2021 In Review: A look back at the top local stories in Springfield and the Ozarks region

As the year comes to a close, KY3 takes a look back at several stories around Springfield and...
As the year comes to a close, KY3 takes a look back at several stories around Springfield and the Ozarks region that had a major impact in 2021.(KY3)
Published: Dec. 25, 2021 at 8:00 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 25, 2021 at 12:07 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - As the year comes to a close, KY3 takes a look back at several stories around Springfield and the Ozarks region that had a major impact in 2021.

In a year remembered for an active pandemic response, severe weather outbreaks, and high-profile investigations, we break down some of the top local stories from each month.

JANUARY

FEATURED STORY: U.S. Capitol breached amid presidential transition, several from Ozarks region arrested

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier...
FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Thousands of rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress met to certify results in the 2020 presidential election.

Five people died in the breach before lawmakers confirmed an electoral win for Joe Biden, who officially took over as U.S. president two weeks later.

A crowd gathered in support of then-president Donald Trump, pushing through barriers and unlawfully entering one of America’s most iconic buildings. According to reputable political scientists, supporters of Trump sought to overturn election results after he made false claims about election fraud.

“What we’re experiencing here in the United States is exactly the tactics authoritarian figures use when they’re desperate to keep themselves in power in other countries,” said Dr. Jeff VanDenBerg, Chair of the Political Science Department at Drury University, one day after the Capitol breach. “They incite violence, they demonize the opposition. The difference, thankfully, is our democratic institutions are robust enough that this won’t alter our course.”

Insurrection unfolded in the early afternoon hours, leading to more than $30 million in damages and physical attacks on several Capitol police officers. Capitol officer Brian Sicknick died of natural causes one day after responding to the breach. One woman died after being shot by a different officer on Capitol grounds, and three others died from medical emergencies.

“We’re undergoing a slow erosion of the appreciation of what American democracy means,” said Darrell Moore, the Executive Director of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. “Having spent over 40 years of my life trying to uphold the rule of law, it’s become alarming to see there are segments of our society across the political spectrum who don’t appreciate the value of our democracy and who are willing to cash it in just to have their way.”

Eleven months later, more than 700 people have been charged in the U.S. Capitol breach. Among those facing federal charges from the Ozarks region include:

  • Richard Barnett, Gravette, Ark. (Arrested Jan. 8)
  • Zachary Martin, Rogersville, Mo. (Arrested Jan. 28)
  • Michael Quick, Springfield, Mo. (Arrested Feb. 12)
  • Stephen Quick, Springfield, Mo. (Arrested Feb. 12)
  • Zachary Wilson, Springfield, Mo. (Arrested Feb. 19)
  • Matthew Loganbill, Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. (Arrested Mar. 29)
  • Kelsey Wilson, Springfield, Mo. (Arrested Aug. 19)
  • Cara Hentschel, Springfield, Mo. (Arrested Oct. 6)
  • Mahailya Pryer, Springfield, Mo. (Arrested Oct. 6)

Zachary Wilson, Stephen Quick and Michael Quick recently pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Eight of 17 Missourians charged in the Capitol riot have entered guilty pleas.

OTHER TOP STORIES: Springfield helps fund tiny trailers and other cold-weather shelters for homeless; Utility billing concerns loom in Salem; On Your Side Investigation: Springfield attorney accused of exchanging legal services for drugs

FEBRUARY

FEATURED STORY: Cold snap, rolling blackouts, and natural gas woes slam Springfield area

Frigid temperatures throughout February led to high demand for heat in the Springfield region,...
Frigid temperatures throughout February led to high demand for heat in the Springfield region, but not without the threat of an energy crisis. (KY3)

Conquer the cold. That was the task ahead for much of February as an arctic blast rocked the Ozarks region and the greater Midwest.

Just how cold was it? Springfield went two full weeks with below-freezing weather, including three consecutive days with negative Fahrenheit temperatures and a record-low of 15 degrees below zero on Feb. 16. On top of that, the region reported nearly nine inches of snowfall throughout the month.

Frigid temperatures led to high demand for heat in the Springfield region, but not without the threat of an energy crisis. Natural gas wells froze in Texas and Oklahoma, impacting the amount of natural gas available to Springfield and other Midwest partners.

Prior to the winter blast, Springfield City Utilities purchased around a quarter of its natural gas supply from a wholesale power market known as the Southwest Power Pool. The market coordinates the flow of electricity across 60,000 miles of transmission lines, leaving suppliers from 14 states in a scramble when natural gas wells froze last winter.

“This is a historic situation and kind of a disastrous situation that we find ourselves in, but we feel that we are handling it the best we can,” said Joel Alexander, the media services manager for Springfield City Utilities. “This was an anomaly. None of us never want to go through it again.”

The natural gas situation caused spot prices to spike up to 100 times higher than the typical purchase rates for suppliers. Covering the costs would be one obstacle, but making the most of a limited supply took the cold snap conundrum one step further.

On Feb. 16, Springfield City Utilities announced rolling blackouts in an effort to curb citywide energy usage, cutting off the power of nearly 15,000 customers for up to an hour. The rolling blackouts came as an order from the Southwest Power Pool.

While the rolling blackouts lasted only one day, experts say getting past the cold stretch could have been much worse without such action.

“You would see an unstable system that could result in a catastrophic failure of the entire electric system grid, which would result in sustained and prolonged outages for the entire town,” said Gary Gibson, General Manager and CEO of City Utilities of Springfield. “So having one hour of rolling blackouts throughout the city is definitely preferable to having a catastrophic failure across our systems.”

Weeks after the record-breaking cold stretch, Springfield City Utilities approved a plan to cover costs from the winter weather crisis. Through the plan, customers are expected to pay an average of $2 more on their monthly bills in summer and $10 extra on their monthly winter bills over the next two years.

However, that may not be the only reason your standard utility bill looks different from previous years. According to national reports, the market price of natural gas has doubled from this time last year. Another prolonged stretch of severe winter weather, paired with a relatively flat natural gas supply, could lead to an even higher demand for energy, thus higher future costs.

OTHER TOP STORIES: Feds indict Christian County assistant physician Tricia Derges for stem cell fraud scheme; Greene County Sheriff expresses concerns on Missouri gun bill; SGCHD director Clay Goddard retires after help through pandemic

MARCH

FEATURED STORY: Two young boys, father killed in murder-suicide in Benton County

A days-long search for two missing boys and their father ended in tragedy when all three were...
A days-long search for two missing boys and their father ended in tragedy when all three were found dead near Warsaw on the first day of March.(Greene County Sheriff's Office)

A days-long search for two missing boys and their father ended in tragedy when all three were found dead near Warsaw on the first day of March.

Darrell Peak, 40, and his two sons, Mayson Peak, 3, and Kaiden Peak, 4, disappeared on Feb. 25. Investigators found their bodies in a shed off of U.S. Route 65 near Warsaw on March 1. The Benton County Sheriff’s Office ruled the deaths as a murder-suicide.

“I didn’t sleep last night, and I would imagine the individuals who found the deceased did not sleep either,” said Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox on March 2. “It goes home with you at the end of the day.”

The Greene County Sheriff’s Office first issued an Endangered Persons Advisory on Feb. 26 after learning the boys were missing from their home in Pleasant Hope.

Authorities in Benton County had followed up on a tip the night before suggesting that two small children were walking around U.S. Route 65 near Warsaw. When deputies arrived at the scene, they spotted an abandoned vehicle belonging to Peak, but did not find any children. Earlier that night, a highway patrol trooper spotted Peak by a stranded car, though he declined offers of assistance from the trooper.

Investigators say the search for Darrell Peak and his two sons became more concerning as time passed. Family members told authorities that Darrell suffered from depression and had made suicidal statements in the past. A Greene County prosecutor later charged Darrell with two counts of parental kidnapping while he and his two sons remained missing.

Family members and close friends worked around the clock in an effort to try and find the three. After several days of extensive searches in Greene County and other nearby counties, work crews discovered the three bodies in a shed near Warsaw. A medical examiner determined all three had died from gunshot wounds.

Community members paid respects to the family in early-March, setting up a memorial with flowers around the wooden shed one day after the three were found deceased.

“I just hope it helps the family in some way,” said Benton County resident Rebecca Davis. “I just hope the family heals. I know it will take a while. Our hearts are with them for sure.”

The outcome left many in Missouri wondering why no AMBER Alert was issued in the case. The Missouri State Highway Patrol released a statement on March 3, stating “the statutory requirements for the activation of an AMBER Alert were not met.”

Requirements for issuing an AMBER Alert include timely requests. As more time passes, the usefulness of an alert diminishes. Alert requirements also note that parental disputes do not apply unless there is concern that a child could be harmed.

Sheriff Knox does not believe the criteria for an AMBER Alert should be changed, though hopes the case draws attention to the need for more mental health outreach efforts at the state level.

OTHER TOP STORIES: Evangel University retires Crusader mascot name; Camden County realtor charged in murder-for-hire plot involving ex-mother-in-law; Strafford man charged in triple-murder of wife and her parents

APRIL

FEATURED STORY: Springfield health leaders stay busy as Missouri opens vaccinations to all adults

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department and Missouri State University teamed up for a...
The Springfield-Greene County Health Department and Missouri State University teamed up for a two-day vaccination clinic from April 8-9.(Springfield-Greene County Health Department)

Nearly one year removed from the stage of the COVID-19 pandemic that included stay-at-home orders and contact tracing, some relief was finally in sight. Missouri activated Phase 3 of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan on April 9, opening up eligibility to all adults.

Health leaders have urged vaccinations as the best defense against COVID-19 and potential variants. While select populations were eligible for vaccines to start the year based on age, health risks, or work situation, April marked the first month in which vaccination efforts ramped up for all adults around the Ozarks.

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department and Missouri State University teamed up for a two-day vaccination clinic from April 8-9. Leaders organized the event with the goal to vaccinate 10,000 people over two days, aiming for the largest single-site event to date in Missouri.

Health leaders administered around 1,700 vaccines on the first day of the event. The following day, the first in which all Missouri adults were deemed eligible, the clinic shattered a state record by vaccinating 4,000 people. In total, more than 6,100 people were fully vaccinated over the two-day event.

“Our hospital partners and vaccinators across the region city are still doing their normal operations,” said Jon Mooney, Assistant Director for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. “This is above and beyond it, so it adds a lot more capacity for our community to be protected from the virus, which ultimately is the solution.”

Although the mass clinic fell short of the county’s initial goal of 10,000 vaccinations, it represented a month of strides in the fight against COVID-19 locally. More than 10,000 people became fully vaccinated in each of the first three weeks of April, according to data from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

In the following months, SGCHD offered pop-up vaccine clinics through summer and fall festivals, libraries, Springfield Cardinals games and other community events. For many vaccinated in April, including recent Missouri State graduate Eloria Fedynich, the decision was a matter of helping others and hopes to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle.

“I really want to be able to reintroduce myself to society, learn how to have a conversation in-person again, and be able to go out and be social,” said Fedynich. “We’re on the way to being good now. It’s a great step, and I’m very happy to have taken that step.”

As of Dec. 24, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department reports nearly half of its eligible population, is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That marks a total of 150,000-plus vaccinations among eligible Greene County residents, including young children who became eligible in November. The county’s goal is to have at least 70% of residents fully vaccinated.

Following Greene County, according to the Missouri COVID-19 Vaccine website, the next largest vaccinations among counties in the Ozarks region as of Christmas Eve include:

  • Christian County: (39,458 residents fully vaccinated, 44.5%)
  • Benton County: (8,444 residents fully vaccinated, 43.4%)
  • Camden County: (20,003 residents fully vaccinated, 43.2%)
  • Phelps County: (18,361 residents fully vaccinated, 41.8%)
  • Stone County: (13,028 residents fully vaccinated, 40.8%)

OTHER TOP STORIES: Ken McClure, Larry Milton win Springfield and Branson mayoral races ; Family remembers transgender woman killed in Springfield shooting ; White River Marine Group opens Bolivar manufacturing facility

MAY

FEATURED STORY: Massive fire at Marshfield propane plant after 10,000 portable propane tanks explode, no deaths reported

A frightening blaze from Marshfield billowed black smoke so high that communities all across...
A frightening blaze from Marshfield billowed black smoke so high that communities all across the Ozarks region could see it on May 13.(KY3)

A frightening blaze from Marshfield billowed black smoke so high that communities all across the Ozarks region could see it on May 13.

Nearly 10,000 small propane tanks caught fire at the Kosan Crisplant energy site in Marshfield, leading to explosions that damaged the facility and rattled nearby businesses and homes throughout the late-afternoon hours.

Three employees inside the plant escaped following the initial explosions. Emergency crews treated one employee for injuries, but investigators report no deaths from the massive blaze.

Michael Taylor, fire chief for the Marshfield Protection District, says the blaze was unlike anything he had seen in 31 years on duty. It took crews nearly three hours to put out the fire, and the damage could have been much worse.

“We had to hang back, because the propane tanks going airborne and flying a hundred feet in the air, literally at times,” said Taylor. “There was also a 33,000-gallon tank that was back there. It did get enough heat to discolor [the tank], but it didn’t explode and that was the tank that had our concern. If it did go, it would have caused damage over a very large area.”

Formerly known as the Pinnacle Plant, the Kosan Crisplant facility is located just off State Highway OO in the 700 block of South Prairie Lane. The plant is part of an industrial park that surrounds dozens of homes.

KY3 viewers say they saw the smoke from as far as 60 miles away from the plant. The National Weather Service said its satellites even detected the hot spot in Marshfield from space.

The threat of more blasts triggered evacuations as firefighters rushed to battle the flames. The situation proved scary into the evening, especially for neighbors who were ordered to take swift action.

“We’re hearing noises like sonic booms, but there was no rhyme or reason to it, so all of the neighbors went outside on the street and saw all the smoke,” said Nancy Johnson, who lives about a quarter-mile away from Kosan Crisplant. “About 20 minutes later, [officials] came and told us to evacuate because of that big tank. And if that had happened, our houses would have probably been toothpicks.”

One week later, investigators with the Missouri Division of Fire Safety determined the fire started accidentally from a spark off of a propane cylinder. Officials determined the fire originated outdoors near a loading dock where small propane cylinders were prepared for reconditioning.

Marshfield’s firefighters were joined by several emergency crews, including the Lebanon Rural Fire, Niangua Fire Protection District, Strafford Fire Protection District, Seymour, and Southern Webster County Fire Protection District. The heavy response was much desired to contain one of the more dangerous emergencies in recent southwest Missouri history.

OTHER TOP STORIES: Branson police investigate deadly shooting outside Famous Dave’s restaurant; Springfield Cardinals return to action for first time since 2019; Rogersville student-teacher killed in hit-and-run crash; Bolivar community picking up the pieces after two tornadoes

JUNE

FEATURED STORY: Forsyth community mourns loss of two missing teens

Another missing person case in the Ozarks ended in tragedy when authorities found two missing...
Another missing person case in the Ozarks ended in tragedy when authorities found two missing boys, Damien Grant and Braden Tuck, dead during a Taney County crash investigation.(ky3)

Another missing person case in the Ozarks ended in tragedy when authorities found two missing boys dead during a Taney County crash investigation.

Braden Tuck and Damien Grant, two 18-year-olds from Forsyth, disappeared on May 25. Nine days later, after several extensive searches and community tips, Tuck and Grant were found deceased when two bystanders spotted their vehicle down a steep ravine.

Investigators determined their SUV went off Highway H near Chadwick, Missouri on an unknown date, possibly on the day both were last seen.

Before they went missing, Tuck and Grant told the family they were going to Casey’s General Store for food and planning to look at flood waters at Swan Creek and Bull Shoals Lake. Family members contacted the police after not hearing back from the two boys later that day.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol and other agencies followed up with high-scale water and land searches around Swan Creek and Bull Shoals Lake.

“From the moment we heard that they were missing, we searched from morning until night,” said Janice Smith, the grandmother of Braden Tuck. “There were so many people, literally hundreds of people, on the water and in the woods looking for my grandson and Damien.”

It wasn’t until June 3 that any clues led to their location. Damon Robison told KY3 he was attending a car show in Branson when he and two of his friends test-drove their cars that day on Highway H. After his car broke down, Robison and a tow trucker looked over at a wooded area off the highway and spotted an SUV that led to Tuck and Grant.

“I’m saddened by the outcome, but I am somewhat glad at least both of us seeing it and taking action will bring some closure to the family,” Robison said.

A crash reconstruction team and several authorities investigated the scene for several hours after the discovery. MSHP troopers say there is an S-curve near the scene of the crash that could be dangerous for some drivers. Another deadly crash was reported in the area last year when a Corvette went off the road on the exact same path.

For Grant’s family, tragedy also struck the weekend before when his uncle was one of two killed in a shooting outside of Famous Dave’s restaurant in Branson. It was the city’s first homicide investigation in nearly five years. Investigators believe there were no connections to both of the family’s deaths.

The memory of Tuck and Grant lives strong for many in the Taney County community. In July, members of the Eagles Lodge in Cape Fair organized a dinner and auction to raise money for funeral expenses.

OTHER TOP STORIES: Petition submitted to recall Nixa mayor over enforcement of mask mandate; Springfield teen survives cancer twice after sister donates bone marrow; One Year Later: The remarkable recovery of Springfield officer Mark Priebe; On Your Side Investigation: Bolivar business owner explains criminal past, says he’ll give refunds and finish projects

JULY

FEATURED STORY: Hospitals fill up at record levels as Springfield hit hard by Delta variant

In only a matter of weeks, hospitalizations in Greene County went from sustainable lows to...
In only a matter of weeks, hospitalizations in Greene County went from sustainable lows to record-breaking highs due to a summer surge of the COVID-19 Delta variant.(KY3)

In only a matter of weeks, hospitalizations in Greene County went from sustainable lows to record-breaking highs due to a summer surge of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

Scientists widely consider the Delta variant as the most contagious strain with its ability to target younger people and produce intense symptoms. According to the CDC, the Delta variant is nearly twice as transmissible as the original COVID-19 strain.

Frontline workers for Mercy and CoxHealth, the two major health systems of the Springfield metropolitan area, noticed the impact of the Delta variant first-hand while dealing with depleted resources and staff shortages.

“Patients are much sicker than the patients we’ve been seeing in the past,” said Mercy Springfield nurse Tracy Hill. “Math will tell you we can’t take care of as many patients when they’re that sick.”

“There’s still a limited number of beds, a limited number of physicians, a limited number of nurses,” said Dr. Howard Jarvis, Medical Director of Emergency Departments for CoxHealth. “And quite honestly, it takes quite a bit longer to see COVID patients than it does to see some other patients.”

Deep vaccine resistance across southwest Missouri set the stage for an active summer in COVID-19 response. In various reports throughout summer, officials from Mercy and CoxHealth say up to 97% of virus patients seeking treatment were unvaccinated prior to being hospitalized.

“It’s hard to understand how else to ask, encourage and motivate, but I’m watching this Delta variant break us,” said Katie Towns, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, in late June. “It’s making people so sick, and killing our loved ones. Our healthcare workers keep showing up and taking care of those who aren’t vaccinated anyway, even though they’re exhausted, overwhelmed and grieving too.”

Mercy Springfield reached its peak with 155 virus patients on July 23, while CoxHealth ended the month with a record-breaking 187 virus patients. Both health systems took drastic measures to combat the summer surge.

On July 5, Mercy Springfield announced it ran out of ventilators and scrambled to acquire some from surrounding Mercy hospitals in Northwest Arkansas and St. Louis. One day later, CoxHealth announced its sites in southwest Missouri would request registered respiratory therapists and traveling nurses to help with rising caseloads. Later in July, Mercy and CoxHealth announced vaccine mandates for current and future employees.

Despite swift action, hospitals sought help from outside of the Ozarks region. In mid-July, two Springfield agencies submitted a request for the state to fund an alternate care site to help with an overflow of patients seeking hospital care for COVID-19. Officials eventually withdrew that request after hospitals brought on more staff and repurposed existing spots for bed space.

On July 19, Missouri state leaders approved new resources for Springfield, including ambulance strike teams and monoclonal antibody infusion facilities. The state activated ambulance strike teams to help with transfers of COVID-19 patients to other states and regions several hours away, a grim reminder of just how much the Delta variant ravaged southwest Missouri.

“It’s taxing on all of our healthcare providers,” said Dr. William Sistrunk, infectious disease specialist for Mercy. “You’re racing against time with this Delta variant to get as many people vaccinated as possible before we continue to have more and more cases.”

Health leaders placed a repeated emphasis on vaccinations throughout the summer surge. The message proved effective with Greene County averaging more than 5,000 new or completed vaccinations each week from July 23 to August 15.

Coincidentally, Mercy and CoxHealth both noticed relief in late August as dozens of patients were treated and released, while new hospital admissions dropped considerably. Health experts continue to push vaccination as the best defense against COVID-19 and potential variants.

For the latest COVID-19 updates from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, CLICK HERE.

OTHER TOP STORIES: 77 years after death, WWII soldier returned to Bolivar; Lake Ozark police investigate deadly, gang-related shooting at Bagnell Dam Strip; Judge sentences Republic babysitter to prison after abusing infant in her care; Springfield Public Schools welcomes new superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan

AUGUST

FEATURED STORY: Amazon in Republic, Costco in Springfield now open for business

Two major retailers set their footprint in southwest Missouri as Amazon and Costco officially...
Two major retailers set their footprint in southwest Missouri as Amazon and Costco officially opened new facilities in August.(KY3)

Two major retailers set their footprint in southwest Missouri as Amazon and Costco officially opened new facilities in August.

Republic city leaders celebrated the grand opening of its Amazon Fulfillment Center on Aug. 1, while the Springfield community welcomed its first Costco wholesale store on Aug. 18.

The Amazon Fulfillment Center, located near State Highway MM and James River Freeway, is a 1.3-million-square-foot facility. It is one of four fulfillment centers in Missouri, which are designed to hold thousands of products and ship out some orders possibly as quickly as the same day of purchase.

“It’s a massive game-changer,” said Republic City Administrator David Cameron. “We’re estimating in the $500-million range of how that financially impacts the overall region and the state.”

The new Amazon site has created an estimated 2,000 jobs. Missouri’s four distribution centers, including the one in Republic, serve more than 24,000 small and medium-sized businesses that use Amazon to distribute their products or services.

“We’re really starting to go to the high schools and trying to make sure school counselors and students know that their workforce of tomorrow might be right here at Amazon,” said Missouri Gov. Mike Parson after he explored the site in September. “Partnering with these corporations and keeping infrastructure and workforce development at the forefront is how we’re going to build the future of this state.”

Amazon temporarily closed the site in late October for nearly three weeks as crews worked to clean up the mold. However, the company says the closure did not impact the footprint of its online business, and workers were paid throughout the closure.

Costco, now serving at 279 N. Eastgate Avenue near U.S. Route 65, is a membership-based warehouse retailer offering food, household supplies, clothing, electronics, appliances and other merchandise. According to the National Retail Federation, Costco is considered the sixth-largest retailer in the world and has more than 800 U.S. stores.

“We’ve heard from so many of our citizens for so long that this was a business that we need to have in Springfield,” said McClure. “It’s an effort we’ve been working on for so many years. It’s very much in demand.”

Costco began hiring for the Springfield site in May, which now employs hundreds of people. The 160,000-square-foot facility features more than 4,000 different kinds of items. It also offers a food court, tire center, gas station and health services.

“It’s a retail experience that we have not had before,” said Springfield’s Interim Director of Economic Vitality Sarah Kerner. “Many people in the Springfield area have traveled hundreds of miles to go to, and now we’re getting those sales tax dollars here in our community.”

Springfield’s Costco and Republic’s Amazon sites not only represent major economic opportunities for both cities but could push more communities around the Ozarks to explore the potential for big-name brands.

OTHER TOP STORIES: Nixa native Courtney Frerichs earns silver medal in Summer Olympics steeplechase run; Springfield Army veteran explains the impact of Afghanistan attacks; Judge grants public access to popular spot along Finley River in Christian County; On Your Side Investigation: Parent files lawsuit against CoxHealth and CEO

SEPTEMBER

FEATURED STORY: Two arrested in high-profile investigation over disappearance and death of Cassidy Rainwater in Dallas County

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office led a months-long investigation into the disappearance of...
The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office led a months-long investigation into the disappearance of Cassidy Rainwater, a case that took national spotlight several weeks after she initially went missing.(KY3)

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office led a months-long investigation into the disappearance of Cassidy Rainwater, a case that took national spotlight several weeks after she initially went missing.

Investigators say Rainwater, a 33-year old woman with ties to Dallas County, disappeared on July 25. She wasn’t reported missing to authorities until nearly one month later.

In mid-September, prosecutors charged two suspects, James Phelps and Timothy Norton, over the disappearance of Rainwater. Their criminal charges were eventually upgraded to first-degree murder in November when DNA tests returned to the Dallas County Sheriff confirmed the death of Cassidy Rainwater.

On Sept. 16, the FBI informed the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office of an anonymous tip, receiving photos that reportedly showed Rainwater caged up near a property rented by Phelps. When Dallas County detectives followed up on this tip, they found seven photos on Phelps’ phone that led to his arrest.

One woman, who personally knew Rainwater and knows of the suspects, spoke with KY3 on the condition of anonymity in mid-September and is still working to come to terms with what happened.

“I’ve been incredibly unsettled since the whole menagerie started,” she said. “I don’t think Cassidy would have ever run off without keeping contact with her family. I’m continuing to pray for her family. I can’t fathom what her family is experiencing and I’m heartily sorry that it happened so close to my home.”

Prior to his arrest, Phelps told authorities that Rainwater had been staying with him while she got on her feet, per court documents. When he was first questioned, he told authorities that Rainwater left his rental home overnight on July 25 and never returned.

According to additional court documents released in September, Phelps called Norton to his home one day earlier for help in restraining Rainwater. Police interviewed Norton on Sept. 19 over the disappearance of Rainwater and found some inaccuracies in his story. One day later, investigators say Norton admitted to details about restraining Rainwater, which led to his arrest.

The investigation took several turns in the weeks that followed the arrests of Phelps and Norton. On Oct. 4, the home connected to Phelps was burned to the ground. No injuries were reported, but crews worked several hours to put out the fire and a bomb squad detonated a suspicious device near the home. Investigators with the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire was the result of arson, but no arrests have been reported in this fire.

After a thorough investigation process, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on Nov. 17 that the remains found at the home several weeks earlier were those of Rainwater. According to court documents, investigators recovered more than 200 pieces of evidence at the home and determined that Rainwater’s body had been dismembered.

Dallas County Sheriff Scott Rice said that DNA tests returned more than a month after being sent to medical examiners, confirming Rainwater’s flesh was found in a freezer. Sheriff Rice said more of her remains were found scattered on a nearby property belonging to her grandfather Bill Rainwater.

“What happened with Cassidy is something nobody should ever go through,” said Sheriff Rice in an exclusive interview with KY3 on Nov. 18.

Preliminary hearings for Phelps and Norton are scheduled for the same week in early February. A judge has scheduled a preliminary hearing for Feb. 2, 2022, in the case of Timothy Norton and Feb. 4, 2022, in the case of James Phelps. Dallas County prosecutors have formally charged both men with first-degree murder, abandonment of a corpse and kidnapping.

Sheriff Rice says investigators have not located any evidence leading them to believe there are any other victims or suspects associated with Phelps and Norton at this time. However, if anyone has new information concerning the case, they are encouraged to contact the sheriff’s office at 417-345-2441.

OTHER TOP STORIES: Branson family hires high profile private investigator to join search for missing son; Kickapoo High School phases out old traditions, but keep Indians name; Budget approved for improvement projects along historic Commercial Street in Springfield

OCTOBER

FEATURED STORY: Back-to-back months of deadly officer-involved shootings in Springfield

Two investigations remain active into Springfield shootings from October and November during...
Two investigations remain active into Springfield shootings from October and November during which an officer fatally shot a suspect who previously shot or fired shots at another law enforcement officer.(KY3)

Two investigations remain active into Springfield shootings from October and November during which an officer fatally shot a suspect who previously shot or fired shots at another law enforcement officer.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol is handling both investigations. Police say the deadly shootings happened on Oct. 17 in the 1800 block of West Elm Street and Nov. 11 at a parking lot near Glenstone Avenue and Battlefield Road.

Douglas Knakmuhs, a 40-year-old who was wanted on several warrants and for questioning in a recent shooting investigation, died from injuries in the Oct. 17 shooting. He was accused of shooting an officer outside of a Kum & Go gas station, breaking into a home on Elm Street, and holding a man at gunpoint before he was fatally shot.

The Springfield Police Department says an officer tried to approach Knakmuhs at the gas station before he fired shots at the officer and drove away from the scene. Shortly after that, a woman notified police that a man, later identified as Knakmuhs, broke into her home and held her husband at gunpoint.

Dozens of officers, including a SWAT team, responded to the scene. Investigators say a few officers entered the home to find Knakmuhs fighting with the homeowner over a gun. During the altercation, an officer shot and killed Knakmuhs, but no one else was hurt.

“The officers, both initially deploying to the scene and afterward, everything that they exhibited, resulted in my view a successful conclusion of this; that no victims, citizens or officers were injured and a violent criminal was taken off the streets,” said Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams in a news conference the following day.

Less than four weeks later, an officer fatally shot Seth Rynio, a 21-year-old Lebanon man, just split seconds after he shot a park ranger assisting with an investigation on the evening of Nov. 11. Rynio died at the scene, while the park ranger was rushed to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Before the shooting, police responded to the Downing Street Pour House restaurant over a report of a highly-intoxicated man causing a disturbance. That man, later identified as Rynio, took off from officers toward the Barnes & Noble store. During that time, officers received a tip that Rynio was possibly armed.

Police say Rynio shot park ranger Robert Bridges, a 17-year law enforcement veteran who started serving with the Springfield-Greene County Park Board last year. Bridges were released from the hospital on Nov. 16, less than a week after he was shot.

Springfield-Greene County Park Board officials credit a high-duty vest for saving Bridges’ life. Park rangers, like Bridges, are commissioned through the Greene County Sheriff’s Office and dispatched through 911, which allowed him to provide backup when Springfield police officers tried to stop Rynio.

“We are extremely proud of our park rangers and the work they do with our law enforcement partner agencies, who work tirelessly and too often in harm’s way in keeping our community safe,” said SGCPB Director of Parks Bob Belote. “All of our thoughts and prayers are with Ranger Bridges and his family, as well as the Springfield Police officers involved in this incident.”

Both shootings, however, leave some residents concerned about crime in Springfield.

“The city has changed drastically,” said Heather Pope, who lived nearby the Nov. 11 shooting. “There seem to be a lot more shootings nowadays. And I don’t know what’s going on that’s causing all of this. It’s scary knowing that this can happen so close to your home.”

The Springfield Police Department has placed at least two officers on administrative leave in both deadly shootings, which are being investigated by the Missouri State Highway Patrol as homicides. Springfield police report a total of 26 homicides in 2021, which passes a record of 24 from one year before.

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NOVEMBER

FEATURED STORY: Missouri State Football clinches playoff bids in back-to-back seasons

The Missouri State Bears recently capped a calendar year of 19 football games, 13 wins and two...
The Missouri State Bears recently capped a calendar year of 19 football games, 13 wins and two playoff appearances over two seasons.(Matt Turer | Ozarks Sports Zone)

Not many college football programs could argue that 2021 brought a shift in program stature and national prominence as monumental as Missouri State University experienced this year.

The Missouri State Bears recently capped a calendar year of 19 football games, 13 wins and two playoff appearances over two seasons, the first which was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and overlapped from autumn into spring.

The run of 2021 brought success to levels that Missouri State Football hasn’t seen in decades. For perspective, Missouri State only won 13 games over their previous six years. The Bears also clinched a spot in FCS Playoffs in back-to-back seasons, something that hadn’t been done since 1989 and 1990 when the team was coached by Jesse Branch.

“Missouri State hasn’t been in the talk very often,” said head coach Bobby Petrino during the FCS Selection Show last month. “We feel like we’ve been underrated all year long. We are going to come out and play like we always have with a big chip on our shoulder.”

Petrino took over as Missouri State’s head coach in Jan. 2020. Since then, the program has made strides in recruiting and on-field performance. The Bears averaged 39 points over eight victories from the past season and never lost a game by more than one possession this season.

Football fans around Springfield started taking notice. Attendance at football games has been gradually rising after falling to one of its lowest points ever in 2017. Home games averaged a crowd of nearly 12,000 fans this season, filling up more than two-thirds the capacity of Robert W. Plaster Stadium on average.

“Those who have been out to watch understand how fun our games have been,” said Missouri State athletic director Kyle Moats. “We have a really good football team. Our community knows. It’s important for our program and our university to have something like that be a part of our university.”

With the progress comes some growing pains, as Missouri State has ended each of its last two seasons with an opening-round playoff loss. The 2020-21 season came to an end in April with a 44-10 loss to North Dakota Fighting Hawks. The Bears nearly rallied to their second-ever playoff win on Nov. 27, but the UT Martin Skyhawks played spoiler with a late turnover in a 32-31 defeat that ended Missouri State’s 2021 season.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference recognized the statement season by selecting 12 players to the All-MVFC Team, which honors some of the top athletes in the conference. Quarterback Jason Shelley, who was named MVFC Offensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, was one of six first-team honorees.

Other first-team selections included wide receiver Tyrone Scott, defensive end Kevin Ellis, punter Grant Burkett, and defensive back/return specialist Montrae Braswell.

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DECEMBER

FEATURED STORY: Historic tornadoes devastate Midwest, various damages reported throughout Ozarks region

The National Weather Service has confirmed at least 59 tornadoes across 10 states between the...
The National Weather Service has confirmed at least 59 tornadoes across 10 states between the early-evening hours of Dec. 10 and overnight into Dec. 11. (Andrew Whitman)

Thousands are working to pick up the pieces after one of the deadliest and largest December tornado outbreaks in modern United States history struck the Midwest.

The National Weather Service has confirmed at least 66 tornadoes across 10 states between the early evening hours of Dec. 10 and overnight into Dec. 11. The outbreak produced catastrophic damage with some twisters reaching speeds up to 190 miles per hour and traveling an estimated path of 250 miles per hour. As of Dec. 24, the national death toll stands at 90.

December began with a stretch of unseasonably warm weather that set the stage for a massive outbreak. The KY3 Weather Team and National Weather Service tracked the possibility of severe storms nearly one week in advance.

“Tornadoes in December are not unheard of,” said KY3 First Alert Meteorologist Brandon Beck. “They are certainly not as common as springtime tornadoes, but they do happen.”

While cold fronts clashed with warm fronts during the late-afternoon hours of Dec. 10, it wasn’t immediately clear what the storm system would bring into the early evening. The National Weather Service confirmed 14 twisters in Missouri from the storm system, but only two tornadoes in the southwest Missouri region.

Branson West suffered extensive damage from an EF1 tornado that packed speeds of 90 miles per hour. In just three minutes, the tornado damaged roughly 20 homes, in addition to dozens of trees, power lines and car windows.

Although no deaths or significant injuries have been reported, it is believed to be the most significant twister in the area since an EF2 Leap Day Tornado struck Branson in 2012.

“I didn’t know if my house was still going be there because it was so loud, and I didn’t know what was happening,” said Sharon Johnston, whose Branson West home suffered significant damage. “The side of my house was gone, there were several broken windows and glass all over the ground from the broken windows. We were so glad nobody got hurt [in Branson West].”

NWS crews also tracked an EF1 tornado in Webster County producing speeds up to 90 miles per hour along a six-mile path.

Wayne Boyce, a resident of High Prairie Township, says he can’t recall anything like the storms he witnessed on Dec. 10. The tornado damaged equipment and structures around his farm, moved his trailer 30 feet and killed many of his chickens.

“It sounded like a freight train going over the top of the house,” said Boyce. “I’m grateful no lives were lost [in Webster County].”

Missouri emergency management officials have confirmed four deaths and 11 injuries statewide from the Dec. 10 tornadoes. Two days later, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson surveyed two areas with reported deaths in St. Charles and Pemiscot counties. Since then, Gov. Parson has requested federal assistance for recovery efforts and damage assessments throughout the state.

Roughly four hours east of the Ozarks region, the community of Mayfield, Kentucky, is considered one of the hardest-hit areas from the tornado outbreak. The National Weather Service reports peak speeds up to 190 miles per hour and a path of 128 miles, rating it as one of only two EF4 tornadoes in the Dec. 10 storm system.

Emergency management officials in Kentucky have confirmed a death toll of 75. One of the strongest-tracked tornadoes in the outbreak killed at least nine workers at a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky.

Convoy of Hope, a Springfield-based nonprofit and disaster relief organization, activated its response teams shortly after the outbreak to help tornado victims in Kentucky and Tennessee. The organization delivered various relief supplies, including food, water, tarps, and cleanup supplies, to thousands in need.

“This is such a huge path of devastation that we are sending loads of help to different communities all throughout a 200-mile long zone,” said Convoy of Hope spokesperson Ethan Forhetz. “It hit so many different communities, so there’s not one spot from where you can reach everybody.”

The other EF4 tornado ripped through Monette, Arkansas, leading to at least six deaths. Also just outside the Ozarks region, an EF3 tornado killed six workers at an Amazon warehouse facility in Edwardsville, Illinois.

For Mayfield and other hard-hit areas, emergency officials predict it could take several years for a complete rebuild. Organizations across the nation and Ozarks region are raising money and resources for tornado victims in need through the holiday season. To learn how you can help with recovery efforts, CLICK HERE.

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