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Headlines for Thursday, April 20, 2017

Here's a look at area headlines from the Associated Press

New Kansas Fiscal Forecast More Optimistic 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has seen its budget picture improve slightly after officials and university economists issued a new fiscal forecast that was a little more optimistic than the previous one. The state's forecasting group on Thursday increased projections for tax collections by a total of $156 million through June 2019. The new forecast is the first positive one in three years and some good news for Republican Governor Sam Brownback and the GOP-controlled Legislature. The new forecast replaces a pessimistic one from November assuming that economic slumps in agriculture and energy production would continue through 2018. The state had been left with budget shortfalls totaling about $1 billion through June 2019. But tax collections since then have been better than expected. With the new forecast, the budget gaps now total $889 million.

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Kansas Regulators Reject Utility Sale 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas utility regulators have rejected the proposed sale of the state's largest electric company to a Missouri-based utility for $12.2 billion. The Kansas Corporation Commission issued an order Wednesday against the proposal from Great Plains Energy of Kansas City, Missouri, to buy Topeka-based Westar Energy. Critics of the deal argued that Great Plains would be paying as much as $4.9 billion too much. They said the combined company would be so economically fragile that utility regulators would be forced to boost rates for its 1.5 million customers from central Kansas to central Missouri. Both companies said the acquisition would create nearly $2 billion in efficiencies over the next decade and keep electric rates in check. Great Plains is the parent of Kansas City Power & Light Co. 

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Kansas Secretary of State Seeks to Stay Order over Voting Rights Documents

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas's top elections official has asked a magistrate judge to stay an order requiring him to turn over proposed changes to voting rights laws that he took to a meeting with President Donald Trump. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach filed the motion Wednesday. That was the deadline U.S. Magistrate James O'Hara had set to turn over two documents to plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging a state law requiring voters provide proof of their U.S. citizenship when registering. O'Hara gave the American Civil Liberties Union until Friday to respond to Kobach's request. Kobach wants time to appeal the magistrate's decision to U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson. After examining the documents, O'Hara ruled Monday that parts were relevant to the lawsuit and chastised Kobach for misrepresenting the contents.

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3 Kansas Universities Will Ban Guns at Large Sporting Events
 
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The state's three largest universities will be allowed to ban guns at large sporting events beginning in July. The Kansas Board of Regents' governance committee on Wednesday approved a request by The University of Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State to install security measures such as metal detectors and guards — either temporary or permanently — at games. Kansas universities are required to allow concealed handguns on campuses beginning July 1 but the universities can ask for exceptions. The University of Kansas and Wichita State will ban guns from any event expected to draw more than 5,000 people. K-State will provide temporary security at its football and basketball stadiums for all ticketed athletic events. Emporia State, Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State did not seek approval to ban guns at any events.

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Kansas State University Gets Fifth Sex Assault Investigation 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The federal government is opening another investigation on how Kansas State University handles reports of off-campus sexual assaults. The Manhattan Mercury reports that the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights opened the recent investigation in late March. The office hasn't released any information pertaining to the new investigation. The university's policy for investigating sexual assault allegations off campus has been under scrutiny, with this being the fifth investigation launched. Two former students from the university are suing the school for not investigating their reports of being raped at Kansas State fraternity houses. Kansas State officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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Jurors Acquit Man in Northeast Kansas Sexual Assault Case 

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) — Jurors have acquitted a northeast Kansas man of charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl in a rural cemetery. Jurors in Jackson County (Kansas) today (THUR) found 22-year-old Jacob Ewing not guilty of charges of aggravated indecent liberties and aggravated criminal sodomy with a child under 14 years old. Ewing still faces trials on charges alleging that he sexually assaulted five women. Ewing has entered not guilty pleas in those cases. During the trial that ended Thursday, the teenager testified that Ewing sodomized her in 2014 while she pleaded for him to stop. A defense witness testified that the girl later bragged about the experience.

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Kansas City Business Owner Pleads Guilty to Defrauding V-A 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The owner of a medical business has admitted in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri, his role in a fraud scheme involving disability examinations of veterans under contract for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Eighty-year-old David Biersmith waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty Thursday to one count each of health care fraud and making a false statement to a federal agency. As the owner and operator of Industrial Medical Center, Biersmith also admitted making false statements about his role in the physical examinations of commercial truck drivers. Seventy-four-year-old Wayne Williamson, a former doctor who worked as a medical consultant Biersmith's business, pleaded guilty in January to similar health care fraud charges.

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Flood Watches Issued in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The National Weather Service has issued flood watches in portions of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri as strong storms with heavy rain approach the region. The flood watches will be in effect from Thursday night through late Friday and early Saturday in northeast Oklahoma, northwest Arkansas, southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri. The weather service says two to four inches of rain is expected in the area, with locally heavier amounts of six to seven inches possible, especially in northeast Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas. Large hail is also possible with the storms. The storms are expected to move west to east and out of the region by early Saturday.

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Topeka Creek Contaminated by Sewage Spill 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Turnpike Authority is warning the public to stay out of a south Topeka creek following a sewage spill that resulted from turnpike construction. Turnpike Authority official Rachel Bell tells the Topeka Capital-Journal that the spill at Shunga Creek was discovered Wednesday morning. Bell says the contamination occurred as subcontractor RD Johnson was preparing to relocate a sewage line on the south Topeka interchange project. The connection became displaced and the sewage was spilled near the project. Officials aren't sure how much sewage was spilled. City spokeswoman Aly Van Dyke says the city was notified when it responded to an odor complaint Wednesday. The Turnpike Authority says it will notify the public about testing results. Work on the interchange project includes toll plaza and bridge improvements, a realigned northbound exit ramp and improved drainage.

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Kansas Police Chief Faces Backlash After Killing Service Dog 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The police chief of an eastern Wichita town says he's received death threats over an officer's fatal shooting of a service dog. The Wichita Eagle reports a vigil for the dog, Midnite, is scheduled for Wednesday. The vigil has been described by event organizers as a "protest" in response to an officer's killing of Midnite on April 13. Augusta Police Chief Tyler Brewer says people made death threats to him and his family last week. He says the officer who shot the dog has also received death threats. Police say the officer and an animal control officer went to Alan Fitzgerald's house investigating a report of his dog attacking a neighbor's dog. When Midnite charged at the animal control officer, the police officer shot the dog. Fitzgerald disputes that recounting, but says the vigil will be "a peaceful event."

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Reno County: 4 Fires Near Hutchinson in March Regarded as Suspicious 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Reno County fire officials say four fires north of Hutchinson in early March are suspicious in nature. The Hutchinson News reports that the fires March 4-5 burned more than 5,500 acres and destroyed a dozen homes. Deputy Fire Chief Doug Hanen says in a news release a firework that emits a shower of sparks was found near the origin of one of the March 5 fires. The second fire that day was north and west of the first blaze. Hanen says several witnesses reported no smoke in the area shortly before the fires and says it's unlikely the second blaze rekindled from the previous fire. He says the two fires March 4 started along the same road, with no possible ignition sources in the area.

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Theft of $305 from Prosecutor's Office Under Investigation 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating the theft of $305 in cash from the Sedgwick County prosecutor's office. The Wichita Eagle reports that several hundred dollars is kept in a locked box to buy lunch and gasoline for witnesses. Everything was in order when the county last audited its contents in November. But money was missing when the box was opened in March. A theft report was filed Tuesday with the sheriff's office. The culprit remains a mystery. The box is kept in a locked cabinet behind locked doors, but keys to the locked box and cabinet weren't hidden. Also, doors into the offices can be opened with a passcode or master key. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett says going to a debit-card-like system is among the options under consideration.

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Topeka Woman Sentenced to Prison for Health Care Fraud 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka woman has been sentenced to two years and six months in prison for committing health care fraud while operating a business that was licensed to provide day and residential services to developmentally disabled adults. The U.S. attorney's office says in a news release that 45-year-old Kristina Hansel also was ordered Wednesday to pay more than $480,000 in restitution. The release says she billed Medicaid for services that weren't provided and made false statements to obtain and renew her license. Prosecutors say she also admitted withholding medical treatment from a patient in one case and directing others to help her cover up medication overdoses so licensing authorities wouldn't learn of the problem. Prosecutors say the crimes occurred while she owned Achieve Services.

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Feds Charge Kansas Teenager for Buying Explosive on Dark Web

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Federal prosecutors have charged a Kansas teenager who used bitcoin to buy a grenade on the dark web. A criminal information report filed Wednesday charges Carlos Francisco Martin of Coffeyville with receiving an explosive meant to destroy property. Defense attorney Steven Gradert says his client is just "kind of a dumb 18-year-old kid'' who wanted to blow up a truck as revenge because someone had damaged his mom's car. He says his client plans to plead guilty. Gradert says the purchase initially drew the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's terrorism task force because of the method of purchase. Bitcoin is a digital currency for use in peer-to-peer online transactions. The dark web is a collection of websites on an encrypted network that cannot be found using traditional search engines.  

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Wichita Man Sentenced to 12 Years for Robberies

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Wichita man has been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for robbing a bank and holding a jewelry store owner at gunpoint in another robbery. The Wichita Eagle reports that 25-year-old Terence Thomas was sentenced Wednesday. Prosecutors say Thomas had a knife when he approached the jewelry store owner and his wife as they arrived for work in December 2015. The owner drew a handgun in self-defense. The two men wrestled and shots were fired before Thomas got the gun. After forcing the owner to open the door to the business, Thomas dragged the owner's wife inside before she feigned a heart attack. Thomas fled after the owner locked him out of the business. Prosecutors say Thomas also robbed a bank a month earlier. 

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Police Investigate Death of Woman Found in Car in KCK

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ The death of a woman whose body was found in a vehicle in Kansas City, Kansas, is being investigated as a homicide. Police said in a news release that officers found the woman dead from an apparent gunshot wound Wednesday night while responding to a shooting call. The woman's name wasn't immediately released, pending notification of relatives. Police said only that she was in her 30s. Authorities are urging anyone with information to call the crime tips hotline. 

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Kansas Students Invited to Washington Correspondents' Dinner 

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Six Kansas high school journalists who published a story that led to the resignation of their school's new principal will be special guests at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. The Pittsburg High School students and their teacher, Emily Smith, are receiving an all-expenses paid trip to the April 29 dinner in Washington D.C., courtesy of the Huffington Post. The group made national news after a story published last month in the student newspaper questioned the credentials of Amy Robertson, who had been hired to become principal at the school. The questions eventually led Robertson to resign. Pittsburg Superintendent Destry Brown told the Pittsburg Morning Sun he's excited the students will get a "once in a lifetime" experience. The students will be in Washington from April 28 to April 30.

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Shawnee Mission Superintendent Announces Retirement

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — The superintendent of the state's third largest school districts is retiring. The Shawnee Mission School District announced Wednesday that Jim Hinson's retirement takes effect June 30. Officials at the nearly 28,000-student district in Johnson County say the 54-year-old Hinson wants to spend more time with his family and "pursue other lifelong goals." Hinson said in a statement that he is "proud of the district" and that he has had "terrific support." Hinson was the superintendent of the Independence, Missouri, district before accepting the Shawnee Mission job in 2013. The school board will discuss the appointment of an interim superintendent at a meeting Monday.

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Nebraska Mayor Complains to Kansas About Smoke

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The mayor of Nebraska's capital city has complained to Kansas officials about smoke from its agricultural burning that sometimes makes it unhealthy to breathe in some parts of Nebraska. The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department issued health warnings about the smoke three times earlier this month. Officials have said the smoke originates mostly in the Flint Hills area of Kansas, where farmers and ranchers burn grassland yearly to stave off invasive species, preserve pasture, improve cattle forage and limit fuel for wildfires. Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler suggested in a letter to Kansas officials that the Flint Hills smoke management plan should be revised to spread out the burning and the smoke and particulate levels that result. Kansas officials have said rainy weather compressed the period of burning this year.

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Missouri Man Pleads Guilty in Crash That Kills Kansas Couple

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a Missouri man has pleaded guilty in a Kansas wreck that killed a couple as they headed to church. The Kansas City Star reports that 37-year-old Harold Benton Cyphers III pleaded guilty Tuesday in Johnson County District Court to two counts of involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors say the Independence man was driving under the influence of methamphetamine in July when he ran a red light in Leawood, Kansas. His vehicle than collided with the car of 69-year-old Donna Manning and her 71-year-old husband, William Manning, of Overland Park. Cyphers also admitted to identity theft and possession of methamphetamine. As part of the plea agreement, attorneys will recommend a sentence of 14 years and seven months in prison. Sentencing is set for May 23.

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Missouri Man Sentenced to 100-Years in Prison for Shooting Officer

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) - A man has been sentenced to a century in prison for shooting a suburban Kansas City, Missouri, police officer in the face in 2014. Thirty-three-year-old Omar Maria was sentenced Wednesday in Clay County, where he was convicted in March of assault on a law enforcement officer and armed criminal action. Jurors concluded that Maria shot Pleasant Valley Police Officer Jacob Baldwin during a December 2014 traffic stop on Interstate 35. Prosecutors said Baldwin pulled over a car driven by Maria for a vehicle registration violation, and that Maria jumped out of the vehicle and repeatedly fired at Baldwin's windshield. Maria then sped away. Baldwin survived.

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Kansas City-Area High School Coach Killed in Freeway Wreck 

PLATTE CITY, Mo. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City, Missouri, high school is mourning their football and wrestling coach after he was killed in a freeway accident. The Kansas City Star reports that 37-year-old West Platte High School coach Nathan Danneman died Wednesday night when a tractor-trailer crossed the median of Interstate 29 and struck three vehicles north of Platte City. Danneman died at the scene. His 4-year-old daughter and two other people sustained minor injuries. West Platte's school system hired Danneman for the coaching positions in 2013. He also was the district's physical education and strength conditioning teacher. West Platte was 20-28 in Danneman's four-year tenure as football coach and finished 1-9 last season.

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Kansas City Beats San Francisco Giants, 2-0 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) —The Royals' Jason Vargas dazzled for the third straight start as the Royals finally scored off Giants ace Madison Bumgarner and Kansas City beat San Francisco 2-0 on Wednesday night to split their two-game series. Vargas (3-0) scattered four hits over seven innings with nine strikeouts and no walks, his 12th straight start allowing two runs or fewer — the longest streak by a left-hander in franchise history. The veteran is also unbeaten in his last eight home starts. Joakim Soria pitched a perfect eighth inning in relief of Vargas, and Kelvin Herrera worked around a leadoff walk in the ninth to earn his third save and finish a 5-3 homestand for the Royals.
 

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