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Regional Headlines for Friday, January 31, 2014


Emergency Services Shut Down at Topeka VA Hospital

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Veterans Health Administration has ordered emergency services suspended at a Topeka VA hospital while procedures and staffing are reviewed. The VA announced the suspension Friday at the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center. The hospital will continue to operate as an urgent care clinic while federal officials review its policies, procedures and staffing. Veterans reporting to the hospital will be given appropriate care but officials are advising veterans with a major medical emergency to call 911. VA officials say they have contacted Topeka hospitals to ensure veterans can get emergency care when needed. Senator Jerry Moran, a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, called the decision "outrageous." He says the Veterans Administration has failed to address a long-standing shortage of medical personnel at its hospitals.


Primary Likely in KS 1st District As Challengers Line Up Against Huelskamp

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A Clyde resident says he plans to run as a Republican against incumbent Congressman Tim Huelskamp. The Salina Journal reports that Alan LaPolice, who grew up on a dairy farm in north-central Kansas, plans to kick off his campaign for the 1st Congressional District on February 22 in Concordia. Huelskamp, also a Republican, won the seat in the strongly GOP U.S. House district in 2010 and faced no opposition in seeking re-election in 2012. Other potential candidates include Republican Kent Roth, an attorney in Ellinwood; independent David Joyce, an Abilene truck driver; and Democrats Jim Sherow, a history professor at Kansas State University, and Bryan Whitney, a student at Wichita State University from Syracuse. The Kansas Secretary of State's office says only Whitney has officially filed as a candidate.


Attorney: Lawrence Murder Suspect in Court Monday

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — An attorney representing a 19-year-old woman charged with killing a Lawrence businessman says she'll have her first court appearance Monday. Defense attorney Carl Cornwell said Friday that Sarah Brooke Gonzales McLinn has a hearing set for 1:30 pm Monday in Douglas County District Court before District Judge Paula Martin. McLinn is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 52-year-old Harold Sasko. Sasko owned pizza restaurants in Lawrence and Topeka. McLinn was an employee, and Sasko's relatives have said he let her move into his home while she was having personal problems. She was arrested in Florida but declined to fight extradition. Cornwell declined to say when she would return to Kansas. Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson's office also is declining to comment until McLinn has returned.


KS Man Pleads Not Guilty to Killing Ailing Wife

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 67-year-old Lawrence man accused of killing his ailing wife has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. 6News Lawrence reports Larry Hopkins waived a formal reading of the charges and entered his plea Friday. He is accused of fatally shooting his wife, 61-year-old Margaret Hopkins, on November 5. Police say he shot her because of her ongoing health concerns. Hopkins was found competent to stand trial in November after a mental health evaluation. If convicted he could face life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. He is being held at Douglas County jail on $150,000 bond. He is scheduled for a jury trial starting April 14.


Kansas Chief Justice Establishes Advisory Council

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss has created an advisory council of chief judges of the state's district courts to provide their insights into matters facing the court system. Nuss announced Friday that he had signed an order earlier in January to create the seven-member council. The intent is to get feedback from the 31 district courts in Kansas on matters relating to court procedures and administration, including funding. The council selected David Ricke, chief judge of the 13th Judicial District of Butler, Elk and Greenwood counties, to serve as chairman. Two of the members, including Ricke, will serve one-year terms expiring December 31 while the other five will serve two-year terms ending December 31, 2015.

Gay-Rights Group Seeks Repeal of KS Marriage Ban

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The leading gay-rights group in Kansas is asking legislators to repeal a state law and a provision in the state constitution that both ban same-sex marriage. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee agreed to sponsor both measures at the request of Equality Kansas executive director Tom Witt. But committee Chairman Steve Brunk hasn't decided whether to hold hearings on either measure. One proposal would repeal a 1996 law barring Kansas from recognizing gay marriages. The other would repeal a provision of the Constitution voters added in 2005 to ban gay marriage. Witt said he wants a debate about marriage because the committee is considering a bill providing new legal protections to groups, businesses and individuals that oppose gay marriage for religious reasons.


Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Clears Significant Federal Hurdle

WASHINGTON (AP) — The proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada has cleared a significant hurdle after the State Department raised no major environmental objections to its construction. The department's report was released Friday. It says Canadian tar sands are likely to be developed regardless of U.S. action on the pipeline and other options to get the oil from western Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries are worse for the environment. The latest environmental review stops short of recommending approval of the project. But the report gives the Obama administration political cover if it chooses to endorse the pipeline in spite of opposition from many Democrats and environmental groups. State Department approval of the project is needed because it crosses a U.S. border. A decision is not expected before the summer.


Variety of Opinions Expressed by Kansans on Keystone XL


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A new report from the U.S. State Department on the Keystone XL pipeline has drawn varying reactions in Kansas, where a separate section of the Keystone pipeline is operating. The State Department on Friday raised no major environmental objections to the $7 billion pipeline from Canada, though the report stops short of recommending its approval. Keystone XL would travel through Montana and South Dakota before reaching Nebraska. An existing spur runs through Kansas and Oklahoma to Texas. Senator Jerry Moran, a Republican, says in a release the report should push the "job-creating, domestic energy-producing project forward." But Marion County Commissioner Dan Holub says the six counties in Kansas where the pipeline runs through "got no big jobs," and he says he's also concerned about the possibility of a spill.



Parks Secretary Criticizes Proposed Bill on Snakes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The secretary of the state wildlife department says a bill before the Kansas Senate that would remove two snakes from the state's list of threatened species would set a dangerous precedent. Johnson County officials on Thursday asked lawmakers to remove the redbelly and smooth earth snake from state protection. They argued that the nonvenomous snakes have healthy populations in other states and accommodating their threatened status increases the costs of utility projects in the county. But Kansas Secretary of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Robin Jennison says scientists, not lawmakers, should decide which animals are on the lists. He says the state is already reviewing the snakes' status and is expected to issue an opinion by October on whether to keep their threatened species status.


KS Atty General Awards Grants to Groups Aiding Human Trafficking Victims

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Five Kansas groups have been awarded funds from the attorney general's office to help victims of human trafficking. The assistance program was established last year after the Legislature passed new laws cracking down on the crime. The attorney general's office said Thursday the grants total nearly $70,000 and will be used by groups that aid human trafficking victims in Lawrence, Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita. More than 200 human trafficking victims were identified for services by the organizations since passage of the 2013 legislation.


Topeka to Chicago Flights Only 25 Percent Full

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Flights between Topeka and Chicago at the Topeka airport drew a low number of customers in the first month of service. But an airport official says United Airlines officials expected the low numbers during the first month of service and believe use will improve in the coming months. United began flying between the two cities in January, and the flights have been only 25 percent full this month. Eric Johnson, president of Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority, said Thursday that the flights need to average 69 percent of capacity to maintain the service in the future. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Johnson said advance bookings show the 50-passenger flights will carry an increased number of passengers in February, and even more in March.


MO Company Recalls Chicken Salad over Labelling Issue

NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A North Kansas City company is recalling about 2,200 pounds of chicken salads whose labels failed to include soy protein concentrate, which is an allergen. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says there have been no reports of illness from the salads made by Walker's Food Products Incorporated. The products include five-pound tubs of "Walker's All White Chunky Chicken Salad" packaged between June 6th, 2013 and January 23rd with use-by or sell-by dates between July 26th, 2013 and March 14th, 2014; sold to wholesalers in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.


KS Utility Regulators Waive Propane Storage Fee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The agency that regulates utilities in Kansas is temporarily waiving its fee on excess propane storage in hopes of encouraging shippers to send more propane into the state. The Kansas Corporation Commission decided Thursday to suspend the fee of 7.5 cents a barrel through February. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the three-member KCC acted at the request of Oklahoma-based pipeline company Oneok. About 83,000 Kansas homes use propane for heat. Its price spiked earlier this week at more than $4 per gallon, a rise of more than $1 compared to the week before. The KCC's action comes a day after Governor Sam Brownback announced he was directing the state to help poor families relying on propane for home heating. He's also temporarily eased trucking regulations to help shippers.


KCK Man Dies After Being Hit by Car on Interstate

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Highway Patrol troopers are investigating the death of a pedestrian who was hit by a car as he tried to cross Interstate 435 in Shawnee. The patrol says 26-year-old Shaun P. Robinson, of Kansas City, Kansas was walking west trying to cross the highway when he was hit Thursday night. The driver stopped after the collision. The patrol is working to determine why Robinson was on the highway.


Wrong-Way Driver on I-70 Hits Police Car

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A woman who was driving the wrong way on Interstate 70 in downtown Topeka collided head-on with a police car. No one was seriously injured. Topeka police say the woman drove east for about 9 miles in the westbound lanes of the interstate early Friday. She eventually hit a semi-trailer truck on its side and then collided with a car driven by a Kansas Capitol police officer. The woman was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. The police officer was not injured. The highway was shut down for about an hour. An investigation into why the woman was driving the wrong way is continuing.


Report: US Cattle Herd at Lowest Number Since 1951

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — The lingering effects of drought across the Great Plains in recent years have led to another decrease in the U.S. cattle herd. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that the U.S. inventory of cattle and calves totaled 87.7 million animals as of January 1. That was down by about 1.6 million cattle, or 2 percent, compared with this time last year. The agency says this is the lowest January inventory since 1951. A bright spot was a 2 percent increase in young, female cattle retained for breeding. One expert says that factor could allow the herd's seven-year contraction to stabilize. Totals in Texas, the nation's leading cattle producer, decreased 4 percent. The January report had been anxiously awaited because the agency didn't issue a report in July due to sequestration.


Man Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter in Topeka Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man whose first conviction in a 1999 death in Topeka was overturned pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter. Russell Lee Shumway was scheduled for a March trial for second-degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Mitchell Davis at his Topeka home in October 1999. Prosecutors say Davis was beaten with a 2-by-4 after he woke up while Shumway and another man trying to steal from him. Shumway's first conviction in 2000 was overturned last year by the Kansas Court of Appeals, over questions about the credibility of prosecution witnesses, claims of ineffective counsel and because no physical evidence tied Shumway to the slaying. Shumway has been in prison since his conviction. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that with time served, Shumway would serve about 18 more months.

Former KS Police Chief Won't Be Charged

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — The Kingman city attorney's office says no criminal charges will be filed against the south-central Kansas community's former police chief following an investigation. KAKE-TV reports that the case of former Kingman Police Chief Marc Holloway is now closed. Holloway thanked his supporters in the community and said its citizens now have access to the truth. Kingman is about 75 miles west of Wichita and has almost 7,900 residents. Holloway resigned as chief on January 3 after an investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The city attorney confirmed Thursday that a special prosecutor declined to file charges. The city asked the KBI in October to investigate Holloway and he was placed on administrative leave in November. City officials and the KBI have refused to discuss what prompted the investigation.


Oil Companies Pledge to Conserve 1.5 Million Acres in 5 States

HOUSTON (AP) — Five oil and gas companies have pledged to give 1.5 million acres of land in five states toward conservation of lesser prairie chicken habitat. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says in a statement Friday this represents the first enrollment in a broad state initiative that aims to engage ranchers, landowners and the oil and gas industry in a sweeping conservation effort designed to prevent the chicken from being federally protected as a threatened species. The lesser prairie chicken's habitat encompasses the plains of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma. Its population has dwindled in recent years and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to announce in March whether the chicken will be listed as threatened. Oil and gas drilling has also boomed in these areas.


Woman Sentenced for Selling Drugs from Day Care

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence woman was sentenced to 14 months in prison for selling cocaine from a day care center she ran from her home. Attorneys for 39-year-old Tiffany C. Hubbard asked that she be placed on probation and said they planned to appeal. She was convicted in December of five drug-related counts. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Hubbard also was ordered to pay $2,230 in restitution. Investigators discovered drugs at Hubbard's Children's Playpen day care during a search on October 24, 2012. The next day, state officials issued an emergency order to close the day care.


Goodland Police Send Death Case to Prosecutor


GOODLAND, Kan. (AP) — A western Kansas police department has finished its investigation into the death of a 58-year-old Kansas City, Missouri woman two days after she was jailed for possessing marijuana. The Kansas City Star reports that Goodland police have turned the case over to the Sherman County prosecutor's office to determine what action should be taken. Brenda Sewell and her sister were pulled over for speeding by the Kansas Highway Patrol in Goodland on January 20. A trooper arrested them after finding marijuana, and they were taken to jail. Sewell's relatives say jailers didn't give her medication and were slow to help when she became ill and began to foam at the mouth on January 22. She was pronounced dead at Goodland Regional Medical Center.


MO Co-Op Buys Prominent New England Dairy

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The largest milk processor in northern New England has been sold to a national dairy farmer-owned cooperative. Operators of Portland, Maine-based Oakhurst Dairy said Friday that the agreement with Kansas City, Missouri-based Dairy Farmers of America will allow it to continue to operate independently while providing opportunities for new growth. Bill Bennett, Oakhurst chairman, said the management team will remain in place and there will be no change for Oakhurst's 210 employees or the 70 independent dairy farms that supply milk. Terms of the transaction weren't disclosed. Bennett said part of the reason for the deal is that no one in the family-owned business is in line to take it over. Bennett's family has owned the Portland dairy operation through three generations.


Man Gets Probation for Killing Girlfriend's Cat

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Junction City man was sentenced to one year of probation for killing his girlfriend's cat by stuffing cigarettes and cotton swabs down its throat. KMAN reports William Lemieux Jr., who had pleaded no contest to animal cruelty in November, was sentenced Friday in Geary County District Court. Lemieux also was ordered to pay costs and not to contact his girlfriend. He also is not allowed to have pets and must follow all recommendations from a domestic violence assessment and a drug and alcohol evaluation. Lemieux's girlfriend found her cat dead in a bag in a trash can near her home. Assistant County Attorney Michelle Brown said a veterinarian later found three cigarettes and a cotton swab jammed in the cat's throat.



Judge Delays Ruling on Request to Record DNA Tests


WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County judge says he will wait two more weeks before decide whether to order the video recording of DNA testing in the deaths of a southern Kansas couple late last year. The Wichita Eagle reports District Judge Jeff Goering said Friday he would resume a hearing February 14 after defense attorneys consult with their DNA experts to determine what needs to be recorded. Forty-eight-year-old Roger Bluml and 53-year-old Melissa Bluml were shot in the head November 15 at their home near Valley Center. Melissa Bluml died the next day, and her husband died December 21. Testing is expected to consume all the DNA evidence. Defense lawyers say taping the procedure would at least provide some oversight. Four defendants, including the victims' son, are charged with capital murder.


Man Gets 2 Years in Prison in St. Joseph Identity Theft Scam

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — A Guatemalan man who was living in Kansas will serve two years in prison for his role in an identity theft scam involving the St. Joseph license office. Twenty-nine-year-old Pedro Pablo-Solis, of Liberal, Kansas was sentenced Thursday to two years without parole for aggravated identity theft. He pleaded guilty in September to providing false identification documents to get licenses for more than 100 illegal immigrants through a St. Joseph license office. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that prosecutors say he obtained Social Security cards and birth certificates that were used by people in the country illegally to obtain identification documents in Missouri.


Wichita-Area High School Suspends Assistant Coach

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita high school assistant basketball coach has been suspended amid allegations by parents that he bullied their children. Lance Deckinger, athletic director of Northwest High School, told The Wichita Eagle that assistant coach Carl Caldwell is indefinitely suspended while Northwest investigates concerns about him. Deckinger says those concerns are confidential because they involve a personnel issue. Parents of Northwest boys basketball players told the Eagle that Caldwell had intimidated and threatened their sons. Northwest coach Chris Collins is not accused of bullying and says he has never seen Caldwell bully any players. Caldwell, who also works on the grounds crew at Northwest, did not return messages Thursday by the Eagle. A phone listing under his name in Wichita also rang unanswered Friday.


KS Silent Film Fest to Feature Salute to Chaplin

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The upcoming Kansas Silent Film Festival will feature a salute to Charlie Chaplin and a showing of early animation and cartoon creations. The free festival will take place February 28 and March 1 at Washburn University in Topeka. Kansas City film historian Denise Morrison will provide introductions for the films and give an overview of the artists and the era of the silent films. Some films will be shown on 16mm film, while others may be projected digitally, due to the rarity of actual film material. Musical accompaniments will be provided mostly by organists or a five-piece chamber ensemble.


KC Museum Restoring El Greco Piece

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has begun restoration work on a Renaissance masterwork. The museum says in a release that the "Penitent Magdalene" by Spanish painter El Greco was last restored in 1949. The current conservation work began last Spring by Scott Heffley, a senior conservator at the Nelson-Atkins. Heffley says the painting had damage from hundreds of years ago that had been painted over. The full process is expected to take months. The restoration project is one of 25 worldwide selected for funding in 2013 through Bank of America's Art Conservation Project. The grant for the Nelson-Atkins also allows the museum to send the artwork to Spain this year for the 400th anniversary of El Greco's death.



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