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Regional Headlines for Monday, September 2, 2013


Kansas Special Session Raises New Sentencing Issues

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators plan to make quick work of fixing the state's "Hard 50" criminal sentencing law during their special session this week. But their discussions ahead of Tuesday's opening gavels have raised other issues about punishing murderers. Lawmakers from both parties see widespread agreement on legislation to rewrite the law allowing convicted murderers to be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in June raised questions about the law's constitutionality. But in working on the quick fix last week, legislators already were pondering whether a repaired "Hard 50" law is tough enough. That, in turn, is likely to spur debate about the Kansas death penalty law, which was enacted in 1994 but so far has resulted in no executions.

Kansas Governor Plans Special Session Barbecue

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is having a barbecue for Kansas legislators after they open their special session, and he's made sure reporters are invited, too. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley says the governor's social get-together for lawmakers is Tuesday evening at Cedar Crest, the governor's official residence. The invitation to reporters is noteworthy because of private dinners last year at Cedar Crest for members of 13 legislative committees. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor later publicly scolded lawmakers for what he called technical violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act. The special session called by Brownback convenes Tuesday morning. Lawmakers are rewriting a law allowing convicted murderers to be sentenced to at least 50 years in prison because a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision raised questions about its constitutionality.

Kansas Senate Confirmation Votes Expected Wednesday

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Majority Leader Terry Bruce says he expects the Kansas Senate to vote Wednesday on confirming three state Board of Regents members and other appointments by Governor Sam Brownback. The Legislature is convening a special session Tuesday to rewrite a state law that allows convicted murderers to be sentenced to at least 50 years in prison. But the Senate is legally obligated to consider pending appointments. Bruce says committees will consider appointments Tuesday so the full Senate can vote on all of them Wednesday. The appointees include new regents Shane Bangerter of Dodge City, Helen Van Etten of Topeka and Ann Murguia of Kansas City, Kansas. Also facing confirmation votes are Secretary of Administration Jim Clark and Securities Commissioner Josh Ney.

Analysis: Process Stirs Angst in Kansas Court Nomination Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's critics have focused more on the process that led him to nominate his chief counsel to the Kansas Court of Appeals than on whether the nominee is qualified. The Kansas Senate expects to vote this week on Brownback's appointment of Caleb Stegall to the state's second-highest court. He's likely to win confirmation by a wide margin because the governor's fellow GOP conservatives hold a Senate supermajority. Much criticism of Stegall's nomination has centered instead on Brownback's refusal to release the names of other candidates so the applicants can be compared. Conservative Republicans' control of the Senate would automatically smooth the way for any Court of Appeals nominee's confirmation. But a large vote in Stegall's favor seems even more certain because he's not being attacked directly.


Police Looking for Suspect in Deputy Shooting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are searching for a man who they say shot and wounded a Butler County Sheriff's deputy early Monday morning. Police say the suspect is 41-year-old Jan Tracy Kilbourne. Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet told KWCH that a deputy pulled over a car around 5 am on U.S. Highway 54, about 16 miles east of Wichita. Herzet said the deputy ran a warrant check on the three people inside and returned to the car when one of the passengers got out and fired at the deputy, striking him in the shoulder. He said the deputy returned fire and hit the man, who ran off afterward. The Wichita Eagle reported the deputy was treated and released from a hospital. His name hasn't been released. The other two people are in custody.


Storms Leave Thousands Without Power in KC Area

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Crews are working to restore power to thousands in the Kansas City area after strong storms hit the area. Kansas City Power and Light spokesman Courtney Hughley says the outages affected about 14,000 customers scattered throughout the metropolitan area. The Kansas City Star reports that Hughley didn't have a time estimate of when power would be fully restored. National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Blair says the strongest storms moved through the area between 7 and 8 am Sunday. The storms brought lightning and wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour. Police departments also reported downed trees throughout the area, but no serious injuries.

Geary County Land Sale Draws Scant Interest

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Geary County is having trouble unloading housing lots that were partially developed in expectation of a population boom from the return of the Army's 1st Infantry Division to Fort Riley. Developers abandoned the lots when the boom failed to materialize, and hundreds of sites are now in tax delinquency. The Daily Union in Junction City reports a recent tax sale of 280 lots ended with just 24 sold, for a total of about $2,300. Some lots already have streets, water and other infrastructure. But many potential buyers were put off by special assessments of up to $2,000 a year on each parcel for 15 years. For now, the county remains in the realty business, when what officials really want is to get the properties back on the tax rolls.


UPDATE: Authorities Find Man's Body in Kansas River

EDWARDSVILLE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have found a man's body in the Kansas River downstream from where a man went missing. Kansas City, Kansas police said in a news release that the discovery was made around 12:30 p.m. Monday. Authorities are still working on positively identifying the victim and notifying has family. Authorities received a report early Sunday that a man had disappeared while swimming in the river, which is also known as the Kaw. Emergency crews scoured the river and its bank throughout the day Sunday and then returned Monday to continue the search.


UPDATE: Man Arrested in Missouri in Connection with Kansas Attack

DERBY, Kan. (AP) — A man being sought in a Kansas woman's death and her son's attack has been arrested in Missouri. A dispatcher confirmed that Charles Alfred Beck was arrested in Texas County in southern Missouri. Derby Police Chief Robert Lee says the arrest happened Sunday night, hours after his department responded to a disturbance at a home in the south-central Kansas town. Lee says Beck is a suspect in the attack on the teen and a person of interest in the mother's death. No charges have been filed, and no attorney is listed for Beck in online court records. Lee says an autopsy will be performed Tuesday to determine how the mother died. The teen has been released from a hospital where he was treated for knife wounds to his neck.


Kansas Girl, 11, Pulls Toddler from Bottom of Pool

RUSSELL, Kan. (AP) — An 11-year-old central Kansas girl is being hailed as a hero for pulling her 2-year-old stepsister from the bottom of a hotel pool. Serinity Towery nearly drowned two weeks ago after she fell into a pool at a Russell hotel. The Hays Daily News reports that the children were playing in the pool when Serinity managed to slip into the water without being seen. Her stepsister, Emily Butler, was the first to see the child under the water. Emily had heard her mother explain how to do CPR just a week before the incident. She quickly dove under the water, grabbed the child and began doing chest compressions by the side of the pool. The 2-year-old appears fully recovered, and her mother credits much of that to Emily's quick thinking.


Kansas State Fair Celebrates Its 100th Birthday

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Fair is preparing for its 100th opening day. The Wichita Eagle reports that the annual fair starts Friday and runs through September 15 on the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson. Organizers have big birthday celebrations planned. There will be throwback events that include an old-time bingo game and a mincemeat pie competition. Several birthday-themed activities also are planned, including free birthday cake at the opening ceremonies and a birthday cake completion in the Domestic Arts building. There also will be food vendors frying up birthday cake-flavored funnel cakes and deep fried birthday cake. The fair's general manager Denny Stoecklein says that although the fair has evolved over the years, some things have stayed the same. He says livestock and agriculture remain "at the root of it."


Shuttered California Amusement Park Ride Moving to Missouri Park

BUENA PARK, Calif. (AP) — A ride that stranded people 300 feet high twice last year will be moving from Knott's Berry Farm to a sister amusement park in Missouri next year. The Orange County Register reports that park officials said the Windseeker ride will be relocated to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City in January. The two parks are owned by the same company. Leidy Arevalo, a spokeswoman for Knott's Berry Farm, says it's not uncommon for parks to share rides. The Windseeker takes people 300 feet in the air and twirls them at up to a 45-degree angle for about 60 seconds. It malfunctioned twice last year, most dramatically in September when a frozen brake left 20 riders stranded for hours until they could be safely brought down. The ride has remained closed.


At Kansas School, Teacher Sheds Pen and Paper

PERRY, Kan. (AP) — In with classroom technology. Out with paper. That's the mantra of a seventh-grade language arts class at Perry-Lecompton Middle School, where teacher Saul Heide is using his school's move to computer tablets as an opportunity to shed the use of pen and paper. 6 News Lawrence reports the district has been pushing technology. High school students are given iPads, and Heide hopes his younger students' use of the tablets will get them ready. Walking into Heide's classroom is an unusual experience. Instead of chatty adolescents, there are students sitting quietly, headphones in, doing their school work on iPads. In the class, students' essays, coursework and tests are done on iPads. Heide says not having stacks of essays piling up on his desk helps him keep organized.

Pittsburg Reporter Honored for Arts Coverage

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A longtime reporter for the Pittsburg Morning Sun has been honored by the local theater community for her coverage of the arts. Nikki Patrick began covering theater and other arts events for the southeast Kansas newspaper in 1967. It's a career that has given her a seat in the house to cover nearly every dress rehearsal of local performances. The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports that practice is so well known that it is referred to locally as "Nikki Night." On Wednesday she was invited to the opening of "Steel Magnolias," where the Pittsburg Community Theater presented her with a special award thanking her for her dedication. The city of Pittsburg's Memorial Hall also will have its green room renamed in Patrick's honor.

Kansan Gets Nebraska Prison Time for Crash Death

LEXINGTON, Neb. (AP) — A Kansas man has been given 20 years in a Nebraska prison for vehicular homicide in Lexington, Nebraska. The Kearney Hub reports that 23-year-old Destry Swartz, of Coats, Kansas was sentenced Friday. He'd pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide while driving drunk and to flight to avoid arrest. Prosecutors dropped three other charges in exchange for Swartz's pleas. The Nebraska State Patrol says Swartz violated a Lexington traffic signal and raced south on U.S. Highway 283 to get away from a state trooper on October 8 last year. The patrol says Swartz ran a red light and slammed into a pickup driven by 68-year-old Ruben Maravilla-Cortes, of Lexington. Maravilla-Cortes died at the scene.

Reopened KC School to Focus on Preschoolers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City school district is reopening a closed school as part of an effort to ensure students are prepared for kindergarten. Classes will begin Tuesday at the Woodland Early Learning Community Schools. It will serve about 260 3- and 4-year-old students from the northeast part of the district. Students enrolled in early childhood programs at five other elementary schools will be assigned to Woodland. Several community groups will be involved with the school. They include the Kansas City Public Library and a center that provides social services and mental health counseling. The district plans to open other early learning schools in the midtown and southern part of the district in the next two school years.


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