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Headlines for Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

U.S. Senate Closer to Vote on Ambassadorship for Kansas Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Senate is moving toward a vote on Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's nomination for an ambassador's post.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed a motion Monday to cut off debate on President Donald Trump's nomination of the conservative Republican governor to serve as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.  McConnell communications director David Popp said in an email that a vote on the motion would occur Friday unless minority Democrats agree to have a vote sooner. Ending debate would clear the way for a second vote on Brownback's nomination.  Trump first nominated Brownback for the ambassador's post in July, but his appointment has faced opposition from Democrats and LGBT groups.  Brownback would resign if he is confirmed. Fellow Republican Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer would be elevated to governor.

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Kansas Democrats Outline Transparency Proposals

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Democratic legislators in Kansas are pushing a series of proposals designed to promote transparency in government and law enforcement.  The proposals outlined Tuesday include changes aimed at making police body camera footage more accessible to the public. Rep. John Alcala of Topeka said he wants to ensure that such footage is released within 48 hours of a written request to a law enforcement agency. Sen. David Haley of Kansas City also is working on a proposal to ease restrictions on the release of body camera footage. The proposals unveiled during a Statehouse news conference include measures to strengthen lobbying laws and bar elected officials from becoming lobbyists for a year after leaving office. Another proposal would prevent the House and Senate and their committees from taking unrecorded votes on legislation.  

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Kansas Legislators Denounce Municipal 'Seat Shopping'

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are condemning the practice of municipal government and school board members resigning from office aware that peers would quickly reappoint them to a different vacancy to artificially extend their terms.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that members of the 2018 Legislature have expressed bipartisan disapproval for the insider deals, but haven't mentioned a bill to forbid or limit the practice.  Two "seat shopping" occurrences in southeast Kansas prompted interest in how elective boards, commissions and councils use authority to help incumbents who lost re-election or someone near the end of a term who didn't file for re-election. The arrangements allow those people to secure longer terms in office without being voted in.  House Majority Leader Don Hineman says such arrangements are "not right." But he says lawmakers are reluctant to interfere in local government.

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Kansas School Board Member Keeps Tradition in Swearing Oath

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new Wichita school board member considered placing his hand on a science fiction novel when being sworn into office but ultimately decided to stick with tradition. The Wichita Eagle reports that Ben Blankley decided to simply raise his right hand Monday when being sworn in to represent District 1 on the school board. Blankley did place "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," ''Robert's Rules of Order" and "Fundamentals of Astrodynamics" at the board table during the oath as a salute to learning. State law requires those being sworn into office to place their right hand on the Bible or to hold up their right hand. Blankley says he was inspired to think about swearing on other books after watching members of Wichita City Council take their oaths of office.

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Officials Can't Determine Cause of Lawrence Hotel Fire 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Investigators say it is too dangerous and would be too expensive to determine the cause of a fire that destroyed a Lawrence hotel. The city announced the cause of the January 15 fire at the Americas Best Value Inn was officially undetermined. No one was injured. Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Marshal James King said Monday extensive excavation would be needed before investigators could go inside the three-story building, which largely collapsed after the fire. He says investigators so far found no evidence of arson, so officials decided the expense of the excavation wouldn't be justified. The Lawrence Journal-World reports King said investigators would have pursued the excavation if they strongly suspected criminal activity. The building is a total loss but investigators had not yet calculated a dollar figure for the damages.

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4 Men Bound over for Trial in Contract Killing of Salina Man

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has found sufficient evidence for four men to stand trial in the contract killing of a Salina man. The Salina Journal reports that 31-year-old Charles Rodgers and 40-year-old James Pavey were bound over for trial Monday on charges that include capital murder. The charge allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty, although they haven announced whether they will do so. Two other suspects — 35-year-old Brandon St. Clair and 20-year-old Austin Bott — were bound over for trial on charges that include first-degree murder. The body of 29-year-old Brandon Lee Shelby was found in June on a path near a popular fishing area northeast of Salina. Prosecutors allege that Pavey hired Rodgers to kill Shelby and that the other two were involved. The allegations were discussed on Facebook.

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Father Sues ICE over Handling of Man Charged with Killing 5

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — U.S. immigration officials missed two chances to detain and deport a Mexican national who was in the country illegally before he allegedly killed four men in Kansas and another man in Missouri in 2016, according to a lawsuit filed by the father of one of the victims. The lawsuit filed Monday in Kansas City, Kansas, alleges that 42-year-old Pablo Serrano-Vitorino was arrested and released at least twice before March 2016, when the killings occurred. Serrano-Vitorino is charged with five counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors allege he killed four men in Kansas City, Kansas, and then fled to Missouri, where he killed another man before being captured. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the father of one of the Kansas victims, Austin Harter, The Kansas City Star reported . Serrano-Vitorino was deported to Mexico after he was convicted of a felony in 2003. At some point, he illegally re-entered the U.S. According to the lawsuit, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could have detained him when he was arrested in 2014 and 2015. After his 2014 arrest in Kansas for battery, Wyandotte County jail officials notified ICE he was in custody. But Serrano-Vitorino was released after the federal agency didn't send an agent to the jail, according to the lawsuit. He was arrested later that year drunken driving in Coffey County, Kansas, but the lawsuit doesn't say if ICE was notified. Serrano-Vitorino was fingerprinted in Overland Park Municipal Court in September 2015 after he was cited for traffic infractions. ICE officials asked that he be held in custody but sent the paperwork to a different jail in Johnson County, Kansas, the lawsuit contends. He was once again released from custody. The alleged failure of ICE to follow proper procedures "provided the means for a convicted felon who was illegally in the country, but in custody, to be released and kill Austin and the four other victims," according to the lawsuit. "These deaths were foreseeable and preventable had the ICE officials, officers and/or agents involved simply followed the laws, regulations and/or procedures, which they were required to uphold." ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said Tuesday that the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation, but added that "lack of comment should not be construed as agreement with or stipulation to any of the allegations." Serrano-Vitorino is jailed in St. Louis awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Randy Nordman, of New Florence, Missouri. He is charged in Kansas in the deaths of Harter, Clint Harter, Mike Capps and Jeremy Waters. Authorities have not discussed a possible motive for the killings. Serrano-Vitorina has pleaded not guilty. Missouri prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

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Man Admits Sexual Assault of Minors at McConnell Base

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A man who lived in base housing at McConnell Air Force Base has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for sexually abusing two 16-year-old girls. U.S. Attorney Tom Beall says 38-year-old Random Shane Smith, of Wichita, was sentenced Monday. He pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual abuse. In his plea, Smith admitted using force to make the victims have sex with him. The assaults occurred in base housing.

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$5,000 Reward Offered in Shooting Death of Oklahoma Woman

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback is authorizing a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those involved in the death of a woman who was found floating in a reservoir. The governor issued an executive order Tuesday in the case of 33-year-old Cassie Ann Easom, of Miami, Oklahoma. She was found Dec. 7 floating in the Elk Creek Reservoir in southwest Kansas and was later declared dead. Investigators say she was shot several times in the head. Anyone with information is asked to call the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office or the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The executive order makes the reward offer effective immediately.  

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Derby Middle School Staff Member in Police Custody 

DERBY, Kan. (AP) — Derby Middle School officials say a staff member is in police custody but few details are being released. District spokeswoman Katie Carlson said Tuesday the staff member was not in school Tuesday and was not taken into custody on school property. The person has been suspended with pay. She says officials believe the matter doesn't involve any students or staff. Derby Middle School is a sixth- through eighth-grade school with about 820 students.

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ICE Agent Arrested After Wichita TV Anchor Goes to Police 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Newly released court documents show an agent with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is facing federal charges after a Wichita television news anchor told local police that he was sending her sensitive law enforcement material and texting messages that were sexual in nature. A probable cause affidavit made public Monday says KAKE-TV anchor Deb Farris met in March with police who photographed about 185 screen shots of text messages between her and ICE Agent Andrew J. Pleviak. Farris told The Associated Press Tuesday that Pleviak came to her asking to be her source and texted things that made her uncomfortable and scared. Pleviak was indicted in July on two counts of exceeding authorized access to a government computer and one count of destruction of records. His attorney declined comment.

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Interstate 70 and Other Roads in Northwest Kansas Reopen

WAKEENEY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas authorities have reopened several highways that were closed in northwest Kansas because of heavy snow and strong winds.  The Kansas Highway Patrol says a portion of Interstate 70 and other roadways from WaKeeney to the Colorado border were opened early Monday afternoon after the storm eased and moved east.  Midwest Energy had reported about 3,200 customers without electricity early Monday, most between Oakley and Colby, but the utility said it had reduced that number to about 2,300. School districts across the region canceled classes for the day.   The snow began in Kansas Sunday night and the National Weather Service forecasts 7-to-12 inches around Colby, Goodland and Hilly City. Hays and Concordia were expected to receive up to 3 inches, with lesser amounts as the snow moves east.

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Winter Storm Howls Through Midwest, Flights Cancelled

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Heavy snow and strong winds are pushing through the Midwest, closing highways in Kansas and South Dakota and snarling flights in Denver and Minneapolis.  The National Weather Service says more than 10 inches of snow has already fallen on North Platte in western Nebraska. In southern Minnesota, the storm dumped 9 inches on Owatonna by midday Monday. Dozens of school districts in Minnesota canceled classes.  Weather service meteorologist Bill Borghoff in Minnesota says the storm starting brewing Saturday night over Nebraska and spread to Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Transportation officials advised against traveling in southwest Minnesota due to whiteout conditions.  Officials say about 190 flights have been canceled at Denver International Airport. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport reports more than 100 cancellations.

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2 Ex-Students at Kansas Military School Charged in Assault

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have filed criminal charges against two former students related to last week's sexual assault in a dorm room at St. John's Military School.  Court records show the two boys, ages 15 and 16, were formally charged late Friday with aggravated criminal sodomy, a felony. The Associated Press is not naming them because they are juveniles.  The attorney for the family of the 15-year-old Texas boy who was allegedly assaulted says the family has taken him out of school.  St. John's Military School posted a statement on its website saying a "deeply troubling incident" took place on campus and that staff notified local authorities. It added that "every child deserves to be believed."  The school says the two cadets who were arrested were dismissed from the school.

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Family of Man Killed After 'Swatting' Call Sues City of Wichita, Police Officers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The family of a Kansas man fatally shot by police at the door of his home after a hoax emergency call has sued the city of Wichita and the unidentified officers involved.  The federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Kansas seeks unspecified damages from the December 28 death of Andrew Finch in Wichita. The unarmed 28-year-old man was shot by police responding to a California man's call with a fake story about a shooting and kidnapping at Finch's Wichita home.  The shooting drew national attention to the practice of "swatting," when someone makes up a false report to get emergency responders to descend on an address. The hoax call reportedly was made after a dispute over a wager online in a "Call of Duty" online video game tournament.

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Ex-Kansas Teacher Gets Probation After Sex with Student

HIAWATHA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas high school biology teacher was sentenced to three years of probation for having sex with a student.  Twenty-four-year-old Gabrielle Bauman, of Fairview, was sentenced Monday. She will have to register as a sex offender for 25 years.  Bauman was arrested in September after Hiawatha police investigated a report made to the school district in in mid-June. At the time, she taught anatomy and biology at Hiawatha High School.  The St. Joseph News-Press reports a criminal complaint indicated the student was 16 or older and enrolled at the school. The victim and the victim's family asked that she receive probation.

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Former Uber Executive Running for Kansas Secretary of State

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former Uber and Google executive is running for the Democratic nomination for Kansas secretary of state.  Brian McClendon's announcement Monday is a sign that Democrats are making a serious run at a statewide office held by an early Kansas supporter of President Donald Trump.  Republican incumbent Kris Kobach is running for governor this year. He was vice chairman of Trump's recently disbanded election fraud commission.  The 53-year-old McClendon said Trump's election helped spur him to leave Silicon Valley, return to his hometown of Lawrence and consider a run for public office.  McClendon left Uber last year after nearly two years as a vice president. Before that, he was Google's vice president of engineering for nearly 11 years.  He is a University of Kansas research professor who advises startup firms.

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Shawnee Mission School District Revisits Ban on Complaints Against Board Members

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — The governing body for the state's third largest school district is looking into reversing a rule that prohibited complaints about school board members.  At issue is a Shawnee Mission school district policy regarding public participation at meetings. The Kansas City Star reports that it came under fire in November, when the board added school board members to the list of individuals that shouldn't be publicly criticized. The ACLU decried the change as "clearly unconstitutional." Since then, three board members have retired or weren't re-elected.  Board members tasked with reviewing the policy said Monday that they'd be willing to strike the ban on criticizing board members. But they also warned that official changes would likely take time, as the board continues to consult experts and collect public feedback.

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University of Kansas Group Urges School to Sell Jet

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A group of faculty, staff and students at the University of Kansas is urging the school's administration to sell its jet to save money.  The recommendation came in a report by the University Senate's Planning and Resources Committee that was released last spring, the Lawrence Journal-World reported . Selling the Cessna CJ4 jet could generate about $6.6 million and save the university more than $1 million a year in operating costs, according to the committee.  Administration officials responded last month, calling the plane an important business tool used for donor relations, athletics recruitment and outreach efforts by the KU Medical Center. The twin-turbine jet seats up to 10 passengers and can fly with a range of just over 2,000 miles.  But most of the plane's flights between January 2015 and February 2017 had distances of less than 300 miles with few passengers on board, according to the report. The committee suggested the university would be fine using smaller, propeller-driven planes.  "It's akin to owning a Lamborghini and using it to haul hay half a block to feed your horses. It's that wasteful," said Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, an aerospace engineering professor at the university and a member of the committee. "We've got the wrong aircraft, we're utilizing it the wrong way and it's wasteful."  The issue may come up at the Kansas Legislature, where Republican Rep. Troy Waymaster of Bunker Hill said he began reviewing the state's aircraft fleet and is considering possible liquidation.  "There were some interesting things that popped up when we started looking into that," he said. "Why some departments have an aircraft. And basically it's owned by the state of Kansas and they have to get permission to use the aircraft, but still, they're the frequent user of it."

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Second Suspect Arrested in Shooting at Topeka Hotel

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A second suspect has been arrested in a shooting at a Topeka hotel that left a 31-year-old man dead.  Police say 19-year-old Vincent Gonzalez-Rook was taken into custody Monday morning after a pursuit in a vehicle that had been reported stolen. No charges are listed for him in online court records, and it wasn't immediately known if he had an attorney.  Nineteen-year-old Logan Bartley was booked into jail earlier this month. He is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the death of Jesse Lee McFall. He was suffering from multiple gunshot wounds when officers responded January 11 to the Best Western motel in southwest Topeka. McFall was taken to a local hospital, where he died.  Police say McFall and Bartley knew each other.

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Wichita Wig Store Manager Shoots, Wounds Would-Be Robber

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a manager of a Wichita wig store has shot a man as he attempted to rob the store.  Wichita police Lt. Ronald Hunt says the shooting happened Monday at Honie's Wig & Beauty Supply. The Wichita Eagle reports that the manager fired two rounds. The would-be robber was struck in his chin and shoulder and was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.  Police say the wounded man appeared to be in his late 30s.

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