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Headlines for Friday, January 26, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Governor-in-Waiting Jeff Colyer Looks to Mend Relations with Legislators

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Incoming Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer begins his tenure needing to mend relations with fellow Republicans in the Legislature, whose clashes with his GOP predecessor intensified in recent months.  The ill will Colyer faces now stands in sharp contrast to lawmakers' generally positive mood last fall after President Donald Trump nominated outgoing Governor Sam Brownback for an ambassador's post.  Colyer was lieutenant governor and promised to be more open. Lawmakers warmed to the prospects of working with him after years of financial distress under Brownback.  But earlier this month, Brownback proposed phasing in a big increase in spending on public schools. Many Republican legislators view the plan as financially reckless.  The incoming governor must quell an open revolt among GOP lawmakers.  Brownback is stepping down as governor at 3 pm Wednesday, elevating Colyer to governor.

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Kansas Region Warned of High Danger of Wildfires

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Weather officials are issuing a red flag warning central and south-central Kansas, cautioning of extreme grassland fire danger.  The Hutchinson News reports that the National Weather Service says the warning period is from noon to 6 pm on Thursday.  A warning issued through Reno County Emergency Management says the danger of wildfires is high due to above normal temperatures, low relative humidity and gusty winds. There should be no outdoor burning because any fires that develop are likely to spread rapidly and be difficult to control.  Temperatures are predicted to climb into the low and mid-60s on Thursday, with sustained afternoon winds of 20 to 25 mph and gusts of up to 40 mph. Relative humidity will be as low as 20 percent.

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Kansas Senate Leader Critical of State Education Board 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle is criticizing the State Board of Education after it expressed full support for a top education official she had sought to have suspended. The Wichita Republican suggested Friday in a statement that the board sided with "bureaucrats" who've misspent millions of tax dollars rather than with taxpayers. The board voted 9-1 to express its full support for Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis in the wake of a state audit in December. The audit said Dennis and his staff were distributing transportation dollars to school districts using a calculation not authorized by state law. Dennis has said top lawmakers signed off on the calculation decades ago. Wagle and House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. sought to have Dennis and his staff suspended while an investigation was conducted.

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Board Gives Full Support to Education Official 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The State Board of Education has expressed its full support for a top Kansas schools official under fire from some lawmakers. The board voted 9-1 Friday to advise Education Commissioner Randy Watson of its full support for Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis. Watson would have the final decision on whether to discipline Dennis over questions about how some school funding dollars were allocated. The board met after House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. and Senate President Susan Wagle sought to have Dennis and his staff suspended. Their request was a response to an audit last month that questioned how some transportation dollars were being allocated.

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4 Ex-Governors Backing Kansas Education Official Under Fire

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Four former Kansas governors are urging the State Board of Education to give a vote of confidence to a high-ranking education official under fire from legislators. The four ex-governors sent a letter Friday supporting Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis ahead of a special board meeting. Former Republican Govs. Mike Hayden and Bill Graves and ex-Democratic Govs. John Carlin and Kathleen Sebelius signed it. The board scheduled its meeting after House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. and Senate President Susan Wagle asked to have Dennis and members of his staff suspended. The Republican lawmakers' request followed an audit questioning the legality of how some transportation funds have been distributed for years. The four governors said the data provided by Dennis throughout his decades-long career has been of the highest quality.

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Kansas Ethics Database Taken Offline over Privacy Questions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has taken an ethics database offline over questions about how it allowed access to forms for hundreds of state officials listing part of their Social Security numbers.  Secretary of State Kris Kobach said he took the database down Thursday because of privacy concerns. Users could pull up annual financial disclosure forms that included the last four digits of officials' Social Security numbers.  News reports said Kobach acted after the tech website Gizmodo posted a story about it. Gizmodo called not redacting the information "beyond reckless."  Kobach said he believes partial Social Security numbers should not be accessible but state law requires him to make the disclosure forms available to the public. The data has been accessible online since 2005 and paper copies of disclosure forms remain available for inspection.

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Transportation Officials Want Task Force for Kansas Roads

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are looking at the state's transportation needs after spending years sweeping highway funds to support a faltering state budget. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Senate Ways and Means Committee is taking on a bill that would create a 27-member task force assigned with looking at Kansas's progress on the state's transportation plan and making recommendations to the Legislature. The bill's initial hearing is Wednesday. Lawmakers have expressed concern over the condition of Kansas roads and highways. The Legislature has repeatedly using funds from the Kansas Department of Transportation to balance a state budget that struggled after income tax cuts by Governor Sam Brownback. Communities, builders and economic development organizations say the Transportation Department can help with local infrastructure projects that support economic development when it has funds.

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Feds: Larned Hospital Complies with Federal Regulations
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The federal government says it will not cut off funding for Larned State Hospital after a review found the mental hospital is now complying with federal rules and regulations. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services said Friday federal regulators notified Bill Rein, administrator of the hospital in western Kansas, that the hospital passed a federal inspection conducted in December. Federal officials in October threatened to cut off funding for the 104-bed unit at Larned amid questions about its patient rights policies and safety concerns for patients. Larned is about 115 miles northwest of Wichita. Timothy Keck, secretary of the Kansas agency, said in October the department would spend about $1 million on renovations to respond to concerns from the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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Kansas Supreme Court Upholds Conviction in Lawrence Killing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and sentence of a woman in the brutal killing of a 52-year-old Lawrence man. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the state court on Friday upheld 23-year-old Sarah Gonzales-McLinn's conviction and Hard 50 sentence for killing Harold Sasko in 2014. The court sent the case back to Douglas County District Court for re-sentencing, saying the judge erred in ordering that she be under lifetime supervision upon release. Gonzales-McLinn, of Topeka, was convicted of first-degree murder in March 2015 of drugging and nearly beheading Sasko at his Lawrence home. Authorities say McLinn drugged Sasko, tied him up and inflicted deep cuts on his neck. She was arrested two weeks after the killing in Florida. Sasko was Gonzales-McLinn's supervisor at a Lawrence pizza restaurant.

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Former Kansas Trooper Admits Using Excessive Force

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas Highway Patrol trooper will not work in law enforcement again after admitting that he used excessive force on a man he arrested. Federal prosecutors say James Carson, of Independence, Kansas, pleaded guilty Friday to violating the man's civil rights during an arrest in June 2013. According to court documents filed in federal court, Carson was arrested a man, identified only as R.T., and took him to the Labette County Jail. Prosecutors say the man's hands were handcuffed behind his back when Carson kicked his legs, causing R.T. to fall on his back. Carson admitted that he didn't have a legitimate law enforcement reason for using force against the man. As part of the plea, Carson surrendered his law enforcement credentials and can't be employed in a law enforcement job.

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Former New Jersey Pastor Sentenced for Choking Kansas Baby

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A former New Jersey church pastor has been sentenced for an unprovoked attack on a stranger's baby inside a Kansas Walmart.  The Kansas City Star reports 55-year-old Oleh Zhownirovych (OH'-lay zow-nur-VIK') was sentenced Thursday to 11 months in prison and six months in the Johnson County Jail, to be served consecutively.  Zhownirovych pleaded no contest in December to felony aggravated battery and misdemeanor battery.  In October 2016, Zhownirovych walked up to a woman waiting in a checkout lane at a Walmart in Overland Park and began choking her 4-month-old daughter. The woman screamed and several people came to her aid and got the baby away from him. The child was not seriously injured.  Zhownirovych is the former pastor of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Clifton, New Jersey.

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Kansas Couple Pleads Not Guilty to Charges Unrelated to Slaying

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A couple considered people of interest in the slaying of a Nebraska woman has pleaded not guilty to charges in an unrelated gold coin scheme.  Aubrey Trail entered his pleas Thursday in a U.S. District Court videoconference. He's being held in a Leavenworth prison. Bailey Boswell entered her pleas Monday in Lincoln.  Investigators say Trail used a false name in November 2015 when he persuaded a Kansas couple to enter a joint venture to purchase a gold coin, with the understanding they would later sell the coin and split the profits.  Prosecutors say the coin wasn't worth what Trail had said and that Trail and Boswell used false documents and websites for the ruse.  Authorities say the two are people of interest in the death of a 24-year-old Lincoln woman, Sidney Loofe. They were arrested Nov. 30 near Branson, Missouri

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McAllister Sworn in as New U.S. Attorney for Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A new U.S. Attorney for Kansas has taken office.  Stephen McAllister was sworn in Thursday in a private ceremony on the University of Kansas campus. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas administered the oath.  McAllister clerked for Justice Thomas and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White.  He was nominated by President Donald Trump. He will oversee a staff of more than 100, including 50 attorneys who work in Topeka, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas.  Tom Beall, who was interim U.S. Attorney since former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom resigned in April 2016, will return to his position as First Assistant U.S. Attorney.  McAllister previously was Solicitor General of Kansas and a professor of law at the University of Kansas, where he taught constitutional law and federal civil rights law.

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Lawsuit: Kansas Hospitals Perform Medically Unneeded Procedures

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A cardiologist has alleged a pervasive practice by some Wichita hospitals and doctors to fraudulently perform lucrative procedures not medically necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of heart patients. The federal lawsuit filed by Dr. Mazen Shaheen was unsealed Thursday after the Justice Department declined to intervene in the case. It names Via Christi Health, Inc.; Kansas Heart Hospital LLC; Cardiovascular Consultants of Kansas and other physicians. Via Christi had no immediate comment. Kansas Heart Hospital declined comment and the others did not return messages. His complaint lists as examples 47 patients who underwent cardiac tests and procedures. He alleges their treatment deviated from medical standards and risked patient lives. He also contends Via Christi has a bonus program used to incentivize physicians to perform the procedures at its hospitals.

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Mom Whose 4 Kids Were Killed in Fire in Critical Condition 

PRATT, Kan. (AP) — A hospital official says a mother whose four children were killed in a southern Kansas house fire is in critical condition. The Wichita Eagle reports that Cheree Eggleston suffered burns and was flown Thursday morning from the town of Pratt to St. Francis Hospital in Wichita. Her children, the youngest a baby, died after being trapped in the home's basement. Besides the mother, three other adults in the home survived. Pratt police Detective Jeff Ward says the cause of the fire is unknown. A state fire marshal is on scene investigating. Pratt is about 80 miles west of Wichita.

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Kansas City Council Considers "Ban the Box" Proposal

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Council is considering a proposal to bar employers from asking job applicants to check a box on applications disclosing their criminal pasts.  The Kansas City Star reports that the "ban the box" ordinance was unanimously approved Thursday by the council's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. It is expected to go to the full council next week.  More than 150 cities and counties have passed measures that bar businesses from asking job applicants about criminal history. Such inquiries must be deferred until later in the hiring process.  Kansas City government adopted the policy for most city employees in 2013, while Missouri approved it for state hiring in 2016.  Councilman Jermaine Reed says it's time for the private sector to follow suit. He sponsored the original ordinance.

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Missouri S&T Student Charged with Campus Shooting Threat

ROLLA, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say a student at the Missouri University of Science and Technology has been charged with threatening to open fire on the Rolla campus with an assault rifle.  The Rolla Daily News reports that Alexander Beetler, of St. James, was charged Wednesday with making a terrorist threat. No attorney is listed for him in online court records.  The probable cause statement says Beetler's father told authorities that his son had threatened to kill him and "empty the rest of the clips" on the Missouri S&T campus.  The father also said Beetler had an AK-47 rifle and about 900 rounds of ammunition, and the weapon was recovered during a search. The statement says Beetler was charged earlier this year in Kansas with discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling.

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Ex-Lawrence Officer Gets Probation for Fatal DUI Wreck

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A former Lawrence police officer will serve a year of supervised probation for driving under the influence during a wreck that killed a motorcycle driver. The Lawrence Journal-World reported Thursday that 51-year-old Robert Heafey, of Lawrence, was ordered to participate in a weekend alcohol/drug intervention program and pay about $1,300 in fines. Heafey pleaded no contest to misdemeanor DUI on Jan. 12. The 11-year police veteran resigned the day the charges were filed in September 2017. Investigators say Heafey and 56-year-old Jesse del Campo were riding their motorcycles in July 2017 when a deer ran in front of them. Heafey laid his bike down and del Campo to run over him. Del Campo died later of his injuries. Investigators said both men's blood alcohol levels were above the state's legal limit.

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Chiefs' Pierre-Louis Charged with Drug, Traffic Misdemeanors 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis has been charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana, THC and drug paraphernalia after a traffic stop in suburban Kansas City on Thursday night. Pierre-Louis also was charged with driving without a valid license and failure to display a valid plate or current registration. He pleaded not guilty to all charges in Johnson County District Court on Friday and was released after posting $2,500 bond. Pierre-Louis is due back in court next Thursday. The 26-year-old linebacker, who was acquired last offseason from the Seattle Seahawks, appeared in 13 regular-season games and the Chiefs' playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans.

 

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