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Headlines for Friday, June 15, 2018

UPDATE: Slain Kansas Deputy Identified

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have identified the Wyandotte County sheriff's deputy who died Friday after he and another deputy were shot while transporting an inmate. Kansas City, Kansas, police say 35-year-old Patrick Rohrer died at the Kansas Medical Center from his injuries. He had worked for the department for seven years. The injured female deputy underwent surgery. Her condition was not available. The suspect also was shot and was operated on at the hospital. His condition also was not released. Authorities say the two deputies were transporting the inmate to a hearing in downtown Kansas City when the suspect somehow got ahold of a weapon. The investigation into the shooting is continuing.
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1:50 p.m.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A sheriff's deputy was killed and another was critically wounded Friday when an inmate being transported to a court hearing in Kansas somehow got ahold of a weapon and shot them, authorities said. The suspect was also injured during the confrontation in a gated area behind a court services building across the street from the Wyandotte County Courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas. The wounded officer and the suspect were undergoing surgeries Friday afternoon. The inmate was being transported across the street from the jail to the services building for a court hearing, according to sheriff's spokeswoman Maj. Kelli Bailiff. The inmate was taken in a van to a gated area behind the building, and when the inmate got out of van, he somehow overtook and shot the deputies, possibly with their own guns, Bailiff said. Authorities haven't released the deputies' names or length of service with the department. They also said it was too early in the investigation to give specific details of how the shootings could have happened. Video from the scene shows the courthouse surrounded by yellow police tape, several police vehicles parked in the street and numerous uniformed law enforcement officers walking the grounds  Bailiff said investigators do not believe the public is in any danger. The investigation is being handled by the Kansas City Police Department. Police spokesman Zac Blair said authorities will be reviewing surveillance video.

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Kansas Court Upholds Law Ending Teachers' Guaranteed Tenure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that a state law stripping public school teachers of guaranteed tenure does not violate the state or federal constitution. The court issued a unanimous ruling Friday against two veteran teachers who sued their Butler County school district after it did not renew their contracts in 2015. The Republican-controlled Legislature enacted the law ending guaranteed tenure in 2014 through a measure that also boosted spending on public schools. Before the change, teachers with three or more years in the classroom had a right to have the non-renewal of their contracts reviewed by an independent hearing officer. Local school boards now set each district's policy. The Supreme Court rejected the teachers' argument that tenure represented a property right that lawmakers could not modify or take away.

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Kansas Court Avoids Ruling on Execution for Student's Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas's highest court on Friday postponed a decision on whether the state can execute a man who was convicted of kidnapping, raping and strangling a 19-year-old college student, because of questions about whether he is developmentally disabled. The state Supreme Court upheld the capital murder conviction for Justin Eugene Thurber but sent his case back to the trial court for another review of whether he has a disability that would bar the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute defendants with even mild developmental disabilities. In Friday's 5-2 ruling , the Kansas Supreme Court also declared unconstitutional a piece of the state's capital punishment law that deals with how courts determine whether defendants are developmentally disabled, finding it too restrictive in light of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in recent years. Thurber was sentenced to lethal injection for the January 2007 killing of Jodi Sanderholm. She was a pre-pharmacy student and member of the Tigerette dance team at Cowley College, about 45 miles southeast of Wichita. Kansas' highest court isn't striking down Thurber's death sentence, keeping control over the case as the trial court reviews it again. "We have determined that the best interests of justice require remanding this limited question on intellectual disability to the district court for further proceedings," Justice Dan Biles wrote for the majority. An attorney for Thurber told the state Supreme Court in October hearing that Thurber's IQ has been estimated to be in the 70s or 80s, that he read at a sixth-grade level in college and that his parents testified he would have had trouble living on his own. During the penalty phase of his trial, Thurber's attorneys sought a hearing on whether he has an intellectual disability after a jury recommended a death sentence but before the judge imposed it. The judge denied the request, though, saying they had failed to present enough evidence to warrant such a hearing. The judge's decision came after a defense witness said he wouldn't describe Thurber as mentally disabled, and the judge noted that Thurber had graduated from high school, attended two years of college, obtained a driver's license and held several jobs. Dissenting state Supreme Court Justice Eric Rosen said he would have upheld that decision, allowing Thurber to be executed. The other dissenter, Justice Lee Johnson, argued as he has in other capital cases that the death penalty violates the state constitution. Thurber, 35, is one of 10 condemned inmates in Kansas, though the state hasn't executed anyone since restoring the death penalty in 1994. The state's last executions happened in June 1965, when it hanged serial killers James Latham and George York. Authorities say Thurber kidnapped Sanderholm after following her from a dance practice and took her to a rural area, where he raped, beat and strangled her. He disposed of her car in a lake. Her body was found in a nearby wildlife area and authorities used DNA evidence to tie Thurber to the crimes. Two other members of the dance team said Thurber had stalked them, and a former girlfriend of his who sought a restraining order said he had followed and texted her.

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Kansas County Commissioner Seeks Dismissal of Indictment

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County commissioner accused of misspending more than $10,000 in campaign funds and trying to cover it up has asked a judge to dismiss his indictment. A defense filing Friday in the case against Michael O'Donnell contends the U.S. government has needlessly injected itself in matters traditionally reserved for state authorities. O'Donnell has pleaded not guilty to a 12-count indictment alleging wire fraud and money laundering. The motion says "over zealous prosecution" sometimes occur when prosecutors throw a wide net on criminal corruption. It contends O'Donnell came to law enforcement's attention during an investigation of other higher profile people. It argues investigators uncovered the alleged campaign finance violations, and charged him instead of referring the matter to state officials. Prosecutors did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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Crews Respond to Possible Pipeline Explosion Near Hesston

HESSTON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a natural gas pipeline exploded in rural central Kansas, sending flames shooting more than 75 feet into the air. A Harvey County dispatcher says the explosion was reported around 7:30 a.m. Friday near the town of Hesston, which is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Wichita. No injuries have been reported. The gas line belongs to Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline. Company spokesman Rob Southard says the gas supply was shut off and that the fire burned itself out by later in the morning. He says crews are assessing damage but won't begin making repairs until the area cools off. He says the cause is under investigation. He says there was no excavation work being done in the area beforehand.

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Kansas Group Home Fire Kills 1; Cause Undetermined

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Fire investigators are trying to determine what caused a fire at a group home for the developmentally disabled adults that left one person dead. The fire broke out Thursday afternoon at an Easterseals Capper home in Arkansas City. Fire Chief Bobby Wolfe saidFriday that 32-year-old Andrew Goodnight died of injuries suffered in the fire. Wolfe said a staff member was injured trying to help Goodnight, who had Down Syndrome and autism. He was the only resident unable to escape the fire. One firefighter was treated and released at a hospital for injuries from the fire. Wolfe says investigators will use an arson dog but there are no early indications that the fire was set intentionally. State fire officials are helping with the investigation.

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Sierra Club Sues Kansas over Pork Facility Permits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit against the Kansas Department of Health and Environment challenging permits for a pork facility expansion. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the lawsuit filed Thursday alleges permits issued for the expansion of a Phillips County hog production facility violate state law and set a dangerous precedent by undermining protections for surface water. The department has decided to allow farmer Terry Nelson to subdivide his existing swine breeding operation into two limited-liability companies, Husky Hogs and Prairie Dog Pork. The lawsuit accuses the department of authorizing Nelson to elude limits on the number of animals that could be confined in buildings within 250 feet (76.2 meters) of surface water. The agency declined to comment to the newspaper citing pending litigation.

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Kansas Consumer Advocates Recommend Westar Rate Cuts

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas consumer advocates are recommending state utility regulators reject Westar Energy's request for a $17.2 million rate increase and instead order the company to cut rates.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports employees of the Kansas Corporation Commission and the Citizens Utility Ratepayer Board recommended this week that the commission cut Westar rates for customers by at least $69 million. The board, or CURB, is a state agency representing consumers in utility rate cases.  Westar provides service to about 700,000 customers in Kansas. The company has filed a rate request that translates to an increase of $2.80 a month for the average residential customer.  But KCC staff and CURB are urging regulators to reject the idea that Westar needs any overall rate increase.  Westar is expected to submit a rebuttal July 2.

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Kansas Teen May Be Tried as Adult in Fatal Shooting

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A prosecutor in central Kansas is seeking to try a 17-year-old boy as an adult in a fatal shooting case. The Hutchinson News reports that McPherson County Attorney Greg Benefiel made the motion Thursday at a hearing in McPherson County District Court. The teenager has been charged with first-degree murder, burglary, theft and possession of stolen property in connection with the Monday shooting at Mustang Mobile Park in McPherson. Police found 22-year-old Jordan Krell dead in an empty lot of an apparent gunshot wound. Krell's funeral services are set for next week. The teen is being held without bond and is represented by Geoffrey Harrison, an attorney with McDonald Law. A hearing to decide on Benefiel's motion is set for June 29.

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Wichita Man Sentenced to 10 Years for Sexual Assault of Boys

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say a Wichita man has been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting two teenage boys. District Attorney Marc Bennett's office said in a news release Friday that 29-year-old Frank Carbiss III got 122 months in prison after convictions for criminal sodomy, sexual exploitation of a child and indecent solicitation of a child. He was also ordered at sentencing on Thursday to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life. The penalty is the maximum he could receive under Kansas sentencing guidelines. The crimes occurred in August 2016 and involved two boys, ages 14 and 15.

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Trial Set for Ex-Wichita YMCA Employee Accused of Rape

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former employee of the Wichita YMCA who is accused of sexually assaulting two young girls at the Kansas center will go to trial this summer.  Caleb Gaston waived his preliminary hearing and pleaded not guilty on Thursday. He's accused of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old girl and a 4-year-old girl in January.  His trial is scheduled to start on July 23.  The alleged assaults happened in the Kid Zone at the downtown YMCA branch. Gaston was a part-time YMCA employee for five years before he was arrested on January 31, after a woman reported her daughter had been molested.  Gaston remains jailed on $1.1 million bond.  Gaston's attorney, Steve Ariagno, has said Gaston denies all allegations of wrongdoing.

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City: High Levels of Chloride in Topeka Water Not Dangerous

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka city officials say high levels of chloride in the city's water supply pose no danger to residents.  The city announced Thursday that its treatment plant recorded higher than normal levels of chloride in the Kansas River. The chloride is coming from the Smokey Hill River, which feeds into the Kansas River. The source of the chloride hasn't been determined.  The chloride readings mean the salt levels in the water are high.  City officials say the Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed the water is within its safe drinking water regulations.  There is no maximum contaminant levels for chloride for primary drinking water. A secondary standard maximum of 250 milligrams per liter is only a guideline.  The chloride level in the Kansas River on Thursday was  286 mg/L. The city recorded a reading of 316 mg/L Tuesday.

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Farmers in Trump Country Protest Pruitt's Ethanol Policies

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is being met with protests deep in Trump country, as corn farmers and ethanol producers complain his support for oil and gas is hurting their industries.  Midwest corn farmers are showing their unhappiness in rallies, on billboards and at meetings as Pruitt tours farm states this week.  Corn farmers accuse Pruitt of waffling on a promise by President Donald Trump to boost use of ethanol in motor fuel.  The EPA says Pruitt has gone to the Midwest to hear out the farmers and ethanol producers. The agency says a court decision is responsible for some of the slump in ethanol demand.  The protests by farmers come as Pruitt faces a series of allegations of ethical misconduct back in Washington.

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Missouri Man Arrested After Allegedly 'Mooning' Police

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence police say a Missouri man has been taken to jail on suspicion of indecent exposure after allegedly "mooning" officers who pulled him over in a traffic stop. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the incident happened Thursday in Lawrence. Lawrence Police Department spokeswoman Kim Murphree says officers initially pulled the 23-year-old Liberty resident over on suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence and having an open container. She says he walked away from the vehicle to supposedly go to a gas station to relieve himself but instead stopped on the sidewalk and started yelling at officers and exposing himself twice. Police say alcohol is considered a contributing factor.

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Kansas Officials Ask Yoder to Seek End of Family Separations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Dozens of elected officials in Rep. Kevin Yoder's congressional district in Kansas are pushing him to demand an end to the forced separation of families caught crossing the U.S. border illegally.  Democratic state Representative Jarrod Ousley of Merriam and Republican state Representative Linda Gallagher of Lenexa delivered a letter Wednesday to Yoder's office in Overland Park.  The letter urged Yoder to demand that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security stop separating families. The GOP congressman is chairman of a House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee.  Yoder said in a statement that he is "heartbroken" by the separations and is working to find a solution.  Most of the more than 60 people who signed the letter are state lawmakers or local officials in the 3rd Congressional District in the Kansas City area.

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Democratic Group Challenges Missouri Voter ID Law

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's voter ID law is facing a legal challenge from a national progressive organization alleging it creates undue burdens for voters who lack the required photo identification.  The Kansas City Star reports that the Democratic-aligned Priorities USA filed the lawsuit on behalf of 70-year-old Mildred Gutierrez of Jackson County.  The lawsuit says Gutierrez's driver's license expired in 2016 and she wasn't eligible for renewal due to her failing vision. The complaint says Gutierrez was informed she wouldn't be allowed to vote in future elections without a non-driver's license ID from the state.  The law says a person without a photo ID can cast a ballot if they sign a sworn statement attesting they don't have required documents. But the lawsuit says the procedural hurdles are "fraught with uncertainty and unwarranted threats of criminal penalties."

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Father, Son Arrested in ATM Theft from Wichita Bingo Casino

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police have arrested a father and son who allegedly rammed a pickup truck into a Wichita bingo hall and stole an ATM.  Officer Charley Davidson said two of three suspects were arrested Wednesday.  Officers responding to the Bingo Casino in south Wichita early Monday found the front door shattereds and the ATM gone.  Surveillance video showed three people arriving at the business in a white truck. Two of the suspects broke the front windows and then put a tow cable around an ATM. The truck backed into the business and pulled the ATM through the doors. The suspects then loaded the ATM onto the truck and fled.

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Wichita Man Who Tried to Buy Tiger Pelts Charged

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man who prosecutors say tried to buy two tiger pelts is facing federal charges.  U.S. Attorney Steve McAllister said Thursday that 38-year-old Ret Thach is charged with violating the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits interstate selling or buying of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act.  Thach allegedly agreed to pay $8,000 to a seller in Wisconsin and fund traveling expenses to get the pelts delivered to Wichita.  The seller was an undercover agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Prosecutors say the agent warned Thach that selling the pelts across state lines was illegal but Thach said he still wanted to buy them. He told the agent he already owned a lion and several bear pelts.  He wanted the pelts for his home office.

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Pope Appoints New Bishop for Salina Diocese

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Pope Francis has announced that Monsignor Gerald Vincke is the new bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salina.  The Salina Journal reports that the pope made the announcement Wednesday. Vincke will become the 12th bishop of the Salina Diocese, replacing Bishop Edward Weisenburger who left in September to take over as bishop of the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona.  Vincke joins Salina after time as a pastor in Michigan, where he was ordained to priesthood in 1999. The Salina Diocese spreads across more than 26,000 square miles, while the Lansing, Michigan, Diocese covers just more than 6,200 square miles.  The 53-year-old says he's looking forward to the new challenge the Salina area will present. He says his goal is to make more disciples.

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