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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Kansas April Revenue Close to Expectations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas revenue officials say the state collected nearly what was expected for April, missing projections by less than $5 million. The monthly report released Tuesday showed that Kansas collected $764.8 million in taxes. The state expected to collect $769.2 million for the month. The estimate was based on new projections calculated April 19 by a group of researchers and economists. Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said Kansas collected $25 million more in individual income taxes in April 2013 compared to April 2012. Jordan said collections indicate the state is seeing economic growth as a result of tax cuts enacted in 2012. For the fiscal year that began July 1, 2012, Kansas has collected $5.018 billion in taxes, or about $4.4 million short of the $5.022 billion projected.


Kansas Ordered to Pay $389K in Fees in Remapping Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three federal judges have ordered the state of Kansas to cover $389,000 worth of attorneys' fees and expenses for parties involved in a lawsuit last year over political redistricting. The three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that 15 people involved in the lawsuit were entitled to have at least some attorneys' fees and expenses covered.The Legislature failed last year to approve any plans for redrawing the state's political boundaries to ensure equal representation, and the three-judge panel imposed new lines itself. The lawsuit was filed by a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe before lawmakers adjourned their annual session, but the judges allowed 26 other individuals to intervene. A majority wanted attorneys' fees and expenses of about $671,000 covered. The Kansas attorney general's office had objected to covering most of the requests.


Governor: Use Bioscience Money for Stem Cell Center

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says the state should divert $1.15 million from bioscience efforts to fund a new adult stem cell center at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The governor said Monday that the money from the Kansas Bioscience Authority could be used to create the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center, with $754,500 per year to maintain the center after that. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the proposal was part of numerous spending adjustments Brownback has sent to the Legislature, which reconvenes May 8. The Legislature this session passed a bill requiring the medical center to start the adult stem cell center but did not provide funds for it. The center is prohibited from using embryonic stem cells or cells from fetal tissue in its research.

Kansas Supreme Court Orders Quick New Trial in Death Penalty Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court says prosecutors must begin a re-trial within 90 days for a Topeka man whose death penalty conviction was overturned. The court in January ordered a new trial for Phillip Cheatham in the 2003 murders of two women and the wounding of a third in Topeka. The deadline for an appeal of that order passed last week, prompting Monday's order. Cheatham told the Topeka Capital-Journal Monday in an interview from Hutchinson Correctional Facility that he just wants to go home. He said he would consider applying for bond because he wanted to walk out the front door of the prison. The court ordered the new trial after finding Cheatham didn't get an adequate defense from his attorney in the original trial.

Report: Kansas Jobs Forecast Improves

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report is forecasting that Kansas employment will grow this year at a "slightly faster rate" than in 2012 and will add nearly 24,000 jobs to the state's economy. The Center for Economic Development and Business Research on Tuesday predicted 1.8 percent job growth for an estimated 23,794 new jobs. The agency's director, Jeremy Hill, acknowledges that is still a slow rate of growth but says the forecast is nonetheless fairly optimistic. Most of those new jobs are coming in the service sector, which is expected to grow by 2.2 percent. That includes everything from lawyers to hotel workers. The energy and construction industries are also adding jobs.


Truck Drops onto Interstate 70 in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Traffic is flowing again on Interstate 70 in northwest Kansas City after the road was closed for more than five hours when a tractor-trailer truck drove off a ramp and dropped onto the interstate. The accident happened about 6:30 am Tuesday when the truck hit a guardrail on a ramp from Interstate 35 and eventually fell onto Interstate 70. The truck landed on its roof and debris was thrown across eastbound lanes of Interstate 70. The westbound lanes of the interstate opened about 8:30 am, but the eastbound lanes did not open until nearly noon. The truck driver was hospitalized with injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening. No other vehicles were involved in the accident.

Kansas Doctor Accused in Pill Mill Case Waives Hearing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A grand jury will consider the case of a Kansas doctor charged with illegally distributing controlled substances including painkillers and antidepressants to police, Fort Riley soldiers and their families. Authorities say Michael P. Schuster of Manhattan prescribed drugs at his clinic, about 15 miles from Fort Riley, based on minimal examinations, and that led to several overdoses. The 53-year-old Schuster waived his preliminary hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Topeka. The case is scheduled to go to a grand jury Wednesday. Magistrate Judge Gary Sebelius set Schuster's detention hearing for May 7 in Topeka. Schuster is in federal custody.

Maize School District Drops Random Drug Testing Program

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A school district in suburban Wichita has decided to stop random drug tests of students who participate in extracurricular activities. The Maize School Board voted earlier this month to eliminate the drug testing after considering reaction from administrators and students. The tests were conducted on students from seventh through 12th grade. A district spokeswoman says the program cost the district more than $31,000 since it began in 2007. During that time, four students tested positive for drug use. The district will instead focus on drug prevention and education. KAKE-TV reports that the district plans to continue using drug-sniffing dogs in school parking lots and hallways.

Kansas Volunteer Firefighter Charged with Arson

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A volunteer Reno County firefighter is charged with 14 felony counts of arson after investigators alleged he set more than a dozen grass fires last fall. Nineteen-year-old Cody A. Knox of Arlington was arrested on a warrant Friday and charged with setting 14 fires in Reno County fields in October and November of last year. He was released on $7,500 bond and is scheduled to make his first court appearance Friday. Knox is a volunteer firefighter for Reno County Fire District No. 4, which covers Arlington, Langdon, Plevna and Abbyville. Reno County prosecutors allege he used a cigarette lighter to set the fires, which caused little damage and no injuries. It wasn't immediately clear if Knox has an attorney.


Westar Energy Reports More Copper Thefts

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy officials who were already dealing with $200,000 in damage done at a substation during the weekend say thieves also hit two other substations. The utility discovered damage Monday at substations near Valley Center and in Wichita. Westar Manager Doug VenJohn says thieves have hit 31 substations in April. There were only 15 similar thefts all of last year. KAKE-TV reports that Westar crews were at six different substations Monday to make repairs related to copper thefts. Westar is replacing the copper stolen with something with no scrap value. But VenJohn says the material is more expensive, takes special crews to install and is more time-consuming. He says that increases costs, which will eventually be passed on to customers.


Wheat Prices Increase on Worsening Crop Conditions

Wheat prices are rising after crop conditions deteriorated as unseasonably cold weather in April began to take its toll. July wheat rose 14.5 cents, or 2 percent, to $7.31 a bushel. The grain has advanced 6.3 percent this month. The United States Department of Agriculture's Crop Progress report, published late Monday, showed conditions deteriorated in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas following freezing temperatures in April. Wheat is rebounding after dropping to the lowest in more than eight months April 1. Winter snowstorms earlier in the year brought moisture to the Plains and improved the outlook for this year's crop. Expectations of bumper crops from big wheat exporters like India and Australia also weighed on prices. Corn and soybean futures fell. Metals were little changed.


Early Results from Kansas Wheat Tour Show Varied Yields

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Participants in the Kansas winter wheat tour are finding less freeze damage than had been expected during the first leg of the 2013 event. The tour started in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, when cars fanned out along six routes across the heart of wheat country. Aaron Harries, director of marketing at Kansas Wheat, took a route from Manhattan to Colby along Highway 36 where the wheat looked very nice. But further west in the much drier Smith County the group found thin stands. Harries says the wheat is so far behind that the freeze burned just the tips of the leaves. Extension wheat specialist Jim Shroyer says the crop could still do well if it rains.


Kansas Man Accused in Multi-State Car Theft Ring

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A former Southeast Missouri State University women's basketball coach, who is currently the women's basketball coach at Highland Community College in northeast Kansas, has been arraigned in a multi-state car theft conspiracy. Forty-eight-year-old William J. Smith, of Highland, Kansas appeared Tuesday in federal court in St. Louis. Not guilty pleas were entered on his behalf. Smith is among 21 people charged in the auto theft conspiracy. The U.S. attorney's office said in a release that the defendants stole luxury vehicles in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, and used different schemes to obtain insurance proceeds by staging accidents and filing false theft reports. Smith resigned as women's basketball coach at SEMO in December 2006. Highland Community College officials say Smith isn't suspended while they await the outcome of the legal process.

University of Kansas Lawrence Campus Earns Historic Designation

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas leaders are hailing the designation of the Lawrence campus as a new listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district of the campus covers the period of 1863 to 1951 and includes the Watson Library, the World War II Memorial Campanile and The Hill overlooking Memorial Stadium. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a statement Monday that the listing of the campus district among the nation's historic place would help preserve the area for future generations. The selection was based on local and statewide significance for education, architecture and landscape architecture. The National Register of Historic Places in maintained by the National Park Service.


Nickerson Voters Reject Police Department

NICKERSON, Kan. (AP) — Voters in the south-central Kansas town of Nickerson have said no to starting a full-time police department. The Hutchinson News reports that in an advisory election conducted by mail ballot, 129 voters voted yes for setting up a police department, and 181 voters said no. The Nickerson City Council isn't required to follow what the voters chose, but council members said they would seek their input from residents after the police department was eliminated in 2012. The proposed Nickerson Police Department would have at least two officers for the town of about 1,000 residents. Nickerson now relies on the Reno County Sheriff's Department.


Kansas School Apologies to Airman in Prom Dispute

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas high school principal who barred a member of the Air Force from escorting his sister to prom has apologized, saying the intent was not to dishonor him. The southwest Kansas community of Liberal is now changing its age restriction policy to quell a firestorm fueled by a YouTube video and the girl's letter to the newspaper. The school district has a policy of not allowing anyone over 21 to participate in prom activities. Courtney Widener said Tuesday that she feels proud for standing up for herself and for what she thought was right. The video shows her 22-year-old brother, Casey, standing at attention at the foot of the red carpet. He crisply saluted her as she went inside before leaving amid applause from bystanders. Deputy Superintendent Paul Larkin said Tuesday a policy change allowing exceptions to the age restriction will be presented at Monday's school board meeting.


Woman Sentenced to 25 Years in Kansas Man's Death

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A woman was sentenced to more than 25 years in prison for her role in the methamphetamine-related murder of a Pittsburg man two years ago. Thirty-two-year-old Amie Lee Ryburn of Pittsburg was sentenced Monday in Crawford County District Court for second-degree murder and manufacture of methamphetamine in the death of 29-year-old Ian Monaghan. Monaghan's body was discovered in a farm field west of Pittsburg in July 2010. He had been beaten and shot multiple times. Investigators stopped Ryburn and Charles F. Mitchell later that night in a truck that contained a meth lab. The Joplin Globe reports that investigators seized another meth lab at a trailer park outside Pittsburg connected to the case. Mitchell has pleaded innocent to first-degree murder. A third man was charged with obstruction.


Kansas Men Sentenced to 10 Years for Robbing Bank

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 41-year-old Wichita man has been sentenced to 10 years for robbing a bank in Wichita. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Tuesday in a release that Christopher A. Vangessel was sentenced after he pleaded guilty to one count of bank robbery. Grissom says Vangessel admitted to robbing a UMB Bank branch on February 28, 2012, when he gave a teller a note demanding money. A parole officer identified Vangessel after authorities released surveillance photos taken during the robbery.

Kansas Gang Member Sentenced for Attempted Murder

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 29-year-old member of a Dodge City gang has been sentenced to 10 years after pleading guilty to federal charges of attempted murder. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Kansas said in a release Monday that Jason Najera pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder in furtherance of racketeering. The prosecutor's office says Najera admitted that in August 2011 he used a knife to stab two men he thought were members of a rival gang. Co-defendant Humberto Ortiz was sentenced earlier to about four years in federal prison. The two men were among 23 defendants indicted in 2012 under the federal racketeering act.


Former AP Correspondent Wheeler Dies at Age 88

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — John Fenton Wheeler, an Associated Press foreign correspondent who was the last U.S. reporter expelled from Cold War-era Cuba, has died. He was 88. According to a Parker Funeral Service obituary, Wheeler died on April 21. Wheeler's 21-year AP career included posts in Chile, Cuba, Spain, Portugal and Peru. He joined the news cooperative in 1964 in Columbus, Ohio and retired in 1985 as a chief of bureau. He was expelled from Havana in 1969 for coverage deemed unfavorable to Fidel Castro's government. Wheeler was born on April 10, 1925, in Salina. He worked for the Topeka Daily Capital and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in Texas before joining the Associated Press. He retired to Columbia, Missouri in 1994. He wrote a 2008 memoir chronicling his reporting efforts titled "Last Man Out."


Federal Jury in KC Convicts Man on Drug Charges

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A bus passenger has been convicted on federal charges after authorities found about two pounds of cocaine in his suitcase. The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri said in a release Tuesday that 32-year-old Rene Alexandor Meras was found guilty of possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute. Prosecutors said Meras was a passenger on a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Cleveland in August 2012 when the bus stopped in Kansas City. Law enforcement officers approached Meras during the stop and asked to check his luggage. Inside they found the cocaine, which had been hidden under plywood boards. Sentencing has not been scheduled.

Union Employee Charged with Embezzlement

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors in Kansas have accused a former union employee of stealing about $50,000 from an employee benefit plan. The Kansas City Star reports that Angela Heninger worked as an executive assistant for the Mobilization, Optimization, Stabilization and Training Trust, or MOST. MOST is an affiliate of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, which is headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas. Heninger was charged last week in U.S. District Court in Kansas with one count of embezzlement, six counts of wire fraud and five counts of bank fraud. Online court records don't list a lawyer for Heninger, and a phone listing under her name was disconnected.

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