The death of beloved West Platte teacher and coach Nate Danneman cast a difficult shadow over the year 2017, starting with the crash that took his life in late April.
Communities rallied together to provide support in wake of the tragedy, helping to create some positives from a difficult situation. The effect of his life continued to be felt as the days passed with the legacy he left sure to last for generations.
In the first half of the past year, the Platte County government saw conclusions come for a pair of difficult controversies, and crime grabbed numerous headlines from homicide charges against a pair of local high school students to the discovery of Toni Anderson’s body in a car pulled from the Missouri River near Parkville to the announcement of the state’s intention to seek the death penalty against accused murderer Grayden Denham in the grisly 2016 deaths of four Edgerton, Mo. residents.
There was of course, good news.
The North Platte and Park Hill school districts were able to pass no-tax increase levy issues on the April ballot, which will fund construction of new facilities and other upgrades, while Platte County R-3 opened its new eight-court tennis facility and the Kansas City (Mo.) Police Department held a ribbon cutting for the new North Patrol Division headquarters in Platte County.
Take a look back at the first six months’ news from Platte County in 2017 with the second half next year.
Sager avoids charges, resigns from public works
A criminal investigation into allegations of misconduct led to the issuance of a probable cause statement for a felony of stealing against Platte County Public Works director Greg Sager in late November of 2016.
However, the Platte County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file charges against Sager, 52, after most of the $1,357 in cash he acquired through the scrapping of county metal materials in 2014 ended up accounted for and returned, according to official documents. The investigation — initiated after a former public works employee brought the allegations to the Platte County Sheriff’s Office — also helped turn up irregularities in public works departments practices.
Sager eventually resigned on Friday, Jan. 6.
Ayers pleads guilty in local officer’s death
A 29-year-old man avoided the death penalty, pleading guilty in early January to capital murder in a Wyandotte County (Kan.) courtroom filled with law enforcement officers.
Curtis Ayers received a life sentence without the possibility of parole for his role in the death of Kansas City (Kan.) Police Department detective Brad Lancaster, a native of Weston, Mo. and former member of the Platte County Sheriff’s Office, in exchange for his plea. Ayers shot and killed the 39-year-old family man and seasoned law enforcement officer before leading authorities on a lengthy and dangerous chase in early May of 2016.
In addition to capital murder in Lancaster’s death, Ayers pleaded guilty to nine other felonies stemming from the events of May 9, 2016. He was sentenced in March.
A graduate of West Platte High School in 1994, Lancaster served in the U.S. Air Force with two tours overseas — the first as a military policeman in Kuwait during Desert Shield and another in Saudi Arabia. From August of 1998 to July 2007, Lancaster worked for the Platte County Sheriff’s Office. He also volunteered as a firefighter for the West Platte and South Platte fire protection districts.
Homicide reported in Riverside
Multiple people were charged with murder in the death of 20-year-old Davon Rivera-Wright, found shot to death on Jan. 3 near an apartment complex in Riverside, Mo.
Four people were connected to the crime, one directly implicated in the homicide. Jordan Wilson, 23, faces three felony charges, including one for voluntary manslaughter in the homicide. Three other men from Kansas City, Mo. have all been charged with one felony count each of delivery of a controlled substance and one count each in hindering prosecution associated with Rivera-Wright’s death.
The investigation revealed a potential drug deal gone wrong leading to the death of Rivera-Wright, a father of two.
Former county employee pleads to reduced charge
A former Platte County employee charged with stealing from taxpayer funds pleaded guilty to a reduced charge — but only after an unusual delay.
Kenneth M. Bozenhardt, 54, appeared in court on Friday, Jan. 6 to agree to a plea arrangement. The court originally accepted and found him guilty of a Class D felony or fraudulent use of a credit device, stemming from a charge filed in August that he allegedly made personal purchases on a county credit and business card. Some of those purchases were used to buy materials to construct and decorate a beer garden at his Platte County home.
The court suspended Bozenhardt’s sentence and placed him on three years probation in addition to restitution of $1,295 and a $75 prosecuting attorney fee.
However, Platte County Sheriff’s Office deputies during fingerprinting reported the odor of alcohol on Bozenhardt’s person. A court-ordered test showed a blood-alcohol level of .078 — just under the legal limit to drive in Missouri.
The court presumed Bozenhardt intoxicated at the time of his plea and therefore set aside the plea. He was taken into custody before later agreeing to the same plea deal.
Platte County grad retires from pro baseball
Jake Blackwood announced his retirement from professional baseball after a winding 11-year career that included two stints with Major League Baseball franchises and finished close to his adopted hometown. He spent the final two seasons of his career back in independent baseball playing for the Kansas City T-Bones — a franchise based just across the state line from Platte City in Kansas City, Kan.
A three-time selection to the Missouri Baseball Coaches Association all-state team while in high school, Blackwood went on to play two years at Maple Woods Community College before twice being selected in MLB’s Amateur Draft. He made the National Junior College Athletics Association Division I All-American team after each of his two seasons.
The New York Mets spent a 40th round pick on the Pirates product in 2005, but Blackwood opted to return to school and up his draft stock. The Florida Marlins selected him in the 16th round of the 2006 draft, and he signed to start his career.
Blackwood is one of 12 players to be drafted out of Maple Woods — one of only two to be selected twice. The list also includes future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols.
R-3 students film PSA video
Platte City residents that witnessed fire trucks, police and medical personnel in front of the Platte County Middle School on Tuesday, Feb. 7 didn’t need to worry.
No one was injured, and all of the flashing lights were to help spread a positive message. Platte county junior Ethan Ventress led a film crew and actors consisting of high school students to setup and film a crash scene on Platte Falls Road in front of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting building for as part of the Toyota TeenDrive365 video challenge.
Ventress heard about the competition and decided to brainstorm an idea that he could pull off in time for a submission in February. He asked the Platte City Police Department for assistance to make the video as real as possible.
Park Hill wrestling 3rd at state; Jumps wins title
Park Hill finished in third place in the Class 4 Missouri State Wrestling Championships team standings. The Trojans’ streak of four straight titles ended, but for the 10th straight year, they brought home a top-three trophy — all despite being without three returning state medalists and losing another during the tournament.
Devin Winston, a sophomore, took home the 170-pound individual championship for Park Hill, which featured six total first-time medalists.
From three wins as a freshman to the spotlights of Mizzou Arena, Platte County senior Casey Jumps finished his career as the 220-pound champion in the Class 3 Missouri State Wrestling Championships. Jumps and juniors Cody Phippen (113) and Sage Smart (195) all advanced to the finals for Platte County, but four medalists, three finalists and two state champions weren’t enough for the Pirates to win another state trophy.
Platte County ended up with 92 points, 11 out of fourth place.
Phippen won his second state title, while Smart — a second-year qualifier earned first state medal the hard way, needing a dramatic win in the quarterfinals to advance then ended up second at 195.
Ferrelview notified of state audit
The Missouri Attorney’s General Office announced an audit of the Village of Ferrelview’s finances in February.
A citizen-led petition collected 80 signatures requesting the government action, and 64 of those submitted were verified to be from registered, resident voters. The Platte County Board of Elections verified the petition, and the state auditor’s office recently sent a notice of verification to Ferrelview resident Theresa Wilson, who started the petition in May of 2016.
According to the notice, the state auditor’s office will determine the scope of the audit, and all concerns may not be audited. The audit will “primarily cover the current period and most recently completed fiscal year.”
The state audit will take multiple months and results remain pending. Village officials hope the process helps ease ongoing tensions among community members.
Platte County avoids tornadoes during storms
A massive severe weather system moved through the region during the evening of Monday, March 6, but Platte County ended up avoiding the worst.
Platte County ended up under a tornado warning from about 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., and early reports indicated a potential tornado touchdown near Platte City. However, National Weather Service damage assessments Tuesday morning showed the path of one of the confirmed tornadoes in Missouri ended up going between Trimble, Mo. and Smithville, Mo. in western Clay County.
Residents in Platte City, Weston, Camden Point and Edgerton reported various sized damaging hail. Some of the largest were golf ball size or slightly larger, causing damage to homes, barns and vehicles.
Missing woman’s car found in Missouri River
A Parkville, Mo. park again became the center of a search for a missing woman, resulting in a grisly discovery Friday, March 10.
According to authorities, workers pulled the car of 20-year-old Toni Anderson from the banks of the Missouri River near a boat ramp at Platte Landing Park. A body was located inside the vehicle, and Kansas City (Mo.) Police Department officials later identified it as the woman missing since January.
Authorities don’t suspect foul play, and multiple reports indicate a wayward Anderson might have accidentally driven onto the park’s boat ramp before the car slid into the icy waters, leaving her trapped.
Park Hill basketball year ends with tough losses
Park Hill girls basketball’s dream season came to a nightmare finish. The Trojans fought back from a double-digit deficit to take a brief lead in a Class 5 quarterfinal Saturday, March 11, but Lee’s Summit punched right back, hitting a slew of free throws late to seal a 57-53 victory that earned the Tigers a spot in the state semifinals.
Finishing 21-7, Park Hill already earned a second district title in three years and won a playoff game for the first time in more than two decades to reach to the quarters. The Trojans were unable to go back to state for the first time since a 24-7 run to a Class 4A runner-up showing in 1995.
On the boys side, Park Hill’s seniors earned a coveted playoff return but trudged to the locker room after a 57-45 loss to Liberty in a Class 5 sectional days earlier. Dru Smith, Chester Graves, Tyione Stewart and Khalid Smith were freshmen during the last playoff trip for the Trojans in 2014, a run that also ended in the opening round.
Tragedy unfolds at home in Ridgely
Twin siblings — Arrabelle and Elijah Wagner— died after an apparent accidental drowning in a pond near their home Monday, March 20 in Ridgely, Mo.
At approximately 10:14 a.m., the father called 911 to report that his three-year-old children were missing from the home. The Platte County Sheriff’s Office and the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) began to conduct a search of the area and later recovered the bodies in the pond.
Elijah was pronounced dead at the scene. Officials initially indicated that Arrabelle had been transported to an area hospital where she later died.
The investigation discovered no evidence of foul play present.
County makes Erickson head of departments
A long-time fixture of Platte County government took on a new role in charge of several consolidated departments in a move announced in March.
Daniel Erickson had served as director of planning and zoning since 2006 before becoming director of “parks, planning and facilities.” According to a press release issued, the change will allow for consolidation of management in three departments, which will increase efficiency through shared staff and resources.
Each department continues to have its own operations, which Erickson now heads.
North Platte, Park Hill pass levy issues
Voters overwhelmingly decided in the Tuesday, April 4 general municipal election to approve a no-tax increase to allow the North Platte School District to begin work on capital improvement projects, including a new junior high school.
Out of the 634 total votes, the bond question passed with 513 yes to just 121 no votes. The measure required a four-sevenths majority to pass (57 percent) and received more than 80 percent support from the district patrons.
The main part of the revenue will be used to build a new junior high school, which is scheduled to open for the 2018-19 school year.
The $110 million no-tax increase Park Hill School District bond issue sailed to approval on the same day. The issue required a four-sevenths majority to pass, but once the votes were tallied, it received nearly 84 percent approval from district residents. Yes votes came in at 8,414 with those voting against the bond issue at 1,615.
The district’s current total levy, including operating and debt service levies, is $5.52 per $100 assessed valuation. That total will remain unchanged.
The bonds will pay for a new elementary school, a new middle school, a rented facility for high-school students, a support services facility, improvement projects at existing schools and possibly a transportation facility and other maintenance projects.
Ferrelview residents choose change for board
Theresa Wilson and Russell Wilson, a married couple, ousted Ferrelview Board of Trustees president Steven Carr in the April election. Russell Wilson received 38 votes, Theresa Wilson 36 and Carr just 30.
Carr and the previous board members continued to support embattled police chief Daniel Clayton through controversy since his hire in 2015. Theresa Wilson had been part of the vocal criticism and worked to initiate a probe from the Missouri State Auditor’s office, and her citizen-led petition garnered the required signatures to initiate the process.
Eventually, three new members ended up on the board after write-in candidate Melvin Rhodes beat out previously appointed trustee Brooks Moseley.
Civil forfeiture sought from suspected swindler
Victims may have the chance to recoup money from a Platte County resident who committed suicide as authorities closed in on holding him responsible for a multi-million fraud scheme.
A civil forfeiture complaint was filed in federal court for the property that Mark Sellers acquired and maintained over a period of nearly decade. The FBI had been investigating him in connection to a $10 million investment fraud scheme before he shot and killed himself near his home Aug. 2, 2016 in an upscale neighborhood just outside of Parkville, Mo.
The complaint alleges that the property is subject to federal forfeiture because it was derived from the proceeds of an investment fraud scheme.
West Platte football coach killed in crash
A four-vehicle accident along Interstate 29 claimed the life of West Platte coach and teacher Nate Danneman on the evening of Wednesday, April 19. He was just 37 years old.
A candlelight vigil brought out hundreds the following night to remember Danneman’s life — enough people to line both sides and both ends of old Rudolph Eskridge Stadium, where he spent the first three years of his short career coaching at West Platte.
A native of St. Louis and a graduate of Rockwood Summit High School, Danneman spent the past four seasons coaching football and wrestling at West Platte. He came to the Bluejays after stints as an assistant with Marshall and Richmond and then two years as a head coach at Drexel, going 17-4 with the Bobcats.
Hundreds more turned out for funeral services Monday, April 24 at new Rudolph Eskridge Stadium where Danneman patrolled the sideline of a multi-million dollar facility for his final season. Those in attendance included family, friends, co-workers, teammates, players, students, opposing coaches and opposing players.
R-3 opens new facility
Playing on a recently completed eight-court facility on campus for the first time, Platte County swept Belton 9-0 in a quick Suburban Conference Blue Division matchup Tuesday, April 25. The tennis court project experienced a handful of delays, leaving players and coaches grateful to get at least one home dual in for the spring season.
Prior to the dual, the school held a small ribbon-cutting, allowing players from the boys and girls programs to lead the festivities. The tennis court project became a priority in the summer of 2016 after the district announced plans to demolish the two dilapidated courts located on campus to make way for a new parking lot.
R-3 robotics team makes national final
One of Platte County High School’s qualifiers for the VEX Robotics World Championship competed on perhaps the biggest stage possible in April.
Team 9065C, known as Phantom Robotics, navigated through qualification matches, an elimination bracket and a round robin to reach the world finals. Platte County’s Alex Harms, Parker Johnson, Zach Lienemann, Matthew Phillips, Trent Phillips, Wesley Valentine and Will Valentine ended up as runners-up out of 600 teams competing in Louisville, Ky.
In the final, the alliance including Platte County’s Team 9065C experienced connectivity issues and a tipped robot, unable to win the world championship.
Each year, VEX Robotics establishes a game for programs around the world. More than 17,000 teams in 40 countries use the robots in competitions.
Pair of teens charged in homicide
Two area high school students were charged with first-degree murder in a Monday, May 8 shooting death of another teenager. The homicide occurred in a neighborhood near Zona Rosa and Park Hill High School.
Officials identified the victim as 18-year-old Timothy Durden, who attended Park Hill High School until February according to a report from The Kansas City Star.
Durden was located near the back deck of a home with multiple gunshot wounds, and he was transported to an area hospital. He later died from his injuries.
Late Tuesday night, the Platte County Prosecutor’s Office filed felony charges of murder, armed criminal action and distribution of drugs in a protected area against 17-year-old Dominic Pineda, listed as a candidate for graduation at Park Hill High School. The following day, the same three charges were leveled against 17-year-old Keith Spencer, who had been a senior at Platte County High School.
The incident appears to be the result of a drug deal gone bad.
Slowdown on I-29 leads to 4-fatality accident
Three people died in a multi-vehicle accident Friday, May 12 on Interstate 29, just north of Highway 92 in Platte City. The cause appeared to be an inattentive driver in slowed traffic due to a Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) striping project on a busy weekend, according to a Missouri State Highway Patrol crash report.
James Wilson, 54, and Lisa Wilson, 44, of Effingham, Kan. and Carol Wehking, 75, of Lancaster, Kan. were pronounced dead at the scene after the crash occurred at 12:24 p.m. All three victims were wearing their seat belts in their 2004 GMC Envoy at the time of the accident.
John Klapp, 71, — the driver of a 2002 Dodge Ram that initiated the crash — later died from his injuries.
Suicide reported at Platte County jail
An inmate inside the Platte County Detention Center died Monday, May 22 at the facility.
At about 9:55 a.m., detention officers discovered a white male in his 40s dead of an apparent suicide by hanging. He was found off of a day room. No foul play was initially suspected.
The victim was later identified as 41-year-old Matthew Harrold, recently charged with a felony for fleeing from the Platte City Police Department in a vehicle pursuit and misdemeanor sexual abuse involving the daughter of his girlfriend. He had been taken into custody after a lengthy chase through residential Platte County just 10 days before his death.
State opts to pursue death penalty for Denham
The Platte County Prosecutor’s Office plans to seek the death penalty for Grayden Denham, who stands accused of murdering four of his relatives before setting fire to the family home in Edgerton, Mo. in a grisly crime committed in early 2016.
Denham, 25, was scheduled to appear before Judge James Van Amburg on Thursday, June 1, where prosecutors planned to present “aggravating circumstances” prompting them to seek capital punishment. Platte County assistant prosecutor Mark Gibson filed the motion on Wednesday, May 24.
A two-week jury trial was scheduled to begin Monday, June 19 in Platte County, but multiple delays have pushed that date back.
At a hearing held Thursday, May 18, Gibson reported the prosecutor’s office had offered Denham a plea bargain of life in prison without the possibility of parole. A deadline of May 4 came and went for Denham to accept the deal. Denham himself was absent at the May 18 hearing, with Gibson asking the judge to have Denham brought to court at that time to hear the plea offer in person.
The 12 charges against Denham include four counts of first degree murder and four counts of armed criminal action in the homicides of his sister Heather Ager, 32, his three-month-old nephew Mason Schiavoni, his grandmother Shirley Denham, 81, and his grandfather, Russell Denham, 82.
Tutor pleads guilty in 2008 murder
A verdict has finally been delivered in the 2008 “rest stop murder” case, after an earlier jury trial ended in mistrial.
Dana Tutor, 42, pleaded guilty Tuesday, May 30 before Platte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Fincham and was found guilty of first degree robbery and second degree murder in the case She was later sentenced in July, ending her tenure as the longest-serving inmate in the Platte County Detention Center.
Charged in 2010 as the accomplice of John Hughes, Tutor received multiple delays in her trial after Hughes was sentenced in 2010 for his role in the crime. An earlier jury trial for Tutor ended in a hung jury.
Geddes makes history for Platte County track
In the last race of her storied career, Platte County junior Rebekah Geddes provided a memorable finish, leaning late Saturday, March 27 at Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City, Mo. to win the 800-meter run in the Class 4 Missouri State Track and Field Championships, becoming just the second state champion in program history.
Elizabeth Robbins won Platte County’s only other state title back in 2000 — also in the 800.
Geddes earned three more all-state distinctions in the meet, bringing her career total to seven in three years. After opting to graduate early, the state championship run came in her final race.
Platte County baseball’s season ends short of semis
Lee’s Summit held on for a 1-0 win at Platte County High School in a Class 5 quarterfinal in late May, ending the season for perhaps the best team in Platte County’s history.
Platte County (24-3) held opponents to two runs or fewer in the final 10 games of the season, but one run allowed on six hits and a walk was enough to end the Pirates’ first playoff run since 2006. Prior to a Class 5 District 16 semifinal win over Park Hill South, the Pirates’ 13 seniors had not won a postseason game in their careers despite winning records in 2015 and 2016.
KCPD opens new North Patrol facility
For the first time, the Kansas City (Mo.) Police Department opened an operational building in Platte County.
Officials and hundreds of guests gathered for an official ceremony Friday, June 23 at the new North Patrol Division headquarters, located on former Kansas City Aviation Department land near KCI Airport. Nearly two years after breaking ground on the site, about 100 employees officially moved out of the old headquarters and into the new one.
The completion of the $9.5 million project resulted in a celebration for what speakers described as a much-needed update.
Platte City opts to dissolve court
The City of Platte City started the transfer of municipal court functions to the Platte County Circuit Court in late June, a process that could take up to six months to complete.
The Platte City Board of Aldermen voted 6-0 to approve the proposed shift, which expects to save the city more than $50,000 per year. The bill went into effect on Saturday, July 1, and the city had six months to work with the county on the transfer.