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Headlines for Wednesday, December 19, 2018

2 More Moderate Kansas GOP Legislators Defect to Democrats

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two moderate Kansas Republican legislators switched to the Democratic Party on Wednesday, joining two other suburban Kansas City lawmakers who made the switch last week. State Senator Dinah Sykes, of Lenexa, and state Representative Stephanie Clayton, of Overland Park, both said they believed they could be more effective legislators as Democrats. All of the lawmakers switching parties are from Johnson County, which is the state's most populous county and which Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly carried in last month's election. Despite the defections, the Republicans will maintain supermajorities in both legislative chambers, with their majorities slipping to 84-41 in the House and 28-11, with one independent, in the Senate. Sykes was elected to the Senate in 2016, defeating a conservative incumbent in the GOP primary. She said her district is "moderate and pragmatic." "At this time, I feel like I can either fight to change the Republican Party or fight for the state I love and the people I serve," she said in a statement. Clayton was first elected to the House in 2010 and has been a vocal advocate for government transparency and an organizer of a bipartisan Women's Caucus. She said she believes she can best support public schools as a Democrat. "I hope to be able to continue to serve as a bridge between parties, helping our Legislature and state find common-sense, bipartisan solutions to the issues we face," she said in a statement. State Senator Barbara Bollier, of Mission Hills, and departing state Representative Joy Koesten of Leawood switched to the Democratic Party last week. Clayton won re-election this year, but Koesten lost her GOP primary and leaves office in January. Bollier and Sykes are serving four-year terms that run through 2020.

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Federal Agency Proposes $232,000 Fine for Kansas Nuclear Plant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Federal regulators have proposed fining the state's only nuclear power plant $232,000 over what regulators say was retaliation against an employee for reporting a possible safety issue.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Tuesday that it found the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation violated federal regulations.  The NRC said that during a fall 2016 refueling outage at the plant, a contract employee reported a safety concern. The NRC said the employee was placed on paid administrative leave.  Wolf Creek said it has refined its reviews of personnel actions and has taken steps to ensure that employees are encouraged to report safety concerns and remain protected when they do.  The NRC said Wolf Creek has 30 days to dispute the fine or seek mediation.

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Police Save Missouri Infant After Dad Reports Drowning

GREENWOOD, Mo. (AP) — A man who walked into a northwest Missouri town's police station to report that he had drowned his 6-month-old daughter turned out to be wrong, after two officers rushed to a pond and revived the child.  Police Lt. Aaron Fordham says the man said Monday that he drowned his daughter in a pond in Greenwood, about 20 miles southeast of Kansas City.  Fordham says Greenwood Police Chief Greg Hallgrimson and Cpl. Tom Calhoun found the unconscious girl floating face up in the murky pond. They pulled her out and were able to revive her with CPR and get her warm before emergency responders arrived.  The Kansas City Star reports 28-year-old Jonathon Stephen Zicarelli was charged Monday with first-degree domestic assault.  Police said the child is stable condition.  

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Kansas Lawmakers Could Face Decisions on Earthquake Damage Payments

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Lawmakers are likely to face renewed debate in the next legislative session about how or whether to hold oil and gas companies accountable for property damage caused by earthquakes in Kansas.  Earthquakes have increased in Kansas since 2013 when fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, became more common for oil and gas exploration. Some researchers believe injection of wastewater from the explorations into underground wells contributes to the quakes.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Joe Spease, of the Kansas Sierra Club, says lawmakers should require oil and gas companies to pay a fee to help pay for damages from earthquakes.  But Ed Cross, executive director Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association, says companies would go out of business and jobs would be lost if such fees were imposed on the industry.

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Kansas to Pay $1.1 Million in Wrongful Conviction Look-Alike Case

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has agreed to pay $1.1 million to a man who spent 17 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a robbery that he says was committed by someone who looks just like him.  Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Tuesday that a settlement was reached Monday with 42-year-old Richard Anthony Jones of Kansas City, Missouri.  Schmidt said Jones is the first person to agree to a settlement payout under a new state law that provides compensation to people who are wrongly imprisoned. Two other mistaken conviction lawsuits are pending in Kansas.  "We are committed to faithfully administering the new mistaken-conviction statute the legislature enacted," Schmidt said in a news release. "In this case, it was possible on the existing record to resolve all issues quickly, satisfy all of the statute's requirements, and agree to this outcome so Mr. Jones can receive the benefits to which he is entitled by law because he was mistakenly convicted."  

Eyewitness testimony sent Jones to prison for an attack and robbery in the parking lot of a Walmart in Roeland Park, Kansas. No physical evidence linked Jones to the crime, and he always maintained his innocence. He was freed after supporters found evidence that another man who looked just like him lived near the Walmart.  His lawyers with the Midwest Innocence Project and the Paul E. Wilson Defender Project at the University of Kansas presented the other man at a June 2017 hearing. After the victim and witnesses withdrew their identification of Jones, Johnson County District Judge Kevin Moriarty ordered Jones' release. While not saying the other man committed the crime, Moriarty found that based on the new evidence, no reasonable juror would have convicted Jones. The other man, known as "Ricky," testified at the hearing that he did not commit the robbery.

Investigators focused on Jones after his picture was picked out of a police database three months after the crime by a man who admitted he was on drugs during his only encounter with Jones, according to court documents filed by the defense. Jones's lawyers argued the lineup of photos shown to the victim and other witnesses was "highly suggestive," with Jones' picture the only one of six photographs that resembled the description of the robbery suspect.

Under the settlement, Jones was granted a certificate of innocence and will receive counseling and health care through the state for two years. The settlement requires final approval by a state council.  Phone messages left Wednesday with the Midwest Innocence Project and the Paul E. Wilson Defender Project at the University of Kansas weren't immediately returned.

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Kansas Cuts Fine Against Hog Farmer for Unapproved Building

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas regulators have slashed a fine against a northwest Kansas swine operation for ignoring orders to halt the construction of unauthorized facilities capable of holdings tens of thousands of hogs.  The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment slashed to $34,000 the fine levied for building confined feeding facilities in Norton and Phillips counties without permits and for ignoring the state's cease-and-desist orders to halt the work. A pair of consent agreements covering Rolling Hills Pork and Old Stone Pork dismissed a majority of the original $147,000 fine imposed in January, the department said.  KDHE can demand payment of up to $25,000 from Rolling Hills Pork and as much as $21,000 from Old Stone Pork if the businesses again violate state law before October 2020.

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Spirit AeroSystems Announces 1,400 New Jobs at Wichita Plant

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Aircraft parts maker Spirit AeroSystems announced Wednesday it plans to hire an additional 1,400 people next year at its Wichita plant. Spirit Chief Executive Officer Tom Gentile said in a news conference that the new hiring will come on top of the 1,000 new jobs the company said last year it planned to add as part of a $1 billion expansion at its Wichita facility. The company reached that job goal within months, he said. Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer called the latest announcement "the biggest news in this state in a long time." The Wichita Eagle reported the new jobs will bring the number of employees at the company's headquarters in Wichita from 11,000 on the day of the December 2017 expansion announcement to 13,400 employees by the end of 2019, Gentile said. Its website says the company has more than 15,000 employees worldwide. Spirit AeroSystems, Wichita's largest employer, revealed plans in May for a 150,000-square-foot building that will be part of the $1 billion expansion. Boeing sold its Wichita and Oklahoma operations in 2005 in a move that spun off the company now known as Spirit AeroSystems. It now builds aircraft parts for multiple commercial and defense customers, including Boeing 373 fuselages.

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Wyandotte County Latest to Sue Opioid Makers, Distributors

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Wyandotte County has become the latest municipality to sue opioid makers and distributors, alleging that they "pushed highly addictive, dangerous" drugs. The Kansas City Star reports that the county filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court against 14 industry giants and their affiliates. It accused them of getting rich by hooking people on pain meds while costing citizens large amounts of money in health care and law enforcement to deal with addiction, diversion and overdoses. More than 1,000 similar suits have been filed by cities and counties across the country. They're being gathered in a federal court in Cleveland. A judge there has urged the parties involved to reach a master settlement similar to one forged between states and tobacco companies in 1998. Trials are scheduled to start next year.

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Oklahoma Woman Charged with Leaving Grandson in Kansas

EUREKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have charged the grandmother of a 17-year-old Oklahoma boy with special needs who was left at a Kansas rest stop last month. Janie Gill is charged in Greenwood County, Kansas, with child endangerment and interference with law enforcement. She is also charged with child neglect in Rogers County, Oklahoma. A custodian found the boy Nov. 29 at a rest stop near Beaumont, Kansas. He had no identification and couldn't speak. KAKE reports that Gill, who is 68, told deputies after her arrest that she left the boy at the rest stop because she knew someone would find him and give him the services he needs. Court proceedings in Oklahoma will determine when Gill will be extradited to Kansas. Kansas authorities say the boy remains in protective custody.

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Man Charged After Laser Pointed at Kansas Patrol Plane

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man is facing federal charges after allegedly pointed a laser beam at a Kansas Highway Patrol plane. Prosecutors say 29-year-old Armando Rodriguez-Leyva was indicted Wednesday on one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. If convicted, he faces up to five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Authorities say the highway patrol plane was flying over south Wichita on Saturday when a green-colored laser flashed on the airplane several times and illuminated the cockpit. U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said in a news release that lasers that light up a cockpit are disorienting and can temporarily blind pilots. The patrol pilot tracked the light to a Wichita home. Officers arrested Rodriguez-Leyva as he was sitting in a car behind the house.

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Woman Sentenced in Wichita Man's Shooting Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A woman who killed a 67-year-old Wichita man who was discovered dead on his birthday has been sentenced to 20.5 years in prison. Friends who went to John Gaffney's home on July 7 to take him to a birthday dinner found him dead. The Wichita Eagle reports 54-year-old Sherry Wedel of Wichita was arrested six weeks after Gaffney was killed. She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in November. She was sentenced earlier this week. Court records say Wedel shot Gaffney with a handgun sometime between July 6 and July 7.

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US Land Agency Appoints New Boss in Oil-Rich Region

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. agency that oversees oil and gas development in one of the nation's most prolific areas has appointed a career employee as the region's new director. The Bureau of Land Management says Tim Spisak will oversee New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The region covers 42 million acres (17 million hectares) of mineral estate that includes oil, natural gas and other deposits. Ongoing interest in the Permian Basin, which straddles parts of New Mexico and Texas, recently resulted in the largest oil and gas lease sale in the agency's history. Federal geologists also identified more potential for the basin in a report released earlier this month. Spisak has served as acting director since October. He previously was the agency's deputy assistant director for energy, minerals and realty management.

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Man Sentenced in Conspiracy that Included 27 Robberies

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 24-year-old Missouri man was sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole for participating in a conspiracy involving at least 27 armed robberies, which ended when police fatally shot one suspect.  Deonte Collins-Abbott, of Grandview, was sentenced Tuesday in federal court. He admitted to committing eight armed robberies in February and March 2016. Collins-Abbott said he and co-conspirators robbed businesses in Blue Springs, Independence, North Kansas City, Raytown, Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas.  In March 2016, Collins-Abbott and two other men robbed a Walgreens in Blue Springs, Missouri.  Collins-Abbott and Jermon Seals, of Shawnee, Kansas, were confronted by police when they left the store. Police say Seals was shot when he pointed a gun toward officers.  Three other men are awaiting sentencing in the case.

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Man Sentenced for Role in Drug Ring Run Out of Barbershop

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 38-year-old man who was part of a drug ring that operated out of a barbershop has been sentenced to four years and four months in federal prison.  Jason Bell, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, was sentenced Tuesday for his role in the $4 million drug ring in Kansas City, Kansas.  He admitted he was part of a ring that operated out of Cocoliso's Barbershop, which is five blocks from the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department headquarters.  The U.S. Attorney's office said in a news release that Bell sold thousands of dollars of methamphetamine to undercover investigators before he was arrested at the barbershop.  Bell worked at the barbershop, which was co-owned by his co-defendant, Edwin Pacheco. Pacheco is awaiting sentencing in the case.

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Former U.S. Attorney for Kansas Considers Run for Senate Seat

LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) — Former U.S. Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom has talked to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee about a possible run for Republican Senator Pat Roberts' seat.  The Kansas City Star reports that Grissom confirmed Monday that he's been considering a 2020 run as a Democrat for roughly a year. Although he's not made his decision, he's laying the groundwork.  Roberts is 82 and hasn't yet decided whether he'll seek re-election for a term that would keep him in office through his 90th birthday. He's seen as vulnerable because he survived a primary challenge in 2014 against a political newcomer with less than 50 percent of vote and needed a flood of national money to win the general election.  Roberts' spokesman dismissed Grissom's chances, describing Grissom as an appointee of President Barack Obama.

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Judge Delays Trial for Online Gamer in Deadly Kansas Hoax

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has delayed the trial of an online gamer charged with a hoax that ultimately led police to fatally shoot a Kansas man.  The attorney for 18-year-old Casey Viner of North College Hill, Ohio, asked for more time to complete plea negotiations. The judge on Tuesday set a new trial for February 12.  Viner had faced trial in January on charges including conspiracy to obstruct justice, wire fraud and other counts.  Viner allegedly became upset over a $1.50 bet while playing online a Call of Duty WWII video game with 20-year-old Shane Gaskill of Wichita. Prosecutors say Viner then asked Tyler Barriss of Los Angeles to "swat" Gaskill at a Wichita address.  Swatting is sometimes used by gamers to send first responders to an opponent's address.

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Kansas Security Firm with Guards Facing Murder Charges May Close

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas security company says it may go out of business because of licensing problems that began when two of its employees were charged with fatally shooting a man outside a Missouri bar.  The Kansas City Star reports that the latest blow to Overland Park, Kansas-based Force One Security is the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners voting Monday to deny its appeal of a license revocation. It mostly does business in Missouri.  After the two guards were charged in July with leaving their post to investigate a wreck and killing a motorist, the company was placed on probation for five years and fined $5,000. The board then revoked the company's license to operate in Kansas City in September because two of its employees failed their firearm qualification test.

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Prairie Village Passes Ordinance to Shield LGBTQ Residents

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. (AP) — The Prairie Village City Council has approved an ordinance that shields LGBTQ individuals from many types of discrimination within the city.  The council's unanimous approval on Monday night came after more than three months of sometimes contentious public debate on the issue.  The Kansas City Star reports that the measure bans discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity when it comes to housing, employment or receiving public services from stores, restaurants or other businesses. The City Prosecutor's office will investigate discrimination claims, with possible fines up to $1,000 per violation.  The ordinance doesn't apply to religious institutions or non-profit private clubs.  City officials in Mission and Merriam are expected to vote soon on similar antidiscrimination ordinances.

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22 Suffer Minor Injuries in Ness City School Bus Crash

DIGHTON, Kan. (AP) — Twenty students and two adults were injured when a school bus carrying a Ness City High School basketball team collided with a pickup truck. The Kansas Highway Patrol says none of the injuries were life threatening. The accident occurred Tuesday night on Kansas 96 in western Kansas when the team was returning from a basketball game in Dighton. About 40 people were on the bus. The patrol says the collision occurred when a pickup pulling a trailer tried to turn in front of the bus, which struck the truck on the driver's side.

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Police Searching for Tiny Home Stolen from St. Louis

ST. LOUIS (AP) — It shouldn't be hard to spot the property stolen from St. Louis resident Meghan Panu.  She's looking for a 12-foot-tall tiny home that was stolen sometime Saturday.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports Panu spent the past two years and about $20,000 working on the 20-foot cedar home.  The house was parked outside Refab, a popular spot for home remodeling supplies, when it was taken. Panu says she's gone through surveillance cameras from nearby businesses to try and spot the thief.  Panu, a recent graduate of Webster University, planned to finish the interior and move in this spring.  Some Facebook posts reported seeing the house being pulled by a pickup truck on Interstate 70 west of St. Louis.

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