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Regional Headlines for Monday, December 9, 2013


UPDATE: Search Called Off for Missing KU Student from Peru 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence police have called off a search for a 23-year-old University of Kansas student from Peru after finding a body matching the student's description. Gianfranco Villagomez, an industrial design student from Lima, Peru, was last seen walking near 9th and Michigan streets in Lawrence about 2:30 am Saturday. His girlfriend reported him missing Saturday. The Lawrence Journal-World reports  that police found a body Monday afternoon matching the description of Villagomez. Lawrence Police Department spokesman Trent McKinley says an official identification of the body has not been made. The search for Villagomez was halted Monday afternoon after police notified friends and family that a body had been found near the address where Villagomez was last seen. The county coroner is working on an official identification of the deceased.


GSA to Move 900 Employees to Downtown KCMO

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The federal government will move 900 employees to downtown Kansas City. The General Services Administration announced Monday that its employees will move from the Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City to an office building near Union Station. The Kansas City Star reports that the move to Two Pershing Square will include a 20-year lease valued at nearly $50 million, with the government receiving an $8.6 million discount. GSA official Kory Hochler says the agency has the right after seven years to reduce the amount of space it occupies or completely leave the building. The agency is expected to take occupancy in December 2014, and the relocation is expected to take three to five months.


KCC Chairman Submits Resignation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The chairman of the Kansas Corporation Commission has submitted his resignation to Governor Sam Brownback. Mark Sievers submitted his resignation Monday. He will stay on with the KCC until Brownback appoints his replacement in early 2014. Sievers was named to the commission in May 2011 and elected chairman on May 17 of this year. He was serving a four-year term that was to expire March 15, 2015. Brownback issued a news release announcing the resignation, saying Sievers wanted to spend more time with his wife and return to private life. The three-member KCC regulates natural gas, electricity, telephone and transportation operations in Kansas, including the setting of rates charged by utilities.


Kansas Among States Spending Less than Recommended on Tobacco Prevention

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Public health groups say Kansas is among the states spending less than recommended on programs to stop people from smoking. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends states spend $32.1 million a year on tobacco prevention. A report released Monday by several anti-tobacco groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, says Kansas spends about $947,000 a year on such programs, ranking Kansas 41st in the nation in per-capita spending. The Kansas Department of Health and Education says outcomes are more important than spending. The KDHE points out that the high-school smoking rate in Kansas is 14 percent, which is below the national average of 18 percent and lower than that of neighboring states, including some that spend more per capita on tobacco prevention.


KS Supreme Court Hears Hard 50 Sentence Appeal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court is considering whether a defendant's minimum 50-year sentence for premeditated first-degree murder should stand. The court heard arguments Monday in the case of Matthew Astorga. It was the second appeal of a "Hard 50" sentence since legislators rewrote the law this fall in response to a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Kansas previously allowed judges to sentence people convicted of premeditated first-degree murder to 50 years before they can seek parole. But the nation's highest court ruled that juries should decide if a defendant gets that sentence. Astorga was sentenced for a 2008 shooting death in Leavenworth County. His lawyers argue the changes made by the Legislature amount to creating a new crime and punishment and are unconstitutional.


KS Prosecutors to Seek Hard 50 in Meth Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors intend to seek a Hard 50 sentence in the trial of a 32-year-old Wichita man accused of injecting another man with a lethal dose of meth before dumping his body in a field. Dang Sean, who's being held on a $1 million bond, is scheduled to stand trial beginning Tuesday for first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping in the January 11 death of 34-year-old Shawn Lindsey. Surveyors found Lindsey's body five days later. The Wichita Eagle reported that in their notice to seek a sentence of life without parole for 50 years, prosecutors said the crime was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner. Sean is one of six men charged in the case. Sean's lawyer said in court papers his client will present an alibi defense.



Kansas Infant Mortality Rate Exceeds National Rate

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas health officials say the state continues to search for ways to improve its infant mortality death rate. The state's overall rate in 2012 was 6.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. That's above the national rate of 5.9 out of 1,000 live births. The Wichita Eagle reports that Kansas also has historically high rates of mortality for black infants, which is three times higher than the rate for white infants, even though all of the rates have declined in the last 20 years. State statistics also show that rural and densely settled rural areas have higher infant mortality rates than urban counties. The leading cause of infant mortality in Kansas was prematurity or low birth weight, followed by congenital abnormalities and SIDS or suffocation in bed.

KS Senator, GOP Foe Squabble on Ethics Issues

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The campaigns of U.S. Senator Pat Roberts and the Kansas Republican's primary challenger are sparring publicly over ethics issues, increasing the acrimony in their already contentious race. Roberts executive campaign manager Leroy Towns filed a complaint last week with the Senate Ethics Committee against challenger Milton Wolf. Wolf hasn't yet filed a required financial disclosure form, despite a 30-day deadline. But Wolf spokesman Ben Hartman said the challenger will file the form soon, within a grace period that's typically given to new Senate candidates. Wolf's campaign accused Roberts of attempting to intimidate his challenger. Towns said Wolf is willing, in his words, to "make facts up." The 77-year-old Roberts is seeking his fourth, six-year term in the Senate. Wolf is a 42-year-old Leawood radiologist running as a tea party candidate.


OSHA Cites Rail Car Services for Violations

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The federal government has proposed $133,000 in fines for Rail Car Services because of repeat health and safety violations at a facility in Kansas City, Kansas. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Monday in a release that Rail Car Services was cited for 11 violations at its rail car refurbishing facility in Kansas City, Kansas. OSHA says the violations stem from inspections that began after a complaint about fall protection and work done in confined spaces. OSHA inspectors found eight repeat violations in a recent inspection. OSHA says Rail Car Services also failed to train workers on chemicals used in their work area and didn't provide annual respirator training. Rail Car Services has about two weeks to comply, request a conference with OSHA or contest the citations.


Koch Industries Finishes $7.2 Billion Deal for IL Company

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita-based Koch Industries has completed its $7.2 billion purchase of an Illinois company that makes electronic components and cables. Koch says it is paying $38.50 per Molex Inc. share in cash, plus 18 cents per share, representing a pro-rata portion of the regular quarterly cash dividend. Molex will keep its headquarters in Lisle, Illinois, and will retain its current name and management team. The boards of both companies approved the transaction, which is expected to close by the end of the year. Koch is run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. Charles Koch says Molex matches up well with his company's "culture and core capabilities." Koch owns a variety of businesses, including the paper and paper products maker Georgia-Pacific, and has annual sales of $115 billion.


State Board of Ed to Take Up Handwriting Standards

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State Board of Education members will decide this week whether the state's new handwriting standards will encourage schools to make sure that fifth- and sixth-graders can write legibly in cursive. The handwriting standards are on the board's agenda for a Tuesday meeting. State law requires the board to regularly update academic standards. Multistate academic standards adopted by Kansas in 2010 would require schools to teach young students cursive. Some educators question whether it's a necessary skill, when people are using computer and cellphone keyboards more in communicating. But cursive has its advocates, and a handful of states including Kansas have moved to include teaching it in their academic standards. The board will also review proposed standards for theater programs.

Central Park Neighborhood of Topeka Site of 7 Homicides in 6 Years

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The area surrounding a central Topeka home in which three people were found shot to death has seen four other homicides in a little over six years. But The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that some residents say the Central Park neighborhood is a good one that has improved in recent years. Topeka police still have not publicly listed any suspects in what they've described as the first quadruple homicide in the city's history. One female victim was found at a Topeka restaurant about a half-mile from her home, where the bodies of two men and a woman were found. The same home was the site of a teenage boy's shooting in September 2007. Also, shooting deaths occurred within several blocks in October 2009, August 2011 and June of this year.

Hayden High School Testing Students' Hair for Drugs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka high school has been testing students' hair to determine if they've been using drugs. Hayden High has been testing students for drug use for more than a year. Under the program, the school takes hair samples from randomly selected students once a month. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that in the 2012-13 school year, only about 2 percent of drug tests came back positive. The tests cost $39 per sample. Michael Monaghan, dean of students, says if a sample comes back positive for drug use, the school contacts parents and refers the student for a professional evaluation. The student is also barred from participating in or attending the school's extracurricular activities for a month. Students can decline to provide a sample, but that's treated the same as testing positive.

MO Sonic Restaurant Apologizes for Offensive Sign

BELTON, Mo. (AP) — A Sonic restaurant in a Kansas City suburb apologized and quickly removed a sign urging the Kansas City Chiefs to "scalp the Redskins." The Chiefs played the Washington Redskins Sunday afternoon. The sign outside the Sonic in Belton on Sunday also said the Chiefs should "feed them whiskey" and send them "2 the reservation." The Kansas City Star reports that a manager at the restaurant, who was not named, said the sign was inexcusable and wrong. It was removed after being displayed only about 15 minutes but not before a picture was posted on Twitter.

KSU Winter Commencement Scheduled

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — More than 1,800 students will receive their degrees from Kansas State University later this week. Commencement ceremonies are planned for Friday and Saturday on the Manhattan campus and Friday at the Salina campus. Kansas State says in a news release that it will award more than 1,400 bachelor's degrees, nearly 300 master's degrees, 90 doctorates and 16 associate degrees. About 150 people are earning their degrees through the university's distance education program. A webcast of the commencement ceremonies will be streamed live, and a virtual commencement ceremony is available for distance education students unable to attend their commencements in person.

5 House Fires in KC Area Blamed on Fireplace Problems

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Officials say at least five house fires in the Kansas City metro area over the weekend were caused by problems with fireplaces. The Kansas City Star reports that no one was injured in any of the fires. A fire at a Shawnee home Sunday started in a fireplace and caused $130,000 in damage. Kansas City, Kansas firefighters responded to two fires Saturday night that started in chimney flues or around fireplaces. On Friday night, a fire in an unattended fireplace damaged a Kansas City, Kan., home that was being remodeled. Also Friday night, Lee's Summit firefighters fought a house fire that started in a chimney flue. Fire officials are reminding people to have their fireplaces inspected before using them and to make sure they have working smoke alarms.


Southeast KS Superintendent Criticizes Funding of Reading Program

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A southeast Kansas school superintendent says he was shocked to learn Governor Sam Brownback was going to use welfare funds for a program aimed at raising fourth-grade reading scores. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Brownback recently announced a plan to take $12 million from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program to pay for the initiative in southeast Kansas. The administration has said the program is an appropriate use of TANF funds because studies show girls who read at grade level are less likely to become unwed mothers. But Erie-Galesburg Superintendent Steve Woolf says it's morally wrong to take food from people in need to pay for the program. Woolf's district wasn't included in the program, but he says even if it had been he would have turned it down.


Space Heater Suspected as Source of Deadly Fire

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita fire officials say a space heater plugged into an extension cord is the likely cause of a fire that killed an elderly man. A man in his 80s died in the house fire Sunday in east Wichita. Fire investigators say the victim and his son tried to put the fire out by themselves before trying to leave the house. The son was able to escape. This is the 11th fire death in Wichita this year. Last year, the city had five fire deaths.


Wichita Falconer Reunites with Golden Eagle

LYONS, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita falconer has been reunited with his golden eagle. The Wichita Eagle reports that Nate Mathews has been using birds of prey to hunt for the past decade. He took on the challenge of training a golden eagle named Isaiah in 2011. But a few days before the first hunt, the bird escaped. About 18 months later, Mathews heard of a golden eagle that had been trying to kill chickens and was beaten when it was trapped inside an Arizona coop. The captured bird was Isaiah. For much of this spring and summer, Mathews worked with Isaiah. Recently, Mathews made the two-hour drive to west of Lyons to test whether Isaiah would return or set off for parts unknown. Success. Isaiah returned to his handler every time.

KS Theater Plans to Promote Historic Roots

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas town wants to use a movie theater that is believed to be among the nation's oldest to tell the history of early cinema. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that newly discovered photos and newspaper clippings show that films have been shown at what is now The Plaza Grill and Cinema in Ottawa since 1905. Plans for promoting the building's history include adding interactive exhibits, memorabilia and a documentary. Plaza owner Peach Madl also envisions a new trolley system transporting people to the theater after they disembark from an excursion train that travels between Baldwin and Ottawa. Madl has started a fundraising campaign, and an anonymous donor has promised to match up to $50,000. The project also could be eligible for a state tourism destination grant.

Hutchinson Newspaper Nets 'Member of the Year' AP Award

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Hutchinson News was named the 2013 David R. Bradley Member of the Year Sunday, honoring both the paper's contributions to The Associated Press cooperative and its efforts to cover the impact of the health care overhaul on Kansans. AP editors lauded the News for its contributions to the Kansas wire and for its cooperation in a joint reporting project with AP examining the impact of the health care law on Kansas.


Search Continues for Missing Peruvian KU Student

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence police are searching for a 23-year-old University of Kansas student from Peru who hasn't been seen since early Saturday. Gianfranco Villagomez, an industrial design student from Lima, Peru, was last seen walking near 9th and Michigan streets in Lawrence about 2:30 am Saturday. His girlfriend, Donna Jo Harkrider, reported him missing about Saturday. Villagomez is about 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds. He has dark brown eyes, black hair and glasses. He was last seen wearing a blue shirt with a KU Jayhawk logo on it, a long sleeve gray shirt, a black jacket, jeans and white tennis shoes.

**this story has been updated. Please see above for the most recent information. 




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