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Regional Headlines for Monday, December 23, 2013


KDWPT Laying Off 75 Employees

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Dozens of seasonal employees at the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism were laid off the week before Christmas. Department spokesman Ron Kaufman said Monday 75 seasonal KDWPT employees were told last week that their last day of work for the department was Friday. He said they would receive their final paycheck in early January. Seasonal employees work fewer than 1,000 hours a year. Kaufman says the cuts include employees in the departments divisions of law enforcement, education, information services, and fish and wildlife. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Secretary Robin Jennison is moving to eliminate 157 seasonal positions to accommodate the agency's constricted budget. Of those positions, 75 were filled. Jennison says he plans to urge the 2014 Legislature to reverse reductions in the agency's seasonal workforce.

Dustup over Military Appeals Judge Delaying Cases

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Dozens of military criminal cases have been thrown into limbo because of a legal challenge over whether Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel improperly appointed a judge to the Air Force's highest court. The military's highest court has sent at least 37 cases back to the Air Force Court of Appeals that were handled by former Judge Laurence Soybel. Defense attorneys say that will delay their cases at least six months. Soybel was a civilian when Hagel appointed the retired Air Force major and former judge to help alleviate a backlog of criminal cases. But defense attorneys are questioning Soybel's independence, noting that Hagel has publicly criticized the Air Force's handling of sexual assault cases. The Air Force insists Soybel was properly appointed. No hearings have been scheduled in the dispute.


Judge Outlines Reasons for Bomb Suspect's Jailing

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has explained her reasons for continuing to detain a man accused of plotting a suicide bombing at a Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport. U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Humphreys issued a written detention order Monday against Terry Lee Loewen following last week's detention hearing. The 58-year-old avionics technician is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, attempted use of an explosive device to damage property and attempted material support to al-Qaida. Humphreys wrote that Loewen's ties to his community and family do not appear strong enough to balance his professed beliefs in violent jihad and martyrdom. She said that he appears to have been radicalized and has expressed hatred of the government. The judge also cited the nature of the alleged offense and the weight of evidence.


KU, K-State Bemoan Bioscience Funding Loss

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — University leaders say cuts to the Kansas Bioscience Authority budget could have a negative impact on the state. The KBA invests tax dollars in and nurtures new companies in the biosciences and life sciences fields. It's been operating on a budget of more than $35 million per year in some years. State funding support, however, has fallen to about $4 million this year. Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little says the KBA helped the KU Cancer Center attain the National Cancer Institute designation and that the funding drop will hurt the university's effort to expand the center's focus. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz also says the lack of KBA funding will hurt efforts to recruit top-ranked professors.

Dual Voter Registration Lawsuit Moved to US Court

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A legal challenge over whether Kansas will create a dual voter registration system has moved to federal court. The Equality Kansas lawsuit seeks to block Secretary of State Kris Kobach from creating a dual registration system, arguing it would violate voters' rights to equal protection. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the group and voters. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren was assigned to the case Friday. Melgren is also presiding over separate litigation seeking to force modifications in the federal registration form. Both lawsuits stem from disputes over Kansas's proof-of-citizenship law. Under a dual system, people who use the state form and comply with the proof-of-citizenship rule could vote in any race. People who use the federal forms and don't submit citizenship papers could vote only in federal races.

Kansas Sees Increase in Dairy Production

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture says milk production from Kansas dairies was up last month. The USDA says milk production from Kansas dairies totaled 244 million pounds in November, that a 7.5 percent increase from the same month last year. The production per cow averaged 1,810 pounds, up 40 pounds from 2012. The number of dairy cows was estimated at 135,000 head, which is up 7,000 from the previous year. The Wichita Eagle reports that recent drought and high corn prices caused ranchers to reduce herds. But the drought has eased and corn prices have fallen since summer, so farmers are sending fewer cattle to feedlots.

KS Regents Seek Support for Higher College Attendance Rate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Members of the Kansas Board of Regents plan to ask lawmakers to support the board's long-range plan to increase the number of Kansans with education beyond high school. Regent Vice Chairman Kenny Wilk told The Lawrence Journal-World that he plans to put together a resolution for the Legislature to consider when the 2014 legislative session starts in January. Wilk says the the resolution would focus on the board's Foresight 2020 plan, which aims to increase from 50 percent to 60 percent the number of Kansans who have a post-secondary certificate or credential or an associate's or bachelor's degree by 2020. Republican lawmakers recently approved $34.3 million in cuts to public universities, and Governor Sam Brownback signed those reductions into law.

KS Judge Approves DNA Tests in Ottawa Slayings

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — A Franklin County judge has granted a second request by prosecutors for DNA testing on evidence in the capital murder case of a man accused of killing four people in eastern Kansas. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Franklin County District Judge Thomas H. Sachse granted the request last week in the state's case against 28-year-old Kyle T. Flack, of Ottawa. He was charged with capital murder, first-degree murder, rape and other charges after the bodies of three adults and an 18-month-old girl were found at an Ottawa area farm house in May. Flack's court-appointed lawyer, Ron Evans, objects to the testing because some items that could otherwise be used as evidence could be destroyed in testing. In July, Sachse granted prosecutors' requests for DNA testing on 13 other items.

Prosecutors Awaiting Autopsy in Couple's Shooting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say no decision will be made on whether new charges will be filed until an autopsy is complete on a Valley Center man who died from injuries suffered in a double shooting last month that killed his wife. The spokesman for Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett says the DA conferred Monday with detectives in the wake of Saturday's death of 48-year-old Roger Bluml. Bluml had been hospitalized since he and his wife, Melissa Bluml, each sustained a gunshot wound to the head at their Valley Center-area home on November 15. Fifty-three-year-old Melissa Bluml died the next day. The couple's 18-year-old adopted son, Anthony Bluml, his 35-year-old biological mother, Kisha Schaberg of San Diego, and two of Anthony's former classmates face charges including first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.


Police ID Couple in Northeast KS Murder-Suicide

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — Police in suburban Kansas City have released the names of a married couple who died in a murder-suicide. The Shawnee Police Department said in a statement Monday that 46-year-old Michael Clare shot and killed himself after fatally shooting his wife, 57-year-old Deborah Clare. The shootings occurred Sunday night at the couple's Johnson County home. Investigators are trying to establish a motive for the killings.


9 Former Chiefs Players Join Brain Injury Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two NFL Hall of Famers are among nine former Kansas City Chiefs players who have joined a lawsuit that contends the team hid the risks of permanent brain injuries from repeated concussions. Cornerback Albert Lewis and defensive end Art Still were added Saturday to the lawsuit initially filed this month on behalf of five former Chiefs players. Also joining the suit are Dino Hackett, Todd McNair, Fred Jones, Tim Barnett, Walker Lee Ashley, Emile Harry and Chris Smith. All 14 plaintiffs were on the team between 1987 and 1993, a period when there was no collective bargaining agreement in place in the NFL. The amended lawsuit also adds claims that artificial-surface fields during part of that time contributed to concussions.


Boy Locked Out of KC Home in Freezing Temps

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Five children are in protective custody after a neighbor found one of them locked out of his Kansas City home in freezing weather. KMBC-TV reports the neighbor heard the 6-year-old boy crying around 9 pm Sunday, when the temperature was about 15 degrees. Police were called, and the boy told officers he fell asleep inside the family's car on the way home from dinner. He woke up alone in the car and couldn't get inside the house. A man and woman in the house told police they thought all the children were upstairs sleeping. The adults were being questioned Monday. Police said the home lacked heat and hot water and had other problems. Along with the 6-year-old, three other boys and a girl were in protective custody.


Ex-KS Labor Chief to Be Wind Group Spokeswoman

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Former Kansas Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee has been named by a group of business and civic leaders as the spokeswoman for its efforts to promote wind energy. Kansans for Wind Energy says Brownlee will travel across the state to meet with grassroots supporters. The group's director, Richard Martin, praised Brownlee as a conservative with a reputation for bridge-building. Brownlee served in Gov. Sam Brownback's Cabinet in 2011 and 2012, and the administration touted her efforts to streamline the Department of Labor. But she left shortly after that, saying she was forced out in a disagreement over how to measure the agency's performance. Brownlee, an Olathe (oh-LAY'-thuh) Republican, served in the state Senate from 1997 through 2010. She was chairing the Senate Commerce Committee when she joined Brownback's administration.


KS Family Heartened by Response to Burglary

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — What was shaping up as a gloomy Christmas for a Wichita family has turned a bit brighter thanks to generous strangers. KSNW-TV reports that burglars took $5,000 worth of Christmas gifts and other items Friday from the home of Erica Reyes, her husband and their three young sons. The burglars tipped over the Christmas tree and stole video games, a flat-screen TV, and even food from the freezer. Jeff Travers and his family heard of the crime and gave the Reyes family a $1,000 Target gift card. The boys hugged Jeff Travers at the store as they on a mini-shopping spree. Travers says his family just wanted to help the young Reyes family after seeing the chaos the burglars left behind. And Erica Reyes the gesture left her feeling blessed.


KS Insurance Chief Isolated Within GOP

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Sandy Praeger is approaching her final year as Kansas insurance commissioner with a national reputation for expertise on health care issues and a lengthy, unbroken string of election victories as a Republican in a GOP-leaning state. But Praeger acknowledges that she'd have trouble emerging from next year's GOP primary. The reason is the unusual niche she's carved for herself within the GOP on health care issues. She argues that the federal health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats was a positive step that could help millions of uninsured Americans and that, even with the problems with its administration, it's an improvement. Praeger is not seeking re-election next year and will have to step down in January 2015, after 12 years as the state's insurance regulator.

Convicted KS Child Molester Gets New Trial

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered a retrial for a man serving a life sentence for abusing a child. The Supreme Court ruled Friday that Derek John Holt, who was convicted of indecent liberties with a child in Bourbon County in southeast Kansas five years ago, will get the new trial because a court reporter failed to record critical parts of his first trial. The Wichita Eagle reports that Holt is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for 25 years. The Supreme Court ruled that a defense request for the alleged victim to undergo a psychological evaluation was critical to his defense strategy. But they said they didn't have enough transcript to decide if the judge erred in denying the request.

KC Diocese Settles Abuse Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A religious order and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph have settled a 2012 lawsuit accusing a priest of sexual abuse. The lawsuit was filed by a former Missouri man identified as John Doe M.R. against the Rev. James Urbanic, the diocese and the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Urbanic's religious order. The case was scheduled for trial in January. The Kansas City Star reports the $130,000 settlement was finalized earlier this month. Jack Smith, spokesman for the Diocese, says the diocese's share of the settlement was $65,000 and the diocese had no further comment on the case. Stephen Torline, an attorney for Urbanic and the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, said the religious order also paid $65,000. He said both his clients declined comment.


Wichita Police Say Woman Set Herself on Fire

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 41-year-old woman who set herself on fire in a Wichita parking lot is hospitalized in critical condition. Wichita police Lieutenant Doug Nolte says the woman doused herself with lighter fluid Sunday and then used a cigarette lighter to ignite it. A passerby saw the woman and pushed her into a snowbank, extinguishing the flames. The Wichita Eagle reports that the woman was taken to the burn unit at a Wichita hospital, where she remained in critical condition Monday. Her identity has not been released.


KS Military School Seeks to Split Abuse Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas military academy wants to split up a federal lawsuit by 11 former cadets alleging the school fostered a culture of abuse. Lawyers for St. John's Military School in Salina argue in a recent filing the defense would be harmed by failure to hold 11 separate trials. The motion contends each ex-cadet's claims are unique, and that a jury weighing all the claims in a single trial could get confused. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the school's attempt to pursue 11 trials would result in protracted litigation, with similar witnesses and documents throughout. They argue a jury must hear about all of the alleged abuse to decide on punitive damages. The lawsuit alleges the school encouraged higher-ranking students to discipline younger ones, leading to abuse. Trial is set for March.


Feds to Boost Ailing Ferrets Across Great Plains

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Federal wildlife officials have crafted a new plan to restore the highly endangered black-footed ferret that includes re-introducing the animal to more states. The prairie dog-eating member of the weasel family was thought to be extinct until 1981, when a rancher found a solitary enclave of the animals in northwest Wyoming. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan released on Monday calls for boosting their numbers to about 3,000 animals. That's versus about 500 black-footed ferrets in the wild today. The agency will work with private and public landowners to establish new populations across a 12-state historic range stretching from Texas to the Canadian border. Past recovery efforts were hampered by resistance from the agriculture industry and disease that wiped out many prairie dog colonies that ferrets depend on.


KU Researcher Takes Cancer Fight to Urban Churches

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A University of Kansas researcher is studying the effectiveness of using urban churches to fight colorectal cancer. Assistant professor Crystal Lumpkins and her colleagues have met with more than 130 pastors and congregants of urban churches in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., as part of a five-year, $600,000 National Cancer Institute grant. They found that pastors were willing to include health information as part of their mission. But they indicated that they hadn't thought about becoming the primary source of colorectal cancer prevention information for their congregation before the study. The mortality rate for colorectal cancer among African-Americans is disproportionately high, and many participants in the study were unaware of its risks and symptoms. Participants also reported distrust of the medical profession and barriers to health care.

January Proclaimed Kansas Mentoring Month

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed a proclamation touting the work of adults who serve as mentors to children in need of support. The Republican governor signed the document on Friday, designating January as Kansas Mentoring Month. He was joined by volunteers from youth organizations during the Statehouse event, including members of the Jayhawk Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Kansas has more than 175 mentoring programs that work to improve the social and economic well-being of children. Brownback has also supported a program in state prisons that match mentors with inmates as they prepare to return to society. He says the program has more than 4,000 mentors but is aiming for 6,000.

Officials Plan Monthly Updates on Missouri River

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Officials plan to resume providing monthly updates on water levels in the Missouri River basin in January. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the first briefing will be held on January 9th. Each of the briefings will include updates on the current conditions along the river, the weather forecast and the Corps' plan to manage the dams. The Corps will adjust the amount of water released from dams along the river in response to conditions. Last year, releases along the water were limited because the Corps was conserving water as the region recovered from drought. That affected barge traffic on the river.

Historic Dodge City Home to House Farm Workers

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — A historic but rundown home built by one of Dodge City's earliest sheriffs is getting new life as residence, this time for low-income farm workers. The Dodge City Daily Globe reports a Hutchinson-based group called Interfaith Housing Services has renovated the home built in 1880 by George Hinkle. He defeated Bat Masterson to become the city's third sheriff. Interfaith Housing Services provides education, housing and financial support to low-income farm workers. It also has a reclamation program that acquires, fixes and sells abandoned houses to such workers. Dodge City owns the Hinkle house, but Interfaith Housing worked with the city and volunteers to rebuild it. It's a historical property and cannot be sold, meaning the new residents who will soon move in won't have to buy it.

Army Chaplain Beats Cancer, Runs SC Marathon

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (AP) — Army Chaplain Jeremiah Catlin is running marathons, but it's taken him six years to get there after beating Stage 4 melanoma. The Wichita native discovered a lump growing on his chest while deployed to Iraq in 2007. Army doctors told the 32-year-old to go home and celebrate the last Christmas he would ever have. He says he told God in his prayers that he must have made a mistake. But he found doctors who helped him beat the cancer with three surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. And he slowly worked to regain his top physical form, running his first marathon at the Darlington Raceway in the fall and training for another in February. Now, Catlin says he thinks God gave him the experience of overcoming cancer to help him be a better minister to others who are suffering.



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