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Regional Headlines for Thursday, December 19, 2013


KS Regents Approve Social Media Policy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new Kansas Board of Regents policy gives university leaders more authority to remove staff and faculty over comments made on social media. The regents approved the policies Wednesday, the first of their kind by the organization that governs Kansas' system of universities, community colleges and technical schools. The Kansas City Star reports that the policy was formulated in response to a tweet made this fall by University of Kansas journalism professor David Guth regarding a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. Guth tweeted comments hostile toward the National Rifle Association and their opposition to gun control. The policy allows higher education officials to remove staff or faculty who post comments that incite violence or disrupt the learning environment.


Army: 5 of 6 Killed in Afghanistan Crash Were Based in KS

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — Army officials say five U.S. soldiers based at Fort Riley and one based in Europe were killed in a helicopter crash this week in southern Afghanistan. The Army on Thursday confirmed the soldiers died when their Black Hawk UH-60 went down Tuesday during a mission. One soldier survived the crash. The five Fort Riley soldiers were identified as Chief Warrant Officer 2 Randy Billings of Heavener, Oklahoma; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Silverman of Scottsdale, Arizona; Sergeant Peter Bohler of Willow Spring, North Carolina; Sergeant 1st Class Omar Forde of Marietta, Georgia.; and Specialist Terry Gordon of Shubuta, Mississippi. A sixth soldier, based in Vilseck, Germany, was identified as Staff Sergeant Jesse Williams of Elkhart, Indiana.


KS Gov Names Ex-Lawmaker to Judicial Commission

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback has appointed a former Kansas House member to the commission that screens applicants for the state Supreme Court. Brownback announced Thursday that he appointed former Representative Don Dahl of Hillsboro to the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Dahl replaces the late Janet Juhnke, a longtime Kansas Wesleyan University faculty member from Salina. Juhnke died in January, and Dahl will serve the remainder of her four-year term, which runs through June. Dahl is a 68-year-old retired U.S. Navy officer. He served as a Republican in the House from 1997 through 2008. The nine-member commission interviews applicants for seats on the Kansas Supreme Court and nominates three finalists for the governor to consider. The governor appoints four commissioners, but five are attorneys elected by other attorneys.


Top KS Lawmakers Restrict Travel Reimbursements

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislative leaders have taken steps to keep retiring or defeated lawmakers from going to conferences and taking trips at the state's expense. Top leaders of the House and Senate agreed unanimously Wednesday to revise the Legislature's travel reimbursement policies. The suggested change came from House Minority Leader and Lawrence Democrat Paul Davis. The new policy says that if lawmakers don't file for re-election or are defeated, they aren't entitled to state reimbursement of expenses for out-of-state trips. The new policy makes an exception when the outgoing legislator is an officer of a recognized organization or is asked by legislative leaders to represent Kansas at an event. House Majority Leader and Louisburg Republican Jene Vickrey said out-of-state conferences are designed to help lawmakers do their jobs better.


Conservative Group Endorses Roberts Challenger

WASHINGTON (AP) — A hard-right conservative group led by former Kansas Congressman Jim Ryun is endorsing a Republican who is trying to oust three-term GOP Senator Pat Roberts. The Madison Project says it's backing Dr. Milton Wolf over Roberts. The blunt-spoken conservative was elected to the Senate in 1996 after eight terms in the House and has never gotten less than 60 percent of the vote in his heartland state. The Madison Project has backed challengers to Republican incumbents in Kentucky and Mississippi and says Wolf will provide the necessary leadership. The Associated Press learned of the endorsement ahead of the formal announcement scheduled Thursday. Wolf is a distant cousin of President Barack Obama. A physician and a tea party-backed candidate, he has been outspoken in his opposition to the health care law.


KS Jobless Rate Declined to 5.1 Percent in November

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas labor officials say the state's unemployment rate dropped to 5.1 percent in November, its lowest mark in nearly five years. The state Department of Labor reported Thursday that November's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined from 5.6 percent in October. The jobless rate in November 2012 was 5.5 percent. The department said that unemployment was last so low in December 2008. Department spokeswoman Barbara Hersh said about 6,000 Kansans who had been receiving unemployment benefits found jobs in November. Also, the department said about 19,900 more Kansans were employed in private-sector, non-farm jobs in November than in November 2012. The over-the-year growth was 1.8 percent. Governor Sam Brownback said in a statement that the numbers show that 2013 was a good year for the state's economy.


KS Bomb Plot Case Assigned to Judge Monti Belot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The case of a Kansas avionics technician accused of plotting to bring a bomb into an airport in Wichita has been assigned to an experienced federal judge known for running a tight courtroom in complex cases. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot will be overseeing the case of 58-year-old Terry Lee Loewen of Wichita. Trial was set for February 18. A grand jury indicted Loewen Wednesday for attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, attempted use of an explosive device to damage property and attempted material support to the terrorist group al-Qaida. Belot presided over the 2011 trial of a man accused of lying about his role in the Rwandan genocide. He also oversaw the 2010 trial of the couple who ran a Haysville clinic linked to 68 overdose deaths.


Reward Offered for Information in Emporia Death

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A $1,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the suspect in a homicide in April in Emporia. The Lyon County Crime Stoppers board announced the award Thursday, in an effort to help authorities find 26-year-old Gabino Ruiz-Ascensio. He is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 24-year-old Adrian Peralta. Another person was injured in the shooting. Ruiz-Ascencio is a 5-foot-6 inch Hispanic male who weighs around 165 pounds. He has multiple tattoos including "Ruiz" on his neck, "raza" on his right arm, "fina" on his left arm, "13" on his right hand, three dots on his left hand and "Mexican Eagle" on his right hand. Investigators believe he might be in the Emporia, Dodge City or Arkansas City areas.


KU School of Law Censured over Master's Program

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The dean of the University of Kansas School of Law says the American Bar Association censured the school and fined it $50,000 over a procedural error it committed while introducing a new master's degree program. Dean of Law Stephen Mazza said in a news release Thursday that when the law school launched a new master's of law degree in 2012, officials mistakenly believed that it fell within the scope of an existing master's program. That would mean the new program didn't need the ABA's approval. The bar association's acquiescence process allows it to ensure secondary degree programs do not interfere with law schools' approved programs. The school eventually discovered the error and received ABA acquiescence. Mazza says the censure does not question the substance or quality of the master's program.


Topeka Woman Pleads Not Guilty in Lawrence Death

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka woman is facing tougher charges in the shooting death of a 51-year-old Lawrence man. Twenty-year-old Brittny Adams pleaded not guilty Wednesday to premeditated first-degree murder in the July death of Gary Edens. She was charged with second-degree murder before Wednesday's preliminary hearing. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that prosecutors increased the charges after a former Douglas County Jail inmate testified that Adams frequently bragged about killing Edens at his home. She also allegedly told a man who was with her to kill Edens's son but the son escaped injury after a struggle. A detective testified that Adams told him she and the man went to Edens's home while searching for two girls who abandoned her in Topeka and took off with her car.

4 Arrested in Hutchinson Counterfeit Money Incidents

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Hutchinson police say four people have been arrested as suspects in about 20 cases of counterfeit money being used in the city this month. Police Sergeant Tyson Meyers says three men were arrested Tuesday and a woman was arrested Wednesday. He says the three men apparently worked together but the woman's connection to the cases is unclear. The Hutchinson News reports that officers believe most of the counterfeit cash seized so far came from the home of a 37-year-old man arrested Tuesday. They found a scanner and printer at the man's home. So far this month, police have collected more than 50 $5 and $20 bills.

Investigators to Examine Possibility of Link Between KS Earthquake, Oil Production

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Geological Survey is investigating whether a recent earthquake in southern Kansas might have been caused by oil production in the area. But KGS interim director Rex Buchanan says it might be hard to ever determine if the 3.8 earthquake Monday near Caldwell was man-made or caused by natural forces. Buchanan says there is no evidence yet to suggest hydraulic fracturing caused the quake. He says it's more common for minor quakes near oil production sites to be caused by the disposal of salt water waste. In Kansas, the salt water waste is disposed of in deep wells. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates oil and gas production in the state, is also investigating the issue.


Ex-Worker Sentenced for Stealing from KS Firm

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A former payroll accountant at a northeast Kansas business has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for stealing nearly $40,000 from the company. The Leavenworth Times reports that  37-year-old Jamie Warhurst was also ordered to pay $34,000 in restitution under the sentence she received Wednesday. Warhurst pleaded guilty last month to 48 counts of forgery and theft. Prosecutors dropped 24 other counts. The former Parker resident was accused of forging and cashing company checks at National Cold Storage while working at the Leavenworth County business in 2010 and 2011. The company reported the crimes in mid-2011, but Warhurst fled to Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona and finally Utah, where she was arrested earlier this year following an armed standoff.


2 Critically Wounded in Shooting at Wichita Store

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say two men were critically wounded in a double shooting at a clothing resale store in eastern Wichita. KFDI-FM reports that Thursday afternoon's shootings at the Flying Pig Boutique apparently stemmed from a dispute between a woman's former and current boyfriends. Police Captain Hassan Ramzah says investigators believe the ex-boyfriend entered the store carrying a shotgun and asked for the current boyfriend. Police say the ex-boyfriend shot the other man's legs, then shot himself in the head. The woman was not believed to be in the store at the time.


Suspect in Fatal Fire Seeks Competency Hearing

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A defense attorney is seeking a mental competency hearing for a Hutchinson teenager suspected of starting a fire that killed his mother and sister. Other motions filed this week seek an independent evaluation of the 14-year-old boy and access to his school records. The boy is charged in juvenile court with two counts of first-degree murder after the September 26 fire at the family's home. He is also charged with the attempted first-degree murder of his father and aggravated arson. The Hutchinson News reports that the request for an independent evaluation is in response to the state's motion to prosecute the teenager as an adult. A hearing on the three motions was set for January 2. A hearing on whether to prosecute the boy as an adult is still unscheduled.

Man Seeking New Trial in Kansas Teen's Homicide

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man convicted of killing a 14-year-old girl in 2006 is awaiting a Sedgwick County judge's ruling on his request for a new trial. An attorney for Elgin "Ray Ray" Robinson argued in Sedgwick County Court Wednesday that his client deserves a new trial because he did not have adequate defense during his trial for killing Chelsea Brooks. The girl disappeared from a Wichita skating rink. Her body was found later in a Butler County field. Prosecutors argued Wednesday that Robinson received adequate representation. The Kansas Supreme Court upheld Robinson's convictions for capital murder and other charges in 2012. His current appeal was filed in civil court. The Wichita Eagle reports District Judge Patrick Walters did not say when he would rule.

Room and Board Costs Increasing at KS Universities

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Room and board at the state's universities will increase next year. The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved increases ranging from 3.9 percent at Kansas State to 2.1 percent at Fort Hays State. Regents staff says the increases are necessary to cover anticipated inflation, as well as facility maintenance and improvements. The Lawrence Journal-World reports rates will increase 3.6 percent at Emporia State, 3 percent at Pittsburg State and 2.5 percent at the University of Kansas. The regents staff said Wichita State's plan will cost $10,164 per year but that figure is not comparable with the previous year because of new housing on campus. All the Kansas schools except Wichita State still will be below the $8,737 average room-and-board charge for four-year public institutions in the Midwest.

Woman Pleads Guilty to Stealing from Co-Workers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas woman admits she stole more than $100,000 from three co-workers at a Department of Agriculture office in Kansas City. Forty-nine-year-old Paula Steen of Overland Park pleaded guilty Wednesday in a wire fraud and identity theft scheme. Prosecutors say the former information technology specialist for the Farm Service Agency took at total of about $103,000 from her co-workers. The Kansas City Star reports that Steen admitted one of her victims was legally blind. She allegedly charged $57,693 on credit accounts belonging to that co-worker. She repaid some of that but took another $48,171 from the same worker. As part of her plea bargain, Steen agreed that she should receive a longer sentence because she took advantage of a vulnerable victim.


Survey: Healthy Growth Likely in Rural Parts of 10 States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ A new survey of bankers suggests that the economy will grow at a healthy pace in rural parts of 10 Midwest and Western states in the months ahead. The monthly survey's overall index rose to 56.1 in December from November's more moderate 54.3. But any score above 50 suggests growth. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says the region continues to benefit from the strength of agriculture and energy businesses. But declining crop prices and the lack of a farm bill are concerning. The index is based on surveys of rural bankers in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. It ranges from 0 to 100, with 50 representing growth neutral. A score above 50 suggests growth in that factor in the months ahead.


Holiday Train Arrives in KCMO

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A festive holiday train that has chugged through Kansas and other states has ended its journey at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. The Kansas City Southern Holiday Express Train began its journey late last month in Texas. It's made stops along the way in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. The train arrived Wednesday at Union Station and will be on display through the weekend. It features a specially decorated engine dubbed "Rudy," a gingerbread boxcar, a flatcar carrying Santa's sleigh, plus reindeer and a miniature village. There's also an elves' workshop and even a little red caboose. Guests get to visit Santa and tour the train.


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