2021 in review

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Editor’s Note: The following were the most viewed articles in our publication during 2021. We have included the original article and included an update, if applicable. 


  1. McPherson man loses life after waiting days for an ICU bed

By Jessie Wagoner

Rob Van Pelt, 44, of McPherson passed away following a series of unfortunate medical events. Van Pelt’s family and friends are now left with memories of the man they described as a “goofball” while they grapple with trying to understand how things went so terribly wrong. 

Van Pelt, a lifelong McPherson resident, went to McPherson Hospital for a routine ENT procedure. During the procedure, Van Pelt’s heart stopped. 

“After CPR and shocking him several times, he came back,” Somer Van Pelt, Rob’s wife, said. 

The doctors at McPherson Hospital got Van Pelt stabilized and began trying to find an ICU bed for him in a hospital that could offer a higher level of care.

“We couldn’t find a hospital in Kansas because they were full,” Somer Van Pelt said. “They were reaching out of state when a bed opened in Wichita.”

The bed that opened in Wichita was at Wichita Heart Hospital. Van Pelt was life-flighted to the hospital at that time. Unfortunately, Van Pelt really needed an ICU with a neurologist available. 

As Van Pelt lay waiting for an ICU bed Sedgwick County hospitals moved to critical status.

While waiting for a bed in Wichita, the hospital began reaching out to other hospitals outside of Kansas. Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and even New Mexico were over capacity and trying to transfer their own patients in need to Wichita.

No beds were available. They were full of patients battling COVID-19.

“They said they would never know if it would have made a difference,” Somer Van Pelt said. “Bottom line is he should have been in neuro care. Every hospital did an amazing job. They were just as frustrated as we were and tried so hard. They called 20 states, four times a day. The machine we needed for an EEG was available at another hospital nearby, but due to staff shortages, they couldn’t bring it.” 

Late Friday night, a bed opened up at St. Francis, and Van Pelt was transferred. But by the time he finally received neurological care, it was too late. Tests on Saturday morning revealed Van Pelt no longer had brain activity. 

Van Pelt previously expressed his desire to be an organ donor. Sunday, his family honored his wishes. 

“Rob passed peacefully at 6:44 p.m.,” Somer Van Pelt said Sunday evening. “He was surrounded by friends and family, listening to our favorite songs. At the moment, he is being a donor hero.” 

Van Pelt is survived by his wife, Somer, of the home; children, Dylan Van Pelt of Freeman, S.D., Sierra Van Pelt of Oskaloosa, Kan., Alexia Van Pelt of McPherson, Kan, Nadia Turley (Madison Servaes) of McPherson, Kan., and Vailyn Turley of McPherson, Kan.; mother, Carla Van Pelt of McPherson, Kan.; sisters, Tiffani Van Pelt of McPherson, Kan., and Nyssa Van Pelt of McPherson, Kan.; and one grandson. 


Update: Since this article was written, hospitals in Kansas and throughout the nation have continued to experience patient surges, leading to a lack of available beds for patients in need. Health experts predict the lack of beds will only because worse throughout the winter due to rising cases of COVID-19 and staff shortages. 

The McPherson News-Ledger reached out to Somer Van Pelt, and she graciously provided an update on the individuals who were saved due to Rob Van Pelt’s organ donation. One of his kidneys went to a 39-year-old woman, and the other went to a 58-year-old man who had been waiting for a kidney for 547 days. Both kidney recipients experienced full kidney function and are now home with their families. 

Somer Van Pelt recently received a letter from from the woman who received a cornea and tissue transplant from Rob. 

“His big beautiful eyes are helping someone see again,” Somer Van Pelt said. 


  1. Neighbors Café under new ownership

By Anne Hassler Heidel

Partners Natasha Catton and Logan McNett are keeping a local icon alive by purchasing Neighbors Café from Shelly and Cameron Wiggins. For Catton, a former employee, it’s like returning home. For Logan McNett, who also owns Peterson McNett Drilling based in Lindsborg, acquiring the business was a sound investment.

Catton and McNett said the café holds many memories for them and for the community.

“People were so supportive when they heard we were keeping it open,” Catton said. “I ate here as a kid.”

“It’s nostalgic. A lot people came here with their grandparents,” McNett said.

Former owner Shelly Wiggins, who is currently battling lung cancer, said the sale has been bittersweet.

“I never thought it would end like this, but we were so blessed to be able to sell during a pandemic,” Wiggins said.

For now, the café will keep the same hours, much of the same staff and the same popular menu.

Neighbors Café is located at 204 S. Main St. in McPherson. More information can be found at neighborscafe.com, or follow them on Facebook.


Update: Shelly Wiggins passed away in August, not long after selling Neighbor’s Cafe to Natasha Catton and Logan McNett. They continue to operate Neighbor’s Cafe, serving up delicious meals the community has come to rely on. 


  1. Brown motion for immunity denied, first-degree murder charge to stand

By Jessie Wagoner


McPHERSON—Tina Brown, 33, of McPherson, remains jailed, charged with first-degree felony murder in the death of Kelly Peterson, who was killed on or about Feb. 24, 2020. Brown’s attorney filed an immunity motion, claiming Brown acted in self-defense. This motion was denied. 

The motion states Brown was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of the incident. She made two separate visits to Peterson’s home, wearing a hockey mask during her visits. The hockey mask was found in the Peterson home, broken, with DNA from both Brown and Peterson on it.

The state contended Brown was not entitled to self-defense immunity for two reasons. First, statutory precludes raising a self-defense claim if she was committing a forcible felony when she killed Peterson. Second, the evidence establishes probable cause Brown did not kill Peterson in self-defense. 

The state entered evidence and testimony from witnesses about Brown stealing a chest from Peterson’s home. Brown also gave a witness $200 to $300 in cash after leaving Peterson’s home. Investigators also located Peterson’s wallet in his home. His blood was on the wallet, and there was no cash in the wallet. 

After reviewing the evidence presented by both the defense and the state in regard to the motion, Judge John Klenda denied the motion. 

Since the time the motion was filed and ruled on, McKenna has withdrawn from representing Brown. Brown is also charged with felony mistreatment of an elder person and battery of a law enforcement officer.


Update: Brown is currently being held at the Saline County Jail awaiting trial. The case against Brown has experienced many delays. Currently, her jury trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 22, 2022. 


  1. Three McPherson school board members subject of recall efforts

By Jessie Wagoner

Three USD-418 Board of Education members have been notified a group of community members is circulating a recall petition in an effort to have them recalled and removed from the Board of Education. Those members include Jeff Johnson, Emily Greer and Ann Elliott. 

McPherson County Clerk Hollie Melroy says that as of Oct. 6, the wording for the petition was approved by the county counselor and the petition is now being circulated in the community to collect signatures.  

Several issues are listed as grounds for the recall in the petition. The first is a violation of KSA 72-1138(a), which is discussions by board members creating a quorum outside of official board meetings. 

The second is a violation of KSA 72-3216(d), which includes issues like providing healthy, safe places for learning.

The third is a violation of KSA 71-6147(a)(1)(A), which is listed in the petition as a mask mandate causing isolation and students and educators leaving the district, among other issues.

“According to state law, a recall election requires 40 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates at the last election at which the person was elected to the current term of office, in signatures,” Lydia Meiss, Communications and Outreach Specialist for the Kansas Secretary of State said.  

If the required number of signatures for a petition is met, the county election office has 30 days of receipt to verify signatures and determine the sufficiency of the petition. Additionally, the county attorney must also approve the ground for the recall election as sufficient.

If the recall petition would be approved, a special election would be held on a date not less than 60 or more than 90 days after the date that notification is given the petition was properly filed. 

One concern community members have raised is the expense of a recall election. 


Update: None of the claims in the recall petition have been proven to be true at this time. All of the claims are considered allegations at this time. Those organizing the recall have collected signatures and turned those in to the county clerk. All signatures must be verified. This should be done by Jan. 6, 2022. At that time, a decision to approve the recall petition will be made. 


  1. Bratcher guilty of second degree murder 

By Jessie Wagoner

More than two years have passed since Jordan Krell was shot and killed in McPherson. Though a significant period of time has passed, Noah Bratcher, 20, of McPherson has been found guilty of his murder. 

Bratcher, who is detained in the McPherson County Jail, was found guilty of intentional murder in the second degree after entering a no contest plea. He was also found guilty of attempted aggravated robbery, burglary of a dwelling and theft of a firearm. The crimes occurred on Feb. 3, 2018, and June 11, 2018. 

On June 11, 2018, a report was made of shots fired at Mustang Communities in McPherson. Law enforcement arrived on scene and found Jordan Krell had been shot.

Bratcher entered a no contest plea to Judge Joe Dickinson. He will appear in McPherson County District Court for sentencing on May 21.


  1. Red dogs spotted at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge

By McPherson News-Ledger Staff

Visitors to Maxwell Wildlife Refuge were treated to the sight of several newborn baby bison or “red dogs” last weekend. Volunteers spotted four different calves on Saturday, one still trailing an umbilical cord.

Bison calves are often referred to as red dogs because of their orangish-red fur.

“Within four to six months, their hair starts to change to the darker buff brown, and they begin to morph into their characteristic shoulder hump,” said Betty Jo Redden, volunteer and director of Friends of Maxwell.

Red dogs are born with small buttons that develop into horns. Most calves are born between mid-March and May. Calves begin grazing by their first week of life and are weaned by the fall.

Maxwell has as many as 50 to 80 bison calves born each spring.


  1. From truck to table, La Fogata opens restaurant in McPherson

By Jessie Waagoner

Three years ago, Santos Fonseca and his wife Lizeth Gonzalez opened their food truck, La Fogata. The couple served tacos, tortas and other authentic Mexican foods from the truck, quickly gaining popularity in McPherson, Newton and Moundridge. Now, the couple has opened a restaurant at 1362 N. Main in McPherson. 

Fonseca said the food truck served them well for those three years. Ultimately, customer satisfaction is what led the couple to seriously consider a brick-and-mortar location.

“Our priority is our guests,” Gonzalez said. “They would come to the food truck in all kinds of weather, when it was freezing in the winter and hot in the summer. We want them to be comfortable while they enjoy their food.” 

After spending a considerable period of time looking for restaurant space, they found their permanent home in McPherson.  

La Fogata is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.


  1. Slim Chickens coming to McPherson

By Jessie Wagoner

A new restaurant, Slim Chickens, will soon be opening in McPherson.

Slim Chickens is a fast-casual restaurant chain with just over 100 locations throughout the United States. The chain specializes in chicken tenders, wings, sandwiches, salads, wraps, chicken and waffles, and other items.

Slim Chickens will be located at 2118 E. Kansas Ave.


Update: Construction continues at the Slim Chickens location. It is likely the restaurant will be open within the next 90 days. 


  1. Teen defies odds in car surfing accident at Moundridge High 

By Jackie Nelson

MOUNDRIDGE—Teens have been car surfing nearly since the invention of the automobile. However, a car surfing incident in the Moundridge High School parking lot nearly turned tragic, as Caleb Ward was run over by a friend and teen driver. 

While residents will not be seeing a police report or public record files on the incident due to minors being involved, Faith Ward, Caleb’s mother, wanted to share her son’s story. 

Caleb said, at the end of the school day, he and his friends were leaving, and a friend pulled up behind him. Caleb said he hopped on the hood of the car, which drove forward and made a turn westward in the parking lot. Caleb said he attempted to jump from the hood of the car, however he was clipped by the vehicle. He fell, and the vehicle rolled over his midsection with the front and rear passenger tires. 

Caleb was transported to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita by ambulance. 

As Faith was hearing her son’s initial prognosis from physicians, a nurse approached with x-rays showing no broken bones.

“She said, ‘The CTs are clear. I can’t believe this child doesn’t have one broken bone and no internal bleeding. This doesn’t happen. You don’t get run over by the whole length of a car and not have anything except road rash.’” 

The following day, Caleb was in physical therapy, walking and working through dressing changes. He was discharged to return home to complete his four weeks of healing. 

Caleb has kept his sense of humor throughout the ordeal, making a joke about using a photo of him on the hood of his truck for this interview and story. 

“Too soon,” responded Faith. 

However, Caleb turned serious, adding, “I think I’ll be scared to drive for a little bit. It didn’t scare me that much; I’m just mad at myself. The other kid, he’s scared; he hasn’t driven since. I won’t be messing around with people around cars.” 

Faith said Caleb’s story should be a warning to teens and parents about this very common practice of car surfing.


  1. Hutchinson Police nab two in sting operation, one from McPherson

By Jessie Wagoner

Adam Winsky, 45, of McPherson was arrested on June 16 during a sting operation led by the Hutchinson Police Department. The sting operation targeted child predators and also led to the arrest of Patrick Samms, 33, of Hutchinson. 

According to a release, on June 16, members of the Special Operations and Investigation Bureau of the Hutchinson Police Department made two arrests through a series of undercover sting operations targeting child predators. The suspects, including Winksy, believed they were speaking with underage children and showed up to meet the children to engage in sexual activity. Rather than being met by underaged children, they were met by officers of the Hutchinson Police Department. 

Winsky was arrested and charged with electronic solicitation and indecent solicitation of a child. He was also charged with interference with law enforcement, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving while suspended. Winsky remains in jail. 


Update: Winsky remains jailed awaiting trial.