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Regional Headlines for Friday, June 7, 2013


UPDATE: Interstate 70 in Kansas City Remains Closed 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A nearly 2-mile stretch of Interstate 70 in Kansas City has been closed after a tanker truck crashed and exploded into flames, injuring the driver. The single-vehicle accident occurred early Friday when the tanker hit a median and caught fire. The Missouri Department of Transportation says the truck was hauling a flammable solvent, some of which spilled after the crash. Jesse Skinner, district maintenance engineer for the transportation department, says the driver was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries. No other injuries were reported. He says crews from the fire department, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency were at the scene to ensure the solvent was contained. He says there's no threat to public safety. The highway department says the highway could be closed until late Friday.


Kansas Governor Mulls Decision on Higher Education Cuts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says his office is reviewing budget legislation sent to him by Kansas legislators to determine if he can veto cuts in higher education spending. Brownback told reporters Friday he's not sure he can use the governor's power to veto individual line-items to eliminate the cuts approved by lawmakers. The Legislature cut funding for state universities by 1.5 percent for each of the next two fiscal years. Lawmakers also placed restrictions on funding for salaries across state government. The Legislature's nonpartisan research staff told Kansas Public Radio that the budget was written so that cuts in higher education aren't in separate lines that can be vetoed without eliminating all funding for each university. Brownback had proposed keeping higher education funding constant over the next two years.

Judges Trim Attorney Fees Awarded in Remap Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three federal judges have reduced the attorney fees and expenses that Kansas must cover for parties in a lawsuit stemming from the Legislature's failure last year to redraw the state's political boundaries. The new total in an order Thursday was about $379,000, or almost $9,600 less than the $389,000 that Kansas was ordered to pay in April. The judges issued their new order after the Kansas attorney general's office pointed out incorrect figures in the previous order spelling out the amount awarded to the parties who sought to have their expenses reimbursed. The federal judges ruled that 15 people were entitled to have costs covered. A bitter dispute among lawmakers had blocked passage of any plan for adjusting legislative, congressional or state school board districts to ensure equal representation.

Overland Park Man Killed in Afghanistan

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — An Overland Park native has died in the war in Afghanistan. The Department of Defense says 2nd Lieutenant Justin Lee Sisson and another soldier were killed Monday after their unit was struck by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. The 23-year-old Sisson graduated from Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park in 2007. He earned a history degree from Florida State University and then completed Army Ranger School last fall. Sisson will be buried at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, where both of his grandfathers are buried. The date for his burial has not been determined. He is survived by his parents and an older brother.

Kansas Governor's Chief Spokeswoman Taking Lottery Job

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The most visible member of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's staff is leaving next month to become the state Lottery's deputy director. Brownback announced Friday that Communications Director Sherriene Jones-Sontag will be joining the lottery July 8. Jones-Sontag has overseen Brownback's communications and served as his press secretary and chief spokeswoman since he took office in January 2011. She had the same role in his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2009 and 2010. The governor praised Jones-Sontag in a statement as a "trusted adviser." She said she looks forward to "a new career challenge." Jones-Sontag is a former broadcast journalist who also operated her own communications firm. She was communications director to then-House Speaker Melvin Neufeld in 2007 and 2008. Brownback said he'll name a new communications director soon.


Historic Hotel Collapses

MINNEAPOLIS, Kan. (AP) — A vacant, historic hotel has partially collapsed in central Kansas. A section of the Parker House Hotel in downtown Minneapolis collapsed about 6 am Friday. Minneapolis City Administrator Barry Hodges told KSAL that no one was inside the building and there were no injuries outside. The collapse caused a brief gas leak that was shut off by Kansas Gas Service. The two-story Parker Hotel was built in 1887 as a bank and remade into Parker House Hotel in 1899. It was converted to apartments in the 1950s and the last tenant moved out in 1989. An insurance company rented the front portion until 2008. The hotel was added to the Register of Historic Kansas Places in 2009 and a group was raising funds to restore it.


Testimony Ends in Trial of Former Lawman Accused of Murder

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — Testimony in the trial of a former Kansas lawman has wrapped up with the defendant denying he shot and killed his wife and set their house on fire to hide evidence. Closing arguments are scheduled Monday in the first-degree murder trial of Brett Seacat for the death of Vashti Seacat. The judge on Friday denied a routine defense motion for acquittal, leaving the verdict to the jury. Seacat testified over two days and was the last witness jurors heard in 12 days of testimony. The former instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center showed jurors photos of burns and blisters on his feet and singed hair on his calves that he sustained during the April 2011 fire. He recounted how he scooped up his two young children and took them outside, then ran back in to try to pull out his wife's body. Prosecutors allege that Seacat shot his wife, then burned down the home to try to cover it up. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, aggravated arson and two counts of child endangerment.


Kansas Man Sentenced for Trying to Drown Son

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man has been sentenced to nine years in prison for trying to drown his 3-year-old son in a bathtub Twenty-four-year-old Lamonte Brown, of Kansas City, Kansas pleaded no contest in April to aggravated kidnapping and criminal threat. A charge of attempted murder was dropped. The Kansas City Star reports that Brown's lawyer said at Friday's sentencing her client did not remember the January 2012 incident. The attorney said Brown had been unaware that the marijuana he had smoked was laced with the hallucinogenic drug PCP.  Brown's girlfriend has testified she called police the day of the incident when she heard screams and splashing from a bathroom, where Brown had the 3-year-old boy and another child. Police broke down the bathroom door and pulled the 3-year-old to safety.

Kansas Man Gets 120-Day Sentence for Traffic Death

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 26-year-old man was sentenced to 120 days in prison for a wrong-way accident that killed a man in downtown Kansas City. Robert J.K. Domsch II, of Shawnee, pleaded guilty and was sentenced this week for involuntary manslaughter in the death last April of 28-year-old Marco G. Vendetti of Kansas City. Police say Domsch was drunk and driving the wrong way in downtown Kansas City when his car hit Vendetti's vehicle. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that police say Domsch had a blood-alcohol content of .242 nearly four hours after the crash. Domsch, a recent graduate of the University of Kansas law school, will be required to attend an alcohol treatment program. After his prison sentence, he'll be on probation for five years.

Disabled Woman Drowns in Whirlpool Bath in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police say a 36-year-old woman with severe physical disabilities drowned in a whirlpool bath at a group home. Police Sergeant Jason Junghans says the accident happened Thursday evening at Sunflower Support, a small home for people with severe physical disabilities. Junghans says a caregiver turned away momentarily while the woman was in the pool and she slipped into the water for only a short time. Staff at the home attempted to resuscitate the woman but they and first responders were unable to revive her before she was taken to a Topeka hospital.


Sprint Names Retired Admiral Mullen Security Director

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Sprint Nextel says retired Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will join the company's board of directors and serve as its security director. Sprint said Friday that Mullen will take on the new positions after SoftBank's proposed $20.1 billion takeover of the company is complete. The deal faced government scrutiny over concerns that SoftBank, a Japanese company, uses Chinese networking equipment that could leave U.S. networks vulnerable to snooping and hacking. Mullen, 66, will be the company's contact with the government for all security measures. The Softbank takeover of Sprint still needs FCC and shareholder approval but is expected to be complete in July.


Police: Man Electrocuted Trying to Steal Copper

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita believe a man found dead near a utility pole was electrocuted while trying to steal copper. KAKE-TV reports that a passer-by called 911 after finding the body Friday afternoon in southern Wichita. Police Lieutenant Dennis Wilson says a bicycle was leaning against a power pole. A flashlight and bolt cutters were found nearby. Investigators believe the man attempted to cut a 7,200-volt power line and was electrocuted sometime overnight. The man was thought to be in his 20s. He was not immediately identified.


Suspects Sought in String of KCK Street Robberies

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas have recovered a stolen vehicle they believe was used in a carjacking and up to a half-dozen armed street robberies. The holdups occurred in the northeastern part of the city over a span of roughly three hours, beginning with the carjacking around 5:30 am Thursday. Other victims reported being confronted while walking down the street by two or three people, at least one with a gun, who took cellphones, wallets and other items. No injuries were reported, but one man told KCTV he was in his car when three people jumped out of another vehicle and opened fire with a sawed-off shotgun. The man said his car was hit twice by gunfire while he drove away.

Dole Institute to Host Gettysburg Conference

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — History professors from Kansas and Missouri will be among panelists this month at the Dole Institute of Politics at a conference focused on the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Military experts from Fort Leavenworth's Command and General Staff College also will be part of the institute's "Gettysburg 150" event June 20 at the University of Kansas. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the daylong conference will mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Professors from KU and Park University in Parkville, Missouri will be among those speaking. The free event's afternoon session will take an in-depth look at each of the battle's three days. It will conclude with an evening session looking at the entire battle and decisions that led to a victory for Union forces.


Professor, Son Near End of Walk Across Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — An assistant professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center and her son were nearing the end of their cross-Kansas walk to raise funds for stroke research. Dr. Sandra Billinger and her 20-year-old son, Michael Thomas, were expected to make it to the medical center campus in Kansas City, Kansas around 4 pm Friday after walking 23 days across the state. Billinger told The Lawrence Journal-World that she got the idea for the 570-mile trip from her son as they were trying to find a way to mark the finish of his classes at Johnson County Community College. Billinger's lab focuses on the benefits of physical activity for stroke survivors, so she decided the walk was a good way to raise money for equipment to study the benefits of exercise.


Researcher: Drought Hurts Kansas Fish Species

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas State University researcher says the prolonged North American drought is taking a toll on some species of fish, affecting their long-term viability. Biology professor Keith Gido says a few species have disappeared, including the silver chub that was once found in a southern Kansas river. He said a survey found 300 of the fish in the summer of 2011 but only three in 2012 — and none in a sampling this spring. Gido says similar results have been found in ecosystems in Colorado and New Mexico as rivers become more fragmented and difficult for young fish to develop and survive. Researchers say efforts are needed to conserve remaining waterways and reduce the number of nonnative, predatory fish that threaten certain species.

Family of Slain Winfield Woman Fighting Parole

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Relatives of a south-central Kansas woman who was killed in 1984 hope to block the parole of her husband, who was one of two men convicted in her strangulation. The Winfield Daily Courier reports petitions have been placed at businesses throughout the city seeking signatures from people opposed to parole for William Kessinger. Kessinger and Clifford Eugene Cox both pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of 22-year-old Cathryn Kessinger in May 1984. According to testimony at the time, Kessinger offered Cox $1,000 to kill his wife. When Cox said he couldn't do it alone, Kessinger held his wife's hands behind her back while Cox put a rope around her neck and pulled. Both men received life sentences. Kessinger will have a parole hearing next month.

18-Month-Old Kansas Boy Dies After Being Run Over

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say an 18-month-old boy tripped before he was run over by a family friend's truck. The victim was identified Friday as Abraham Rostro. Police say he died Thursday evening after he was dropped off with his father and three other children by a family friend. Police say that as the children crossed the street, Abraham apparently tripped and the pickup driver didn't see him. After the child was run over, the driver immediately realized what happened, stopped and tried to help him. Police say Abraham's death is a tragic accident and no charges are expected.


Man Gets 37 Years for Aurora Motel Stabbing Death

BRIGHTON, Colo. (AP) — An Adams County judge has sentenced a man to 37 years in prison for a 2009 stabbing death at an Aurora motel. Thirty-nine-year-old Jesse Dimmick had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 25-year-old Michael Curtis at the Carriage Motor Inn. Dimmick fled to Kansas after the murder and kidnapped a young couple in suburban Topeka before surrendering. He has been sentenced to 11 years in prison in that case. The Adams County judge ordered Dimmick on Thursday to serve his murder sentence consecutively to the Kansas sentence, for a total of 48 years.


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