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Regional Headlines for Tuesday, June 4, 2013



Kansas Farmer Sues Monsanto over GMO Wheat Discovery

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas farmer has sued seed giant Monsanto over last week's discovery of genetically engineered experimental wheat in Oregon. The civil lawsuit filed Monday by Elkhart wheat grower Ernest Barnes alleges the finding of the unapproved wheat in an 80-acre field drove down wheat futures prices and caused a backlash from some international markets, which suspended certain imports. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. Warren Burns, one of the attorneys representing the farmer, said in a phone call from Dallas that such lawsuits help police the agricultural system and make sure farmers are protected. Monsanto Executive Vice President David Snively issued a statement saying "tractor chasing lawyers" have prematurely filed lawsuits without any evidence of fault and before the crop's harvest.


Kansas Budget Provides Funding for New Topeka Crime Lab

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The budget approved by Kansas lawmakers over the weekend includes funding for two priorities of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. KBI officials have been working for years to secure funding for a new crime lab in Topeka. The current lab is housed in the converted basement of an old school that was built in 1928. The new state budget includes up to $3.5 million to plan and design a $55 million lab at Washburn University in Topeka. Washburn will build the facility and recover the costs by leasing it back to the KBI. Lawmakers also voted to complete the funding for a new KBI Child Victims Unit that was established last year. Attorney General Derek Schmidt says the unit will focus especially on investigating sex crimes against children.


Nemaha County Estimating Damage from Recent Storms

SENECA, Kan. (AP) — Commissioners in a northeast Kansas county have declared a local disaster emergency from severe weather that brought floods and tornadoes to the region last week. KNZA-FM reports that the Nemaha County Commission passed a resolution declaring the state of disaster emergency Monday after getting a damage report. County road and bridge supervisor Dennis Ronnebaum said flooding on May 28 wiped out three bridges and heavily damaged two others. He estimated the cost of the destruction at $600,000. County Emergency Management Director Todd Swart says the amount of damage exceeds the amount required to qualify for FEMA funding. Swart also says officials in the city of Seneca have claimed a 2005 fire truck as a total loss. The truck became submerged while firefighters were performing a water rescue May 28.

KEMA Head: Time to Consider Rules for Storm Spotters

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The head of a group that represents Kansas emergency responders says it's time to consider rules for storm chasers in the wake of the deaths of three professional chasers in Oklahoma. Three veteran chasers were killed Friday when a tornado turned on them near El Reno, Oklahoma. Officials say the men's deaths are believed to be the first among scientific researchers while chasing tornadoes. Brian Stone is president of the Kansas Emergency Management Association. He tells WIBW Radio that the deaths are likely to prompt new study of who should be out chasing storms. He says if someone chooses to chase tornadoes, there should be rules to ensure they know what they're doing. But Stone concedes he's not sure whether law officers could enforce such rules.


Kansas Transportation Group Pleased with Lawmakers' Work

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas coalition that's been a vocal advocate for continued spending on highway projects is pleased that legislators preserved funding for the state's ongoing transportation program. Economic Lifelines issued a statement after lawmakers adjourned their annual session this week praising them for keeping the state's 10-year, $8.2 billion program intact. The program started in 2010. Executive Director Michelle Butler said lawmakers' actions mean Kansas communities will be able to count on seeing vital transportation projects completed and jobs generated from those projects. The group also praised Governor Sam Brownback and Transportation Secretary Mike King. The program has been financed partly with sales tax revenues. Some legislators suggested during debates on tax policies that the money could be diverted, but lawmakers didn't take that step.

Kansas Housing Agency to Hold Town Hall Meetings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas agency has scheduled four town hall meetings next week to discuss the development of housing for moderate-income families in rural areas. The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation says the meetings are part of an initiative designed to make sure that rural areas have adequate housing and infrastructure for workers. The first meeting is Monday at the corporation's offices in Topeka. The other meetings are June 11 in Dodge City and Hays and June 13 in Independence. The corporation is the primary administrator for federal housing programs in Kansas and is overseen by a board appointed by the governor.


Party Bus Company Told to Shut Down Following Fatality

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The federal government has ordered a company that operated a party bus to stop operating after a Kansas woman died when she fell out of the modified vehicle. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued the order to Olathe-based Midnight Express. In last week's order, the department said the company's owners showed appalling and egregious disregard for the safety of their passengers. Twenty-six-year-old Jaime Frecks of Edwardsville died May 4 after an old wheelchair access door came open. She fell from the bus and was struck by at least three vehicles. Inspectors also found problems with the brakes, engine exhaust leaks and that all four emergency exit windows were blocked. The Kansas City Star reported that a lawyer for the company's owners would not comment on the report.


Kansas Authorities Hope for Tips in 1989 Killings

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas sheriff's office has renewed its request for tips in the killings of two women 24 years ago. The body of Christina Brandolese was found in a rural part of southern Johnson County on May 30, 1989. The other victim, Candice Fisher, was found dead in the same area three days later. In a statement Tuesday, the sheriff's office said Johnson County deputies worked more than 190 leads over the years. They're hoping again for help from the public in Kansas and nearby Kansas City, Missouri, where both women had last been seen in the midtown area. Authorities believe the killings were connected. Both women died of blunt force trauma, and their bodies were in similar conditions when they were found within two miles of each other.


Wichita Backs Off Plan for Big Water Use Fines

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Recent rains will be good for the pocketbooks of Wichita residents who use a lot of water. City staff decided Monday to back away from plans to issue $1,000 fines or increase water rates by 500 percent for the highest water users. The city council was scheduled to consider those measures at its Tuesday meeting. The decision comes after last week's heavy rains significantly increased the water in Cheney Reservoir, the city's main source of water. The city says the reservoir is now 72 percent full. Instead, city officials will ask the council to approve such measures as drawing more water from the Equus Beds aquifer and using a $1 million rebate program to encourage the water-saving devices such things as rain barrels.


Salina to Allow Sunday Sales of Packaged Liquor

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — City commissioners in Salina have voted to allow sales of packaged liquor on Sundays and three designated holidays. The Salina Journal reports that Monday's unanimous vote clears the way for the new ordinance to take effect in 61 days, unless a petition is filed to block it. The petition would have to be signed by registered voters equaling 25 percent of total turnout in the most recent city election. The ordinance would allow Salina businesses to sell packaged retail liquor between noon and 8 p.m. on Sundays and on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. The newspaper reports the topic first came up two weeks ago during a discussion about microbreweries. There were no comments from the public for or against the proposal at Monday's meeting.

Via Christi Lays Off 28 Employees in Pittsburg

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Via Christi Health Systems says it is laying off 28 employees in Pittsburg as part of a statewide effort to cut costs. The health system in Pittsburg includes the hospital, physician offices and care facilities. Via Christi spokesman Michael Hayslip says the layoffs will help meet a goal of reducing expenses in Pittsburg by $3.5 million. He says cost reductions in contractual services helped prevent even more layoffs. And 25 open positions will not be filled. The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports that Hayslip says that the layoffs were spread across several areas but he did not have a specific breakdown of which departments were affected.

Grain Elevator, Loading Area Planned Near Canton

CANTON, Kan. (AP) — McPherson County might soon get a 3 million-bushel grain elevator and a high-speed loading facility near Canton. The county commission signed a resolution of intent last week to grant industrial revenue bonds for the operation about 2 miles west of Canton. Mid-Kansas Cooperative of McPherson and Cenex Harvest States, a large regional cooperative based in Minneapolis, Minn., chose the site because of its proximity to Union Pacific Railroad lines. Kerry Watson, a spokeswoman for MKC, says the co-ops have been researching the project for a couple of years. It will provide the group with its first train loading facility. The grain shuttle will load 110-car trains bound the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf Coast and Mexico. The Salina Journal reports that other projects, such as agronomy services, could be considered later.


Progress Made in Fighting Large SW Kansas Hay Fire

MOSCOW, Kan. (AP) — Crews in southwest Kansas are trying to salvage at least some hay from a fire that has burned thousands of bales so far. About 51,000 bales owned by Abengoa Bioenergy and Cattle Empire have been burning since May 28 near Moscow in Stevens County. Fire Chief Darroll Munson told the Garden City Telegram that nearly 18,000 additional hay bales may be saved. Munson said crews made progress on the blaze over the weekend and expected have the entire fire extinguished in the coming days. Stevens County officials were assisted by crews from surrounding counties and communities, including three neighboring agencies from Oklahoma. Investigators have not determined a cause of the fire but suspect that lightning may be the culprit.


Kansas Man Pleads Guilty in Animal Seizure Case

ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man who kept a tiger and other exotic animals on his property has pleaded guilty to numerous charges. Matthew Baker was arrested in early May after Atchison County authorities and the Humane Society seized several big cats and other wild animals from his rural property. KAIR-AM reports Baker pleaded guilty Monday to animal cruelty, failure to comply with USDA regulations and failure to comply with cage regulations. He also pleaded guilty to obstruction and possessing drug paraphernalia that turned up after he became disorderly with officers during the seizure. Baker will be sentenced July 1 in Atchison County District Court. The tiger, cougars, bobcats and other animals taken from his property have been sent to sanctuaries around the country.

Moran Names New Director for State Operations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. Senator Jerry Moran has appointed a new state director to oversee his offices in Kansas and represent the senator in his home state. Moran says Brennen Britton will serve as a liaison to businesses, community leaders and local government officials. Britton will live in Manhattan, where the Republican senator has an office. Moran also has offices in Hays, Pittsburg, Olathe and Wichita. Britton previously served on Moran's legislative staff, handling issues related to the economy, judiciary and homeland security. He holds a bachelor's degree in religion and political science and a law degree from Duke University.

Kansas Farmers Planting Crops as Weather Allows

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas farmers have been planting row crops where field conditions allow amid the recent spate of heavy rain, high winds and tornadoes. Monday's weekly update from the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reports corn planting is about 96 percent finished. Seven percent of the emerging corn crop is rated in excellent condition. The agency says 54 percent is rated good, 32 percent is in fair condition and 7 percent is rated poor to very poor. Sorghum planting is 28 percent finished and soybean planting is 52 percent complete. About 13 percent of the sunflower crop is now in the ground. Ninety-three percent of the winter wheat crop has headed. Wheat condition is rated 4 percent excellent, 24 percent good, 27 percent fair, 21 percent poor and 24 percent very poor.


Kansas City Teen Dies After Being Shot by Police

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say 16-year-old Tyler W. Wilkins has died after being shot by officers. Police say Wilkins was shot Monday afternoon after he pulled a gun on two officers who were trying to talk to him. The officers reported that when they parked their car, Wilkins ran off and threw a bag on the ground. Wilkins then allegedly pulled a gun from his front waistband and when he turned toward the officers, one of the officers fired. Wilkins died Tuesday morning at a Kansas City hospital. The officers were not injured and are on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated.


Stephenson Out After 36 Seasons at Wichita State

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Gene Stephenson has been fired as head baseball coach at Wichita State University after a 36-year career. Athletics director Eric Sexton announced the decision Tuesday, saying it was the "proper time to move into a new phase of Shocker baseball." The 67-year-old Stephenson held a brief news conference, saying he had been forced to retire with a year left on his contract. Stephenson coached Wichita State to the 1989 national championship and seven College World Series appearances. He leaves with a career record of 1,837-675-3. But in their first tournament appearance since 2009, the Shockers were eliminated Saturday after two losses in the 2013 Manhattan Regional. Sexton said pitching coach Brent Kemnitz will take over daily responsibilities for the baseball program while the school looks for a permanent head coach.


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