Kevin Willis

News Director

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio.  He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.  He is a broadcast journalism graduate of WKU, and has won numerous awards for his reporting and feature production.  Kevin grew up in Radcliff, Kentucky and currently lives in Glasgow.

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Health
2:51 pm
Wed August 6, 2014

CDC to Provide Kentucky $1 Million to Combat Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription pill abuse continues to plague the commonwealth, those some advances have been recently made.

Kentucky will receive over $1 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to combat prescription drug abuse.

The money will be spread out over three years and used to enhance the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. Kentucky has the third highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation, and has recently seen a surge in the number of deaths related to heroin.

The funding was announced Tuesday in Paintsville by CDC Director Thomas Frieden. He was joined by Rep. Hal Rogers, a Somerset Republic who represents the state’s 5th District. During his announcement, Frieden lauded efforts made by the commonwealth to crack down on the illegal prescription drug trade.

In recent years, state lawmakers have passed legislation cracking down on pill mills, which are clinics that abuse their prescription-writing authority for people seeking pain medication for recreational use. Kentucky also requires controlled substance prescribers to use KASPER, the state’s prescription monitoring program.

The CDC says the number of KASPER reports has more than tripled since those laws went into effect, and there has been a nine-percent decline in the amount of controlled substance dispensing in the commonwealth.

Sports
1:46 pm
Wed August 6, 2014

WKU Men's Basketball Season Includes Games Vs. U of L, Belmont, Ole Miss, and 18 C-USA Contests

The WKU men's basketball team opens the new season Nov. 14 at home against Austin Peay.
Credit WKU

The WKU men’s basketball team will open its first season as a member of Conference USA with 18 league games, as well as home contests against Louisville and Belmont.

The Hilltoppers start the season at E.A. Diddle Arena Nov. 14 against Austin Peay, and will play home-and-home series against Conference USA opponents Marshall, Charlotte, Old Dominion, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International.

The rest of WKU’s first-ever Conference USA league schedule features home games against Texas-El Paso, Texas-San Antonio, North Texas, and Rice. The Hilltoppers will go on the road to take on Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Alabama-Birmingham, and Middle Tennessee.

You can see the entire 2014-15 schedule here.

WKU hosts Belmont Nov. 22, and the Louisville Cardinals Dec. 20.

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Military
1:00 pm
Wed August 6, 2014

Ft. Knox Prepares to Welcome Home Soldiers Who Have Served in Kuwait

Ft. Knox is home to the 19th Engineer Battalion.
Credit Ft. Knox

Sixty Ft. Knox soldiers will be welcomed home from the Middle East at a ceremony on the Hardin County post Thursday evening. The 19th Engineer Battalion soldiers are returning after a nine- month deployment to Kuwait, the group’s fourth deployment since they were reactivated at Ft. Knox in 2005.   

A total of 450 soldiers from the battalion will return home in the coming months. While overseas, they carried out several construction projects at forward operating bases in Kuwait, and assisted in infrastructure improvement projects in Tajikistan.

Upon arriving home in Kentucky, the soldiers will occupy the newly reconstructed 19th Engineer Battalion Complex, a $41 million facility with administrative, barracks, and training space.

Education
3:54 pm
Tue August 5, 2014

New Report Tracks Employment Outcomes of Graduates from Kentucky's Public Universities

Over 76 percent of those who earn a bachelor's degree from WKU are working in Kentucky within five years.
Credit WKU

The overwhelming majority of in-state students who get bachelor’s degrees from Kentucky’s public universities are remaining in the commonwealth.

A new report from the Center for Education and Workforce Statistics shows over 80 percent of Kentucky students who got a four-year degree from a state-funded school were working in the commonwealth a year later. On the other hand, only 30 percent of out-of-state students who graduate from Kentucky’s undergraduate programs stay in the commonwealth to work.

The report also gives a school-by-school breakdown of how many graduates stay in Kentucky versus those who leave the state, as well as a comparison of the average wages of each school’s degree holders.

You can see what the report had to say about the employment outcomes of WKU graduates here.

Charles McGrew, the executive director of the group behind the report, said schools can use the information to get a better idea of where their graduates are, and how they are doing.

“I think it’s difficult for faculty to know where all of their students go. Sometimes colleges do alumni surveys, but they may not be able to catch many of their alumni after the fact. So they don’t necessarily know how well they’re doing in the workforce, or possibly how long it takes to find a job, or whether they go on to graduate school,” McGrew told WKU Public Radio.

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Health
2:02 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

New Federal Grant to Help HIV Vaccine Research Effort Underway in Owensboro

Dr. Kenneth Palmer, professor of pharmacology and toxicology and director of the Owensboro Cancer Research Program of UofL’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center,
Credit The University of Louisville

HIV vaccine research being conducted in Owensboro is getting a boost from a federal grant. The National Institutes of Health Monday announced a five-year, $14.7 million dollar grant for a project being led by the Owensboro Cancer Research program.

The goal is to create a gel-based vaccine that involves tobacco plants.

Researchers in Daviess County have been extracting a protein found in red algae, injecting it into tobacco plants, growing the tobacco on a massive scale, and then extracting the protein for use in a gel. Lab tests show the protein blocks HIV cells from entering uninfected cells.

Researchers have developed a gel using the protein that they hope can be used to stop the spread of HIV during sexual intercourse.

Owensboro Cancer Research program director Kenneth Palmer says the irony of using tobacco plants to possibly create a medical breakthrough isn’t lost on him.

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Military
10:58 am
Fri August 1, 2014

Ft. Campbell to Honor Fallen Soldier Who Had Volunteered to Deploy to Iraq

Maj. Michael L. Mundell died in Fallujah, Iraq, on January 5, 2007.
Credit 81st Regional Support Command, Ft. Campbell

A Meade County native who died while serving in Iraq is being honored this weekend at Fort Campbell.

The U.S. Army Reserve Center at the southern Kentucky post is being renamed Sunday in honor of Major Michael L. Mundell, who died in 2007 from injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device was detonated in Fallujah.

Mundell, who was 47 when he was killed, had volunteered to deploy to Iraq, and was survived by a wife, Audrey, and four children; Erica, Ryan, Zachary, and Dale.

Michael Mascari, Public Affairs Director with the 81st Regional Support Command, says Mundell  served in an 11-man unit in Fallujah that was training Iraqi soldiers. Several of Mundell’s former comrades will be at Sunday’s ceremony.

“And one of the things that was unique about that unit was how small it is and how specialized the staff were,” Mascari told WKU Public Radio. “They took soldiers from all over, from all different types of units to assemble them for this. And out of 11 people, six soldiers from his unit are actually going to be there.”

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Regional
4:16 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

Federal Government Gives Kentucky Extension to Meet REAL ID Act Requirements

Kentucky is being granted an extension in its efforts to meet new federal guidelines related to the REAL ID Act. Without the extension, those with a Kentucky driver’s license would have had to produce another form of government-issued ID, such as a birth certificate or U.S passport, to gain entrance to many federal properties.

The extension runs through October of 2015, and is renewable.

Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 following recommendations by the 9/11 Commission. That group suggested higher security standards regarding the issuing of identifications such as driver’s licenses. The REAL ID Act mandates that driver’s licenses be issued by a single entity, such as a statewide department of motor vehicles.

Kentucky has no such office and instead issues driver’s licenses at the offices of its 142 circuit court clerks.

According to a news release from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the Department of Homeland Security told Governor Steve Beshear it recognizes the recent state-of-the-art security features that the commonwealth has added to its driver’s licenses.

A security assessment of the 142 circuit court clerks' offices in Kentucky is currently underway.

Health
2:30 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

While Number of Drug Overdoses in Kentucky Levels Off, Heroin Deaths Increase

The percentage of overdoses related to heroin jumped in Kentucky from 2012 to 2013.

The number of overdose deaths related to heroin continues to climb in Kentucky.

A new report from the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy shows that while the number of total overdoses remained steady in 2013, deaths caused by heroin increased by more than 12 percent.

In 2012, 19.6 percent of drug related deaths recorded by the state were due to heroin. That number increased to 31.9 percent in 2013.

Overall, the number of drug deaths in Kentucky leveled off last year, increasing by only three from 2012.

Van Ingram, the Executive Director of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said one way to combat the rising number of heroin deaths would be to increase the availability of narcan, a drug used to halt the effects of opioid overdose. Narcan is currently found in emergency rooms and carried by paramedics.

“We’d like to see it in the hands of police officers, we’d like to see it in the hands of families of people who are at risk, and just as widespread as we can make it, because we can’t get people into treatment and we can’t help them turn their lives around once they’re lost,” Ingram told WKU Public Radio.

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Politics
10:16 am
Thu July 31, 2014

McConnell Amendment Would Force Feds to Take New Steps Before Moving Child Migrants Across States

Sen. Mitch McConnell has introduced an amendment to Senate legislation related to child migrants who are coming to the U.S. from Central America.
Credit WKU PBS

Senator Mitch McConnell wants new restrictions placed on the federal government’s ability to transport the growing number of young migrants coming to the U.S. from Central America.

The Kentucky Republican’s amendment to Senate border legislation would prohibit the movement of what he calls “unaccompanied alien minors” across state lines unless certain criteria are met. Under the plan, the Secretary of Health and Human Services would have to certify the minors wouldn’t have a burdensome economic or public health impact on the affected state and communities.

McConnell’s amendment would also prohibit the movement of the young migrants unless the Health and Human Services and Homeland Security Departments certify that transporting them will not delay their immediate repatriation.

In a news release, McConnell said the unaccompanied minors should be treated humanely and returned to their home country as soon as possible, and not “shipped across the nation and housed at taxpayer expense.”

Politics
5:38 pm
Mon July 28, 2014

Whitfield Denies Accusations of Ethics Violations, and Says Nothing Wrong with '02 Property Purchase

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, Kentuck's 1st District Congressman
Credit Office of Rep. Whitfield

Kentucky’s First District Congressman is defending himself against allegations related to a House ethics investigation. While the committee looking into the matter doesn’t comment publicly about what it’s investigating, Hopkinsville Republican Ed Whitfield addressed the issue on a teleconference with reporters Monday.

Whitfield said the complaint alleges that his wife—who is lobbyist for the U.S. Humane Society Legislative Fund—improperly lobbied him on behalf of legislation he is sponsoring related to show horses. Whitfield’s bill would strengthen the Horse Protection Act and seek the elimination of a practice known as “soring”, where chains and pads are used to conceal irritants that result in horses achieving a high-stepping gait desired in some competitions.

Whitfield denied allegations in the ethics complaint that he only became interested in the issue after his wife began working with the Humane Society in 2011.

“I first started writing letters about the soring issue with Tennessee Walking Horses back in 2004. And I wrote a letter in 2010 before she was ever involved,” Whitfield told reporters.

Whitfield says the ethics complaint was brought by individuals in the performance horse industry who defend the practice of soring.

During his teleconference, the Hopkinsville Congressman also denied allegations in a recent report that he has maintained an improper business relationship with a nationally known lobbyist.

The report by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting showed Whitfield and the lobbyist bought property in the West Virginia resort known as The Greenbrier. The reporter behind the investigation, R.G. Dunlop, joined the teleconference to ask Whitfield questions about the 2002 property purchase.

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