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Regional Headlines for Monday, May 21, 2012



UPDATE: Federal Court Allows Lawmakers to Intervene in Remapping Lawsuit 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three federal judges are allowing at least 13 individuals to intervene in a lawsuit over the Kansas Legislature's failure to redraw the state's political boundaries. The judges decided Monday that Congressman Kevin Yoder and two legislators will be among those allowed to participate in the case. Yoder filed his request Monday morning, just before the hearing. The two legislators are House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, and Senate reapportionment committee chairman Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican. Secretary of State Kris Kobach has argued that the number of people allowed to intervene should be limited. But Presiding Judge Kathryn Vratil said the court wanted to make sure it did not limit the information it receives.


Kansas Lawmakers Approve $14.3B Budget, Adjourn

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have ended their contentious annual session after approving a $14.3 billion state budget. The Senate adjourned Sunday evening and the House wrapped up less than 30 minutes later. Both chambers finished after voting upon a compromise spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1st. The budget now goes to Governor Sam Brownback. The session was marked by an ongoing debate over cutting income taxes and whether it would boost the state's economy or leave the state with a catastrophic budget shortfall. Brownback is preparing to sign a bill that would cut top individual income tax rates and eliminate income taxes for the owners of 191,000 businesses.


State Representative Bob Bethell Killed in Automobile Accident 

PAXICO, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas state representative has died after a one-car accident in Wabaunsee County. The Kansas Highway Patrol says State Representative Bob Bethell, a Republican from Alden, died Sunday night when his car went off Interstate 70 near the Paxico exit. It hit several trees, overturned and ended up on its roof. WIBW reports Bethell was the only person in the car. The 69-year-old Bethell represented the 113th district since 1999. The district covers Rice County and parts of Reno and Butler counties. The accident occurred just hours after the Kansas Legislature ended a contentious session that went nine days longer than scheduled.


Kansas Chief Justice Cancels Court Furloughs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas courts will remain open through the rest of the 2012 fiscal year after legislators approved $1.1 million in supplemental funding to cover operating expenses. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss issued a statement Monday saying that the remaining four days of furloughs would be canceled after legislators approved the budget Sunday. The bill still must be signed by Governor Sam Brownback. Nuss ordered five furlough days this spring after it was evident that the court system would be short funding because fewer fees were collected on civil court filings. The courts closed one day in April and were set to close Thursday and Friday and two days in June to conserve revenues. The decision to keep the courts open affects about 1,600 judicial branch employees.


Larned Hospital Superintendent Resigns

LARNED, Kan. (AP) — The top official at Larned State Hospital has resigned after eight months leading the state's largest psychiatric facility. Christopher Burke joined the staff at the central Kansas facility in 2005. He was director of the sexual predator treatment program before being named superintendent last fall by then-Secretary of Social and Rehabilitation Services Rob Siedlecki. Current SRS Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said Monday that Burke was leaving for other career opportunities. Gilmore named Thomas Kinlen interim director. Kinlen has been on the Larned staff since 2003, serving as director of psychology since 2008. Kansas lawmakers have approved funding increases for the hospital to help ease difficulties in recruiting doctors, nurses and other staff.

Kansas Native One of 2 Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AP) — One of two soldiers killed Friday in Afghanistan was a Kansas native stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. The Defense Department identified the men  Monday as 28-year-old Sergeant Michael J. Knapp of Overland Park and 23-year-old Sergeant Jabraun S. Knox of Fort Wayne, Indiana. They were assigned to the 1st Battalion (Air Assault), 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade. Afghan officials said they were killed by enemy rocket fire that also killed three civilians. Four others were wounded when the rocket struck the base in Nari district of Kunar province. The area is a haven for insurgents fighting along the poorly marked border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Knapp previously served in Kosovo and two deployments in Iraq. Knox previously deployed in Iraq. Their unit deployed to Afghanistan in October.

KS Lawmakers Nix Use of State Funds on Higher Ed Remedial Courses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators want to provide more help for college students who struggle academically, but without having the state pay for remedial courses at its universities. The House approved a bill on a 116-0 vote Sunday to accomplish both goals, sending it to Governor Sam Brownback. The Senate had approved the bill Saturday, 34-0. The measure would prohibit universities from using state funds to provide remedial courses. Some lawmakers argue that cutting off state funds will encourage parents to make sure students are ready for college. But the bill also would require universities to work with students admitted under exceptions to state admissions standards. Students would be required to develop individual plans for success with university staff. The bill also would reduce the exceptions allowed at the state's three largest universities.

County Treasurers Expect Lines to Diminish as Workers Adapt to New Computer System

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — County treasurers across Kansas say long lines caused by a new computer system will be gone once the kinks are worked out of the $40 million upgrade. Until then, residents who want to renew their vehicle tags or pay sales taxes will just have to be patient as state employees learn the new system and dig out from a week's worth of work that went undone while the system was being installed. Division of Motor Vehicle director Donna Shelite says many counties have mastered the system, but some of the state's larger counties are scrambling to catch up. Johnson County treasurer Tom Franzen urges residents to take care of business online or through the mail, at least for now, to help speed things up.


Johnson County Whooping Cough Outbreak Appears to Expand 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Johnson County health officials are investigating 111 cases of whooping cough reported since January. The health department issued a warning last week about the outbreak, urging residents to get the vaccine. The Kansas City Star reports Johnson County and state health officials received the reports from laboratories, doctors, schools and elsewhere. It could turn out that some of the cases are not whooping cough. The Johnson County health department received reports of only 11 whooping cough cases all of last year. Most of the first cases came from southern Johnson County but it has become more widespread recently. A majority of the cases are in youngsters from fifth through eighth grades but all ages have been affected.


Chinese Company to Purchase AMC Theatre Chain

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese conglomerate has announced it will buy U.S. cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings for $2.6 billion to create the world's biggest movie theater operator. Dalian Wanda Group said Monday it is willing to invest an additional $500 million to fund AMC's strategic and operating initiatives. Wanda said AMC's headquarters will remain in the Kansas City area and day-to-day operations will remain unchanged. Privately owned Wanda operates hotels, department stores, tourism and other businesses. Its assets include 86 theaters in China and film production and distribution businesses.


Fort Riley Soldier's Death Ruled Accidental 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Riley County police say a Fort Riley soldier's death at his Manhattan home apparently was caused by an accidental drug overdose. Twenty-four-year-old Derek H. Holgersen was found dead at his apartment on May 18. Riley County police Captain Kurt Moldrup announced Monday that preliminary autopsy reports indicate Holgersen died from an accidental drug overdose. Moldrup says another tenant found Holgersen's body.


KSU Dismisses Senior Curator of Art Museum 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The ouster of the senior curator of Kansas State's Beach Museum of Art is raising concerns about whether the museum's mission will change. But officials say the museum will continue to focus on collecting Kansas and Midwestern art. Bill North, senior curator at the museum since 1995, was removed from the job in March. The Manhattan Mercury reported Sunday that North was not given a reason for the ouster but he thinks the museum wants to focus on programming rather than collecting art. Kansas State President Kirk Schulz and museum leaders say that's not true. Schulz says the museum's mission has not changed. The officials declined to say specifically why North was reassigned to do a research project and told he could not represent the museum.


Farmers Test-Cutting Wheat in Southern KS 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Farmers are beginning to test-cut some winter wheat fields in southern Kansas with harvest likely to start within days. Steve Inslee, general manager of the OK Coop Grain Company in Kiowa, said Monday that early test-cuttings show the wheat is still not dry enough to harvest. Still, he expects farmers in that area to be cutting in earnest by Wednesday. The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 14 percent of the wheat in south-central Kansas and 19 percent in the southeast has matured. The rate is 5 percent statewide. But the wheat's condition is declining. The agency says 22 percent of the crop is now rated in poor to very poor condition. About 35 percent is in fair shape, with 36 percent rated good and 7 percent rated excellent.


Former Thayer City Clerk Admits Embezzling $120,000

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former southeastern Kansas city clerk has admitted embezzling $120,000 in a deal with federal prosecutors to pay the money back. Forty-nine-year-old Laura Whittley was accused of stealing from the city of Thayer in a scheme that continued until July of last year. The U.S. attorney's office says Whittley pleaded guilty Monday to one count each of bank fraud and money laundering. She faces sentencing August 13. Whittley admitted pocketing cash paid by residents for utility bills, municipal court payments, park fees and wildlife licenses and permits. She also issued additional paychecks to herself, paid personal bills from city funds, charged personal expenses to the city and submitted fraudulent bills for cleanup work after a storm in May 2009.


KS Doctor and Clinic Agree to Pay Feds $1.5 Million

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a Wichita doctor and his company have agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle allegations of submitting false claims to the Medicare program. Dr. Roger W. Evans and EECP Heart Center of Kansas operated several clinics providing so-called enhanced counterpulsation therapy for coronary artery disease. The government contends that from 2005 through 2009, Evans submitted claims for procedures performed at clinics without his presence or direct supervision as required by Medicare. As part of the deal announced Monday, Evans and his company do not admit wrongdoing.

Edwardsville 3-Year-Old Drowns

EDWARDSVILLE, Kan. (AP) — An eastern Kansas family is mourning the death of a 3-year-old who was found at the bottom of their backyard swimming pool. Police say all signs indicate Lucien Mellott of Edwardsville was the victim of a tragic accident, but they're awaiting autopsy results before declaring a cause of death. KSHB reports that Lucien's father, Frank, blames himself for forgetting to close a gate leading to the pool. The boy had lived with the Mellott family since he was 6 months old, but he was legally adopted in March to become a permanent member. Michelle Mellott says she hopes her son's death serves as a lesson to others that they need to be diligent at all times so they don't have to suffer through the same pain she is experiencing.

KHP Trooper Sustains Minor Injury in Collision

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Highway Patrol trooper was injured after an SUV struck his patrol car while he was attempting to stop another vehicle in southwest Kansas. KAKE-TV reports the crash happened around 11:30pm Saturday in Liberal. The trooper, 38-year-old James Parr, called for backup after a Lincoln SUV driven by a 19-year-old Liberal resident struck his car. The patrol says Parr suffered a small cut to his head and was taken to a Liberal hospital for treatment. He was released and wasn't expected to miss any work. Neither the driver of the SUV nor her 18-year-old passenger was hurt in the crash.

Tornado Damages Homes in Harper; No Known Injuries

HARPER, Kan. (AP) — A tornado in Kansas has damaged several homes in Harper, including one where a roof was ripped off. No injuries have been reported. National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Smith says that the tornado that touched down Saturday night was on the ground "for a good while." Smith says one farmhouse had "pretty bad" damage and a couple other homes were damaged too. He says the roof was ripped off one. Smith says teams will likely be out Sunday assessing damage. Harper is about 50 miles southwest of Wichita. The weather service's Storm Prediction Center logged 17 reports of tornadoes in Kansas on Saturday night, almost all around Wichita.


Ex-Officer Accused of Taking Poster of Arizona Sheriff

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former southeast Kansas police officer is accused of stealing a framed poster of a controversial Arizona sheriff while executing a search warrant for narcotics. A criminal information filed Monday in federal court charges 42-year-old Spencer Coate with a misdemeanor count of depriving a citizen of his constitutional rights. The document says Coate was taking part in a search for drugs at a Galena building in June 2009 when he took the poster of Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County. Arpaio is known nationwide for his tough talk and hardline stance on illegal immigration. Coate is also accused of stealing a framed print of a duck. Coate's attorney, Robin Fowler, said he would make the "appropriate comment" in court. Galena Police Chief Larry Delmont says Coate was fired in May 2010. 

Brownback to Address Wind Energy Conference

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is scheduled to speak at a national wind energy conference next month. The Wichita Eagle reports that Brownback will speak at the American Wind Energy Association Windpower 2012 conference next month in Atlanta. The conference is set for June 3 through June 6. Brownback will speak about what wind power has meant to Kansas. Other Kansas companies and agencies also at the conference include Kansas Department of Commerce, Siemens and Black & Veatch. AWEA said Kansas ranks 14th nationally in overall wind installation.

Biotech Group to Bring Livestock Summit to KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A national biotechnology group is planning an event focused on livestock this fall in Kansas City. The Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization says the Livestock Biotech Summit will include workshops focused on uses for genetically engineered animals. The event is scheduled for September 19-21. Participants will include industry, academic and government leaders. They will talk about issues such as the regulatory process for genetically engineered animals and public and private funding opportunities.

Proposed Development Forces Closure of Lawrence Mobile Home Park

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Residents of a mobile home park in Lawrence are sadly saying goodbye as they move out to make way for a student apartment complex. Gaslight Mobile Home Village in Lawrence once had about 150 trailers, but residents were told in November the park's owners were selling the property. The new owner, Aspen Heights, plans to build townhouses for about 1,000 University of Kansas students. The trailer park's owners say residents don't have a deadline to be out of the park because the deal with the developers is still being negotiated. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that so far, about 10 residents have relocated. The property owners are paying the moving expenses for people who relocate to another mobile home park in Lawrence.

Skid Loader Used in Wichita Copper Theft

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are looking for thieves who broke into a Westar warehouse and used a skid loader to haul off thousands of dollars in copper. The theft was reported just before 9 o'clock Saturday morning. Police say someone cut a chain-link fence and forced their way into the warehouse late Friday or early Saturday. The skid loader was later found abandoned in a field. Police say the case illustrates a problem they've been dealing with for a while, with copper thefts on the rise in recent months. There also have been several reports of more air conditioner units stolen. No suspects were in custody Sunday afternoon, and police declined to place a value on the stolen copper.


A Year after Tornado, Reading Sees Recovery

READING, Kan. (AP) — A year after a tornado dealt what some thought was a final blow to the east-central Kansas community of Reading, residents are proud of their recovery. An EF-3 tornado hit the Lyon County community last May 21. It killed one person, demolished 54 of the town's 101 homes, nearly all of its businesses and its post office. The damage was estimated at more than $2.2 million. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports only two families didn't rebuild and all the town's businesses stayed. Only post office's fate is uncertain, and that's because the U.S. Postal Service has not decided whether to rebuild it. City Council president Bill Paige says the town is planning a new community building, with a safe room and large meeting space, in the city park.

After 134 Years, Friars to Leave Hays Parish

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — After 134 years of service, the Capuchin-Franciscan friars will return the ministry of a Hays parish to the Diocese of Salina. The Mid-America Province of Capuchins will continue to serve St. Joseph's Parish until new Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger appoints a new pastor. The Salina Journal reports the friars will continue serving parishes in Victoria, Catherine, Antonino, Schoenchen, Walker and Vincent. They also will continue to help with Catholic education at Thomas More Prep-Marian and rest home and retreat ministries. The Capuchins arrived in western Kansas to serve German immigrants and eventually expanded into other ministries.


Kansas Inmate Pleads Guilty to Molesting Oklahoma Child

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A Kansas prison inmate serving nearly two decades for molesting a 4-month-old has admitted sexually abusing a 10-month-old girl in Oklahoma and could face a life prison term in that state. Roderick Donnell Davis pleaded guilty last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma to two counts of child sexual abuse and one count of manufacturing child pornography. He is scheduled to be sentenced in Tulsa on July 12. The 46-year-old Leavenworth, Kansas man admitted molesting a baby who was left in his care in January 2011 while he was in Oklahoma for a family funeral. The Tulsa World reports Davis also used his cellphone to record images of himself sexually abusing the baby. Davis is serving 23 1/2 years in Kansas for molesting a 4-month-old girl in March 2011.

1 Person Wounded by Gunshot Fired from Minivan

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Independence police are looking for someone who shot one person from a minivan in what appears to be a random attack in the Kansas City suburb. Police say they began hearing several reports of gunshots after 1am Sunday in the northwest part of Independence. The Kansas City Star reports one person was hit by a gunshot near U.S. 25 and Kentucky Road. Witnesses described the vehicle carrying the shooter as a silver or light-gray minivan with a dark stripe on the side.

Hunter Education Conference Set for KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hunting experts are convening in Kansas City later this month for a conference on hunter education. About 300 members of the International Hunter Education Association are scheduled to gather in Kansas City from May 29 through June 2 for their annual conference. Speakers at the conference will include Bill Creighton, president and CEO of the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports, and Donny Adair, president of the African American Hunting Association, who will lead a seminar on diversity.

Missouri Southern Extends Tuition Plan to Nearby States

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Southern State University has approved in-state tuition rates for students who live in portions of Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Illinois. The university said Friday that the new plan gives the in-state rate of about $169 per credit hour to students as far west as Wichita, and as far south as Fort Smith, Arkansas. It also extends into Oklahoma and Illinois. The new plan, which takes effect this fall, replaces the former Non-Resident Scholarship, which had been available for qualifying out-of-state students. The new plan, however, is also available to both full- and part-time students.

Wichita Theater Restoration Receives $1 Million Gift

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 30-year effort to preserve and renovate a historic Wichita theater has received a major boost. Longtime Wichita philanthropist Jean Garvey was on hand at the Orpheum Theatre last week to celebrate a $1 million donation from the Willard and Jean Garvey Trust. The Wichita Eagle reports it's the largest single gift to date for the ongoing modernization of the 90-year-old theater. Theater president Jennifer Wright says the gift will help launch another phase of the project. Part of the Garvey donation will go toward planning and architectural drawings. Jean Garvey was born in in 1922, the year the Orpheum was built. She attended movies and other performances there throughout her youth and wants to see it restored as the crown jewel of Wichita's arts and cultural community.


Federal Court Hearing Planned in Kansas Remap Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is opposing an attempt by a state senator and others to get involved in a federal lawsuit over the state Legislature's failure to redraw political boundaries. Kobach filed written arguments Monday, ahead of a court hearing in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas. He is the defendant in the lawsuit, filed earlier this month by Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe. The hearing Monday deals with requests from at least nine people to intervene. They include Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican, and area business leaders and residents. They argue neither Kobach nor Essex can represent their interests. Kobach disputes their arguments and says their involvement would delay a resolution of the case.

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

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