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Headlines for Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Vice President Pence's Vote Wins Kansas Governor's Nomination

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Senate has confirmed Kansas Governor Sam Brownback as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, giving his home state a new leader. Vice President Mike Pence had to cast the deciding vote so that the Republican governor's nomination by President Donald Trump could be approved on a 50-49 party-line vote. Brownback planned to resign as governor, but his office in Topeka was not expected to release the details until Thursday. His departure will automatically elevate fellow Republican Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer to governor. Brownback tweeted his thanks to Trump, Pence and the senators who supported him, saying he's looking forward to starting in the job. Colyer said he thinks Brownback will serve in his new position wisely. But Tom Witt of the LGBT-rights group Equality Kansas expressed strong disappointment.

(earlier today)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Senate has taken a key step toward confirming Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's nomination for an ambassador's post. After senators voted 49-49 Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie in Brownback's favor. The vote ended debate on Brownback's nomination by President Donald Trump to be U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. The action starts a 30-hour clock on holding a final vote, though it could come sooner. Trump first nominated Brownback for the ambassador's post in July but Democrats and LGBT groups opposed his appointment. In 2015, Brownback rescinded an executive order from a previous Democratic governor banning discrimination in state hiring and employment against LGBT individuals. Brownback would resign as governor if he is confirmed. Republican Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer would be elevated to governor.


Top Kansas Lawmakers Approve Building New Prison 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  Kansas is moving forward with a plan to have the nation's largest private-prison operator build a new state prison. Top Kansas legislators gave their final approval Wednesday to the project during a meeting with Republican Governor Sam Brownback. A state law authorizing the new prison in Lansing required a final go-ahead from the Legislature's top eight leaders. Tennessee-based CoreCivic will build a new, 2,400-bed prison to replace the state's oldest and largest prison in Lansing. Kansas will pay for the project over 20 years through a lease with the company and spend a total $362 million. The state will oversee day-to-day operations. The legislative leaders split 5-3 over the project. The department has faced skepticism about whether the lease-purchase deal is the most cost-effective option.


Orman Kicks Off Campaign for Kansas Governor as Independent

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City-area businessman who previously gained national attention as an independent U.S. Senate candidate has kicked off a campaign for Kansas governor. Greg Orman posted an ad online Wednesday after formally announcing his independent bid for governor in an interview Tuesday with The Topeka Capital-Journal. Orman challenged Republican U.S. Senator Pat Roberts in 2014 and received almost 43 percent of the vote after the Democratic nominee dropped out. Orman's new ad portrays him as a non-partisan problem-solver, but he is also viewed as a potential spoiler hurting the Democratic nominee most. Orman appointed a campaign treasurer in December and raised $453,000 in cash contributions last month. He joins a field of more than 20 potential candidates with term-limited Republican Governor Sam Brownback expected to resign soon for an ambassadorship.


$5,000 Reward Offered in Shooting Death of Woman Found in Southeast Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is authorizing a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those involved in the death of an Oklahoma woman who was found floating in a Kansas reservoir.  The governor issued an executive order Tuesday in the case of 33-year-old Cassie Ann Easom, of Miami (MY-AM'-uh), Oklahoma.  She was found December 7 in the Elk Creek Reservoir in southeast 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.


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.  Representative 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.


Former President of Lawrence Art Guild Pleads in Theft

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The former president of a nonprofit Lawrence arts organization has pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor after stealing from the group. Thirty-six-year-old Amanda Monaghan was scheduled to go to trial Monday for felony theft after more than $1,000 was stolen from the Lawrence Art Guild in April 2014. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Monaghan instead entered a no contest plea to misdemeanor theft. She will be sentenced Monday. Judge Kay Huff said she plans to order Monaghan to repay $1,125 to the guild. Prosecutors say Monaghan used the organization's bank account for personal expenses, including a payment for her daughter's preschool tuition at the Lawrence Arts Center.


Private Equity Firm Announces Plan to Acquire EaglePicher

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — High-tech battery maker EaglePicher Technologies is being sold to a private equity firm. St. Louis-based Vectra Co. said in a statement Tuesday that it has signed an agreement to sell its EaglePicher business to affiliates of Chicago-based GTCR. GTCR says in a statement that EaglePicher has more than 800 employees most of them in Joplin, Missouri, and Pittsburg, Kansas. The Joplin Globe reports that the EaglePicher workforce has been shrinking, down from an estimated 970 in May 2016 before two rounds of layoffs. GTCR says the transaction is expected to close during the first quarter of 2018. EaglePicher has made batteries for more than 100 years for a variety of industries, including defense, aerospace and medical.


Kansas Medical Plane Lands on Belly, No Injuries Reported

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — A medical plane has been replaced after a gear-up landing at a southwest Kansas airport earlier this month. The Wichita Eagle reports that a pilot and two crew members were on the EagleMed plane at the time of the January 17 belly landing. A report from the Federal Aviation administration says there were no injuries. The plane was taking off from Garden City Regional Airport to pick up a patient when the emergency landing occurred. EagleMed immediately sent an aircraft from Liberal Mid-America Regional Airport to pick up the patient instead. A spokesman for EagleMed says a backup replacement aircraft was in service within a day.


Kansas Leads State Universities in Four-Year Graduation Rate

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas continues to lead the state's six public universities in the rate of students graduating in four years. The Lawrence Journal-World reports a report earlier this month to the Board of Regents found Kansas had a 41.1 percent four-year graduation rate in the reporting year of 2016. The data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics. Kansas State was second, with a rate of 31.1 percent. Pittsburg State University's rate was 25.6 percent, followed by Emporia State University at 22.7 percent, Wichita State University at 21.5 percent and Fort Hays State University at 18.1 percent. Kansas spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson says the university's top rate reflected leaders' concerted efforts to emphasize recruitment beyond the region and seek more students likely to succeed at college.


Police:  Death of Bill Snyder's Grandson Was Suicide

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Police say the death of the 22-year-old grandson of Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder has been ruled a suicide. The Wichita Eagle reports that a Riley County Police Department report obtained through an open records request says Matthew Snyder died last week of asphyxiation at his home in Manhattan. The police document says Riley County police responded to an emergency call made by his father, Sean Snyder, who is Kansas State's special teams coach. No one else was injured and no foul play is suspected. The Snyder family is requesting that only family and friends attend the funeral on Thursday at a Manhattan church. Kansas State Athletics Director Gene Taylor said in a statement last week that the Snyder family is "greatly appreciative of the outpouring of support."


Derby School Worker Arrested for Sex Crimes

DERBY, Kan. (AP) — A staff member at a suburban Wichita middle school has been arrested on suspicion of two counts of sexual exploitation of a child.  KFDI Radio reports that the Wichita Police Department and the Sedgwick County sheriff's office announced in a news release that the arrest of the Derby Middle School employee was made by their joint Internet Crimes Against Children task force. The arrest followed an investigation into allegations of child pornography, which led to a search warrant being served Tuesday in Derby.  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.


Man Admits Sexual Assault of Two Minors at McConnell Air Force 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.


Family Issues Plea for Help in Weekend Killing of 9-Year-Old

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Relatives of a 9-year-old boy fatally shot in an exchange of gunfire in Kansas City, Missouri, are calling for an end to the violence and help finding his killer.  KMBC-TV reports that Dominic Young Jr.'s father told police he was driving with his son over the weekend when people in two other vehicles began shooting at each other. The father didn't initially realize that his child had been caught in the crossfire and he continued driving to suburban Grandview. When his wounds were discovered, the boy was rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.  The boy's aunt, Tiara Parker, says, "Nobody should have to live like this." Parker says Dominic had "so much life" and made your day "full of joy." Police are asking for tips in the case.


Kansas Man Pleads No Contest After Several Arson Fires 

HORTON, Kan. (AP) — A Horton has pleaded no contest to nine felonies connected to the burning of homes and cars last May. The St. Joseph News-Press reports 27-year-old Dustin McCulley was scheduled to go on trial next week for charges filed after three homes and several vehicles were set on fire in Horton on May 9. No one was injured in the fires. Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill says McCulley surprised officials on January 18 when he said he wanted to plead no contest after reviewing the evidence against him. He was charged with several counts of arson, theft and burglary. Sentencing is scheduled for February 23.


1 Dead After House Fire Near Emporia 

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Lyon County authorities say a person has died in a house fire near Emporia. County sheriff's deputy Jacob Welsh says the fire was reported Wednesday morning about 4 miles southwest of Emporia. When firefighters arrived, the home was completely engulfed in flames. The person's name has not been released. The cause of the fire is being investigated.


Third Victim Identified in Kansas Homicide, House Fire

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A third victim found inside a burning Kansas City, Kansas, home has been identified.  KMBC-TV reports that police have identified 53-year-old Kevin McBride as the third victim. McBride, 53-year-old Gwinn Green and 61-year-old Ronald Guess were found dead last month. The deaths are being investigated as homicides.  Authorities believe that house fire was intentionally set to cover up the deaths of the people inside.


Father Sues ICE over Handling of Illegal Immigrant Charged with Killing 5

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The father of one of five people allegedly killed by a Mexican national who was in the country illegally is suing federal immigration authorities.  The lawsuit filed Monday in Kansas City, Kansas, claims Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had two chances to detain and deport 42-year-old Pablo Serrano-Vitorino before March 2016, when four men were killed in Kansas and one in Missouri.  Serrano-Vitorino is charged with five counts of first-degree murder in the deaths. The lawsuit was filed by the father of Austin Harter, one of the men killed.  The Kansas City Star reports the lawsuit says ICE didn't follow proper procedures, allowing Serrano-Vitorino to be released from jail twice before March 2016.  A spokesman for ICE said Tuesday the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.


ICE Agent Arrested After Kansas 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.


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 Jan. 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.


Suspected Kansas Bank Robber Arrested at Missouri Casino

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man suspected of robbing a Kansas bank has been arrested at a Missouri casino. The Kansas City Star reports that 39-year-old Timothy Karpovich, of Kansas City, Missouri, was charged in federal court Tuesday. Prosecutors say he fled Monday from KCB Bank in Bonner Springs, Kansas, with about $1,050 in cash after handing a teller a handwritten robbery note. Police later received a tip that he gambled regularly at Harrah's Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, where an employee identified him from a surveillance image. Investigators found that serial numbers from bills used at the casino matched those of bills from the bank heist. Court records say Karpovich admitted to the robbery. The FBI says no weapon was shown during the robbery and no injuries were reported.


Popular Kansas Lake to Once Again Offer Boat Slips

CHENEY, Kan. (AP) — After two years without them, boat slips will be available this year at Cheney Reservoir. Kevin O'Brien and his wife, Stephanie, say they plan to install boat slips after signing a 15-year lease with the state in December to open a full-time marina. The Wichita Eagle reports the previous marina closed when the state didn't renew its contract and the operator pulled out the boat slips. The O'Briens plan to install 86 slips in March. They will range from 10-by-24 feet to 15-by-36 feet and cost between $2,800 and $3,800 for leases from May 1 to April 30, 2019. O'Brien says a second phase of slip installation will depend on how quickly the first phase fills up and what size slips are most in demand.


Royals Hall of Famer George Brett to Appear on "Modern Family"

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer George Brett is making a guest appearance on the hit TV show "Modern Family." Actor Eric Stonestreet, a Kansas City, Kansas, native who plays the character Cameron Tucker, said Wednesday that writers asked him to reach out to Brett about the part. He described shooting a scene with his "childhood hero" as "super fun" in a series of tweets that show him posing for a photo with a uniformed Brett. He says the show featuring Brett will air sometime in the spring. Brett said in a tweet that flying to Los Angeles to film the episode was the "highlight of the year so far." Brett also has made appearances on the TV shows "Fantasy Island," ''Arliss," and "United States of Tara."


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