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Regional Headlines for Monday, July 16, 2012



US Drought Grows to Cover Widest Area Since 1956

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A new report shows the drought gripping the United States is the widest since 1956. The monthly State of the Climate drought report released Monday by the National Climatic Data Center says 55 percent of the continental U.S. is in a moderate to extreme drought. That's the most since December 1956, when 58 percent of the country was covered by drought. This year, 80 percent of the U.S. is abnormally dry, and the drought expanded last month with the 14th warmest and 10th driest June on record going back to 1895. The nation's corn and soybean belt has been especially hard hit. The report says Midwest has experienced its seventh warmest and 10th driest April-to-June period. And it says crops, pastures and rangeland have deteriorated at an alarming rate.


Kansas Nursing Homes Concerned with New Voter Identification Law Requirements

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Managers of some Kansas nursing homes say they are concerned that their residents might not have the paperwork required to vote under the state's new voter identification laws. State election officials are working with the nursing homes to help residents navigate the new system but some managers say they are still waiting for support.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that residents of Westview Manor in Peabody have had their issues solved. But other homes are waiting for the secretary of state or county officials to help their residents comply with new voter ID and proof of citizenship laws.  Secretary of State Kris Kobach says Monday that his office is instructing county election officers to help nursing homes comply with the law. Kobach says the Peabody home was not given special treatment.

Federal Government Expanding State Access to Immigration Data

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Federal officials are expanding access to an immigration database so that several states can use it to cleanse voter rolls. The Homeland Security Department first notified Florida officials last week that they could check to see if registered voters are actually noncitizens who should not be eligible to cast a ballot. State officials said Monday that Homeland Security representatives are now offering similar access to other states who had been requesting the information. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler had renewed his request for the data last week, writing a letter with the support of several other states. He said Monday he was pleased that the federal government had agreed to work with states on the issue. Elections leaders in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah have also requested database access.


Union Files Objection to Hawker Beechcraft Deal

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The machinists union is opposing Hawker Beechcraft's efforts to enter into exclusive talks with a Chinese firm for the sale of its civilian aircraft operations. A motion filed Monday in U.S. bankruptcy court in New York asks the judge to deny a request seeking up to 45 days to negotiate with Superior Aviation Beijing Company, for the sale of the Kansas manufacturer for $1.79 billion. Superior has agreed to pay $50 million during the exclusivity period to cover operating costs for the business jet company while the deal is finalized. The union contends the proposed sale to a Chinese government-backed entity has implications for the U.S. economy and national security. It also objects because Superior would not assume pension obligations. Hawker Beechcraft says it will issue a statement later.


Kansas AG Seeks to Join Opposition to Dead-Zone Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas attorney general is opposing efforts by environmental groups that want new regulations on farm runoff that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Monday he's seeking to intervene in opposition to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Louisiana earlier this year. The lawsuit aims to force the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new regulations on runoff that flows into the Gulf from farms, ranches and sewage systems in Kansas and other states in the Mississippi River basin. The lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups says the runoff hurts the Gulf's commercial and recreational fishing industry. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Schmidt says he wants to defend Kansas interests. Other states and ag groups have also sought to intervene.


Analysis: Kansas Remap Fight Looms As Campaign Issue

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature's bitter impasse over redistricting could become an issue in election campaigns this year. The state's major political factions are attempting to assign blame for a stalemate that forced federal judges to redraw political boundaries. The lawsuit may stick taxpayers with big legal bills. Democrats, conservative Republicans and GOP moderates are all working to have voters accept their preferred narratives to explain why the Legislature failed to pass a single new political map. The impasse led to a federal lawsuit, and three judges redrew congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts to account for population changes over the past decade. The judges still must determine which of the people who sued will have their legal bills covered by the state. Attorneys have filed requests totaling more than $669,000.


Inmates Who Escaped Kansas Jail Face New Charges

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three of the four inmates who broke out of a north-central Kansas jail in April will be back in court in the coming weeks on new charges related to their escape. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has charged three of the inmates with aggravated escape from custody and aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer. The three are Santos M. Carrera-Morales, 22; Drew Edward Wade, 23; and Alberto Jon Barraza-Lujan, 23. The three have court dates scheduled in August and September to hear the new charges. Schmidt's spokesman, Jeff Wagaman, says Monday that potential charges are still being reviewed for a fourth inmate, 22-year-old Eric James. The inmates were being housed in the Ottawa County Jail in effort to relieve overcrowding at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility.


Report: More Than Half of Kansas Corn Crop in Poor Condition

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new government report is painting a grim snapshot of the drought's effects on farms across Kansas. Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that more than half of the state's corn crop is in poor to very poor condition. Soybean and sorghum crops are faring only slightly better with more than 40 percent of both those Kansas crops also in poor to very poor condition. The misery extends beyond the field crops as livestock producers struggle with dried up pastures and shrinking hay and stock water supplies. The agency estimates 78 percent of the range and pasture land in Kansas is in poor to very poor shape. Hay and forage supplies are 57 percent short. Stock water is short to very short across 55 percent of Kansas.


Veterinarian's Lawsuit Against Topeka Zoo Goes to Trial

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A discrimination lawsuit filed against the Topeka Zoo by a veterinarian goes to trial this week.  Veterinarian Shirley Yeo Llizo alleges in the lawsuit that she was fired from the zoo in 2009 because she is a female of Chinese ancestry who is a naturalized U.S. citizen. She alleges the city did not fire American-born employees of different race and/or gender. The city has denied the allegations.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Llizo got her job back in 2010, after an arbitrator ruled the city should not have dismissed her. Former Topeka city manager Norton Bonaparte and former zoo director Mike Coker are scheduled to testify in the trial in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas. It starts Tuesday and is expected to last about a week.


Northeastern Kansas Train Derailment Cleanup Completed

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Railroad crews have finished cleaning up after several railcars carrying coal derailed in eastern Kansas. Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis told The Topeka Capital Journal that the coal cars derailed Sunday near the town of Perry. No injuries were reported. Davis says the train was traveling from Wyoming to Kentucky when seven of the 135 railcars derailed. He says one line reopened later Sunday, and crews had to replace about 500 feet of damaged track on another line, which reopened early Monday. The cause of the derailment remains under investigation.

Garmin to Pay $500K to Settle Patent Infringement

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A unit of Olathe-based Garmin Limited has been ordered to pay $500,000 to settle a patent infringement lawsuit. The Kansas City Star reported that the damages were awarded by a jury in a Texas court to Ambato Media LLC., which had sued Garmin International Incorporated. Garmin said in a statement Friday that the verdict stated Ambato Media LLC.'s patent was infringed over the use of a television receiver service called MSN Direct. Garmin says that it discontinued using these personal navigation devices in 2010 and that the MSN Direct service was closed in January. Garmin says the verdict wouldn't affect current products and services. Garmin vice president and general counsel Andrew Etkind said in a statement that the company is pleased that Ambato's demand for "exorbitant damages" was rejected.

Kansas National Guard Signal Unit Activates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new Kansas Army National Guard unit has been activated to give the guard additional communications capabilities. The 369th Brigade Signal Company, which held a formal activation ceremony Saturday, is the first signal company in the Kansas National Guard. The 39 soldiers of the unit are commanded by Captain Gabriel Brockman and are based in Kansas City, Kansas. According to the adjutant general's department, the unit's mission is to provide high-speed digital voice and data networks to support the communication needs of the 287th Sustainment Brigade, headquartered in Wichita. The signal company will assist subordinate units, through radio retransmission and satellite communication. Major General Lee Tafanelli, state adjutant general, says the unit will be beneficial to the National Guard whether deployed to combat or responding to state missions.


Shawnee County Judge Daniel L. Mitchell to Retire

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Shawnee County District Court Judge Daniel L. Mitchell is retiring. Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Mitchell has served in the court's juvenile division since 1985. His retirement takes effect August 31st. He says he was fortunate to spend his judicial career in juvenile court because it provided him the opportunity to assist children in "their time of need." Mitchell served on numerous committees and commissions, including one established in the 1980s to end revolving door placement of foster children. Governor Sam Brownback will pick Mitchell's successor from the three names provided by a nominating commission. The Kansas Supreme Court says the seven-member commission has set an August 17th deadline for applicants.


Sprint Activates New Wireless Data Network 

NEW YORK (AP) — Sprint says it has turned on its new wireless data network, providing a much-needed boost to the carrier, whose data speeds lag those of its largest competitors. Sprint fired up the fourth-generation, or 4G, network in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, San Antonio and some smaller surrounding cities on Sunday. It uses "LTE," or "Long-Term Evolution," technology already in use by Verizon Wireless and AT&T. Four smartphones and one "mobile hotspot" are capable of using the network. PC Magazine got early access to the network a month ago, and found that it's not quite as fast as Verizon's and AT&T's equivalents, but a big step up from Sprint Nextel's older 3G, or third-generation, network and the 4G access it rents from Clearwire Corporation.


FBI Names New Agent for Kansas City Area

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The FBI has named a new special agent to lead the agency's Kansas City office. The FBI said in a release Monday that Michael Kaste replaces Brian Truchon, who has been assigned to the bureau's information technology engineering division. Kaste has been with the FBI since 1988, most recently at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he was chief of the internal investigations section.

Former Team Owner Sentenced for Tax Evasion

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The former owner of a minor league basketball team has been sentenced to about four years in federal prison for tax evasion and bank fraud in Kansas. Federal prosecutors say 52-year-old James Clark of Overland Park, was sentenced Monday to four years and three months after pleading guilty earlier to federal charges. He's accused of withholding employees' payroll taxes, but then failing to pay the money to the Internal Revenue Service. Clark also admitted submitting false information to a bank when he applied and received a line of credit worth more than $1 million. Clark owned the Kansas City Knights, who played in the early 2000s in Kansas City, Missouri. He was also ordered to pay more than $1.3 million in restitution.


Sedgwick County Officials Warn of Court Phone Scam

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Sedgwick County District Court is warning residents about a phone scam in which someone claims to be from the court. The Wichita Eagle reports that the court has published a warning on its website that says the scammers claim to be representing the court and ask people for their personal information, such as social security numbers or credit card information. Sedgwick County District Court Chief Judge James Fleetwood says the court never calls people and asks for such information. Fleetwood says some jurors have also reported prank calls in which they receive a message saying they're going to be fined for failing to appear in a timely manner for jury duty. Nebraska court officials have reported similar calls. Fleetwood says information about the prank has been turned over to authorities.


Coca-Cola Breaks Ground on New Joplin Facility

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — The Coca-Cola Co. has broken ground on a new distribution facility in Joplin, more than a year after a deadly tornado delayed its original expansion plans. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon joined local officials and Coca-Cola representatives Monday for a ceremony marking the start of construction. Coca-Cola had planned to open a new distribution center in Joplin last year. But after a tornado struck the city and destroyed several schools, the company gave up its new space so it could be used as the site of a temporary middle school. The company's new building now is expected to be complete in 2013. It will serve as a hub for Coca-Cola operations in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas. The state Economic Development Department approved nearly $220,000 of incentives for the project.

Wind Topples Tree at Kansas Swim Meet; 5 Injured

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Five people are recovering from injuries suffered when a large tree toppled onto a group of people attending a swim meet in the south-central Kansas town of Winfield. The Winfield Fire Department says four of the injured were taken to hospitals in Winfield and Wichita. The Wichita Eagle reported that one of the injured people didn't require hospital treatment. Fire Captain Stuart Cassaboom says it appeared that the trunk of the tree snapped about 6 feet above the ground when a strong wind gust hit it Friday. Broadcaster KAKE-TV reported that the meet was suspended after the tree toppled, but swimmers returned the following day to finish the competition. The station says the injuries included broken bones.


UPDATE: Man Charged with Killing 2 NW Missouri Sisters

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 31-year-old Missouri man has been charged with first-degree murder in the killing of two sisters from northwest Missouri. Platte County Attorney Eric Zahnd says Clifford D. Miller of Trimble, Missouri, was charged Monday in the deaths of 19-year-old Britny Haarup and 22-year-old Ashley Key on Friday. The women's bodies were found late Sunday near Trimble in Clinton County. They were reported missing Friday after Haarup's fiance, Matt Meyers, found his 6- and 18-month old daughters alone at the home they shared in Edgerton, about 35 miles north of Kansas City. A truck missing from the home was found parked on a gravel road Saturday, prompting authorities to search the surrounding fields.

Hawker Beechcraft Just the Latest Aircraft Company to Team with Chinese Firms

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Last week's announcement that Hawker Beechcraft has reached a deal with a Chinese firm for the sale of its civilian operations exemplifies emerging realities in one of the few remaining strongholds of American manufacturing. Wichita plane makers build more than half of all general aviation aircraft delivered globally each year. But the global economic recession was hard on the industry, and Chinese firms are showing an interest in some beleaguered companies. Cessna Aircraft Company has said it foresees China becoming one of the top 10 countries for business jet ownership by 2025. Cessna in March signed a deal with a Chinese manufacturer for the final assembly, sales and customer support for the Cessna Caravan in China for the Chinese market. A Chinese firm also bought Cirrus Aircraft last year.

4 Church Burglaries Reported in Cowley County

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Cowley County authorities say they believe burglaries at one church in Arkansas City and three churches in Winfield during the weekend are connected. Investigators say cash was stolen from all four churches and the thieves did significant damage to the buildings. The thieves hit Hillcrest Baptist Church in Arkansas City on Friday, stealing electronic equipment and money intended to send youths to camp. Winfield police are investigating a burglary on Saturday at the Nazarene Church. Burglaries also were discovered Sunday morning at Trinity Lutheran Church and First Christian Church.


Van Gogh Reproduction in Goodland Getting Facelift

GOODLAND, Kan. (AP) — Goodland's landmark reproduction of a famous Vincent van Gogh picture is getting a facelift. Canadian artist Cameron Cross is repairing the damage to the reproduction "Three Sunflowers in a Vase" caused by more than a decade of exposure to harsh Kansas weather. Cross installed the 24-foot-by-32-foot reproduction, on top of an 80-foot easel, near Interstate 70 in 2000. The Wichita Eagle reports that since then, the reproduction has become one of the most well-known pieces of public art in Kansas. People traveling nearby on the interstate often stop and take pictures. Cross' goal is to reproduce all seven of van Gogh's sunflower paintings in seven countries. So far, he's installed others in Canada and Australia. He says it will take at least two weeks to repair Goodland's painting.

KU Researcher Hopes to Use Wastewater to Create Biofuel

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A University of Kansas researcher is using wastewater to manufacture biofuel. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that assistant professor Belinda Sturm grows algae in nitrogen- and phosphorus-laden Lawrence wastewater. Normally, the wastewater is discharged into the Kansas River after it's treated. Instead, the resulting algae and water mixture is refined to a slurry. The substance then is processed to capture lipids — an oily compound like soybean oil — for manufacture of biofuel. Engineering professor Dennis Lane says the wastewater-to-algae approach could help communities comply with federal regulations being drafted. Those regulations are expected to reduce the concentrations of phosphorous and nitrogen permitted in water leaving treatment facilities. Sturm's project has won an award from the Academy of Environmental Engineers. Lane says the challenge is making the approach commercially competitive.


KC Homeowners Considering Buyout Offers as Plans Proceed for New Police Station

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Plans for a new $57 million police station in east Kansas City are forcing residents to move out of a four-square-block area of the city. Most of the residents whose homes will be razed to make way for the station have accepted buyout offers and are moving away from the once-thriving neighborhood. But a few people are holding out, either because they believe they haven't been offered enough money or because they want to stay in their longtime homes. The Kansas City Star reports that homeowners lived in half of the 66 occupied properties. The city's full cost of acquiring the land is not known because some deals aren't complete. The new police station is still in the design stage and construction is not scheduled to begin until 2013.


Ellis County Considers FHSU Wind Turbine Project

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — County leaders in western Kansas are considering whether to allow Fort Hays State University to install wind turbines. The Hays Daily News reported that Ellis County commissioners will take up a wind-energy related conditional-use permit at their Monday night meeting. Fort Hays State University has proposed the project, which includes two 2.1 megawatt turbines. Last month, the county's planning and zoning commission gave the project a conditional recommendation. Plans call for the turbines to be placed 3.5 miles south of Fort Hays State. They are projected to provide 97-percent of the university's electrical needs.


Basset Hounds Returned to Wichita Couple, 5 Years Later

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Brenda Travis and Tom Shields gave up hope of ever seeing their dogs again, after the animals were stolen five years ago from their home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  But on Saturday, the dogs, called "Allie" and "Bama," were back with their owners, who now live in Wichita.  Travis says she got a call last Wednesday from the Paulding County animal shelter in Dallas, Georgia. The dogs had been turned into the shelter and, fortunately, Bama had been microchipped. That allowed the shelter to trace their owners. The Wichita Eagle reports that friends and volunteers on Facebook organized a way to bring the dogs nearly 1,000 miles to reunite them with their owners.

Bodies Found in Search for 2 Missouri Sisters

EDGERTON, Mo. (AP) — Authorities in Platte County, Missouri, say officials have found the bodies of two women in a field after officials interrogated "a suspect in the disappearance of Britny Haarup and Ashley Key." The Kansas City Star reported late Sunday that the bodies were found near Trimble, Missouri, in Clinton County. Platte County Sheriff's Captain Erik Holland told the newspaper the bodies were those of white women but he could not immediately confirm the victims' identities or how they had died. Haarup, 19, and Key, 22, were reported missing Friday from Haarup's Edgerton home. Holland said authorities "were led" to the area where the bodies were found by talking to the suspect in case, whom he did not identify. "That individual is under arrest and in custody," he said.

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


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