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Regional Headlines for Friday, September 13, 2013


Insurer Promises Grants to Aid Disabled Kansans' Job Searches

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback and UnitedHealthcare have launched a three-year, $1.5 million initiative to help disabled Kansas residents find good jobs. The company is pledging to provide grants to community groups serving the disabled. UnitedHealthcare announced the first five Friday, totaling nearly $264,000. Brownback joined UnitedHealthcare executive Steve Nelson at a news conference on the University of Kansas campus in Overland Park. Nelson is CEO of the company's division for state Medicaid programs. UnitedHealthcare's Community Plan of Kansas is one of three private health insurers managing most of the Kansas Medicaid program serving the needy and disabled. Both Brownback and Nelson said the overhaul of the Kansas Medicaid program led to treating each participant as a whole person, paving the way for such a grant program.

Grants to Help Disabled Kansas Job Seekers Vary

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — The first grants under a United Healthcare initiative aimed at helping disabled Kansas job seekers are going to groups with a collective presence across the state. The health insurer said Friday it will provide $1.5 million in "Empower Kansas" grants over the next three years to community groups. The first five recipients were announced at a news conference in Overland Park. The Wichita-based Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation is getting the largest grant, at nearly $116,000. More than $76,000 has been awarded to Assistive Technology for Kansans. The program is coordinated by the University of Kansas, with sites in Garden City, Parsons, Oakley, Salina, Topeka and Wichita. The Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas is receiving $44,000, and Cottonwood Inc., of Lawrence, almost $19,000. The Sedgwick County Developmental Disability Organization was awarded $9,000.


Hallmark to Sell Its Topeka Plant to Realty Group

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Hallmark is under contract to sell its Topeka production facilities to a real estate group that specializes in finding new uses for old industrial and commercial properties. Spokeswoman Linda Odell said Thursday Hallmark will sell the plant to Industrial Realty Group in November. It's part of Hallmark's plan to consolidate its Kansas plants, moving work done in Topeka to its Lawrence and Leavenworth plants. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the sale is scheduled to close November 1. Tom Murray, vice president of Industrial Realty Group, says a large warehouse probably will be leased to a distributor. He says the production plant could be leased to a large manufacturer, but it's more likely several smaller companies will use it. Murray wouldn't say how much IRG will pay for the building.

Commission Distributes Arts Grants Across KS

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Nine arts groups across Kansas will receive state grants to support their work. The Creative Arts Industries Commission announced Thursday that it was awarding nine grants worth about $350,000. The largest grant was $75,000 for restoration of the Gray's Studio in St. John. It was the second round of grants from the commission this year, following eight grants for a total of $58,400 awarded in July. Kansas Labor Secretary Lana Gordon, who is the commission's chairwoman, says the projects chosen are partnerships between arts, economic development and government organizations. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the grants awarded in July were the first state arts funding after a two-year break that began when Governor Sam Brownback stopped funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, which no longer exists.

Kansas Seeks to Extend Emergency Haying, Grazing

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program land. State Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman urged the agency in a letter Thursday to grant an extension through November 30. The same step was taken during last year's drought without landowners incurring penalties in the form of a rental payment reduction. Rodman says that while parts of Kansas have benefited from needed rainfall, many portions of the state remain in a severe drought condition. There are 2.15 million acres enrolled in CRP in Kansas. Rodman says in a news release that allowing ranchers to continue accessing that forage could be the difference between maintaining a cow herd or facing liquidation.


MO Inmate Charged in Highway Killing of Kansas Woman

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 32-year-old man is charged in the fatal shooting of a Kansas government attorney on a Kansas City highway in July 2009. The Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutor's office announced Friday the indictment of Calah Johnson on charges of second-degree murder and unlawful use of a weapon. Deanna Lieber was shot and killed on U.S. Highway 71 while driving home with her 13-year-old daughter and her mother-in-law from Kansas City's Starlight Theater. The 45-year-old Lawrence resident was the general counsel for the Kansas Department of Education. Authorities said Friday that witnesses have told detectives Johnson was firing from one vehicle at a person in another vehicle, and Lieber was not the intended target. Johnson is currently in a federal prison serving a 20-year sentence on a drug charge.


KU Fraternity Agrees to Punishment for Animal Abuse 

A University of Kansas fraternity chapter has agreed to pay $5,000 and perform community service after an investigation into alleged animal abuse at a party. There were allegations that a turkey was abused and eventually killed at a Beta Theta Pi party in Lawrence last December. Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson says his office has concluded an investigation. Branson says he believes there is evidence the turkey was mistreated. But he says there are conflicting accounts of what happened, making it difficult to determine who was responsible. Beta Theta Pi will pay $5,000 towards the cost of the investigation and members will perform 1,000 hours of community service.


Kansas Agency Hosting Preparedness Webinars

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas residents are being offered two online training courses to prepare themselves and their pets for emergencies. The 30-minute webinars are hosted by the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. The first is scheduled for September 17 and will focus on preparing family pets for emergencies. The presenter will be Midge Grinstead, state director of the Humane Society of the United States. The second event will be held twice on September 24 and will discuss proper foods for putting in a family emergency kit and storage techniques. Renee Aldrich of the American Red Cross will lead the discussion.

Social Security Office in Pittsburg Closing

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — The Social Security office in Pittsburg will close November 15, sending employees and clients to Joplin. Jewell Colbert, spokeswoman for the Social Security regional office in Kansas City, says the Pittsburg office is closing because of cuts to the agency's budget. The office's 12 full-time employees will be asked to move to the Joplin office. Colbert says residents and organizations in Allen, Bourbon, Cherokee, Crawford, Linn and Neosho counties in Kansas will obtain services from the Social Security office in Joplin. The Joplin Globe reports that between 400 and 500 international students, researchers and scholars at Pittsburg State University also will affected because they need a Social Security number to work.


Agency Says Social Worker's Action 'Reprehensible'

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas agency says it was "reprehensible" for one of its former social workers to refuse to act on behalf of a toddler who was later beaten to death. The Kansas Department for Children and Families commented Friday, one day after a federal judge ruled that Linda Gillen was entitled to immunity in a lawsuit by the girl's grandparents. Twenty-three-month-old Brooklyn Coons, of Coffeyville, died in 2008. Her father's girlfriend is serving life in prison for her death. Brooklyn's grandparents contend Gillen refused to investigate their reports that the toddler was being abused. The judge ruled for Gillen despite calling her actions unprofessional and "sadly, fairly consistent" with other cases in his court involving the Kansas agency. The agency contends the court has not advised it of any similar, recent cases.


Topeka Man Pleads Guilty to Bank Fraud

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man faces sentencing in December after pleading guilty to bank fraud in connection with plans to build an apartment complex in Junction City. The U.S. Attorney's office said Friday that 52-year-old John Wyatt Duncan Jr. entered the pleas this week to two counts of bank fraud, one count of money laundering and one count of making false statements. Duncan was accused of lying to a Lawrence bank to get a $15.2 million construction loan for his company, Blue Jay Properties, to develop the Quinton Pointe Apartments in Junction City. Duncan was also chief financial officer of Schmidt Builders. Prosecutors said Duncan falsely claimed that lumber for the project had been paid in full and was being held at Schmidts, available as collateral for the loan.


Drugs Caused Man's Death in KC Police Custody

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Jackson County (Missouri) medical examiner says a man who collapsed during a struggle with Kansas City police died from accidental methamphetamine intoxication. The Kansas City Star reports that the autopsy report on 45-year-old Kevin Ellis also cited "excited delirium" as a factor in in his death. Excited delirium is a brain condition that causes strange behavior and high body temperatures in some drug users. Ellis died June 17 after police used a stun gun on him during a struggle to arrest him. The autopsy says Ellis's brain showed no changes caused by the stun gun. A woman called police after seeing Ellis acting strangely in her yard. Police used the stun gun on him once when he struggled, causing him to collapse. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.


KC Council Approves Construction Mgmt Contract

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Despite some strong objections, the Kansas City Council approved a contract for construction management for a streetcar line through downtown. The council voted Thursday to award the contract to St. Joseph-based Herzog Contracting and California-based Stacy and Witbeck. They will manage construction of a 2-mile route from the River Market to near Union Station. Supporters hope the streetcars will be running by the summer of 2015. The debate before Thursday's vote centered on the way the winning bid was chosen. Rather than seeking the lowest bid with a final cost, a technical team evaluated the bidders based on experience, project approach and pre-construction management price, The Kansas City Star reported. Representatives of organized labor wanted the council to rebid the contract. Supporters said the bid was awarded fairly.


KC Lands Grants for Early Childhood Facilities

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has announced that nearly $1.5 million is being awarded through a new early childhood grant program to build and renovate two Kansas City preschool facilities. Nixon made the announcement Friday at Woodland Early Learning Community School, which is receiving $480,000 for renovations. The Kansas City district and the nonprofit Kansas City Freedom Schools Initiative operate the newly reopened school. A second nonprofit, the Emmanuel Family and Child Development Center, will receive a $1 million grant to build a 28,000-square-foot early childhood education facility. The money is part of $10 million in community development block grants and tax credits that are being awarded through the new Missouri Smart Start initiative. Nixon said other grant recipients will be announced soon.


KS Mother to Be Tried over Fatal Fire

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita woman who was away from home when her daughter suffered fatal burns in a fire has been ordered to stand trial on child endangerment charges. The Wichita Eagle reports that 27-year-old Ruthie Lee Bell pleaded not guilty to the charges Thursday in Sedgwick County District Court. Judge Ben Burgess set a tentative trial date of December 2. Bell's 6-year-old daughter, Ja'Kara Dickson, died July 14, three days after the fire. The girl was playing with a lighter when she accidentally set her clothes on fire. Prosecutors said Bell had left Ja'Kara and two other daughters, ages 4 and 7, alone in the house. Neighbors heard a smoke alarm and helped pull the other two girls to safety.


Judge Rules for Ex-Social Worker in Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that a former Kansas social worker is immune from a lawsuit by the grandparents of a 23-month-old girl who was beaten to death after authorities ignored their pleas to protect her. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot summarily ruled Thursday in favor of former social worker Linda Gillen. Belot said there was no evidence that her intentional refusal to act enhanced the danger to the girl. Larry and Mary Crosetto allege in the lawsuit that Gillen did not respond to complaints about their granddaughter's abuse because she had a personal grudge against them. The couple's granddaughter, Brooklyn Coons, of Coffeyville, died in January 2008. Her father's girlfriend, Melissa Wells, is serving life in prison for the girl's death.


Judge Refuses to Block New Meat Labeling Rules

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A federal judge has refused to block new rules that require the meat industry to include specific information about the origin of their products on labels. But industry groups say they'll continue fighting. The new rules took effect in May. They require that labels for steaks, ribs and other cuts of meat include clear information about where animals grown for the meat were born, raised and slaughtered. A judge refused to issue a preliminary order Wednesday that would've blocked the rules, though he didn't decide the overall lawsuit. The American Meat Institute said Thursday it plans to appeal. It says the rules are too costly and don't provide any health benefits. The trade group represents meat packers, processors and suppliers. Seven other industry groups have joined AMI's lawsuit.


KS Corn Forecast 38 Percent Above Last Year

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A new government forecast says Kansas farmers are on track to harvest 38 percent more corn than a year ago. The report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service released Thursday projects the state's corn crop to come in at 525 million bushels. The update comes as corn harvest gets underway across much of Kansas. Farmers are cutting 4.2 million acres of corn this season, up 6 percent from last year. Yields are also far better at 125 bushels per acre. That is 29 bushels an acre more than a year ago. The agency also forecasts Kansas will harvest more than twice as much sorghum as last year at 195 million bushels. Soybean production is up 58 percent from a year ago at a projected 133 million bushels.




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