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Regional Headlines for Thursday, August 2, 2012




UPDATE: Kobach Predicts 18 Percent Voter Turnout for Kansas Primary

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is predicting that fewer than one in five voters will cast ballots in Tuesday's primary elections. The 18 percent turnout forecast Thursday by Kobach would be the lowest for a Kansas primary since 2006. Voters will be choosing nominees for the state Legislature, U.S. House and the State Board of Education. Kobach says the lack of heated, top-of-the-ticket races is working against the odds for higher voter participation. Attention has focused mainly on contested Republican races for the state Senate, where conservatives are seeking to oust moderate GOP incumbents. Kobach says those races may draw more people to the polls in some districts, but he doubts they'll raise overall turnout significantly.


No Injuries Reported in Fire at Topeka Frito-Lay Plant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Frito-Lay officials are determining how much damage was caused by a fire at the company's plant in south Topeka. No injuries were reported from the fire Wednesday night, which occurred in the company's biomass boiler plant. Fire investigator Michael Martin says Frito-Lay employees tried to douse the fire themselves for several minutes before calling for help. He says the fire started in the boiler fuel hopper system and is considered accidental. Martin says production continued at the plant because the fire was in a separate building. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the biomass boiler fuel hopper uses recycled organic product to heat the oil used to manufacture potato chips. The hopper system holds the organic waste used to fuel the boiler.

Lightning Causes Power Outages Around Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy crews are working to restore power to about 1,300 customers who lost electricity after thunderstorms with severe lightning rolled through Shawnee County and Topeka.  Westar says the power outages from Thursday morning's storms are spread across Topeka, with most in the central and northern sections. Police officers directed traffic at some intersections where the traffic signals are out. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports fire crews responded to several reports of power poles on fire after they were struck by lightning.


Water Leak Closes Spencer Museum of Art at KU

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Officials at the University of Kansas say thousands of books have been damaged by a water leak at the Spencer Museum of Art. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a break in a water line sent water into the building's lower floors, which house the Murphy Art and Architecture Library. University spokesman Joe Monaco says there was no damage to the museum's artwork, which is displayed on the upper floors. Officials estimate 15,000 to 20,000 of the museum's 170,000 volumes were damaged. Students and staff worked Wednesday night and Thursday morning to box the books and load them onto trailers. They'll be taken to a Chicago facility for evaluation and repairs. The library remains closed through indefinitely, while the museum will be closed at least through Monday.


Bedbugs Prompt Closure of Downtown Wichita Library 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The discovery of bedbugs has prompted the Wichita public library to close its main branch. A patron reported seeing an insect Wednesday in a chair at the library's downtown branch. An expert identified it as a bedbug. KWCH-TV reports the building was closed while personnel searched for more bedbugs. Library officials said as of Thursday afternoon, some were also found on chairs in two reading areas. Library director Cynthia Berner Harris says officials don't believe any library materials have been infested, but transfers from the central branch to other branches have been suspended. It's not known when the building will fully reopen. The lobby will be open Friday and Saturday for patrons to return materials and collect items on hold.


 PAC Affiliated with Kansas Governor Reports No Activity

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A political action committee affiliated with Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's campaign has reported no activity so far this year. A report filed with the secretary of state this week by the Road Map PAC says it did no fundraising, made no contributions to candidates and spent no money trying to influence races ahead of Tuesday's primary. The report covered the period from January 1 through July 26. The PAC also reported no such activity last year. The report shows that its treasurer, T.C. Anderson, has covered administration expenses without being reimbursed. Anderson also is the treasurer for Brownback's campaign. The PAC takes its name from Brownback's campaign promise in 2010 to provide a policy road map for improving Kansas.


UPDATE: 1 Dead, More Than 2 Dozen Injured in Kansas City-Bound Megabus Crash 

LITCHFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois State Police say at least one person has died after a double-decker Megabus crashed into a concrete bridge support pillar in Illinois. Trooper Doug Francis says one person was killed in the Thursday afternoon wreck. He didn't immediately have other details. Officials say more than two dozen other passengers in varying conditions are being treated at hospitals. At least four have been flown by helicopter to a trauma center. Television helicopter footage from the scene showed numerous emergency vehicles surrounding the bus and rescue crews climbing ladders to reach inside its smashed front end. Amanda Byers, a spokeswoman for MegaBus, says the bus was carrying 81 passengers when it crashed near Litchfield, about 55 miles northeast of St. Louis. The bus also was to stop in St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri. The interstate is shut down in both directions.

KCI Changing Electronic Signs; Traffic Congestion Expected

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Officials of Kansas City International Airport are advising travelers to give themselves extra time to get to the airport because of construction that could cause congestion for nearly two months. Spokesman Joe McBride says the airport is replacing six overhead signs along the main roads to the airport to help people more easily find their flights. He says the new electronic signs will be more visible and attractive than the old ones, and will allow airport employees to change messages from their offices instead of on the roadside. Work on the $1 million project begins Tuesday and is expected to last six to seven weeks. McBride says the contractor will have one lane open at all times during construction.

Voters Approve Funding for Downtown Kansas City Streetcar Plan

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Voters approved a special tax to fund a two-mile streetcar route in downtown Kansas City, although only 500 people voted. City officials said Wednesday they will be able to reduce a $25 million gap in federal funds for the project, and they are convinced money can be found for a $100 million system. The Kansas City Election Board says voters approved a special taxing district to fund the line by a vote of 319-141. Only registered voters living inside the proposed taxing district voted on the issue. The vote creates the taxing district and established maximum property and sales taxes for residents, property owners and business customers. The Kansas City Star reports the city will hold another election to obtain approval of the specific tax rates.

Ground Broken for Colwich to Medicine Lodge Power Line

COLWICH, Kan. (AP) — A groundbreaking ceremony launched construction on a 108-mile power line between Colwich and Medicine Lodge. Officials from the state, Westar and their partners broke ground on Wednesday near Colwich. Twin 345-kilovolt lines will stretch from Colwich to Medicine Lodge, where it will connect with another line being built by ITC Great Plains. That line will stretch to near Dodge City. The Wichita Eagle reports that Prairie Wind Transmission will also extend a line south from Medicine Lodge to connect with major transmission lines at Woodward, Oklahoma. Westar executive Doug Sterbenz says the new lines will make the region's power grid more efficient, and also should encourage development of wind farms in central and western Kansas.

Douglas County First in KS to Use Emergency Info System

Douglas County is the first county in Kansas to use a national safety database to find someone who places a 911 call from a cellphone.  The county said Wednesday it hopes the system, called Smart911, will reduce the time emergency dispatchers use to find people who use cellphones to report an emergency. Unlike landlines, which show the address of the caller, cellphone calls display only the number and wireless carrier.  With Smart911, residents voluntarily submit information, including cellphone numbers, to the national database. Dispatchers can access that database only after a 911 call, and the information isn't available to police for other uses.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports about 76 percent of 911 calls to Douglas County dispatchers last year came from mobile phones.


Hawker Announces Layoffs for Little Rock Facility

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Hawker Beechcraft is laying off 170 employees at its Little Rock aircraft finishing plant. The company on Thursday issued a letter giving the workers 60 days of notice, as required by federal law. The Wichita-based company says the layoff will affect both hourly and salaried workers. In November Hawker Beechcraft assured Little Rock employees that there was enough work at the plant so that layoffs would not be necessary, even though the company issued a layoff notice. In May, the Hawker Beechcraft filed for bankruptcy protection and in July agreed to sell the company to a Chinese firm for $1.8 billion. Demand for business jets has declined since the 2008 economic downturn. The company wouldn't comment about the Little Rock layoff.

Plainville to Determine Outcome of School Board Member Recall

PLAINVILLE, Kan. (AP) _ Voters in a north-central Kansas school district have the chance to recall a longtime school board member when they go to the polls next week. Voters in the Plainville School District will decide Tuesday if Darlene Jones should be recalled from the school board where she's served for 33 years. The Salina Journal reports that the recall petition alleges Jones "committed misconduct in office" and accuses her of "verbally assaulting and committing battery upon" former Plainville principal Troy Keiswetter. Members of the recall committee say such actions are forbidden in a school setting. Jones denies the allegations and says she only had a disagreement with Keiswetter, who's now a principal at McLouth High School. Keiswetter declined comment. Plainville is about 30 miles north of Hays.

Southeast Kansas Economic Initiative Lands Federal Grant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A southeast Kansas initiative aimed at generating investment and economic development is receiving $715,000 in matching federal funds to help train regional leaders. The grant announced Wednesday goes to Project 17, a consortium of state legislators and city and county officials that formed in 2011 to improve the regional economy, quality of life and health care. The group is working with the Kansas Department of Commerce, as well as other state agencies. The funds are in addition to $1 million in leadership training from the Kansas Leadership Center, which was announced in March.  Counties included in Project 17 are Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Chautauqua, Cherokee, Coffey, Crawford, Elk, Franklin, Greenwood, Labette, Linn, Miami, Montgomery, Neosho, Wilson and Woodson.


KC Priest Pleads Guilty to Child Porn Charges

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City priest has pleaded guilty to federal child pornography counts in a case that led to misdemeanor criminal charges against his bishop and diocese. The Reverend Shawn Ratigan on Thursday pleaded guilty to five counts of producing and attempting to produce child pornography. Eight other counts were dismissed. No sentencing date has been set, but guidelines indicate he'll spend at least 15 years in prison. In December 2010 a technician found "troubling images" of children on Ratigan's laptop computer. The photos weren't turned over to police until May 2011, after Ratigan violated orders from Bishop Robert Finn to stay away from children. Finn and the diocese are charged in Jackson County with failing to report suspected child abuse to the state. Both have pleaded not guilty.

KC Man Charged with Killing Girlfriend

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ The Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutor's office has charged a 32-year-old Kansas City man in the death of a woman whose body was found after police said he called them to report her death. The prosecutor's office said Thursday that Lamont Kemp is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Laquita A. Long. Police found Long's body Wednesday at a home after a man who identified himself as Kemp called police saying he had just beaten his girlfriend to death. The prosecutor's office says Kemp was arrested at the home where Long's body was found. Detectives said she appeared to have died from blunt force trauma and that they found blood on the grass, sidewalk, lawn chair and front porch. Kemp's being held on $250,000 cash bond.


Trial Set for Canadian Man Who Picked Up Kansas Girl

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has scheduled a September trial for a Canadian man found in Michigan with a 12-year-old Kansas girl he met on the Internet. Stewart Kenneth Cody McGill of Bewdley, Ontario, has already waived a detention hearing and will remain in custody until his trial. He's charged with transporting a minor out of state to have sex. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten on Wednesday set a September 25 trial date. Authorities say McGill traveled in late May to the south-central Kansas town of El Dorado to meet the girl. They were found a few days later near Potterville, Mich. The girl told authorities she went with McGill willingly. Prosecutors say McGill told police he met the girl playing "World of Warcraft" online and loved her.

Kansas Cave Access Limited to Protect Bats From Disease

DENVER (AP) — An order restricting access to caves and old mines on national forest and grasslands in five states is being extended, so that a bat-killing fungus won't spread. White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in the U.S. The fungus that causes it hasn't been detected in Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska yet. Regional Forester Daniel Jirón said Wednesday he is extending an order restricting access to U.S. Forest Service caves and abandoned mines in the five states for 12 more months, so that humans won't inadvertently spread the fungus to bats. The order covers about 30,000 abandoned mines and hundreds of caves in the five states. It includes some exemptions for active members of the National Speleological Society and Cave Research Foundation for conservation-related activities.

Kansas City Fighting Graffiti with $110K Community Block Grant

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City officials are taking steps to replace some of the graffiti around town with murals. The Kansas City Star reports the city has budgeted $100,000 in community development block grant funds to give neighborhood groups equipment and training to remove graffiti and discourage vandalism. An additional $10,000 will come from a local initiative to help find artists who can paint murals over some of the graffiti. City Councilman Scott Wagner announced the program this week. The graffiti initiative is one of the first efforts of the Gateway Crimes Task Force.

Kickapoo Tribe Puts Water Restrictions in Place

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The ongoing drought has led an Indian tribe in northeastern Kansas to impose water conservation measures. Kickapoo Tribal Chairman Steve Cadue said Wednesday the order bans the use of water for lawns, gardens, swimming pools or car washes. It applies to all residents and businesses using water treated by the tribe. Cadue says the Kickapoo were forced to haul water to the reservation several years ago when supplies dwindled. He says that is a possibility again, but not a long-term solution to meeting the tribe's needs. The reservation is located about 50 miles north of Topeka. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, 76 percent of Kansas is in extreme drought, including the Kickapoo lands.

Drought Report: Half of US Counties Now Declared Disaster Areas

ST. LOUIS (AP) — More than half of U.S. counties now are classified by the federal government as natural disaster areas, mostly because of drought. The U.S. Agriculture Department on Wednesday added 218 counties in a dozen states as disaster areas. That brings this year's total to 1,584 in 32 states, more than 90 percent of them because of the drought. The latest additions make drought-affected farmers and ranchers eligible for federal aid including emergency loans, including in Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wyoming. The USDA also announced ranchers may access some 3.8 million acres of conservation land for haying and grazing, and crop insurance companies have agreed to provide farmers a penalty-free grace period on insurance premiums in 2012.

New PAC Being Funded by Owner of Closed Kansas Dog Racing Tracks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The owner of two closed Kansas dog racing tracks is funding a new political action committee that is helping moderate Republican candidates for state Senate seats. A campaign finance report filed Wednesday by the Kansas Wins PAC showed it received more than $144,000 from Phil Ruffin. He owns Wichita Greyhound Park and Camptown Greyhound Park outside Pittsburg. A 2007 law allows slot machines at both tracks and the Woodlands dog and horse racing complex in Kansas City, Kansas. But Ruffin has argued that the law isn't generous enough to track owners to make the machines financially viable. The campaign finance report showed that, starting last week, the PAC spent more than $122,000 on mailings and radio ads, mostly for GOP moderates facing conservative opponents for Senate seats in Tuesday's primary.

Kobach to Preview Kansas Primary Election

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is preparing to offer his prediction for voter turnout in Tuesday's primary elections. Kobach scheduled a news conference Thursday afternoon to talk about the first primary he'll be conducting since being elected in 2010 as the state's top elections officer. Voters will choose nominees Tuesday for the state Legislature, U.S. House and the State Board of Education. Attention has focused mainly on contested Republican races for the state Senate, where some conservatives are actively seeking to oust moderate GOP incumbents.

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


Kansas City-Bound Megabus Crashes into Illinois Bridge

LITCHFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A double-decker Megabus traveling from Chicago to Kansas City has slammed into a concrete bridge-support pillar along a southern Illinois interstate. There's no immediate word of injuries from the Thursday wreck of the discount charter bus. But television helicopter footage from the scene shows numerous emergency vehicles surrounding the bus and rescue crews climbing ladders to reach inside its smashed front end. At least one person could be seen being wheeled on a stretcher to an ambulance. Others were being tended to along the roadside. Amanda Byers, a spokeswoman for MegaBus, says the bus was carrying 81 passengers when it crashed near Litchfield, about 55 miles northeast of St. Louis. The bus also was to stop in St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri. The interstate is shut down in both directions.

**This story h as been updated. Please see above. 

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