Local & Regional

TUBA CITY, Ariz. (AP) — Margaret Bitsue’s days are filled with prayer: that her son has a clear mind and that he remembers home, a traditional Navajo hogan at the end of a dirt road where a faded yellow ribbon hanging from the cedar trees points to her agony.

Bitsue hasn’t seen or heard from Brandon Lee Sandoval, the youngest of her four children, in more than two years. Wearing blue jeans, a black shirt and work boots, he left the home in northeastern Arizona before sunrise Sept. 3, 2017, saying he was going to see friends in Phoenix and would be back.

KWGS News

The orange barrels are out on I-44 in west Tulsa.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation started an $11 million project Monday to replace two bridges at 33rd West Avenue.

"Both were built in 1952, and we’re going to be going in and replacing the bridges with more modern structures that meet today’s highway standards," said Kenna Mitchell with ODOT.

There will be some pain for drivers until the project wraps up in spring 2021.

Oklahoma U.S. Sen. James Lankford hit the weekend news circuit to talk impeachment.

On CNN's "State of the Union," Lankford dismissed the idea President Trump’s request for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 election could help him in 2020.

Lankford told host Jake Tapper that Trump was simply trying to reconcile competing information when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look for a Democratic party server.

"That doesn’t affect anything, though, in the 2020 election," Lankford said.

County Commissioner Karen Keith

Friday is a deadline for people still impacted by last year’s devastating floods in Northeastern Oklahoma. Linda Johnston is Long-Term Recovery Committee Co-chair. She says the feds have done all they’re going to do, and there are still around three hundred or so families that need help. They had no insurance and received less than needed from federal agencies to get lives back on track. Many are still homeless.

Friday, the individual recovery cases will be presented to non-profit, private, and religious organizations in the hope they will step up and help.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Leaders in conservative Oklahoma say they are looking for more legislative progress for LGBTQ people this year after notable strides in 2019.

Tulsa and Oklahoma City updated their personnel policies to ban discrimination against city employees based on gender identity or expression, The Oklahoman reported. Norman, meanwhile, went further and became the first city in the state to amend its civil rights ordinance to ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment or public accommodations.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has been asked to review a high-speed police chase that ended with a suspect fatally shooting himself.

The Tulsa World reports the chase began after the suspect allegedly made death threats around 4 p.m. on Saturday inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa.

The man, whose name has not been released by authorities, fled the casino in a Dodge Challenger and led police on a chase that reached speeds of more than 100 mph.

The pursuit ended a short time later when his vehicle’s engine failed.

Art programs in alternative schools supported by the Oklahoma Arts Council are in jeopardy.

Between all grant programs being scaled back as state appropriations fell over the past decade and the loss of funding through the State Department of Education in 2016, the arts council had been funding its arts in alternative education grants through a revolving fund.

"At the end of this fiscal year, we’ll have $4,320 left in that fund. So, there is no safety net left," said Oklahoma Arts Council Executive Director Amber Sharples.

Baishampayan Ghose

Oklahomans still can’t legally bet on basketball, football and other events nearly two years after the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for sports betting.

Some wonder if Governor Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma tribes ever get to the negotiating table whether it could be worked into gaming compacts.

Some have guessed the illegal sports betting market is a $400 billion industry. OSU business professor John Holden, however, said it probably isn’t that lucrative.

State officials want Oklahoma to lock down a $5.8 million federal election security grant.

The funds are in addition to security grants doled out in 2018, but Oklahoma has to offer up a 20% match this time, nearly $1.2 million. The grant is meant to help shore up election systems.

"They specifically say federal elections, but since we have a statewide, uniform system, if you help federal elections, you’re helping every election in our state," said State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax.

Monday's top stories:

  • Oklahomans still can't legally bet on sports. Could a new gaming compact change that?
  • Advocates hope to see legislative progress this year on LGBTQ rights after local strides in 2019.
  • Oklahoma is in the middle of the pack when it comes to what employer-sponsored health insurance covers for mental health services compared to medical treatment.

Maricopa County Sheriff

PHOENIX (AP) — A woman charged with murder in the deaths of her three young kids in Phoenix was the subject of several home visits by police and child-welfare authorities when she previously lived in Oklahoma, according to police reports.

The reports released Friday by police in Prague, Oklahoma, say a relative was given custody of Rachel Henry’s children for seven days in August 2018 while child-welfare authorities decided whether to take them away permanently or return them to their mother.

Tarrant County Jail

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A former gymnastics coach was sentenced Friday to 50 years in prison for sexually assaulting young female gymnasts in North Texas and Oklahoma.

Skipper Crawley, 53, of Kemp, Texas, pleaded guilty in a Tarrant County state district court in Fort Worth to four counts of aggravated assault of a child.

Crawley was an instructor at Sokol Gymnastics in Fort Worth when three girls reported that he had sexually assaulted them during practice. He fled after he was charged in August 2018, but was arrested in Indiana.

Oklahoma Watch

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The executive editor of the nonprofit journalism corporation Oklahoma Watch announced on Friday his plan to retire later this year.

David Fritze thanked his staff and donors in an email to supporters.

“Oklahoma Watch has made a difference for the better, convincingly showing that fact-driven, investigative journalism is essential for our state,” Fritze wrote. “I will miss it, but I also know that we have created momentum for its growth that is stronger than ever.”

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s unemployment rate held steady last month at 3.4% and the state’s economic slowdown is projected to continue in 2020, state officials reported Friday.

Oklahoma’s 3.4% seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remains just below the national average of 3.5%, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said.

Oklahoma Watch

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Legislature will consider new rules that would raise the student performance standards for schools to operate on a four-day work week.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Thursday in favor of adopting the new standards starting in the 2021-22 school year.

“It’s so important to make sure that we have those student outcomes,” board member Estela Hernandez said. “We understand that local control is very important, but we also need to ensure that best outcomes for our students are there.”

Volunteer Firefighters in Big Cabin Resign

Jan 24, 2020
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A kerfuffle in Craig County has led to half of Big Cabin’s all-volunteer fire department submitting their resignations.

The fire department is at odds with the town board, which voted against an agreement for Vinita firefighters to help with structure fires.

Big Cabin won’t have enough firefighters to respond to calls unless those who resigned return or the town approves new volunteers. Surrounding departments are helping in the meantime.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma City-based information technology company Paycom Software Inc., is being added to the S&P 500.

S&P Dow Jones Indices announced Wednesday that Paycom will replace Wellcare Health Plans on Jan. 28 as Wellcare is being purchased by fellow S&P 500 member Centene Corp.

Paycom Software provides cloud-based human capital management software services and becomes the fifth Oklahoma-based company on the index that includes most of the largest U.S. publicly traded companies.

Cherokee Nation Welcome Center

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) — The Cherokee Nation plans to create a working group to study how the tribe might get involved in the burgeoning hemp and cannabis industries.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. appointed the seven-member committee on Wednesday and asked the group to develop its recommendations by May 31.

The Tahlequah-based Native American tribe is the largest in the U.S.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Gov. Kevin Stitt's response to three Oklahoma tribes' federal lawsuit to resolve their gaming compact dispute was meant to force the sides to the negotiating table, but it may have backfired.

Chickasaw Nation General Counsel Stephen Greetham said the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee nations are still open to talks, mainly about exclusivity fee rates, after the lawsuit is resolved.

Friday's top stories:

  • Gov. Kevin Stitt and Chickasaw Nation General Counsel Stephen Greetham discuss their positions in a gaming compact lawsuit.
  • State-funded travel to California is banned.
  • A top U.S. education official visits Tulsa schools to wrap up a trip to Oklahoma.

  

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Layoffs at Spirit AeroSystems spread Thursday to the airplane parts-maker’s plants in Oklahoma amid the widening fallout in its home state of Kansas caused by the halt in production of the troubled Boeing 737 MAX.

State Impact

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Trump administration on Wednesday approved a right-of-way allowing the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline to be built across U.S. land, pushing the controversial $8 billion project closer to construction though court challenges still loom.

The approval signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and obtained by The Associated Press covers 46 miles of the pipeline’s route across land in Montana that’s controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Casey Hammond, assistant secretary of the Interior Department.

State of Oklahoma-File photo

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is banning state-funded travel to the state of California.

The first-term Republican says it's in response to similar travel bans California has put in place on travel to Oklahoma.

Stitt issued the executive order on Thursday. It bans all non-essential travel to the state of California for all state employees, with a few exceptions. Exemptions include business recruiting trips, college sports and school groups.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Goodbye, Fire Station 30. Hello, Station 66.

The fire station at 14333 E 11th St. in Tulsa has been renamed in order to fit the theme of Route 66. The idea came from Capt. Jim Moseby, who grew up near what's now Station 66 and was inspired by other Mother Road developments in Tulsa.

Fire Chief Ray Driskell said the change means a lot to the firefighters and the surrounding community.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

An official from the U.S. Department of Education finished a tour of Oklahoma schools Thursday with a few stops in Tulsa.

Booker T. Washington High School was the first Tulsa school to welcome U.S. Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan.

Brogan said the Department of Education is looking for schools making changes that lead to increased academic achievement, something Booker T. has a knack for with offerings from high-level courses to career-technical options.

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MOORE, Okla. (AP) — Two Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers on Wednesday shot and killed a suspected car thief who crashed the truck he was driving during a pursuit, authorities said.

The troopers were responding to a report of a stolen vehicle shortly before noon when they spotted a man driving it northbound on Interstate 35 and initiated a pursuit, said Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokeswoman Sarah Stewart.

The man exited the interstate in Moore, lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a median, a light pole and several trees, Stewart said.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A former Oklahoma zookeeper and one-time candidate for governor was sentenced Wednesday to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot and violating federal wildlife laws.

A federal judge in Oklahoma City sentenced 56-year-old Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage — who is also known as “Joe Exotic” — for trying to arrange the killing of a Florida animal sanctuary founder who criticized his treatment of animals. The woman, Carole Baskin, wasn’t harmed.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt named an executive from his former company on Wednesday to head up the state’s budget and technology office.

Stitt announced the appointment of Steven Harpe as director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. The state agency functions as Oklahoma’s human resources department, handling duties like state finance, employee benefits and information technology.

KWGS News File photo

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt asked a federal judge late Wednesday to order tribal casinos across the state to stop offering most electronic and table games.

In the court filing, attorneys for Stitt also asked the judge to declare the tribes’ operation of Class III electronic games illegal and that a trust be set up for the state to receive its share of revenue from the tribes operation of the games while the matter is being litigated.

Thursday's top stories:

  • Tulsa's next chief of police will be current Tulsa Police Maj. Wendell Franklin.
  • A community group that pushed Mayor G.T. Bynum for a nationwide search for police chief has concerns about his pick.
  • Gov. Kevin Stitt responds to tribes' gaming compact lawsuit by asking a judge to shut down casinos and to declare Class III gaming illegal.

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