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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, April 11, 2012

KPR-News-Summary
Mistrial Declared after Reporter Tweets Courtroom Photo

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A mistrial was declared in a Topeka murder case after a newspaper reporter sent a courtroom photo via social media service Twitter that showed a juror. The trial for 20-year-old Austin Tabor will be rescheduled. Tabor is charged with killing 20-year-old Matthew Mitchell in 2010 near a Topeka high school. Shawnee County District Attorney Lee McGowan says the photo sent Wednesday with a cell phone by a Topeka Capital-Journal reporter showed one or more of the jurors. The judge had allowed camera phones in the courtroom but ordered that no pictures be taken of the jurors. Topeka Capital-Journal publisher Gregg Ireland said the photo contained a profile of a juror in the background. He says the paper regrets the error and will use the incident as a training tool for employees.

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SRS Continues Investigation of Military School

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services is disputing claims from a military boarding school that the agency investigated and found no validity to abuse allegations made by a 14-year-old former cadet. The boy suffered two broken legs during four days in August that he attended St. John's Military School. SRS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha told The Associated Press its investigation is under way and the agency has reached no conclusion. Saline County Attorney Ellen Mitchell said Wednesday that Salina police asked her to review the case for possible prosecution. Mitchell says she concluded there was insufficient evidence to show a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. The teen is among seven former cadets whose families are suing the school. St. John's has settled nine abuse lawsuits since 2006.

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USDA Secretary Touts Importance of NBAF Project

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says that construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility near Kansas State University is important for agriculture and the nation's security.  After a Landon Lecture yesterday (TUE), Vilsack said having the proposed $650 million research facility was important. And he said it needed to be located in the Midwest near agriculture production.  Vilsack used his nearly hour-long Landon Lecture to discuss how agriculture helps provide greater economic and energy independence for the U.S.  Vilsack planned to attend the afternoon dedication of the U.S. Agriculture Department's modernized Center for Grain and Animal Health Research near the Kansas State campus.  The Landon Lecture series is named for former Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican presidential nominee.

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Longtime Shawnee County Sheriff Announces Retirement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Shawnee County Sheriff Richard Barta will resign next week, after a 44-year law enforcement career.  Barta, who has been sheriff for 12 years, had planned to stay on the job until next January. But he announced yesterday (TUE) that he will retire on April 20.  He said he was retiring to help his current undersheriff, Herman Jones, who has announced that he would run for sheriff this year.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that federal law would require either Barta or Jones to vacate their positions to allow Jones to legally run in the election.  The Republican precinct committee will select a candidate to forward to the governor, who will appoint someone to serve the remaining months of Barta's term.

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Kansas City Police Pay $1 Million Settlement

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Police Department has paid $1 million to a truck driver who was accidently shot by an officer who was having a diabetic reaction.  Court records showed the settlement with David W. Gardner was reached last month.  Gardner sued after he was shot by officer Joel Ritchie in September 2007.  The Kansas City Star reports  that Ritchie went to a store while on duty to get something to eat after realizing he was having a reaction from his type-1 diabetes.  After eating the food, Ritchie walked out of the store and started firing his weapon. A bullet hit Gardner, who was delivering food to the store. Officers found a disoriented Ritchie walking down a nearby street.  Ritchie is no longer a police officer.

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Men's Club Dancers' Employment Status Issue Reaches KS Supreme Court 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Attorneys for a gentlemen's club near Topeka told the Kansas Supreme Court on Wednesday that dancers at the club are not club employees subject to state labor laws. The issue before the court is whether dancers at Club Orleans are under its control or are independent entertainers. The Department of Labor wants the club to pay a tax based on the dancers' wages to help finance unemployment benefits. The club contends the dancers rent its stage and control their own performances. The club doesn't pay the dancers, but the state considers their tips to be wages. According to court documents, the club sets a minimum tip of $1 for a stage dance, $10 for a lap dance and $20 for a private dance.

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Manufacturing Plant Employee Dies When Hit by Equipment

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — An employee in a manufacturing plant in the Fairfax area of Kansas City, Kansas, died after he was hit by a falling piece of equipment.  The Kansas City Star reports that emergency crews were called to the Harlan Corporation yesterday (TUE) afternoon. They found a man in his early 60s pinned underneath equipment he had been assembling.  The man, whose name was not released, was declared dead at the scene.  Harlan makes tractors used for towing aircraft.

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Hallmark Cards Announces Voluntary Job Cuts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hallmark Cards officials say they expect a voluntary job cut program to eliminate between 300 and 400 jobs at the greeting card company.  The Kansas City-based company announced the employee buyouts yesterday (TUE).  Hallmark says the job cuts are prompted by disappointing financial results during the recession and slow recovery.  The Kansas City Star reports that the buyouts are being offered to employees who are at least 50 years old and have at least 15 years of vested service with the company.  Hallmark, a privately held company, said its consolidated net revenues were $4.1 billion in 2011, the same as in 2010. It said in a news release that the company expects 2012 to be another difficult year.  About 1,500 out of Hallmark's 7,500 U.S. employees are eligible for the offer.

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Drought Eases Across Kansas 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Steady rain over the past few months has dramatically eased the drought in Kansas. Larry Ruthi, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Dodge City, told The Wichita Eagle that the recent rain in southwest Kansas has eased the drought considerably. Part of the southwest corner of the state...or less than one-half of 1 percent of Kansas... remains in extreme drought, compared to more than 28 percent of the state in late September. Dodge City has recorded 7.39 inches of rain since December 1. That's the third-highest total over that stretch since records began more than 100 years ago. Medicine Lodge logged 10.37 inches and Cimarron received 8.44 inches. About 11 percent of Kansas remains in the three worst drought categories. That's a significant improvement since last September, when nearly half the state was classified in those categories.

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Wichita Boy Accused of Gun Threat

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita have arrested a middle school student accused of threatening other students with a gun. KWCH-TV reports officials at Hadley Middle School learned of the incident Wednesday from police. A district spokeswoman says the confrontation took place across the street from the school late Tuesday afternoon. The 14-year-old boy is accused of confronting three other Hadley Middle School students and pointing a gun at one of them, threatening to shoot. The three went home and told their parents. Police don't believe the boy had the gun with him in the school, and they're not sure what the teen was upset about.

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Judge Denies Request by Ex-KU Official

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former University of Kansas athletics official convicted in a ticket scandal has lost an effort to have his probation cut short. Brandon Simmons was director of sales and marketing in the athletics department. He pleaded guilty to failing to tell authorities about the $2 million scalping scandal and was sentenced in March 2011 to two years' probation. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot on Wednesday rejected Simmons' request to terminate the probation early. Simmons has paid nearly $26,000 so far of a $157,000 restitution order. Belot followed the probation office's recommendation to continue the probation to ensure Simmons continues to make payments. Simmons was among seven Kansas athletics officials convicted in the unlawful sale of Jayhawk football and basketball season tickets to ticket brokers and others.

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Payment for Pizza Includes Bag of Meth

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita delivery driver got more than cash when she brought a pizza to a customer at a hotel. Tucked among the bills the man handed over was a plastic bag containing a suspicious white substance.  The Wichita Eagle reports the 22-year-old Pizza Hut driver called police after making the discovery late Monday upon leaving the Sunset Hotel.  Police tested the substance and discovered it was methamphetamine. Officers went to the hotel and searched the customer's room, where they reported finding meth and cocaine.  The 35-year-old man was booked into jail pending charges. Police say they don't believe the man realized he had given the Pizza Hut driver drugs along with cash.

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Abortion Provider Seeks End to KS Criminal Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Defense attorneys are asking a Kansas judge to dismiss the remaining criminal charges against a Kansas City-area Planned Parenthood clinic accused of performing illegal abortions.
Attorney Pedro Irigonegaray said yesterday (TUE) that the Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park has strong legal arguments for dismissal. Defense attorneys argue the allegations boil down to differences of medical opinion about how abortions were handled.  Forty-nine charges against the clinic, including felony counts of falsifying records, were dismissed in November. Fifty-eight remain, concerning 29 abortions performed in 2003.  Planned Parenthood attorneys filed multiple requests under seal last month in Johnson County District Court to have the remaining charges dismissed. The Associated Press obtained copies, after the judge handling the case unsealed them.  Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe declined comment.

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Brownback Participates in Tax Policy Forum

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A conference in New York City has given Kansas Governor Sam Brownback a chance to outline his tax-cutting proposals for economists and officials from other states.  Yesterday's (TUE) gathering, called "Tax Policies for 4 Percent Growth," was hosted by the George W. Bush Presidential Center.  Brownback's office said, in a news release, that the governor spoke at a roundtable with several other governors about plans for what his administration calls a flat tax with a small business accelerator.  Brownback has pressed lawmakers this year to make reductions in the state income tax a top priority. The House and Senate have both approved measures that reduce tax rates and eliminate the income tax for some businesses.  Negotiators are expected to finish work on a compromise later this month.

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UPDATE: Mother Says Teen Driving RV in Kansas Crash a 'Hero'

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The mother of a teenager who was driving an RV when it crashed in Kansas, killing five family members, is calling her son a hero. Pauline Kerber spoke in a prepared statement from the Minnesota hospital where 17-year-old Adam Kerber is being treated. She said Adam "did everything he possibly could to save 13 lives." Adam is in fair condition at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul. The mother and son were among 18 family members and friends traveling back to Minnesota from Texas on April 1 when their RV broke through a guardrail and concrete bridge rail and crashed in a ditch.

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Kansas Senator Plans Aviation Events in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts will be meeting today (WED) with aviation industry leaders in Wichita.  The Kansas Republican is holding an off-the-record discussion with general aviation manufacturers at the Double Tree Hotel in Wichita.  Roberts plans to talk to reporters at 11:30am, following the closed discussion. He will later address the Aero Club.  The roundtable discussion is similar to others Roberts has been holding with community leaders on health care and agriculture throughout Kansas.

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KC Police Ticket 90 Young People for Seatbelt Violations

KANSAS CITY, MO. (AP) — Kansas City police ticketed nearly 90 young people during an enforcement campaign geared toward making teens wear seatbelts. The department worked with other law enforcement agencies across the state during the two-week effort last month. Authorities say only 67 percent of Missouri teenagers wear seatbelts while inside a vehicle.

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Reno County Approves Shooting Ban Near River

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Reno County commissioners have made public shooting illegal along much of the Arkansas River in the county.  Yesterday's (TUE) vote came after a stray bullet believed to be fired from along the river went through a window and landed near a mother and her baby last month near Nickerson. No one was injured.  The county will ban shooting within the banks of the Arkansas River or from public or private property when the target is within the river banks. A violation would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine up to $1,000.  The Hutchinson News reports that the ban exempts law officers who are on duty. During hunting season, those with a hunting license in areas designated for public hunting also would be exempt.

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KS Democratic Candidates Plan Primary Debate

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Four Kansas Democrats seeking the nomination in the state's 4th Congressional District were scheduled to debate this (WED) morning at Wichita State University.  Esau Freeman, Kent Rowe, Robert Tillman and John Willoughby are vying in the Democratic primary to run for the U.S. House seat now held by Republican Mike Pompeo.  The debate was to be held in Lindquist Hall on the Wichita State University campus.

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US Sales of Combines, Tractors Down in March

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Association of Equipment Manufacturers says retail sales of combines in the U.S. fell by nearly 26 percent in March.  A report from the trade group says 563 combines were sold in March, compared with 759 in the same month last year. Year-to-date combine sales are down 43.2 percent to 1,319 combines.  The association also says tractor sales were down 3.4 percent nationwide in March, with 14,982 sold. A breakdown shows sales of four-wheel-drive tractors were up, while those of two-wheel-drive models fell.

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Kansas Wheat Benefiting from Recent Rain

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Recent rain in Kansas has been good for the state's wheat crop, but agriculture officials say they're still concerned that a late freeze could hurt the harvest. The lack of rain in Kansas last year was rough on the state's wheat crop. But this year, thanks to spring rains the crop has potential. State Climatologist Mary Knapp told The Hutchinson News that since September, some southwestern Kansas farmers have recorded nearly 9 inches of rain on their thirsty fields — well above the nearly 7-inch average for the period. John Holman, an agronomist with Kansas State Extension based in Garden City, said the crop is so ahead of schedule it's vulnerable to a spring freeze. He said the recent damp, wet days also make the wheat ripe for rust fungus.

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KS High Court Ponders Legal Status of Strip Club's Dancers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court is being asked to settle a legal dispute between the state and the owner of a gentlemen's club outside Topeka.  The court will hear arguments today (WED) on whether the women who dance at Club Orleans are employees of the business.  The club contends they're tenants who rent its stage and control their own schedules and performances.  The Department of Labor disagrees and wants the club to pay a tax based on the dancers' wages to help finance unemployment benefits.  The club doesn't pay the dancers, but the state considers their tips to be wages. According to court documents, the club sets a minimum tip of $1 for a stage dance, $10 for a lap dance and $20 for a private dance in the so-called champagne room.

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

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2 Injured in RV Crash Leave Kansas

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A Minnesota woman and her 17-year-old son who were injured in a motor home crash that killed five family members have left a Kansas hospital.  Overland Park Regional Medical Center said in a statement that 46-year-old Pauline Kerber of Jordan, Minnesota, has been released from the hospital and returned to her hometown. The statement said her son Adam Kerber has been transferred to a hospital "closer to home."  The mother and son were among 13 people injured April 1 when their recreational vehicle hit a guardrail and a concrete bridge rail on Interstate 35 near the northeastern Kansas town of Williamsburg.  Five family members, ages 10 through 25, died in the crash. Several other people who were injured have also been released from hospitals.

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

 

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