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Regional Headlines for Thursday, July 25, 2013


Kansas AG Acknowledges 'Hard 50' May Not Fully Work

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt acknowledges that a quick rewriting of the state's "Hard 50" law may not allow the tough sentence in pending cases but argues legislators still should have a special session. Schmidt said Thursday that Kansas will be in a better legal position in pending cases if lawmakers don't wait until their next annual session in January to respond to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. The attorney general asked Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday to call a special session. The Kansas law allows judges to sentence people convicted of first-degree murder to a minimum of 50 years in prison before they can seek parole. The nation's highest court ruled last month that juries, not judges, must have the final say on facts triggering mandatory minimum sentences.


Kansas Special Legislative Session Would Cost $35K-$40K A Day

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A special session of the Kansas Legislature would cost from $35,000 to $40,000 a day, with lawmakers' pay making up the bulk of the expense. Legislative Administrative Services Jeff Russell provided the estimate Thursday following a request from Attorney General Derek Schmidt to Governor Sam Brownback to call a special session by mid-September. Schmidt wants lawmakers to quickly rewrite a state law that allows judges to sentence some convicted murderers to at least 50 years in prison before they seek parole. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision raised questions about the law's constitutionality. Lawmakers receive $89 in salary and $123 to cover expenses each day they're in session. For all 40 senators and 125 House members, the total approaches $35,000.


Spirit AeroSystems Announces Layoffs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Spirit AeroSystems says it is laying off about 360 employees at its Kansas and Oklahoma facilities. The Wichita-based aircraft parts maker announced the move Thursday, a day after union officials disclosed company preparations for the anticipated layoffs. The move affects salaried support staff and management employees. The company said in a news release that the action is a strategic move to make the company more competitive in a cost-sensitive environment. Spirit says it's trying to reduce overhead costs, increase efficiency and improve performance. Spirit AeroSystems, which makes large sections of airplanes assembled by companies such as Boeing and Airbus, saw its first-quarter net income rise 10 percent as demand for commercial planes increased.


Kansas Democrats Hire Political Director

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A recent graduate of Kansas State University has been appointed political director of the Kansas Democratic Party. The hiring of Wichita native Kerry Gooch was announced Wednesday by Jason Perkey, the party's executive director. Gooch was an intern for the party during the past year and graduated from Kansas State in May with a bachelor's degree in political science. Perkey says Gooch will provide infrastructure support to county Democratic parties, caucus groups and third-party organizations affiliated with the state party. The Kansas party is working to increase Democratic voter registration and participation in upcoming elections.

4 Injured in Topeka Drive-By Shooting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police are investigating a drive-by shooting that injured four people. Police say in a news release that officers found blood and shell casings but no victims when they went to the scene in southeast Topeka Wednesday night. Several apartments had been hit by gunfire. A short time later, four men arrived at a hospital with gunshot wounds that were not life-threatening. WIBW reports that it's the second time in a week that a drive-by was reported in the same block in Topeka. No one was injured last Wednesday when someone fired two shots at a building in the neighborhood. No one has been arrested. Police have not said whether the two shootings are connected.

Faulty Meters Cited in Junction City Water Loss

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in a northeast Kansas community are cracking down on illegal water consumption but say old and faulty meters are the biggest reason for the apparent overuse of water. State officials notified Junction City earlier this month that it was using as much as 30 percent more water than allotted. Interim City Manager Cheryl Beatty said Wednesday that residents illegally taking water from hydrants are a small percentage of the problem. Beatty attributes the rest to an aging system of meters that leak and inaccurately report usage. Beatty says the city will replace more than 9,000 meters over the next two years. The police department issued a notice July 7 asking the public's help in identifying the source of the water usage.


Alco Stores Enters into Acquisition Agreement

ABILENE, Kan. (AP) — Discount retailer Alco Stores Incorporated has entered into an agreement to merge with private investment firm Argonne Capital Group LLC. Alco said in a news release Thursday that Atlanta-based Argonne will acquire all the outstanding share of Alco Stores' common stock for $14 per share in cash. The proposed transaction would total about $47 million. Alco's Board of Directors has unanimously approved the merger agreement and is recommending that shareholders approve it. Alco, formerly known as Duckwall-Alco before changing its name last year, is in the process of moving from Abilene, Kansas to the Dallas suburb of Coppell. The company specializes in serving small towns and has 213 Alco stores in 23 states selling home furnishings, outdoor products, electronics sporting goods and clothing.


Kansas Vehicle Dealers Coping with Hail Damage

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The hailstorm that pounded south-central Kansas earlier this week has left automotive dealers with big headaches, but it's also giving prospective buyers a chance at big bargains. The Hutchinson News reports that dealerships in the city were scrambling to get insurance appraisals after the fast-moving storm hit the area Tuesday night. Large hailstones dinged hundreds of vehicles parked in dealers' lots. The general manager of Midwest Superstore says all 400 cars on the lot were damaged, and signs announcing discounts of up to $6,000 went up immediately. But Nick Hill also says that some vehicles will be taken away for salvage if they're deemed a total loss. At Hutchinson's Midway Motors, two pickups worth a combined $100,000 were destroyed when a 100-foot flagpole was toppled by winds gusting over 80 mph.


Feds Charge 3 in Kansas Sex Trafficking Conspiracy

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged three people in a wide-ranging sex trafficking conspiracy operating at nine Asian massage parlors in Wichita. A criminal complaint filed Wednesday in federal court charges owner Gary Kidgell of Waltham, Massachusetts; Yan Zhang of Wichita; and employee XiuQing Tian of Framingham, Massachusetts with conspiracy to recruit women and coerce them to engage in commercial sex acts. Court records do not indicate any defense attorneys. The U.S. attorney's office did not know if any have been retained. The six-count complaint lists four women, identified only by their initials, who were allegedly forced to engage in prostitution. Prosecutors allege the massage parlors recruited women by placing ads in a Chinese-language newspaper in New York and Los Angeles for women to work at a spa.


EPA Contractor Agrees to Pay $65,450 in Settlement

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A company the Environmental Protection Agency hired to remove lead paint from homes in Omaha has agreed to pay $65,450 for failing to take proper precautions. The EPA says Prudent Technologies of Kansas City, Missouri violated several rules for dealing with lead paint at two properties in Omaha. For instance, the agency says Prudent failed to cover the ground with plastic sheeting and post signs warning about lead paint around the job site. Most of eastern Omaha has been considered a superfund site by the EPA because of the extent of lead contamination, which can endanger children's health, causing decreased intelligence, slow growth and behavior problems.

Kansas Man to Be Tried in Death of Girlfriend's Son

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man has been ordered to stand trial for the shaking death earlier this year of his girlfriend's infant son. Nineteen-year-old Ogden resident Michael Dechant is charged in Riley County with first-degree murder and child abuse, accused of violently shaking 6-month-old Dominick Lubrano on March 15th. The baby died three days later. WIBW-TV reports Dechant's girlfriend, Sabrina Lubrano, has said she left Dominick briefly with Dechant while she ran an errand. Lubrano said she returned to find a neighbor giving the baby CPR in an effort to revive him. A detective testified at Tuesday's preliminary hearing that Dechant admitted shaking the baby to "shut him up." But a defense lawyer noted that police did not determine the age of the bruises on the infant's body.

1 Dead, 1 Wounded in Shooting in Pratt

PRATT, Kan. (AP) — Pratt police say a woman is dead and a man was critically injured after an overnight shooting. The shooting was reported shortly before midnight Wednesday. The man was taken to Wichita with critical injuries. Pratt police say a suspect is in custody and the investigation is continuing. No other details have been released.

KSU-Salina Pilot Program Gets FAA Exemption

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Graduates of Kansas State University at Salina's pilot program are getting a break from the federal government. The school has been granted an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration that will allow students to become professional co-pilots more quickly than other schools' graduates. The FAA rule requires aviation graduates to have at least 1,500 hours of flight time before being hired as co-pilots. The Salina Journal reports that KSU-Salina's flight program meets FAA requirements for an exemption. That means its graduates are required to have only 1,000 flight hours before becoming co-pilots. Kurt Barnhart, an official at the school, said the exemption gives the students advantages in time and cost over students at flight schools that don't meet the FAA requirements.

Corps Urges Caution Around Water After Drownings

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is urging swimmers and boaters to be careful after a spate of drowning deaths. So far this year, there have been seven water-related fatalities at the district's Kansas lakes — the most in these lakes in more than 20 years. The corps says alcohol was a contributing factor in five of the seven drownings. Those deaths are among 74 in the past nine years in the 18 lakes the corps manages in its Kansas City district, which includes parts of Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. The corps urged boaters to wear life jackets, noting that only one of the 74 victims was wearing a life jacket.

KU Seeking More Funding for Wichita Medical School

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas is asking the state for an additional $4.5 million for its medical school in Wichita. Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little told the Board of Regents Wednesday the university wants to double class sizes at the Wichita school and fund physicians for the faculty. Doug Girod, executive vice chancellor for the Kansas Medical Center, said the university is hopeful it will get the funding because it is for a specific purpose. Earlier this year, state lawmakers cut nearly $4 million from the University of Kansas budget.  The Wichita Eagle reports that if the money is approved, it would expand the Wichita program to 56 first- and second-year students, beginning in 2016 or 2017.


Death Penalty Sought in Denver Bar Killings

DENVER (AP) — Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the final man accused of killing five people at a Denver bar last fall. They announced the decision Thursday at a hearing for 23-year-old Dexter Lewis. It's the first time Denver prosecutors have sought capital punishment in over a decade and comes amid a debate about the future of the death penalty in Colorado. Lewis and two brothers also charged in the case were implicated by a federal informant who went with them to the bar. The brothers reached plea deals that will require them to testify against Lewis. District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said the case "cries out" for capital punishment. Lewis's uncle says his nephew is innocent and was hanging out with the "wrong people." One of the victims was an Overland Park man, Ross Richter.


Stafford Opera House Demolished

STAFFORD, Kan. (AP) — Residents of a small central Kansas town attended the final act of an historic opera house this week. The Stafford Opera House in Stafford was demolished Wednesday after age and decay took its toll. German immigrant August Weide organized the Stafford Opera Company in 1910 and the building was erected the next year. It was named the Weide in his honor. In its early days, the building hosted travelling shows, graduations and other events. It also housed the town newspaper, The Stafford Courier, for many years. In recent years, the building had begun to fall apart. The Pratt Daily Tribune reports that a private effort to raise funds to restore the building failed and the city declared it a hazardous structure.

Failed Kansas Theme Park Developer to Be Released

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The man who developed a failed Western-themed amusement park near Wichita will be released from prison soon. State corrections officials say 59-year-old Thomas Etheredge, who was sentenced to five years in prison for securities fraud, will get out of prison Monday. Etheredge has served just over three years of his sentence for seven counts of securities fraud for misleading investors in the Wild West World theme park in Park City. Wild West World opened on May 5, 2007. It closed on July 9 of that year and filed for bankruptcy the same day. Etheredge blamed a wet summer for poor attendance. The Wichita Eagle reports that a federal bankruptcy court tried to sell the park to investors but its assets were eventually auctioned off.

2 Missouri Circuit Court Judges Retiring

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Jackson County (Missouri) Circuit Court is losing two of its longtime judges. Judge Ann Mesle retires from the court at the end of July, and Judge Michael Manners will retire on August 1. Both were appointed to the bench by Governor Roger Wilson in November 2000. Mesle has received many honors including The Missouri Bar's Theodore McMillian Judicial Excellence Award in 2010. The Missouri Bar will honor Manners in September with the Theodore McMillian Judicial Excellence Award. Manners is leaving the bench to return to private practice. Mesle says she intends to continue her civic and community work.


2 KC Residents Killed in Rush-Hour Collision

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City couple died after a car-truck collision during morning (THUR) rush hour near the suburb of Grandview that closed part of U.S. 71/Interstate 49 all morning. Police identified the victims as 68-year-old John E. Miller and his 64-year-old wife, Barbara, who were pronounced dead at the scene Thursday. Police say John Miller was entering the highway when his car struck the right side of a tractor-trailer, spun beneath it, then struck a guard rail around 7:10 am. Investigators say neither of the Millers was wearing a seat belt. The southbound lanes of the highway were reopened Thursday afternoon.


KC Charter School to Plead Its Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A hearing to determine whether a Kansas City charter school stays open will continue Friday. Lawyers for Gordon Parks Elementary began making their case Thursday before a Cole County judge for a permanent injunction. A temporary injunction had allowed it to stay open through the end of classes in late June. Missouri education officials voted in May to pull the school's charter because of poor academic performance. The loss of the charter means a loss of state funding. School officials say their children are making progress even though many live in poverty. Gordon Parks Board President Doug Curry testified Thursday that when the school's director and principal left for a new charter school, some of the highest-performing students followed. Gordon Parks had about 240 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.


George Brett Steps Down as Royals Batting Coach

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — George Brett's tenure as hitting coach with the Royals is ending. He took the position on an interim basis on May 30 and said he would keep it for a month. He will return to his job as vice president of baseball operations for the Royals.


Former Jayhawks Defend KU Football Coach Charlie Weis

Members of last year's University of Kansas football team that Charlie Weis called a "pile of crap" earlier this week could have taken offense at their former coach's assessment of them. Instead, they wholeheartedly agreed. Weis made the comments during Big 12 media day in Dallas this week, and defensive back Bradley McDougald and fullback Toben Opurum — a captain on that Jayhawks team — said Thursday they came up with the same evaluation of a team that finished 1-11 last year. McDougald and Opurum are trying to make the Kansas City Chiefs as undrafted free agents. McDougald said that he didn't think Weis was disrespecting any players, while Opurum thought that Weis may have been able to "word it differently, but that's the type of guy he is."



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