Another year is coming to a close and 2018 is almost upon us.
Before we move on into the new year, we’re taking a moment to look back at some of the most-read stories and some of the biggest news events that happened in Cass County in 2017.
In its final issue of 2017, the Cass County Democrat Missourian looks back at seven major stories from the past year — from news in crime to education to business.
Remains of missing Cass County women found
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Two young women from north Cass County disappeared nearly 10 years apart, but the remains of both women were found in a wooded area south of Belton in 2017 and were positively identified as Jessica Runions, 21, and Kara Kopetsky, 17.
Kopetsky walked out of Belton High School on May 4, 2007, and was never heard from again.
Runions left a party in Grandview on Sept. 8, 2016, and she was reported missing the next day.
DNA tests confirmed that the remains found April 3 in an area near East 223rd Street and Missouri Y in Cass County belonged to Runions and Kopetsky.
“I’m finally relieved to have confirmation,” Rhonda Beckford, Kopetsky’s mother, said in August. “We’ve known for a long time that Kara was gone, and we felt when they found the other remains that the other set was Kara.”
One man, who knew both women, became a suspect in the disappearances, which leads to another of the biggest stories from the last year.
Kylr Yust charged with murder
By October, Kylr Yust, 29, was charged in Cass County with killing Kara Kopetsky and Jessica Runions.
Yust also was charged with two counts of abandonment of a corpse.
Since Kopetsky went missing in 2007, family members have long suspected that Yust, an ex-boyfriend, was involved.
According to a probable-cause statement, at least four people through the years told investigators that Yust confessed to them that he choked Kopetsky until she stopped breathing.
Following the disappearance of Runions in 2016, Yust was once again questioned after authorities found Runions’ vehicle burned in a wooded area in south Kansas City and learned that Runions was last seen leaving a party with Yust.
Yust was charged in Jackson County with burning the vehicle, but the case was dismissed after the murder charges were filed in Cass County this year.
Yust’s case remains pending in Cass County.
Heavy rains cause flooding twice in Cass County
Storms in 2017 dropped heavy rainfall across Cass County twice last summer, causing two major flooding events — one in July and another in August.
Within a few hours during the early-morning hours of July 27, heavy rains inundated roads and flooded several homes and businesses. The flooding that month was described as “catastrophic” by the National Weather Service throughout the Kansas City area, including Cass County.
The National Weather Service for Kansas City reported precipitation totals of 5 to 7 inches across the Kansas City area that day.
Another round of heavy rains struck Aug. 22, with the city of Harrisonville reportedly receiving between 7 to 8 inches of rain overnight.
The National Weather Service office in Pleasant Hill reported that as much as 9 inches of rain in the Kansas City region had fallen Aug. 21 and Aug. 22.
Trade Fair Mall, a family-owned business in Harrisonville, was among the businesses hit the hardest by both floods. The owners said they had lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of goods and equipment due to the flash flooding.
Law enforcement sales tax passes by wide margin
Cass County residents voted in favor of a county-wide, 1/4 -percent sales tax increase — also known as the law-enforcement sales tax — during the April 4 election.
The measure passed by a 20-percent margin with 60.2 percent voting in favor of the tax increase.
According to the county officials, 16.93 percent of registered voters in Cass County turned out the for the April election, exceeding expectations.
The tax, which the county started collecting at the end of the year, was put on the ballot in an effort to fill an employment gap and hire more help to the sheriff’s department as well as the prosecuting attorney’s office.
The tax is expected to bring in $3 million per year.
Belton Gateway announces major expansion
Many readers were excited to learn this year that a new restaurant and five stores are scheduled to open during 2018 as part of phase two of the Belton Gateway project.
The five retailers on track to open by early 2018 are Ross Dress for Less, Marshalls, Party City, Petco, and Five Below.
The new restaurant, Kneaders Bakery and Cafe, opened its doors to the public in August at 621 E. Markey Parkway in Belton.
The $136 million Belton Gateway project is being developed by Christie Development Associates LLC, a company based near Stilwell, Kan.
The 47-acre Belton Gateway property is located west of Interstate 49 along Missouri Y in Belton and has been in the works since 2014, when construction started on phase one.
State auditor gives Harrisonville ‘poor’ rating
A lack of planning, a lack of checks and balances, and a lack of oversight were some of the findings from Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway to describe what her office found in its audit of Harrisonville’s city finances.
The audit was primarily focused on finances in 2015. The report detailed findings in 10 separate audit areas, and gave the city an overall performance rating of “poor.”
The report was presented to more than 100 people in May by Galloway, nearly two years after more than 600 residents in Harrisonville signed a petition to have the state audit the city’s finances.
A city loan to the Highway 71/291 Partners in Progress transportation development district, two tax increment financing districts and funding for a new police station had been among the areas of concerns reported by citizens in 2016.
Since the audit, the city has been working on implementing corrective actions, such reactivating the Tax Increment Financing Commission.
Ray-Pec High School receives major renovation
Raymore-Peculiar high school students were greeted in August with a renovated high school for the 2017-18 school year.
The school district celebrated the new construction, which expanded Raymore-Peculiar High School by about 130,000-square-feet, with a ceremony Aug.17 before classes started.
New construction included a two-story addition north of the current building, a dedicated area for freshman core classes, a new media center, a culinary arts classroom, a renovated kitchen and cafeteria area, additional space for fine arts and performing arts classes, and relocation of some classrooms and offices.
Another major addition at the high school was a storm-resistant concrete dome structure on the east side of the building. Inside the dome is a gym, restrooms and locker rooms. It’s also built to serve as a shelter in the event of severe weather.
The district also announced in August that the former Shull Elementary School was converted to the Shull Early Learning Center.