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03.12.2019 • Tuesday • M 1

sT. LOuIs POsT-dIsPaTCH • A3

Man charged in fatal stabbing of woman after dispute along I-70

Missouri owes $118 million in back pay to prison guards

BY KIM BELL st. Louis Post-dispatch


JENNINGS • A woman was stabbed during an argument in a car on or near Interstate 70 early Monday before fleeing to a nearby home, where she collapsed and pleaded for help. She was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Meanwhile, the man who attacked her Sanders showed up at a different hospital in a bloody car with cuts to his hands, police say. The man, Derrick Sanders, 23, admitted stabbing the woman during a dispute in the car, according to charging documents. He told police he had met the woman just hours earlier, according to court documents. Sanders was charged later Monday with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of the woman, whose name had not been released. Their relationship was not clear. He was ordered held without bail. Sanders lives in the 7000 block of Florence Place in Jennings, about half a mile from the home were the victim collapsed on a porch about 3:40 a.m., seeking aid.


Erica Wheeler was home asleep in the predawn hours Monday when someone banged on her front door. Wheeler heard agonized cries. “Help,” the voice moaned. “Help me.” In a daze, Wheeler looked through the peephole and saw a small, young woman bleeding from stab wounds. The woman was on her knees, leaning between the screen door and front door of Wheeler’s home. Wheeler, 41, works as a nursing assistant and said her first instinct was to open the door and help. But Wheeler’s


ROBERT COHEN • rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Khamaron and Erica Wheeler leave their home Monday after Erica tried to help a dying woman who knocked on their door early Monday. The woman had been stabbed on Interstate 70.

husband shouted at her to keep it locked. He worried an attacker had followed the victim and might force his way inside. “I was in her ear, ‘Don’t do it,’” Khamaron Wheeler, 44, said. “‘We don’t know what’s behind this yet.’” The Wheelers can hear the highway traffic zoom by at all hours from the small brick home where they have lived for four years. They live on a corner, and Khamaron Wheeler said they often see drug activity and police cars nearby. That’s what made Khamaron Wheeler skittish about opening the door for the woman, he said. As her husband watched the porch from the bedroom window, Erica Wheeler called police from her cellphone and tried to soothe the woman through the door. “Just hold on,” she told the injured woman. “I’m going to open up the door.” After several minutes, Erica Wheeler said she did open the door, despite her husband’s warnings, just as officers were getting to the porch. The woman had collapsed, and the Wheelers found blood everywhere — on the door, the porch and in a trail leading to the interstate nearby. The events of the morning left the Wheelers shaken.


“It was just so real, watching the girl,” Khamaron Wheeler said. The victim had been tentatively identified and is in her early 20s, but authorities were not releasing her name until her identity was confirmed and relatives could be notified. She apparently hopped a fence along Interstate 70, crossed a narrow access road and made it 20 or 30 feet more to the Wheelers’ front porch in the 5200 block of College Avenue before collapsing. Westbound lanes of Interstate 70 were closed for nearly four hours as police and evidence technicians searched the shoulder of the interstate and one westbound lane. Traffic was diverted onto Jennings Station Road for several hours. Detectives from the St. Louis County Police Department’s Bureau of Crimes Against Persons were investigating the homicide. Sanders admitted pulling a knife from his pocket during an argument and stabbing the woman, charges say. He told investigators he had met her the night before. Joel Currier of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report. Kim Bell • 314-340-8115 @kbellpd on Twitter kbell@post-dispatch.com

House Budget Committee on Monday was still processing news that the state would need to pay $118 million in back pay to employees of the Department of Corrections. House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said it was too early to comment on the Thursday order from Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce. Joyce ordered the garnishment of $118 million from the state after officials failed to pay the amount, which stemmed from a lawsuit brought by guards for unpaid overtime. But Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick said the money could not be paid because there is no appropriation for legal costs large enough to cover the payment — setting up a dispute between a Legislature and an executive branch that have not budgeted the money, and the courts. In August, a jury awarded corrections officers more than $113.7 million after they claimed the Department of Corrections had not paid them overtime. The verdict included a provision for an interest charge if the state didn’t pay immediately. That has added nearly $5 million to the state’s cost. Attorney Gary Burger, who represents the officers, has filed a motion to hold the department in contempt. A hearing has been set for April 1. Burger told the Post-Dispatch that the state has not responded to attempts to determine why the money hasn’t been paid. “There have been no discussions with the state,” Burger said. In addition to paying the guards, the state also was required to install a timekeeping system to better track hours worked by the officers. That has not occurred. Rep. Kip Kendrick, of Columbia, the ranking Democrat on the budget panel, said he expected the state would appeal the $113.7 million ruling. He said that it was possible the state would have to pay out the money next fiscal year, however. “The process and the payment is far from being resolved at this point,” Kendrick said. Gov. Mike Parson, in his budget plan, set aside $117 million for “future budget emergencies.” Kendrick

said that line item would likely be used if the state fails to meet revenue estimates. He said at least part of it could be used for the Department of Corrections settlement. “I imagine that some of that money is in preparation for a payment that will likely — that could very well likely happen sometime in fiscal year ’20,” Kendrick said. House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said it might be too early to pay the money because the state could still appeal the case. “We generally agree with the treasurer,” Quade said. But, she said the state eventually would have to pay the bill. “The reality is we owe this money to our employees,” Quade said. The House Budget Committee on Monday was also putting the finishing touches on its blueprint for the state’s $30 billion budget for next fiscal year, which starts July 1. Smith said last week he would earmark $100 million in general revenue for road and bridge projects next fiscal year, instead of going along with Parson’s plan to borrow $350 million for bridge projects. Kendrick and Democrats said they were skeptical of both proposals. Kendrick said he would like voters to approve a higher gasoline tax, but Republicans, who control the Legislature, have expressed little enthusiasm for putting a tax increase proposal before voters. The committee on Monday voted down several Democratic amendments that would have diverted money from an $18 million appropriation for Parson’s Fast Track scholarship program. A House subcommittee had already skimmed about $4 million from the program for other priorities. Parson had originally requested $22 million for the scholarships. The House voted down an amendment that would move $500,000 from the governor’s proposed Fast Track program to Harris-Stowe State University. They also voted down a Democratic-backed amendment to move $2.5 million from Fast Track to Parents as Teachers. Once the House Budget Committee approves the spending plan, it will move to the full House, and then the Senate, for consideration. Jack Suntrup • 573-556-6184 @JackSuntrup on Twitter jsuntrup@post-dispatch.com



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Long-haul truck drivers like Wayne J. rely on Men’s Liberty between rest stops.

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