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Headlines for Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Here's what's happening.

Health Officials: Flu Activity Increases Across Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas health officials say the flu is increasing in most parts of the state.  Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokesman Gerald Kratochvil say three flu outbreaks have been confirmed in Sedgwick County and another was confirmed in Douglas County.  The department says the flu was expected to increase in Kansas and it likely has not peaked in the state yet.  An estimated 5 to 20 percent of people are expected to get the flu this year, depending on the severity of the season.  Health officials say in a news release that influenza was the direct cause of 99 deaths last year, and it may have contributed to another 1,108 deaths among Kansas residents.

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Kansas Mental Hospital Regains Certification

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state mental hospital in eastern Kansas has regained federal certification for one of its housing units after working for two years to address safety issues and making extensive renovations to lessen the risk of patient suicides. Officials at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services confirmed Tuesday that Osawatomie State Hospital, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City, had passed its second federal inspection within four months. Secretary Tim Keck granted an exclusive interview to The Associated Press before the agency's official announcement. "It's been a heavy lift," Keck said. "I'm over the moon with excitement." The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' decision in December 2015 to revoke the hospital's certification was costing Kansas up to $1 million a month in federal funds. Keck said it's not clear exactly how much of that funding will come back, though it's likely to be between 40 percent and 50 percent. The decertification came after federal surveyors described a "systemic failure" to protect suicidal patients, adequately supervise care and perform required safety checks. The decision also came after a staff member reported being raped by a patient  The hospital passed surveys conducted in August and after Thanksgiving. The state received notice of the recertification late Monday. The recertification applies to a 60-bed unit at the hospital, which has been housing 150 patients and now has a capacity for 158. The unit is being managed separately from the rest of the hospital, with its own CEO, and it underwent $1.3 million in renovations to replace furniture and fixtures that would allow patients to hang or strangle themselves. The state also boosted wages for workers to lessen staff vacancies. The state also revised treatment for patients to focus more on each person individually, which hospital officials said was possible with staffing improvements.

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Audit: Kansas Schools Get Millions in Unauthorized Aid

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An audit has found that the largest school districts in Kansas have received millions in funding not allowed by state law. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas State Department of Education has given more than $45 million to the districts in just the past five years to help bus students to school. State auditors estimate Wichita's district alone will get nearly $3 million more than legally allowed. The audit report released last week found the department is distributing transportation funds to districts using a method repealed by lawmakers in the 1970s. The method results in districts with the highest population densities receiving more aid. The report recommends the department remove the unauthorized aid beginning in the 2018-19 school year. Department officials say they began making the payments decades ago after a request from lawmakers.

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State Attorney Lends Urgency to School Finance Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney representing Kansas in a school finance lawsuit says lawmakers should come up with a funding fix by the beginning of March. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Arthur Chalmers told an interim legislative committee Monday that the solution needs to be reached quickly to give the state's attorneys time to develop their arguments. Lawmakers have started work on a response to a Kansas Supreme Court order in October to boost spending on public schools. Legislators aren't so much interested in slashing spending in other parts of the budget to provide more money for schools. Many also don't want to increase taxes next year. Lawmakers earlier this year phased in a $293 million increase education funding over two years. The court said that still wasn't constitutionally adequate.

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Feds to Help Facilitate Forum over Topeka Police Shooting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka officials say the Department of Justice will help moderate a public forum about a black man fatally shot by two police officers. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Interim Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran says the event may happen in January. Topeka police have said that 30-year-old Dominique White was shot in September after reaching for a pocket containing a handgun. A copy of White's death certificate that was obtained by the newspaper says he died from gunshot wounds to the back. White's father, Kelly White, said he believes his son was running away from Topeka police when he was killed. White was just months out of prison after being prosecuted for burglary and illegal gun possession. Prosecutors are reviewing an investigation by the police department in Lawrence.

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Suspect Arrested in 2015 Fatal Shooting of Topeka 5-Year-Old 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police say they have arrested a 21-year-old suspect in a 2015 drive-by shooting that killed a 5-year-old girl. The victim, Lily Mai Coats-Nichols, was in the back seat of a car in Topeka in July 2015 when shots were fired and a bullet hit her in the head. Topeka police Lieutenant Colleen Stuart says the suspect was booked into the Shawnee County Jail Tuesday facing possible charges of first-degree murder and criminal discharge of a firearm. At the time of the shooting, police said they had few leads, with only a vague description of a white car seen on the street around the time of the shooting. Police did not say what led to Tuesday's arrest.

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Woman Convicted of Posting False Comments Against Teacher

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A South Hutchinson woman who posted comments on Facebook falsely accusing a teacher of being a child predator has been convicted of harassment. A magistrate judge in Reno County convicted 39-year-old Melissa Wadkins Monday of four misdemeanors. Wadkins was sentenced to 90 days on each count and a year's probation. The Hutchinson News reports that the teacher targeted in the posts was providing foster care for Wadkins' teenage son. The charges accused Wadkins of posting two photos of the teacher on separate occasions, suggesting the woman was a predator. During a bench trial earlier this year, the student testified that he thought the post was vindictive because he was happy at the teacher's home. Reno County Assistant District Attorney Dan Gilligan says the teacher's school knew the allegations were baseless.

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Wichita Landlord Accused of Pushing Tenants for Sex

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit accusing a Wichita landlord and property manager of inappropriately touching female tenants and repeatedly asking them for sex in exchange for rent. The Wichita Eagle reports that the department announced Monday it filed the lawsuit in federal court in Kansas. The lawsuit alleges two women at Wichita rental properties suffered "egregious sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act." The lawsuit names Thong Cao, Mai Cao, Van T. Le and Tong Nguyen as the defendants. The Justice Department says each defendant owns or owned the properties where the harassment occurred. The suit also alleges Thong Cao evicted tenants who refused to engage in sexual conduct with him. A defense attorney says the Caos deny the allegations.

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Nebraska Panel Denies Request to Amend Keystone XL Ruling

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska commission that approved a route for the Keystone XL pipeline through the state is declining requests to amend its decision. The Nebraska Public Service Commission on Tuesday denied motions by pipeline developer TransCanada and leading opponents of the project. The decision to approve a route through the state is expected to be appealed in court. Opponents have said the commission overstepped its jurisdiction and denied due process to affected landowners when it approved a different route than what TransCanada had preferred. They say the alternative pathway will affect landowners who weren't along the company's preferred route and didn't have a chance to speak against it. TransCanada had asked the commission to let it file an amended application to thwart an appeal on those grounds.

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Oklahoma's 4.0 Earthquake Rattles Kansas

An early-morning earthquake in Oklahoma has rattled parts of Kansas.  The U.S. Geological Survey reports the 4.0 quake happened  just before 5:30 this (TUE) morning near Mooreland, Oklahoma.  The Wichita Eagle reports that residents of Wichita felt the quake but there have also been reports that it was felt as far north as Topeka.

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Kansas Woman Admits Stealing $5 Million from Credit Union

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas woman has admitted embezzling more than $5 million from a now-defunct credit union in a deal with prosecutors for a five-year prison sentence.  Nita Rae Nirschl pleaded guilty Monday to three crimes that occurred while she worked for the Parsons Pittsburg Credit Union. The 66-year-old woman pleaded guilty to one count each of embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion. She was initially indicted on 81 counts.  The agreement calls for no fine, but she is required to make restitution for all the stolen money.  Federal prosecutors say that after an audit found the credit union was insolvent, it was placed in conservatorship and ultimately liquidated in March 2014. Nirshal began working for the credit union in 2000 and was fired in 2014.  Sentencing was set for March 5.

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Haskell Student Receives $13,000 in Lawsuit Settlement

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The federal government paid $13,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former Haskell Indian Nations University student who claimed she was raped at the school. The Lawrence Journal-World reports it obtained a settlement agreement Monday. The woman filed a lawsuit in 2016. She said she was raped in 2014 by two male students in a Haskell dorm. Among other things, she contended the university, which is Lawrence, retaliated against her after she reported the alleged rapes. She also alleged the school unlawfully released her private records. According to the agreement, the federal government, which operates Haskell, didn't admit any wrongdoing. The woman's attorney, Dan Curry, said she is "content" with the settlement and plans to re-enroll in at Haskell in the spring.

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Kansas City Jazz Singer Kevin Mahogany Dead at 59

Kansas City jazz singer Kevin Mahogany has died.  News of his death was reported yesterday (MON) on social media, including on Mahogany's Facebook page.  The cause of death for the 59-year-old singer was not reported.  Kansas Public Radio jazz host Bob McWilliams says Mahogany had a wonderful baritone and ballad style and, more than anyone, carried on the Kansas City tradition of great jazz vocalists.  McWilliams was quoted in the Kansas City Star, praising Mahogany's diverse ability to sing jazz, blues, bebop and scat.  Mahogany was a 1981 graduate of Baker University, where he received a degree in music and drama.

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Toddler Pulled from Kansas Pond in Critical Condition

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities say a toddler is in critical condition after being pulled from a pond southeast of Wichita.  Sedgwick County Sheriff's Lt. Lin Dehning said in a news release that the 21-month-old boy was found Monday in the pond on private property. The Wichita Eagle reports that paramedics then rushed the boy to a hospital.  Air temperature at the time was in the low-50s, but the water temperature is not known. The pond is not visible from the road.

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Man Charged in Killing Outside Kansas City Store

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A 62-year-old man has been charged in a deadly shooting outside of a Kansas City store.  Victor Kelley, of Kansas City, was charged over the weekend with second-degree murder in the killing of Phillip Degnan in the parking lot of Benton Market & Gas. He is jailed on $250,000 bond. No attorney is listed for him in online court records.  Court documents say surveillance video shows that after the victim made a purchase, he walked to the east of the building, where frequent customers congregate. Kelley is seen arriving at the store several minutes later, shooting Degnan after an apparent argument and then walking away.  Court records say Kelley initially denied any involvement but later confessed to shooting Degnan.

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Kansas City Police Investigate Fatal Hit-and-Run Crash

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Authorities are investigating a fatal hit-and-run crash in Kansas City. Police says a passing motorist spotted the victim's body Monday morning in the southern part of the city. Investigators determined that the victim was struck while walking along a road. The victim was knocked off the road and onto the shoulder. The vehicle fled the scene. The victim wasn't immediately identified.  

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Kansas City, Kansas, Death Investigated as Suspicious

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities are investigating a man's death in a Kansas City, Kansas, apartment complex as suspicious.  Police said in a news release that the man was suffering from life threatening injuries Monday night when officers found him while responded to reports of a shooting. The man was taken to a hospital where he later died.  The name of the man wasn't immediately released, pending notification of relatives. Police said he was in his 30s.

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Mother: Son's Drowning at Kansas Foster Home Was Neglect

FORT SCOTT, Kan. (AP) - The mother of a 22-month-old boy who drowned in a fish pond at his foster parents' home says the child died because of neglect, despite a ruling from the state that his death was an accident.  Conner Hawes died August 18 in the pond at a Fort Scott home. A sheriff's report says his foster father was watching television while Conner and three other foster children were outside before the drowning.  The Kansas Department of Children and Families and the Bourbon County Sheriff's office ruled the boy's death an accidental drowning.  The boy's mother, Beth Hawes, disputes the finding that the death was an accident.  The Wichita Eagle reports because the DCF considers the death an accident, the agency won't disclose records on how Conner's death was handled.

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Hindu Community in Topeka Acquires First Temple

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Hindu community in Topeka is planning to move into its first temple in the city.  The Topeka Hindu Temple Committee says it acquired a building that previously held the Topeka Scottish Rite organization.  Sam Nimishakavi, president of Topeka Hindu Temple Inc., said Monday the temple will give Topeka's Hindu community a place of learning and reverence. He says the community wants to educate its children and society in general about Hindu culture and values.  He says the Hindu community has dreamed for generations of having a temple in Topeka to provide a place of worship for future generations.  Currently, Hindus travel from Topeka to a temple in the Kansas City suburb of Shawnee to worship.  An opening date for the Topeka temple hasn't been set.

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Fears Raised as Social Media Post Suggests Kansas Mosque as Shooting Range

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Facebook post alluding to the use of a Wichita mosque as a shooting range is raising concern in the local Muslim community.  Wichita police spokesman Charley Davidson said Monday they are investigating and extra patrols are occurring. Police have also notified the Federal Bureau of Investigations.  A picture of the Wichita Islamic Society building was posted Thursday as a suggestion in response to a Facebook question seeking a good gun range to learn to shoot.  Hussam Madi told KWCH-TV that regardless of the poster's intent, it should be investigated. He says it's nothing to joke about and he hopes others will think before posting threatening things.  The Kansas chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations has called for the posting to be investigated as a possible hate crime.

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Foley the Sloth Born Saturday at Topeka Zoo Rainforest

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Topeka Zoo says the birth of a sloth means "Christmas came early."  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the new arrival is named Foley. The Hoffman's two-toed sloth was born Saturday.  The city said in a news release that the 27-year-old mother, named Jacque, and the newborn appeared to be "bright and alert and doing great" in the zoo's Tropical Rain Forest.  The birth increased the zoo's sloth population to four. Its other young sloth — Foley's sibling, Newt — is 1 year old.  The gender of Foley and Newt aren't yet known.  Native to a small area of Central and South America, Hoffman's Two-Toed Sloths are threatened by deforestation.

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20 Honored by Carnegie Hero Fund Commission

 PITTSBURGH (AP) - A 76-year-old museum owner who pulled a semiconscious man from a burning car following a crash in rural Pennsylvania is one of 20 people being honored with Carnegie medals for heroism.  The Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission announced the award winners on Tuesday.  Honoree James Raymond Garvey Sr. reached into the driver's side window of a burning and battered SUV to pull a 26-year-old man from the wreckage in November 2016.  Seven honorees died while trying to save others. One was a 24-year-old New York man who died of smoke inhalation while attempting to rescue his son during a fire.  The commission was founded and endowed by the late steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. It has awarded roughly $39 million to about 10,000 heroes or their families since 1904.

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Christmas Cards Requested for Kansas Kids Who Lost Brother
 
ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas woman is requesting Christmas cards for her two children mourning the loss of their baby brother who died earlier this year.  The Wichita Eagle reports that Dawn Shannon of Arkansas City posted on Facebook that her children Alexa and Henry "are having a really hard time dealing with the loss of their sweet baby brother Tucker, and Christmas is going to be so difficult without him."  Tucker Shannon was 7 months old when he died on September 29. He had Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, a rare condition that affects a person's kidneys, mobility and speech.  Dawn Shannon encourages anyone who can to send Christmas cards to Alexa and Henry "to send them a little bit of love." She included in her Facebook post a mailing address to send cards to.

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Wichita Santa Creates Life-Size Sleigh

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Wichita man who makes more than 60 appearances as Santa over the holiday season has crafted a giant sleigh to bring along with him.  The Wichita Eagle reports that 57-year-old Mike Dowell, his wife Pat Dowell, and their children and grandchildren created the life-size wooden red sleigh in their backyard over the course of four weeks. The mobile sleigh made its debut Saturday at the Girl Scout's Council in Wichita.  Pat Dowell, who makes her appearance as Santa's head elf, says the couple has been dressing up for the holidays for over a decade. The Dowells started by making visits to houses of families in need. Now they appear at shelters and community organizations.  She says the couple has continued their tradition because it doesn't feel like a chore.

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KU Volleyball's New Arena Delayed for a Year 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas volleyball team will have to wait at least another year to move into a new home. Associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said Tuesday the volleyball portion of a $350 million fund-raising campaign to upgrade the university's athletic facilities is on hold for a year. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Marchiony said the delay will help Kansas build a state-of-the-art arena for the volleyball team and its fans. He said supporters didn't want to rush the project or interfere with the team's schedule. The university announced in September that Stu Horejsi, a longtime benefactor, and his family had pledged $10 million for the volleyball renovations. The plan is to demolish the existing gym and replace it with one that increases seating from 1,300 to 3,000.

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