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Federal grants to benefit flooded rural areas

Federal grants managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide the chance for funds to help Northwest Missouri communities recover from this year’s flood damage.

The region will share in $150 million through the agency’s Rural Development Community Facilities Program, which helps rural communities recover from natural disasters such as the floods that have struck the area.

Eligibility is available to 13 counties in the region included in federal disaster declarations. The list includes Andrew, Atchison, Buchanan, Caldwell, Daviess, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Holt, Livingston, Mercer, Nodaway and Platte counties. Grant applications will be accepted at USDA Rural Development offices on a continual basis until funds are exhausted, with no set deadlines.

Lindsy Cheek, a spokesperson for the Rural Development state office in Columbia, said the funding can be utilized by communities for various needs related to flood damage, including fire stations, libraries, hospitals and community-based initiatives. There are more than 100 types of projects with eligibility for the funding.

“This particular pot of money is a disaster appropriation,” Cheek stated. “They can be small projects, where a police department needs new cars.”

The Gentry County Sheriff’s Department was able to procure two patrol cars thanks to the grants, according to Cheek. The Community Facilities Program also helped build a seven-bay unit in King City, Missouri, housing fire and emergency services vehicles.

Eligible projects must be located in rural areas with populations of 20,000 or less. Smaller communities with the lowest median household income are eligible for a higher proportion of grant funds.

The program also provides loans and loan guarantees for essential community facilities for public use in rural areas.

More information is available at Rural Development offices in St. Joseph, Maryville and Chillicothe.


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City to vote on firearm ordinances

A pair of ordinances scheduled to be voted on by the St. Joseph City Council could give law enforcement more options related to firearms crimes involving minors.

The new rules would focus on minors in possession of firearms without parental consent and increase prosecution opportunities.

The first prohibits the reckless transferring of a firearm to a minor without that child’s parent’s consent. The second prohibits a minor from possessing a handgun or ammunition except when allowed by state or federal law.

The exceptions to this rule allow a minor to have a handgun if they have a written consent letter from a parent on their person while carrying the gun, if they are using the handgun for employment or farming/ranching or if they are a member of the U.S. military.

Mayor Bill McMurray, who is sponsoring both items, said the laws already exist at the state and federal level, but more options for control over illegal firearm possession by children is a good thing.

“Minors in possession of firearms need to have parental consent,” McMurray said. “This mirrors the state and federal law. All this does is allow us to prosecute in municipal court rather than circuit court or federal court.”

City Attorney Bryan Carter said the laws already are being enforced by city officers, but if these ordinances were passed, the crimes could be filed to municipal, state or federal court depending on the severity of the crimes. For example, a minor found with a trunk full of firearms likely would be charged in state court rather than municipal court.

McMurray said very similar ordinances were recently approved in Kansas City and were sponsored by Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who wanted to see more of the crimes prosecuted than what were being handled by state and federal courts.

Mcmurray said the increase in school shootings around the country means the city should take steps in order to help make sure parents know when their child does or doesn’t possess a firearm.

“With the problems we’re having in the country, I’d like to be proactive before we have such problems here and really take a good look at minors in possession of firearms,” McMurray said. “(We need to) make sure their parents are following what they’re doing and helping all of us have a safer community.”

The City Council is scheduled to vote on both items at their Oct. 7 meeting.


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Kenneth Wykert appears in court on murder charge

Kenneth Wykert, 49, appeared in court for the first time Monday on his charges of second-degree murder and abandonment of the corpse in the death of 23-year-old Leah Dawson.

Dawson was last seen on June 5, in Maysville, Missouri, with Wykert. Her body was discovered on a property in Maysville on June 26.

Wykert was arrested on June 12 for failing to register as a sex offender, but was charged on Aug. 2 with murder and abandonment charges.

During the preliminary hearing, DeKalb County Prosecuting Attorney Erik Tate called five witnesses to the stand to review probable cause statements.

Detective I.B. Fugate III, from the Cameron Police Department, testified about Wykert during his initial questioning.

“His (Wykert) demeanor changed and he appeared as if he was trying to cry, but couldn’t,” Fugate said.

Fugate said Wykert never admitted to killing Dawson, but they gave him a chance to.

DeKalb Chief Deputy Kasey Keesaman testified about the search of the Maysville property for Dawson’s body. Keesaman stated that they don’t know the cause of death at this time, but said the body, “looked in an unnatural position and like it had been tampered with.”

St. Joseph Police Detective Jeff Pearl was asked to help with the investigation and testified about his findings.

“It looked like it had been there for sometime due to a severe state of decomposition,” Pearl said when the body was found.

She was found an estimated 100 yards from the home that Wykert was staying at in Maysville.

Earl “York” Mcafee testified after saying he witnessed Wykert arguing with Dawson right before she went missing, and heard him say that he was going to kill her. Mcafee didn’t come forward to the police with this information until he was arrested in July for a probation violation.

The final witness was the cellmate of Wykert in Clinton County Jail. He claimed that Wykert said he killed Dawson and it was an accident because she said she was leaving him.

Dawson’s parents, Travis and Tonya Eldredge, attended the hearing with a large group of supporters wearing “Justice for Leah” shirts.

“It was heartwarming and nice to see that people are going to support this all the way until the end,” Travis Eldredge said.

Wykert’s Public Defender Joshua Smith claimed there was not enough evidence that Wykert committed the crimes, because the body was not hidden and there’s no cause of death determined yet.

Judge Spear scheduled Wykert’s arraignment for October 22 in DeKalb County.