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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Major Winter Snowstorm Descends on Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A major winter snowstorm is bringing heavy snow across much of Kansas. Kansas government ground to a halt Tuesday as lawmakers postponed legislative work. Schools throughout the state cancelled classes. National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Kleinsasser says the onset was a little bit later than anticipated in Wichita with about an inch on the ground for the morning commute. Drier air evaporated much of the snow before it hit the ground. Atmospheric conditions also focused the heaviest snowfalls from Hutchinson to Topeka in northeast Kansas, with 3 to 4 inches on the ground by early morning. Meteorologists anticipate this will be the biggest storm so far this winter. 


KS Gov Rides KDOT Snowplow Along Interstate 70

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is getting a firsthand look at the state's efforts to clear highways amid the winter storm that has closed schools and state government offices. Brownback hopped aboard a Kansas Department of Transportation snowplow Tuesday afternoon to observe snow removal on Interstate 70 west of Topeka. Forecasters were predicting up to a foot of snow in northeast Kansas. Brownback said his decision on whether to reopen state offices Wednesday will rest partly on whether winds are causing snowdrifts. Brownback said he rode the KDOT plow to observe snow removal firsthand. He planned to travel about 15 miles on I-70 to the exit for the town of Maple Hill, then return to Topeka for a late-afternoon briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center.


KS Governor Calls Out National Guard Troops in Storm

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has called out Kansas National Guard troops to help transport emergency and medical personnel and rescue stranded motorists. Brownback also announced Tuesday that he's issued a disaster declaration for the state. The declaration makes it easier for the state Division of Emergency Management to move personnel and equipment around the state. State Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli said 36 National Guard members have been activated to work in four-member teams. He said their first priority will be transporting emergency and medical personnel who can't get through on snow-packed roads. Schools and government offices were closed in much of Kansas on Tuesday amid the storm that was expected to drop up to a foot of snow in some places.


Extreme Weather Swings Worry Livestock Producers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The National Agricultural Statistics Service says declining stock water supplies and extreme weather swings were the biggest concerns for Kansas livestock producers last month. In its monthly wintertime update, the agency reported Monday that cattle and calf losses were 13 percent below normal, 85 percent normal and 2 percent above normal in January. The report also said most of Kansas received less than half the normal amount of precipitation last month. About 20 percent of the winter wheat was rated in poor to very poor condition, with 45 percent rated fair, 33 percent rated good and 2 percent rated excellent. The report says Kansas farmers in areas with little to no snow cover last month were concerned with winterkill on their wheat crop.


UPDATE: Plane Crash in Tennessee Kills 4 from Kansas

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas business owner, his wife, daughter and granddaughter have been identified as the victims of plane crash in Tennessee. Lori Gibson, a spokeswoman for the family, identified the victims Tuesday as Glenn Mull; his wife, Elaine; their daughter, Amy Harter; and granddaughter Samantha Harter. Gibson says Mull owned Mull Farms and Feeding in Pawnee Rock, about 15 miles southwest of Great Bend. They were traveling to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Trade Show when their Gulfstream 690C crashed Monday while trying to land in Nashville. They had taken off from the Great Bend Municipal Airport. Gibson says the family "is in the process of coming to terms with the shock of this loss" while also trying to address the needs of Mull's employees and the community.


KS Atty General Joins Appeal of EPA Regulation Ruling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has joined other states in appealing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed regulation of nutrients in runoff from farms and lawns. Schmidt says he filed a brief Monday in a federal appeals court in Philadelphia in a lawsuit by the American Farm Bureau over the EPA's regulation of nutrient runoff in the Chesapeake River basin. Schmidt says Kansas and other states are weighing in on the case before the EPA makes similar regulations on nutrient runoff in the Mississippi River basin, which includes Kansas. The attorneys general contend the regulation represents EPA micromanagement of how states meet federal water quality standards. Schmidt and others maintain that states have the authority to control runoff and impose any restrictions on industry.

KS Bill Would Allow Victims to Sue Terrorists

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are considering anti-terrorism legislation inspired partly by an alleged suicide bomb plot at a Wichita airport foiled in December. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a bill heard Monday by the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee would allow victims to sue convicted terrorists. The bill would let victims collect damages equal to three times their losses or $10,000, whichever is greater. The measure also would make it a felony to conceal a terrorist or hinder prosecution of alleged terrorists. A 58-year-old avionics technician has pleaded not guilty to federal terror-related charges in what prosecutors say was a plan to set off a bomb at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. Supporters of the bill included Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter. The committee took no action.


Governors Write to Obama over Propane Shortage

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and five other governors are writing to President Barack Obama asking for help in addressing the propane shortage and price increases. They are asking for the administration to help increase propane supplies through "every means of transport." They encouraged Obama to consider regulatory waivers aimed at increasing supplies and hoped the Small Business Administration would ease loan requirements to help communities respond to the shortage. The letter also said they wanted to explore actions to improve supply stability in future years. The letter dated Tuesday was sent through the Midwest Governor's Association, of which Dayton is chair. The other governors are Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.


Another Earthquake Rattles South-Central Kansas

CALDWELL, Kan. (AP) — A south-central Kansas county has been shaken by its second minor earthquake in two days. The U.S. Geological Survey says a quake with a magnitude of 3.3 rattled Sumner County just after 8 am Tuesday. The tremor was centered about 11 miles northwest of Caldwell — a few miles from where a 3.9-magnitude earthquake was recorded around 3 am Monday. No damage was reported from either quake, but viewers told KWCH-TV that their windows rattled Tuesday morning. A 3.8-magnitude earthquake shook the same vicinity December 16. Small earthquakes in southern Kansas have become more common, with more than two dozen recorded over the past two years. The area has been the site of increased oil and gas drilling since 2011. Scientists disagree on whether that causes the earthquakes.


Autopsy: KU Student Died from Fall After Drinking

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — An autopsy indicates that a 23-year-old University of Kansas student died last December from a fall after he had been drinking. The autopsy released Tuesday said Gianfranco Villagomez-Saldana suffered skull fractures, bruising on the brain and broken ribs that suggested he fell on a hard surface. Coroner Erik Mitchell says the death was an accident. Villagomez-Saldana, from Lima, Peru, was found dead on December 9, two days after he was seen leaving a party. The autopsy concluded he died on December 7. His body was frozen when it was found but the coroner ruled he did not die from the cold. His blood alcohol level was 0.18 percent. No drugs were found in his system.


Black Hills Energy Warns of Phone Scam

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A utility company that serves Kansas and other states is warning about a scam targeting its customers. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Black Hills Energy says callers posing as representatives tell customers they must make a payment quickly or their services will be disconnected. Black Hills says the scammers use technology that displays its number on caller ID. Black Hills is a natural gas and electric utility with more than 600,000 customers in Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska. The company says the scam may be targeting small businesses and customers who may have trouble understanding English and billing practices. Black Hills says if someone calls claiming to represent a local utility and demands immediate payment or personal information, hang up and call the customer service number listed on a utility bill.

Kickapoo Tribe May Seek Federal Help on Reservoir Project

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An American Indian tribe is considering seeking federal help to secure land to build a reservoir near Topeka. The Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas has been trying for years to build Plum Creek Reservoir. It has been stalled by a water district that oversees land close to the tribe's land 50 miles north of Topeka. A federal court ruled in December that the tribe couldn't compel the Nemaha-Brown water district to use eminent domain to obtain private property so the reservoir can be built, despite an agreement signed in 1994. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that tribal chairman Steve Cadue and vice chairman Curtis Simon met with Governor Sam Brownback last Friday. They told him they will ask the federal government to acquire the land via eminent domain by invoking treaty rights.


Crash Kills 2 in Southeast Kansas

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — State troopers are investigating the potential role of winter weather in a collision that killed two people in southeast Kansas. Highway Patrol Maj. John Eichkorn says the wreck happened shortly before 2 pm Tuesday on U.S. 69, just south of Pittsburg and one mile north of U.S. 400. Eichkorn says the two-car collision killed the driver of one vehicle and a passenger in the other. The second driver was taken to a hospital. Names were not immediately released. The patrol says no precipitation was falling at the time, but investigators will study if conditions created by Tuesday's winter storm were involved. The crash closed U.S. 69 for about two hours.


Wichita Police Investigate Killing of Intruder

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County prosecutors will decide whether to charge a Wichita man who police say shot and killed an early-morning intruder. The Wichita Eagle reports the 35-year-old homeowner told police he heard noises around 3:45 am Monday and went to investigate. The homeowner told police the male intruder attacked him without saying anything. The man says he was able to get a gun and fire several shots at the intruder, who was pronounced dead at a hospital. Police were withholding the name of the 45-year-old man while his relatives were notified. Investigators said they found no indication that the man was armed, nor that the two men were acquainted.


Southwest Gets $2.5M in Subsidies for Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Southwest Airlines received $2.52 million in subsidies from the state's Affordable Airfares program to help underwrite losses from its service out of Wichita. Southwest Airlines began service in June from Wichita. The carrier, which has daily flights from Wichita to Dallas, Chicago and Las Vegas, received the subsidies for service it provided during July, August and September. Southwest is eligible for up to $6.5 million each fiscal year to help underwrite losses on its Wichita service. Chris Chronis, Sedgwick County chief financial officer, told The Wichita Eagle that Southwest hasn't applied yet for funds for service after September. Kansas allocates $5 million a year for its Affordable Airfare program, which was formed to provide more flight options, competition for air travel and more affordable airfares.


Broad Coalition Backs Keystone XL Oil Pipeline

WASHINGTON (AP) — An unusual coalition of lawmakers from both parties, labor and business leaders, veterans groups and Canada's ambassador to the United States have joined forces to push for quick approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Speakers at a Capitol news conference Tuesday urged President Barack Obama to approve the pipeline following a State Department report last week that raised no major environmental objections. The pipeline would carry oil from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. The project has lingered for more than five years and become a symbol of the political debate over climate change. Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer spoke, along with labor union officials and a retired Navy admiral. Opponents, including many Democratic lawmakers, say the pipeline would carry heavy oil that contributes to global warming.


KS Teacher Pleads Not Guilty to Sex with Student

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — A south central Kansas teacher has pleaded not guilty to having unlawful sexual relations with a student. Twenty-four-year-old Ashley Marie Eck, of Augusta, also waived her right to a preliminary hearing during a court appearance Monday in Cowley County. Eck was a teacher at Winfield High School. The Winfield Daily Courier reports that a police investigation began shortly after graduation in May of last year. She remains on administrative leave from the school district. If convicted, Eck would face a sentence of not less than 31 or more than 136 months in prison, a fine of up to $300,000 and post-release supervision.

Section of Interstate 29 in St. Joseph Closed

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri State Highway Patrol has reopened one southbound lane of Interstate 29 in St. Joseph that was closed after a tanker truck went into a ditch. The patrol says the truck carrying ethanol slid off the road about 4 am Tuesday. Both lanes were closed until 6:30 am, when one lane was reopened. Crews continue to work to remove the truck. The driver was not injured. Snow began falling in northwest Missouri early Tuesday. Forecasters are saying the region could get up to 10 inches of snow as a strong system moves into the state from Kansas.

Health Experts Warn of Dangers of Snow Shoveling

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Health experts at the University of Kansas Hospital are warning people to avoid overtaxing their hearts while shoveling snow. With a winter storm bearing down on the region, the hospital said in a statement Monday that people clearing snow should be alert to dizziness, extreme fatigue, faintness and chest pains. Cardiologists say that even people in relatively good physical shape can be at risk during cold winter days. Cardiologists say the dangers for the elderly can be especially high. They urged people to work up to outdoor chores, such as snow shoveling. And health experts said that people with known heart disease should exercise only as part of a health program overseen by their physician.

Cabin Fever Taking Hold Amid Relentless Cold, Snow

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The constant onslaught of snow, ice and frigid temperatures hitting the Midwest and East Coast is keeping many people stuck inside. And with a month-and-a-half of winter still to go, cabin fever is setting in. School districts across two-thirds of the nation are dealing with higher than normal numbers of snow days. Avid outdoor recreationalists are making do indoors. Social service agencies that provide for the needy and elderly are trying to work around the forecasts. Still, the weather isn't breaking any records. Meteorologist Alex Sosnowksi says this season's weather comes along every decade or two. He says this winter seems especially bad because of a recent string of mild winters.


MO Court Revives Light Rail Initiative in KC

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court has revived a potential initiative for a light rail system in Kansas City. The court ruled Tuesday that the proposed transportation tax initiative had wrongly been blocked in 2011. Activist Clay Chastain had gathered initiative petition signatures in support for the three-eighths-cent sales tax. But the City Council refused to place it on the ballot. The council said it failed to provide enough money to pay for the projects. A judge agreed with the city in ruling that the measure violated the Missouri Constitution. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the initiative was not an unconstitutional appropriation. It sent the case back to a trial court to consider Chastain's request for a judicial order requiring the city to place it on the ballot.


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