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Regional Headlines for Monday, August 12, 2013


Recent Kansas Rainfall Shatters Records

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The recent rainfall in Kansas has shattered records across the state and has helped ease drought conditions in some sections. Mary Knapp, state climatologist, said that in the first nine days of August, 144 daily precipitation records were broken across the state. Four of those records were in Hutchinson, including a 6-inch rainfall on August 4th that broke the record for the amount of daily rainfall for any day in August. The Hutchinson News reports the previous record was set last year when 3.3 inches of rain fell on August 25th, 2012. Knapp also said, however, that when the ground is dry, it can't quickly soak up the water, which increases flooding. The U.S. Drought Monitor says much of Reno County is out of the drought — for now.


Davis Launches Website for Potential Gubernatorial Run

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis has launched a website for his potential 2014 campaign for governor. The Lawrence Democrat says on the site that he'll make a formal announcement in the coming weeks about whether he'll seek to challenge Republican Governor Sam Brownback. But the Kansas Democratic Party sent an email last week about the website with a subject line that said, "Exciting News." And the new website asks visitors: "Are you ready to help move Kansas in the right direction?" Davis formed a campaign committee last week after months of speculation among Democrats that he would consider running.


Kansas AG Schmidt Named to Human Trafficking Group

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has been appointed to a national committee focused on combating human trafficking. Schmidt's office says he's the first Kansan to serve on the Human Trafficking Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General. The appointment comes in the same year that Kansas legislators voted to strengthen the state's anti-trafficking law. Schmidt has established a special unit in his office to oversee the law's enactment and support victims of human trafficking. Former Kansas House member Pat Colloton, of Leawood, was named to head the special unit.


Judge Approves Narrowing of Planned Parenthood Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has narrowed Planned Parenthood's lawsuit against a new Kansas abortion law to a single requirement dealing with providers' websites. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil on Monday approved an agreement filed last week between attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the state. Planned Parenthood will drop its challenge to provisions of the law that took effect in July requiring abortion providers to give patients information with certain statements the providers find objectionable. The state agrees that providers are complying with those provisions if they give patients access to materials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The only remaining issue is a new rule that the home pages of providers' websites link to a department site on abortion and say the material is accurate.


Rhetoric Clashing over Kansas 'Hard 50'

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials insist the Kansas Legislature's coming special session to fix the state's "Hard 50" law is crucial for heading off a major threat to public safety. But when prosecutors go into court to ensure the tough sentence still applies in pending murder cases, they'll argue that the changes in the law are no big deal. The clashing rhetoric shows how symbolism is driving the crime-fighting debate with lawmakers set to convene September 3rd. The "Hard 50" law allows convicted murderers to be sentenced to at least 50 years in prison, and a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision raised questions about its constitutionality. State officials predict the courts will allow the state to apply changes in the law retroactively because the revisions will be merely procedural.


Sedgwick County to Seek 'Hard 50' Sentence for Murder

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County prosecutors will seek a "Hard 50" prison sentence for a 42-year-old man convicted of stomping his girlfriend to death. Anson Bernhardt is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in the death of Amber Kostner. Prosecutors say Bernhardt kicked Kostner 20 to 30 times while wearing steel-toed boots. The Wichita Eagle reports the Sedgwick County decision follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that raised questions about the law's constitutionality. The ruling said juries, not judges, must make findings that increase a mandatory minimum sentence. Kansas law requires a judge to consider aggravating and mitigating factors before deciding whether to impose the "Hard 50" sentence, which ensures a 50-year sentence without parole. Kansas lawmakers, meanwhile, attend a special session next month to rewrite the state's "Hard 50" law.


Kansas Statehouse $332M Renovation Starts to Shine

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Bit by bit, panel by panel, the new copper skin of the roof and dome of the Kansas Statehouse is beginning to emerge from behind a beehive of construction equipment. The task of replacing the worn copper on the building is one of the final major pieces of a $332 million renovation project that began more than a decade ago in Topeka. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the replacement of the roof should be completed by late November. Remaining interior work, including completion of a new visitors' center below ground, is expected to be finished by year's end. The center will have public access from the north entrance to the building. Work on the existing wings of the building was finished before the start of the legislative session.


Report: Kansas Wheat Crop at 328 Million Bushels

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report estimates that Kansas farmers took in 328 million bushels of winter wheat this season, down 14 percent from last year. The projection in Monday's report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service is based on an average yield of 40 bushels of wheat per acre cut from 8.2 million acres. The snapshot is based on crop conditions on August 1 amid recurring bouts of heavy rainfall. Among other crops, the service forecasts that Kansas farmers will harvest 487 million bushels of corn, up 28 percent from last year. A predicted harvest of 169 million bushels of sorghum is more than double that of a year ago, while soybean production is up 58 percent from a year ago at an anticipated 133 million bushels.


Suspect in Former Officer's Death Sought in Kansas

BLACKWELL, Okla. (AP) — The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation says a man wanted in connection with the stabbing death of a former Blackwell police officer is believed to be in Kansas. The OSBI says 29-year-old Luis Octavio Frias is believed to have been in the Wichita area on August 8th and 9th, visiting relatives and friends. The agency said Monday that agents believe Frias may still be in the Wichita area. Kay County prosecutors have filed a first-degree murder charge against Frias in the stabbing death of 29-year-old former officer Janett Reyna. The OSBI says Reyna was found stabbed to death in her apartment in Blackwell on August 8. The couple's three children were inside the apartment at the time and have been placed in protective custody.


Kansas Accountant Sentenced for Embezzlement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas accountant has been sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $500,000 from the construction company where he worked. The U.S. Attorney's office says 64-year-old Larry Lord, of Manhattan, must also pay about $640,000 in restitution under the sentence he received Monday. Lord worked as an accountant at Cheney Construction in Manhattan. In a guilty plea in March, he admitted writing more than $535,000 in checks on the company's account from 1995 to 2012 and using some of the money to pay personal expenses. Lord also admitted avoiding nearly $104,000 in taxes by failing to report the stolen funds as income.


Topeka Lands World Horseshoe Tournament

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Horseshoes will fly in Topeka in two years. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the city has landed the World Horseshoe Pitching Championships for 2015. It's expected to generate an economic impact of $2 million to Topeka hotels, restaurants and businesses. Visit Topeka Incorporated announced the successful bid at a Monday news conference. Organizers hope the two-week event will draw 1,500 pitchers from across the United States, Canada and several other countries. To handle the competition, between 50 and 75 indoor courts will be set up at the Expocentre's Landon Arena and Exhibition Hall. Topeka beat out Charleston, West Virginia by one vote to bring the event back to Kansas for the second time. The first World Horseshoe Tournament was held in Bronson, Kansas in 1910.


Raccoons in Hays Showing Distemper Symptoms

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are reporting an uptick in sick raccoons in Hays. The Hays Daily News reports that police say the raccoons are exhibiting symptoms commonly associated with distemper. Humans can't contract the neurological disease, but it's contagious to other animals. Sickened animals ultimately might be seen walking aimlessly or in circles. They also can become aggressive without provocation. Authorities urge people to stay away from raccoons and keep family pets away from them. Pet owners also are urged to make sure their animals are current on all vaccinations.


Dog Credited with Saving Owner from House Fire

WAMEGO, Kan. (AP) — A dog is credited with saving its owner from a northeast Kansas house fire that authorities are investigating as arson. The Manhattan Mercury reports that the fire happened before dawn Friday in Wamego. The home's sole occupant says that after being awoken by the dog, he heard the sound of the smoke detectors. The man managed to exit through the smoke, but the dog died. Officials from the Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office and local fire personnel say it appears the fire started on the front porch. That's why the fire is being investigated as an aggravated arson.


Graduates of Closed Western Kansas School Meet

PAWNEE ROCK, Kan. (AP) — Alumni of a rural western Kansas school that closed more than 40 years ago continue gathering to swap memories of their teen years. The Great Bend Tribune reports that former Pawnee Rock High School students gathered over the weekend in Great Bend for the latest all-class reunion. Before the school closed in 1972, there was a bitter protest over the decision to consolidate it with Larned High School. Event co-organizer, Roger Hanhardt, recalled that to show their disgust, most of the Pawnee Rock High School students travelled 30 miles south to Stafford County and attended their remaining years at Macksville High School. He said they did that even though the school in Larned was only eight miles away. The elementary school in Pawnee Rock has since closed, too.


Man Drowns in KCK Lake

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a Kansas City, Kansas man drowned in a city lake. Officials identified the victim of Sunday's drowning as 58-year-old Alvino R. Piersey. He was in Big 11 Lake Sunday evening when he went under water and did not resurface. Piersey's body was recovered a short time after rescue swimmers entered the water.


8-Year-Old Kansas Girl Dies in ATV Accident

SCANDIA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says an 8-year-old girl died when an all-terrain vehicle she was riding on crashed in Republic County. The patrol says Mary H. Horner, of Belleville, died Saturday night when the all-terrain vehicle crashed on a farm field access road a few miles northwest of Scandia. The ATV was being driven by a 9-year-old Scandia girl, who was taken to a Belleville hospital. Her condition was not immediately available. The patrol says the girls were riding the ATV when it rolled, ejecting both girls. Neither girl was wearing a helmet.


TV History Buffs Dig Black Jack Battlefield

BALDWIN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Television history buffs have dug for historical artifacts at a little-known Civil War battlefield in northeast Kansas. The Lawrence Journal World reports that viewers will be able to learn what, if anything, they uncovered when a Bleeding Kansas episode of the show "Diggers" airs Wednesday on the National Geographic Channel. The stars of the show — "King George" Wyant and Tim "The Ringmaster" Saylor — use metal detectors to search historical terrain for any items that may be connected with the original historic event. The pair then works with an archaeologist to review whatever they find. For the Bleeding Kansas episode, they searched the Black Jack Battlefield near Baldwin City. It's the site where abolitionist John Brown fought the pro-slavery forces of Henry Clay Pate on June 2, 1856.


Filming Wraps on Killer Kansas Innkeepers Movie

ROCK SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) — Crews are wrapping up the filming of a movie about a family of southeast Kansas innkeepers who killed about a dozen travelers in the 1870s. The Daily Union in Junction City reports that the crews shooting the "The Bender Claim" have been working recently at the Rock Springs 4-H Camp. Director John Alexander and producer JC Guest co-wrote the film. The pair met at Harvard University and decided they wanted to make a film based on a true legend of the western frontier. Then they learned of the Benders, who owned an inn and general store in Labette County from 1871 to 1873. They're accused of killing travelers and burying them in their apple orchard. Before the bodies were found, the family fled. Filming began in July.


Former Teacher Pleads Guilty in Student Sex Case 

ABILENE, Kan. (AP) — A former central Kansas teacher will be sentenced in October for having sexual relations with a 17-year-old high school student. The Abilene Reflector-Chronicle reports that Amber Marie Stroda pleaded guilty last week to three counts of feloniously engaging in consensual sexual intercourse with students over the age of 16. Through a plea agreement with the Dickinson County attorney, the former third grade teacher at Solomon Elementary will be required to enroll in a sexual offender treatment program and register as a sexual offender. Her sentencing is set for October 2.


Body of Teenager Found in Wichita Waterway

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Crews have recovered the body of a 14-year-old boy reported missing Friday while swimming in a rain-swollen Wichita waterway. Police say the boy's body was found Sunday morning a few feet from where he disappeared in the turbulent floodwaters Friday. Police spokesman Lieutenant Brian White says members of the Wichita Fire Department found the boy's body, which had become entangled in brush about 10 feet off the bank of the waterway called the Big Ditch. The child's name was not released. White says recovery crews were able to see the body because the floodwaters in the Big Ditch began receding Sunday. More rain is forecast, with a chance of rain predicted each day in the Wichita area through Wednesday.


Owner of Atchison County Alligator Found

ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — The Atchison County Sheriff's Office says investigators have found the owner of an alligator that was released into a county lake. Investigators say Waylon Saxton was unlikely to face charges after his alligator, named Cletus, was discovered shot and wounded in the lake after he disappeared three weeks ago. Deputies say Saxton told them his alligator disappeared during a party at the lake. He says he didn't report it because he was afraid whoever took the 3-foot-long animal would kill it. The alligator is recovering from its wounds at an animal rescue facility in Greenwood, Missouri. KCTV reports that Saxton wants Cletus returned to his home. He says he will build a better enclosure to house the alligator.


KU Razes Former Home of Small Nuclear Reactor

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 42-year-old University of Kansas building that formerly housed a small, experimental nuclear reactor has been reduced to rubble. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Burt Hall was demolished to help clear space on campus for expansion of the School of Engineering complex. The nuclear reactor was removed from Burt Hall in the early 1990s. But the demolition took several months as workers carefully searched for any radioactive material. Associate engineering dean JoAnn Browning said she knew of no traces of radiation being found. Browning says officials looked ways to re-use the building, but concluded the demolition was cheaper than making necessary repairs. The $80 million engineering complex makeover will include two new buildings, six large classrooms, labs, research facilities and a renovated library.


Kansas Man Becomes Source for Manson Book

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man who struck up a pen-pal relationship with Charles Manson has become a source for a new book about the cult killer. The Hutchinson News reports that Bob George's correspondence with Manson began back in 1997. At the time, George was a teacher at Dodge City High School, looking for a way to bring to life for his pupils lessons about the psychology of cults. His first response came from fellow inmate Roger Dale Smith, who introduced himself as Manson's secretary. Through Smith, Manson began communicating, asking for stamps and cigarettes. George's insight into Manson led him to become a valuable source for author Jeff Quinn. His book, "Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson," was published this month by Simon and Schuster.


Riddel Ranch to Accept Boys from Other Counties

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A financially struggling ranch for juvenile boys in Sedgwick County will take in boys from other counties, despite concern the ranch could close next year. Sedgwick County officials say the ranch at Lake Afton needs to increase its census to meet state requirements for proper staffing ratios. The Wichita Eagle reports that the ranch is licensed to serve 49 boys but the census has been around less than 30 boys in recent months. The state requires a staffing ratio of one to seven during waking hours. The ranch can't reduce its staffing permanently because the census shifts. To meet the staffing requirement, the ranch will accept boys from counties that border Sedgwick. The ranch will remain open through at least June 30, 2014.


Concern Voiced About Lawrence Charter Virtual Schools

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence school district officials say they are concerned about the educational success of students enrolled in the city's two virtual schools. About 1,500 of the district's students work from home through the two charter schools, which have nearly doubled enrollment in five years. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that state assessment data show half of the students tested at Lawrence Virtual High School in 2012 did not meet state standards in math, and 18.5 percent failed to meet state standards in reading. Math scores were also substantially lower at Lawrence Virtual School, which serves grades K-8, although reading scores are closer to the norm. Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll says the district is dissatisfied with the results and will look at ways to improve the schools' performances.


Museum-Union Station Split Could Affect Artifacts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A collection of tens of thousands of papers, photographs and other objects faces an uncertain future if the Kansas City Museum split from Union Station. Martha Lally, chairwoman of the Kansas City Museum Advisory Board and a proponent of separating the two institutions, says Union Station claims some of the exhibits and the museum claims others. The Kansas City Star reports the idea of severing the contract with Union Station came to a head last month when Union Station fired Christopher Leitch, on-site director of the Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall since 2006. Union Station CEO George Guastello says Union Station is willing to discuss a city proposal to assume daily operations and programming at the museum, but he says ownership of the collections is not negotiable.


Chiefs' Jamaal Charles Leaves Practice with Foot Injury

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles left midway through the Kansas City Chiefs' practice Monday with what coach Andy Reid called a strained foot. X-rays were negative. Charles was participating in an 11-on-11 portion of practice pitting the Chiefs' number-one offense against the top defense when he walked off the field and spent a moment speaking with trainers. He climbed into a cart and was driven up a long hillside to the locker room. Dozens of people watching practice tweeted that Charles had been "carted off the field," and that triggered a rush of speculation about the nature or severity of the injury. Charles missed nearly an entire season two years ago with a torn ACL in his left knee.


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