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Regional Headlines for Friday, October 11, 2013



Gov.'s Aide: KS Juggling on Shutdown Can't Last

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's chief spokeswoman says Kansas can't shield residents relying on social services from the federal government's partial shutdown after mid-November. Brownback issued a statement Friday saying his administration is committed to minimizing the shutdown's effects. The governor said the state's healthy cash reserves allow it to juggle funds to programs that are sustained by federal dollars. But spokeswoman Eileen Hawley says the juggling can't continue through November. She said if the shutdown continues, the state can't be sure it can provide benefits for November under the Women, Infants and Children program, which helps poor mothers with young children buy food. She also said that the state will have similar issues with cash assistance to poor families after mid-November. Brownback has canceled furloughs for state workers processing unemployment benefits.

Roberts Says HHS Secretary Sebelius Should Resign

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senator Pat Roberts says U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should resign over problems with the federal government's health overhaul website. The Republican senator said Friday that the problems demonstrate what he called the secretary's "gross incompetence." HHS officials declined to respond to Roberts's comments. The federal government is running online insurance marketplaces for most states, including Kansas. The website is how consumers access them. Roberts has been a critic of the federal health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama, Sebelius and fellow Democrats. Most Americans must buy health insurance or face a tax penalty next year. Online marketplaces were supposed to help them find coverage. Sebelius is a former Kansas governor. Roberts voted for her confirmation in 2009 but said he regrets that vote.


Federal Shutdown Cuts into KS National Guard Readiness

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas adjutant general says that each day the federal government remains partially shut down, the Kansas National Guard loses some of its readiness. Major General Lee Tafanelli told The Topeka Capital-Journal that every day the shutdown goes on "we lose a little bit of readiness." Congress hasn't approved a budget for this fiscal year, prompting a partial shutdown of federal services. Tafanelli says that as of Thursday, 268 Kansas National Guard employees were furloughed, representing about 13 percent of the Guard's 2,100 employees statewide. He says the Guard already has had to cancel its October drill. He says such weekend drills are critical because guardsmen who work day jobs get only one training session per month.

KS Department of Labor Cancels Most Worker Furloughs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's office says the Kansas Department of Labor is ending most of the furloughs imposed on its workers because of the federal government's partial shutdown and won't put others on unpaid leave. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Thursday that the governor will use the state's cash reserves to maintain staffing for the program that provides benefits to unemployed workers. Most of the department's salaries and operations are financed with federal funds. Last week, it announced it was furloughing 66 employees in various divisions, most of them in Topeka. The department said Thursday that all but seven of them will return to their jobs. And Brownback's office said he directed the department to cancel plans for furloughing another 119 employees Friday so that unemployment checks could still be processed.

KU Faculty Senate Affirms Free Speech Rights

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas Faculty Senate has affirmed free speech rights for faculty after a professor was placed on leave following a controversial social media posting. The Faculty Senate statement says in part that the group endorses the principles of First Amendment rights, academic freedom and due process. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the statement didn't mention David Guth, who's been on paid leave after making a comment via the social media site Twitter last month after the Navy Yard shooting. Guth's post said: "The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you." The Senate resolution was prompted in part by a statement from a Faculty Senate committee that said Guth's leave appeared to be a professional sanction, which the university denies.


Kansas Supreme Court Disbars Overland Park Lawyer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Supreme Court has disbarred an Overland Park lawyer after finding he committed professional misconduct. The Kansas City Star reports that the court issued its disbarment order Friday in the case against Michael Clay Schnittker. The order says Schnittker "systematically stole'' more than $150,000 that belonged to his law firm over a three-year period.   The order also says he only stopped after his law partner discovered discrepancies in the firm's financial records.


Toxic Algae Persists at 5 KS Lakes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas health officials say five Kansas lakes have dangerous levels of toxic algae. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said in a release Thursday high levels of toxic blue-green algae have been detected at Hiawatha City Lake in Brown County, Lake Shawnee in Shawnee County, Lake Warnock in Atchison County, Logan City Lake in Phillips County and Memorial Park Lake in Barton County. The department says a warning means conditions are unsafe, and swimming, wading, skiing or other direct contact with the water are prohibited. The department has also lifted an algae advisory for Mission Lake in Brown County. When animals are exposed to toxic algae they may experience vomiting, diarrhea or even death. Humans can also experience symptoms including rashes, running noses and eye infections.

Defense Seeks to Bar Public from Kansas Arson Case

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A 14-year-old Hutchinson boy accused of setting a fire that killed his mother and sister is seeking to bar public access to all hearings and court documents in the case. Defense attorney Gregory Bell filed a motion Wednesday for a protective order that would close all hearings, seal the court record and impose a gag order. The court set an October 22nd hearing on the request. The teen is charged with first-degree murder of his mother and 11-year-old sister and attempted murder of his father. He also is charged with aggravated arson in the September 26th fire. His attorney cites media attention. He says putting the youth on "public display" could cause embarrassment, fright and psychological damage. The state is separately seeking to prosecute the teen as an adult.

Kansas Board of Education to Meet at Statehouse

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education plans to hold its next regular monthly meeting at the Statehouse because the department it oversees is in the midst of moving its offices. The board's meeting is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. It will be in a room on the first floor of the Statehouse normally reserved for meetings of the House Appropriations and Judiciary committees. But by November, the 10-member board expects to be using a room in its new offices at the Landon State Office Building near the Capitol. The building is named for Alf Landon, who was governor from 1933 to 1936 and the 1936 Republican presidential nominee. The department began moving employees to the Landon building last week and expects to finish by the end of the month.


KS Man Hit by Train; Gets Up and Walks Away

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a Kansas man who was walking along railroad tracks wearing headphones was hit by a train that he didn't hear approaching behind him — but that he got back up and kept walking. Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones says the BNSF conductor slowed down the train and blew the horn when he saw 25-year-old Kristopher Wenberg on the tracks in Topeka on Thursday. Wenberg told deputies he couldn't hear the train, which eventually hit him. Jones says Wenberg promptly got back up and called someone on his cellphone as he walked away. He went to a hospital with cuts on his legs and shoulder. It is against the law to walk on train tracks and Wenberg could be cited for criminal trespass.


KCK Man Charged in Shooting That Wounds Boy, 8

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Charges have been filed against a 27-year-old man in connection with a drive-by shooting that injured an 8-year-old Overland Park boy. Phillip Ricardo Bennett, of Kansas City, Kansas is charged with aggravated battery in the September 30 shooting. The Kansas City Star reports the child was in a house with his mother and two other children when someone fired shots into the house from a vehicle. The woman and the other children were not injured. Overland Park police say the boy is expected to make a full recovery. Online court records don't list a lawyer for Bennett.


Mother of Man Sought in Greenwood County Killings Says Son Is a Victim

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The mother of a Kansas man wanted in the killing of two people and the wounding of another in southeast Kansas says her son is the victim of a setup that began with false accusations that he kidnapped his own children. Beverly Welsh told The Associated Press Friday that she is terrified for her son as the manhunt for him continues. She says his children are suffering. Authorities have offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the capture of 35-year-old Kevin Robert Welsh of Toronto, Kansas after the October 2 shootings in Greenwood County. He is wanted in connection with the deaths of Keith and Sheila Kriesel and the shooting of Catherine Scheff, all of Eureka. Scheff remains in serious condition Friday at a Wichita hospital.


Woman's Body Found After Unreported Fire

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Hutchinson police and fire officials are investigating after the body of a woman was found in a home the day after a fire that wasn't reported. Police say a relative of the woman went to the house Thursday to check on her and found signs of fire damage. Emergency responders found the woman's body inside, along with extensive fire damage. Hutchinson police say the fire apparently burned itself out sometime Wednesday and the woman likely died from smoke inhalation. KAKE reports that the woman's name has not been released and the cause of the fire hasn't been determined.


Lincoln School Attack Suspect Released from Jail

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A 16-year-old girl suspected of attacking a classmate at a Lincoln, Nebraska high school has been released from jail. A judge set a $10,000 personal recognizance bond Friday for the girl. It means she must promise to show up for court. Lancaster County Court records say the girl is charged as an adult with felony assault and use of a deadly weapon. She was taken into custody Tuesday in Kansas and returned to a Nebraska facility Thursday. The Associated Press is not using the girl's name because the AP generally doesn't identify juveniles accused of crimes. The knife and hammer attack occurred Monday inside a bathroom at Lincoln Pius X High School. The victim was identified as 17-year-old Ellen Kopetzky. She's been released from a hospital after surgery for facial wounds.


K-State Hires Architecture Firm for $70M Dorm Project

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State has hired an architect for a $70 million residence hall project. The Manhattan Mercury reports the university chose Treanor Architects, a firm with five locations in Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City, Mo. The new facility, which is scheduled for completion in August 2015, includes construction of a 450-bed residence hall and a 58,000-square-foot dining center. Treanor Architects has been involved in 45 student life projects in the past five years, including housing at Texas A&M, the College of William and Mary and the University of Missouri.

KU Pushes Forward with Proposed $65.7M Business School Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas is seeking authorization to build a $65.7 million business school building. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the university plans to bring the request to the Kansas Board of Regents next week. The proposed six-story structure would be located on Naismith Drive directly across from Allen Fieldhouse. A memo to the regents say the university already has raised a substantial portion of the cost of the 166,000-square-foot building. The memo says the KU Endowment Association has agreed to advance funds for the project and will be repaid as pledges mature over several years. Summerfield Hall houses the current business school. When the new building is finished in time for the 2015-16 school year, Summerfield Hall will be used for other purposes.

Report: US Combine Sales Plunge in September

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An industry report shows the sales of combines across the United States plunged nearly 24 percent in September compared to the same month a year ago, but still remain strong so far this year. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers reported Thursday that 1,028 combines were sold last month, down from 1,350 sold for the same month last year. So far this year farm equipment dealers have sold 7,696 combines. That is up more than 16 percent more during the first nine months of 2012. Sales of tractors continue strong with 15,577 sales reported in September. That is up 7.6 percent when compared to the same month a year ago. The nation's farmers have bought 153,342 tractors in the first nine months of 2013. That is up more than 12 percent.

Jury Finds City Councilman Engaged in Misconduct

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. (AP) — A Johnson County jury has found that a suburban Kansas City councilman engaged in misconduct when he let a homeless friend sleep at City Hall last year. The Kansas City Star reports that a jury ruled Wednesday after a three-day civil trial that Prairie Village Councilman David Morrison also willfully neglected to perform his council duties. But jurors determined that he didn't violate state laws against official misconduct, trespassing and theft to a degree that reached "moral turpitude." A district judge can consider the findings in deciding whether Morrison should remain on the city council. A decision is expected soon. Morrison has conceded that he showed poor judgment. His attorney, Tom Bath, says the matter is in the judge's hands and that any other comment would be inappropriate.

Northeast KS Man Gets 10 Years for Solicitation

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual exploitation of a child. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 46-year-old James Michael Baxter of Holton pleaded guilty August 23 to one count of electronic solicitation and two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. He was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison. After serving his sentence, Baxter will serve 60 months of parole and be required to register as a sex offender for 25 years. Baxter was arrested April 27 after Jackson County sheriff's deputies and officers with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security served a search warrant in connection with an investigation into the distribution of child pornography.


Sedgwick County Jury Convicts Man in Wife's Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County jury has convicted a Wichita man of killing his wife. The jury deliberated about an hour Thursday before finding 56-year-old Guy Palmer guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his 61-year-old wife, Debra Palmer. Testimony at the trial, which began this week, showed Palmer stabbed his wife six times in December 2012 at their home after his wife told him she was having an affair. Police found Debra Palmer's body after Palmer turned himself into Sedgwick County authorities shortly after her death. Defense lawyer Quentin Pittman said Palmer stabbed his wife during the heat of passion, but prosecutors argued the killing was premeditated. Palmer is scheduled to be sentenced December 5.


Cerner Proposing $4.3 Billion Development in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Cerner Corporation says it wants to build a $4.3 billion office complex during the next 10 years at the site of a former shopping mall in south Kansas City. The health care technology company said the complex will be built in 14 phases and eventually bring 15,000 jobs to the area. The city's planning and zoning committee on Wednesday approved the company's request for tax incentives for the Three Trails Crossing development. The Kansas City Star reported that the City Council approved the proposal 10-1 Thursday. Cerner officials said the complex would include 11 office buildings, a daycare center, two data centers, a service center and 370,000 square feet of retail space. If all goes as planned, the complex is expected to be completed by 2024.


Fleeing Motorist Arrested After Hutchinson Death

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A fleeing motorist has been arrested after driving into the scene of a Hutchinson death investigation. Reno County Sheriff's Captain Steve Lutz says officers began pursuing the motorist Thursday after he was spotted in a possibly stolen pickup truck. The Hutchinson News reports that officers considered ending the chase before the motorist drove into the coned-off death-investigation scene. The motorist was captured after fleeing on foot. The suspect was wanted in connection to the September abduction of a Hutchinson man who was taken to Salina. Authorities were gathered at the scene of the man's capture to investigate a house fire that apparently killed a woman in her 70s. The cause of death hasn't been released, but Hutchinson Fire Chief Kim Forbes says the woman likely died of smoke inhalation.


US Rig Count Down 13 This Week, Settling at 1,743

HOUSTON (AP) — Oilfield services company Baker Hughes says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. decreased by 13 this week to 1,743. The Houston-based company said in its weekly report Friday that 1,367 rigs were exploring for oil and 369 for gas. Seven were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,835 active rigs. Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, Oklahoma gained seven rigs, Alaska and Pennsylvania gained four, New Mexico gained two and Arkansas and Ohio gained one. Texas lost eight rigs, Louisiana lost six, Kansas and West Virginia lost four, California lost two and North Dakota lost one. Colorado, Utah and Wyoming were unchanged. The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981 and bottomed at 488 in 1999.


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