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Regional Headlines for Friday, June 1, 2012


UPDATE: Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal Retires from Office 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal is retiring from office. O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, announced his retirement Friday as legislators gathered for the legislature's formal end. He was first elected in 1984. The House and Senate adjourned the regular session May 20. This year's regular session produced changes in Kansas tax policies and the pension program for state workers. But the Legislature failed to carry out one of the year's major tasks — drawing new boundaries for districts of the Kansas House and Senate, the State Board of Education and the four congressional districts. The job of drawing new maps is now in the hands of a three-judge federal panel in Kansas City, Kansas, which concluded its hearings on Wednesday.


Governor Brownback Signs 2013 Kansas Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed the $14.1 billion state budget, vetoing minor spending provisions but maintaining increases for public schools and social services. The Republican governor signed the bill Friday as legislators returned to the Statehouse for the final ceremonial day of the 2012 session. Brownback calls the budget a responsible package for funding government in the fiscal year that starts July 1. He says it reduces overall spending by $465 million and gives the state solid revenue reserves. The governor vetoed a provision setting specific dates for transferring funds to the Kansas Bioscience Authority, which was created in 2004 to nurture bioscience firms. Brownback says the state treasury needs flexibility in managing cash flow.

Kansas Revenues Miss May Estimate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Revenue Department says the state collected nearly $27 million less in taxes than expected in May. The agency reported Thursday that May's tax collections totaled slightly more than $564 million. Economists and researchers had forecast last month that May revenues would total nearly $591 million. Officials attributed the lower-than-expected figure to a slowing of growth in individual income tax receipts. Still, Kansas Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan says revenues through the first 10 months of the current fiscal year totaled $5.4 billion — an increase of 8 percent over the same period a year ago.

Deceased Representative's Term Will Be Completed by His Widow

LYONS, Kan. (AP) — The widow of state Representative Bob Bethell will finish his term in the Legislature but does not plan to seek a full term. Lorene Bethell was selected Thursday night by Republican precinct committee members to replace her husband until his term ends next January. Bob Bethell died in a car accident May 20 while returning to his home in Alden at the end of the legislative session. The Hutchinson News reports Lorene Bethell will sit at her husband's desk Friday for the formal adjournment of the Kansas House session. Her husband had represented the 113th District, covering all of Rice County and portions of Reno and Barton counties, since 1999. He had filed to seek re-election this year.


UPDATE: Body Found Outside Lawrence Identified as Man Missing Since May

A body found in a rural wooded area of Douglas County has been identified as that of Yelekal Alemu of Lawrence. The Douglas County Sheriff's office said through a press release that an autopsy confirmed the deceased individual is the 23 year-old Alemu, who was listed as a missing person on May 12th. Alemu’s car was discovered in the area just south of the Wakarusa River and County Road 1057. That area had been searched extensively in the days following the missing person's report, but nothing was found. Sergeant Steve Lewis of Douglas County Sheriff's office reports that Lawrence police officers were doing follow-up investigation in the area Thursday afternoon when they discovered the body. Foul play is not suspected. 


KS Governor Signs Bill for New Kansas Prison 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed legislation clearing the way for conversion of a former boys' home in north-central Kansas into a minimum-security prison. The Salina Journal reports the bill signed Friday allows the state Corrections Department to buy the former St. Francis Boys' Home in Ellsworth. The purchase is expected to cost around $350,000. Plans call for using the building to house 95 minimum-security inmates. That would free up space for medium-security inmates at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility. Concerns about prison space in Kansas became especially acute in April after four state inmates broke out of the Ottawa County Jail. They were among 22 men being held there because of overcrowding at the Ellsworth prison.


UPDATE: Missing Kansas 12-Year-Old Found with Canadian Man in Michigan 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 12-year-old Kansas girl has been found in Michigan after her parents reported she left her home with a Canadian man she met on the Internet. Michigan State Police Lieutenant T.J. Riegle says the girl and a man were stopped while driving Friday afternoon southwest of Lansing. Riegle says both are being held as police "sort things out." El Dorado Police Chief Tom Boren says the girl's parents told investigators had last seen her about 2 am Thursday and believed she had left her home with 20-year-old Kenneth Stewart McGill, of Ontario, Canada. They reported her missing about 12 hours later. The girl's father had refused to comment to The Associated Press earlier Friday. McGill previously had been reported missing and suicidal by his parents.


Topeka Man Charged with 2 Vehicular Assaults

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Shawnee Count prosecutors have charged a 20-year-old man in two separate vehicular assault cases, including the recent death of a Topeka teenager. Dustin Leftwich is charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the death of 18-year-old Brenna Morgart, who was struck and killed May 25 as she jogged along a Shawnee County road. Leftwich also faces charges of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery and misdemeanor reporting false information in Morgart's death. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that prosecutors on Thursday also charged Leftwich with aggravated assault. They allege he hit a 14-year-old girl a year ago with a vehicle. She survived. It's unclear if Leftwich has a lawyer and calls to a phone listing for him weren't answered. He's jailed on $1 million bond.

DG County Commission Approves Herbicide Use at Lone Star Lake

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Douglas County Commission has approved the use of an herbicide to fight an invasive plant in Lone Star Lake near Lawrence. State biologist Richard Sanders told the commission Wednesday that the plant — Eurasian watermilfoil — can spread quickly and damage the health of the lake. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the invasive plant now covers about 10 percent of the lake's east arm and has been found in other sections, as well. Sanders said the lake should be sprayed before the plant becomes more established. It left alone, he says, the plant could create a huge surface canopy, making boating, fishing and swimming difficult. It could also reduce the number of native plants and lower the amount of oxygen in the water, which would kill fish.


Man Seeks Stolen Oldsmobile That Held Mother's Ashes

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Thieves who stole a 2001 Oldsmobile from a Lawrence parking lot also took valuables the car's owner had stored there, including an urn containing his dead mother's ashes. Twenty-two-year-old William Patterson has been searching for the Alero since it was stolen in April. Patterson says he was using the car for transportation and to store his belongings while he's living with friends during a rough patch. The car also held his clothing and birth certificate. Patterson said he wants the car and other items back, but mostly he wants the urn with ashes of his mother, 49-year-old Angela Capell. She died March 10. The Lawrence Journal World reports that police say security footage of the parking lot hasn't been helpful.


PETA Seeks Memorial for Cows Killed in KCK Crash

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — An animal rights group wants the state of Kansas to post a memorial sign at the spot on Interstate 70 where a crash killed dozens of cattle in April. KMBC-TV reports the request, made to the Kansas Department of Transportation, comes from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Thirty to 40 cattle were killed April 26th when the truck they were in plummeted off I-70 in Kansas City, Kansas onto a street below. The driver was injured and the truck burst into flames. Some of the cows escaped, but others died in the crash or had to be euthanized. PETA says a memorial sign at the site would remind tractor-trailer drivers of their responsibility to the animals they transport.

Survey: Economy Slows in 9 Midwest and Plains States 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new monthly report suggests economic growth is slowing in nine Midwest and Plains states, but the region remains healthy overall. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says businesses in the region are still benefiting from healthy farm income and exports. But he says the strong dollar is limiting the amount of growth. The report's overall economic index declined to 57.6 in May from April's 60, but remained well above the neutral score of 50. The survey uses a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Any score above 50 suggests growth while a score below 50 suggests decline for that factor. The survey of business leaders and supply managers covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

New Concerns Raised over Southern Portion of Keystone XL Pipeline

HOUSTON (AP) — A Canadian company seeking to build a pipeline to transport crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries has submitted a new application for the southern segment of the project. It comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raised concerns about the original route crossing sensitive wetlands near the Texas Gulf Coast. Army Corps of Engineers official Vicki Dixon says Thursday that TransCanada submitted a new permit application in April after the EPA sent a letter in November requesting a more rigorous review process. She says the EPA was concerned the pipeline would impact sensitive wetland habitat in Galveston, Texas. The new route avoids the wetlands. TransCanada will drill horizontally under the watershed in some cases. The EPA will not be involved in the review. The Keystone XL project has created tensions between the U.S. and Canada.


Rooks County Sheriff Resigns Amid Drug Charges

STOCKTON, Kan. (AP) — Rooks County Sheriff Randy Axelson has resigned. Axelson has been on administrative leave since nine felony counts of methamphetamine distribution were filed against him in January. The Hays Daily News reports Axelson turned in his resignation Thursday. The 43-year-old Axelson remains free on $45,000 bond. Axelson is accused of distributing meth from September through Dec. 21, at the Rooks County Fairgrounds and within 1,000 feet of Stockton High School. Axelson's next court hearing is scheduled for late July, when he is expected to be arraigned.


Sprint Center to Host Big 12 Hoops Tourney Through 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Big 12 men's basketball tournament will remain in Kansas City through 2016. The conference announced a two-year extension to its deal with the Sprint Center, which has hosted the event for the past three years and was scheduled to host the tournament through 2014. There were questions about the future of the tournament with Missouri and Texas A&M in leaving for the Southeastern Conference next month. Some believed the tournament would move to Dallas or Oklahoma City to avoid playing in a state without a Big 12 member. Still, the Sprint Center is a short drive from Kansas and centrally located for fans of Kansas State and Iowa State, which is why Kansas City has been a traditional host dating back to the days of the old Big Eight conference.


Lawmaker Seeks Delay on Eisenhower Memorial Approval 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Oversight Committee is asking for further delay in approving the planned Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial near the National Mall in Washington. California Representative  Darrell Issa sent a letter Thursday to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission saying more questions must be answered about the design process for the memorial before it's approved. The project has slowed amid objections from Eisenhower's family to the layout and focus of the memorial. Issa says he hasn't received answers from the General Services Administration about how architect Frank Gehry was chosen to design the memorial. Issa is also a member of the National Capital Planning Commission, a panel that must approve the design before construction can begin. He says he won't support the design until there is a thorough examination.

Police Seek Woman with Ties to 'Person of Interest' in 1977 Homicide

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Riley County police are asking for help finding the ex-wife of a person of interest in a 1977 homicide in Manhattan.  The police department wants to speak with the ex-wife of Dewayne Murrell, also known as "Cornbocker." Police said in a news release Thursday that Murrell is believed to have died in the 1980s. The release says the woman's first name might be Wynonna and she might be living in New York. The woman also might have an uncle known as Dennis White, who might also be dead. The police say they want to ask the woman for information about the murder of Warren Lewis, whose body was discovered August 4th, 1977, at the North Crest Trailer Park. Police did not indicate why they wanted to speak to the woman.


Wichita Man Convicted of Producing Child Porn

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 26-year-old Wichita man has been convicted on a child pornography charge involving a 14-year-old girl from New York. The U.S. Attorney's office says a jury found Shane McClelland guilty Friday of one count of enticing a teenage girl to send him sexually explicit photos of herself. The federal jury acquitted him of a second count involving another teenage girl. Police searched McClelland's home in August 2010. Evidence at the trial included computer files showing McClelland communicated with the 14-year-old online and persuaded her to send him nude photos of herself. McClelland could face 25 years to life in prison when he's sentenced at a date to be determined.


KC Union Station Planning Teleconferencing Center

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Officials at Union Station in Kansas City are trying to turn a problem into a positive development. The station's huge Extreme Screen recently broke down, two weeks into the run of a movie timed to coincide with a Titanic exhibit. Rather than fix the bulky system, Union State will transform the area into a high-tech teleconferencing center that could become an anchor for businesses and education. The Kansas City Star reports Union Station CEO George Guastello hopes the new screen's high band-width and streaming capabilities will attract conferences from around the world. The center also could be used to present entertainment, host meetings and live performances and become a modern learning lab. Funds are being raised for the initial conversion to digital projectors, which is expected to cost $350,000.

Kansas Man Pleads to Blackmail of Ex-Girlfriend

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A 20-year-old Kansas man faces nearly three years in prison after pleading no contest to blackmailing a former girlfriend to get her to send him provocative pictures of herself. Todd Murphy of Hutchinson was originally charged with sexual exploitation of a child for a September 2010 incident involving a 16-year-old girl. The Hutchinson News reports that Murphy pleaded Wednesday to the lesser charge, which was amended by Reno County district attorney Keith Schroeder after he spoke with the girl's family. Schroeder says Murphy hacked into the girl's email account and obtained a picture of her in a swimsuit that she sent to her current boyfriend. The prosecutor says Murphy threatened to post the picture on the Web unless the girl sent him more provocative pictures of herself. Sentencing is scheduled for July 20th.

SE Kansas Farmer Charged with Filing False Tax Returns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A southeast Kansas farmer is accused of filing false income tax returns and receiving millions of dollars in refunds. The U.S. Attorney's office says 47-year-old Jerold Fisher, of Arma, was charged Thursday with one count of filing false claims. A phone number for Fisher could not be found, and prosecutors said he did yet have an attorney. According to the charges, Fisher was a registered agent for Fisher Alfalfa Farms and prepared tax returns for himself and his mother from 2006 through 2009. Prosecutors say Fisher received a refund of more than $3.8 million after claiming he paid more than $3.9 million in federal withholding taxes. In fact, prosecutors say, the company had not filed returns or paid withholding taxes. He's also accused of helping his mother acquire more than $209,000 in improper refunds.


Incoming Big 12 Commish Opposes Payments to Athletes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Incoming Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby says he is against stipends for student-athletes, pointing out that there are other places where they can play for money. Bowlsby also repeated the stance of acting commissioner Chuck Neinas, school presidents and athletic directors that the Big 12 supports a four-team playoff consisting of the highest-ranked teams to determine college football's national champion. Bowlsby spoke after the final session of the Big 12's annual spring meeting Friday, and just before he hopped on a plane to attend the Pac-12 meetings. Bowlsby is finishing up his tenure as the athletic director at Stanford. He will officially take over at the Big 12 on June 15.


KU Hoops Recruit Ellis Named National High School Player of the Year

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas recruit Perry Ellis has been chosen the high school basketball player of the year by the National High School Coaches Association. The four-time Kansas player of the year led Wichita Heights to four straight Class-6A state championships. He finished his senior year averaging 25.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8 forward surpassed former Jayhawks center Greg Dreiling as the career scoring leader in Wichita City League history, finishing with 2,231 points. Dreiling's record of 1,888 points had stood for 31 years. Ellis will join the Jayhawks in time for a four-game exhibition tour of Switzerland and France in August.

Man Sentenced to 2 Life Terms for Fatal Accident

PARSONS, Kan. (AP) — A southeast Kansas man has been given two concurrent life sentences for causing a double-fatality crash while he fled from police. The Joplin Globe reports 25-year-old Kaston Hudgins of Galena was sentenced Thursday for the 2009 deaths of 41-year-old Teresa Kemp and her 13-year-old daughter, Taylor, both of Pittsburg. Prosecutors say Hudgins was drinking when he fled from a Cherokee County sheriff's deputy and hit Kemp's vehicle south of Pittsburg. Teresa Kemp was a teacher in Riverton, where Taylor Kemp was a student. Hudgins was convicted in March of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of fleeing police. Before his sentence, Hudgins read a statement in which apologized and said he hoped the Kemp family could forgive him someday.

Police: 12-Year-Old El Dorado Girl Missing

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — Police say a missing 12-year-old girl from El Dorado might be with a man she met on the Internet. Police say Brandy T. Gray may be with a 20-year-old man named Kenneth Stewart McGill. He was registered at an El Dorado motel early Thursday and was later seen driving near Cassoday. McGill is from Ontario, Canada and is driving a white 2006 Chevrolet Impala with Canadian license plates BMZH 238. His parents reported the car stolen earlier this week. No further information is currently available.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 


UPDATE: Kansas Girl, 12, May Be with Canadian Met Online 

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — Police say a 12-year-old Kansas girl's parents didn't report her missing until 12 hours after they believe she left her home with a Canadian man she met on the Internet. El Dorado Police Chief Tom Boren says the girl was last seen at 2 am Thursday morning, and her parents reported her missing about 2 pm Thursday afternoon. Boren has no explanation for the delay, and her father refused to comment Friday to The Associated Press. Boren says investigators believe the girl may have gotten into a car driven by 20-year-old Kenneth Stewart McGill, of Ontario, Canada. Police say McGill is driving a white 2006 Chevrolet Impala with Canadian license plates BMZH 238. He was registered at an El Dorado motel Thursday, and the car was later spotted in Illinois.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 


Kansas Legislators Return for Closing Day of Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are returning to the Statehouse for the final, ceremonial day of the 2012 session. The House and Senate adjourned May 20. The ceremonial sessions being held in each chamber Friday are traditionally used for routine measures that close out the year. This year's regular session produced changes in Kansas tax policies and the pension program for state workers. But the Legislature failed to carry out one of the year's major tasks — drawing new boundaries for districts of the Kansas House and Senate, the State Board of Education and the four congressional districts. The job of drawing new maps is now in the hands of a three-judge federal panel in Kansas City, Kansas. Earlier this week, that panel heard two days of testimony in connection with a lawsuit that was filed by a Republican precinct commiteewoman, Robyn Renee Essex, from Olathe. In the suit, Essex claims that the state's existing political boundaries violate her constitutional rights, because they have not been adjusted to account for population changes that occurred over the past decade.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 


Body Found Near Wakarusa River

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Douglas County authorities are investigating the death of a person whose body was found in a wooded area, but foul play isn't suspected. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the body was discovered Thursday in a rural area south of the Wakarusa River east of Lawrence, near Douglas County Road 1057. Douglas County Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Lewis said the preliminary investigation indicates it was an unattended death and that no foul play is suspected. He said the victim's identity hasn't been released.

**this story has been updated. Please see above.


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