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Regional Headlines for Monday, August 26, 2013


KS Lawmakers Question Topeka VA Staffing Shortage

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State and federal lawmakers want to know what caused a doctor shortage at a veterans hospital in Topeka that has meant patients are being diverted to other hospitals' emergency rooms. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that for the last three months, the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center has been deciding in mid-afternoon every day whether the emergency room will have enough staff to handle emergencies overnight. If not, patients are sent to other hospitals. Jim Gleisberg, a spokesman for the hospital, says the shortage happened because three doctors left at the same time. The hospital hopes to be fully staffed by September. U.S. Representative Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, and two state representatives have expressed concern about the shortages and wondered why the doctors all left at the same time.


UPDATE: KS Legislative Committee Wraps Work on 'Hard 50' Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A select legislative committee has finished work on a proposal to amend the Kansas "Hard 50" prison sentence in the wake of a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The panel of Kansas House and Senate judiciary leaders voted Monday to recommend the bill's introduction when legislators meet next week in special session. The measure will be introduced in the House Judiciary Committee. The legislation changes how the mandatory 50 year prison sentence is imposed on certain convicted murder defendants. The Supreme Court ruled in a Virginia case that mandatory sentences must be imposed by juries, not by judges as has been the case in Kansas. Republican Governor Sam Brownback called the special session, scheduled to last three days, for legislators to fix the law.


Study: High Plains Aquifer Mostly Gone in 50 years

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new study forecasts that 69 percent of the water in the High Plains Aquifer in Kansas will be depleted within 50 years at current usage rates. The paper from researchers at Kansas State University was published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. It focuses on the Ogallala aquifer in western Kansas. The study estimates that 30 percent of the aquifer was depleted by 2010 and an additional 39 percent is expected to disappear by 2060. The researchers found that natural recharge accounts for just 15 percent of the pumping rate. Once the water is gone, the study projects it will take between 500 and 1,300 years to refill it. Researchers say water savings now could prolong the aquifer through 2110.


Debate Grows over Planned Sale of NY's Plum Island

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — Debate is raging over the proposed sale of Plum Island, New York, the mysterious place off eastern Long Island where infectious animal diseases have been studied since the 1950s. One federal agency is preparing a final report on the proposed sale. Meanwhile, officials in Southold, New York will vote Tuesday on new zoning laws that will prevent any significant development of the 843-acre property should be sold. And some New York and Connecticut lawmakers are now suggesting that the idea to sell the island be scrapped entirely. Congress voted in 2009 to close the aging laboratory, which earned a mention in the Oscar-winning movie "The Silence of the Lambs." The 2009 bill envisions using proceeds from the sale to defray the costs of moving operations to a new laboratory, the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, at Kansas State University.


Lawrence Considers Switching Bus Power Source

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence city leaders are putting the brakes on plans to purchase new buses for their public transportation fleet to give another look at using compressed natural gas as a power source. The city had planned to buy three diesel and diesel-electric hybrid buses, but the lower cost of natural gas is prompting a second look. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that officials want to rethink the decision based on fuel costs. A feasibility study four years ago compared the fuel costs, but it was before natural gas prices dropped and supplies increased. A federal agency says the average price for diesel fuel nationally is about $3.90 per gallon. By comparison, compressed natural gas sells for about $2.10, and as low as $1 per gallon in some regions of the country.


KC Approves $12M Water Contract

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The City Council in Kansas City has approved a no-bid, $12 million contract for a consulting firm to address the water department's customer service problems. The council approved the two-year contract with Chicago-based West Monroe Partners. The Kansas City Star reports the vote Thursday was 10-3. The water department says West Monroe Partners has certain skills necessary to improve the department's information technology, telephone system, call center training, billing and meter reading, all of which have been targets of consumer complaints. Supporters also say the contract with the Chicago company involves subcontracting with local minority-owned and women-owned firms. But council members John Sharp, Jermaine Reed and Melba Curls voted against the contract, saying it sets a bad precedent to award a $12 million contract without seeking bids.


Ex-Police Officer Admits Part in Kansas Bribery Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Wichita police officer has admitted to conspiring to bribe a car-theft victim in hopes of saving her job. Thirty-four-year-old ex-officer Joletta Vallejo pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Her 40-year-old co-defendant, Patrick Melendrez, also pleaded guilty. Sentencing for both was set for November 18. Prosecutors agreed as part of the plea deal to recommend probation. Vallejo admitted failing to follow procedures in responding to citizens' reports, then lying to investigators about it. She was accused of arranging last August for Melendrez to pay the theft victim $150 to recant his statement about her actions and another $150 if she kept her job with the Police Department. A third defendant in the case faces a status hearing September 9.


KCK Man May Face 2nd Trial for Double Homicide

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors in northeast Kansas will seek to retry a man accused of killing two people, including his mother, outside a motorcycle clubhouse last year. The Kansas City Star reports that a Wyandotte County jury deliberated about four hours Friday and Monday but could not agree on a verdict. A judge then declared a mistrial for 25-year-old Lamario Stayton of Kansas City, Kansas, on two counts of second-degree murder. Stayton is charged in the shooting deaths of his mother, 40-year-old Laura Michie, and 54-year-old Monty Taylor on August 11, 2012. Witnesses testified that shooting broke out after Stayton was denied entry to a party at the motorcycle club, but testimony was mixed on whether Stayton had a gun and whether he fired any shots.


Wichita Woman Sought in Lighter Fluid Incident

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are looking for a woman involved in a domestic dispute that nearly ended with a man being set on fire. The Wichita Eagle reports that officers were called to a home Sunday afternoon about an incident involving a 55-year-old man and his 39-year-old common-law wife. Police say an argument escalated with the woman spraying lighter fluid on the man and trying to ignite it. But she was unsuccessful in starting a fire, and left the scene by the time police arrived. Authorities said they don't know what the two were arguing about.


Former Ohio Gov John Gilligan Dies; Father of Former KS Gov Kathleen Sebelius

CINCINNATI (AP) — Former Ohio Governor and U.S. Represertative John J. Gilligan, a liberal Democrat who won creation of Ohio's state income tax, has died. He was 92. His death Monday was confirmed by his caregiver Frank Kennedy. Gilligan's daughter Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor, in 2009 became Health and Human Services secretary under President Barack Obama. Gilligan, a teacher, became the state's 62nd governor in 1970, a year in which Republicans suffered from a loan scandal in the state treasurer's office. He inherited a school funding problem in which 24 districts had closed for lack of operating money and more were expected to follow suit. Gilligan persuaded legislators to enact the state's first corporate and personal income tax in 1971 to raise money for dealing with those and other government priorities.


Kansas Man to Be Tried in Ex-Girlfriend's Death

COLBY, Kan. (AP) — A 24-year-old Kansas man has been bound over for trial in the February killing of his ex-girlfriend, who was found stabbed to death in her burning home. The Colby Free Press reports a Thomas County judge on Monday found enough evidence to try William Shank on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated arson and burglary. Shank is charged with killing 27-year-old Teri Morris, who worked at a Walmart in Colby and as an emergency medical technician. A coroner's report said Morris had been stabbed 27 times before her Colby home was torched. Authorities said the two were contesting custody of their 8-month-old daughter. The baby was with Shank when he later called police from a home in Logan. Shank, who has lived in Garden City and Colby, pleaded not guilty Monday.


Kansas Man Pleads in Wichita Throat-Slashing Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 25-year-old Wichita man has pleaded guilty in the slaying of another man who was held down as his throat was slashed. The Wichita Eagle reports Caesar Louis pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary in the August 4th, 2012, death of Phem Xiong. Louis, who was scheduled to go on trial Monday on a first-degree murder charge, will be sentenced October 1st. Vat Sana Khamvongsa testified in December he was with Louis and a third man, Jerry Thatch, when they went into Xiong's home after a night in Wichita's Old Town. Khamvongsa said Jerry Thatch held Xiong's feet while Louis cut his throat. Thatch's murder trial begins October 15th; Khamvongsa is to be sentenced on a lesser charge the same day.


Kansas Boy Says Drunk Dad Told Him to Drive to Fetch Food

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a 12-year-old boy told them he was driving a car to get his dad and a friend, who were both drunk, something to eat. Police pulled the boy over early Sunday because the car was being driven erratically. A passenger, who police say appeared to be intoxicated, was with him. Police spokesman Sergeant Bart Brunscheen says the 12-year-old told police his father was at home and intoxicated. The passenger allegedly had gone to the family's home and said he was too drunk to drive but wanted something to eat. The man asked the father if he would let his young son drive him to get food and the father agreed. The passenger was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment and the father was listed as a suspect.


Lawrence Man Finally Receives Olympic Medal

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man has finally received the Olympic medal he won more than a decade ago for the nation of Nigeria. Jude Monye was told five years ago he'd won the gold medal as a member of a track relay team in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics. The U.S. team won the gold for that race, but was disqualified in 2008 in a scandal involving performance-enhancing drugs. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Monye was told in 2008 that a ceremony would be arranged to give he and his teammates the gold medal. But Monye, who works in Lawrence as a claims specialist, didn't hear anything until earlier this year. He and his remaining teammates then returned to Nigeria, where the president of that country presided over the gold medal ceremony.


Kansas Pair Ready to Chase Storms in 'Tank'

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas couple has combined their passion for storm chasing and a love of customizing cars by building what they call a tornado-hunting tank. The Hutchinson News reports that Steve Worthington and Stacy Valentine enjoy driving straight into thunderstorms to see what's happening. But Worthington says they got tired of having their cars damaged by large hail and high winds. After years of work, Worthington has transformed a 22-foot-long, three-quarter-ton Chevrolet Suburban into a tornado intercept vehicle. He welded steel over the big SUV, installed bulletproof glass and equipped it to spike into the ground to stay in place in tornadic winds. Worthington runs a sewer pumping business, but he's also a longtime professional storm chaser who reports to the National Weather Service through a storm-spotter network.

MO Man Apologizes for '87 Theft from WSU

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A southwest Missouri man has been sentenced to probation for stealing a statue from Wichita State more than 25 years ago. Mitchel R. Potter of Lamar, Missouri has pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property in connection with the 1987 theft of a bronze bust of poet Robert Frost from WSU. Potter, who was not a student at Wichita State, was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. Potter, now 45, says he stole the statue when he was a 19-year-old fraternity pledge and that he should have left the sculpture alone. He was arrested last year after a tip led authorities to the bust at Potter's home. The Wichita Eagle reports that Potter has returned the statue, which is now in storage at Wichita State.


Board to Consider Sale of Closed KCMO Schools

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A shuttered Kansas City school could soon find a second life as a mixed-use development. The district said in a news release that its Board of Education will consider the sale of the former Westport Middle School this Wednesday. The board received four proposals. Administrators are recommending selling it to a group that is proposing a historic conversion. The project would include up to 100 market-rate apartments. There also would be commercial space that would be primarily targeted for non-profit office space. Grounds would be used for urban farming and gardening. If approved, the sale would close by year's end. The district's list of unused schools grew to 30 after a massive consolidation effort in 2010. Since then, the district has been looking for new uses for the vacant buildings.

MO State Representative Arrested for Marijuana Possession; Won't Resign

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri lawmaker arrested for possessing marijuana says he is resigning from a Democratic campaign position but not from office. Representative Jeremy LaFaver said Monday he is stepping down as chairman of the House Democratic Victory Committee, which raises money for House candidates. But LaFaver told The Associated Press he is not resigning from the House, because he believes he can still be an effective lawmaker. The Missouri Republican Party has said LaFaver should resign. LaFaver was arrested Sunday after a traffic stop in Boone County for possessing a marijuana pipe and up to 1.2 ounces of marijuana. He has apologized for the incident. LaFaver sponsored an unsuccessful bill this year that would have lowered penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana.


Anglers, Conservationists Trying to Stymie Algae

CASSVILLE, Mo. (AP) — Missouri conservationists and anglers are working together to prevent an algae called didymo — its nickname is "rock snot" — from spreading into the state's waterways. Kansas fly fisherman Paul Niegsch frequents Missouri's trout streams and says he hadn't heard of the algae until seeing signs posted last year by the Missouri Department of Conservation. The Joplin Globe reports the non-native invasive species has expanded in recent years to 18 states, including a 13-mile stretch of the White River in neighboring Arkansas near the Missouri border. Didymo is a single-celled algae that blooms in freshwater rivers and streams with consistently cold water temperatures and just the right pH level. Conservation officials say the state's trout streams provide ideal conditions for didymo to flourish.


Football Players Shave Heads in Support of Coach

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Members of an eight-man Wichita football team consisting of Christian homeschooled boys have shaved their heads in support of their coach's battle against cancer. The Wichita Eagle reports that the entire Wichita Warriors team took turns having their heads shaved Saturday in tribute to 49-year-old Bill Turner, who was diagnosed with late-stage throat cancer last month. Turner doesn't smoke or chew tobacco, but he first noticed his throat hurting in March. He finished his first round of chemotherapy on Friday. The coach hasn't lost his hair to the cancer treatments yet, so he took his turn in the stylist's chair. The Warriors are a team for homeschooled students that was started last year. They play their first game of the season Friday against Cair Paravel Latin School in Topeka.


Defense Lawyers Question KS 'Hard 50' Law Fix

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Criminal defense attorneys have raised concerns about a proposal to revise the way the "Hard 50" prison sentence is administered in Kansas. Legislators are considering a bill that would change how the mandatory prison sentence for some murder convictions is applied. Attorneys Randall Hodgkinson and Jessica Glendening told a legislative panel on Monday the changes are more than procedural. They argued it would be unconstitutional to apply the revisions to people previously sentenced to at least 50 years in prison before the chance of parole. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such mandatory sentences are unconstitutional when decided by judges and not juries. In Kansas, judges impose the sentence on convictions. The Legislature will take up the proposal during a special session next month.

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



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