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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Democrat Raises $1M for Kansas Governor's Race

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic challenger Paul Davis raised a little more than $1 million in cash contributions in less than five months for his campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Sam Brownback in the Kansas governor's race. Davis's campaign also reported Wednesday that it ended 2013 with almost $771,000 in its campaign treasury. Davis is the Kansas House minority leader and launched his campaign in early August. His campaign described the fundraising as unprecedented for a challenger. Davis's campaign filed a finance report a day after close Brownback ally David Kensinger confirmed that the governor raised more than $1.6 million in cash last year for his re-election and ended 2013 with nearly $2 million in campaign funds. Kensinger said no gubernatorial challenger has overcome such a large early deficit in campaign cash.


Unemployment Benefits Briefly Delayed in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Labor says some technical difficulties have delayed unemployment benefits. Department spokeswoman Barbara Hersh told WIBW that full unemployment payments should be on recipients' debit cards by 2 pm Wednesday. The labor department said on its website that the technical difficulties occurred at the Unemployment Insurance Contact Center but it provided no further explanation.


KS Justices Seek More Briefs in 'Hard 50' Cases

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court are asking attorneys for the state and four defendants to file additional legal briefs regarding the state's "Hard 50" prison sentence. An order was issued Tuesday by the court in four cases heard since October. Each case involves a defendant who has been sentenced to life in prison with a mandatory prison term of 50 years before being eligible for parole. The state's "Hard 50" sentence has been the center of attention since last June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Virginia case regarding how mandatory minimum prison sentences are imposed when they depart from the standard sentence. The high court ruled that in such cases juries, not judges, can impose the sentences. In Kansas, judges had imposed the Hard 50 sentences.


KS Governor to Sign Human Trafficking Awareness Proclamation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback is preparing to declare January "Human Trafficking Awareness Month" in Kansas. Brownback will sign a proclamation Thursday at the Statehouse. Scheduled to attend are Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Labor Secretary Lana Gordon and Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore. Kansas legislators approved new laws and sentences last year aimed at people convicted of human trafficking, especially those acts that target women and children. The new laws also established a fund to provide mental health counseling and other services to victims of human trafficking. The attorney general's office is the lead agency in combating human trafficking in Kansas.


KS Lawmaker Questions Anti-Discrimination Clause

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas lawmaker has questioned why a state agency included sexual orientation in an anti-discrimination clause for safe houses for victims of human trafficking. The safe houses are part of anti-trafficking statutes passed by state lawmakers last year. Governor Sam Brownback will sign a proclamation Thursday declaring January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Kansas. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Representative Jan Pauls questioned a KDHE official Tuesday about why sexual orientation was included with gender and race in the nondiscrimination categories for admission to the secure facilities. Pauls says including sexual orientation in legal nondiscrimination regulations could pose problems for religious institutions that provide help and also oppose homosexual activity. Pauls says protections based on sexual orientation could be included elsewhere.


Governor Appoints Senator Jay Emler to KCC

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has appointed former Republican Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Corporation Commission. The appointment was announced Wednesday, less than a week before the start of the 2014 legislative session. Emler, if confirmed by the Senate, would resign his seat and serve a four-year term on the KCC. He will fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Mark Sievers, who announced he was leaving the KCC in December. Emler has been in the Senate since 2001, representing Chase, Ellsworth, Marion, McPherson and Morris counties. He serves on the Senate Utilities Committee and the Joint Committee on Kansas Security. The three-member KCC regulates natural gas, electricity, telephone and transportation operations in Kansas.


CURB Criticizes Westar's Proposed Prepayment Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An agency that represents small utility customers is asking the state to reject Westar Energy's plan to allow some customers to prepay their bills. The Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board filed a motion Monday asking the Kansas Corporation Commission to dismiss Westar's application for the program. Westar applied in October to allow about 1,000 customers to prepay their bills. The utility says it would allow customers to make smaller payments rather than pay a large bill at the end of the month. KCC deferred the application until May. CURB argued that Westar hadn't shown that the program would help the public, or why customers would be charged a $4 fee as part of the prepaid program. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the KCC didn't discuss CURB's motion at its Tuesday meeting.


Fort Riley Soldier Dies in Motor Pool Incident

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — Officials at Fort Riley say a soldier has died at the northeast Kansas Army post in what was described as a vehicle-related incident. The soldier was identified Wednesday as 29-year-old Specialist Ryan T. Christensen, of Layton, Utah. Christensen was a petroleum supply specialist assigned to Company A, 101st Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. Officials issued a brief statement saying Christensen died Tuesday at a motor pool at Fort Riley. The incident is under investigation, and no other details were released.


Topeka Motel Death Officially Ruled a Homicide

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The death of a Topeka woman found in a motel room in November has officially been classified as a homicide. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that police confirmed the classification Wednesday but would not say how 39-year-old Lee Ann Keithley died, citing the continuing investigation. A worker found Keithley's body on the afternoon of November 16 in a room at the Country Club Motel on the city's south side. No arrests have been made, and police Major Jerry Stanley declined to say if any suspects had been identified. Investigators had treated the case as a possible homicide from the start but awaited the coroner's report before classifying the death as a homicide. The confirmation brings Topeka's 2013 homicide count to 12, including four related and still unsolved killings that occurred December 1.


3 Charged in Robbery of Unconscious Kansas Driver

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Three men are facing felony criminal charges in connection with the robbery of an unconscious woman whose purse and wedding ring were taken as she sat unconscious in the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant in Wichita. The three suspects made their first court appearance Wednesday through a video feed. Charged with robbery are Daquantrius S. Johnson; Quanique D. Thomas-Hameen; and Keith Byron Hickles. Their defense attorneys did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment. Danielle Zimmerman was pulling into a Taco Bell on December 29 when she suffered a brain aneurysm. While unconscious, someone took her purse, a cellphone and her wedding ring. The ring hasn't been recovered. The case has sparked outrage in Wichita and prompted the mayor to implore the public to help recover the ring.


KCK Casino Operators Seek More Time to Build Hotel

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A spokesman says developers of a state-owned casino in Kansas City, Kansas want more time to start building a promised hotel. The Kansas City Star reports vice president of marketing Dean Doria said Tuesday that Hollywood Casino won't be able to break ground on the hotel in February. The casino is at Kansas Speedway. The Kansas Lottery owns the rights to the gambling and receives some profits, but developers built the casino and manage it. They had promised to start building a 250-room hotel within two years of its February 2012 grand opening, or pay financial penalties. Casino officials are scheduled to outline their new plans later this week to the commission of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.

Topeka Celebrates First Commercial Flight in Years

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka officials and travelers celebrated as the first regularly scheduled commercial flight in years flew out of the city's airport. The first flight from Topeka to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport took off as scheduled Tuesday afternoon, despite weather concerns that had canceled other flights across the country, including nearby Kansas City. The United Airlines flight was the first commercial flight out of Topeka's airport in six years. Flights will depart at 6 am and 3:14 pm daily for Chicago, with the return flights leaving Chicago at 1 pm and 8:30 pm. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that about one-third of the 36 people on the flight were local dignitaries or media members.


Grant Will Fund Licensing, Sterilization of KC Pit Bulls

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A nonprofit group is giving Kansas City a $100,000 grant to provide free licensing, vaccinations and spaying or neutering for pit bulls and pit bull mixes in two ZIP codes. The donation announced Wednesday comes from PetSmart Charities, an animal welfare group created by the founders of the PetSmart chain of pet product stores. Kansas City's Animal Health and Public Safety Division says the two ZIP codes were chosen because they have an estimated 1,400 unaltered pit bulls and pit bull mixes and large numbers of low-income residents. Animal control officers will talk to residents about getting their dogs altered or vaccinated at one of three participating veterinary clinics. There's a limit of four dogs per household, and the services will be offered until the $100,000 grant is exhausted.


KS Store Owner Faces Sentencing over Counterfeit Goods

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita store owner who admitted selling fake luxury items will learn her fate this week. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren on Tuesday scheduled sentencing of Glenda Sue Morgan on Friday. Morgan pleaded guilty in October to one count of trafficking in goods bearing counterfeit designer labels such as Prada and Chanel. She is the owner of The Fabulous Store. Morgan faces a fine of up to $2 million and up to 10 years imprisonment, although she is likely to receive far less, if any, prison time under sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors are recommending a sentence at the low end of the guideline range. Investigators seized 400 replica items with a retail value of $14,000 from Morgan's shop. The goods would have been worth $140,000 had they been genuine.

Hutchinson Considers Hosting Longer 'Smallville' Festival

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Hutchinson is considering a stronger push to promote its claim of being the hometown of Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent. The City Council was asked Tuesday to proclaim Hutchinson as Smallville for a four-day festival this year. Last year, Hutchinson renamed itself Smallville for one day. The Hutchinson News reports that  organizer Christopher Wietrick asked the council Tuesday to support the larger festival. It would coincide with a planned Smallville Comic-Con on June 21-22 at the Kansas State Fairgrounds. Mayor Bob Bush said he didn't think anyone would object to proclaiming Hutchinson Smallville for June 19-22. Superman's hometown has often been depicted as being somewhere in Kansas, although no specific city was ever named. Some Superman fans claim he was born in different states.


KS School Bus Driver Pleads Not Guilty

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — The driver of a school bus that was swept into a south-central Kansas creek has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges. All 10 children aboard the Douglass School District bus were rescued unharmed from Muddy Creek on October 31 after climbing out through an emergency exit. The driver, 64-year-old Morris Peterson, suffered a minor back injury and later lost his job. KWCH-TV reports that  Peterson pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Butler County District Court to charges of misdemeanor child endangerment and reckless driving. Peterson told Kansas Highway Patrol troopers he saw water flowing over a low-water bridge but decided to cross it. Investigators concluded Peterson misjudged the edge of the bridge's railing, sending the bus into the rain-swollen creek where it flipped on its side. Peterson is free on $1,500 bond.


Charges Amended in Kansas Sex Trafficking Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal grand jury has amended the charges against a massage parlor owner and his wife accused of sex trafficking in Wichita. The four-count indictment returned Tuesday charges Gary Kidgell and Yan Zhang with sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. One count also charges Kidgell with harboring for financial gain an immigrant who was in the country unlawfully. The couple is charged with recruiting women to come to Wichita to work at massage parlors, then coercing them into prostitution. A woman who worked for them has pleaded guilty to a harboring count. The amended indictment makes moot a defense request to dismiss two of the counts over the government's earlier failure to specify that the alleged conduct was related to interstate commerce. Trial remains set for January 14.

Body Found in Burned-Out KS Home

SOLOMON, Kan. (AP) — Firefighters have recovered a body from the ruins of a north-central Kansas home destroyed by flames early Tuesday morning. The Salina Journal reports that the volunteer fire department in Solomon was called to the scene around 4 am Tuesday. Neighbors said the house was fully engulfed as fire trucks approached. The home's occupant was not immediately accounted for. The body was recovered several hours later, but Fire Chief Randy Paden declined to release an identity until relatives were notified. Neighbors said a man in his late 80's lived in the home. Solomon is located about 15 miles northeast of Salina.


Burst Pipe Closes Big Kansas City Office Tower

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — One of Kansas City's largest office buildings is closed after a broken fire sprinkler pipe flooded the basement. The 30-story office tower, called 1201 Walnut, is expected to be closed at least through Thursday and possibly the rest of the week. Copaken Brook, the building landlord, said a fire sprinkler pipe broke on the first floor Tuesday evening, sending water into the basement and damaging key building systems. The Kansas City Star reports that more than 1,000 employees work in the building. The law firm Stinson Leonard Street is the main tenant. Copaken Broooks CEO Troy Marquis said at least two pipes had been frozen by the recent weather in Kansas City, when temperatures dropped below zero.


Suspect in Derby Homicide Waives Preliminary Hearing

DERBY, Kan. (AP) — A Derby man charged in the death of his girlfriend and the wounding of her son waived his right to a preliminary hearing. An attorney for 40-year-old Charles A. Beck Jr. entered not guilty pleas Wednesday for Beck on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder. Beck is charged in the September 1 strangulation of 44-year-old Lonnie Staggs at her Derby home. Prosecutors say Beck also tried to strangle Staggs's teenage son but he was able to lock himself and an 11-year-old sister in another room. Beck turned himself in shortly after the deaths in Texas County, Missouri. The Wichita Eagle reports that he is being held in the Sedgwick County Jail on a $1 million bond.


KS Man Accused of Fatally Stabbing Girlfriend

INDEPENDENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 41-year-old Independence man has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the fatal stabbing of his 35-year-old girlfriend. The Independence Daily Reporter says Russell McQueen Arndt was arrested early Monday in the death of Rebecca Ann Whittley. Montgomery County prosecutor Larry Markle says the stabbing death occurred sometime over the weekend, but Whittley's body wasn't found until 2:30 am Monday when officers went to the couple's home to check on her. Earlier that night Arndt was picked up in the northern part of the county and told deputies his girlfriend may have been injured at their residence. Arndt was being held on $1 million bond. The Southeast Kansas Public Defender's office has been appointed to represent him, but nobody was available Tuesday to discuss his case.

Topeka Firms Donate Services to Housing Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Four engineering and surveying businesses have donated a combined $20,000 worth of services to Topeka Habitat for Humanity. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports officials of the nonprofit organization announced the contribution Tuesday. Firms making the donation are Schmidt, Beck and Boyd Engineering; Professional Engineering Consultants; CFS Engineers; and Bartlett and West. Topeka Habitat for Humanity provides financial education to low-income families and the opportunity to become homeowners through interest-free loans. Students from three Topeka area high schools build the homes for academic credit.

Director of Zoo in Garden City to Retire

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City will be looking for a new director in April. Executive director Kathy Sexson said Tuesday she will retire, effective April 1. Sexson has worked with the zoo and city for 30 years, the last nine as director. Sexson says she wants to spend more time with her family, particularly her elderly parents. The Garden City Telegram reports that Sexson believes the city will conduct a national search for her replacement.

KCP&L Plans to Increase Wind Power, Conservation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Power & Light Co. says it will expand its use of wind energy and other energy-efficiency programs. The company announced Tuesday it will double its wind-generating capacity and open rebate programs to all Missouri customers. The Kansas City Star reports that KCP&L plans to buy 400 megawatts of power from two new wind turbine facilities, increasing its wind energy portfolio to 939 megawatts. The sites will be in Coffey County, Kansas and Holt County, Missouri. They are expected to produce power by early 2016. No rate increase is expected because of the expansion and KCP&L says it doesn't plan any increases in the next two years. The utility also says it wants to expand energy-efficiency programs that promote such things as improved lighting and recycling older appliances.


Hays Daily News Appoints Schwien Managing Editor

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — The Hays Daily News has promoted chief copy editor Nick Schwien to managing editor of the northwest Kansas newspaper. Schwien became interim managing editor after Ron Fields resigned in December. Publisher Patrick Lowry announced Schwien's appointment to the post on a permanent basis Wednesday. Schwien has been with the newspaper for 16 years, starting as a sports reporter and assistant sports editor before joining the copy desk in 2004. He is a graduate of Fort Hays State University and worked for the Daily News as a sports stringer while still a student.




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