former Mercy Hospital, even though Ascension/St. John refused to provide local emergency services and precluded the City from financially supporting such services in Independence.
Meanwhile, city officials are suggesting that Independence residents in need of emergency care should go to the Bartlesville’s Jane Phillips Center—owned by St. John, which in turn is owned by Ascension.
Whether these health care outcomes and the procedures and policies that led to them serve the public interest is a matter for the citizens of Independence and Kansans generally to decide.

• Max Kautsch is a Lawrence-based attorney for the Independence citizen group Seeking Responsible Spending, LLC. However, this article was not prepared on behalf of or with direction from any client, nor the Montgomery County Chronicle. The views expressed are those of the author.

1 Joplin Regional Business Journal, “Mercy Announces Closure of Hospital in Independence, Kansas,” September 4, 2015.
2 The New York Times, “Closing a hospital, and fearing for the future,” October 8, 2015.
3 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Hospital merger discussions cease,” September 2, 2015,
4 Id.; Montgomery County Chronicle, “CRMC agrees to buy Mercy Hospital of Independence,” July 16, 2015,
5 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Emergency department proposed,” December 9, 2015.
7 Montgomery County Chronicle, “City reps, medical providers continue closed-door talks,” October 29, 2015; Winfield Courier, “Independence Hospital Closing for Many Reasons,” November 20, 2015.
8 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s December 17, 2015; see generally K.S.A. 75-4301a et seq.
9 See generally K.S.A. 75-4301a et seq. See also Independence Daily Reporter, “Mayor speaks on Mercy vote,” May 22, 2016.
10 The Independence Reporter, “Commissioners discuss demolition of Mercy buildings,” January 15, 2016.
11 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Labette Health unveils expansion plan,” March 3, 2016.
12 Id.
13 Transcript, Labette County Health v. KDHE, June 16, 2016.
14 http://ascension.org/news/news-articles/2016/03/17/13/45/st-john-health-system-begins-operations-in-kansas
15 http://ascension.org/about/facts-and-stats
16 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016; see generally Healthcare Strategy Group, “Provider-based billing: advantages and obstacles,” August, 2015; 42 CFR 413.65.
17 Id; 902 KAR 20:016, Hospitals; operations and services.
18 Exhibit A, Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016.
19 KDHE Response in Opposition, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 14, 2016.
20 Memorandum Decision and Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 27, 2016.
21 The New York Times, “Closing a hospital, and fearing for the future,” October 8, 2015.
22 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercy_(healthcare_organization)
23 Winfield Courier, “Independence Hospital Closing for Many Reasons,” November 20, 2015; see also Transcript, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, June 16, 2016.
24 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Hospital merger discussions cease” September 2, 2015; Montgomery County Chronicle, “CRMC agrees to buy Mercy Hospital of Independence,” July 16, 2015.
25 Id.
26 Montgomery County Chronicle, “CRMC agrees to buy Mercy Hospital of Independence,” July 16, 2015.
27 Id.
28 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Committee to represent City of Independence in hospital merger talks,” July 6, 2015.
29 Montgomery County Chronicle, “CRMC agrees to buy Mercy Hospital of Independence,” July 16, 2015.
30 Id.
31 Montgomery County Chronicle, “City reps, medical providers continue closed-door talks,” October 29, 2015.
32 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Hospital merger discussions cease,” September 2, 2015.
33 Id.
34 Id.
35 KTUL Tulsa, “Mercy Announces Closure of Kansas Facility,” September 3, 2015.
36 The New York Times, “Closing a hospital, and fearing for the future,” October 8, 2015.
37 Id.
38 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Independence City Commission Rejects St. John proposal, open future talks to area medical providers,” October 30, 2015.
39 Id.
40 Id.
41 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s special meeting, October 5, 2015.
42 Montgomery County Chronicle, “City reps, medical providers continue closed-door talks,” October 29, 2015.
43 http://www.stjohnhealthsystem.com/site:24/article/view/735
44 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Independence City Commission Rejects St. John proposal, open future talks to area medical providers,” October 30, 2015.
45 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Emergency department proposed,” December 9, 2015.
46 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s special meetings, October 21, October 27, 2015.
47 Montgomery County Chronicle, “City reps, medical providers continue closed-door talks,” October 29, 2015.
48 Transcript, Labette County Health v. KDHE, June 16, 2016.
49 Montgomery County Chronicle, October 29, 2015, “City reps, medical providers continue closed-door talks.”
50 Id.
51 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Independence City Commission Rejects St. John proposal, open future talks to area medical providers,” October 30, 2015.
52 Id.
53 Id.
54 Id.
55 Id.
56 Winfield Courier, “Independence Hospital Closing for Many Reasons,” November 20, 2015.
57 “Letter of Intent and Terms Sheet” from Mercy to the City of Independence (December 4, 2015).
58 Id.
59 See, e.g., Quit Claim Deed, December 21, 2015, from Mercy Kansas Communities, Inc., to the City of Independence, Lots 4, 5 and 6, Block 6, CONCANNONS ADDITION.
60 Id.; see also The Independence Reporter, “Commissioners discuss demolition of Mercy buildings,” January 15, 2016.
61 Independence Daily Reporter, “Mayor speaks on Mercy vote,” May 22, 2016.
62 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s December 17, 2015; see generally K.S.A. 75-4301a et seq.
63 http://www.lkm.org/directory/cities.php?ID=51
64 Letter from Jeffrey A. Chubb, Independence City Attorney, to Athena E. Andaya, Deputy Attorney General (December 16, 2015).
65 https://ballotpedia.org/Derek_Schmidt
66 Letter from Jeffrey A. Chubb, Independence City Attorney, to Athena E. Andaya, Deputy Attorney General (December 16, 2015).
67 Letter from Athena E. Andaya, Deputy Attorney General, to Jeffrey A. Chubb, Independence City Attorney (December 17, 2015).
68 K.S.A. 75-4304a(d)(2)
69 See, e.g., Quit Claim Deed, December 21, 2015, from Mercy Kansas Communities, Inc., to the City of Independence, Lots 4, 5 and 6, Block 6, CONCANNONS ADDITION.
70 Persimmon Hill First Homes Ass’n v. Lonsdale, 31 Kan.App.2d 889, 895 (2003).
71 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s December 17, 2015; see generally K.S.A. 75-4301a et seq.
72 See, e.g., Quit Claim Deed, December 21, 2015, from Mercy Kansas Communities, Inc., to the City of Independence, Lots 4, 5 and 6, Block 6, CONCANNONS ADDITION.
73 Independence City Commission meeting, January 28, 2016, at the 51:06 mark of video available on City website.
74 Independence City Commission meeting, January 21, 2016, at the 57:52 mark of video available on City website.
75 Independence City Commission meeting, January 28, 2016, at the 52:13 mark of video available on City website.
76 Independence City Commission meeting, January 28, 2016, at the 51:20 mark of video available on City website.
77 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s December 17, 2015 meeting, page 5.
78 Id.
79 Letter from Athena E. Andaya, Deputy Attorney General, to Jeffrey A. Chubb, Independence City Attorney (December 17, 2015).
80 The Independence Reporter, “Commissioners discuss demolition of Mercy buildings,” January 15, 2016.
81 K.S.A. 75-4306(a)
82 Montgomery County Chronicle, March 3, 2016, “Labette Health unveils expansion plan.” See also Transcript, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, June 16, 2016.
83 The Independence Reporter, “Commissioners discuss demolition of Mercy buildings,” January 15, 2016.
84 Id.; Agreement, January 14, 2016, between Mercy Health and City of Independence.
85 http://www.stjohnhealthsystem.com/site:7/article/view/754.
86 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Exhibit A, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016, Exhibit A.
87 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Exhibit A, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016.
88 Healthcare Strategy Group, “Provider-based billing: advantages and obstacles,” August, 2015; see also https://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Medicare-Learning-Network-MLN/MLNMattersArticles/Downloads/mm7631.pdf; Dunlay and Dowdell, Provider-Based Status, Under Arrangements, Enrollment and Related Medicare Requirements, p. 3; see also see also 42 CFR 413.65(a)(2).
89 Id.
90 Healthcare Strategy Group, “Provider-based billing: advantages and obstacles,” August, 2015.
91 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016; see also Healthcare Strategy Group, “Provider-based billing: advantages and obstacles,” August, 2015.
92 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016; 902 Kansas Administrative Regulations 20:016, Hospitals; operations and services.
93 KDHE Response in Opposition, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 14, 2016; http://www.stjohnhealthsystem.com/site:7/article/view/754.
94 Memorandum Decision and Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 27, 2016.
95 Montgomery County Chronicle, March 3, 2016, “Labette Health unveils expansion plan”; Transcript, Labette County Health v. KDHE, June 16, 2016.
96 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016, p. 11.
97 Reply Memorandum in Support, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 17, 2016, p. 3-4.
98 KDHE Response in Opposition, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 14, 2016, p. 3, ¶s 7 and 8.
99 KDHE Response in Opposition, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 14, 2016.
100 Id.
101 Id.
102 Memorandum Decision and Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 27, 2016, ¶ A.2.
103 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016, p. 11.
104 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Labette Health unveils expansion plan,” March 3, 2016. See also Transcript, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, June 16, 2016.

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