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Headlines for Friday, February 21, 2020

Kansas Senate Leader Wanted Ambassadorship, Trump Ally's Aid

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top Republican lawmaker in Kansas who is running for the U.S. Senate sought an ambassadorship in 2018. The Wichita Eagle reports that Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita said it was “an excellent time” to leave state politics and enlisted help from billionaire casino mogul Phil Ruffin. He is a close friend of President Donald Trump and Wagle listed him as a reference on a resume for the White House only 10 days after voting for a bill that would have benefitted Ruffin's business interests in Kansas. Wagle was interested in serving in posts that included ambassador to Ireland. 

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Former Johnson County Official Tapped to Run 2020 Elections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab has appointed a former Johnson County election commissioner to return to her old job to oversee this year's elections in the states most populous county before a new deputy takes over the reins of the election office in 2021.  The announcement Friday notes Connie Schmidt previously served as the county's top election official between 1995 and 2004. She has owned an election consulting business providing services to local, state and federal entities. Fred Sherman was appointed deputy election security commissioner for 2020 and will become Johnson County election commissioner by January 4, 2021.

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New GOP Candidate for Congress in Kansas Proposes Moon Base

LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) — A former engineering firm executive is running for the Kansas congressional seat in the Kansas City area. The Kansas City Star reports that Mike Beehler sees space exploration as an important issue and believes that the U.S. should build a base on the moon to assist with an eventual mission to Mars. The 60-year-old Beehler confirmed Friday that he is a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 3rd District. The seat is held by freshman Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids. Beehler is a former vice president of Kansas City engineering firm Burns & McDonnell and is the fourth Republican in the race. 

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Cancer-Linked Chemical Found Inside Kansas Aircraft Hangar

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Dangerous levels of a compound linked to cancer were found last year inside an aircraft hangar at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, and a memo warns more than 50 personnel may have been exposed to it. Documents obtained by McClatchy show contamination by hexavalent chromium — the subject of the case featured in the movie “Erin Brockovich” — was documented in base memos. The chemical is an anti-corrosion agent and is found in paints and primers used on the KC-135 and KC-46. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns exposure can cause respiratory diseases, kidney, liver or abdominal damage and various cancers. 

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Kansas Business Groups Mobilize to Stop Local Plastics Bans

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas business groups have mobilized to snuff out a budding movement among a few cities to ban single-use plastic bags and straws. Their efforts are frustrating environmentalists who can't get the Republican-controlled Legislature to tackle climate issues. The GOP-led House commerce committee on Friday approved a bill that would prevent cities and counties from enacting policies for the next five years to either ban single-use plastic products or impose fees on them. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce and groups representing grocers, restaurants and convenience stores argue that businesses could face a patchwork of local rules that raise costs and create headaches for chains.

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Kansas Dropping Parents of Crash Victims from Lawsuit

Kansas is dropping the parents of two sisters killed in a crash from a lawsuit seeking to recoup $116,832 for repairs to a highway barrier damaged in the wreck. The Kansas Department of Transportation said Thursday that “legal action to recover highway damages after accidents is routine” but that “in this case" it would remove the parents of 7-year-old Ruth Solome Vazquez-Hernandez and her 1-year-old sister, Teresa de Jesus Vazquez-Hernandez, from the case. It offered no explanation, but the announcement came one day after The Kansas City Star reported about the case. The agency had sued on the two-year anniversary of the crash.

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Kansas Man Forced to Take Part in Triple Killing Enters Plea

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW-TV) — A Kansas man who was forced to participate in the killing of his good friend to save his own life during a deadly violent rampage has pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree murder. WIBW reports that 22-year-old Shane Andrew Mays also pleaded guilty Thursday to aggravated battery in the March 2017 attack in a Topeka drug home. Police said 19-year-old Matthew Leavitt, 38-year-old Nicole Fisher and 20-year-old Luke Davis were strangled or smothered to death over an unproven rape allegation against Leavitt. Four others previously entered pleas, including Joseph Krahn, who was sentenced to three life terms.

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Lawrence Developer Sentenced for Violating Asbestos Disposal Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) – Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel has been sentenced to three months behind bars for violating the Clean Air Act when he improperly disposed of asbestos.  During his sentencing Thursday, the 54-year-old was also ordered to pay a $55,000 fine.  Fritzel was convicted on several counts, including: failure to notify authorities before removing asbestos, failure to keep asbestos wet during demolition (to prevent air contamination) and failure to dispose of asbestos in leak-proof containers.  During his trial, the government presented evidence that Fritzel violated federal laws for handling asbestos during demolition and renovations at the Alvamar Country Club in Lawrence.

Prosecutors argued that Fritzel knew that the roof of the country club contained 75 percent chrysotile asbestos. The previous owners, who sold the club to Fritzel in 2016, had decided not to replace the roof because of the cost of abating the asbestos.  On October 19, 2016, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment told Fritzel to get a licensed asbestos contractor to remove asbestos from the site and dispose of it properly.  Later that month, KDHE inspectors visited the site and determined asbestos debris had been removed and hauled to Hamm Landfill in Perry, which is not approved for asbestos disposal.

(AP version)

Kansas Developer Gets Prison Term over Asbestos Disposal

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a Lawrence developer to serve three months in prison for illegal disposal of asbestos during a construction project. Thomas S. Fritzel was also ordered to pay a $55,000 fine for violations of the Clean Air Act during remodeling work at the former Alvamar Country Club, now known as the Jayhawk Club. The Lawrence Journal-world reports the penalty imposed by U.S. District Judge Holly Teeter comes after jurors found Fritzel guilty of three counts related to disposal of the asbestos, a hazardous material linked cancer.

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Johnson County Community College Votes to Censure a Member

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (The Kansas City Star) — The largest community college in Kansas has voted to censure a member, saying she spread damaging, false accusations about the college. The Kansas City Star reports that the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees took the action Thursday after Angeliina Lawson secretly emailed a few state lawmakers in the fall, questioning how the college manages its assets. Lawson says she is arguing that she is being penalized for asking questions and passing along constituents' concerns.

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Audit Shows IT Security Problems Across Kansas Agencies

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature’s auditing division says state agencies have significant information technology security weaknesses and haven't made progress since previous reports showed the same problems. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that more than half of 19 state agencies studied failed to comply with IT security practices that protect sensitive information against data loss or theft.  Most agencies failed to scan and patch computers to keep them secure. They didn’t have adequate response plans in place and didn’t encrypt, back up or destroy electronic data. The report blamed a lack of management attention and inadequate resources for the failures.

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As Climate Changes, Activists Struggle to Attract Attention in Kansas Legislature

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Environmentalists are struggling to get Kansas lawmakers to even discuss climate change as a serious issue. They're pushing the issue in a state where energy production remains an important industry and some top Republicans question the widespread scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet. States like Virginia, Minnesota and California are setting goals for eventually getting all of their electricity from renewable resources, but Kansas proposals on energy efficiency and encouraging farmers to capture and store carbon dioxide have languished. And House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said lawmakers have other priorities, adding, “The planet goes in cycles, and it's a natural cycle."

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Man Charged with First-Degree Murder in Topeka Hit-and-Run

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Shawnee County authorities have charged a 51-year-old man with first-degree murder in a hit-and-run near a Topeka trail. Chad Thomas Cuevas was charged Thursday and is being held on $1 million bond. Police say 41-year-old Emerson Downing was run over near the Soldier Trail on Monday. Witnesses reported hearing an argument and then seeing someone run over a man and flee. Downing was found in a field near the trail and died a short time later. Authorities have not said what the men were arguing about.

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Man Admits Threatening Girl's Family to Get Nude Photos

OLATHE, Kan. (The Kansas City Star) — A 23-year-old Kansas man has admitted that he threatened to kill a 13-year-old girl's family if she didn't send him nude photos of herself. Logan Clements, of Shawnee, pleaded guilty Friday to three crimes, including blackmail. Two other charges, including rape, were dismissed. Clements was charged in January 2019 after the Overland Park girl's parents found photos their daughter had sent. Court documents say the girl told Clements when they met online that she was 18. But he admitted believing later that she was 14 or 16. 

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Former Fredonia City Administrator Sentenced to 7.5 Years for Child Pornography
 
WICHITA, Kan. (KPR) – A former city administrator of Fredonia has been sentenced to 90 months in federal prison for child pornography.  The U.S. Attorney for Kansas, Stephen McAllister, says 40-year-old Michael P. Ohrt, of Fredonia, pleaded guilty to one count of transporting child pornography.  In his plea, he admitted using his Yahoo email account to establish a Dropbox storage account and then uploading videos of child pornography. Dropbox identified the material as child pornography and reported the user’s information to authorities. Investigators traced the IP address to Ohrt’s work and home in Fredonia.  

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Woman Pleads Not Guilty in Deaths of Kansas Carnival Workers

GREAT BEND, Kan. (KWCH-TV) — A woman suspected in the killings of a Kansas couple who were working as carnival vendors pleaded not guilty to several charges. Kimberly Younger, of McIntosh, Florida, entered the plea this week in the death of Alfred and Pauline Carpenter, who were working as vendors at the Barton County Fair in July 2018 when they were killed, driven to Arkansas and buried. She is charged with six counts, including capital murder. KWCH reports that during the arraignment, prosecutors said they would not pursue the death penalty against Younger. Authorities say the Carpenters were killed after one suspect posed as a carnival mafia boss and ordered the killings.

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Feds Crack Down on Meth Trafficking Hubs

ATLANTA (AP) — Federal authorities say they are targeting methamphetamine “transportation hubs” around the country in an effort to block the distribution of the highly addictive drug. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon visited Atlanta Thursday to announce the launch of Operation Crystal Shield. Atlanta is one of eight cities the agency has identified as a hub where methamphetamine from Mexico arrives in bulk for distribution around the country. The other cities are Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Phoenix and St. Louis.  Dhillon said they hope to intercept the drug before it is trafficked to neighborhoods and communities throughout the country.  Authorities say a large amount of meth from Mexico is transported across the country using highways that run through Kansas and Missouri.  

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Police: Missouri Man May Have Strangled Missing Wife

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Investigators believe a Columbia man may have strangled or suffocated his Chinese wife, who has been missing since early October. Joseph Elledge was charged this week with first-degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Mengqi Ji, although her body has not been found . A probable cause statement says Elledge told officers he gave his wife a massage the night before she disappeared. The statement says that would have put Ji in a position where she could not defend herself against her much larger husband. Also Thursday, a judge set an April 6 hearing date for Elledge on child abuse charges related to the couple's 1-year-old daughter.

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Big Rig Hits Street Sweeper in Wichita, Tossing Worker into Canal

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a tractor-trailer hit a street sweeper along Interstate 135 in Wichita, throwing a crew member into a canal. The Wichita Fire Department said in a Facebook post that the worker was taken to a hospital in serious condition after Wednesday night's accident. The name of the worker wasn't immediately released.

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Kansas Teen Gets Probation in Failed $8 Xanax Deal Killing

OLATHE, Kan. (The Kansas City Star) — A suburban Kansas City teenager has been sentenced to nine months of probation for her part in a failed $8 Xanax deal that ended in a deadly shooting. The Kansas City Star reports that Jordan Denny, of Olathe, was sentenced Thursday for drug charges. She originally was charged with felony murder in the March 2019 death of 17-year-old Rowan Padgett. The affidavit says Matthew Lee Bibee Jr., who is awaiting trial on a capital murder charge, arranged to buy the anxiety medication through Denny. She told authorities her supplier fell through and that she asked Padgett to leave with Bibee. That's when the shooting happened.

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Dealer Who Sold Weapon Used in Killing Agrees to Stop Selling Guns

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A firearms dealer who sold a weapon used in deadly Kansas City shooting has agreed to stop selling guns as part of a settlement with the parents of the victim. Green Tip Arms also agreed to surrender its federal firearms license to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives under the agreement that was approved this week by a Jackson County judge.  The suit alleged that Green Tip Arms had reason to be suspicious that a frequent customer was an unlicensed gun dealer. One of the weapons whose purchase that customer helped organize was used to kill Crawford in 2016.

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Lawsuit: Woman Called Black Co-workers "Boy," and "Aunt Jemima"

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (The Kansas City Star) — An African American medical technician at a Kansas City hospital alleges in a lawsuit that a white employee called him “boy" and referred to a black co-worker as “Aunt Jemima." The Kansas City Star reports that Trevor Baston accuses St. Luke’s Physician Group and St. Luke’s Health System of race, color and sex discrimination, harassment and retaliation in a lawsuit that was moved last week from state to federal court. St. Luke's Health System said in a statement that it couldn't comment on pending litigation but stressed that it was committed to a “culture of diversity, inclusion, and respect for all."

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Man Accused of Trying to Pass Fake $100 at Sheriff's Office

ABILENE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a convicted felon was arrested after he tried to use a fake $100 bill to add money to a jailed inmate's account. The Dickinson County Sheriff's Office said an employee immediately recognized the bill as a counterfeit Wednesday and notified investigators. Forty-three-year-old Karl Landon Jr. is jailed on suspicion of possession of counterfeited currency with the intent to defraud. Kansas Department of Corrections records show that he has previous convictions, including for assault, battery and drugs.

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No. 1 Baylor Ready for No. 3 Kansas in Big 12's Big Showdown

UNDATED (AP) — Top-ranked Baylor heads into Saturday's showdown with No. 3 Kansas carrying a league-record 23-game winning streak. That streak includes its first road victory in 18 tries against the Jayhawks. The Bears could deal a staggering blow to the Jayhawks' hopes of winning the Big 12 championship by completing the series sweep. A win at home also might solidify their spot as the overall No. 1 seed in next month's NCAA Tournament.

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