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Regional Headlines for Thursday, February 21, 2013


UPDATE: Kansas Officials Face New Storm Worries with Nightfall

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — After spending hours advising Kansans not to travel during the winter storm, state officials are warning them to be cautious about clearing the snow. State Emergency Management Director and Major General Lee Tafanelli, who is also the Kansas Emergency Management Director, said Thursday the concern is that people will overexert themselves, have slip-and-fall accidents or suffer frostbite. Governor Sam Brownback told reporters during a teleconference briefing that it's easy for people think they can handle clearing away snow. But he says it may be better for them to ask for help or let the snow melt. He said if people overdo it, they can get in trouble and have a hard time getting assistance because of weather conditions.

UPDATE: KDOT Closes Large Section of I-70 in Western Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas transportation officials have closed almost 200 miles of Interstate 70 in western and central Kansas because of a winter storm, and they're urging people to stay home. The Department of Transportation reported at about 3 pm Thursday that I-70 was closed from its junction with I-135 in Salina all the way west to Colby. KDOT also closed a 50-mile section of U.S. 54 in southwest Kansas, from the Pratt-Kiowa county border west to Minneola in Clark County. In addition, a stretch of U.S. 400 was closed between Greensburg and Dodge City. Heavy snow has fallen across nearly all of Kansas. The Kansas Turnpike Authority also encouraged people to stay off the turnpike on the entire route from Oklahoma to Kansas City.


Kansas National Guard Has 3 Rescue Crews on Highways

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's emergency management director says the Kansas National Guard has three teams patrolling two state highways in Humvees to rescue motorists stranded by a massive winter storm. Major General Lee Tafanelli, the Kansas Adjutant General, told reporters Thursday the guard can mobilize other crews if necessary from its armories. Each team has two guard members. Two of the teams are working on Interstate 70. It was closed Thursday from Salina to Colby, a stretch of nearly 200 miles. Tafanelli says another team was working on U.S. 54 in southwest Kansas, which was closed temporarily from the Pratt-Kiowa county line to Minneola in Clark County. He also says about 30 people took shelter at Kiowa County Memorial Hospital in Greensburg, and several other communities also had shelters available.

Kansas Government Closes for Snowstorm

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A major winter storm prompted Governor Sam Brownback to close Kansas state government from Thursday morning through Friday morning. On Wednesday, Brownback urged residents to stay home and off the roads as the storm advanced. Legislative leaders announced earlier in the day they were curtailing House and Senate activities through Friday and will be idle Thursday. Legislative deadlines for measures clearing committees were also pushed back until Tuesday ahead of a key session deadline on March 1st. Brownback said the winter storm will provided much-needed moisture to the state, which has been in drought conditions for more than a year.


UPDATE: Kansas City International Airport to Remain Closed Overnight

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — All flights into and out of Kansas City International Airport have been canceled for the night after a major winter storm dropped as much as 10 inches on the area. Airport officials announced on Twitter at 4:30 pm Thursday that crews would work through the night to prepare for reopening after 7 am Friday. Earlier in the day, officials said whiteout conditions had forced the airport to shut down after conditions first had reduced air traffic to a single runway, and maintenance workers were having trouble seeing each other through the blinding snow. For more information, please check the website.


KHP Reports Weather-Related Accidents

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol is reporting that multiple accidents occurred on state highways in several counties as a winter storm moved into the state. The patrol reported two accidents involving possible injuries Wednesday night on Interstate 135 in Wichita. Both involved drivers who lost control of their vehicles and hit barriers. The patrol also reported an accident Wednesday afternoon on Kansas Highway 383 in Phillips County in northwest Kansas in which a driver lost control of a vehicle because of icy conditions, slid into a ditch and struck a tree. And the patrol said another accident occurred Wednesday evening in Ford County, when the driver of a sport-utility vehicle traveling north on U.S. 83 lost control on ice and struck an oncoming pickup.

Winter Storm Drives Travelers into Motels

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Travelers in northwest Kansas are filling the area's hotels because of the heavy snow and treacherous road conditions from a winter storm. The Kansas Department of Transportation reported that motels in Ellis, WaKeeney and Oakley were full as of Wednesday night. All three communities are along Interstate 70. The National Weather Service said more than 10 inches of snow had fallen in parts of northwest Kansas. At the Econo Lodge in WaKeeney, assistant manager Michael Tidball said Thursday that the 48-room hotel was full by 10 pm Wednesday and that most guests were opting to stay an extra day. He said it was still snowing Thursday morning and road conditions remained slippery. He said travelers reported that snow was freezing on their windshields faster than wipers could keep them clean.


Winter Storm Causes Shortage at KC Blood Center

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Community Blood Center of Greater Kansas City says it is in urgent need of blood after a winter storm forced it to close its six donation centers. The Kansas City Star reports that the storm also halted blood drives at such community sites as schools, businesses and places of worship. The Blood Center says the storm has caused it to lose two full days' supply of blood and it now has less than one day's worth of blood on hand. Anyone who needs more information or wants to make an appointment can go to or call 816-753-4040.

Historic Abilene Restaurant Destroyed by Fire

ABILENE, Kan. (AP) — Fire has destroyed an historic building that currently housed a popular restaurant in downtown Abilene. The fire broke out Wednesday afternoon at the Kirby House. No injuries were reported but the restaurant was considered a total loss. The restaurant had closed early in anticipation of a strong snowstorm and had been scheduled to be closed on Thursday. The Abilene Reflector-Chronicle reports that black smoke from the fire was so dense that at times motorists along Abilene's main street had zero visibility. Banker Thomas Kirby built the house in 1885. It has operated as restaurant since the 1980s, and was owned by Rob and Melodie Sprouse for the last two years. The cause of the fire is under investigation.


Bill in Kansas House Targets Civil Service Act

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee is working on a bill that would be the first phase of a plan to do away with civil service protections for state employees. The House Appropriations Commission is drafting the bill, which would allow state agencies to hire unclassified workers for more jobs. State agencies currently must hire classified employees for nearly all positions. Classified employees are protected under the Kansas Civil Service Act from being hired, fired or demoted based on several factors, such as race, religion or disability. Unclassified employees can be hired and fired at will. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that supporters contend phasing out the civil service protections would give state agencies more flexibility in hiring. Opponents say state law already provides ways to move employees from classified to unclassified status.

Sedgwick County Expands Gun Permit Application Filings to Three Days Per Week

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Sedgwick County Sheriff's office says it is adding a third day to accept and process concealed carry gun applications. The agency says it will now add Wednesday to the normal processing days of Tuesdays and Thursdays. Hours for processing the applications are from 9 am to 4 pm. The sheriff says the change was made to better accommodate the public. The new processing days will go into effect on February 27.

Realtor Group Led 2012 Kansas Lobbyist Spending

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Association of Realtors was the top spender among groups or companies lobbying state officials last year. A report released this month by the state Governmental Ethics Commission shows that the real estate group reported spending $152,000 on lobbying last year. That's more than twice as much as the $72,000 spent by Uncork Kansas, which is the second-place group on the list. That group is pushing legislators to allow groceries and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer, wine and liquor. The real estate agents successfully lobbied last year to preserve two popular state income tax deductions for homeowners as Kansas overhauled its income tax code. Republican Governor Sam Brownback is targeting the two deductions again this year. The association spent $89,000 on advertising and $51,000 on communications with members to get them to pressure lawmakers.

Kansas Senate Passes Ban on Sex-Selection Abortions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a bill prohibiting doctors from terminating a pregnancy solely because a woman doesn't want a baby of a certain sex. The 37-2 vote Wednesday sent the measure to the House. The bill makes it a misdemeanor the first time a doctor is convicted of performing a sex-selection abortion and a felony each time afterward. A doctor also could face lawsuits from a patient or family member over such a procedure, but the measure says that women who have such abortions can't be prosecuted. There's no solid data on how many sex-selection abortions are performed in Kansas. Abortion rights supporters contend there's no evidence that the procedures are being performed, but abortion foes believe it's a growing problem because of more sophisticated prenatal testing.

Kansas Homeowners Fighting Brownback Plan to End Tax Deductions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is being lionized by the Republican right for seeking to eliminate his state's income tax and making his state a testing ground for conservative economic theories. But his latest tax proposals are now stuck in the Legislature, where real estate brokers and residents are fighting his plan to end deductions claimed by 300,000 homeowners. Some of Brownback's allies worry that lawmakers could try to change his plan by slashing other deductions or by making drastic cuts to schools and other state programs. The governor insists that all taxpayers will benefit if they allow the new tax system to go into effect. He says the tax revenue lost from the rate cuts will be made up by revenue generated by an expanding economy.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Clears Kansas Senate; Moves to House

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a proposed amendment to the state constitution to prevent the courts from deciding disputes over how much the state spends on its public schools. The vote Wednesday was 27-13, meeting the constitutional majority required to send the bill to the Kansas House. In that chamber, 84 of 125 votes are needed to put it on the ballot. The measure adds a new sentence to the Kansas Constitution's article on education, declaring that the Legislature has the exclusive power to determine how much the state will spend on schools. That article now requires the Legislature to make suitable provision for financing education. A school funding lawsuit is pending before the Kansas Supreme Court after a three-judge panel ruled that lawmakers aren't meeting their constitutional duty and must spend more.


UPDATE: 1 Remains in Critical Condition from KC Gas Explosion

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — One person remains in critical condition after a deadly natural gas explosion at a Kansas City restaurant that killed one person and injured 15 others. A spokesman for the University of Kansas Hospital says two other victims were in serious condition and one was in fair condition Thursday, two days after the massive blast near the city's Country Club Plaza. Most of the other victims have been treated and released from various hospitals. Formal identification of a body pulled from the rubble early Wednesday was delayed by a winter storm that brought most activity in the area to a halt Thursday. However, Genny Cramer told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she is sure her daughter, Megan Cramer, a 46-year-old server at JJ's, was the victim.

Obama Defends Push to End Corporate Jet Tax Breaks

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — President Barack Obama says he wants to give tax breaks to all aviation companies in Kansas so they hire workers and produce goods in the state. But he told Wichita television station KAKE-TV Wednesday that he doesn't want to give somebody who is buying a corporate jet an extra tax break that ordinary people can't get. He also says the tax break is not the reason someone would make such a purchase. The president says people buy corporate jets because they are convenient and the buyers can afford them. He said buyers don't need an extra tax break, especially when the country is trying to reduce the deficit. He cited the deduction as an example of a tax loophole that other industries don't receive, adding that the tax breaks do not have an important effect on sales.

Cadet Leader at Kansas Military School Faces Hearing

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Saline County attorney's office says a former cadet leader at St. John's Military School has been charged with eight counts of aggravated sexual battery involving a younger student. Charges against 18-year-old David Burke of McLean, Virginia were filed under seal Friday pending his first court appearance on Thursday morning, assuming the Saline County courthouse is not closed because of a major snowstorm engulfing the state. The case stems from alleged assaults that occurred in October. Attorney Dick Blackwell says that his client initially bonded out on a single misdemeanor count and he did not know what new evidence has surfaced that would make the prosecutor's office upgrade the charges to felonies. He says Burke is denying that anything felonious occurred.

Man Charged in Fatal Dodge City Collision

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Dodge City man is charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter after a traffic accident that killed a longtime Fort Hays State University professor and his mother-in-law. Nineteen-year-old Braulio De La Cruz-Gonzalez is charged in the deaths of 67-year-old Fred Ruda and 90-year-old Eleanor T. Sexson of Hays. They were killed in April 2012 in an accident seven miles west of Dodge City. The Kansas Highway Patrol says Cruz-Gonzalez's vehicle crossed the center line of U.S. 56 and hit Ruda's car. The Dodge City Daily Globe reports that Ruda's wife, 63-year-old Sherill Ruda, suffered disabling injuries. Cruz-Gonzalez also was hospitalized after the accident. The Rudas and Sexson were en route to Montezuma to spend Easter Sunday with relatives. De La Cruz-Gonzalez is scheduled to appear in court Monday.

Midwest Bankers Monthly Survey Suggests Economic Growth

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A survey of rural bankers in 10 Midwest and Plains states suggests slow economic growth is ahead. A report released Thursday on the Rural Mainstreet Index says the overall index rose to 58.2 in February, compared with 55.6 in January. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the report, and he says it is the index's fifth increase in the past six months. He says he expects economic growth for the region "will continue on a slow but positive pace." The index ranges from 0 to 100, with 50 representing growth neutral. Any score below 50 on the index suggests contraction in the months ahead. The index is based on a survey of rural bankers in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.


Police Believe Burglar Might Have Used Pet Doors

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police say a thief who hit several Kansas City-area homes sometimes used pet doors to get into homes, even when homeowners were nearby. Police in Kansas City and its Kansas suburbs began working together after several similar burglaries since mid-January. On Tuesday, 24-year-old Raymond Keith Dorsey was charged in Johnson County with aggravated burglary and felony theft of a motor vehicle. Police say he was arrested Sunday as he left a Leawood, Kansas home. Kansas City Detective Michael Helvie says police know of about 13 possible incidents, but others may have been victimized without realizing it. The Kansas City Star reports police on both sides of the state line say they expect additional charges to be filed.


KS Man Sentenced in Drug Sale That Led to Overdose

COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) — A southeast Kansas man was sentenced to five years in prison for selling a drug that led to another man's overdose death. Thirty-five-year-old David Tirrell of Scammon was sentenced Wednesday in Cherokee County for involuntary manslaughter. He pleaded guilty in January in the July 2012 death of 22-year-old Jordan Krokroskia, of Baxter Springs. He was initially charged with felony murder. The Joplin Globe reports that Krokroskia, a student at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, died of a drug overdose. Tirrell admitted in January that he sold a Fentanyl patch to Krokroskia, who was found dead at his home. An autopsy showed he died from Fentanyl intoxication. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid roughly 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Kansas Couple Faces Charges in Nebraska

TECUMSEH, Neb. (AP) — A Kansas couple suspected in a high-speed chase and shootout with police in Nebraska now face charges. Michael Engstrom and Jamie Russell had their first appearances in Johnson County (Nebraska) Court on Wednesday and were denied bail. Engstrom was charged Tuesday in neighboring Pawnee County (Nebraska) with two weapons counts and a robbery count. Russell, who also goes by the name Jamie Engstrom, was charged with robbery. Authorities suspect Engstrom in a double shooting in Topeka on February 13th that killed 35-year-old Ricky Mitchell and wounded a woman. Police believe Engstrom robbed a convenience store in Pawnee City hours later. Authorities say that when police later tried to stop the couple's car, Engstrom fired on officers, wounding one. Engstrom then engaged in a high-speed chase that ended when his car became stuck.

U.S. Postal Service to Shutter Wichita Encoding Center

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Postal Service says it plans to close its encoding center in Wichita, causing a loss of 380 jobs. The postal service said in a news release Wednesday that the center would close later this year, likely in or shortly after September. The center employs 797 people, but only the 380 who are not covered by collective bargaining agreements will lose their jobs. The other employees will be reassigned to available positions within the postal service. Officials said new technology that automates and speeds up processing of hand-written mail and poorly printed addresses made the encoding center obsolete. The Wichita Eagle reports the only remaining encoding center...located in Salt Lake City, Utah... will stay open.

KSU Program Helps Youths with Auditory Processing Disorder

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University has started a program to help children with a disorder that affects how their brains process language. Several faculty members and graduate students are involved in the program. It uses proven techniques to treat children with an auditory processing disorder. The disorder affects how the brain processes language. Children and adults with auditory processing disorder have normal hearing sensitivity and will pass a hearing test, but their brains do not appropriately process what they hear. Participants have ranged in age from 8 to 14 years old and were from north-central Kansas.

Winter Storm Delays State Wrestling Tournaments

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A winter storm that is blanketing most of Kansas will delay the start of the state high school wrestling tournaments. Organizers say the tournaments will start two hours later than scheduled on Friday. Weigh-ins will begin at 9 am, with first round competition starting at noon. Classes 6 and 5A tournaments are scheduled at Hartman Arena in Park City. The Class 4A tournament will be in Salina, with classes 3A, 2A and 1A in Hays. At least one team decided to leave early to get to the tournament in Salina before the storm arrived. El Dorado High School coach Wesley Reynolds says the team decided to go to Salina Wednesday so the snow wouldn't prevent them from competing.


SandRidge Energy Opposes Shareholder Proposal

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma City-based oil driller is asking shareholders to buck a proposal that the company restructure its board. SandRidge Energy on Wednesday posted an open letter on its website asking investors to block a move by investor TPG-Axon Group that would bounce current board members. The Journal Record reports that TPG-Axon released documents the day before regarding land purchases in Oklahoma and Kansas, which the investor group argued indicated a conflict of interest on the part of the company. The documents show that a family trust of SandRidge CEO Tom Ward sold SandRidge the land in the highly sought-after Mississippi Lime rock, where the company has drilling operations. SandRidge said in the letter that if the TPG-Axon proposal is approved, board members would be picked only by the investor group.

Kansas Governor Praises Storm Forecasting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Hours before a heavy blanket of snow descended on much of Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback took to the airwaves to warn residents to stay home, stay warm and the let the system pass. The Republican governor said Wednesday that better technology and forecasting methods give state leaders a chance get ahead of such storms and warn residents to take precautions. Brownback says anything the state can do to warn Kansas residents to take precautions will save lives and make response to the storm go more smoothly. More than a foot of snow was expected over a wide swath of Kansas. The governor's advice was for Kansas residents to have an extra cup of coffee, get out a board game and play with their children.

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


Check Your Flight: KC Airport Down to 1 Runway

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Whiteout conditions from the winter storm lumbering through the region have reduced the Kansas City International Airport to a single runway. Airport spokesman Joe McBride says some flights are getting in and out of Kansas City, but he expects the airport will close at some point as the snow continues to fall and conditions worsen. Many flights have been canceled, and travelers were urged to check their flights before making the trek to the airport. McBride says the whiteout conditions were so bad at mid-morning that maintenance crews could barely see each other.

**this story has been updated. Kansas City International Airport has been closed until Friday morning. Please see above for more information. 


Kansas Governor Says Travel Warning Being Heeded

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says Kansas residents appear to be heeding his warning against traveling during a storm that is piling up snow. Brownback said Thursday that state officials expect the snow to continue until midnight. He said travel on the state's highways appears to be light because of the weather. The governor said travel is especially treacherous in metro areas and motorists who do venture out in cities should expect to get stuck. He also said the state has been fortunate because only about 200 people had lost power as of Thursday morning. The governor told reporters during a briefing that officials were watching potentially icy conditions in both southeast and southwest Kansas.

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



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