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Headlines for Monday, November 24, 2014

Kansas Has Lower Unemployment but Lower Job Growth in October

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Federal statistics show Kansas is seeing slower private-sector job growth than the U.S. as a whole, while unemployment in the state declined in October to 4.4 percent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports Kansas gained 13,900 private-sector jobs in October compared with October 2013. The new total of nearly 1.14 million was 1.24 percent higher. The U.S. as a whole saw private-sector employment grow 2.24 percent from October 2013 to October 2014. Kansas reports its seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.4 percent in October improved from the 4.7 percent rate in September and 5.2 percent in October 2013. The national unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in October, down from 5.9 percent in September and 7.2 percent in October 2013.


Kansas Prisons Face Severe Staffing Shortages

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The interim director of the Kansas Association of State Employees says state correctional officers are being put at risk because of critical staffing shortages in state prisons. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Rebecca Proctor testified last week before the Joint Committee on Pensions, Investments and Benefits. The legislative committee may consider legislation to standardize the pension benefits of Corrections Department employees. Proctor told the committee about inmates attacking guards and said all the adult facilities are short-staffed. She says that lawmakers should address wages before looking at pension benefits. Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay confirmed that job vacancy rates in the state prison system range from 10 to 15 percent at each facility. He says low wages and dangerous working conditions are a big part of the problem.


Depletion of Aquifer Empties Western Kansas Streams

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is causing western Kansas to lose many of its perennial streams. A water expert said at a workshop in Lawrence that many streams in western Kansas used to be fed by the aquifer because its water table was higher than the streams. But because the aquifer's water table has dropped 3 feet of more below the stream beds, most of the streams are now dry year round. Kansas Geological Survey geohydrology section chief Jim Butler called it a tremendous loss to the state's ecosystem. Butler said the problems could be solved if western Kansas farmers pumped less water by using techniques such as no-till.


School Funding Suit Complicates Kansas Budget Problems

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Even before state courts decide whether Kansas spends enough money on public schools, an education funding lawsuit is complicating efforts by legislators and Governor Sam Brownback to close budget shortfalls. A three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court expects to rule by the end of December in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by parents of more than 30 students and four school districts. Both sides predict an appeal to the state Supreme Court. The case is affecting state officials' thinking as they wrestle with predicted budget shortfalls totaling more than $714 million for the current budget year and the one beginning in July. Aid to public schools is the biggest item in the state's annual budget. Many legislators are wary of cutting it with the lawsuit pending.


UPDATE: Autopsy Begins on Kansas Woman Found Raped, Burned

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An autopsy has begun on a Kansas woman who died this weekend, days after she was sexually assaulted and set on fire in a park. Sedgwick County spokeswoman Brittany Clampitt said Monday that coroner's officials were investigating, but it wasn't clear when the examination would be complete. Relatives held a memorial for Letitia "Tish" Davis on Sunday evening in Wichita's Fairmount Park, where she was found Nov. 14 with burns on more than half her body and cuts on her head. Cornell McNeal has been jailed and charged with attempted murder and rape. He doesn't yet have a lawyer. Police Lt. James Espinoza told The Wichita Eagle that charges would be amended after Davis died Saturday. The district attorney's office said prosecutors would determine appropriate charges based on new evidence.


Kansas Universities Seek Room and Board Rate Increase

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - State universities in Kansas are seeking to hike their room and board rates for the upcoming school year. The Kansas Board of Regents is expected to approve the increases in December. There was a first reading of the proposals last week. At the University of Kansas, a typical rate for a residence hall double-room and a middle-of-the-road meal plan, called the "Crimson Flex," would increase an average of 2.9 percent, for a total of $9,324. The university says costs could vary depending on the type of room and meal plan. Other universities in the Regents system are proposing similar increases, ranging from 2.7 percent at Fort Hays State University to an average 5 percent increase at Emporia State University.


KBI Surveying Law Enforcement Agencies on Kits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's investigation bureau is trying to determine if Kansas has a backlog of untested sexual assault kits. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the kits include swabs and specimens gathered during exams of sexual assault victims. Officials say that across the country, hundreds of thousands of the sexual assault kits remain untested. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation recently sent surveys to all Kansas law enforcement agencies to see if there is a backlog problem. KBI Director Kirk Thompson says the state agency doesn't think there's a backlog issue in Kansas, but wants to be sure that's the case. KBI hopes to begin analyzing the survey's results starting next year. Thompson says that 66 kits are currently awaiting testing at KBI labs.


Pratt Man Given 2 Life Sentences for Murders

PRATT, Kan. (AP) — A 22-year-old Kansas man was given two life sentences for killing a pregnant woman and her unborn child. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says Bryant Alan Seba of Pratt was sentenced Monday for the shooting deaths of 22-year-old Alexandria Duran and her unborn child in July 2013. He also was sentenced to another 272 months for attempted premeditated murder in the shooting of 28-year-old Brandon Wright, who was paralyzed. Seba will not be eligible for parole for at least 50 years. Testimony at trial indicated people in Duran's house and Seba's house had several racially-tinged confrontations. Witnesses said Seba fired into a crowd of people after Duran and her uncle intervened in a fight that involved Seba, who is white, and Wright, who is black.


Capital Murder Suspect Seeking to Change His Name

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man whose capital murder conviction was overturned because of ineffective counsel is seeking to change his name, which prosecutors said will have no impact on his upcoming retrial. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Phillip Delbert Cheatham Jr. has filed court documents seeking to change his name to "King Phillip Amman Reu-El," and is scheduled for a hearing next month before a judge who will decide whether to grant the change. Cheatham was convicted in 2005 of killing 38-year-old Annette Roberson and 42-year-old Gloria Jones in 2003. The 41-year-old is charged with capital murder, with two alternative counts of premeditated first-degree murder in the deaths of Roberson and Jones and attempted first-degree murder of Annetta Thomas. His trial is scheduled for early next year.


Deputy Escapes Serious Injury When Semi Hits Car

LEON, Kan. (AP) — A Butler County sheriff's deputy escaped serious injury when a semi-trailer truck hit his patrol car in south-central Kansas. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the accident happened Monday morning near Leon on westbound U.S. 400. The westbound truck hit the patrol car while the deputy was helping a stalled motorist. The truck driver was taken to Wesley Medical Center with non-critical injuries. The deputy was treated for minor injuries at the scene. Traffic on westbound U.S. 400 was reduced to one lane while the accident was investigated.


Kansas Felon Found Unfit for Trial in Vegas Heists

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A 34-year-old Kansas felon has been declared psychologically unfit for trial in federal court in the July armed robberies of a Las Vegas Strip casino cashier and a bank. Trial was canceled Friday for Scott Alan Carmitchel on charges of interference with commerce by robbery at the Bellagio and armed robbery of a City National Bank branch. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Carmitchel was ordered to remain in federal custody for mental health treatment and another psychological examination. U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware in Las Vegas scheduled a March 3 status check in the case. Carmitchel was released from a Kansas prison in December. He's accused of spending nearly $50,000 from the July 25 Bellagio heist and the July 22 bank robbery on prostitutes and a shopping spree.


Kansas Among 21 States Pushing to Overturn Maryland Gun-Control Law

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Twenty-one states are asking a federal appeals court to overturn provisions of Maryland's gun-control law that ban 45 assault weapons and a limit gun magazines to 10 rounds. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey led the coalition in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the Fourth U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia last week. The brief says the law violates the Second Amendment right to keep firearms in homes for self-protection. The other states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, and Kentucky. A U.S. District Court judge in Baltimore upheld the provisions in August. The state of Maryland has until December 31 to respond to the filing.


KHP: 1 Dead, 6 Injured in Oskaloosa Crash

OSKALOOSA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Highway Patrol says a 17-year-old boy has died in a crash that hospitalized a woman and five children. Troopers say Hunter Terrell of McLouth crashed into an SUV over the weekend while trying to pass a pickup truck on a highway near Oskaloosa. They say he lost control of his Honda Civic while attempting to get back into his lane. Twenty-six-year-old Carolanne Todd of Oskaloosa and five children ranging from 1- to 10-years-old were hospitalized. Their conditions are unknown.


Chanute Man Dies in One-Vehicle Accident

CHANUTE, Kan. (AP) — A southeast Kansas man has died after his pickup truck went off the side of a bridge near Chanute. The Kansas Highway Patrol identified the victim as 51-year-old Jack Cheyney of Chanute. The patrol says the accident happened Saturday morning when Cheyney's truck went off the roadway, struck a bridge rail and flipped into the water. He was pronounced dead at the scene.


Abilene's Great Plains Theatre Will Rebuild After July Fire

ABILENE, Kan. (AP) - An historic theater in Abilene that was destroyed by fire will be rebuilt. Maggie Hoffman, executive director of the Great Plains Theatre, says an architect has been hired to develop plans to replace the theater. The building was destroyed by fire after being hit by lightning in July. It was built in 1883 and housed a professional Equity theater for 20 years. Hoffman says no date has been set for the new theater to open but it could be three to five years. She says the theater's supporters want to see what the architect envisions, and then have plenty of time to raise the funds needed for a new building. The Salina Journal reports a professional fundraising expert will be hired to help raise money and apply for grants.


Investors Seek to Develop Southeast Kansas Casino

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A group of Kansas investors has proposed a $130 million casino in southeast Kansas, the third project to vie for the license. The Cherokee County Commission on Monday endorsed the project from Castle Rock Casino Resort. The company wants to build a casino with 1,400 slot machines, 35 table games and a poker room with 16 tables. Also planned are a 200-room hotel, three restaurants and a health club and spa. The application deadline is December 18, with the State Lottery Commission to make the selection. Castle Rock says it could open by June 2016, if it wins. Castle Rock says it decided to build in Cherokee County because the proposed resort would sit within a mile of Kansas' borders with Oklahoma and Missouri and just 50 miles from Arkansas.


KC Prepares for Holiday Lighting Tradition

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Royals left-fielder Alex Gordon will flip the switch that lights up Kansas City's Country Club Plaza on Thanksgiving night. Gordon will be accompanied by Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore. The annual event attracts tens of thousands of people to the upscale shopping and dining district, where several blocks of buildings will be outlined in holiday lights through Jan. 18. A local celebrity gets the honor each year of flipping the switch. Musical performances also will be part of Thursday night's festivities.


Dodge City Educator Named Teacher of the Year

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A high school biology teacher from Dodge City High School is the 2015 Kansas Teacher of the Year. Shannon Ralph has taught for 18 years in middle and high school, with 13 years at Dodge City High School teaching biology, honors biology and AP biology. Her selection was announced during a ceremony in Wichita Saturday night. She has received numerous previous honors and has presented at several national conferences. Ralph will receive $4,000, a free rental car for a year for her Teacher of the Year duties, free enrollment to several Kansas universities for life and other prizes. Ralph was chosen from among eight finalists, who will work together this year to promote education and teaching.


Suspect in 5 Kansas City Deaths Pleads Not Guilty

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man suspected of killing five people in a Kansas City, Missouri, neighborhood has pleaded not guilty to all charges he faces, including five counts of first-degree murder. Thirty-four-year-old Brandon Howell entered the plea in Jackson County Court on Monday morning. Prosecutors say Howell brutally beat George and Anna Taylor on September 2, then fatally shot Alice Hurst; her son, Darrel Hurst; and Susan Choucroun outside their homes before fleeing in the Taylors' SUV. Howell was arrested hours later when police found him walking with a loaded shotgun. Besides the murder counts, he's charged with four counts of armed criminal action, first-degree burglary, stealing a motor vehicle and unlawful possession of a firearm.


KU Nearly Meets First Enrollment Goal for International Student Program

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas officials say they have nearly met a first-semester target of international students enrolled through a recruitment program. Earlier this year, the university and company Shorelight Education formally announced a partnership for the International Academic Accelerator Program, which is aimed at increasing the school's international enrollment to help diversify the student body. A university official says about 7 percent of undergrads are from other countries. Overall, about 9 percent of the school's students are international. The Lawrence Journal-World reports officials had a goal of recruiting 60 students for its first semester in the program and ended up with 57 this fall. For about a $45,000 flat fee, the program provides about a year's worth of room, board, tuition and activities for participating international students.


Kansas Restroom Places Second in National Contest

LUCAS, Kan. (AP) — A toilet-shaped restroom in a small north-central Kansas town has placed second in a national contest. The Wichita Eagle reports that the honor was bestowed upon the Grassroots Art Center's Bowl Plaza in Lucas last Wednesday, which was World Toilet Day. The public restrooms at Longwood Gardens in Philadelphia were voted No. 1. The competition is sponsored by Cintas, a company that designs restrooms. The finalists in the "Top 10" best restrooms in the nation contest were named in September, and people could vote for their favorites. The Lucas facility got its start in 2008 when the town's approximately 400 residents banded together because there was a need for a public restroom. It took them four years to raise money and design the facility.


Shaq Joins Hill, 6 Others in College Hoops Hall

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Shaquille O'Neal and his coach at LSU, Dale Brown, joined six other luminaries with induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City on Sunday night. Former Duke star Grant Hill, Louisville standout Darrell Griffith, longtime Maryland coach Gary Williams, Stetson's Glenn Wilkes Sr., Five-Star Basketball Camp founder Howard Garfinkel and the late Prairie View A&M star Zelmo Beaty were also inducted. They join dozens of other players, coaches and contributors who have been enshrined in Kansas City since the inaugural 2006 class. The induction takes place annually on the eve of the CBE Classic at the nearby Sprint Center. No. 14 Iowa State plays Alabama and Maryland faces Arizona State in Monday night's semifinals. The championship game is scheduled for Tuesday.


KU Women's Basketball Team Beats Georgetown 55-42

LAWRENCE, Kan. – The University of Kansas women's basketball team defeated the Georgetown Hoyas 55-42 Sunday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. Double-digit scoring efforts by three KU seniors powered the Jayhawks to the win over Georgetown. It was Kansas' third game in a row having three or more Jayhawks finish with double-digit points. With the win, KU improves to 4-1. The Jayhawks will finish a six-game home stand hosting Iona College on Wednesday night in Lawrence.


K-State Beats Purdue 88-79 in Maui

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Marcus Foster scored 24 points and Kansas State held on to beat Purdue 88-79 after blowing most of a big early lead Monday in the opening game of the Maui Invitational. Coming off a disappointing loss to Long Beach State, Kansas State (3-1) attacked Purdue early, hounding the Boilermakers into one mistake after another while building a 15-point halftime lead. Purdue (3-1) fought its way back into it behind Kendall Stephens, who scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half. The Boilermakers pulled within 75-70 on a 3-pointer by Stephens with just over 3 minutes left, but got no closer. Isaac Haas added 19 points and six rebounds for Purdue. 


Chiefs Place Berry on Non-Football Illness List

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs have placed Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry on the non-football illness list after a mass was discovered in his chest following Thursday night's game in Oakland. Berry began feeling discomfort in his chest near the end of the game, and a series of tests taken in Oakland and back in Kansas City revealed the mass. Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder said that there has been no definitive diagnosis, but the leading possibility is lymphoma. Burkholder said that Berry had never complained of the pain until last week, and a physical taken over the summer came back clear. Berry was on his way Monday to Atlanta, where he was to be examined by specialists at Emory University.


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