News in Brief

EPA chief denounces water rule in visit to Ky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt found a friendly audience Thursday in his native Kentucky as he lambasted an Obama-era clean-water rule.

Speaking to a Kentucky Farm Bureau audience, Pruitt said the rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands from development and pollution was an example of federal overreach. He said it tried to redefine the Clean Water Act to cover puddles, dry creek beds and drainage ditches.

“The agency took a definition under the Clean Water Act and turned it into something that Congress never intended,” Pruitt said.

President Donald Trump’s environmental chief drew applause from the farm group when he said: “That’s being fixed.”

Pruitt also praised Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal, and criticized former President Barack Obama’s administration for its attitude toward production of coal and other resources.

Kentucky is one of the nation’s top coal producers.

“It’s my view that the past administration, it was about prohibition,” he said. “It was about looking at our natural resources and saying we can’t use certain natural resources. Now think about how crazy that is … We should use those natural resources to feed the world and power the world.”

Pruitt described it as a “false choice” to have to choose between promoting economic growth or protecting the environment.

Pruitt, who grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, also tweeted Thursday that he met with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and members of his cabinet to “discuss ways EPA and Kentucky can work together to advance environmental stewardship.” The Republican governor then retweeted that post, saying “America is blessed to have a public servant like (Pruitt) who works diligently to be a good steward of the earth and protect America’s working class.”

Fired state elections staffer files whistleblower lawsuit

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A former Kentucky State Board of Elections staff member who said his termination was in retaliation for accusing the Secretary of State’s Office of improperly gathering voter information during campaigns is now suing.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports former assistant to the director Matthew Selph filed a lawsuit against the board Wednesday, alleging the state’s whistleblower statute was violated by his firing. He said the board and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes knew he’d filed formal complaints alleging mismanagement and potential violations of the law. The lawsuit says Selph was subjected to retaliation and reprisal.

Grimes’ spokesman, Bradford Queen, said the accusations were baseless and politically motivated. Grimes is chair of the bipartisan board and a Democrat; Selph is a Republican.

Selph and Executive Director Maryellen Allen, a Democrat, were fired in October.

Rainbow crosswalks claimed as hazard will remain for now

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky city will keep its rainbow-colored crosswalks while it investigates why federal government officials say the gesture honoring the LGBTQ community is a safety hazard.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports Environmental Quality and Public Works Commissioner Dowell Hoskins-Squire told the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council on Tuesday that the crosswalks at a prominent downtown intersection will remain as the city conducts more research, as other cities with similar crosswalks have not received such requests for removal.

A Federal Highway Administration official sent a Nov. 13 letter to Mayor Jim Gray asking the city to remove the crosswalks, calling them distracting.

Hoskins-Squire says she has yet to send an official response to the letter. She also said there hasn’t been an uptick in accidents since the crosswalks were installed in June.

Police chief retiring in Ky.’s 2nd largest city

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — The police chief of Kentucky’s second largest city is retiring next month.

Lexington Chief Mark Barnard said in a letter to Mayor Jim Gray his retirement would be effective Jan. 7. Gray named Barnard as chief in 2014.

The mayor said in a news release Thursday that the police department has excelled through Barnard’s leadership.

Barnard has been with the police department for 31 years. He said it has been his “privilege to serve” with the department’s more than 700 officers and staff.

The release said Assistant Chief Ron Compton will be interim chief until a successor for Barnard is appointed.

Lawyer with alleged gambling debts faces federal charges

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — Federal officials say a Kentucky attorney has been charged with wire fraud as part of a scheme to take money from his law clients to cover more than a million dollars in gambling debts.

The U.S. Attorney’s office says 71-year-old Danny P. Butler was charged by a federal grand jury on Nov. 15. He appeared in court in Bowling Green on Thursday.

An indictment says Butler operated a legal practice in Greensburg. From 2009 to 2016, prosecutors allege, Butler used personal and business bank accounts he maintained to mingle funds from clients.

Prosecutors say he had racked up $1.6 million in gambling debts that he paid for mostly by the misappropriation of funds from 11 clients.

He faces up to 20 years in prison on the federal charges.

Sandhill crane tours offered next month at Barren River Lake

LUCAS, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky State Park officials are offering sandhill crane tours at Barren River Lake next month.

A statement from the parks department says van tours to see the birds as they migrate south will take place Jan. 20-21 and Jan. 27. Thousands of sandhill cranes congregate at Barren River Lake, which has exposed mud flats during winter months and nearby farmlands and meadows that offer food.

The cranes are gray with a red-crowned forehead. They reach heights of 4 feet (1.2 meters) and have a wing span of 6 to 7 feet (2 meters).

Registration for the weekend van tours is required and costs $45 for adults and $30 for children. The fee includes educational sessions, a box lunch, and a T-shirt. There will also be free guided nature hikes on Jan. 20 and 27.

Woman sentenced to nearly 30 years for killing father

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — A central Minnesota woman has been sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison for killing her 66-year-old father.

Forty-year-old Lisa May Kearney of St. Cloud was sentenced Thursday after earlier pleading guilty to second-degree murder. Kearney will get credit for the nearly two years she spent locked up since her arrest in January 2016.

Kearney was accused of fatally bludgeoning her father, Jerry Schilling, with a mallet while he slept. She took his wallet and keys and flew to Louisville, Kentucky, where she was later arrested.

Defense attorney Steven Bergeson argued that Kearney deserved a sentence of just over 23 years. Bergeson says his client has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and that she’s sorry.

The St. Cloud Times reports Kearny did not speak during the hearing.

Man accused of infant abuse pleads guilty to amended charge

HENDERSON, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky man whose then-girlfriend’s infant son died while in his care has pleaded guilty to an amended charge.

The Gleaner reports that 35-year-old Joseph Scott Overfield pleaded guilty this week to first-degree wanton endangerment, amended from first-degree criminal abuse.

The mother of the child, 26-year-old Jailynna Lord, had pleaded guilty to a first-degree wanton endangerment charge amended from criminal abuse in June and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Henderson Police detective Tracy Green says Lord’s 5-month-old child, Jordyn, died in August 2016. An autopsy revealed multiple fractured ribs and a fractured clavicle estimated to have occurred 6 to 8 weeks before the baby’s death. Overfield was accused of sitting on the baby.

Lord and Overfield were arrested in November 2016. Overfield is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 8.