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Regional Headlines for Friday, July 13, 2012

Federal Panel Supports Kansas Biosecurity Lab Project

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A government-backed research panel says the Department of Homeland Security should continue with its plans for a biosecurity lab in Kansas but consider ways to reduce costs.  A study released by National Research Council on Friday says the need for the $1.14 billion National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan hasn't diminished since the project was first conceived.  But the council says Homeland Security has options: It could continue with the current plan, reduce the size and scope of the project and distribute its work among research centers around the country.  Homeland Security asked the council to review the risks of studying animal diseases at the lab, the capabilities needed to address those threats and analyze three options. One included keeping the current research lab at Plum Island, New York.


US Interior Secretary Makes 2-Day Visit to Kansas

STRONG CITY, Kan. (AP) — U.S Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is making a two-day visit to Kansas. During his first stop Friday night at Strong City in east-central Kansas, he and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will dedicate a new $6 million visitor's center at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. From there Salazar will head to Manhattan's Flint Hills Discovery Center. Governor Sam Brownback will join him Saturday in announcing that the Kansas River is being designated as the newest addition to the National Water Trails system. The national designation will provide money for highway signage directing people to boat and canoe access ramps along the river. Both projects are part of President Barack Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative. Its goals include improving access to outdoor recreation and restoring ecosystems.


FBI Seeking 2 Men Who Robbed KCK Bank

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal authorities have been searching for two men accused of robbing a Kansas City, Kansas bank. The Kansas City Star reports that a Bank Midwest was robbed by two men early Friday. One of the men jumped a bank counter and emptied the teller drawers, while the other stayed in the lobby brandishing a silver handgun. The men fled with an undisclosed amount of money in a dark SUV driven by a woman.


Kansas Guard Unit Heading to Afghanistan 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A detachment from the Kansas National Guard deploys soon for a year in Afghanistan where the soldiers will assist with medical air evacuations. About 20 soldiers from Detachment 2, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment will be deploying to Afghanistan, working with the Iowa National Guard unit. A ceremony sending the soldiers off is scheduled for Sunday at the Kansas Regional Training Center in Salina. The soldiers will head to Fort Hood, Texas, to complete their mobilization process. The Black Hawk helicopter unit will provide medical evacuation support, transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to hospitals for treatment. The detachment is commanded by Captain Ryan Bernard.


Kansas Jury Recommends Life in Prison for Ogden Man

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Riley County jury has recommended life in prison for a former northeast Kansas man convicted of killing his girlfriend and their son. Luis Aguirre was convicted last month of capital murder in the suffocation deaths of 18-year-old Tanya Maldonado and the couple's 13-month-old son, Juan. The deaths occurred in September 2009 at Aguirre's Ogden home. The bodies were found the next month near Ogden. Prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty for Aguirre. The jury heard prosecution and defense testimony this week and deliberated about four and a half hours Thursday before recommending that Aguirre serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. A judge will formally sentence Aguirre on August 7th.

Parole Denied for Man Convicted in 1981 Slaying of Trooper

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state board in Kansas has denied parole to a man who's spent three decades in prison after being convicted of killing a state Highway Patrol trooper. The Kansas Prisoner Review Board rejected a request from George Rainey, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. The board won't consider paroling Rainey again until July 2017. Rainey, 53, an inmate at the state prison in Hutchinson, is serving a life sentence for the shooting of Trooper Ferdinand "Bud" Pribbenow in July 1981 in Butler County. Pribbenow stopped a car speeding on the Kansas Turnpike north of El Dorado and was shot six times. During a hearing in May, members of Pribbenow's family asked the board to keep Rainey in prison. Also, Highway Patrol Superintendent Ernest Garcia submitted a letter opposing Rainey's parole.

Suburban KC Drug Case Expands to 101 Counts, $17M

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A large-scale drug ring that allegedly supplied drugs to members of the 2010-2011 University of Kansas men's basketball team involved about $17 million worth of marijuana and cocaine. The U.S. District Attorney's office for Kansas said Thursday that 35 defendants have been named in the case that prosecutors say involved supplying about $16.9 million worth of "high-grade" marijuana and cocaine in Johnson and Douglas counties. A federal prosecutor said during a court hearing on the case last month that one of the defendants in the case supplied pot to members of the Jayhawks' squad. The university has refused comment. The U.S. attorney's office also says it's seeking additional penalties for several of the defendants for distributing drugs within 1,000 feet of about six schools in the area from about 2005 to 2012.

Topeka Homeowner Fatally Shoots Intruder

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police say a resident shot and killed a man who was trying to break into his home. Police found a man dead after being called to the home Thursday evening. A man at the home told police that the suspect had tried to break into his house. The resident wasn't injured. Witnesses told police they saw other men fleeing from the scene. Police say they are looking for at least one other suspect.


3 of 8 Claims Tossed in Kansas Elder Abuse Lawsuit

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A judge has dismissed three of eight claims in a lawsuit claiming an elderly resident was sexually assaulted at a Lawrence retirement center. The family of 87-year-old Jean Allen alleges in the lawsuit that she was assaulted at the Brandon Woods at Alvamar in 2010 and that the staff concealed the crime. Allen died in November 2010. No one was charged with the alleged assault. Brandon Woods officials have denied the allegations. A Douglas County judge recently dismissed claims that the retirement center violated the Kansas Consumer Protection Act and breached its fiduciary duty, and a battery tort claim. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the five remaining allegations include fraud, civil conspiracy, negligence, infliction of mental or emotional distress and a claim Brandon Woods employees destroyed possible evidence.

Man Drowns in Backyard Pool in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka authorities say foul play isn't suspected in the death of a 29-year-old man whose body was found in a backyard swimming pool. Shawnee County sheriff's spokesman Lieutenant Jay Simecka says that the death is being investigated as an accidental drowning. The victim was identified as Matthew Thomas. Emergency responder found the man unresponsive in an above-ground, backyard swimming pool. Thomas was pronounced dead by medical personnel at the scene.

Authorities Seize $540K in Phony Athletic Goods

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal agents and other law enforcement groups seized more than $540,000 in counterfeit Major League Baseball merchandise over two weeks leading up to this year's All-Star Game in Kansas City. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Thursday that the joint operation targeted Internet sellers, street vendors and stores selling fake, game-related sportswear. The 14-day effort resulted in the seizure of over 13,000 items including apparel, fake tickets and memorabilia. Nearly 20 percent were from other sports leagues, including the NFL and NHL. Authorities said they closed a Lenexa, Kansas warehouse believed to be responsible for distributing the majority of all counterfeit ball caps sold in the Kansas City area. Seizures took place in several communities in the Kansas City metropolitan area, on both sides of the state line.


Kansas Man Injured in Train/Combine Collision

NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — A 19-year-old Harvey County man has been hospitalized with critical injuries after a train hit his combine. Sheriff T. Walton says the accident occurred Friday morning in rural Harvey County. A Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train struck the combine at a crossing that is marked but has no lights, crossing arms or bells. Walton says the train conductor blew the horn and did what he could to avoid the accident but the combine driver apparently did not see the train. The man was flown to a Wichita hospital. No one on the train was injured.

Group Asks Wichita Officials to Fluoridate Water Supply

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A group of Wichita residents plans to ask city officials to add fluoride to the city's water supply. The group called Wichitans for Healthy Teeth said Thursday they have collected more than 2,500 signatures on petitions supporting fluoridation, which they say improves dental health. Dr. Sara Meng, a Wichita dentist, says the effort is supported by nearly 500 Wichita dentists and health providers and about 50 state and local organizations. The group plans to gather at least 6,300 signatures before presenting petitions to the City Council. The Wichita Eagle reports Wichita is the fourth-largest city in the U.S. without fluoride in its water. At least two groups — Wichitans for Pure Water and Fluoride Free Kansas — oppose the effort.


Wichita Man Sentenced to Life for Fatal Shooting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 37-year-old Wichita man has been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of shooting his roommate to death. The Wichita Eagle reports that Michael Williams was sentenced Friday. He was convicted earlier of first-degree murder in the death of Sean Putnam, a former police officer who was shot in the head in December 2010. Williams will be eligible for parole in 25 years. His defense attorney, Steve Mank, argued before the sentencing that Williams should have a new trial because police did not disclose information that Putnam had been a suspect in alleged sexual assaults. The judge said that information would not have affected the jury's guilty verdict.

State Suspends Russell Home Day Care License

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials have issued an emergency suspension of a home day care license in Russell after a report that an infant was injured there. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Friday says it has suspended the license of the Heather Ragene Ross home day care because an initial investigation shows a four-month old child there sustained injuries "consistent with abuse shaken baby syndrome." The department says the child was taken to a Wichita hospital from the day care in late June. A message left at the day care Friday was not immediately returned.


Wichita Indian Center Rebounds after Tough Years

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — After years of financial struggles, Wichita's Indian Center is out of debt and optimistic about the future. Officials at the Mid-America All-Indian Center say they have control of the center's finances after debts forced the center to close in 2005. The center is sponsoring its second American Indian Festival this weekend, which highlights the diverse tribes in the Wichita region. The center opened in 1976. It briefly closed in 2005, with the city taking over its operations because of financial issues and missing artifacts. The center took out a $175,000 loan from the city and paid it off in two years. The Wichita Eagle reports staff and programs were reduced at the center, which now has enough savings to stay open for at least 10 months.


2 More Charged in Joplin Man's Death

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Joplin police now say five people took part in a robbery that led to the death of a 23-year-old Joplin man on July 6. Jasper County prosecutors charged 19-year-old Johnathan Taylor of Joplin and 20-year-old Cody Stephens of Parsons, Kansas, with second-degree murder in the death of Jacob Wages. The two suspects pleaded innocent Thursday. The Joplin Globe reports police originally thought Taylor and Stephens entered Wages' home after he had been killed by three other suspects. Prosecutor Dean Dankelson said investigators now believe all five people were in the home when Wages was killed. Seventeen-year-old Daniel Hartman, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is charged with first-degree murder. A 16-year-old suspect was arrested Tuesday in Tulsa. Hartman and another juvenile suspect have not been arrested.


Chinese Industrialist Behind Hawker Beechcraft Acquisition Bid

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The man known as the "Helicopter King of China" has been quietly building a small empire in aviation manufacturing. Now, Chinese industrialist Shenzong Cheng is making an ambitious play to acquire Kansas aircraft-maker Hawker Beechcraft's civilian aircraft operations. Details of the $1.79 billion deal with Beijing-based Superior Aviation Beijing Company, Ltd., are emerging. Superior is 60 percent owned by Beijing Superior Aviation Technology Corp. That entity is entirely owned by Cheng and his wife. Hawker Beechcraft says it is premature to talk about Cheng's role in the acquisition. Superior CEO Tim Archer said Thursday his company intends to re-ignite Hawker's research and development and continue production of product lines, and plans to expand the production, design and servicing at all U.S. locations.

Ohio-Based Insurer Says It Won't Insure Fracking

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company has become the first major insurance company to say it won't cover damage related to a gas drilling process that blasts chemical-laden water deep into the ground. The Columbus, Ohio-based company's personal and commercial policies "were not designed to cover" risk from the drilling process, called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Nationwide spokeswoman Nancy Smeltzer made the announcement on Thursday. The process injects chemically treated water into wells to fracture shale thousands of feet underground and release trapped gas or oil. There are rich shale deposits in several states, including Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

To Oz: Raimi Tells 'Great and Powerful' Prequel

SAN DIEGO (AP) — There's no scarecrow, tin man or Dorothy in Sam Raimi's "Land of Oz". No ruby slippers or Toto, too. Raimi offered a crowd at the Comic-Con fan convention Thursday a sneak peek at his prequel "Oz: The Great and Powerful," due in theaters next year. The maker of "Spider-Man" and its two sequels told fans that his film is the story of how the ruler of Emerald City came to Oz, so characters and many other familiar facets of the classic 1939 musical "The Wizard of Oz" do not appear. The film stars James Franco as a Kansas carnival magician whose hot-air balloon is blown to the magical realm by a tornado. Raimi says Franco's Oz is a selfish womanizer who's forced to become a nobler man in Oz.


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