October 2, 2014

Possible leak on Michael Brown grand jury under investigation

Someone on the grand jury that is hearing evidence in the shooting of Michael Brown might have been talking about the case to friends.

Twitter user Shaun King captured this image of the tweet by @thesusannichols before that Twitter account was deleted.

Twitter user Shaun King captured this image of the tweet by @thesusannichols before that Twitter account was deleted.

The St. Louis County prosecutor’s office confirms to the Washington Post that it is investigating the possibility, after a Tweet appeared Wednesday morning from a woman claiming to know one of the members of the grand jury.

“There isn’t enough at this point to warrant an arrest,” the woman with the Twitter handle @thesusannichols typed.

That person later deleted that twitter account but some users saved screenshots of the Tweet.

The members of that jury are not supposed to discuss the case outside of its proceedings, while it hears evidence and considers whether any charge should be filed against Darren Wilson, the officer that fatally shot Brown on August 9. If there has been a breach, the prosecutor’s office could have to start over with a new group.

VIDEO: MO Patrol chief declines questions on Ellingson drowning

A House Committee that will delve into the merger of the state Water Patrol into the Highway Patrol is holding its first hearing today. Among those in attendance is Craig Ellingson, the father of 20 year-old Brandon Ellingson who died while in Water Patrol custody on the Lake of the Ozarks on May 31.

The Committee took an opening statement from the Superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol, Corporal Ron Replogle. He said due to pending litigation, no questions would be answered regarding Ellingson’s drowning, but the Patrol staff in attendance would discuss the merger.

Committee members and its chairwoman, Representative Diane Franklin, had previously told Missourinet the committee would not be investigating the Ellingson drowning, but some questions would regard training following the merger.  Some questions regarding training have already been raised.

The Water Patrol trooper that had Ellingson in custody when he drowned told a coroner’s inquest that he felt he hadn’t received enough training.

It is not clear whether Craig Ellingson will address the committee.  Chairwoman Diane Franklin previously told Missourinet she had not asked Ellingson’s family to speak to the committee.

In the video below, when the camera zooms out, Craig Ellingson (in black polo shirt) can be seen in the audience as Replogle reads his opening statement.

Earlier stories:

MO House Committee will look at water patrol training, not Ellingson drowning

Water Patrol panel not just about drowning incident at Lake of the Ozarks

Sharing Missouri’s roads with deer (AUDIO)

Deer hunters already are in the woods and the corn is coming out of the fields.  The Highway Patrol says that means motorists need to step up their vigilance.

We’re already more than two weeks into the first deer hunting season.  Bow hunters have taken the first deer of the fall.  Missouri also is about one-third of the way through the corn harvest season, which takes away food and hiding places for deer, all of which means the herd is starting to move around and some of the deer will end up on roads and streets.

Highway Patrol spokesman John Hotz says many motorist injuries happen when drivers over-react to seeing a deer.   Hard as it might be to do, it’s better just to hit the animal.

“We do see people that try to jerk one way or another, one side or another, leaving the roadway, overturning [or] striking another vehicle,” he says.  In 99.9% of the incidents in which a deer is hit, he says, the vehicle is damaged but the driver is unhurt.   Hotz also suggests motorists don’t jam on the brakes.  He says that causes the car’s nose to dive, increasing chances the deer will roll up on the hood.

The Patrol says deer and vehicles tried to occupy the same space almost 3,500 times last year.  No drivers were killed.  About 300 motorists were hurt, often because they crashed while trying to avoid hitting the deer.

AUDIO: Hotz interview 6:41

Severe weather possible for Missouri Wednesday and Thursday

A cold front will sweep east across the state Wednesday and Thursday and could be the focus for development of several rounds of strong to severe thunderstorms.

This graphic from the National Weather Service in Springfield shows what forecasters there are concerned about for Thursday.

This graphic from the National Weather Service in Springfield shows what forecasters there are concerned about for Thursday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Bowman tells Missourinet the first storms associated with that front are anticipated late Tuesday night in western Kansas and eastern Missouri.

“That’s going to set the stage for the Wednesday storms,” says Bowman. “Those storms will move away and then set the stage for another round of storms a little bit further east on Thursday.”

The primary threats with these storms will be damaging winds and hail, though there is the potential for tornadoes as well.

“The biggest tornado threat’s going to be over northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri, Wednesday,” says Bowman. “The threat for tornadoes looks a little bit lower on Thursday mainly just because it looks like a different mode of convection,” says Bowman. He says expected for Thursday is, “more a line of storms, as opposed to individual supercells on Wednesday.”

Rainfall projections are for two to three inches of rain to fall in some areas, which Bowman says could lead to localized flooding, but widespread flooding is not anticipated.

For National Weather Service information for your area, visit these NWS pages.

In northwest and western Missouri:  Kansas City (Pleasant Hill)

In northeast and eastern Missouri:  St. Louis

In southwest Missouri:  Springfield

In southeast Missouri:  Paducah, KY

Scotland and Clark counties:  Davenport, IA

Auditor: Missouri pension funds performing better than national average

Many of the public employee retirement plans in Missouri are faring better than those in the rest of the nation, but the state auditor says there are serious concerns about some.

State Auditor Tom Schweich

State Auditor Tom Schweich

Auditor Tom Schweich’s office looked at 89 public pension systems covering about 546,000 members. He says 15 of those plans are “in the most trouble,” and one or more could be the subject of full audits next year.

“We consider them to be a problem if their funding ratio is either below 70 percent, so it’s ten points below what’s considered reasonably safe,” says Schweich, “and anything below 95 percent of required contributions, because we think they should be funded at 100 percent … if it’s anything below 95 percent, that’s a downhill trend.”

Those 15 plans include the Missouri Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol employees’ retirement system and plans covering police and firefighters in Columbia, Joplin and Springfield, and plans covering Kansas City transportation authority and public school employees. Other plans on that list cover some employees of St. Louis County, Bridgeton and nonuniform employees of University City.

See the full report on the state auditor’s website

The survey found that statewide, Missouri’s pension plans have unfunded liabilities of $16-billion. Plans as of 2012 are funded at 78 percent of the present value of future retirement benefit payments previously earned by employees. That figure has decreased from 83 percent in 2003 but is higher than the national level.

Schweich says the survey found that in funding ratio, annual contributions toward solvency, and pension costs as a percentage of payroll, “Missouri is above average but in none of these areas is Missouri safe.”

Missouri recorded a 94 percent contribution rate but the survey found 34 of Missouri’s plans didn’t receive the full contribution recommended by actuaries. The percentage of payroll costs devoted to pension plans rose between 2003 and 2012 in Missouri and nationally, but again Missouri fares better than the national average.

Schweich says the main reason some plans are below an “acceptable” fund ratio is the recession of 2008 and 2009. He says some had high investment return assumptions and some didn’t have employees contributing.

He says some of the plans surveyed responded that they would raise their funding ratios to 100 percent of required contributions or would lower their investment return assumptions, both of which he considered positive changes.