Local & Regional

Tulsa County Sheriff

Tulsa Police have arrested a man who drove into the Arkansas River during a Monday early morning pursuit, a crash that left a woman dead.

Jose Alan Lara-Garcia, 23, was arrested Tuesday evening and booked into the Tulsa County Jail on charges including first-degree manslaughter.

Police say they tried to stop him for reckless driving near 61st Street and Peoria Avenue on Monday, but he took off west on 61st, losing control at Riverside and driving into the river.

A Florida jury has found a former Mannford Police officer guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of the city’s police chief.

The verdict was announced Wednesday afternoon after about two hours of deliberations. Michael Nealey pleaded not guilty in December to the murder of police Chief Lucky Miller in a Pensacola Beach, Florida, hotel room in November 2019.

The men were attending a law enforcement conference when they got into a fight. A hotel security guard responding to other guests’ noise complaints found Nealey sitting on Miller’s chest.

NIAID-RML

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 438,364 total cases in the state on Wednesday, an increase of 2,229 over the past week.

Tulsa County data is now being updated on a weekly basis, with numbers reflecting the previous Sunday through Saturday. At last count, Tulsa County had 72,684 cases, up 309 over the past week. Tulsa County's total is second to Oklahoma County's 83,647.

Healthier Oklahoma Coalition

While Oklahoma appears to be trending well in terms of COVID-19 infection and vaccination rates, public health experts and officials are warning that things could change without vigilance.

"Listen, everyone -- the pandemic is not over yet," said Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, an epidemiologist and professor at the OU Health Sciences Center who formerly served as Oklahoma's state epidemiologist, on a Tuesday press briefing held virtually by the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition. "We have not dropped to levels of transmission that are sustainable, that we can control."

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Republican Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma's first congressional district says that generous, pandemic-inspired unemployment benefits are harming American children.

"My childhood was marred by dependence on government aid that motivated my stepdad to stay at home rather than work," Hern said, appearing virtually at a hearing of the House Worker and Family Support Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 24. "My siblings and I bore that burden."

Wednesday's top stories:

• Education officials and House Democrats are slamming a recent 4-3 vote of the State Board of Education they say is designed to enrich corporate executives at the expense of public schools and students.

• Gov. Kevin Stitt announced this week that his administration will open an office in Washington, D.C., led by a new hire who will receive a $120,000 annual salary.

• The Oklahoma Blood Institute is calling on blood donors to give, noting it's safe to donate blood after receiving any of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines.

Courtesy

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday that he’s hiring a $120,000-per-year staffer in Washington, D.C., to advocate on the state’s behalf and help protect federal funding.

The governor’s office said Christina Gungoll Lepore will help identify federal grant opportunities, communicate the state needs in real time, collaborate with the offices of other governors and “push back on burdensome federal regulations and initiatives which could negatively impact the State.”

If statewide toll collections are any indication, Oklahoma is emerging from the pandemic.

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority Finance and Revenue Director Wendy Smith said during a Tuesday meeting her staff has given her an early look at this month’s figures. March 12, 2020, is considered the pandemic start date.

Smith said toll revenues for this March 1–11 were up 2% from the same period in 2020.

Tulsa Police

A Tulsa Police dive team recovered the body of a 19-year-old woman on Tuesday morning, the day after a pursuit ended with a car crashing into the Arkansas River at 61st Street.

Police found the woman around 9 a.m. on Tuesday close to where the car went into the water. She has been identified as Nathaly Medina. She would have turned 20 on Wednesday.

TPD said calmer conditions and receding water helped them find Medina's body.

Oklahoma House Democrats

Democrats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday slammed several recent education policy proposals and actions they say will have negative impacts on the state's public school students.

"Those who have no background nor experience in education are making decisions in a vacuum," said teacher-turned-lawmaker Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa) during a Capitol press conference. "We've got legislators in this building openly calling for the disruption of public schools. These are our children we are talking about disrupting here."

File photo

Around one in three Oklahomans has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and while that’s good news, blood donations have dropped off as more and more people get the shots.

Oklahoma Blood Institute President and CEO Dr. John Armitage said that hasn’t changed the donation process. It still comes down to the first question asked to all donors: Are you feeling healthy and well today?

Twitter / Cyndi Munson

The Oklahoma House on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution condemning hate crimes, hateful rhetoric and violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

House Resolution 1015 was authored by Asian American Rep. Cyndi Munson, an Oklahoma City Democrat.

Tuesday's top stories:

• Gov. Kevin Stitt received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 at a Capitol press conference Monday, saying he hopes it inspires more Oklahomans to get theirs.

• The Biden administration's extension of the CDC eviction moratorium could benefit thousands of Tulsa County renters in danger of losing their homes.

Oklahoma County

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma County Detention Center employee who was taken hostage over the weekend was beaten and stabbed by inmates during the ordeal, police said Monday.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

A proposed Innovation District the City of Broken Arrow has been kicking around since 2017 appears to have a location. 

"An agreement has been reached for a 90-plus acre site right here in south Broken Arrow with easy access to the Creek Turnpike for the home of the innovation district," said Broken Arrow Economic Development Authority President and CEO Jennifer Conway on Monday after a news conference about a mixed-use development planned nearby.

A 60,000-square foot Reasor’s will anchor a $40 million mixed-use project in south Broken Arrow.

The city council and Broken Arrow Economic Development Authority approved a resolution last week for OakTrust Development to buy 40 acres of city-owned land on Aspen Avenue just north of the Creek Turnpike for the project.

The Reasor's store will be the company's second in Broken Arrow. The company closed what was its second Broken Arrow store at New Orleans and Elm in 2019.

Courtesy

With COVID-19 vaccinations now available to all Oklahomans 16 and older, Gov. Kevin Stitt took his turn.

Stitt received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine from a state health department nurse Marcia Castellanos-Aymat in front of reporters Monday afternoon at the capitol after a news conference.

Polling has identified Republican men as the group least likely to get vaccinated. Stitt, who had COVID-19 in July, said he waited until more vulnerable Oklahomans were able to get vaccinated.

OU Health Physicians

With COVID-19 vaccinations now open to all Oklahomans 16 and older, public health experts say doctors will play a vital role in overcoming remaining hesitancy among patients. 

"Every survey we do, the most trusted individual is a physician or their medical provider," said Mendy Spohn, administrative director for the Oklahoma State Department of Health's District 8, which covers parts of southern Oklahoma. 

Rental Realities

The Biden administration announced Monday morning that the moratorium on evictions implemented to protect renters in danger of becoming unhoused during the COVID-19 pandemic has been extended through the end of June. 

"The moratorium that was scheduled to expire on March 31, 2021 is now extended through June 30, 2021," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

Tuesday's top stories:

• All Oklahomans 16 and up are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through the state of Oklahoma's vaccinate.oklahoma.gov portal.

• Police in Oklahoma City shot and killed a detainee at the Oklahoma County Jail who allegedly held a corrections officer hostage. 

Facebook / Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma City police officers fatally shot a detainee who took a correctional officer hostage at the county jail Saturday, authorities said.

Officers had tried to deescalate the situation at the Oklahoma County Detention Center, but authorities fired their weapons after the suspect held something against the neck of the hostage, Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson III said during a news conference.

University of Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Several universities in Oklahoma say that for now they will not require their students to get a COVID-19 vaccine before coming back to campus in the fall.

Rutgers University in New Jersey was one of the first universities in the nation to put in place a vaccination mandate for its students when it made the announcement last week.

Washington County Sheriff's Department

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (AP) — A Washington County deputy sheriff has died after an altercation with a jail inmate, the sheriff’s office confirmed on Friday.

Cpl. Kyle Davis, 39, a 13-year veteran of the office, died Thursday after the fight inside the jail, said Washington County Undersheriff Jon Copeland. Copeland identified the suspect as Athine Jamuan Henderson, 36. An investigation into the death is ongoing, and formal charges have not been filed, Copeland said.

Oklahoma health officials defended on Friday the switch to weekly reporting of COVID-19 data but admitted they did not do a good job communicating the change.

The state health department is now updating its dashboard on Wednesdays with data covering the past Sunday through Saturday.

"Even that is extraordinarily responsive. That’s the most that we do for any other disease," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Jared Taylor.

A delay in releasing 2020 Census data means Oklahoma lawmakers will split their redistricting work.

The state constitution requires state legislative districts be redrawn before adjournment of the session following a census.

Oklahoma House of Representatives

Members of Oklahoma's Legislative Black Caucus this week questioned Republican House leaders' decision not to hear several police reform bills this session.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Updated March 31, 12:25 p.m.  

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 436,971 total cases in the state on Friday, an increase of 2,480 over the past week.

Tulsa County data is now being updated on a weekly basis, though that switch was made mid-week. As of Wednesday, it had 72,378 cases, up 155 over five days.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, declined overall, falling from 446 to 354 over the past week. The record of 4,256 was set Jan. 13. It has remained under 500 since March 17.

American Academy of Pediatrics

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Department of Health is now offering first doses of COVID-19 vaccinations on a first come, first served basis at a drive-thru clinic in Tulsa.

The clinic is Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the River Spirit Expo Center at Tulsa's Expo Square, 4145 E. 21st St. Muscogee (Creek) Nation has 4,000 doses available.

Friday's top stories:

• The state health department failed to adequately collect COVID-19 contact tracing data in the second half of last year, an oversight entity found.

• Tulsa Public Schools was recognized by the Biden administration, one of four districts spotlighted during the U.S. Department of Education's "National Safe Schools Reopening Summit."

Facebook / Turning Point USA

Appearing before a packed, almost entirely maskless crowd of young conservatives in an Edmond ballroom on Tuesday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt boasted about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are about freedom in the state of Oklahoma," Stitt told an applauding crowd at an event hosted by national conservative organization Turning Point USA. "[I am] one of only nine governors that did not shut down, that did not do mask mandates."

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