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Headlines for Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Another Kansas Legislator Jumps into GOP Congressional Race

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A fourth conservative state legislator has jumped into the crowded race for the Republican nomination in an eastern Kansas congressional district.  State Senator Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha has announced that he'll run in the 2nd District.  Incumbent Republican Lynn Jenkins is not seeking re-election.  Pyle has served in the Senate since 2005 and tried unsuccessfully to unseat Jenkins in the Republican primary in 2010.  State Senators Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth and Caryn Tyson of Parker and state Representative Kevin Jones of Wellsville also are running.  Four other candidates are in the GOP race. They are former Army Ranger and defense contractor Steve Watkins of Topeka, Marine veteran Tyler Tannahill of Leavenworth, ex-Kansas House Speaker Doug Mays of Topeka and Basehor City Council member Vernon Fields.

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Kansas Governor Hopeful Picks Ex-Soldier as Running Mate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic candidate Joshua Svaty has picked a former Army helicopter platoon leader and current local school board member as his running mate in the Kansas governor's race.  Svaty has been introducing Katrina Lewison, of Manhattan, as his choice for lieutenant governor during a two-day, 11-city tour that began today (WED).  He is the first of the three major candidates for the Democratic nomination to announce a running mate. The other major candidates are state Senator Laura Kelly of Topeka and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.  Lewison served in the Army for 15 years, led a helicopter platoon in Iraq and commanded an aviation company in South Korea. She is a director of a company that provides communications services to local governments and was elected to the Manhattan school board last year.  Read more about this story.

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Kansas Lawmakers Question Cargill Incentives Package

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Some Kansas lawmakers expressed discomfort with the Commerce Department's operations and authority to reward companies without proving the value of taxpayer investments.  The department crafted an economic incentives package in 2016 to keep a food products supplier's headquarters in Wichita. Cargill is receiving funding from the Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program to retain and grow jobs while starting and ending with the same employee total, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.  Department officials expected Cargill to reduce its staff by more than 100 by last month, which would make it eligible a year later to begin receiving an additional $1.1 million from the state. Employment would be expected to increase again and reach 800 by April 2020.

Some lawmakers said they were unaware of those terms. This kind of agreement would warrant a legislative audit, said Republican Senator Molly Baumgardner.  "This offering of funding ... if you were willing to have a reduction in force, we'll give you the funding and then you can hire back all of those people," Baumgardner said. "That is, I would say, very inappropriate utilization of public funds and a violation of procedures that are set in place."  

The Commerce Department described fluctuating job figures as part of the natural rhythm of business operations. The department also called the deal necessary for a company that contemplated moving out of Kansas.  "The purpose for the PEAK retention package was to keep the headquarters in Wichita rather than lose the project to another state," said Bob North, the department's interim secretary and chief counsel.  Democratic Representative John Carmichael accused Kansas of giving economic incentives to avoid investing in quality of life.  "Kansas Department of Commerce has been absolutely ineffective during the Colyer-Brownback administration in doing any real good," he said. "If you look at a number of these incentive programs, you will find there are close ties between contributors or former members of the administration and the companies that receive these benefits."

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Proposition 1 Fails; Douglas County Voters Reject Plan to Expand Jail and Boost Funding for Mental Health Services

Douglas County voters have rejected Proposition 1, the half-cent sales tax increase to fund expansion of the county jail and boost spending on mental health services.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the ballot initiative failed by a little more than 1,500 votes.  According to the Douglas County Clerk’s Office, 25,880 ballots were counted. Fifty-three percent were “no” votes, and 47 percent were “yes” votes.  Had it been approved, Proposition 1 would have authorized a countywide, half-cent, sales tax increase, which would have funded a $44 million expansion of the county jail, an $11 million behavioral health campus and $5.1 million in additional behavioral health services.  After the measure’s defeat, however, members of the Douglas County Commission said they would start considering how to move forward with their plans to expand the jail.  Commissioners plan to hold a public meeting May 30 at the Douglas County Courthouse to hear opinions on how the county should move forward.  

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Fourth Man Guilty in Shootings that Left Several Cows Dead

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A 20-year-old Kansas man has admitted being part of a group that shot and killed several cows in Leavenworth County.  Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson says Christopher Wright, of Overland Park, pleaded no contest today (WED) to criminal damage to property and animal cruelty.  The Kansas City Star reports Wright was one of four people who have been found guilty in the shootings. Twenty-year-old Marcel Timmons, of Manhattan, and two others whose names were not released because they are juveniles, pleaded guilty last year.  Investigators say the shootings occurred in August 2016 in rural Leavenworth County.  Several cows on two separate properties were found dead of gunshot wounds.  The damage was estimated at more than $16,000.  Police say the four admitted to shooting the cows but offered no justification.

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Southern Kansas Saw More Tornadoes Monday Night than Previously Thought

Southern Kansas saw more tornadoes Monday night than earlier reported.  Now, experts say seven twisters touched down.  That's nearly twice as many tornadoes as were initially reported Monday night.  According to the Wichita Eagle, most of the tornadoes were produced by a "deviant" supercell tornado in Cowley County, said Ken Cook, meteorologist in charge of the Wichita branch of the weather service.  The storm drifted to the southeast - the opposite direction storms commonly track in the spring and early summer, producing two EF-2 tornadoes near Maple City east of Arkansas City.  Both tornadoes stayed in rural areas, knocking down power poles. One rolled a camper and heavily damaged outbuildings and trees on a farmstead, though there were no reports of injuries from the storms.  Two more smaller tornadoes - both EF-1s - touched down late in the evening.  Most of the tornadoes took strange paths, including one that went north, northwest and then west right along a county road.  "Not all tornadoes come from the southwest to the northeast," Cook said. "You really need to be informed of what’s going on and take safe shelter" when storms threaten.

The National Weather Service also reported large hail in western and southeast Kansas.  Thunderstorms brought substantial rain. Chanute set a 24-hour rainfall record of 2.96 inches. Iola recorded 2.34 inches.  Forecasters say more storms are possible into the weekend.

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Stepmom Found Not Guilty in Kansas Child Endangerment Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The stepmother of a 5-year-old Wichita boy who has been missing since February was found not guilty of child endangerment in an unrelated case involving her own daughter.  A jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning the not guilty verdict Wednesday in the case of Emily Glass, The Wichita Eagle reported. Glass has been on trial for reportedly smoking three bowls of marijuana in her garage and then driving with her 1-year-old daughter to a local restaurant.  Prosecutor Monika Hoyt told jurors Glass admitted smoking pot in law enforcement interviews. Defense attorney Julia Leth-Perez countered there was no physical evidence proving she had smoked pot or that it affected her driving.  The trial did not touch on the larger mystery surrounding her stepson, who was reported missing the day after that trip.  Glass has not been charged in the February 17 disappearance of her stepson, Lucas Hernandez. Glass told police she last saw Lucas playing in his bedroom before she took a shower and fell asleep. He was gone when she woke up from her nap.  Despite extensive searches, the boy has still not been found.

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Federal Prosecutor Refuses to Answer Questions in KCK Court Hearing About Jail Recordings

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — An assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas refused to answer nearly all the questions he was asked during a federal court hearing arising from an investigation into the taping of attorney-client meetings and phone calls at a pretrial detention facility in Leavenworth.  Attorney Scott Rask said repeatedly on Tuesday that he was not authorized to answer questions during a hearing to determine if prosecutors in the office improperly used secret recordings of conversations between inmates and their attorneys at the Leavenworth prison. The U.S. attorney's office is arguing that its employees can refuse to answer questions because of possible legal conflicts arising from the investigation.  The questions Rask was asked indicated that a special master appointed by the court and attorneys for public defenders believe that some attorneys in the Kansas City, Kansas, office listened to the recorded conversations to help with their prosecutions and didn't alert the defense attorneys that the calls existed.

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Wichita State University Announces $12 Million Donation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State University says a Wichita couple is donating $12 million, representing in the single largest cash gift to the school.  The university said in a news release Wednesday that oil producer Wayne Woolsey and his wife, Kay, committed to a lead gift of $10 million to build a new home for the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State.  Wichita State said it will name the building the Wayne and Kay Woolsey Hall, a move approved Wednesday by the Kansas Board of Regents.  The couple also plans to donate $2 million to the university's geology department for the petroleum geology program and field camp experiences for students.  Wayne Woolsey is chairman of Woolsey Companies, an oil and natural gas exploration and production company he founded in 1978.

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New Kansas Law to Compensate Wrongfully Convicted Defendants

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new Kansas law will grant cash compensation to wrongly convicted residents for time served behind bars following three high-profile releases of three innocent defendants in three years.  Governor Jeff Colyer signed legislation Tuesday that says that if a guilty verdict is overturned, the person who was wrongfully convicted is eligible for $65,000 for each year of incarceration.  The law takes effect in July and makes Kansas the 33rd state with such a policy.  The Innocence Project worked with legislators in drafting the bill and is pleased with the result. The nationwide group works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, Legislative strategist Michele Feldman called Kansas' law "a gold standard" of wrongful conviction laws.  She said other states' laws have shortcomings and Kansas learned what to avoid in passing its policy.

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Board Kicks Out-of-State Man off Kansas Ballot for Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A New York City man who hoped to become the only out-of-state resident to run for Kansas governor has been kicked off the ballot.  The State Objections Board voted 2-1 on Tuesday to remove Andy Maskin's name from the Republican candidates on the ballot in the August primary. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported the decision is final absent a court order overruling the board.  Maskin traveled to Topeka last week and paid the $2,207 filing fee before delivering a stump speech to an empty bar.  His candidacy was immediately challenged by Jim Joice, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party.  Kansas Attorney General Schmidt urged the board to wait for a Shawnee County District Court judge to issue a decision in a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of out-of-state candidates.

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Man Gets Probation for Theft of Donations to Burn Victim

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A man convicted of stealing more than $7,000 in donations meant for an 11-year-old burn victim has been sentenced to probation.  District Attorney Marc Bennett's office said in a news release Tuesday that 39-year-old Martin Kerr of Wellington took the money from an online account that was set up to benefit a Haysville girl who was burned in 2015. Sedgwick County Judge Eric Commer on Thursday ordered Kerr to make minimum monthly payments of $150 over the next five years. Commer told him that he could serve six months in prison if he did not follow the terms of probation.  The judge noted more than 100 people donated to the GoFundMe account meant to be used to help the girl and her family with expenses related to her injuries.

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Kansas Governor Signs Letter Backing Trump for Nobel Peace Prize

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has joined a group of six other governors in backing President Donald Trump's nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.   Colyer, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and five fellow governors wrote to Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Berit Reiss-Andersen this week, citing what they called Trump's "transformative efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula."  Earlier this month, 18 U.S. House Republicans formally nominated Trump, who's preparing for a historic summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.  McMaster was an early Trump supporter in the 2016 election. Trump has backed him in next month's five-way South Carolina GOP primary.  Other signatories include Guam Governor Eddie Baza Calvo; Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant; Alabama Governor Kay Ivey; West Virginia Governor Jim Justice; and Maine Governor Paul LePage.

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1 Person Dead Following Overnight House Fire in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say unattended cooking is the likely cause of a deadly house fire in northeast Topeka.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the blaze was called in at 12:08 am Tuesday at a one-story, wooden-framed house.  Topeka Fire Department Shift Commander Dan Macke says that first-arriving crews reported the house was fully involved in flames. The fire appeared to have done the most damage on its back side.  The victim, who wasn't immediately identified, was found inside the residence.  Macke says ammunition was stored inside the residence. The home also had a lot of clutter inside.  Fire crews stayed at the scene several hours after the blaze.  The blaze caused an estimated $75,000 in damage.  Topeka Fire Marshal Mike Martin says working smoke alarms weren't present in the house.

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Fake Doctor Who Worked in Leawood and other Cities Sentenced to Prison

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge has sentenced a woman described as a fake doctor to more than six years in prison.  The woman worked worked in four states, including Kansas.  U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala imposed the sentence Tuesday on 61-year-old Isabel Kesari Gervais.  Authorities say Gervais described herself as a naturopathic doctor but wasn't licensed. A statement from prosecutors says she claimed to use naturopathic medicine to cure illnesses including cancer.  Gervais pleaded guilty last year to defrauding patients at a clinic in suburban Birmingham, Alabama.  In her plea agreement, she acknowledged operating multiple offices over 15 years in Montgomery, Alabama; Springdale, Arkansas; metro Atlanta; and Leawood, Kansas.  Investigators determined Gervais moved frequently and used aliases including Rose Starr and Debra Lynn Goodman to avoid detection. She had been in Hoover, Alabama, since 2015.

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Kansas Congressional Delegation Pushes for Faster Cleanup

DE SOTO, Kan. (AP) — Members of Kansas' congressional delegation are pushing for faster environmental cleanup at a former ammunition plant in the northeastern part of the state.  The Army began cleaning up contaminants three years ago at the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. The facility produced gunpowder and rocket propellants during several wars.  The Kansas City Star reports the Army says it's making progress. But some federal lawmakers from Kansas are concerned about the 2028 target date to finish cleaning up the 5,300 acres.  Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran and Congressman Kevin Yoder are pressuring the Army to speed up the progress. Yoder says Johnson County residents "deserve to have this land back for productive use in the community."  Sunflower Executive Director Kise Randall says she appreciates the pressure.

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Black Bear Cub Found Dead Near Southwest Kansas Town - Is Drought Partially to Blame?

ELKHART, Kan. (AP) — Wildlife experts say a male, juvenile bear found dead in southwest Kansas might have been driven into the state by drought conditions in surrounding states.  The bear died Monday in an accidental crash on Highway 56 near Elkhart in Morton County, about 1.5 miles from the Oklahoma border.  State biologist Kraig Schulz says spring wildfires in New Mexico and Colorado combined with a region-wide drought might be pushing bears toward Kansas.  He says even in those conditions, it's rare to find a black bear in Kansas. The last confirmed black bear in Morton County was in 2011. Another one was seen in 2016 just across the Oklahoma line.  The Wichita Eagle reports almost the entire Oklahoma panhandle is in exceptional drought, along with parts of southwest Kansas and northeast New Mexico.

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Public Comment Sought on Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Public comment is being sought on a draft of a conservation plan expected to help reverse eastern monarch butterfly population declines.  Michigan's Department of Natural Resources says the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy builds on existing efforts by state, federal, and local agencies and private organizations and individuals.  Monarch butterflies found east of the Rocky Mountains have declined by more than 80 percent over the past 20 years primarily due to habitat loss, including reduced milkweed required for reproduction and fewer nectar plants.  The Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies will receive comments through May 31 on the strategy that covers a 16-state region stretching from Texas to the Upper Midwest. The region encompasses the primary production and migratory habitat areas for the butterflies.

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