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Headlines for Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Kansas Official Tells Counties to Comply with Court Ruling

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Secretary of State's office has issued written instructions to county elections officials telling them to immediately implement a federal court ruling that struck down the state's proof-of-citizenship voter registration law. The state's two-page directive was emailed Wednesday to local officials. A federal judge found the Kansas law unconstitutional late Monday. Elections Director Bryan Caskey says he told the counties the following morning that the Secretary of State's office was going to comply with the entirety of the ruling but that it would take a "little bit" to issue written instructions and not to change anything until then. The American Civil Liberties Union says there are some compliance problems in those instructions, but they do not appear to be anything that needs to be addressed on an emergency basis.

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Audit: Kansas Wildfire Response Underfunded, Understaffed

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative audit says Kansas's wildfire suppression system is underfunded and understaffed and operates with a fragmented leadership. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the audit was ordered after wildfires in 2016 and 2017 burned more than 800,000 acres in Kansas, causing $80 million in damage and killing one person. Auditor Andy Brienzo says Kansas doesn't have adequate resources to meet the demand for services. In Kansas, local government has first responsibility for fighting fires. They can call in the Kansas Department of Emergency Management, the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Kansas Forest Service. Auditors said the three agencies struggle to work collaboratively. Auditors recommended the legislature choose one agency to lead the state's wildfire response and appropriate the money to ensure enough resources are deployed to fight fires.

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Storms, Flooding Cause Damage in Western Kansas

SCOTT CITY, Kan. (AP) — Strong storms have caused damage and flash flooding in parts of western Kansas.  KSNW-TV reports that hail up to 3 inches in diameter was reported in the town of Oakley, causing damage to vehicles and homes. In Scott City, several inches of rain resulted in street flooding, stalling vehicles. Emergency management director Tim Stocklein says there were no reports of injuries.  High winds caused damage near Hays. The National Weather Service received several reports of damage, including numerous power poles that were knocked down.  Winds of 77 mph were reported in Cheyenne County. The weather service says a tornado touched down briefly near Bird City, though there were no reports of serious damage or injuries.

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Kansas Governor Highlights Denial of 21 Requests for Pardons

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has denied 21 requests for pardons and highlighted his decisions with a news conference focusing on a case involving a pregnant teenage girl's murder in 2006.  Colyer announced his actions Tuesday during an event outside the Sedgwick County Courthouse with District Attorney Marc Bennett and Sheriff Jeff Easter.  One request denied by Colyer came from Everett Gentry. He is among three men serving life sentences in connection with the kidnapping and strangulation of 14-year-old Chelsea Brooks. The child she was carrying also died.
Gentry testified that he was driving the car when another defendant strangled the girl. Gentry pleaded guilty to capital murder but he was 17 when the crime occurred and received a life sentence with eligibility for parole after 25 years.

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Man Who Helped Kill Pregnant Wichita Woman Will Stay in Prison

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has denied pardons for 21 state inmates, including a man who helped kill a pregnant Wichita teenager 12 years ago.  The Wichita Eagle reports 29-year-old Everett Gentry applied for clemency earlier this year. He is serving a 25-year-to-life sentence for capital murder in the death of 14-year-old Chelsea Brooks, who was killed so her baby's father wouldn't be prosecuted for raping her.  Gentry picked up Chelsea in June 2006, saying he would take her to see the baby's father, Elgin Ray Robinson Jr.  Instead Gentry drove her and Ted Burnett to a spot near Andover where her body would later be found in a shallow grave. Prosecutors say Burnett choked Chelsea to death on the way.  Robinson and Burnett are serving life prison sentences and aren't eligible for parole.

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Autopsy Released for Kansas Man Killed in Swatting Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County authorities say a man who died after being shot by a Wichita police officer in a "swatting" case had no drugs or alcohol in his system.  The county's autopsy shows 28-year-old Andrew Finch died in December from a single gunshot wound.  Officers were responding to a report of a shooting and kidnapping at a Wichita address when Finch was shot. The officer who shot Finch testified that he believed Finch had a weapon and was going to fire. Finch was unarmed.  Prosecutors say Tyler Barriss called in the fake report to police to "swat" another man because of a dispute over a video game bet. Finch's home was the old address for one person allegedly involved in the dispute.  Barriss is charged in state court with involuntary manslaughter.

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Nearly 2 Dozen Evacuated After Massive Apartment Fire

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — More than 20 people are homeless after a massive fire at a Kansas apartment complex. The blaze broke out around 2 a.m. Wednesday at Hampton Woods Apartment Homes in Shawnee, a Kansas City suburb. Flames were seen shooting from the roof and smoke filled the sky. Firefighters went door-to-door to alert residents. Sixteen adults and six children were forced from the apartments. Fire officials say the blaze started in the attic, but the cause remains under investigation. No one was hurt.

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Great Plains Manufacturing to Expand Abilene Facilities

ABILENE, Kan. (AP) — Great Plains Manufacturing plans to expand its operations in Abilene, which could bring more than 200 new jobs to the city in the next four years. Linda Salem, the company's president and CEO, said Tuesday that Great Plains will renovate a former Alco Distribution Center. The Salina Journal reports Great Plains will renovate a 350,000-square-foot building next to a building that now houses the company's Land Pride Division. The Land Pride Division produces agriculture equipment such as tractor and skid steer attachments and rotary tillers. The new production facility will allow Great Plains to expand production of its lines, including Land Pride branded tractor implements and Kubota branded skid steer attachments.

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Junction City Investigators Trying to ID Body Found in May 

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Junction City police are asking the public for help in identifying a deceased woman whose body was found about a month ago. The body was found May 28 between two buildings in Junction City. Captain Trish Giordano says in a news release Wednesday that the body's condition made it difficult to provide specific characteristics to the public. She says the KBI provided usable fingerprints and a DNA profile. A forensic anthropologist says the woman apparently was white, with brown hair, aged between 40 to 60, and about 5-feet-10. She was wearing a large blue/green tank top and blue/green shorts, with size 10 flip-flops. Investigators say the woman is not Ashley Meiss, a former Army military police officer who hasn't been seen since she left her Ogden home May 17.

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Woman Convicted in Grisly 2017 Triple Murder

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 32-year-old Topeka woman has been convicted of participating in the grisly deaths of two men and a woman in Topeka. Kora Liles was found guilty Wednesday of 11 counts, including three counts of first-degree murder. She was one of five people charged in the March 2017 deaths of 19-year-old Matthew Leavitt; 38-year-old Nicole Fisher; and 20-year-old Luke Davis. The victims were strangled or smothered to death with trash bags in a Topeka basement. Police say the violence stemmed from an unproven rape allegation against Leavitt. Prosecutors said Liles orchestrated the killings, while defense attorneys argued the victims were killed by other defendants. Liles will be sentenced September 5. Joseph Krahn, who prosecutors say killed the three victims, is serving three consecutive life terms. The other three defendants are awaiting trial.

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3 Men Accused of Making Fake Money to Buy Jordan Brand Shoes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say three Kansas men allegedly made counterfeit money to buy Jordan brand athletic shoes. U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said in a news release that 21-year-old Douglas Blocker; 22-year-old Cornelius Wilson; and 22-year-old Traevon McGairty, all of Wichita, were indicted Tuesday. They allegedly used a photocopy machine to make counterfeit money. Prosecutors allege Blocker paid one person at a shopping center $480 in fake bills for four pairs of Jordan shoes. The indictment alleges all three men paid a second person $520 in fake bills for three additional pairs of shoes. The three are charged with counterfeiting and passing counterfeit currency. Blocker is charged with another count of passing counterfeit currency.

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Coroner: Kansas Man Pulled from Colorado Lake Drowned

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Authorities say a man drowned after he slipped below the surface of a northern Colorado lake.  Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg tells Steamboat Today that 64-year-old David Bass, of Hutchinson, Kansas, did not have any heart issues and was "a very healthy man" when he drowned at Steamboat Lake on Friday.  Bass was with another man on the shore trying to fix a problem with their boat's trolling motor. The boat drifted away, and Bass swam after it before disappearing.  His body was recovered just after midnight early Saturday morning.

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Candle Blamed in Fire that Destroyed Lawrence Motel

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A candle left unattended is blamed for a fire that destroyed the main building of a motel in Lawrence, Kansas.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the fire broke out Monday at the Jayhawk Motel. The building that was destroyed also included the motel office and a three-bedroom apartment where the owners lived.  The candle was in a dining area of the owners' living quarters.  No one was hurt.  Authorities say the motel's three guest buildings were not damaged.

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Koch-Backed Rule Change Reaches Supreme Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Koch Industries-backed proposal to allow lawyers unlicensed in Kansas to provide free legal services is being considered by the state Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court said Tuesday it is inviting public comment on the proposal before making a decision. Comments will be accepted until July 19.  The current rule allows corporate lawyers unlicensed in the state to work, but only for their firms. Koch Industries and Cargill are the two biggest companies with a Kansas foothold pushing for change that would allow them to put their lawyers to work on charity cases.  Before arriving at the Supreme Court, the proposal was under review by the state Board of Law Examiners. The board makes recommendations to the Supreme Court but so far has not said whether it supports a change.

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Taxes for Kansas City Streetcar Extension Approved in Vote

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A proposal to expand Kansas City's streetcar south to the University of Missouri-Kansas City won approval by a wide margin in mail-in balloting. Residents inside a new transportation development district approved special sales and property taxes fund a $227 million project. The Kansas City Election Board said Wednesday the proposal passed by a 3-to-1 margin. The Kansas City Star reports less than 10 percent of eligible voters participated. Voters approved a new 1-cent sales tax for the next 30 years. Property owners generally within one-third of a mile from the streetcar route will face an additional 25-year property tax assessment. The measures are expected to generate about $25 million annually to operate the existing 2.2-mile line in downtown Kansas City and construction of a 3.7-mile extension. Officials hope to begin expanded service by 2023.

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Wichita District Continues Funding Lawsuit Against State

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita school district's battle over state funding has surpassed $2 million in legal bills as it heads into another year.  The Wichita Eagle reports that school board members voted Monday for a resolution continuing Wichita Public Schools' membership in Schools for Fair Funding, a coalition of districts suing the state. The lawsuit alleges school funding levels violate the state constitution and deprive students of a proper education.  The resolution calls for Wichita to spend up to $6 per student annually on the lawsuit, putting the district's total spending so far on the case at more than $2 million.  School leaders say the cost is unfortunate but necessary in the fight for more funding.  The coalition had over 70 districts when filing the lawsuit in 2010. There are now 40.

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Wichita to Get New Psychiatric Hospital for Children

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas health system is planning to open a new psychiatric hospital for children who have suicidal thoughts, feelings of violence, depression and substance abuse. The Wichita Eagle reports that KVC Hospitals will open the new 54-bed hospital by early 2019 at the former Kansas Orthopedic Center in Wichita. The hospital will have the capacity to treat 2,800 patients between the ages of 6 and 18 annually. Michelle Lawrence is KVC's vice president of development. She says the new program will focus on empowering children to understand their trauma and learn to manage triggers. Children from Wichita and south-central Kansas have had to go to KVC's psychiatric hospitals in Hays or Kansas City to receive treatment. The new KVC hospital will be the only freestanding children's psychiatric hospital in Wichita.

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Sedgwick County Will Auction Land at Wichita Greyhound Park

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County is planning to auction off land it owns at the Wichita Greyhound Park.  No dog races have run at the park for more than 10 years and the county commission says it's time to sell because the land isn't being used and the buildings are deteriorating.  The county owns the land but developer Phil Ruffin leases the park itself and buildings on the property. The lease would have to be part of the sale and Ruffin told KAKE that he is interested in buying the land.  The property was appraised value is more than $2 million.  The auction is scheduled for July 17 in Park City.

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Legal Fight Winding Down in Hospital Hepatitis C Case

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire hospital is closer to holding others financially accountable for a traveling medical technician who infected dozens of patients in multiple states with hepatitis C. David Kwiatkowski is serving 39 years in prison for stealing painkillers and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood. Despite being fired numerous times over drug allegations, he had worked as a cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states before being hired in New Hampshire in 2011. After his arrest in 2012, 46 people in four states were diagnosed with the same strain of the hepatitis C virus he carries, including one who died in Kansas. His last employer, Exeter Hospital, sued the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and several staffing agencies in hopes of recouping some of the settlement money it has paid to dozens of infected patients and nearly 200 who were not infected but claimed some harm. In the most recent development, attorneys said the hospital has reached a settlement with Triage Staffing. The complaints against two other agencies were dismissed in 2014, so if a judge approves the Triage settlement, the registry organization would be the only remaining defendant. Attorneys for the hospital and the registry organization did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. In court documents filed in February, all parties said they hoped mediation would resolve the issues. If not, the case is set to go to trial early next year. Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver. For most people, it turns into a chronic disease. Kwiatkowski, who learned he had the disease in 2010, apologized to his victims at his sentencing in 2013, saying his crime was caused by an addiction to painkillers and alcohol. In all, 32 patients were infected in New Hampshire, seven in Maryland, six in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania. Kwiatkowski also worked in Michigan, New York, Arizona and Georgia.

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AP Sources: Tigers-Royals to Play in Omaha Before 2019 CWS

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals will play a regular-season game in Omaha the week the 2019 College World Series opens, The Associated Press has learned. Major League Baseball and the NCAA have been working to arrange a game as a kickoff event to the CWS, two people close to the situation told the AP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details. A news conference with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was scheduled for Thursday at TD Ameritrade Park, the host site for the CWS. The move would be similar to the regular-season games played in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in conjunction with the Little League World Series.

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