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Headlines for Thursday, March 15, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Governor Issues Disaster Declaration for Fires in Central Kansas

LYON, Kan. (AP) — Governor Jeff Colyer issued a disaster declaration for three wildfires currently burning in central Kansas.  State officials announced Wednesday that Rice County officials have asked for help from the Kansas National Guard to fight the fires. Colyer says the Guard will be sending helicopters to the area to help with the effort.  The National Weather Service says one fire about 10 miles southeast of Lyons. The number of acres burning was not immediately available.  The Adjunct General's office says in a news release one fire has entered McPherson County and other counties have reported fires.  The State Emergency Operations Center in Topeka has been activated to help coordinate the firefighting efforts.  Most of Kansas is under high fire danger warnings because of dry conditions and strong wind.


Kansas Senate Rejects Waiting Period for Guns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  The Kansas Senate has rejected a proposal to impose a three-day waiting period before people can buy guns. The vote Thursday was 23-17 against the measure. It was offered by Democratic Senator Pat Pettey of Kansas City as an amendment to a bill sought by the attorney general to clarify rules for allowing people with permits to carry concealed guns in other states to carry concealed in Kansas. Pettey saw the waiting period as a way to prevent suicides and gun violence. But Republican Senator Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth suggested it would prevent abuse victims from protecting themselves. The Senate also voted 27-13 against an amendment from Democratic Senator Tom Holland of Baldwin City to increase the age for buying a rifle from 18 to 21.


Kansas Senate Rejects Proposal on Bump Stocks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have narrowly rejected a proposal to make it illegal to use bump stocks to make semi-automatic rifles mimic fully automatic ones. The vote Thursday in the state Senate was 20-20. It came on a proposed amendment to a bill sought by the state's attorney general to clarify rules for allowing people who have permits to carry concealed weapons in other states to carry concealed while in Kansas. Senators also were debating another amendment to allow someone to go to court to get guns removed from a family member's home if they believe the family member is a danger to themselves or others. The Senate's debate came after it gave first-round approval to a bill designed to keep guns out of the hands of fugitives and domestic abusers.


Kansas Campus Speech Bill Stalls over Harassment Concerns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have narrowly rejected a bill designed to protect the free-speech rights of college students over concerns that it hamper efforts to fight harassment on campus. The Senate vote Thursday on the measure was 20-20. The bill would prevent state universities from having codes that limit student speech or from canceling appearances by offensive guest speakers even in the face of expected protests. It failed because of a section on how universities discipline students for harassing other students. It would require the harassment to be so severe that it keeps another student from "an educational opportunity or benefit." Several senators voting no said it would allow harassment of LGBT students or prevent universities from punishing students for sexual harassment. Supporters said the measure could be rewritten to address those concerns.


Man Killed at Perry Lake; Suspect Arrested

PERRY, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man is in custody after a man's body was found at Perry Lake.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a 22-year-old man has been arrested. It isn't immediately clear if he has been formally charged.  Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Herrig says 22-year-old Taylor Sawyer died sometime after 10:30 pm Tuesday. His body was found after a caller reported witnessing a homicide.  Herrig says Sawyer's body was found on a trail with apparent gunshot wounds. The case remains under investigation.


Kansas Senate Unanimously Confirms New Child Welfare Chief

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has unanimously confirmed Gina Meier-Hummel as the state's secretary for children and families.  The action Wednesday showed that legislators upset with problems at the Department for Children and Families have confidence in Meier-Hummel. Several senators told her during a confirmation hearing last week that she already has made improvements since becoming acting secretary in December.  The 49-year-old Meier-Hummel was executive director for a nonprofit Lawrence children's shelter before becoming acting secretary.  She replaced former Secretary Phyllis Gilmore.  Gilmore retired with the department facing intense scrutiny, partly over the deaths of several children in abusive homes.  One case involved a 3-year-old Wichita boy whose body was found last year encased in concrete. Records show that the state received at least eight reports the boy was being abused.


18-Year Sentence for Topeka Man Who Shot 5-Year-Old Girl

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man has been sentenced to more than 18 years in prison for a gunshot that struck a 5-year-old girl at a hotel in Lenexa. The Kansas City Star reports that 36-year-old Antwaun Nelson Fulton was sentenced Thursday. He pleaded guilty in January to felony charges of attempted second-degree murder, aggravated battery and discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling. The child suffered non-life threatening injuries to her leg when she was shot in July at the Crossland Economy Studios. Authorities say Fulton was shooting at a man with whom he had a previous dispute.


1 Dead, 5 Injured in Wrong-Way Crash on Kansas Interstate

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says one person was killed and five others were injured in a crash that happened after one driver went the wrong way on Interstate 35. The crash happened Wednesday night just east of Ottawa. The patrol says a Chevy Suburban driven by an 18-year-old Kansas City, Kansas, man was heading north in the southbound lanes of the interstate when it collided head-on with another vehicle. A passenger in the Suburban, 32-year-old Tyra Cooper, of Independence, Missouri, died at the scene. The driver was hospitalized in Overland Park. The driver and three passengers in the second vehicle were taken to an Overland Park hospital. The conditions of the injured were not immediately available.


Survey Suggests Rural Economy to Keep Improving in 10 States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A monthly survey of bankers suggests the economy is likely to continue improving slowly in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says crop prices have improved a bit, but remain relatively weak. That's hurting business. The overall Rural Mainstreet index slipped slightly to 54.7 in March from February's 54.8. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy in the months ahead. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.


Man Gets 30 Years for Road Rage Killing of Ex-NFL Player

GRETNA, La. (AP) — The man convicted of manslaughter in the 2016 road rage shooting death of former NFL running back Joe McKnight was sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday. Ronald Gasser, 56, had faced up to 40 years in prison. Defense lawyers argued that Gasser fired in self-defense when McKnight walked up to his car following a 5-mile confrontation that began on a bridge spanning the Mississippi River in New Orleans and ended with gunfire in neighboring Jefferson Parish. "Let this be a cautionary tale," Judge Ellen Kovach said. McKnight's death could have been avoided "if either of the men had had the good sense, the courage and the wisdom to simply disengage." Sentencing followed emotional testimony from McKnight's loved ones. "That day, you didn't have to do that," McKnight's mother, Jennifer McKnight, said while looking down at Gasser, who sat a few feet away at the defense table. She cried throughout her testimony and was escorted from the courtroom sobbing. Witnesses at the trial said McKnight had been weaving in and out of traffic at high speed before the shooting. Prosecutors acknowledged to the jury that he was, in the words of Assistant District Attorney Seth Shute, "driving like a jerk." But they argued that Gasser escalated the conflict, following him down an exit that he would not ordinarily have taken moments before the shooting. Shute acknowledged that McKnight had a hand on the open, passenger side window of Gasser's car before he was shot. But he said physical evidence proved Gasser lied during extensive police questioning when he claimed McKnight lunged at him. Michelle Quick, the mother of McKnight's now 9-year-old son, described struggling to tell the child what had happened, and trying to protect him from seeing internet video of McKnight on the ground at the shooting scene as people worked to save him. Defense attorney Matthew Goetz, who is appealing the verdict, had argued for a lenient sentence, noting Gasser's lack of a criminal record. A prosecutor argued that Gasser has shown no remorse. McKnight had been a high school football hero at Louisiana's John Curtis Christian School. He signed with the University of Southern California in 2006. In the NFL, he played three seasons for the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs. Gasser was indicted on a second-degree murder charge. The jury voted 10-2 in January for the lesser verdict of manslaughter.


Judge Denies Reduced Sentence for Man to Visit Ailing Mother

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge has declined to end a man's prison sentence four months early so he could be deported to Mexico to be with his ailing mother. WIBW-TV reports that Shawnee County District Judge Nancy Parrish on Wednesday reaffirmed the full sentence of 40-year-old Victor Anzua-Torres. He was returned to his cell. Anzua-Torres was convicted of reckless second-degree murder for the December 2005 head-on collision that killed 28-year-old paramedic Ryan Ostendorf. Anzua-Torres was driving on the wrong side of a road and also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol. He was sentenced to 13 years and nine months. Four months remain on the sentence. Anzua-Torres's mother lives in Mexico. She is battling heart disease, high blood pressure and other ailments. Prosecutors opposed the reduced sentence.


Western US Governors Take Aim at Worst Invasive Species

DENVER (AP) — Western U.S. governors have compiled their first region-wide list of the worst invasive species for their states. The Western Governors' Association Thursday released a compilation Thursday of 50 pests ranging from weeds and wild boars to insects and amphibians. The governors want to prioritize efforts to defend against the intruders. Pests that have been in the headlines before include water-gulping salt cedar trees and quagga mussels, which clog water and sewer pipelines. Others may be surprises, including feral cats. At least two diseases made the list: white nose syndrome, which infects bats, and whirling disease, which attacks fish. The association says salt cedars are the worst land-based invasive species. The Eurasian watermilfoil is the worst in the water. The list is based on a survey of state invasive species coordinators.


Kansas GOP, Governor Hopefuls Partners in Reining in Debates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — When it comes to debates ahead of the Kansas primary, Republican candidates for governor are a bit like teenagers who hope their parents will forbid them to go to parties they really dread anyway.  The state Republican Party is taking lumps for getting most major candidates to sign a pact that has the party sanctioning debates only if they give all candidates equal time, ban personal attacks and prevent follow-up questions. Candidates who don't sign the pact can't participate in the debates that are GOP sanctioned.  The criticism intensified after most skipped a decidedly unsanctioned Kansas Press Association event last month.  The party defends the rules as focusing debates on issues that matter to active Republicans, while limiting the number to four, five or six before the August 7 primary so candidates still can campaign largely as they wish.

Chairman Kelly Arnold said the major candidates wanted limits and that the party doesn't want debates in which several serious candidates got little or no time.  "Order out of chaos is always good," said Governor Jeff Colyer, who signed the agreement, adding that the resulting debates allow the participating candidates "to put their best foot forward."  Chaos marked the Kansas governor's race even before former GOP Gov. Sam Brownback resigned in January to take an ambassador's post, elevating Colyer from lieutenant governor to the top job. Colyer is running for a full, four-year term.

Nearly 40 prospective candidates have formed campaign committees or appointed treasurers, though three serious Republican candidates have dropped out. At least six are teenagers and 10 live out-of-state — taking advantage of the state's lack of a legal age or residency requirement.  Of the major GOP candidates still running, Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer have signed the debate agreement.  The fourth, former state Senator Jim Barnett, a Topeka physician and the party's unsuccessful 2006 nominee, refused. That kept him out of the first sanctioned GOP debate in February at the state party's biggest annual convention.  Barnett contends the party-sanctioned format protects candidates — particularly Colyer and Kobach — from facing embarrassing questions. The agreement requires questions that all candidates can answer.  "It stifles debate," Barnett said. "We should have open and free debate."  The agreement also says participants must be registered Republicans and have voted in the state's 2014 election — excluding the teens and out-of-staters.  

Two candidates who participated in the February debate have since dropped out of the race, former state Representative Mark Hutton, and businessman Wink Hartman, both from Wichita.  The Kansas Press Association had its own debate a week before, and of the major Republican candidates, only Barnett showed up. Doug Anstaett, the group's executive director, said others advised him that they felt they couldn't attend or suggested his group seek the GOP's approval.  "We're the press. We don't ask for permission," he said.  Anstaett added that it's "amusing" for a party to sanction a debate format designed to eliminate surprises for candidates.  "That's the essence of government," he said. "You have surprises."  Arnold said the party is considering tweaking the format for the next sanctioned debate April 13 in Atchison to allow follow-up questions.  "We've let the candidates drive the direction on all this stuff," Arnold said. "The party's just really facilitating it."


Judge: Corps Responsible for Flooding, Damage in 4 States

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should act immediately to make flood control the top priority on the Missouri River, an attorney for hundreds of farmers, landowners and business operators said Wednesday after a federal judge ruled the agency was responsible for recurring flooding.  Judge Nancy B. Firestone's ruling Tuesday in Washington cited river management changes initiated by the Corps of Engineers starting in 2004, including efforts to aid endangered fish and birds, that led to damages estimated to exceed $300 million in four states: Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.

The Corps manages the Missouri River's system of dams and locks and decides when and how much water is released from reservoirs into the river.  In her 259-page ruling, Firestone wrote that flooding "was caused by and was the foreseeable result" of the Corps' management of the river. Another trial will start in October to determine how much money the lawsuit's 372 plaintiffs will receive.  "We are evaluating the court's ruling, and considering next steps, in coordination with the Department of Justice," Corps spokesman Gene Pawlik said in an email.  The lawsuit, filed in 2014, contended the Corps unconstitutionally deprived people of their land, essentially taking it without compensation. Firestone found in favor of the plaintiffs in five of the six years in which flooding was blamed on Corps management, disallowing flood claims in 2011.  

R. Dan Boulware, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he will ask the judge to reconsider her decision disallowing the 2011 flood claims. Still, Boulware said the ruling makes it clear that the Missouri River is changed and is more prone to flooding.  "Now Congress needs to do something. They need to step in and say, 'We've got a problem here,'" Boulware said in a phone interview Wednesday.  U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, agreed.  "I hope this decision is the first step in a new direction for the Corps," Blunt said in a statement. "I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure the river is managed in a way that prioritizes flood control, while balancing other interests."  The lawsuit contended the Corps made a management shift in 2004 that downplayed flood control while emphasizing restoring ecosystem and habitat creation for threatened and endangered species. The court ruled that practices such as notching of dikes and reopening of chutes worsened the flood risk.  The lawsuit also cited the Corps' practice of releasing threatened and endangered species from reservoirs, even when river levels below the dams were high. And, it cited increasing reservoir storage as a factor in the recent floods.  The 63-day trial began in Kansas City, Missouri, before moving to Washington. It concluded in December.


Leavenworth Decides to Arm Middle School Security Guards

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Security guards at a Leavenworth middle school will be carrying firearms beginning next week. The Leavenworth Board of Education voted Wednesday to buy the firearms and other equipment such as handcuffs and Tasers. The Leavenworth Times reports two retired law enforcement officers who work at Richard Warren Middle School will begin using the equipment when students return to school next week after spring break. A statement from the board said the officers will be responsible for the equipment and will be certified twice a year with the Leavenworth Police Department. Leavenworth High School already has an armed school resource officer from the city police department.


Atheists Challenge Kansas County over Prayer Before Meetings

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Government officials in the second most populous county in Kansas are grappling with a challenge by atheists to a decades-old practice of opening county meetings with prayer.  Sedgwick County Commissioner David Unruh said during a public meeting Tuesday that if they don't believe in God, he doesn't care if they "go to hell."  Sedgwick County commissioners plan to meet with their attorney behind closed doors in the wake of a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group based in Madison, Wisconsin, that fights for separation of church and state.  The Wichita Eagle reports that the foundation has accused the county government of violating the Constitution by denying an atheist resident the opportunity to speak during the time the commission sets aside for its opening prayer each week.


400 New Citizens Participate in Naturalization Ceremony

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — More than 400 people are now U.S. citizens following a naturalization ceremony at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park.  WDAF-TV says people from 66 different countries participated in the program Wednesday. Among them was 24-year-old Gabriel Garay, a native of Bolivia. He says he cherishes the opportunity to live in the U.S. and raise a family here.  U. S. Magistrate Judge Teresa J. James presided over the ceremony and told the new citizens they bring, "diverse talents, experiences, culture and hope for the future."


United Mistakenly Flies Kansas-Bound Dog to Japan

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — United Airlines says it's investigating after mistakenly flying a Kansas family's dog to Japan.  KCTV reports that Kara Swindle and her two children flew from Oregon to Kansas City, Missouri, Tuesday on a United flight.  They went to a cargo facility to pick up 10-year-old Irgo, a German shepherd, but were instead given a Great Dane. Swindle, of Wichita, Kansas, learned Irgo had been put on a flight to Japan, where the Great Dane was supposed to go.  Airline officials in Japan put Irgo on a flight back to Kansas City. It isn't clear when the dog will arrive.  The news of Irgo's unplanned odyssey comes as United admits another dog died after a flight attendant forced it to travel in an overhead bin on a Houston-to-New York flight.


Los Angeles Zoo Puts New 'Mob' of Meerkats on Exhibit

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Zoo's new breeding group of meerkats is now on exhibit. The "mob" of meerkats includes four males that arrived from the Zoo de Granby in Quebec last September and three females that came from Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, in January. The Los Angeles Zoo said this week that the two groups of meerkats were slowly introduced to each other at a quarantine facility before entering their outdoor habitat together in late February. Meerkats, which constantly tunnel and dig holes, are tiny members of the mongoose family and are native to deserts and grasslands on the southern tip of Africa. The Los Angeles Zoo is rebuilding its meerkat collection with a genetically valuable group after its elderly meerkats passed away.


Top-Seeded KU Comes Alive, Beats Penn 76-60 in First Round of NCAA Tournament

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Devonte Graham ignited the sluggish University of Kansas men midway through the first half, pouring in 29 points and lifting the top-seeded Jayhawks to a tough, grind-it-out 76-60 victory over No. 16 Pennsylvania in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. Lagerald Vick added 14 points for the Jayhawks (28-7), who trailed the Ivy League champs by 10 in the early stages before going on a 19-2 run late in the first half to take control. Graham, perhaps atoning for a miserable performance in last year's tournament loss to Oregon, also had six rebounds and six assists as the Jayhawks cruised into a second-round matchup with eighth-seeded Seton Hall or No. 9 seed North Carolina State in the loaded Midwest Region. A.J. Brodeur had 14 points to lead the Quakers (24-9), but he was just 6 of 16 from the field and committed five turnovers. He was also 1 of 5 from the foul line, where Penn was 5 of 14 as a team. The Jayhawks played most of the way without 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, who hurt a ligament in his left knee in practice last week. The sophomore center three minutes, all in the first half, and clearly struggled to move around while wearing a bulky brace on his leg. Malik Newman, the MVP of last week's Big 12 Tournament, and Svi Mykhailiuk also scored 10 points apiece for KU, which won its 12th consecutive NCAA opener. For much of the way, the improbable seemed entirely possible. Trying to succeed where 132 other No. 16 seeds had failed, the Quakers raced to a 21-11 lead with about 7 minutes left in the first half. They leaned on their stingy perimeter defense to limit the hot-shooting Jayhawks' 3-point barrage, and their pick-and-roll offense was humming. It took the Big 12 player of the year to restore some order. Graham picked the pocket of Caleb Wood on defense, trailed a fast-break play and was there to lay in Mykhailiuk's missed layup, trigging what would become a 19-2 run over the next six minutes. Graham added back-to-back baskets, using his speed and crossover to get to the rim, then knocked down a pair of 3s later in the run. Graham capped his 19-point first-half barrage by drawing a foul as the Quakers were attempted to give a foul away, then hitting all three foul shots. That gave the Big 12 champions a 33-26 lead heading into the locker room. Penn hung around until midway through the second half, when the bigger, stronger Jayhawks began to assert control. Their veteran backcourt did most of the work, slowly drawing away down the stretch.

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