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Headlines for Wednesday, March 8, 2017

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

New State Estimate: More Than 1000 Square Miles Burned in Kansas Wildfires 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) -  New estimates indicate Kansas wildfires have burned more than 1,000 square miles, up from the previous estimate of 625 square miles. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management says that the heaviest damage is in Clark County, where 548 square miles have burned.  Another 235 square miles have burned in neighboring Comanche County. The state says six other counties are battling blazes. Kansas National Guard Black Hawk helicopters have been assisting with the firefight. They dropped about 138,000 gallons on fires near Hutchinson in Reno County Tuesday, where 10,000 to 12,000 people voluntarily evacuated their homes. Winds are expected to diminish as emergency crews continue to battle the wildfires that have killed six people across four states including one person in Kansas. 

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Two-County Kansas Wildfire Sets New State Record 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) —  A massive grass fire raging in two Kansas counties has set a state record for the biggest involving a single blaze. Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Katie Horner says an estimated 861 square miles of land have been blackened in Comanche and Clark counties as of Wednesday. The 625 square miles charred in Clark County is about 85 percent of that county's land. Horner says the previous record came last year, with the Anderson Creek fire consuming 488 square miles of land in Barber and Comanche counties. Horner says that since Saturday, large grassfires have been reported in 23 Kansas counties, consuming more than 1,000 square miles.

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Kansas Governor Warns That Fire Danger Persists

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is urging people not to burn anything outside or have barbeques because of the dangers of fires across the state. Brownback noted during a news conference Tuesday that 98 percent of the state is under a warning for extreme fire danger. Kansas officials say about 1000 square miles of land in the state has burned and they are worried that more wildfires might ignite today (WED). Brownback also urged people in the nine counties where fires are burning not to travel if they can avoid it. State officials don't have any damage estimates yet, but Brownback says he's worried there could be significant losses of livestock. 

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Livestock Group Presses Relief Bid in Wake of Wildfires

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Livestock Association is launching a relief effort for ranchers affected by wildfires that have scorched hundreds of square miles of land in the state. The group said Tuesday it is accepting donations of feed, fencing supplies and cash for the ranchers who've lost fencing, forage resources, harvested feed and an undetermined number of cattle in the blazes. The association says ranch homes and outbuildings also were among the losses. Donations may be made by contacting the association, with cash contributions payout through the Kansas Livestock Foundation, the association's charitable arm.

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Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Rescues Stranded Driver from Wildfire

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Dramatic dashcam video shows a Kansas trooper rescuing a stranded tractor-trailer driver from a wildfire and driving through thick smoke as flames lick the roadside. Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Tod Hileman has posted video on Facebook of the fire near the small central Kansas town of Wilson. After the fire jumped Interstate 70 east of him on Monday, he began turning people around before they drove into it. He turned around about 20 cars and two tractor-trailers before the fire also crossed the interstate to the west. He can be heard on the video telling a truck driver who became stuck to "get in." Hileman called the situation is "one of the most steering-wheel-gripping moments" he's had in his 20 years with the patrol. By Wednesday, the fire had burned more than 1,000 square miles.

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National Weather Service Says Tornadoes That Hit Missouri Were EF-2 and EF-3

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The National Weather Service says a tornado that hit Oak Grove, Missouri, was an EF3 with an estimated peak wind of 152 mph. The tornado damaged 483 homes and 10 to 12 commercial buildings, making Oak Grove the hardest-hit of several communities in Missouri raked by storms Monday night and early Tuesday. The weather service says the tornado that caused damage in and around Smithville, Missouri, was an EF2 with peak winds of 132 mph. Smithville Police Chief Jason Lockridge says between 60 and 70 houses were damaged with some completely destroyed. The twister's path was 19 miles long and 1,000 yards wide. EF1 tornadoes, which have wind speeds of 86 mph to 110 mph, were reported in Lee's Summit, Macks Creek and Wentzville, Missouri. Extensive damage was reported at the Johnson County Executive Airport in Olathe. The weather service says the winds of 80 to 85 mph that hit the airport were straight-line winds, not a tornado. Airport officials say twelve hangars sustained damage, with one demolished. In nearby Leawood, about 46 homes sustained some damage, with a handful having major damage. Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has declared a state of emergency due to the damage across the state. 

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Kansas Unlikely to Pass Hate Crimes Bill After Bar Shooting 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are unlikely to advance a bill to toughen the punishment for hate crimes two weeks after a gunman killed a man and wounded two more in an Olathe shooting that may have been racially-motivated. The state Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony Wednesday. The bill would double the sentences for hate crimes and require the state attorney general's office to collect data on them. The hearing comes two weeks after one man from India was killed and another injured in a shooting the FBI is investigating as a possible hate crime. The hearing was scheduled before the shooting happened. A third man was also injured when he intervened. The proposed hate crimes law isn't new but sponsor Senator David Haley says Kansas is being portrayed as intolerant since the shooting.

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Kansas Senate's Top Leader Criticizes GOP Governor on Taxes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's top Republican is criticizing GOP Governor Sam Brownback for failing to offer new proposals for raising taxes to fix the state budget. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita said Tuesday Brownback is refusing to provide solutions to the state's budget problems. Wagle made her comments ahead of a debate on a bill containing proposals from Brownback to raise tobacco and liquor taxes and annual business filing fees. The Senate was expected to reject most or all of Brownback's proposals. Wagle said lawmakers want Brownback to outline new ideas. The bill would only partially close projected shortfalls totaling more than $1 billion through June 2019. Lawmakers last month passed a bill to boost income taxes but Brownback vetoed it. 

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Commerce Encourages Satellite Companies to Move to Kansas 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Commerce is creating a new initiative to entice satellite- and space object-manufacturing companies to move to the state. Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave tells The Wichita Eagle that the initiatives are meant to take advantage of "the natural synergies that exist in our state." Soave gives the examples of Wichita's aviation industry and Kansas State University's Polytechnic campus for why the state would be a good location. Democratic Representative Jim Ward says he would support the state going into the commercial space industry, but he thinks Republican Governor Sam Brownback's administration wouldn't be able to commit necessary resources to the project. Soave spokeswoman Nicole Randall says the initiative is a marketing campaign and that the Commerce Department isn't pursuing economic incentives to lure companies to Kansas.

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Classes Resume at Wichita State Building After Mercury Spill 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Classes resumed at Wallace Hall on the Wichita State University campus after a mercury spill closed it on Monday. KWCH reports the air was tested Wednesday morning and crews determined it was safe to reopen the hall, which houses part of the university's engineering school. The spill was reported Monday after a scientific instrument broke. The lab was closed immediately and the spill was confined to that room. The school closed the building and classes were canceled until the spill was cleaned up.

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Douglas County Sheriff Investigating Body Found at Clinton Lake

LAWRENCE, Kan - The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a body found inside a burning vehicle near Clinton Lake. Shortly before noon Tuesday, Douglas County deputies were dispatched to the Rockhaven Park Campground for a reported car fire. Deputies found a vehicle on fire inside the campground area. After the fire was extinguished, a body was discovered inside the vehicle. The Sheriff’s Office is not releasing any more information at this time because it is an active death investigation. ​

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2 Kansas City Residents Admit to Marriage Fraud Scheme 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say two Kansas City residents admitted participating in a conspiracy that helped African nationals evade immigration laws by arranging fraudulent marriages. U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson said in a news release that 49-year-old Delmar Dixon and 37-year-old Shakeisha Harrison pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy. Dixon also pleaded guilty to falsely swearing in an immigration matter. A Kansas City woman, 44-year-old Traci Porter, pleaded guilty in January to her role in the conspiracy. Dixon admitted he arranged 30 to 40 fraudulent marriages, including his own. He charged the African nationals $1,000 upfront and another $1,000 after the wedding was complete. The nationals were asked to pay their spouses $250 a month until the immigration process was complete. Harrison and Porter admitted they had fraudulent marriages arranged by Dixon.

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Lawrence Votes to Be 'Welcoming' City for Immigrants 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence will officially be a welcoming city for immigrants but the city commission stopped short of using the term sanctuary city. The commission on Tuesday approved a proclamation that Lawrence is an inclusive community that values immigrants. The proclamation also says the safety of all people should be protected. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that commissioners said the term "sanctuary city" wasn't used because of executive orders from President Donald Trump and potential state legislation that could threaten millions of dollars of federal and state funding if Lawrence declared itself a sanctuary city. Commissioners also approved five other recommendations, including authorizing staff to write letters of opposition to the pending state legislation, discussing the city's position with interested agencies and co-sponsoring a presentation on immigration law with the University of Kansas. 

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Judge Delays Trial in Kansas Bomb Plot Case Against Somalis

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A federal judge has delayed until summer the trial against three men accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex and mosque used by Somali immigrants in western Kansas. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren on Tuesday scheduled the trial for June 13. It had previously been set to start April 25. Prosecutors allege Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen plotted to detonate truck bombs at an apartment complex where 120 Somali immigrants live in Garden City. They have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. The delay was requested by Wright and Allen so as to give defense attorneys and experts more time to examine the government's evidence. 

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Wichita Teenager Dies After Ski Accident in Colorado

FRISCO, Colo. (AP) — An autopsy is planned for a Kansas teenager who died after a serious accident at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado. The Summit Daily reports 15-year-old Tess Smith, a sophomore at Wichita Northwest High School, was skiing for the first time and was not wearing a helmet when she broke her leg Friday. Authorities say that the girl was alert and speaking with ski patrollers after the crash, but her condition soon deteriorated and she lost consciousness. She was taken to a local hospital and then moved to a children's hospital in Aurora, Colorado where she was declared brain dead. Her family kept her on life support so her organs could be donated. An autopsy is planned for today (WED).

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Newest State-Owned Casino in Kansas to Open April 8 

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — The state's newest casino and hotel complex is getting closer to opening. Officials with the Kansas Crossing Casino + Hotel say the $80 million facility near Pittsburg will have its grand opening April 8. The first day will include opening the casino floor and two restaurants, as well as the first concert at The Corral, the indoor entertainment venue. The act for that concert has not yet been announced. The development that will feature more than 625 slot machines, 16 gaming tables, a 123-room Hampton Inn and Suites and entertainment complex. Kansas Crossing will join state-owned casinos Dodge City, Mulvane and Kansas City, Kansas. The state owns the casinos but they are built and managed by private companies. Native American tribes also own several casinos in the state.

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Prosecutor: Car Dealer to Pay Restitution for Defective Car
 
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita car dealer will pay restitution after the engine in a car he sold failed 25 miles from the dealership. The Sedgwick County District Attorney's office said in a news release Wednesday that Jones & Co. Auto Group entered a consent judgment with his office. Spokesman Dan Dillon says the auto dealer will pay about $6,300 in restitution to the customer, civil penalties, expenses and court costs. The office says the vehicle fell below legal standards and selling it was "unconscionable acts and practices" involving car sales. In Kansas, automobile suppliers are prohibited from selling cars "as is," and must disclose specific defects to consumers. Under the consent judgment filed March 1, Jones & Co. Auto Group agreed to refrain from the deceptive or unconscionable practices.

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General Mills Partners With Kansas-Based Land Institute to Boost New Grain 

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ A sweet, nutty-tasting new grain called Kernza is getting a big boost from General Mills.  The giant food company is intrigued by the potentially big environmental benefits of a drought-resistant crop with long roots that doesn't need to be replanted every year.  General Mills is partnering with the Kansas-based Land Institute and the University of Minnesota to commercialize Kernza, a wild relative of wheat. It plans to incorporate it into cereals and snacks under its Cascadian Farm organic brand. This represents the second but largest major move to commercialize Kernza. Patagonia Provisions  rolled out Long Root Ale last fall, which is sold at Whole Foods stores on the West Coast, using Kernza from Minnesota.  

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KU Suspends Star Freshman Jackson for Big 12 Tournament Opener

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks have suspended star freshman Josh Jackson for the team's opening game of the Big 12 Tournament after he backed into a parked car last month and fled the scene. KU coach Bill Self announced the punishment Wednesday. The No. 1 seed Jayhawks will play eighth-seeded TCU or No. 9 seed Oklahoma in the quarterfinals Thursday. Self said the incident happened on February 2 and that Jackson has "acknowledged his responsibility and handled it himself, but he didn't tell me about it until Monday." This isn't the first time Jackson has been in trouble. He was charged with one count of misdemeanor criminal damage to property last month after he vandalized the car of a female student. That punishment was handled internally and Jackson was not suspended.

 

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