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Headlines for Wednesday, January 1, 2020

UPDATE: Victims of Johnson County Plane Crash Identified

UNDATED (AP) — An investigation continues after a small plane crashed during takeoff from an airport near Kansas City, killing the pilot and a passenger. The Kansas Highway Patrol identified the victims as the pilot, 48-year-old Jonathan J. Vannatta of Maumelle, Arkansas, and 43-year-old passenger Darcy L. Matthews of Belton, Texas. The Federal Aviation Administration registry lists Vannatta as co-owner of the plane. The accident happened around 4 p.m. Tuesday at Johnson County Executive Airport. The plane was on fire when emergency responders arrived. FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro says the single-engine Mooney M20S crashed "under unknown circumstances" shortly after departing from the airport.

(–earlier reporting–)

2 Killed in Plane Crash at Johnson County Airport

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says two people have died in a small plane crash near a suburban Kansas City airport. The plane went down near the Johnson County Executive Airport Tuesday afternoon. Overland Park police say the plane was on fire when officers from the region arrived. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said a single-engine Mooney M20S crashed "under unknown circumstances" shortly after leaving the airport. The aircraft was destroyed. Further information was not immediately available.

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`Captain America' Actress Charged with Killing Mom in Kansas

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — An actress who had a small role in the movie “Captain America: The First Avenger" is accused of fatally stabbing her mother inside a suburban Kansas City home. The Kansas City Star reports that 38-year-old Mollie Fitzgerald was arrested Tuesday by police in Olathe, Kansas. She's charged with second-degree murder in the death of 68-year-old Patricia “Tee” Fitzgerald. Authorities say she was found dead on Dec. 20 inside her Olathe home. A relative says Patricia Fitzgerald was in the process of moving back to the Kansas City area after living in the Houston area for several decades.

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Kansas's Embrace of Wind Energy Helps Reduce CO2 Emissions

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has been able to reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions for a 10th straight year, largely due to the rapid adoption of wind energy and a slow move away from coal powered electricity. The Kansas News Service reports that about 36% of all electricity produced in Kansas is from wind, the highest percentage of any U.S. state. Just this year, Kansas saw four new wind farms, adding enough capacity to power 190,000 homes for a year. A Natural Resources Defense Council board member says the move to renewable energy and subsequent decrease in carbon-dioxide emissions will be vital to reducing the impacts of climate change.

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Wichita Officer Helps Pull 2 Women from Crashed, Burning Car

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita police officer helped pull two women from a burning car after the driver crashed and ran away. The Wichita Eagle reports that the 25-year-old driver of the car was arrested near the accident early Tuesday morning. Wichita Police Officer Charley Davidson said the car was going north on a street in east Wichita when it crashed into a concrete retaining wall near U.S. 400. The car's engine compartment caught fire with a 37-year-old woman and a 31-year-old woman still inside. An officer pulled them to safety. A handgun was found in the car and cocaine was found nearby.

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Man Charged in Kansas with Killing Ex, 2 of Her Children

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man has been charged in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend and two of her children whose bodies were found after a house fire in Kansas City, Kansas. Prosecutors say 31-year-old Ismael Caballero is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of arson. He is jailed on $1 million bond. The charges stem from the discovery of the bodies of 32-year-old Yazmine Rodriguez-Santilla, 14-year-old Amerikha Rodriguez and 10-year-old Jean Carlos Rodriguez by crews battling a house fire early Monday. Prosecutors allege in charging documents that he set fire to the house as well as to a minvian.

(–earlier reporting–)

Suspect Arrested in Deaths of Woman and 2 Children Found After KCK House Fire

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have arrested a suspect in the deaths of a mother and two children whose bodies were found after a house fire in Kansas City, Kansas. Police say charges are pending a review by the Wyandotte County District Attorney's Office. The cause of death and a motive weren't immediately released. Firefighters responded to the blaze around 4:35 am Monday. KCTV reports that the victims have been identified as 32-year-old Yazmine Rodriguez, 14-year-old Amerikha Rodriguez and 10-year-old Jean Carlos Rodriguez.

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Paroled Kansas Killer Charged in Another Homicide

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A convicted Kansas killer has been charged with another homicide just months after he was released on parole. The Wichita Eagle reports that 39-year-old Ahmad Khaasanouva Bey was charged Tuesday in Sedgwick County District Court with first-degree murder in the death of 41-year-old Melinda Sprague, whom police said he had dated. Bey is also charged with criminal possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. Another suspect, 34-year-old Vanessa Lynne Waner, is charged with interference with law enforcement. Her body was found Dec. 26 in an abandoned vehicle, two days after she was reported missing.

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Police: Man and Goat Taken on Terrifying Three-State Drive

SAND SPRINGS, Okla. (AP) — Police in Oklahoma say a man was arrested on New Year's Day after he allegedly took a truck and drove it more than 100 miles with a sleeping passenger and a goat inside. Police say 40-year-old Brandon Kirby took the truck, which was parked outside an adult video store in Carthage, Missouri, and drove it more than 130 miles. Authorities say he was eventually arrested near Tulsa, Oklahoma, after he let the passenger and goat go, and the victim called police. Kirby is jailed on suspicion of kidnapping and weapons complaints.

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Man, Woman Fatally Shot at Hotel near Downtown Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating the deadly shooting of a man and woman at a hotel near downtown Wichita. Police Capt. Wendell Nicholson says officers responded around 12:20 a.m. Thursday and found the victims suffering from gunshot wounds at the Hotel at WaterWalk. Both victims died at the scene. They were in their 30s, but their names weren't immediately released. Police don't have any suspects, although investigators are talking to witnesses who saw someone running away from the scene. No motive has been released.  

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Man Arrested in Death of Relative After New Year's Eve Fight

NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have arrested a man in the death of a relative after a New Year's Eve fight in central Kansas. Thirty-five-year-old Andrew Martinez has been booked into the Harvey County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder in the death of 53-year-old Robert Flores, of Newton. KWCH-TV reports that a spokesperson for the city of Newton says a fight started Tuesday night inside a house and spilled outside, where Flores was injured and died. The spokesperson says Flores and Martinez both lived at the home where the fight began. Details about the exact cause of death have not been released.

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Survey Suggests Economy Growing in 9 Midwest, Plains States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A survey report suggests the economy is growing slowly in nine Midwest and Plains states as the U.S.-China trade war continues. The Mid-America Business Conditions index rebounded to 50.6 in December from 48.6 in November. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey, and he says the trade war and the global economic slowdown will be drags on the overall Mid-America economy for the first half of 2020. But he expects overall regional growth to remain soft but positive. Survey organizers say any index score above 50 suggests growth. A score below that suggests decline.

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Missing 15-Year-Old Girl Rescued During Kansas Traffic Stop

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have rescued a missing 15-year-old girl during a traffic stop in western Kansas.  Garden City police say officers pulled over a vehicle around 3 am Sunday. The Wichita Eagle reports that investigators determined that the teen in the passenger seat had been taken December 23 and held against her will. A man booked into jail in the case has since been released.

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Homeless Man Charged in Death of 72-Year-Old Wichita Woman

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A homeless man has been charged with killing a 72-year-old Wichita woman during a sexual assault. Fifty-five-year-old John Pepper was charged Monday in Sedgwick County District Court with capital murder in the death of Rita Golden. The Wichita Eagle reports that prosecutors allege her death occurred during the commission of an aggravated criminal sodomy. Pepper has been jailed on burglary and theft charges stemming from an unrelated incident. Golden was found unresponsive in her home in July. Prosecutors allege in court documents that "the victim was particularly vulnerable due to age, infirmity, or reduced physical or mental capacity."

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Wichita VA Hospital Moves to Remove Former Missouri Doctor

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Veterans Affairs hospital is Wichita has begun the process of removing a doctor who is under scrutiny for allegedly harming patients during robot-assisted surgeries in Missouri. The VA hospital in Wichita confirmed this week that it has proposed that Christel Wambi-Kiesse be removed. The hospital began investigating the doctor in September, after The Kansas City Star reported the Missouri board that regulates doctors was seeking to discipline the 44-year-old urologist. The Star reported one woman died two months after Wambi-Kiesse performed surgery on her, and two other men suffered dangerous complications. The doctor remains on the hospital's payroll until the process to remove him is complete.

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AG: Treatment, Funding Key to Kansas Criminal Justice Reform

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas' top law enforcement official advocates higher spending on for the mentally ill and treating substance abuse. Attorney General Derek Schmidt says the extra funding is crucial to reforming the state's criminal justice system. Schmidt contends extra funding for such services will deal with underlying problems fueling many offenders' crimes. He said local officials frequently face a bad choice of locking up someone who'd benefit more from treatment or leaving that person in the community to cause more harm. There's interest in changing the criminal justice system because state prisons are full and the inmate population is expected to keep growing.

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Former TV Meteorologist Seeking Kansas Senate Seat

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas City area TV meteorologist has announced plans to seek a Kansas Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of one of the Legislature's most conservative members. Mike Thompson, who served as chief meteorologist for WDAF until he retired last year, announced this week that he is seeking the District 10 seat being vacated in mid-January by Republican Mary Pilcher-Cook. She announced last week that she is resigning. Thompson, of Shawnee, said he plans to seek the appointment to fill the remainder of Pilcher-Cook's term and then run in the primary for a chance at a full four years in November 2020.  

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New Drug Court About to Begin in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A new court focused on helping people overcome substance abuse is set to begin operating this week in the Lawrence area. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Douglas County plans to accept 15 participants who have been charged with a nonviolent felony and are having difficulty staying drug free to participate in the 16-month, four-stage program. Through the program, participants will follow an individualized treatment plan to address their addiction and then receive support to find jobs. Those who successfully complete the program would get their criminal charges dropped.

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Incoming Wichita Mayor's Gala to Raise Money for Wife's PAC

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita's incoming mayor is planning a formal gala to celebrate his inauguration next month that will raise money for a political action committee run by his wife. Mayor-elect Brandon Whipple's plans include sponsorships of up to $2,500 for his January 11 celebration, The Wichita Eagle reports. Whipple said the money won't be used for his benefit and contributors to the Wichita's Future PAC will be disclosed in reports filed with the state ethics commission. Whipple's wife is the PAC's chairwoman and treasurer. The mayor-elect said the PAC could finance social media surveys, town hall meetings and coffee with the mayor.

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Trick Play, Field Goal Lift No. 21 Navy over Kansas State 20-17 in Liberty Bowl

MEMPHIS, Tenn.  (AP) — Bijan Nichols kicked a 23-yard field goal with two seconds remaining and No. 21 Navy capitalized on a fourth-down gamble in the final minute to beat Kansas State 20-17 in the Liberty Bowl. A Navy team with the nation's top-ranked rushing attack set up the winning score by completing a halfback option pass with less than 30 seconds left. The Midshipmen snapped the ball on fourth-and-3 from the Kansas State 46. Quarterback Malcolm Perry pitched to CJ Williams, and he threw downfield to a wide-open Chance Warren for a 41-yard gain. Nichols then connected for the winning kick.

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