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Regional Headlines for Friday, October 5, 2012



UPDATE: Kansas Supreme Court Upholds Limits on Damages in Lawsuits 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld a state law imposing a $250,000 cap on damages that can be awarded for pain and suffering in personal injury lawsuits. The court ruled Friday against Eudora resident Amy Miller, who challenged the 1988 law imposing the cap on non-economic damages. Miller sued her doctor for removing the wrong ovary from her during surgery in 2002. Business and medical groups had urged the court to uphold the law, saying it keeps insurance premiums affordable. Miller's attorneys had argued that the cap violated the Kansas Constitution's guarantees of a right to trial by jury. The court said setting limits is a policy issue for the Legislature to settle. A Douglas County jury awarded Miller nearly $760,000 in damages in 2006, but the award was reduced.


Ruling on Damages Cap Pleases Kansas House Speaker

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal says he's pleased by a state Supreme Court ruling that upheld a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in personal injury lawsuits. The Hutchinson Republican said Friday that many legislators and others have seen the policy of limiting such damages as long-settled. The law imposing the cap was enacted in 1988. O'Neal is an attorney who helped draft the law. O'Neal is not seeking re-election to the House this year and has been hired as the president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. The chamber had urged the court to uphold the cap. O'Neal said lawmakers enacted the cap because doctors were seeing the costs of medical malpractice insurance increasing and some of them were giving up their Kansas practices.


Kansas House Democratic Leader Says Damages Cap Should Be Raised

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The top Democrat in the Kansas House says the state should increase its $250,000 limit on damages for pain and suffering in personal injury lawsuits. House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence criticized a Kansas Supreme Court ruling Friday upholding the cap as constitutional. Davis is an attorney, and his law firm once handled the case of Eudora resident Amy Miller, whose appeal was decided by the ruling. Miller sued her doctor for removing the wrong ovary during surgery in 2002 and had her award of nearly $760,000 in damages reduced because of the cap. Davis said the Supreme Court ruling means that other Kansans will have similar experiences. The law imposing the cap was enacted in 1988, and the Republican-dominated Legislature has repeatedly refused to raise it.


Plaintiff's Attorney Calls Damage Cap Ruling Unjust

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for a Kansas woman who challenged a limit on damages for pain and suffering in lawsuits says a state Supreme Court ruling against his client is unjust. Attorney William Skepnek said Friday he's disappointed the state won't trust juries to determine what represents adequate compensation for people who are injured. Kansas law limits damages for non-economic losses such as pain and suffering to $250,000 in personal injury lawsuits. Skepnek represents Eudora resident Amy Miller. She sued her doctor after the doctor removed the wrong ovary during surgery in 2002. A jury in Douglas County awarded Miller nearly $760,000, but a judge reduced the award because of the cap. Skepnek said Friday's ruling means people who are hurt will continue to be undercompensated by the courts.


Kansas Creates Task Force on State Vehicle System

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is creating a task force to recommend improvements in the state's motor vehicles division. The Republican governor said Friday there's no excuse for subjecting drivers and vehicle owners to delays and long lines in dealing with registrations, titles and licensing. Brownback says problems have always existed but were made worse by this year's switch to a new Department of Revenue computer system that was meant to speed things up. The new Governor's DMV Modernization Task Force will be chaired by Lee Harris, the CEO of Cohen Esrey Real Estate Services. The 21 members are drawn from the private and public sectors, including county treasurers and law enforcement officials. Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan will serve as a non-voting member.

November Vote Might Reduce Boat Property Taxes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas residents will decide in November whether to reduce property taxes for boat owners. Supporters say the constitutional amendment on the November ballot will make the state's tax rates on boats similar to surrounding states. They say Kansas rates can sometimes be eight times higher than those in adjoining states. Opponents say the amendment is being pushed mostly by sports fishermen who want to save money on expensive boats. They say regulations in Kansas have helped create a strong market for used boats. The Wichita Eagle reports boats in Kansas currently are classified in the "other" category of personal property. They are taxed at 30 percent of value multiplied by the county's mill levy.


Brownback Unveils Kansas Technical Education Ad

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials are launching a new advertising campaign aimed at drawing more attention to recent changes in career and technical education programs. The changes were enacted earlier this year as a way to help high school students and graduates earn certification in several technical career fields. The state is paying the tuition for students who enroll in the programs while finishing their high school education. Governor Sam Brownback unveiled an advertising campaign on Friday in Topeka with the theme of "Sparks will fly." A short television ad shows a young female welding student working with sparks of hot metal flying. Brownback says the program is responsible for a 25 percent increase in enrollment this fall at a state technical college in Wichita.

KDHE Says Source of Salina Odor Poses Minimal Risk

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas health officials say they've identified a likely cause of a chemical smell that Salina residents complained about this week. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says in a release that the smell was likely from a chemical called mercaptan, which gas companies use in natural gas lines. KDHE says mercaptan was detected after its crews began testing the area Wednesday. The Salina Journal reports that residents complained the odor was giving them headaches. The health department says it's conducting more tests, but the spilled chemical poses minimal risk and cleanup is expected to be completed Friday. The source of the spill is under investigation. KDHE is recommending that people keep their doors and windows closed and limit outdoor activity when there's a strong odor.


UPDATE: Police Say Student Who Was Stunned Was Danger to Self 

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Police in northeastern Kansas say a high school student who was shocked by an officer's stun gun had been holding a knife to his own throat. The Overland Park Police Department has issued a statement explaining the use of the stun gun on a 14-year-old boy at Shawnee Mission West High School. A school resource officer called police Thursday when the boy entered the principal's office and pulled out a pocket knife. Officials say the boy didn't threaten the principal but refused to drop the knife. Police said Friday the student had been holding the knife to his own throat. Officers used the stun gun after deciding he was a danger to himself and others. The boy was checked at a hospital and taken to Johnson County's juvenile assessment center.

EPA Fines Bayer CropScience for Pesticide Labeling

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bayer CropScience has been fined nearly $14,000 to settle violations for distributing misbranded pesticides and insecticides. The Environmental Protection Agency says the Kansas City-based company has agreed to pay the civil penalty for shipping a pesticide and an insecticide without the required labeling and paperwork last November and December. The agency says Bayer CropScience has also instituted changes in its practices to prevent similar violations. EPA officials say selling or distributing mislabeled chemicals can endanger people and the environment.


Season's First Snowfall Dusts NW Kansas

GOODLAND, Kan. (AP) — The summer's blistering heat is still a recent memory, but northwestern Kansas has received its first snowfall of the season. The National Weather Service in Goodland says about a half-inch of snow fell Friday in that city, with all of it melted by noon. Meteorologist Fred Strasser says other northwestern Kansas communities received dustings of about the same amount. Another system was expected to bring more snow to northwest Kansas, northeastern Colorado and southwestern Nebraska from Friday night into Saturday afternoon. Strasser says accumulations of a half-inch or less are forecast for Kansas, with slightly more possible in Colorado. Friday as far from a record early snowfall for the Goodland area. Strasser says that distinction belongs to September 17, 1971, when the city received a trace of snow.

Union Urges Bombardier Workers to Reject Contract Proposal

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Machinists union in Wichita is urging members to reject Bombardier's proposed five-year labor contract and vote to strike. The union represents 825 hourly workers at the Bombardier Learjet plant. The Wichita Eagle reports union members are to vote Saturday on a contract that offers no raises the first year and a 1 percent raise in each of the four following years. Machinists union spokesman Bob Wood told the newspaper Thursday the offer retains the pension plan, but increases health care costs. But Wood says the main sticking point is the company's proposal for a five-year contract. The Machinists prefer a three-year agreement.

Kansas Labor Secretary Filed Discrimination Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Public records show that interim Kansas Labor Secretary Lana Gordon filed an age and gender discrimination complaint against a former employer two months before taking the state job. Gordon's complaint against ISS Facility Services was still open Thursday before the Kansas Human Rights Commission. Gordon, also a former legislator, filed the complaint in July. The complaint alleges that a manager in the company's Topeka office verbally abused Gordon because of her age and gender from August 2011 until she was fired as an account representative in March. Gordon did not immediately respond to an interview request made through her spokeswoman at the Department of Labor. ISS officials in Topeka declined comment. Governor Sam Brownback appointed Gordon interim labor secretary last month, replacing then-Secretary Karin Brownlee.

Kansas Man's Murder Trial Put Off to 2013

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — The trial of a former Kansas police instructor accused of killing his wife has been moved from December to next May. Thirty-six-year-old Brett Seacat, of Kingman, is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated arson and child endangerment. His 34-year-old wife, Vashti Seacat, was found dead with a gunshot wound in the neck after a fire at their home in April 2011. Prosecutors say Brett Seacat shot his wife and set the fire before escaping the house with their two young sons. The defense contends Vashti Seacat set the fire and shot herself. A judge on Thursday rescheduled the trial at the request of the defense. Seacat was an instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center when his wife died, two weeks after she filed for divorce.

Republican River Meeting to Focus on Water Issues

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Officials from Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska meet later this month to discuss water-related issues and activities within the Republican River basin. The Republican River Compact Administration's annual meeting is October 16 in Junction City. Among the topics up for discussion is compliance with the compact. A work session is also planned October 15. Both meetings are open to the public. The compact was created to provide for the equitable division of the basin's waters and promote interstate cooperation.

Lost Wallet, $1,300 Returned to Wichita Postal Worker

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita mail carrier says he's extremely grateful for a letter he recently received. William Fox says he had been searching frantically for a wallet that went missing on September 12, shortly after he cashed his paycheck. He was convinced someone stole it. Then Fox received a letter in the mail a few days ago. It was from Flying Donuts in Wichita, telling him to stop by. The Wichita Eagle reports when Fox went to the store, owner Tricia Davis handed him the wallet, with all the money inside. Davis says Fox left the wallet but it did not contain a phone number. After waiting a few days and hoping Fox would return, she finally wrote the letter to the address on the driver's license.

Artwork to Be Displayed at Brown Site in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An exhibition of artwork by fourth- and eighth-graders opens Friday night at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka. "The Ray of Hope" consists of quilts and murals inspired by Aaron Douglas, considered a forefather of African-American art and a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance. The featured artists are fourth-graders at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School in Topeka and eighth-graders from Liberty Central Middle School in Lawrence. They created their art with the help of nationally-known quilter Marla Jackson. She is serving as an artist-in-residence at the Brown site. Williams student Xavier Benham also will be recognized at the Friday exhibition. His artwork has been picked for inclusion in a national exhibition at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington.


KC-Area School District to Offer Employee Health Clinic

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City school district is working to keep teachers healthy with an on-site employee health clinic. The Independence School District is planning an open house Monday to show off the clinic. The district claims it's the only one between Houston and Terre Haute, Ind., offering the free benefit to employees. The clinic won't just help employees. It's also expected to save the district about a million dollars a year in insurance premiums. The district also hopes it will lead to more days of uninterrupted education for students, and fewer days with substitute teachers. The clinic will be operated and managed by Healthstat, Inc.


KC Teen Sentence for Craigslist Ad Killing

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City teenager has been sentenced for killing a real estate agent after the two met through an ad on Craigslist. The Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutor's office said Friday the sentence for 19-year-old Ali Cubba includes 15 years for second-degree murder and 10 years for armed criminal action. The sentences will be served concurrently. Cubba pleaded guilty earlier to killing 48-year-old Yuri Ives in March 2011 at the older man's renovated historic mansion in the city's Northeast neighborhood. The two met through a personal ad Ives placed on Craigslist and exchanged emails arranging to meet. Authorities said Cubba went to the home intending to rob Ives, who was shot and stabbed in a struggle. A co-defendant who drove Cubba to Ives's home is awaiting sentencing.

KC Man Gets 30 Years for Murder of Prostitute

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City man was sentenced to 30 years in jail for killing a male prostitute who was posing as a woman. A Jackson County (Missouri) judge on Thursday sentenced 27-year-old Kenyan L. Jones for the December 2011 killing of Darnell Pearson. Prosecutors said Jones admitted to police that he paid to have sex with Pearson, believing he was a woman. When he found out that Pearson was a man, Jones got a handgun, chased Pearson and shot him. The Kansas City Star reports  that Jones was arrested a short time later after a witness reported seeing a man running from the scene and the victim lying on the ground.

Missouri Attorney Charged in Father's Death Posts Bond

CAMDENTON, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City attorney charged with first-degree murder and forgery in her father's death is out of jail after posting $1 million cash bond. The Lake Sun Leader reports Susan Elizabeth Van Note was released from the Camden County jail Thursday. The 44-year-old Van Note has pleaded not guilty to killing her father, 67-year-old William B. Van Note. The elder Van Note and his companion, 59-year-old Sharon L. Dickson, were shot at their lake home in Sunrise Beach in October 2010. Dickson died at the scene. Susan Van Note is accused of killing her father by forging a durable power of attorney and persuading doctors to remove his life support at the hospital. She has pleaded not guilty. No charges have been filed in Dickson's death.


Ex-Kansas City Chiefs Player Larry Johnson Arrested in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas police say former NFL running back Larry Johnson is in jail after he was arrested in a felony domestic violence case. Police officer Jose Hernandez says the 32-year-old Johnson was arrested early Friday at the Bellagio resort on the Las Vegas Strip. Details weren't immediately available. Records show Johnson is being held at the Clark County jail on $15,000 bail. Johnson was chosen by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft. He most recently played for the Miami Dolphins in 2011. He has been arrested several times during his nine-year NFL career, and served what amounted to a one-game suspension in 2009 for using an anti-gay slur. Johnson was sentenced in March 2009 to two years' probation after pleading guilty to two disturbing the peace charges in separate incidents involving women at Kansas City nightclubs.


Police Use Stun Gun on Kansas Student with Knife

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Police in a Kansas City suburb say officers had to use a stun gun to get a high school student to drop a knife. The incident occurred Thursday at Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park. According to police, a school resource officer reported the 14-year-old boy entered the principal's office around lunchtime and pulled out a pocket knife. Police say the boy didn't threaten the principal but refused to drop the knife. The resource officer called Overland Park police, who say one of their officers deployed a stun gun on the boy to keep him from hurting himself or anyone else. The boy was taken to a hospital to be checked. Shawnee Mission district officials said the school staff had followed emergency plans throughout the incident.

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


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