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Headlines for Wednesday, January 18, 2023

News Summary updated image
Emily Fisher
/
KPR

Canadian Company: Most of the Keystone Oil Spill in Kansas Cleaned Up

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) - The pipeline company that spilled nearly 600,000 gallons of crude oil in north-central Kansas says it has cleaned up most of it. The Kansas News Service reports that TC Energy estimated that it spilled 588,000 gallons of crude oil when the Keystone pipeline burst in early December, 2022. The company says more than 800 workers are on site and crews have recovered more than 85% of the oil. Much of the work is focused on Mill Creek, several miles of which are undergoing intensive cleanup.

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UPDATE: Kansas Researcher Given Time Served in China-Related Case

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A former researcher accused of concealing work he did in China while employed by the University of Kansas was sentenced Wednesday to time served and two years of supervised release. Feng “Franklin” Tao was convicted last year of three counts of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement. A federal judge threw out the three wire fraud convictions but let the false statement conviction stand. Tao was accused of not disclosing that he was working for Fuzhou University in China while employed at the Kansas university. In announcing the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson said Tao was deceptive about his work in China but the offense did not warrant a prison sentence.

(– Earlier Reporting –)

Former KU Researcher Faces Sentencing in China-Related Case

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A former researcher accused of concealing work he did in China while employed by the University of Kansas will be sentenced Wednesday. Feng "Franklin" Tao was convicted last year of three counts of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement. A federal judge threw out the three wire fraud convictions but let the false statement conviction stand. Tao was accused of not disclosing that he was working for Fuzhou University in China while employed at KU. Prosecutors are asking for a sentence of 2.5 years, while defense attorneys are asking a judge to sentence Tao to time served.

Prosecutors say Tao cost the school and federal agencies hundreds of thousands of dollars. In a sentencing motion filed earlier this month, federal prosecutors said Tao defrauded the University of Kansas, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation by lying about work he was doing for Fuzhou University in China. The federal agencies had awarded Tao grants for research projects at Kansas. They argued that Tao should be sentenced to prison because the institutions lost research money because of Tao's deception. They said a sentence also would send a message to other researchers who might consider similar deceptive practices.

Tao's attorneys say he deserved to be sentenced to time served because the case has destroyed his reputation, his family's financial stability and his distinguished career. They noted Tao has been on electronic monitoring since his arrest, has not violated the terms of his release and is not a flight risk. Tao no longer works for the University of Kansas.

The case against Tao was part of the U.S. Justice Department's China Initiative, a program started in 2018 to crack down on efforts to transfer original ideas and intellectual property from U.S. universities to Chinese government institutions. The department ended the program amid public criticism and several failed prosecutions.

In her order throwing out the three wire fraud convictions, Judge Robinson said there was no evidence Tao was paid for his work at Fuzhou University, which is required for a wire fraud conviction. However, she said he did make a false statement to Kansas on a conflict of interest form he submitted to the university in 2019. Tao did not disclose on the form that he was named to a Chinese talent program, the Changjiang Professorship. As part of that program, he traveled to China to set up a laboratory and recruit staff for Fuzhou University, while telling Kansas officials that he was in Germany.

Tao was born in China and moved to the U.S. in 2002. He earned his doctorate's degree from Princeton University and worked at the University of California-Berkeley and Notre Dame before August 2014, when he was hired as a tenured associate professor at the University of Kansas' Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis. The center conducts research on sustainable technology to conserve natural resources and energy.

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KBI: Armed Man Found Dead After Officer-Involved Shooting

CHEROKEE COUNTY, Kan. (KPR) – The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) says an officer-involved shooting Monday night in southeast Kansas left one man dead from an apparent, self-inflicted gunshot wound. The fatal shooting victim has been identified as 28-year-old Phillip A. Doerr, of Falls City, Nebraska. The KBI says a woman in Galena called 911 to report that a man was being held at gunpoint by another man (at 9550 SE Bobcat Street). The armed man then left the residence in a Ford flatbed truck. Deputies from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spotted the pickup. The driver of the truck, later identified as Phillip A. Doerr, did not pull over. After a short vehicle pursuit, the truck came to a stop. Doerr exited the truck while firing at deputies, hitting their patrol car multiple times. Both deputies returned fire and Doerr fled into the woods. Later, deputies heard a single gunshot coming from the trees. At approximately 8 pm, Doerr's body was discovered with an apparent, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. An autopsy will be conducted. No law enforcement officers were hurt during the incident. The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office contacted the KBI Monday night for assistance. The KBI is now conducting its own investigation.

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UPDATE: Defendant Cross-Examines Kansas Congressman He Threatened

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas congressman faced questions from a man who is charged with threatening to kill him and is acting his own attorney during a federal criminal trial. Republican U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner rejected the man’s suggestions Wednesday that the threat was from God and the man was obligated to deliver it. LaTurner was the last prosecution witness in the trial of 32-year-old Chase Neill of Lawrence in northeastern Kansas. The trial came amid a sharp rise in threats against the nation’s lawmakers over the past two years. LaTurner testified that the threatening June 5 voicemail message to his Topeka office from Neill made him worry about the safety of his family and staff.

( – Earlier Reporting – )

Accused Man to Serve as His Own Lawyer in Trial over Threat to Kansas Lawmaker

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man charged with threatening to kill a Kansas congressman said in federal court Wednesday that he has a “very religious” defense and is now acting as his own attorney, despite a judge's warnings that he is making a big mistake.

Prosecutors hoped to call U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, the Republican whose Topeka office received the phone call prompting the criminal charge, as a witness Wednesday afternoon.

The trial of Chase Neill, 32, of the northeastern Kansas city of Lawrence, came amid what authorities say is a sharp rise in threats against the nation's lawmakers and their families.

Prosecutors contend Neill became fixated on LaTurner and threatened to kill him in a call the night of June 5 and subsequent calls the next day. Federal public defenders initially representing Neill said he saw himself as having a special relationship with God that allowed him to call down “meteors and plagues" on officials and that local authorities saw him as harmless.

Twice within the past week, Neill has asked to represent himself, withdrawing one request before his federal court jury was selected Tuesday. He said Wednesday in court that he has been portrayed as “a false Christ,” damaging his reputation.

U.S. District Judge Holly Teeter granted Neill's latest request, finding that he can defend himself competently, despite his lack of legal training as a high school graduate with some college education. Before she brought the jury back into the courtroom Wednesday morning, Teeter warned Neill repeatedly that she considered his decision unwise and that he had top public defenders representing him.

“Many defendants would relish the opportunity to be represented by your counsel,” she told him.

But Neill was adamant and said he believes the U.S. government is abusing its power by prosecuting him. He added, “This matter is very religious."

“These global events do represent my relationship with God,” he told Teeter, without being more specific.

Members of Congress have faced a sharp rise in threats since the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In October, an intruder severely beat former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer in their San Francisco home.

Local school board members and election workers across the nation also have endured harassment and threats. Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this week arrested a former Republican legislative candidate over a series of shootings targeting elected Democratic officials' homes or offices, though none were injured.

In Neill's trial, he appeared in court Wednesday wearing khaki pants, a blue jacket and a dress shirt without a tie, just as he had Tuesday, but he was no longer chained at the ankles. Teeter cited both his professional dress and his polite demeanor in court as favoring allowing him to to represent himself.

He and prosecutors do not dispute that he called LaTurner's office in Topeka on June 5 and left a message in which he said, “This is a threat to your life.” Prosecutors say the call prompted LaTurner to beef up security at the office.

Part of the June call was played for jurors during the prosecution's opening statement, and it included a threat against all members of Congress. A public defender said Neill also threatened the entire universe and never attempted to go near LaTurner or his office.

Separately, a U.S. magistrate judge said in an August order refusing to release Neill from custody that Neill had suffered a head injury four or five years ago “characterized as a head fracture.”

Teeter concluded during a hearing last month that Neill was capable of following what was going on in court and assisting his lawyers, making him mentally competent to stand trial.

LaTurner was a Kansas state senator and state treasurer before winning his U.S. House seat in 2020. Until the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature redrew political boundaries last year, LaTurner's eastern Kansas district included Neill's hometown of Lawrence, which includes the main University of Kansas campus and is among the state's most liberal communities.

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Topeka Teacher Surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - A fourth grade teacher in Topeka has been honored with an educator award that comes with a $25,000 prize. Kristine Becker, of Logan Elementary, received the surprise today (WED) when she was presented with a national Milken Educator Award by the Milken Family Foundation. The award honors outstanding educators across the country for excellence in and out of the classroom. Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop and Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson presented the award at a school-wide assembly in front of students, colleagues and local and state dignitaries.

According to a news release from the Milken Family Foundation:

"In Becker’s fourth grade classroom, she creates immersive environments where students have so much fun, they hardly realize they are learning. A master of classroom transformations, Becker’s unit on branches of government results in the classroom becoming a courtroom, where students take on the roles of judge, plaintiff, defendant, jurors and attorneys as they learn about the judicial system. She has held mock elections to mirror the national presidential vote, built a fake campfire in the middle of her classroom-turned-campsite for science experiments, and created a spy headquarters with black lights and glow-in-the-dark accessories. During project-based learning, students plan and sell breakfast items as they explore entrepreneurship, and concepts like supply and demand. The students connect deeply with the curriculum while building a lifetime of memories, and these creative methods contribute to meaningful results: The school’s fourth grade student proficiency nearly doubled in ELA and more than doubled in math from 2019 to 2021."

Becker is a graduate of Emporia State University, earning a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2013 and a master’s in instructional coaching with a concentration in elementary STEM in 2016.

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More Kansans Calling New 988 Suicide Hotline

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - More Kansans are calling the new 988 suicide hotline than the old crisis number. The Kansas News Service reports that there was a 15% increase in calls to Kansas crisis hotlines in November 2022 when compared to a year before. The new 988 number launched last summer. The additional stream of calls is so far not overwhelming Kansas call centers. Andy Brown, with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, told lawmakers that Kansas is answering calls within 20 seconds, which is 10 seconds faster than the nationwide average. “We're doing fairly well in that regard," he said. "But obviously, the faster we can answer those calls, the better.” Brown says the call centers can currently handle the capacity and he’s not requesting additional money from the Legislature.

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Lawrence Man Acquitted on Charges of Raping Two Women After New Year’s Eve Party

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - A Lawrence man was acquitted on Tuesday by a Douglas County jury on charges of raping two women after a New Year’s Eve party in 2020. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 24-year-old Chastleton Jordan Malone was charged with three felony counts of rape of a person who is unable to consent. The charges were in connection with an incident in the early-morning hours of January 1, 2020, when Malone went home with two women, ages 18 and 19, after a night of drinking together at different parties.

One of the women told police that she had no clear memory of the assault after having several drinks throughout the night. She told police that she woke up the next day without any pants on and her friend, who also was alleged to have been raped, told the woman that she thought both of them had been raped the night before by the man who was drinking with them at the party. They told police that Malone was “creepily stalking” one of the women throughout New Year’s Eve and that he rode home with them but that they did not let him inside their house and that he later broke in and raped them after they had fallen asleep.

When Malone heard about the allegations, he called police in an effort to “dispel the lies.” Malone told police everything was consensual and that the women invited him onto a bed they were sharing. On Tuesday, Malone’s defense attorney, Michael Duma, said that this incident was a case of “post-coital regret” and that the women had fabricated the story after they woke up the next day and realized they had both slept with the same man.

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Kansas Lawmakers Question Distribution Method of Special Ed Funding

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Special education funding for public schools in Kansas is distributed differently than most education spending. Some Republican senators are questioning whether that’s efficient. The amount of money each Kansas school receives is based on how many special education teachers and staff the school employs. It's not based on the number of students receiving the services. Craig Neuenswander, of the Department of Education, says that process makes sure schools can provide special education without yet knowing how many students will need it. “If somebody new moves in, you’re required to provide that service. So, you need money on hand to do that," he said. Schools are audited to see if they receive more money than needed. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has proposed increasing special ed funding to reach the level required by state law. Schools without enough funding must cover the remaining costs.

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No One Hurt When School Bus Catches Fire, Burns Completely in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KMBC) - No serious injuries were reported after a school bus caught fire in Kansas City. KMBC TV reports that the bus became completely engulfed in flames late Tuesday afternoon (near Wornall Road and Ward Parkway). The Kansas City Fire Department has yet to say what caused the bus to catch fire.

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Vandals Strike Blue Valley High School; Leave Racist Graffiti

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. (KCUR/KNS) - Blue Valley High School's press box was vandalized with racist graffiti on Martin Luther King Day. Videos and pictures shared online show homophobic, anti-Black and antisemitic language and imagery spray-painted in red and black across walls and windows. District officials said in a statement that “Hate and malicious acts of vandalism have no place at any Blue Valley school." On Tuesday, The Jewish Community Relations Bureau of Greater Kansas City condemned the vandalism, which included swastikas. They say antisemitism in the U.S. is rising and that this local act of hate is not an isolated incident. Overland Park Police are investigating the incident.

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Injured Snowy Owl Rescued in Western Kansas

LANE COUNTY, Kan. (KWCH) - A game warden helped rescue an injured snowy owl in western Kansas over the weekend. KWCH TV reports that Game Warden Angie Reisch crawled under a barbed wire fence and chased after the rare bird on the ground. It was the first documented snowy owl seen in Lane County. After being caught, Reisch contacted Carrie’s Rehab Critters for assistance. She then drove the injured owl more than 2 1/2 hours one way to Hill City so the owl could receive further care. “This beautiful owl is emaciated and dehydrated. Luckily, no major injuries were found," she said. "Treatment started with tube feeding of electrolytes and a spray treatment for bird lice." Reisch said snowy owls normally weigh four pounds, but by the time she got this one help, the animal weighed less than 3 pounds.

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ACLU Prepares for Battles in Kansas Legislature

TOPEKA, Kan. (Kansas Reflector) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas is preparing to challenge the state Legislature’s recent actions regarding transgender children, voting rights, and reproductive health care. The Kansas Reflector reports that ACLU lobbyists say they will seek common ground on criminal justice reform and legalizing medical marijuana. One of the first bills that was introduced this year would ban gender-affirming care for some young people and some GOP lawmakers are reportedly considering a measure that would ban ballot drop boxes and reduce the period for early voting. Leaders at the ACLU of Kansas say the state has been on the front lines in many of the battles over voting rights, LGBTQ protections and other "culture war" issues.

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Kansas Among Few States Without Clinics to Treat Long COVID Symptoms

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - Clinics designed to treat the after-effects of COVID-19 are specialized clinics with the expertise for treating long COVID. But Kansas is one of the few states without a clinic for long-COVID patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five American adults who had COVID-19 developed long COVID symptoms. That means about 200,000 Kansas residents are suffering from the syndrome. Kathryn Burke works with a support group for people with long COVID. She says the shortage of clinics in the state often leaves people in rural areas a very long drive away from a health care provider who might restore their lung capacity or clear their brain fog. “It is hard for people in more rural locations, less wealthy locations to be able to access long COVID care simply because the medical clinics and medical centers around them simply may not have the funding or the staffing to dedicate time and money towards long COVID clinics," she said. (Read more.)

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Beware When Pumping Gas; Skimmers Found on Gas Pumps in Northwest Kansas

ATWOOD, Kan. (KSNW) — Skimmers have been found hidden on gas pumps in northwest Kansas. According to KSNW TV, police in Atwood located skimmers inside gas pumps, which made them nearly undetectable. Authorities in Rawlins County recommend residents either pay inside the store or very closely inspect the gas pump before paying at the pump. Police say motorists should first examine the lock to see if it has any visible damage or if the gas pump door appears to have been pried open. Then, police say, people should check the safety seals near the lock to make sure they are intact and have not been tampered with. Anyone who spots signs of tampering should notify the store immediately. Anyone who notices someone acting suspiciously around a gas pump or attempting to get inside should call 911.

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Kansas Farmers Raise Concerns over Feral Hogs

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Feral hogs have been spotted roaming around parts of south-central Kansas. According to KWCH TV, a Garden Plain police officer posted a video of the animals to the department's Facebook page after receiving reports of people seeing the hogs. On Saturday, more feral hogs were reported near Lake Afton. Farmers in the area north of Garden Plain say they’ve dealt with feral hogs on their property before and they’re hoping it won’t become a major problem. The animals can cause major damage to crops. The American Farm Bureau federation says feral hogs have caused more than $2.5 billion in damages to agriculture, livestock and the environment.

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Scientists: Warmer, Drier Climate Affecting Wheat Yields

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas State University researchers have pinpointed how much hot, dry and windy weather it takes to stifle wheat production. The recent study found that just 10 hours of extreme heat, dryness and wind together can reduce wheat production by 4%. Kansas saw more than its share of those days over the past year. And K-State agronomy professor Stephen Welch says those extreme events are becoming more common here. “That precise combination of events has been increasing over the 40-year period due to climate change," he said. "That's a key factor.” The study also found that the extreme weather in Kansas is tied to a specific long-term temperature cycle in the Pacific Ocean. That connection could help predict the risks that wheat crops face in coming decades.

Norton County resident Chris Tanner has felt the impact of a warming climate on his farm in northwest Kansas. Many of his wheat fields didn’t produce enough to bother harvesting at all. “It can be very, very bountiful or it can be the complete polar opposite and be a famine," he said. "You have to learn how to weather those storms in life.” The study says the frequency and intensity of extreme hot, dry, windy events are likely to increase as the earth continues to warm in the coming decades.

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10 Librarians Nationwide Receive "I Love My Librarian" Awards

NEW YORK (AP/KPR) — This year's winners of the "I Love My Librarian Award" include a Manhattan woman. Tara Coleman, based at Kansas State University, has been leading a campus-wide common reading program. Coleman is one of 10 librarians selected as winners based on nominations from library users around the country. Each of the 10 honorees receives a $5,000 cash prize and a $750 travel stipend to attend the library association's LibLearnX event later this month in New Orleans. The awards are made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and support from the New York Public Library. The awards were established in 2008. This year, judges at the library association chose the winners from more than 1,500 nominations.

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D.C. Lawyer Suspended from Kansas Practice Following Trustee Misconduct

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A lawyer in Washington D.C., Maryland and Kansas has been suspended from the practice of law in all three locations following a case that stems from trustee misconduct. WIBW TV reports that Isaac Henry Marks Sr. had been admitted to practice law in Kansas since 1987. He was also a licensed attorney in Maryland and Washington, D.C. But court records indicate disciplinary action was taken against Marks in 2018 for conduct while he was working as a trustee in D.C. The D.C. Court of Appeals suspended his license for a year in 2021. But Marks failed to notify officials in Maryland and Kansas of the disciplinary action taken against him, leading to the suspension of his law license in both states.

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Great Bend Zoo Announces Death of "Winnie" the Grizzly Bear

GREAT BEND, Kan. (KAKE) - The Great Bend Zoo has announced the death of one of its grizzly bears. KAKE TV reports that the the bear named "Winnie" died over the weekend. The zoo says Winnie’s siblings, Piglet and Pooh, appear to be handling the death as expected but will have each other and their zoo keepers to help them during the grieving process.

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No. 13 Kansas State Upsets No. 2 Kansas 83-82 in Manhattan

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP/KPR) — Keyontae Johnson scored 24 points, including the go-ahead alley-oop dunk with 25 seconds left in overtime, and No. 13 Kansas State beat second-ranked Kansas 83-82 Tuesday night to snap a seven-game series skid. Desi Sills also scored 24 points, and Nae'Qwan Tomlin had 15 points and 10 boards, as the Wildcats hung tough after blowing a huge lead and then squandering a chance to win the game in regulation. Jalen Wilson scored a career-best 38 points for Kansas, though he missed a crucial 3-pointer late in overtime.

K-State coach Jerome Tang grabbed a microphone and stood amid a sea of purple, moments after delirious fans had flooded the floor to celebrate the overtime win. "You have one court-storming," the Wildcats' first-year coach told them over the din. "After this, we expect to win."

After blowing a 14-point first-half lead, the Wildcats responded to every haymaker Kansas threw down the stretch. And when their game went to overtime, and players kept fouling out, Keyontae Johnson delivered for Kansas State, throwing down a go-ahead alley-oop dunk with 25 seconds left that ultimately proved to be the difference. "In order to elevate," Johnson said later, "we have to beat teams like Kansas." Johnson and Desi Sills finished with 24 points apiece, and Nae'Qwan Tomlin had 15 points and 10 boards, as the Wildcats (16-2, 5-1 Big 12) bounced back from a blowout loss to TCU by beating the Jayhawks for the first time since Feb 5, 2019.

It was the most anticipated Sunflower Showdown in years, drawing a capacity crowd that snaked around Bramlage Coliseum hours before tipoff as it waited to get in. The Jayhawks entered the night 29-5 in Bramlage Coliseum, leading many KU fans to call the venue "Allen Field House West."

Kansas returns home to play No. 14 TCU on Saturday. Kansas State plays Texas Tech the same day.

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This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays. These ad-free headlines are made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.