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Venezuela crisis hits home at BC

Juan Araque saw this coming. It doesn’t make it any easier.

Araque, now a professor of engineering at Benedictine College, and his wife fled their native land of Venezuela in the aftermath of the election of Hugo Chavez.

While many in the country celebrated a true alternative, someone seemingly prepared to deliver power and social justice to the people, Araque, then an engineer for PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, began looking for alternatives, finding a suitable PhD program at Rice University in Houston, Texas and taking his family out.

“It’s beyond a crisis,” Araque said. “It’s just devastation. We are witnessing the total destruction of my country.”

Soon enough, in response to a strike by workers for the oil company, Chavez had brusquely fired all of them, citing alleged “plots against the revolution.” This would become the type of rhetoric that the country is now accustomed to.

The problems far exceed labor disputes. According to the Associated Press, much of Venezuela has been completely without power in the last week. Food shortages are common.

Medicine is hard to come by. Basic public services are lacking. Crime is out of control. The infrastructure is decayed beyond repair; most relevant to the electricity crisis, the Guri dam failed earlier this month. 32 million lost power at once.

Araque lost contact with his extended family in Venzeula for almost a week; finally, communications became restored at about noon on Tuesday.

The infrastructure, everything, has degraded to such a level that a minor accident can trigger a complete collapse,” Araque said.

Having come to the United States from Venezuela at age 6, Daniela Garcia-Perez, a senior in biology at Benedictine, escaped personal memory of what are likely the worst times her native land has ever experienced.

“It’s a total humanitarian crisis,” Garcia-Perez said. “All possible aid must be given, now, because people are dying of starvation in the streets and in the hospitals for lack of medical supplies. Aid in those situations is critical to saving lives. It is hard, because they are blocking aid at the border (with Colombia) but any effort will help. It’s hard to really come to terms with, because there’s so many lives at stake.”

Garcia-Perez, like Araque, blames the “Chavismo” movement for the country’s ills, most especially Chavez’ chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro.

“He’s made aid harder because he’s been placing a lot of the blame on outsiders,” she said. “He’s refusing to accept that this is because of what they’ve done, the government. I think it’s like a pride thing, they have to reject the idea that they caused this just because they’re too ashamed by it. I mean, he blamed the power outage on a cyber attack by foreign journalists, some ridiculous thing like that.”

Perhaps the most troubling matter for Araque isn’t the lack of power, or resources, or even the intractable nature of the government. It is instead the state of Venezuela’s people.

“It’s difficult to say, ‘This will be recovered,’” Araque said. “Probably at the material level, maybe even at the political level, we can recover. But the deepest problem will be the unity of the people ... When you damage the dignity of a human being in such a deep way, the recovery becomes extremely difficult. I don’t know where we’ll end up.”

One student at Benedictine is doing what she can to help get the process started. Marta Fernandez, a native of Spain who is studying international business, is organizing with the on-campus Student International Business Council to contribute to Health Opportunities for People Everywhere, aka HOPE.

The public aid organization sends money to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, on account of the Maduro government’s current blockade on foreign assistance. The SIBC effort is just getting off the ground, but Fernandez is determined to do something about the crisis.

“I recently watched a video ... of people eating, from the trash,” Fernandez said. “It was disgusting and it was so, so sad. I felt this kind of rage, that, ‘How can this be possible in the 21st Century, where this is going on?’ ... That’s why we want to help. Of course we’re just students, we cannot do much, but starting is important.”

For more information and to learn how to contribute, visit the group’s website at http://www.bcsibc.com/.


Crime_news
Home invasion trial cancels out

An Atchison man headed to trial earlier this week on multiple charges in connection with a recent violent home intrusion will soon have a new attorney.

Devan Newson, 25, is off the jury trial docket as the result of a late afternoon hearing Friday, March 8, in Atchison County District Court. Instead of pre-trial motions, Defense Attorney John Kurth was relieved of his duty, according to court documents.

Newson will have a different attorney appointed to represent him and he is scheduled for a status hearing at 1 p.m. Monday, March 18, in district court, as stated in court documents.

Newson faces one count aggravated robbery, four counts kidnapping, aggravated burglary, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, aggravated assault with the use of a deadly weapon, aggravated assault, theft of property and felony theft. If convicted as charged, Newson potentially faces more than 100 years in a state prison.

Testimony heard Nov. 7, 2018, during an evidentiary hearing and the formal complaint against Newson allege he was the one responsible for arranging a plot to burglarize the Andrea and Gary Myers residence on Aug. 29, 2018, in the Elm Drive neighborhood along the southern outskirts of Atchison.

The complaint also alleges Newson persuaded others to participate in the crime that led to a robbery centered on a demand at gunpoint for a small safe and its cash contents. Gary Myers was struck with a handgun.

Four members of the Myers Family were demanded to surrender their cell phones and ordered lay atop the floor until the two males, unknown to them and uninvited, exited their home. The stolen safe and the thousands of dollars inside of it were turned over to Newson who waited inside a parked vehicle a short distance away from Elm Drive.

Newson currently is serving a 180-day sanction at the Lansing Correctional Facility arising from a felony probation violation that relates to a 2016 conviction for distribution of a controlled substance, a second or subsequent offense.

The sanction was court-ordered Dec. 17, 2018. After Newson serves his sanction the will serve A consecutive yearlong jail sentence for a 2017 misdemeanor possession of marijuana conviction. Newson is held without bond, due to his pending probation violations.

In addition to Newson, two other Atchison men, Marcel Bailey, 20, and Brandon J. Williams, 27, have been charged in connection with the caper. Williams is serving a 41-month prison sentence with 15 percent good time eligibility for release and 36-month post- release supervision at the Winfield Correctional Facility for an aggravated burglary conviction. Williams was sentenced Dec. 28, 2018. He pleaded guilty Nov. 7, 2018. His earliest possible release date is April 20, 2021.

Bailey, formerly of Leavenworth County, faces felony charges that included aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, kidnapping, two counts aggravated assault, aggravated battery, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery and criminal in possession of a firearm by a convicted felon all in connection with the incident at the Myers home.

A Leavenworth-based attorney Kevin Reardon serves as appointed defense counsel for Bailey. Bailey is currently undergoing a mental health evaluation and possible course of treatment at Larned Mental Health Correctional Facility until there is a determination about his competency to stand trial.

Authorities from Atchison County Sheriff’s Office investigated the home intrusion case, and made the arrests.

Bailey also faces charges in connection with a Sept. 5, 2018 incident involving multiple shots fired within Atchison city limits. Atchison Police Department authorities arrested Bailey for attempted first degree murder, criminal discharge of a firearm aggravated assault, criminal in possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and aggravated battery, all are felony offenses. Bailey is in custody on a $250,000 bond.


Community_and_lifestyles
Highland campus appoints new leader

HIGHLAND — Highland Community College is beginning a new chapter with the appointment of a campus veteran and experienced educational leader.

Dave Reist, in office since 2002, is set to retire as college president at the end of June. Reist is set to be replaced by Deborah Fox of Independence. Fox has an extensive history with HCC, having served as vice president for finance and operations from August 1998 through June 2012. Before then, she served as assistant dean for regional instruction for about three years.

Following final deliberations Monday in Highland on which candidate should replace Reist, the college’s Board of Trustees approved Fox’s contract offer by a 6-0 vote. The offer, as of Tuesday, is worth $125,000 per year in salary for two years. It is subject to further negotiations.

“We’re looking at someone to continue the legacy that Dave has carried on at this point,” said Trustee Carl Tharman, of rural Doniphan County. “At this point, we’re looking at trying to upgrade some buildings, especially on (the Highland) campus ... That’s key to the board.”

Board members are elected by Doniphan County residents to four-year terms in keeping with Kansas statute. The next election is set to take place this November. Tharman said he expects Fox will work well with board members in continuing HCC’s growth under the supervision of elected leaders.

“We’re going to relay that to the new president when she comes on board, and we’ve talked about that,” he said. “She understands that and recognizes that as well.”

Fox received a call at her current home from the college’s human resources office on her appointment following the approval of the offer by the trustees. The college said she is expected to visit Highland in the near future as contract negotiations and the presidential transition get underway.

The college, founded in February 1858, is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the Midwest and has seen significant growth on Reist’s watch. The college merged with the Atchison-based Northeast Kansas Area Vocational Technical School, better known as VoTech, in 2008. Today, HCC encompasses five campuses serving nine Kansas counties.

Fox will have a lot on her plate come July as the college is pursuing expansion into fields like diesel technology and engineering. It currently provides a broad array of liberal arts, science and technical studies in Highland and at the satellite campuses.

“So I think the new president has a challenge, to pick up where Dave has kinda left off, and grab the yolk, so to speak,” said Chairman Tom Smith of the HCC Board of Trustees. “And, charge ahead and continue in the same process that (Reist has) done ... and help those young people better themselves down the road.”


Local_news
Annual St. Paddy's parade prepares to roll

Irish or not, the prediction for sunny skies might shine like leprechauns’ gold when the 36th annual St. Patrick’s Castles and Clovers-themed parade is on display Saturday, March 16, in Atchison.

Janie Pickman, co-organizer for the event, said whether one wants to spectate, participate or just socialize it is not too late to make plans and join the festivities throughout the day.

The event kicks off with musical frolic for all at 10:30 a.m. performed by the Garin Nolan Irish Trio, “Corned Beef and Cabbage,” in the basement at the Elks BPO Lodge, 609 Kansas Ave. The past grand marshals’ toast and coronation ceremony in honor of the 2019 Grand Marshal Imo Chew will take place at 11:30 a.m.

Line-up for the parade commences at 12:30 p.m., register and sign-in your entries prior to line-up time under the tent location at Atchison Street and River Road along the riverfront. For more information concerning parade entries contact Pickman at 913-426-3421 or email her at jpickman@bbwi.net. There will be a judging of parade entries at 1 p.m.

The parade will roll at 2 p.m. from its starting point from the Fourth and Commercial Street vicinity like in previous years. From its starting point, the parade will travel north to Kansas Avenue, then westbound to Seventh Street.

Narration and announcement of parade entries will be broadcast from the Elks balcony in the 600 block of Kansas Avenue. From Seventh Street the parade route continues southbound for one block until it turns and continues westbound along Commercial Street to Eighth Street where the parade route ends and the entries will disband.

Following the parade, there will be announcements of the winning entries and awarding of the prizes.

The fun continues featuring a pub crawl aboard Chuck Trotter’s Chiefs bus leaving at 4 p.m. from the Elks Lodge, and continues until 8 p.m. with stops at Willie’s, Paolucci’s – featuring Lux Duo, Mueller’s Lockeroom, American Legion and at Fat Boy’s to hear Blake Camp Band.