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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, July 10, 2012



Appeals Court Upholds Ruling on Lawrence Trafficway Plans

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A three-judge federal appeals court has upheld a ruling that removes a legal hurdle for the Kansas Department of Transportation to finish building a controversial trafficway in Lawrence. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver issued a ruling Tuesday that affirmed the process used by the Federal Highway Administration to select the route for the project. The road will be a 6-mile, four-lane road connecting the existing west leg of the trafficway with Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence. Plaintiffs sought to block the road's construction, contending that it would harm the Baker Wetlands and their cultural significance. The wetlands are south of Haskell Indian Nations University. State transportation officials say the ruling clears the way for construction of the $150 million project to begin in 2013.


Analysts Skeptical about Hawker Beechcraft Deal, Job Claims 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Aviation analysts are skeptical about claims being made in the planned sale of aircraft maker Hawker Beechcraft to a Chinese firm. Industry analysts said Tuesday that the $1.79 billion offer by Beijing-based Superior Aviation is a lot of money for a struggling company with old product lines. They also question the companies' claims that thousands of U.S. jobs will be saved if the deal moves forward. Analyst Richard Aboulafia with Fairfax, Virginia-based Teal Group says assurances that Superior will continue building planes are far-fetched. He says Superior is likely to shed Hawker's product lines but keep its parts and distribution business. Aboulafia notes Superior has no aircraft manufacturing experience. Hawker Beechcraft officials refused to comment about the sale Tuesday.


Kansas Board of Education Makes $450M Funding Request

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education is requesting an additional $450 million in state spending on public schools for the 2014 state budget cycle. Board members voted 7-2 on Tuesday to submit the request to Republican Governor Sam Brownback and the GOP-controlled Legislature. The request covers education expenses for the 2013-14 school year. Members say they felt they had to ask legislators to increase education spending, including increasing the base state aid per pupil to $4,492, up from the $3,838 that districts now receive. The increase represents $440.1 million of the board's request. The request includes identifying other priorities, including maintaining required funding for special education and increasing money for teachers' professional development.


Kansas Legislators Order Audit of Vehicles System

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A committee of the Kansas Legislature has ordered an audit of the state's troubled $40 million upgrade of its computer system for handling vehicle registrations. But auditors didn't expect their report to be ready at least until late spring after Tuesday's action by the Legislative Post Audit Committee. The committee agreed to Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan's request that the work not start until fall so his department has time to fix problems. The department's Division of Vehicles began using the new system in May, and county treasurers' offices have seen delays in registrations and long lines. Jordan said treasurers' offices are catching up as problems are worked out. State Senator Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat who asked for the audit, called the transition to the new system a disaster.


Audit Identifies Management Problems at Topeka Juvenile Complex

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State auditors say poor management at a corrections complex in Topeka caused injuries, sexual misconduct and other unsafe conditions for the juvenile clients. Auditors say the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex has done little to correct longstanding problems at the complex. The audit was released Tuesday to a legislative committee. The auditors say poor leadership and low wages caused high staff turnover at the complex. Governor Sam Brownback's administration says the problems led to the firings of the state's two top Juvenile Justice Authorities in late March. And the administration says the audit uncovered a failed approach to juvenile justice in Kansas. The complex is a medium and maximum-security facility that houses 220 male and 20 female juvenile between the ages of 13 and 22 for a variety of offenses.


Kansas Governor Fills Topeka-Area Judicial Vacancy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has named a new district court judge for the Topeka area. Brownback's office announced Tuesday that Carl William Ossmann, the chief litigation attorney for one of the state's social services agencies, will fill a judicial vacancy in Shawnee County. Ossmann will replace the late District Judge Charles Andrews, who retired in March and died recently after battling cancer. Ossmann is an attorney for the Department for Aging and Disability Services. He also is a former first assistant Shawnee County district attorney and has been an adjunct professor at Washburn University's law school since 1993. The governor said Ossmann has expertise on a wide variety of legal issues. He was one of three finalists selected by a nominating commission from among 11 applicants.


Kansas AG Pays $675K to Defend State Abortion Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas attorney general's office has paid outside lawyers more than $675,000 to defend state abortion laws. The office says it paid about $333,000 as of Thursday to Foulston Siefken, a Wichita firm helping defend budget provisions denying federal dollars for non-abortion services to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood has filed a federal lawsuit against the measures. The attorney general's office paid more than $211,000 to Thompson, Ramsdell & Qualseth, of Lawrence, to help defend health and safety regulations enacted last year for abortion providers. Kansas City-area physicians challenged the rules in federal court and then in state court. The same law firm also received nearly $131,000 for work on a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against a law restricting private insurance coverage for abortions.


Prosecutor: Kansas Doctor, Wife Received Fair Trial

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors are urging an appeals court to uphold the convictions of a Kansas doctor and his wife convicted in a moneymaking conspiracy linked to 68 overdose deaths. Documents filed Tuesday with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals argued Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, had a fair trial despite the involvement of a national patient advocate. The couple was convicted in 2010 of unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering. The doctor was sentenced to 30 years, and his wife to 33 years. Their new attorneys contend their trial lawyers had a conflict of interest that allowed the advocate to direct defense strategy. But the government argues the couple waived rights to conflict-free representation in separate hearings before two federal judges. Prosecutors say the couple got a fair trial.

Heat, Drought Take Toll on Kansas Row Crops

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The triple-digit temperatures and lack of rain in Kansas this past week came at a critical time in row crop development. Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service on Monday reported declines in the condition of the state's major spring-planted crops. Among the hardest hit is the Kansas corn crop with 43 percent of it now rated in poor to very poor condition and just 18 percent in good and 1 percent in excellent condition. Other crops also are struggling with 12 percent of the state considered to have adequate topsoil moisture. About 33 percent of soybeans and 37 percent of sorghum crops were rated in poor to very poor condition. Meanwhile, stock water supplies also are drying up with 51 percent reported short to very short.


Rumsfeld to Speak at KU's Dole Institute

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will speak July 26 at a forum on current affairs at the Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence. Rumsfeld served as secretary of defense from 1975 to 1977 and again from 2001 to 2006, working for two Republican administrations after the Vietnam War and through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also was a four-term congressman from Illinois from 1962 to 1969. Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute, said Rumsfeld's appearance will give insight into U.S. history and how policy was made by different administrations. Rumsfeld will also be signing copies of his memoir for the public.


Invasive Plant Reported at Lake Shawnee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Shawnee County officials estimate it will cost about $50,000 to rid an area lake of a troublesome invasive plant. John Knight, Shawnee County parks and recreation director, says the plant, called Eurasian Watermilfoil, has been spreading at Lake Shawnee and can cause a dense surface canopy that interferes with swimming, fishing and boating at the lake. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Shawnee County Commission on Thursday will consider Knight's recent request for the county to solicit bids to treat the lake for the plant species. He says the department's budget has the necessary funds. Knight says the plant was first reported at Lake Shawnee in 2011, and has since spread in the lake. He says early treatment will likely succeed in ridding the lake of the problem plant.


KU Med School Names Dean for Wichita Campus

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas School of Medicine has named a new dean for its Wichita campus. Gerold Minns, associate dean for academic affairs for the medical school's Wichita site, has been selected to serve as dean beginning August 1. He replaces current dean  H. David Wilson, who is leaving to become special assistant to the dean for educational development at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Minns graduated from the KU School of Medicine in Wichita and also finished his residency and training there. Minns was also chairman of the department of internal medicine there from 1994 to 2003.

State of Kansas Again Appeals Order Concerning Clinic Funding

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has again appealed a federal judge's order prohibiting the state from stripping federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood clinics in Wichita and Hays as well as an unaffiliated clinic in Dodge City. Monday's appeal notice seeks to put both the 2011 and 2012 statutes before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals more quickly. The lawsuit stems from a Kansas law requiring the state to first allocate federal family planning money to public health departments and hospitals, which leaves no funds for specialty clinics. Planned Parenthood and the Dodge City Family Planning Clinic earlier won an extension of a 2010 injunction after the Legislature this year re-enacted those funding restrictions. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten found last month that the statute unconstitutionally bars the plaintiffs from eligibility.


Company Agrees to Clean Up Eastern Missouri Site Contamination

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Missouri company has agreed to settlement terms over cleaning up pollution at its former metal fabrication plant in eastern Missouri. The regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency said in a release Tuesday that the settlement requires the Kellwood Company to cleanup PCE contamination at the plant in New Haven, Missouri. PCE, also called tetrachlorethylene, is an industrial solvent that has contaminated groundwater and soil at the site. The EPA says company also has to pay past and future response costs that the state and the EPA incurred from the site. The company owned and operated the site from about 1973 until 1985.

Penalty Phase Continues in Kansas Capital Murder Case

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Riley County jurors are scheduled to return to court to decide the sentence for a former northeastern Kansas man convicted of killing his former girlfriend and their son. KMAN reports that the penalty phase of Luis Aguirre's capital murder trial began Monday and continues Tuesday. Jurors are deciding whether Aguirre will be put to death.  Aguirre was convicted last month of suffocating 18-year-old Tanya Maldonado and the couple's 13-month-old son, Juan. The deaths occurred in September 2009 at Aguirre's home in Ogden. A hunter found the bodies the next month in a shallow grave near Ogden. Defense Attorney Jeffrey Wicks says Aguirre should be spared the death penalty in part because of his troubled childhood.


Trial Delayed for Kansas Man Accused of Killing Wife

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — The trial of a former Kansas law enforcement instructor accused of killing his wife has been delayed until December. Brett Seacat, a former Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Vashti, at their Kingman home in 2011. Seacat is also charged with aggravated arson and two counts of endangering a child. Prosecutors allege Seacat shot his wife and set the house on fire. Brett Seacat and the couple's two young sons escaped. Seacat pleaded not guilty to the charges. His attorneys say Vashti Seacat set the fire and took her own life. The Wichita Eagle reports that a judge Tuesday granted a defense request to delay the trial until December 3. The trial had been scheduled to begin August 20.


Judge Plans Hearing on Ex-KU Consultant's Sentence

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge wants to hear more evidence before he rules on a request by a former consultant for the University of Kansas who is seeking to have his sentence shortened in a ticket scalping conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot on Monday ordered U.S. Marshals to bring Thomas Ray Blubaugh back to Kansas from Oklahoma, where he's serving his sentence. The hearing date will be set after Blubaugh returns. Blubaugh pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to defraud the United States through wire fraud, tax obstruction and interstate transportation of stolen property. He's seeking to reduce his 46-month prison sentence to 33 months. He claims the court improperly considered the value of so-called deadwood tickets he had hidden. He also claims that he had ineffective counsel. Prosecutors oppose the request.
Westar Seeks Volunteers for Energy-Saving Project

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy wants 1,000 customers to try a new program that would shift electricity use to off-peak periods. The utility company says the WattSaver time-of-use program would save customers money and help manage the demand on the electric system. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that peak energy use times during the summer are weekdays from 1 pm. to 8 pm. Under the pilot program, the cost for energy during that period would be about 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Using energy during off-peak times would cost about 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour. The hours and costs would change during the winter. The utility says the three-year pilot program is restricted to 1,000 customers each year.


Danica Patrick to Add Kansas Speedway to Sprint Cup Schedule

Danica Patrick will race her 10th and final Sprint Cup Series event this season on October 21 at Kansas Speedway. Patrick is driving a 10-race schedule this season, but the final event was not announced until Tuesday. Kansas was selected for Patrick because it will be open for an additional day of practice due to its recent repave. Patrick made her Sprint Cup debut in February at the Daytona 500. In addition to Kansas, she still has races remaining this season at Bristol, Atlanta, Chicago, Dover, Texas and Phoenix. Patrick raced at Kansas in the IndyCar Series. She won her first career pole there in 2005, and qualified third or better in three of her six starts at Kansas. She also had three top-10 finishes there in IndyCar.


Juveniles Arrested in Sedgwick County Thefts

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in Sedgwick County say they've arrested six juveniles in connection with a string of recent thefts. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Department says in a release that the juveniles are 16 and 17 years old. They were arrested Monday and booked into the Juvenile Detention Center on charges of burglary and theft. The youths are accused of thefts totaling about $700. The sheriff's department says the stolen property has been returned.

Dead Carp Reported at Lawrence Area Pond

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The hot weather has claimed hundreds of carp at a nature preserve outside Lawrence. The state Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says the dead carp lining the banks of the pond at the Kanza Southwind Nature Preserve outside Lawrence died from the excessive heat. Chuck Bever, regional fisheries supervisor with the department, told The Lawrence Journal-World that the hot weather and decaying plants take oxygen out of the water, leaving little for fish. The heat effect is most often seen in small lakes and ponds.


All-Star Players Beating the Kansas City Heat During Summer Swelter

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The crippling MIdwestern heat wave has finally broken in Kansas City, and just in time for the All-Star game. After several weeks of record-setting temperatures from coast to coast, the forecast is for high temperatures in the 90s on Tuesday in Kansas City, the site of the annual Midsummer Classic. That's quite the reprieve for organizers and civic leaders, along with players, coaches and fans, many of whom had been bracing for triple-digit temperatures. Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer has played enough games in Kansas City to know how insufferable the weather can be, so he's been keeping a wary eye on the forecast. "The weathermen knew we were coming," he said, "so they gave us a break."


Kansas Man Dies Following Lightning Strike

COFFEYVILLE, Kan. (AP) — A 68-year-old southeast Kansas man has died after being struck by lightning. Coffey County Sheriff Randy Rogers says in a news release that Ronald Nicholas was attending a family gathering in the rural Waverly area when he was hit by lightning. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports  that the death occurred Saturday night. Rogers says Nicholas was pronounced dead at the scene.


Prosecutors Suggest Priest Committed 'Uncharged Crimes'

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say they plan to show Internet searches at a trial that they say back up claims that a Kansas City priest had a sexual interest in young children. The Reverend Shawn Ratigan is scheduled for trial in August on 13 federal counts of sexual exploitation of children after a technician found troubling images on his computer in late 2010. The 46-year-old also faces three state charges of possessing child pornography. The Kansas City Star reports prosecutors on Monday announced plans to introduce evidence of uncharged crimes and other "bad acts" at Ratigan's trial. Such evidence includes an image of the priest in his underwear allegedly taken at the home of one of his purported victims, and two apparent instances when he obtained girls' underwear.


Wichita Burglars Leave Without Car

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita woman and her daughter returned home to encounter two men who were apparently stealing the family's electronics. The Wichita Eagle reports that the suspects fled on foot from the home late Sunday after they were surprised by the residents. Lieutenant Doug Nolte says the suspects apparently left so fast they forgot their car, which had been parked nearby. When a woman came by to pick up the car later, she led police back her apartment, where police arrested two 19-year-old men and found the victims' belongings. Police said the recovered items included a camera that the suspects used to take a photo of themselves after the burglary.


Hawker Beechcraft Announces Sale to Chinese Firm

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Hawker Beechcraft says it has reached a $1.79 billion agreement with a Chinese firm for the sale of the struggling Wichita-based business jet maker. The deal does not include Hawker Beechcraft Defense Company, which would remain a separate entity. Hawker Beechcraft said in a news release Monday that under terms of the agreement Beijing-based aerospace manufacturer Superior Aviation Beijing Company, Ltd., will make payments over the next six weeks to support ongoing operations at Hawker Beechcraft. The company says Superior will keep Hawker Beechcraft's existing operations, saving thousands of jobs in Wichita and Little Rock, Arkansas. Its exclusivity agreement gives them 45 days to negotiate a definitive agreement. If the deal collapses, Hawker Beechcraft said it would proceed with its bankruptcy reorganization plan that contemplates emerging as a stand-alone entity.

Kansas Legislators to Consider Vehicle System Audit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative committee is expected to consider a request from a Topeka Democratic state senator to audit the state's new vehicle registration system.  A request from Senator Laura Kelly is on Tuesday's agenda of the Legislative Post Audit Committee, which has the authority to approve such reviews. The Department of Revenue's Division of Vehicles has been plagued in recent weeks with delays and backlogs in processing registrations as it implements a new $40-million computer system. The changes have resulted in long lines statewide as residents seek to register vehicles and conduct related business. Kelly wants to review how the new system was implemented and developed and if staff members were properly trained on the system. She made her initial request in June.

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


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