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Regional Headlines for Thursday, January 23, 2014


Sprint Preparing to lssue Layoff Notices

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Wireless carrier Sprint will lay off an undetermined number of its workers as part of a cost-cutting program announced Thursday. A regulatory filing says the Overland Park-based company began drawing up layoff plans last week. A Sprint spokesman says the company's managers are still reviewing how many jobs they will need to cut. More details could emerge when Sprint Corporation reports its fourth-quarter earnings on February 11. The purge is expected to be completed by the end of June. About 39,000 people work at Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier. The cutbacks may be substantial, based on how much Sprint is preparing to pay in severance and other benefits. Sprint expects to absorb a $165 million hit in the fourth quarter and may take more charges in the future.


Insurer Athene USA to Close 200-Employee Topeka Office

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Life insurance and annuities provider Athene USA is closing its 200-employee Topeka office and moving the operation to Iowa. The announcement Thursday comes after Athene Holding Ltd., a life insurance company owned primarily by private equity fund Apollo Global Management, acquired West Des Moines-based AvivaUSA last year. Aviva is being rebranded Athene USA. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Athene public relations manager Steve Carlson said in a written statement that consolidating work in West Des Moines would allow the company to more effectively serve distribution partners, agents and clients. Carlson says most of the employees in the Topeka office will be given the choice of relocating to Iowa. The other employees will be given 60-days notice and a severance package.


AG Seeks to Expand No-Call List to Cell Phones

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorney General Derek Schmidt is proposing legislators expand the Kansas no-call registry to cover mobile devices to protect consumers from unwanted calls. Schmidt announced the plan Wednesday with legislators, telecommunication providers and Kansas AARP. The registry currently allows residents to list their numbers with the attorney general's office if they wish not to be bothered by telemarketing calls. Federal law allows for any telephone number to be listed on a national database, but Schmidt and others aren't certain if the Kansas law specifically allows for mobile numbers to be added to protect privacy. The proposed bill would be narrowly drafted to clarify that mobile devices are covered by the act. Violations of the act are enforced by the attorney general's office.


KS Appeals Ruling on State Offender Registry

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has appealed a district judge's decision that orders a child molester's name to be removed from its offender registry after finding state registration laws violate the U.S. Constitution. The state filed written arguments Wednesday before the Kansas Supreme Court. It seeks to overturn the decision by Shawnee County Judge Larry Hendricks that Kansas law ostracizes offenders and requires them to remain registered longer than necessary. The lower court ruling applied only to the Lenexa man who sued the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Johnson County Sheriff's office seeking to end his registration requirement. But the state is concerned a ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court on the case would apply to others on the registry. Kansas law requires sex, drug and violent offenders to register with law enforcement.


KS Governor Takes All-Day Kindergarten Plan to Schoolhouse

ROELAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback took a field trip to a suburban school district as he kicked off a campaign to build support for his plan to increase state funding of all-day kindergarten. The Republican governor dined Thursday with students at Roesland Elementary School in the Shawnee Mission school district before chatting with teachers, students and parents. Currently, district parents pay $300 per month for the all-day program. The half-day program is free. Brownback wants to increase state funding for all-day kindergarten starting in the next budget year, providing an extra $16 million each year over five years for the state's 286 school districts. The governor says Kansas can afford to spend the money and should to improve early learning. Critics are skeptical that Kansas will be able to sustain the required financial investment.


Progressives Protest GOP Rule at KS Statehouse

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Progressive and labor union activists are promising sustained protests against Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and multiple policies pursued by him and other Republicans. Nearly 200 people participated Thursday in a Statehouse rally staged by the Wichita-based group Kansas People's Action. Speakers included labor, environmental and community activists. They later converged on Brownback's office, giving a staff member a poster-sized yellow card demanding a state government that, in their words, "works for all of us." Their causes include additional funding for public schools and an expansion of the state's Medicaid program under the federal health overhaul. They were also critical of income tax cuts championed by Brownback. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said a government that creates jobs and allows Kansans to keep more of their money works for everyone.


GOP Convention Host Eases No-Gun Policy for Event

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita hotel that is hosting the state's Republican convention has decided to allow participants to bring their guns if they want, despite signs saying firearms aren't allowed. Butler County Republican Party chairwoman Debbie Luper told party members in an email that Hyatt Regency Hotel has agreed to relax its gun ban for the sold-out convention that starts Friday. The Wichita Eagle reports that state GOP executive director Clay Barker called the lifting of the ban symbolic because most would not be taking their guns. Barker says the temporary change was an acknowledgement by the hotel that Kansans have the right to carry firearms. A spokeswoman for Governor Sam Brownback's office declined to say whether he planned to take a gun along, calling it a "party issue."


Volunteers to Search for Missing KS Woman

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Volunteers are planning to resume searching this weekend for a Kansas State employee who hasn't been seen since Sunday. KMAN reports the search for 56-year-old Jane Peterson will begin at 10:15 am Saturday at the Tuttle Cove on Tuttle Creek Lake, north of Manhattan. Peterson, of St. George, was reported missing Sunday by her family. Her pickup truck was found Monday evening near the Tuttle Cove area. Dozens of soldiers from Fort Riley and law enforcement officers conducted an unsuccessful search Tuesday for Peterson, who works in the physics department at Kansas State.

Authorities Investigate Goodland Inmate's Death

GOODLAND, Kan. (AP) — Goodland police are investigating the death of a Kansas City woman while she was being held in the Sherman County Jail. The Sherman County sheriff's office says in a news release that 58-year-old Brenda Sewell died Wednesday at the Goodland Regional Medical Center. She was jailed after being arrested Monday by the Kansas Highway Patrol. Paramedics were called to the jail Wednesday and Sewell was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Goodland Police are investigating, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has been notified. The sheriff says no other information will be released until an autopsy and outside investigation is finished.

KBI Investigating Death of Woman in Scott City

SCOTT CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is looking into the death of a woman whose body was found outside a western Kansas motel last week. The KBI says a motorist saw the body of 20-year-old Sherree Smith of Garden City on the ground outside the Cowboy Cabins in Scott City last Friday. She was pronounced dead at a hospital. The cause of death has not been released. Investigators are trying to locate Smith's car, a 1999 gold Ford Taurus with Kansas license plate 617 DOT.


Kobach Seeks to End Prairie Chicken Protection


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is backing a bill that would exclude the lesser prairie chicken from federal protection. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Kobach told the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Thursday that the bill would likely lead to a legal battle that pits state rights against federal law. The bill would assert state sovereignty over nonmigratory wildlife and declare null and void any federal law in Kansas on the lesser prairie chicken. Under the bill, state officials also would be allowed to charge federal officials with a felony for enforcing a federal law dealing with the lesser prairie chicken. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is deciding whether to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.


Wichita Denies Monetary Claim from Apartment Standoff

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The city of Wichita has denied a claim of more than $400,000 from the insurer of an apartment complex that was damaged during a long standoff last summer. Auto-Owners Insurance Co. is seeking $411,411 for damages to the Southlake Village complex and lost rental profits. Several apartments were damaged during a 32-hour standoff with 34-year-old Jared Woosypiti. The standoff ended when police shot and killed Woosypiti. The Wichita Eagle reports the city is asserting immunity from the damages under a state law that specifies which government acts carry liability. So far, the city has paid 10 claims from the standoff totaling $60,533. Meanwhile, the apartments damaged during the standoff are scheduled to reopen in 10 to 14 days.

Northeast KS Man Appeals Slaying Sentence to State High Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man who admitted killing his stepfather at the urging of his mother is appealing his sentence to the Kansas Supreme Court. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Scott Mosher is fighting the district court's decision to run sentences for first-degree murder and conspiracy consecutively. Mosher received a hard 20 term for the murder, meaning he would have to serve 20 years in prison before being eligible for parole, and was sentenced to 117 months for the conspiracy conviction. The appeal is scheduled to be heard next week. Prosecutors have said Mosher's mother, Michelle Eberhardt, wanted someone to kill her 51-year-old husband, Gerald Eberhardt, and turned to her son in 2009 when another man refused to commit the homicide for $2,000. Michelle Eberhardt pleaded guilty earlier.


Man Who Crashed KC Mayor's Speech Sentenced to Probation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 32-year-old man has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for disrupting Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Sly James's State of the City address last year. Derron Black of Kansas City was sentenced Wednesday to one year of probation for resisting arrest and obstruction of government operations as part of a plea deal. Imposition of the sentence was suspended on the conditions that Black serve 10 days of shock jail time, attend an anger management class, continue receiving mental health counseling and continue bond conditions already in place. Those conditions include staying a safe distance from James and his security detail. Black initially was charged with misdemeanor assault on a law enforcement officer after the March 2013 incident, but that charge was changed to resisting arrest as part of the plea deal.


No Injuries Reported in Northeastern Oklahoma Train Derailment

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — No injuries have been reported after a train derailed early Thursday morning in Tulsa. Officials with the Kansas-based South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad notified Tulsa police just before 1 a.m. Thursday that five railcars carrying cement veered off the tracks near an intersection in north Tulsa. The Tulsa World reports that crews were able to clear the detached cars and no substance spills were reported. Police say traffic was affected for about three hours. The cause of the derailment is under investigation.


County Hopes Bonuses Keep Workers at Boys Ranch

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County commissioners have agreed to let administrators award thousands of dollars in bonuses to key staff members at a juvenile facility for young offenders. The future of the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch near Lake Afton has been up in the air for years because of a funding crunch. An exodus of employees last year quickened after Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan said in December he would recommend closing the facility if the state doesn't provide more money. The Wichita Eagle reports county commissioners on Wednesday approved a policy that provides up to $190,000 in bonuses to critical employees at the ranch, along with some information technology workers. The ranch serves about 40 boys considered at medium to high risk of committing additional crimes.


Theater Cancels Opening Show After Reinhold Quits

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City dinner theater had to cancel opening night of its play "Harvey" after a disgruntled Judge Reinhold resigned from the production. New Theatre co-owner Richard Carrothers told The Kansas City Star that the "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Beverly Hills Cop" star had appeared increasingly unhappy with everything related to the production. The Overland Park theater canceled its opening-night show on Wednesday after Reinhold's abrupt departure. "Harvey" was instead opening Thursday after an afternoon matinee. Kansas City-based actor Craig Benton was assuming the lead role in the whimsical 1944 comedy through January 29, after which Los Angeles-based British actor Charles Shaughnessy takes over. Carrothers says replacing Reinhold could be expensive because all of the signs and advertisements for the show now have to be changed.


'Point of Rocks' Landmark in Western KS Might Move

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — A landowner says Dodge City will have to move a longtime landmark on the western edge of the city if the state installs a 60-foot median when it widens U.S. 50. The Kansas Department of Transportation wants to expand U.S. 50 to four lanes between Cimarron and Dodge City. The $69 million project includes the 60-foot median, or a second option of a 16-foot asphalt median. The Dodge City Daily Globe reports the project would require removing parts of the Point of Rocks and adding a retaining wall. Jack Fox owns the land where the "Point of Rocks" landmark sits. He told the Dodge City Commission Tuesday that the landmark, which is metal cowboy silhouette, will have to be moved if the 60-foot median is installed.

Former Astronaut Uses Hubble Data for Research

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A former NASA astronaut who helped put the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit now uses the images it captures to conduct research at the University of Kansas. Physics and astronomy professor Steven Hawley first researched an abnormal planetary nebula called Tololo 26 as a young astronomer, before ever venturing beyond earth. Besides helping to put the Hubble into orbit, he also replaced a few failed components in a later shuttle mission. Now done flying shuttle missions, his research on the planetary nebula has resumed. Planetary nebulas are the colorful remnants of dying stars. Hawley says another astronomer used the Hubble telescope to study a comparable object and determined it likely was two stars. Hawley suspects that Tololo 26 is two stars as well. Images expected in February could provide answers.

Maintenance Facility to Open at KCI by April

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Aviation Technical Services says it plans to open its aircraft maintenance plant at Kansas City International Airport by April. ATS officials say they expect to finalize the lease for the plant by February 1. The Kansas City Council has approved a seven-year, $7 million lease with two, 10-year renewal options for the plant. The Kansas City Star reports that ATS plans to hire about 540 new employees and 40 contract workers for the KCI operation within three to five years, and the operation could grow to 1,000 jobs. The company is expected to invest about $7 million in its Kansas City facilities. The KCI operation will provide services for wide-body and narrow-body commercial and military transport jet aircraft.

Fungus Targeting Bats Found in Western Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A fungus that has killed millions of bats around eastern U.S. has landed in western Missouri. The Kansas City Star reports that bats afflicted with "white nose syndrome" were found last winter in east-central Missouri, and before that the virus was found among bats in Missouri caves near the Mississippi River. Tony Elliott, with the Missouri Conservation Department, says the fungus was found recently among three tri-colored bats in a limestone quarry in Jackson County. Officials aren't identifying the location to prevent curious people from visiting the site and spreading the fungus. White-nose syndrome doesn't infect people, pets or livestock, but it's estimated to have killed more than 5 million cave-dwelling bats nationwide since 2006. Elliott says there haven't been any confirmed bat deaths from the disease in Missouri.

24 Dogs Seized from KC Neighborhood

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City animal control workers seized 24 dogs, most of them pit bulls, from two homes in the same neighborhood. Narcotics officers serving an arrest warrant at one home Wednesday found 18 pit bulls and a mixed-breed dog in makeshift kennels behind the home. They took another dog from inside the home and four more pit bulls from a home across the street. The Kansas City Star reports that the dogs appeared to be in good health, expect for one dog being kept indoors. An animal control supervisor says the home apparently was being used to breed and train the dogs. Animal control officers said they will cite the owner of the 20 dogs for having 16 more than allowed and for not having them spayed or neutered.

Police: Elderly KC Man with Dementia Victim of Con Game

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say an 88-year-old man with dementia was tricked into buying a 19-year-old man shoes and hats. Police say the elderly man was in a car waiting for his wife to shop when the younger man, Brian Redmond, got into the car. Redmond allegedly convinced the victim that they knew each other and persuaded him to take him shopping. The Kansas City Star reports that the victim drove to several stores and spent about $130 on Redmond. He allegedly tried to spend more but his credit card was declined. The victim also drove Redmond to meet with several people. Police found the man after the victim's wife reported him missing. Redmond was cited for general ordinance violations of stealing and possession of marijuana.


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