The year in review in Eastern Jackson County.
After an argument outside Independence Center on Jan. 14, two groups of people escalate their fight inside the busy mall, and one man pulls out a gun and shoots another young man and young woman, injuring both and throwing mall shoppers and store employees into a panic. No one else is injured. Eric Bratton, 24, is later arrested and charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. The fight started over a comment Bratton made about the young woman’s buttocks. Both victims recovered. Bratton is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 7, 2013.
Shon Pernice, a former Independence Fire Department paramedic, pleads guilty in Clay County Circuit Court to voluntary manslaughter in the death of his wife. In May, he is sentenced to 15 years in prison. Renee Pernice, 35, had gone missing in January 2009. Shon Pernice, 39, said in court that he struck his wife an argument on Jan. 2, 2009 and that he put her body out to be taken away with the trash. Authorities determined that her body could not be found. The couple had two children.
A prosecutor drops all charges against five men accused of sexually molesting young relatives more than two decades ago. Six members of the Mohler family – Burrell Mohler, and his sons Burrell Jr., David, Jared and Roland; and Burrell Mohler Sr.’s brother, Darrel – were arrested in November 2009 on allegations of sex crimes that took place on a Lafayette County farm. Burrell Mohler Sr.’s Independence home was searched in relation to the case that same month. In September 2011, Darrel Mohler died in his sleep in his Florida home.
For the second time in less than three years, Independence voters overwhelmingly reject a tax measure for more police officers. It was the first time in nearly 28 years that voters had considered a real estate tax levy for the city. More than 13,000 voters went to the polls, and 72.23 percent voted no. Opponents of the measure say the city misused statistics to show encroaching crime from eastern Kansas City, and they question guarantees that new revenues would put more officers on the streets. Opponents had held rallies and sent out pamphlets, one of which said “No More Bailouts,” a reference to citizen anger over city payments in connection with the development around Bass Pro Shops.
Four are found dead on May 25 in a Blue Springs duplex home on Northwest Cheshire Place. Lindsey Money, 22, her boyfriend, Jessy Letellier, their 2-year-old daughter Jazmine, and her 4-year-old half-sister Shenayah Money-Smith are found by Lindsey’s mother, Karen Money, and brother. Police rule it a murder-suicide, saying the victims had died by “multiple means” after the relationship reportedly reached a “boiling point,” according to relatives.
Two kayakers on the Little Blue River find the remains of a human hand June 25 along the shores of the river. According to investigators, the remains were found up against a spot north of R.D. Mize Road near Necessary Road. Days later, remains of a foot also are found along the banks of the Little Blue River. In September, the remains of both the hand and the foot are identified as those of Christopher Porter, 28, of Independence, who had been reported missing in February. A cause of death could not be determined because the remains were too badly decomposed.
On July 24, a sweltering day with a high of 103 in the midst of an extended heat wave, letter carrier John Watzlawick collapses while on his route in southwest Independence. Watzlawick, 57, of Blue Springs, later dies at a hospital. He had been with the U.S. Postal Service for 28 years. The medical examiner determines that he had a body temperature of 108 degrees when he arrived at the hospital.
In December, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules that the Postal Service did not have procedures in place to address worker concerns about excessive heat and says the Postal Service committed a willful violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, demonstrating disregard for the law or “plain indifference to worker safety and health.” Watzlawick’s widow, Kay, says her husband had been feeling ill from the heat the day before he died and had asked to be relieved from work early but that a supervisor said no. OSHA cites the Postal Service’s Truman Station in Independence and proposes penalties of $70,000.
Jeffrey S. Sauerbry on Aug. 3 is charged with first-degree murder in the case of Summer Shipp, just hours after a jury convicted Sauerbry of murdering William Kellett in an unrelated case.
Sauerbry was a long-time person of interest in Shipp’s disappearance. Shipp went missing in December 2004 while conducting door-to-door surveys in Independence, and her remains were found in the Little Blue River in October 2007.
Sauerbry had confessed to killing Shipp in July, but the charges were left sealed until after the Kellett trial. No trial date has been set for Sauerbry.
Through a social media campaign, “Faces for St. Mary’s,” the Blue Springs community rallies against the likely sale of St. Mary’s Medical Center. Residents acknowledge that Carondelet Health is probably going to sell St. Mary’s and its sister hospital, St. Joseph Medical Center in Kansas City, but they want to make sure everyone involved in negotiations is aware of the value of the hospital to the community and the strong desire to see it remain open. Ascension Health – the corporate owner of St. Mary’s and St. Joseph – has confirmed it is in discusssions with HCA Medwest Health System, which owns Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence, just over five miles west of St. Mary’s.
A candlelight vigil is held Oct. 10 in Independence for missing Colorado 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway in a case that captures national attention after she disappeared on Oct. 5 while walking to school in Westminster, Colo. Jessica’s father, Jeremiah Bryant, and great grandmother, Donna Moss, live in Independence. Jessica’s body parts are found later in the month at a park in a Denver suburb. Austin Sigg, 17, of Colorado, who is turned in by his mother, is charged as an adult with four counts of murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count each of sexual assault on a child and robbery in her abduction and death. He is also charged with attempted murder, attempted sexual assault and attempted second-degree kidnapping in a separate alleged attack on a 22-year-old woman in Jessica’s neighborhood in May. That woman escaped.
At 4:30 on the morning of Nov. 16, police go to a home on Pope Avenue in central Independence on a report of a home invasion. They find three people shot dead and a 12-year-old boy shot and severely wounded. The boy had stood in front of his mother, trying to protect her. That woman, Maria Hernandez, 48, was killed, as were her son Antonio Hernandez, 20 and her boyfriend, Tomas Dominguez. Police search intensively for suspects, making two arrests in the following days, then two more. Ultimately, 11 people face federal charges related to the drug trafficking that led to the deaths. The federal indictment says five people – Kevin M. Finley, 33, Antonio Cervantes III, 32, and Bobbi Jo Phillips, 37, all of Independence; Carlos Zambrano Jr., 27, of Kansas City, Mo.; and Raul Soto, of Kansas City, Kan. – conspired to distribute methamphetamine and got together and agreed to rob the house on Pope of large amounts of meth and cash. Finley and Soto are also accused of pistol-whipping a man to get him to say where the drugs and cash where. The charges could carry the death penalty. Another five people are charged with helping dispose of evidence, and a sixth is charged with concealing what he knew about the drug conspiracy and the killings.
The Independence City Council hears from concerned citizens after the Jackson County Legislature approves an amendment to a 2009 contract for operations of a new regional animal shelter. At that same Dec. 3 meeting, the County Legislature approves a five-year agreement with Great Plains SPCA to operate the new shelter, effective Jan. 1. By month’s end, county officials acknowledge the new shelter on Missouri 78 will not open on Jan. 1, saying they are OK with the city taking its time on whether to approve the amendment. The City Council is scheduled to meet in the issue Jan. 14 and could take action on Jan. 22.