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OUR NEIGHBORS | Local woman turns stress reliever into career

Allison Evarts asked for a sander for her birthday nearly 10 years ago and her surprise career began.

Shortly after she received the power tool, Evarts, 50, began Allee Cat Designs, her furniture refurbishing company.

Originally from Massachusetts, Evarts graduated from Manhattan High School in 1986 while her father was stationed at Fort Riley. She left and joined the Air Force, where she worked in intelligence. She said she joined because she wanted to travel and because of her father.

“Because my dad was in it, it was just a normal way of life,” she said.

Along the way, she met her now-husband, Kyle, who was also in the Air Force, when they were stationed in Kenya. The couple married four months after meeting.

“I had a feeling, and he had the same feeling,” she said.

Later, the couple moved to Enterprise, Alabama, where he was stationed. He was deployed, and Evarts said she needed something new in her life.

“It was not a really good time for me, and our marriage was struggling a bit,” she said. “I needed an outlet that would just be for me. I asked for a sander for my birthday, and took the old dresser we had in our guest room. I thought if I messed it up, it wouldn’t really matter. I wasn’t happy, but once I started working with furniture, behind the mask, I was smiling.”

At first, she started with projects just for herself. Then, she said, her friends started noticing what she was doing and asked her to do a few pieces.

“One of my friends said, ‘You should be getting paid for this,’” Evarts said.

She began making pieces professionally at Rockstar and Rogers five years ago, when she would fix up and repaint the “worst pieces” of furniture the shop had. Then, she began her custom refinishing business.

Evarts said the work fluctuates. At some points, there’s a nearly two-month waitlist for one of her commissioned pieces. Other times are slower, and she can spend more time working on pieces that she said help fulfill her creative side more. She sells those pieces at Eclectic Charm.

Her signature look, she said, would be the top of the piece stained and the body painted.

“There are ‘wood purists’ out there who say you shouldn’t do something like paint wood, but it’s my No. 1 request,” she said.

Her husband said he’s so impressed by her creative side.

“I’m so amazed by what she can do,” Kyle said. “I can’t even draw a stick figure, but she can make all these wonderful pieces.”

He said they also had a talk about what she can sell. “She was making these pieces, and we had to sit down and say, ‘Wait, is this something we can use? Would this look better in our house?’” he said.

She did the cabinets, television stand, some of the chairs and more in their current house.

In her downtime, Evarts likes to play World of Warcraft, an online fantasy role-playing game. She said she likes playing online games and reading. Evarts said she normally gets through two books a week.

Evarts and her husband also ride motorcycles. “We’re adrenaline junkies,” she said.

She also spends time with her adult sons, Jonah and Josh, who both live in town, as well as her dogs, Toby and Tank. Tank is Evarts’ “shop dog,” who hangs out in the garage with her while she works on her pieces, unless she’s doing something dangerous.

The family chose to come back to Manhattan about eight years ago. Even though neither of them are originally from Kansas, when it came time to choose between Manhattan and El, Paso, Texas, it was an easy pick.

“We’ve moved a lot and the people here are generally friendly,” she said. “It’s the best place I ever lived. A lot of times, when he was deployed, I felt like I was on my own raising two kids. Here, I got so much help from the neighbors, and it’s never felt like I was on my own.”

Former 1st Infantry Division soldier to receive Medal of Honor

A former 1st Infantry Division staff sergeant will become the first living Iraq War veteran to receive the Medal of Honor.

President Donald Trump announced Monday that David Bellavia, 43, will be awarded the Medal of Honor on June 25 at the White House for his bravery during the Second Battle of Fallujah.

Bellavia exposed himself to enemy fire as he defended his soldiers on Nov. 10, 2004, his 29th birthday. He was the squad leader with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.

In a statement describing Bellavia’s actions that day, The White House said he “rescued an entire squad, cleared an insurgent strongpoint and saved many members of his platoon from imminent threat.”

Bellavia was clearing a block of houses when his platoon became pinned down. He entered the house where his squad was trapped and provided cover fire so that he and his fellow soldiers could exit safely.

A Bradley Fighting Vehicle arrived to help suppress the enemy, but it could not fire directly into the house. Bellavia re-entered the house, armed with an M16 assault rifle, and shot at insurgents who were firing rocket-propelled grenades. He killed one insurgent and wounded another, who ran to another part of the house. Bellavia was soon engaged by another insurgent rushing down the stairs when the previously wounded insurgent re-emerged.

Bellavia returned fire, killing both attackers. He then took enemy fire from an insurgent who had appeared from a closet across the room. He pursued him up the stairs and killed him. Soon thereafter, he moved to the roof where he engaged and wounded a fifth insurgent, who fell from the roof of the building.

Bellavia, a native of Waterport, New York, received the Silver Star for his actions, which will now be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. All five of the previous Operation Iraqi Freedom Medal of Honor recipients received the honor posthumously.

Bellavia enlisted in 1999 and left active duty in 2005 after serving in Kosovo and Iraq. In 2007, he published his memoir, “House to House: An Epic Memoir of War.”

He currently hosts his own radio show in the Buffalo, New York, area. He is also the co-founder of Vets for Freedom, a conservative political advocacy organization.

Escort says she didn’t plan to have sex with defendant

A first-time meeting with her alleged rapist was not intended to include sex, a woman who worked as an escort at the time said Tuesday at a trial for a Manhattan man charged with multiple sex offenses.

Tommie Baggett, 18, is charged with one count of rape, three counts of attempted rape, one count of criminal sodomy, one count of aggravated criminal sodomy, one count of aggravated robbery, three counts of aggravated burglary and three counts of aggravated battery.

Baggett was linked by DNA to four alleged sexual assaults that occurred from August 2016 to March 2017.

The alleged victims, all women, were identified by name in Riley County District Court. The Mercury typically does not report the names of sexual violence victims.

The trial began Monday before Chief Judge Meryl Wilson. The first victim, who said she was raped in August 2016, testified in court Tuesday morning.

The woman said she had recently taken up escorting to earn extra income when she met her attacker through a dating app. She said while some people may associate escorting with sex work, there is no guarantee of sex. She said she understood escorting as financial compensation for dating and companionship, such as attending an event with a client.

Escorting, or paying someone for their time, is legal according to Kansas law, but explicitly paying someone for sexual acts — prostitution — is not.

The woman said she agreed to meet a man in Manhattan early on a rainy morning, and when she couldn’t find the address he texted her, she agreed to meet him at a nearby park.

She said she thought they would just talk and get to know each other, but they had not discussed money or what they expected of one another. They talked briefly under a shelter at the park, and then the woman said the man punched her in the face, and he instructed her to perform oral sex on him before raping her.

The woman said she did not consent to any of the actions. She said the man then took her phone and her keys, stole about $200 from her car and reset her phone to delete messages, apps, contacts and more. She said the man then left the scene.

The woman said when she spoke to police that day, she was not initially forthcoming. Defense attorney Jeffery Adam said during her first interview with police, she did not reveal she was an escort, did not accurately disclose what city she was coming from (Junction City), did not consent to a sexual assault exam and did not allow police to search her vehicle.

The woman said she wanted to protect friends and did not want to have an invasive exam done after the traumatic experience. She also said she didn’t want the vehicle searched because it was newer and did not belong to her.

“I was afraid of involving my friends (who suggested escorting), the perception surrounding (escorting) and how it would affect people taking me seriously,” she said.

Police collected some evidence from the victim, but the case went unsolved.

Deputy Riley County Attorney Bethany Fields outlined the other three incidents during the trial on Monday.

In February 2017, the second and third victims, who were roommates at the time, had spent the day at a house party before going to Aggieville that night with friends. Witnesses testified the women had been drinking on and off throughout the day and evening.

The second victim came home first, alone, and a sober roommate woke up to let her inside the locked house. The roommate said she awoke again to let the third victim inside when she returned from Aggieville.

The second victim said during the trial that she woke up during the night to a man beside her in bed. She said they exchanged small talk for a short while as she tried to figure out who he was, and the man moved on top of her, choked her and covered her mouth to stop her from yelling. The second victim said she fought back, hit a part of his face and he left her room.

She said she went downstairs to find the friend she had gone out with — the third victim — and the friend seemed “disoriented.” The second victim said she could see marks on her friend’s neck and a popped blood vessel in her eye. The two concluded they had suffered the same experience, and they called the police.

Although the women in the house said they took precautions after the incident, such as changing the locks on doors, another incident involving the same man took place about a month later on the evening of Fake Patty’s Day in March 2017, Fields said.

Fields said a man had entered the residence through a basement window that night and went in the room of a different roommate, the fourth victim.

The fourth victim said Monday she had been drinking intermittently that day, but didn’t recall meeting any strangers or inviting anyone over to the house. She said she woke up that night to a man standing over her. She said he asked if they would have sex now because she said she would. The woman said she did not recognize the man and refused.

When she turned her light on, she said the man tried strangling her but fled after she fought back.

Fields said DNA evidence collected from the women in each case matched the eventual DNA profile collected from Baggett, who was arrested in 2018 for possession of marijuana.

“The probability of another male with the same DNA profile is (very low),” Fields said.

Baggett’s defense attorney, Jeffery Adam, said statements from the alleged victims were not reliable.

He pointed out that the first victim did not tell police the whole story when she spoke to police initially and that when a detective questioned the first victim, he confronted her about the fact that one would need the phone’s passcode to reset the device. The first victim did not agree with this assessment based on what she’d seen.

Adam said the second and third victims had also been drinking the day of the incident, and none of the victims identified Baggett as the assailant in a police photo lineup.

Police who collected evidence from the home after the March incident found an unknown glove and sock in the basement bathroom, which none of the roommates recognized. They also found a slightly ajar window above the kitchen sink with disturbed dust and a partial footprint around it. Detectives also discovered footprints in the snow outside the home.

The trial continued Tuesday afternoon.

Riley County’s first budget exceeds state limit

Riley County’s initial proposal for the 2020 budget calls for a property tax increase of nearly 9% for existing homes

County administrators presented the commission Monday with an initial version of the 2020 budget that calls for a higher property tax increase than what the state allows under its tax lid law.

The total $42.1 million county budget — which includes the general, bond and interest, county building and Riley County Police Department funds — would be offset by $13 million in other county revenues but would still require $29.2 million in property taxes, an increase of $2.7 million or 10.1% from 2019.

The property tax rate would need to increase by 3.486 mills to 44.403 mills to make up for this year’s budget increase. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. With the total 2019 real estate value reported at $6.3 billion in the county, each 2020 mill is worth about $657,000.

Last year, the average price of an existing house increased 0.4%, Greg McHenry, county appraiser, said, meaning a homeowner paying $470.55 in 2019 county taxes for a $100,000 home would have to pay $512.68 for a $100,400 home in 2020. That’s an increase of $42.12 or 8.95%.

The law stipulates that county and municipal governments cannot unilaterally raise property taxes by more than a set rate determined by a five-year rolling average of the Consumer Price Index. Under that law, the highest increase the commission could set is a 2.183-mill increase for a total of $28.3 million.

The proposed budget is over that limit by $856,000. Higher increases are allowed if approved by voters.

However, commissioners are seeking to reduce the budget.

The budget process will continue with additional work sessions on June 24 and 27.

The deadline for submitting a final budget to the county clerk is Aug. 25, with a budget hearing scheduled before on Aug. 11.