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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, July 24, 2013



Kansas AG Seeks Special Legislative Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is asking Governor Sam Brownback to call the Legislature into special session to rewrite the state's "Hard 50" sentencing law. The statute allows people convicted of first-degree murder to be sentenced to a minimum of 50 years in prison before they can seek parole. In a letter Wednesday to the governor, Schmidt says a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision raised questions about the constitutionality of the Kansas law. The high court held that juries, not judges, should have the final say on facts triggering mandatory minimum sentences. The Associated Press obtained a copy of Schmidt's letter from a source who was not authorized to release it publicly. Schmidt did not return a cell phone message seeking comment.


Hail, High Winds Pummel South-Central Kansas

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A storm carrying large hail and winds up to 80 mph damaged roofs, broke windows and downed trees in parts of south-central Kansas. No serious injuries were reported. Reno County was hit hardest Tuesday evening, with serious damage reported in Pretty Prairie and Hutchinson. Pretty Prairie Fire Chief Rick Graber says the storm tore roofs off of buildings throughout the town. Officers blocked access to the town to allow property owners to begin making repairs. In Hutchinson, hail 4 inches in diameter shattered skylights at a Wal-Mart, broke windows and damaged cars at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center and tore down trees across the city. Power lines were downed throughout the county. As of 6 am, Westar reported fewer than 500 customers were still without power.

Audit to Examine Kansas Services for Disabled

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislative committee has launched an audit into potential problems in the state's delivery of services to the developmentally disabled. Tom Laing is the executive director of the organization Interhab, which represents many of the state's Community Developmental Disability Organizations that currently provide these services. He said that the audit is a form of retaliation against groups critical of Republican Governor Sam Brownback's plan to incorporate long-term services for the disabled into the state's new KanCare program. Top Republicans deny the charge. The audit approved Tuesday by the Post Audit Committee will examine whether conflicts of interest exist in having 27 regional groups act as gatekeepers for developmentally disabled Kansans seeking state-funded services. Some critics of the system have noted that the regional groups can compete with local service providers. Some of the groups have been vocal critics of Brownback's decision to turn the administration of the state's Medicaid program over to three private health insurance companies.

Oklahoma-Based Tribe Buys Land Near Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — An Oklahoma-based Indian tribe has purchased 87 acres near Lawrence but has not yet announced any plans for the land. The Delaware Tribe of Indians said in a news release that it might use the land along the Kansas Turnpike for housing, child care and a medical clinic. A representative of the tribe said in March that the tribe was considering moving its headquarters from Bartlesville, Oklahoma because of restrictions it faces in Oklahoma. The Lawrence Journal-World reported Wednesday that a Delaware spokesman declined to comment on whether the tribe is considering building a casino on the land or moving its headquarters. In 2000, the tribe considered building a casino complex in the same area but those plans stalled after strong opposition from neighbors.

Topeka Bank Account Cards Compromised

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police are investigating reports of credit card fraud affecting customers of at least two banks. Police told The Topeka Capital-Journal on Tuesday that two people reported fraudulent charges on cards they used at a local business. An employee of a bar called the Lazy Toad told the newspaper that police were looking at its computer. CoreFirst Bank & Trust president Kurt Kuta says anti-fraud software caught unusual charges to some customers, who were issued new credit cards. Kuta would not say how many customers were affected except that it was fewer than the 500 reported earlier. Fidelity State Bank & Trust has issued new cards to 25 customers. Capital City Bank is checking whether its customers were affected. Police say they haven't found any evidence of deliberate wrongdoing in the case.


Union: Layoffs Imminent at Spirit AeroSystems

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Union officials are bracing for anticipated layoffs at Spirit AeroSystems, but the company says it is not speculating about what it calls rumors. Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, said Wednesday that the union is hearing from various middle managers about the impending layoffs. But he says the company has not told union officials. A company email shows the human resources department has blocked off 35 rooms from 6:30 am to noon Thursday for the meetings. Spirit spokesman Ken Evans says the company has no announcement to make at this time. Goforth says it is a shockingly disrespectful way to treat employees.


Man Who Impersonated Police in Scams Arrested

VINITA, Okla. (AP) — Kansas authorities say a man who impersonated law enforcement officers as part of a scam to cash phony checks and pass bad checks has been arrested in Oklahoma. The Kansas State Bureau of Investigation says 46-year-old Robert Helms of Pittsburg was arrested Wednesday in Vinita, Oklahoma when a clerk at a Wal-Mart called police after recognizing one of the aliases Helms was known to use. Authorities told reporters that Helms targeted stores in Kansas, Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma. He allegedly would buy electronics and gift cards with fraudulent checks from non-existent banks and cashed phony payroll checks from current and non-existent sheriff's offices in Kansas. Investigators say Helms would show a badge and a weapon and portray himself as a plainclothes officer or a detective.


Scammer Posing as Northeast Kansas Sheriff's Employee

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in a northeast Kansas county are cautioning residents not to be fooled by a scammer posing as a sheriff's employee demanding money. Investigators say someone has been making calls from what appears to be a non-emergency dispatch number of the Johnson County Sheriff's Department. The caller claims to work for the sheriff's department and tells potential victims they'll be arrested on a warrant unless they pay him some money immediately. Master Deputy Tom Erickson says the sheriff's procedure for contacting people facing warrants does not include a demand for immediate payment of a bond. Johnson County is the most populous of Kansas's 105 counties, with an estimated 560,000 residents.


Feds Charge 3 in Kansas Sex Trafficking Conspiracy

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged three people in a wide-ranging sex trafficking conspiracy operating at nine Asian massage parlors in Wichita. A criminal complaint filed Wednesday in federal court charges owner Gary H. Kidgell, 44, of Waltham, Massachusetts; Yan Zhang, 49, of Wichita; and employee XiuQing Tian, 42, of Framingham, Massachusetts, with conspiracy to recruit women and coerce them to engage in commercial sex acts. Court records do not indicate any defense attorneys. The U.S. attorney's office did not know if any have been retained. The six-count complaint lists four women, identified only by their initials, who were allegedly forced to engage in prostitution. Prosecutors allege the massage parlors recruited women by placing ads in a Chinese-language newspaper in New York and Los Angeles for women to work at a spa.


Kansas Concealed Carry Permits Recognized in PA

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Pennsylvania has become the 31st state to recognize Kansas permits for carrying concealed firearms. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Tuesday that Pennsylvania joined the list as a result of legislation passed by Kansas lawmakers this year. The law recognizes all valid out-of-state permits when a non-resident permit holder is traveling temporarily in Kansas. A list of reciprocating states is available on the attorney general's website. The new Kansas law also requires people with concealed carry permits who move to Kansas to obtain a Kansas-issued license to legally continue carrying concealed guns. The changes took effect on July 1. There are more than 64,000 active Kansas concealed carry permits.


Faulty Meters Cited in Junction City Water Loss

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in a northeast Kansas community are cracking down on illegal water consumption but say old and faulty meters are the biggest reason for the apparent overuse of water. State officials notified Junction City earlier this month that it was using as much as 30 percent more water than allotted. Interim City Manager Cheryl Beatty said Wednesday that residents illegally taking water from hydrants are a small percentage of the problem. Beatty attributes the rest to an aging system of meters that leak and inaccurately report usage. Beatty says the city will replace more than 9,000 meters over the next two years. The police department issued a notice July 7 asking the public's help in identifying the source of the water usage.


Kansas Man to Be Tried in Death of Girlfriend's Son

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man has been ordered to stand trial for the shaking death earlier this year of his girlfriend's infant son. Nineteen-year-old Ogden resident Michael Dechant is charged in Riley County with first-degree murder and child abuse, accused of violently shaking 6-month-old Dominick Lubrano on March 15. The baby died three days later. WIBW-TV reports that Dechant's girlfriend, Sabrina Lubrano, has said she left Dominick briefly with Dechant while she ran an errand. Lubrano said she returned to find a neighbor giving the baby CPR in an effort to revive him. A detective testified at Tuesday's preliminary hearing that Dechant admitted shaking the baby to "shut him up." But a defense lawyer noted that police did not determine the age of the bruises on the infant's body.


Sperm Donor Asks for Judgment Without Trial

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man being pursued for child support by the state in a sperm donor case is asking a judge to rule in his favor before a trial. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that an attorney for William Marotta of Topeka filed a motion Monday in Shawnee County seeking a summary judgment for his client. The state wants Marotta to be declared the father of a child born to a lesbian couple after he donated his sperm. That would require him to pay child support. Marotta and the couple say they agreed he would have no parental responsibilities toward the child. The state says the agreement between Marotta and the couple was invalid because they didn't follow a state law requiring a physician to perform artificial insemination when sperm is donated.

Hutchinson Couple Awarded $202K over Dam Problem

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has awarded a couple $202,500 in a dispute over a dam that was once part of Hutchinson's flood-control program. Jerry and Georgia McGonigle bought a home in 2008 without being told they would be responsible for maintaining the dam. The previous owner had received complaints about the dam's condition. The Hutchinson News reports that the couple acquired the property before being told about their liability. Bids for repairing the dam were as high as seven figures. After litigation began, the city of Hutchinson abandoned the dam agreement and was not part of the case. The $202,500 awarded to the couple on Monday is for removal of trees that weaken the dam. The McGonigles settled a lawsuit against the home's previous owner for an undisclosed sum.


Man's Body Found in Kansas Swimming Pool

DERBY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have identified a man found dead in a backyard pool in south-central Kansas, but they still don't know the circumstances of the death. The Sedgwick County sheriff's department said Wednesday the man has been identified as 34-year-old Kyle Phelps, of Derby. Deputies found Phelps floating in the pool behind a Derby-area home Tuesday afternoon after being asked to check on his welfare. The deputies performed CPR until paramedics arrived and pronounced Phelps dead. Sheriff's Captain Mike Stover tells The Wichita Eagle that Phelps was connected to a person who lives at the home and was a frequent visitor. The investigation into the death continues.


Kansas Mother of 3 Children Hurt in Fire Charged

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita woman whose young daughter was fatally burned in a fire while home alone with her sisters has been charged with child endangerment. The Wichita Eagle reports that a judge set bail Tuesday for Ruthie Lee Bell at $100,000. Her next court date is August . Investigators say Bell left three daughters — ages 4, 6 and 7 — home alone on July 11. The 6-year-old, Jakara Dickson, set her clothes on fire while playing with a lighter and died three days later from her burns. The other girls were treated for smoke inhalation. Bell's lawyer, Pat Mitchell, told The Eagle after Tuesday's brief court appearance that the death was a "horrible accident" that left Bell devastated.

Roman Sculpture Makes US Debut in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An ancient Roman sculpture is making its U.S. debut in Kansas City. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art says in a release that the red-marble "Fauno rosso" is on view for the first time in America through September 30 in the museum's Kirkwood Hall. Admission is free. The sculpture dates to the second century and depicts a satyr. The museum says it's in Kansas City thanks to a new relationship between the Nelson-Atkins and the city of Rome. The loan is part of a collaboration with the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The program sends Roman masterpieces to the U.S. for display in Washington, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Kansas City.

Arkansas City Investigating 2-Year-Old Boy's Death

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Arkansas City police are investigating the death of a 2-year-old boy who was found unresponsive at an apartment over the weekend. The police say in a news release that Manton Kieffer died Sunday at an Arkansas City hospital. When officers and emergency medical personnel arrived at the Garden Walk Apartments, they found neighbors performing CPR on the child. Police say the boy apparently was being cared for by the mother's boyfriend. The cause of death has not been determined.

K-State Researcher Studies Hispanic Migration

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas State University researcher is studying why southwest Kansas, instead of more populated areas, has become a new gateway for Hispanic immigration. The Wichita Eagle reports that Matthew Sanderson is also studying what motivates Hispanics to come to Garden City, Liberal and Ulysses and how they are adapting to life there. The associate professor of sociology says it's clear there is a strong demand for immigrant labor in the area, but that many Hispanics who move there would have preferred to stay in their home countries. Sanderson says the unexpected rise of rural destinations has interested social scientists. Last summer he led a student group that conducted interviews with more than 140 immigrants, mostly in Garden City, and found that about 70 percent came there for jobs.


Paddler Dies After Dropping Out of MO River Race


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Organizers of a Missouri River race say a paddler died in his sleep after dropping out of the competition. The Kansas City Star reports that the man had competed in the first day of the Missouri American Water MR340 on Tuesday. Race director and founder Scott Mansker said Wednesday that the man was camping overnight in Miami, Missouri when he died. The paddler's boat partner had decided not to continue after Tuesday's leg of the race. Mansker said the man and his ground crew decided to continue to follow the race after withdrawing from the competition in Lexington. The race is a four-day, 340-mile trek across Missouri from Kansas City to St. Charles.


Environmentalists Undaunted by House Legislation on Proposed KS Electricity Plant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Opponents of a coal-fired power plant planned for southwest Kansas say developers still face obstacles in completing the project despite legislation approved by the U.S. House. Kansas congressman Tim Huelskamp inserted language removing one level of federal oversight of the project planned by Sunflower Electric Power Corporation. The Hays-based company wants to build a second coal-fired unit at its Holcomb power plant. Three-fourths of the energy generated by the second unit would be reserved for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, of Westminster, Colorado. Environmentalists said Tuesday the project still faces other obstacles from Kansas courts and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as new renewable energy standards imposed by Colorado on Tri-State.

Kansas Doctor Found Guilty of Criminal Contempt

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has found a Kansas doctor guilty of criminal contempt of court for misbehaving during her first court appearance on charges related to a $7 million Army fraud and bribery indictment. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson sentenced 50-year-old Heidi Lynn Webster of Manhattan to 30 days in jail on top of any sentence she receives in a Texas case that charges her with medical equipment contract fraud. Documents filed Monday contend Webster repeatedly "spoke loudly" and interrupted the judge during Friday's hearing in Topeka. The judge says Webster's outbursts prevented the court from advising her of the charges or her rights. Her attorney did not immediately return a phone message. Webster, a former Army physician, is the owner of MRI Resources Inc. and Pro Veteran Staffing Inc.

Thief Targeting Midwestern Banks Gets 5-10 Years for Nebraska Heist

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Tennessee man with more than 15 years left on a Mississippi bank robbery sentence has been given more prison time in Nebraska. Online court records say 35-year-old Michael Watson, of Hendersonville, Tennessee was sentenced Tuesday in Lincoln to five to 10 years for robbing a U.S. Bank branch on January 22, 2009. He got away with nearly $3,400, and no one was hurt. Watson had made a deal with Lancaster County prosecutors and pleaded guilty to a lesser robbery charge. Authorities say the Lincoln bank was but one of 12 Watson robbed over three months in several states: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, two in Tennessee and one in Utah.

Chiefs' Commings Breaks Collarbone in Practice

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs safety Sanders Commings fractured his left collarbone in his first practice of training camp when he landed on it while trying to defend a pass. The fifth-round draft pick jumped to defend tight end Tony Moeaki and landed hard on one of the practice fields at Missouri Western State University on Tuesday. Commings immediately walked off the field and was taken for X-rays that revealed the break. Commings wasn't wearing shoulder pads because players are barred from wearing them for the first three practices under terms of the most recent collective bargaining agreement. The Chiefs hadn't yet scheduled surgery Tuesday night, and a team spokesman said it wasn't known how long Commings will be out. He was expected to provide depth in a secondary that underwent a massive overhaul this past offseason.


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