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Headlines for Friday, March 9, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Firefighters Mopping Up Last of Wildfires

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Crews have extinguished 50 wildfires and are now mopping up the remains of another seven amid an outbreak that has blackened more than 42 square miles across Kansas.  The Kansas Adjutant General's Office said Thursday that no fire-related injuries have been reported in the state. A barn and outbuilding were destroyed in Elk County.  Its spokeswoman, Katie Horner, says the fire risk has eased for now. But she adds the state remains dry and there is a fire danger every day, particularly this weekend in western Kansas.  As many as nine Black Hawk helicopters with water buckets were deployed at one time this week to assist with firefighting efforts.  Most of the acreage that burned was in northwest Kansas where five fires charred more than 23 square miles.


Trial over Kansas Voting Law Continues; Expert Testifies on Voter Fraud 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Some of the "handful" of noncitizens who made it onto voter registration rolls in Kansas in the last 20 years were registered because of confusion over the regulations or administrative errors, a national expert on voter fraud testified Friday in the fourth day of a trial that has grown increasingly tense. Lorraine Minnite, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, testified in a trial that could determine whether thousands of Kansas residents are allowed to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a 2013 Kansas law that requires people registering to vote to show documents — such as passports or birth certificates — to prove they are U.S. citizens. The law was championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is defending himself in the trial. The ACLU contends the law has prevented thousands of people, mostly the young, elderly or poor, from voting in Kansas. Supporters argue the documentation requirement has prevented perhaps as many an 18,000 noncitizens from voting. Minnite, author of "The Myth of Voter Fraud," said while doing research, she found discussion of voter fraud in Kansas "rocketed up" after Kobach began campaigning for Secretary of State in 2010. Kobach's continued public argument that voter fraud, particularly voting by noncitizens, is pe2rvasive in the U.S. is "agenda setting" and not supported by her years of research, she testified. During testimony on a Sedgwick County election spreadsheet that found 38 questionable voters, Minnite said several appeared to be on the rolls because of confusion or errors. "That is normal, that happens everywhere," Minnite said. "It is not a freak thing that there might be errors in Kansas." Garrett Roe, an attorney on Kobach's team, sparred with Minnite over whether it was necessary to determine intent to prove a crime had occurred. She said noncitizens who vote have committed an illegal act but are not necessarily guilty of fraud if they had no intention to deceive. Later Friday, Kobach called a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, who also has written a book on voter fraud, to testify in support of the law. The Kansas City Star reported Hans von Spakovsky testified that other methods of identifying noncitizen voters, such as matching legal immigrants' driver's licenses with voter rolls, would not be able to identify people living in the country illegally. He also said non-citizens aren't deterred by the possibility of prosecution for voter fraud "because we basically have an honor system" in U.S. elections. Von Spakovsky served with Kobach on President Donald Trump's now-disbanded commission on voter fraud and worked for the U.S. Department of Justice with Kobach during President George W. Bush's first term. Attorneys from the ACLU and the Kansas City-based Dentons law firm, which are representing voters suing Kobach's office, questioned von Spakovsky about an email he wrote in early 2017 expressing concerns about Trump's decision to put Democrats or mainstream Republicans on the voter fraud commission. "There isn't a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud," von Spakovsky wrote in the email. Von Spakovsky testified that even a small number of non-citizens on voter rolls "could make the difference in a race that's decided by a small number of votes," but during cross-examination acknowledged that he could not name a specific federal election that was decided by non-citizen votes. Throughout the week, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson has stopped testimony to admonish Kobach's team or explain trial procedures, leading to an angry exchange Thursday between the judge and Kobach's team over their efforts to introduce new evidence that has not been shared with the plaintiffs' attorneys. This continued on Friday, when Roe tried again through a different method to introduce updated numbers of noncitizens who registered or tried to register, prompting Robinson to lecture them that it was their duty to update or supplement those numbers before the trial began. Earlier Friday, Robinson interrupted testimony from Bryan Caskey, elections director for Kobach, who would not answer directly when asked if Kobach's office had notified suspended voters that they could vote in elections. The judge issued the order in a preliminary injunction in 2016 that temporarily blocked the law's implementation. Robinson took over questioning and Caskey eventually said he wasn't sure if the office had notified the suspended voters.

Kansas News Service's Celia Llopis-Jepsen has a comprehensive rundown of the day's action here


Former Legislator Hutton Drops Out of Kansas Governor's Race

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas legislator who founded a Wichita construction company has dropped out of the crowded race for governor. Former state Representative Mark Hutton announced Friday that he was leaving the race for the Republican nomination. He trailed Republican Governor Jeff Colyer and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer in fundraising and began the race with less name recognition than Colyer and fellow GOP rival Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Hutton's statement did not say whether he would endorse another candidate. Colyer was lieutenant governor until January, when then-Republican Governor Sam Brownback resigned to take an ambassador's post. Brownback was term-limited and the race had attracted more than 20 potential candidates. Hutton served in the Kansas House for four years, starting in 2013. He did not run for re-election in 2016.


Kansas Lawmakers Confident New Welfare Chief Can Fix Agency

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Many Kansas legislators upset over the deaths of several children in abusive homes and other problems with the state's child welfare department appear confident that its new top administrator is improving the agency. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Friday unanimously recommended confirming Gina Meier-Hummel as secretary of the Department for Children and Families. She has been the department's acting secretary since December. The full Senate could consider Meier-Hummel's appointment early next week, and she is expected to have little trouble winning confirmation so she can continue serving in Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer's Cabinet. Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat running for governor this year, called Meier-Hummel's experience "impressive" and said she is confident the new secretary "will be the agent of change." "This agency has nowhere to go but up," Kelly said. While Meier-Hummel's confirmation has bipartisan support, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat also running for governor, remains skeptical that much has changed at the department. "Saying it's a new day is not the same as having a new day," Ward said Friday during a news conference. Meier-Hummell, 49, has worked for a state contractor providing services to abused and neglected children, DCF and the state Department for Aging and Disability Services. Before becoming secretary, she was executive director for a nonprofit Lawrence children's shelter. She replaced former Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who retired with the department and the state's child foster care system facing intense scrutiny and legislative criticism, partly over several child deaths in recent years. In the case of Evan Brewer, a 3-year-old Wichita boy whose body was found encased in concrete last year, The Wichita Eagle reported this week that department records showed the state received at least eight reports the boy was being abused. Meier-Hummel told the Senate committee that the department has "cultural issues" she is working to change. "Quite frankly, for a long time, we've not necessarily allowed people to speak, or if they were concerned, to share their concerns openly," she told reporters after the committee's meeting. "We're trying to be open."


New Kansas Law Stiffens Penalties After Deadly DUI Accidents

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new law in Kansas promises harsher sentences repeat drunken drivers who kill or injure others. Gov. Jeff Colyer on Friday signed "Caitlin's Law." It takes effect in July and stiffens penalties for drivers who cause accidents while intoxicated or while circumventing restrictions placed on them because of DUI convictions. Colyer said state officials hope tougher penalties will send a message to people with a history of driving under the influence. The presumed prison sentence for a person with a previous DUI conviction will be nearly 8 years, rather than 5½ years. The new law is named for Caitlin Vogel, a Stilwell special education instructor killed by a drunken driver in 2016 with two previous DUI convictions at the time of the accident. Her 26th birthday would have been Friday.


Kansas House Passes Bill to Restore Teacher Job Protections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill to restore job protections for public school teachers that conservative Republican legislators took away four years ago.  The House's 73-48 vote Thursday sends the measure to the Senate.  It would guarantee tenure for teachers statewide who've worked in a district for three years or in multiple districts for a total of five years. Districts not wanting to renew a teacher's contract would have to allow the matter to be settled by independent hearing officers.  A law pushed through the Legislature by GOP conservatives in 2014 allowed local school boards to decide whether to grant such "due process" rights. Less than a third do.  The bill's supporters said guaranteeing tenure statewide respects teaching. Opponents said local control makes firing bad teachers easier.


Kansas Senate Rejects Convention on Revising U.S. Constitution

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators shot down a resolution in the Senate that would have had the state join a dozen others in calling for a convention to propose changes to U.S. Constitution.  The final vote Thursday was 22-16 in favor, but supporters needed a two-thirds majority, or 27 votes in the 40-member Senate.  Calling a Convention of States requires the legislatures of 34 states to pass resolutions outlining what changes would be discussed. States have never called such a convention.  Republican Senator Ty Masterson of Andover expressed disappointment in the result. He said the federal government remains "out of control" and if it doesn't change, such proposals will be considered again.  But Democratic Senator David Haley of Kansas City said a Convention of States could "take a hatchet" to the Constitution.


Kansas Highway Patrol Motorist Assist Driver Dies After Collision

PARK CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a Kansas Highway Patrol motorist assist driver has died after his vehicle was struck by a semi-trailer truck near Park City.  The patrol says the motorist assist truck was in the median Wednesday afternoon when the driver pulled into the inside lane of southbound Interstate 135. The truck was hit from behind by a semi-trailer truck. Authorities say the assist driver died at a hospital. He was identified as 69-year-old Ricardo Torres of Augusta. The semi driver wasn't injured.  Trooper Chad Crittenden says the collision occurred south of a hill and it's possible the victim either didn't see the semi or misjudged its speed.


Reno County Records Its Largest Quake

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The recent magnitude 3.4 earthquake Reno County is the largest one to rattle Reno County yet. The Hutchinson News reports the temblor at 4:48 a.m. Thursday and shook beds, rattled china cabinets and toppled piles of book. No structural damage was reported. By Thursday afternoon, 203 people had logged into the website of the U.S. Geological Survey to report feeling the quake. It comes just a week after the previous largest quake of magnitude 3.1 in the county. The epicenters of the two quakes in Hutchinson were slightly over a mile apart.


Agriculture Secretary: Trump Tariffs Not as Bad as Feared

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue said Friday that while he's as anxious as farmers are about President Donald Trump's new tariffs, the move doesn't look as bad as he originally thought. Perdue said during a trip to meet with representatives of North Dakota's agricultural sector that Trump's decision to enact a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent levy on aluminum looks better in the final version than it did when first announced. He joked with farmers in Iowa earlier this week that one option for farmers who fear a trade war may be to pray. "I was very concerned last week with the surprise announcement on the steel and aluminum tariffs, as most people in the White House were," Perdue said during a press conference at North Dakota State University. "But we hope to turn it into a positive. This president has the unique ability to turn some things that we think are initially negative into positives." Perdue says the final version looked much better because Canada and Mexico were excluded, which he believes could spark discussions on improving the North American Free Trade Agreement. He said he will be on edge until NAFTA is recertified and reauthorized and the U.S. addresses trade issues with its key importers. Agriculture producers receive 20 cents out of every dollar from exports. Perdue heard from about 20 farm representatives Friday, most of whom didn't pass the microphone until saying something about trade. Mark Martinson, a durum wheat farmer in northeastern North Dakota, said the U.S cannot risk losing "China, Indonesia, all those markets." In addition to Trump backing off on Canada and Mexico, Perdue was relieved the president indicated he was willing to work with Europe and other U.S. allies on improving trade. Canada and Mexico are two of the largest suppliers of agricultural products to the United States, according to Commerce Department figures. In 2016, the U.S. imported $22 billion in ag products from Canada and exported $23 billion; the U.S imported $23 billion from Mexico and exported $18 billion. The European Union, meanwhile, said it is putting together a list of agricultural products it plans to target for tariffs as retaliation to the U.S. "This is a president who is willing to change his mind over issues," Perdue said. "He came out of the campaign literally believing that everybody in the United States hated NAFTA. And we had to walk in and show him that many of his supporters and voters benefited from NAFTA." North Dakota U.S. Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp said Perdue has been willing to stand up to the president on the importance of trade to agriculture. "Secretary Perdue has been a very strong advocate for the farmer on trade," Hoeven said. "No question about it. Right from the start with NAFTA, now with the tariffs, he's been very vocal with the administration on the importance of trade to agriculture." Heitkamp said the first thing Perdue said to her in their first face-to-face meeting was "trade, trade, trade" and is happy he is pushing back against trade policies that will hurt farmers.


Kansas Missionaries Get Prison for Abusing Adopted Children

NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas missionary couple has been sentenced to two years and eight months behind bars for giving brutal, religion-inspired beatings to two of the three children they adopted from Peru. James and Paige Nachtigal, of North Newton, were sentenced Thursday for several child abuse counts. They entered Alford pleas to the charges in August in which they acknowledged prosecutors had enough evidence for convictions but admitted no guilt. The Nachitgals were arrested in February 2016 after an 11-year-old boy was found walking barefoot in a field and told authorities he feared returning home because he hadn't done his homework and that was a sin. His 11-year-old sister's leg was broken. A teenage sibling who escaped the brunt of the abuse described the 11-year-olds being deprived of food before the sentencing.


Searchers Recover Body of Kansas Fisherman Who Drowned

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Recovery teams have found the body of a Stilwell man who drowned Saturday while fishing alone in a one-person kayak at Tuttle Creek lake. The Manhattan Mercury reports that searchers used boats with sonar to locate on Thursday the body of 21-year-old Anthony Berg. Kansas Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Jesse Gehrt says that while they don't know all the details, it was windy on the day Berg drowned and they believe that's what led to the accident. The recovery teams were unable to locate his body over the weekend, and windy conditions earlier this week had postponed the search.


2 Drivers Killed in Head-On Crash in Central Kansas

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say two people have been killed in a head-on crash on a central Kansas highway. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the crash happened Thursday night when a pickup truck crossed the center line of U.S. 56 and collided with a sport utility vehicle 5 miles (8.05 kilometers) east of McPherson. Both drivers were killed, and a 13-year-old passenger in the SUV was hurt. The patrol identified the truck's driver as 57-year-old Timothy Kersten, of Hillsboro, and the SUV's driver as 34-year-old Abby McIntosh, of Galva.


Man Pleads Guilty to Murder in Death of 6-Month-Old Son

EUREKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man has pleaded guilty to murder and child abuse in the death of his 6-month-old son.  Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says 23-year-old Benny Clark, of Reece, pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree murder and child abuse.  Prosecutors say Greenwood County authorities were called to a hospital last August to investigate a possible child abuse.  Investigators determined injuries suffered by the child, named Cooper, weren't consistent with the parents' story of what happened.  The boy's mother left him with Clark when she went to work. When she returned home, the boy was having trouble breathing.  Cooper died two days later at a Wichita hospital.  Sentencing is scheduled for July 5.


Lawsuit: Special Needs Student in Kansas Sexually Assaulted on Bus

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A lawsuit alleges a special needs student in Kansas was sexually assaulted by another student on a school bus.  The Kansas City Star reported Thursday that the lawsuit filed against First Student alleges the company was negligent by not having an adult monitor on the bus when the assault occurred in April 2016.  A message seeking comment from First Student was not immediately returned.  The teen was a Lenexa resident and student at Shawnee Mission South High School.  The lawsuit filed in Johnson County District Court alleges an adult monitor on the bus got off before it left the school. It contends the girl was seated two rows behind the driver and "continually molested" by another student who sat down beside her.


Kansas Ex-Officer Takes Plea Deal in Sexual Assault Charge

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A former police officer in southeastern Kansas has pleaded no contest to charges of sexually assaulting a woman he arrested during a domestic disturbance.  Jessie Davis, 22, took a plea deal Tuesday in Crawford County District Court, the Joplin Globe reported.  Davis turned himself in to authorities last year on charges of aggravated sexual battery and official misconduct after a Crawford County Sheriff's Department investigation. He was later fired from the Pittsburg Police Department.  Davis will likely be placed on probation for two years and will not have to register as a sex offender if the court follows the plea agreement, according to John Gutierrez, assistant county attorney. The charges will be dropped as a result of the plea.  "It's a reasonable plea," Gutierrez said. "In consideration, he has no prior criminal history, so this will be his first conviction. It's a felony, not a misdemeanor. It has some serious implications to it. He's going to have to report on probation. If the judge goes along with this, he can't have a firearm, and he'll never be a police officer again."  If Davis violates the plea agreement, he may face a sentence between 11 to 13 months in prison, Gutierrez said.  The woman said she was groped in Davis' patrol car. She filed a lawsuit last month against Davis, the Pittsburg Police Department and the city, alleging her civil rights were violated when she was arrested after a domestic disturbance in August. She's seeking more than $75,000 in compensatory damages for each of the 12 counts against the defendants.  Davis is currently out on bond and is expected to be sentenced April 12.


Kansas Man Sentenced for Fatal Drunken Driving Crash

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man was sentenced to nearly 12.5 years in prison for a drunken driving crash that killed woman who was riding on his motorcycle.  The Leavenworth Times reports 48-year-old Steven Harris was sentenced Wednesday for a September 2015 crash in Leavenworth County that killed 48-year-old Dawn Caruthers.  The Kansas Highway Patrol says a motorcycle driven by Harris went into a ditch and he and Carruthers were thrown from the vehicle. Caruthers died at the scene.  Harris pleaded no contest to manslaughter in January.  Prosecutors said Harris was drunk when the crash occurred. He also had 15 previous convictions, which prosecutors said showed he had a history of driving when he shouldn't have been.


Kansas City Firefighter Charged for Spitting on Child

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City firefighter has been charged after witnesses allege he called a child a racial slur and then spat on him inside a restaurant.  Terrence J. Skeen, 42, was charged in Overland Park Municipal Court with battery, assault and disorderly conduct in connection to the Feb. 26 incident at a Hooters restaurant, the Kansas City Star reported . Witnesses told police that a customer used a racial slur and spit on a child.  The boy had wandered away from his family who were at the restaurant celebrating a birthday when the incident happened.  "He basically said get that little 'blank' up off the floor," one witness told KCTV-TV. "The N-word started to get thrown around."  Overland Park police said the case also has been referred to the FBI for further investigation.  A Kansas City spokesman said Skeen has worked for the fire department for more than 15 years.  City officials declined to comment on individual personnel or discipline issues, but stated that the city "values diversity and expects all employees to treat others with respect."  Hooters of America, the restaurant's corporate office, released a statement saying they don't "tolerate any harassment or discriminatory language" and that "the safety and well-being of our guests and employees are our utmost priorities."


Retired Banker Running for Congress in Kansas 3rd District

LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) — A retired Kansas City-area banker is running as a Democrat for Congress for the Kansas 3rd District seat held by Republican Kevin Yoder.  The Kansas City Star reports that Sylvia Williams of Leawood announced her candidacy Wednesday in a video posted online. The 52-year-old said she worked for Commerce Bank, U.S. Bank and the Overland Park office of First Tennessee bank before retiring last year.  Yoder first won the seat in the Kansas City-area district in 2010 and is seeking his fifth term.  Williams' website says she favors reinstating a federal ban on assault-style weapons and making annual cost-of-living increases in the federal minimum wage.  Other Democrats running include 2016 nominee Jay Sidie, lawyer Sharice Davids, nonprofit executive Mike McCamon, teacher Tom Niermann and labor attorney Brent Welder.


Kansas Boy Shot by His Older Brother in Apparent Accident

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say an 11-year-old boy is believed to have been accidently shot by his older brother with a rifle. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the boy was treated Thursday evening at Lawrence Memorial Hospital after being taken there in a personal vehicle. Deputies with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office determined the boy had been shot in the ankle with a .22 caliber rifle by his 16-year-old brother outside their residence. The injury is not life-threatening. Sergeant Kristen Channel says the sheriff's office is still investigating, but it appears the shooting was accidental.


Settlement Resolves Lawsuit over Pepe the Frog Paintings

The cartoonist who created Pepe the Frog has resolved a copyright infringement lawsuit he filed against a Missouri woman accused of selling paintings copying the character. The settlement is the latest milestone in California-based cartoonist Matt Furie's legal campaign to reclaim his creation from far-right extremists who co-opted Pepe. A court filing Friday says Furie and Kansas City resident Jessica Logsdon agreed to the suit's dismissal, with each side bearing their own legal expenses. Furie's lawyers released a statement that says Logsdon inadvertently and unintentionally infringed on Furie's copyrights. It adds that Logsdon disavows any association with the "alt-right," a white nationalist, anti-Semitic fringe movement that's adopted Pepe as a mascot. The settlement comes less than a week after Furie sued conspiracy-promoting website Infowars for selling a poster copying Pepe.


K-State's Wade Will Miss Big 12 Tourney Showdown with KU

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas State junior forward Dean Wade will miss Friday night's Big 12 Tournament semifinal game against No. 9 KU because of a foot injury. The Wildcats said the move was a precautionary measure after Wade was hurt during Thursday's 66-64 win over TCU. Coach Bruce Weber says Wade would be re-evaluated for Saturday's title game if the Wildcats advance. Wade has averaged 16.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He has led the Wildcats in scoring a team-best 13 times and has averaged 33.6 minutes per game.

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