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Weekend Headlines for November 4-5, 2017

Kansas DCF Head Stepping Down Amid Foster Care Scrutiny

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Secretary Phyllis Gilmore plans to retire December 1st as the Kansas Department for Children and Families' top administrator amid ongoing scrutiny of the state's foster care system. Republican Governor Sam Brownback's office announced Gilmore's retirement Friday and said her nearly six-year tenure had "transformed" the department to combat childhood poverty and help poor and disabled adults. But the department has faced criticism from legislators for months over issues related to the state's oversight of services for abused and neglected children. Problems include several high-profile cases of children who were not removed from homes and later died and reports of foster children sleeping in contractors' offices because there were not homes for them. The 72-year-old Gilmore has been the department's secretary since February 2012 and is a former Kansas House member.

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Fifth Person Charged in Shawnee County Triple Homicide

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A grand jury has indicted a Kansas woman on first-degree murder and other charges for her alleged involvement in a triple homicide. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced the charges Saturday against 31-year-old Kora Liles, of Topeka. Her attorney didn't immediately reply to Associated Press requests for comment. Authorities say 19-year-old Matthew Leavitt, 38-year-old Nicole Fisher, and 20-year-old Luke Davis were strangled or smothered to death with trash bags in March and that the violence stemmed from an unproven rape allegation against Leavitt. Four other people have been charged in the case, including a man who says he was forced to participate to save his own life. Three of them are awaiting trial, while one man has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

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Brownback Confirms He Fired Former Commerce Secretary

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's office has confirmed that he fired the state Department of Commerce's top administrator in June partly over questions about agency contracts. The statement from the Republican governor's office Friday came after weeks of denials that former Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave had been terminated. The Kansas City Star reports that the confirmation came less than a day after it published a detailed story on contracts with Soave associates. The Star identified at least nine Soave friends or business partners who landed consulting or marketing contracts during Soave's 18 months as secretary. Brownback said Soave's tenure presented problems resulting in his termination that included "inappropriate" contracts. Soave said he resigned by mutual agreement with the governor and the department's followed all existing policies in making the contracts.

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Man Found Dead in Burned Douglas County Home

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating the death of a man found in a burning home after gunshots were reported in the Lawrence, Kansas area. The Douglas County sheriff's office reports that deputies arrived at the home south of Lawrence on Friday night following reports of gunshots. The house was on fire. According to a news release from the sheriff's office, a man was found dead in the home after firefighters put out the flames. No one else was inside. The sheriff's office hasn't released the man's identity, and the cause of his death is being investigated as suspicious. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

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Kansas State Steps Up Patrols after Racist Incident

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University is stepping up police patrols and taking other safety measures following a spate of racial incidents that culminated this week when a black man's car parked near campus was scrawled with racist graffiti. The president of the Black Student Union says minority students generally don't feel safe on campus. But he says the school is taking steps toward more inclusion. Kansas State says it is reviewing the need for additional cameras across campus. The school is also making progress on a multicultural student center and hiring two top leadership positions tasked with diversity issues. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into Wednesday's graffiti incident as a possible hate crime.

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Feds Investigating Fire at Wichita Restaurant

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal investigators have been called in following a fire at a Wichita restaurant run by a Middle Eastern family. The Petra Mediterranean Restaurant in Wichita was destroyed Wednesday. The words "Go back" were painted on a nearby storage unit. The Wichita Eagle reports the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating, and the FBI, which investigates hate crimes, has been notified. The ATF says it is trying to determine if the FBI should be more involved in the investigation. The restaurant's owners, Ranya Taha and Bashar Mahanweh, say the fire might have been a hate crime. They also say they're comforted by how the community has rallied around them. They say they've lived in Wichita for years and have always found the community to be loving and supportive.

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Wichita Company Returns Illinois Fracking Permit

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The company that obtained the first fracking permit in Illinois has announced it won't use it, citing market conditions and the state's "burdensome and costly" regulations. Wichita-based Woolsey Companies Inc. was given permission in September by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to drill near the southeast Illinois community of Enfield. In announcing Friday it is giving up the permit, Woolsey vice president Mark Sooter said the effort to receive the permit was difficult due to Illinois' rules and regulations. Sooter went on to say that it appears the difficult process to obtain permits will continue into the future. The Illinois Legislature in 2013 passed a law regulating fracking. At the time, the law was considered one of the most stringent in the nation. But oil prices soon dropped, and companies that secured leases to frack put their plans on hold.

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KCK Man Seeks to Withdraw Guilty Plea in Son's Death

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man who pleaded guilty to killing his 7-year-old son, whose remains were fed to pigs, says his lawyer pressured him to into the plea. Michael Jones of Kansas City, Kansas, is serving a life sentence after the 2015 murder plea. The Kansas City Star reports that Jones was in court Friday seeking to withdraw the plea. Deputy District Attorney Crystalyn Oswald argued there is "no manifest injustice," as required by Kansas law to withdraw a guilty plea. Judge Mike Grosko says he hopes to issue a decision within 60 days. Adrian Jones' remains were found in a pigsty outside the family home in November 2015. Jones' wife and Adrian's stepmother, 31-year-old Heather Jones, is also serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder and child abuse.

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Topeka Names New Interim Police Chief

(TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka police major is taking over as interim chief. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Bill Cochran on Friday was announced as interim chief. He takes over for the previous interim, Kris Kramer, who is retiring. Cochran says he is interested in being permanent chief. It isn't clear when the position will be filled. Chief James Brown resigned in November 2016 to become the Kansas National Guard's command senior enlisted leader.

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Kansas City Residents to Vote on Proposed New Airport

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A fight over the fate of Kansas City International Airport will come in for a landing next week when voter decide whether to approve a nearly $1 billion project to build a new airport terminal. The question is on the ballot for Tuesday's citywide vote in Kansas City, Missouri. The plan calls for replacing the 45-year-old airport's three horseshoe-shaped terminals with a single terminal. Mayor Sly James and other supporters say the makeover will help boost Kansas City's economy, attract new businesses, provide jobs and increase security. They also promise no taxpayer money will be used, which opponents don't believe. Opponents say improvements could be achieved at a much lower cost by remodeling the current terminals. They also say a single terminal would be less safe and less convenient for travelers.

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Ex-worker at Kansas VA Hospital Sentenced for Sex Crimes

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A former physician assistant at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Leavenworth has been sentenced for sexual crimes against patients. The Kansas City Star reports 66-year-old Mark Wisner was sentenced Friday to 15 years and seven months in prison. Wisner was convicted in August of sex crimes involving four patients at the Eisenhower Veterans Administration Medical Center in Leavenworth. Prosecutors said Wisner performed improper and medically unnecessary genital examinations on patients from 2012 to 2014. He resigned and had his license to practice revoked in 2015. Dozens of other former patients have filed civil lawsuits claiming they were subjected to similar behavior by Wisner.

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