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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013


Judge Declines to Dismiss KS School Funding Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A federal judge has declined to dismiss a northeast Kansas lawsuit challenging the state's cap on how much money residents in a school district can raise through taxes. U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum ruled Tuesday the plaintiffs can continue pursuing claims that the cap violated their constitutional rights of equal protection. The plaintiffs are parents in Johnson County's Shawnee Mission School District. They allege the Legislature acted without a rational basis in the way it altered the state's funding formula. As part of the formula, districts are restricted in how much money they can raise beyond what the state provides so wealthy school systems won't have an unfair advantage. But Lungstrum rejected the parents' claim that the cap impairs their due process rights to fund and support education.


Lightning Ignites Northeast KS Oil Tanks 

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in northeast Kansas are blaming a lightning strike for an explosion and fires at an oil tank farm. The Leavenworth Times reports that no injuries were reported when three 8,500-gallon crude oil tanks were struck around 4:30 am Wednesday in northern Leavenworth County. Emergency management officials say two of the tanks exploded. One went airborne and landed about 200 yards away. The top of a third tank was blown off, and most of the oil inside burned. Flames were visible from five miles away. Firefighters allowed the oil in the tanks to burn itself out, along with a 1,000-gallon propane tank that also ignited. The company that owns the tank farm was cleaning up about 2,000 gallons of crude oil that spilled onto the ground.


KS Sends Letter to Corps About Control of Lake Recreation Areas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials are seeking to take control of recreational areas at lakes managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in effort to reduce overlap of services and expenses. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Governor Sam Brownback has sent a letter to the Pentagon seeking to end federal management of certain recreational areas at reservoirs where both the state and Corps of Engineers operate. The Corps of Engineers operates 17 reservoirs in Kansas, including Tuttle Creek, Clinton and Perry. It is unclear how many of the lakes the state would take over. Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison said it made little sense to have state and federal governments each spending money for recreational activities, such as fishing, camping and boating.


Schodorf Announces Run for Secretary of State

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Former Republican state Senator Jean Schodorf has formally announced that she'll run for Kansas secretary of state next year as a Democrat, hoping to challenge incumbent Republican incumbent Kris Kobach. In remarks prepared for her kickoff event Wednesday, Schodorf vowed to fix what she calls a voter registration "mess." About 17,200 registrations are on hold because the prospective voters haven't presented proof of U.S. citizenship. Kobach says those incomplete registrations are not a problem. Schodorf also criticized Kobach over his outside work on immigration issues. Kobach says he works full-time in the secretary of state's job, and that what he does in his spare time is up to him. Schodorf lost her Wichita-area Senate seat after conservative Republicans targeted her in the August 2012 primary. She has since become a Democrat.


Counties Sue KS Officials over Decrease in Funds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Fifty-two Kansas counties have filed suit claiming the state shortchanged them by about $7.6 million in making payments from a fund set up to offset the effects of declining oil and natural gas production. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Shawnee County District Court. It contends Governor Sam Brownback's administration improperly accelerated a cut in payments mandated by budget legislation approved this year. The state sets aside part of the tax it collects on oil and gas production to help counties facing declining production. Payments are distributed in October, based on the previous fiscal year's tax collections. The counties contend that the state must wait until next year to reduce payments. The Department of Revenue says there is confusion about the law.


KS Legislators Conclude Higher Education Tour

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators say a two-week tour of the state's public colleges and universities has provided a good exchange of information ahead of their 2014 session. Members of the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees finished the tour Wednesday at two campuses of the University of Kansas. Lawmakers submitted dozens of detailed questions to higher education officials about universities' budgeting ahead of the tour, and they've received more than 200 pages of answers. But in the past, tours of campuses, prisons and state hospitals have allowed legislators to judge conditions for themselves and talk to workers, inmates and patients. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson says the visits with campus leaders are giving legislators the answers to questions about allocating state funds.


Clothing Found on Body Matches That of Missing Olathe Man

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The lawyer for the family of a missing northeast Kansas man says a body found Tuesday matches the description of the man, who has been missing since Sunday. Attorney Henry Cox says Johnson County sheriff's deputies contacted the family of 22-year-old Brad Cook of Olathe on Tuesday to confirm what clothing Cook was wearing when he disappeared. Cox says the clothes on the body found in De Soto match what Cook was wearing. Cox told The Kansas City Star that deputies would not say anything about the cause of death. A medical examination will be conducted Wednesday. Cook left his home in Olathe without his cellphone or wallet. His motorcycle was found a few hours later in a strip mall's parking lot in De Soto.

FDA: Reser's Recall Prompted by Routine Food Check

BEAVERTON, Ore. (AP) — A U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman says a Reser's Fine Foods recall of packaged salads produced at its Topeka plant was prompted by a routine check of products sold in Canada. FDA spokeswoman Juli Ann Putnam said Tuesday that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency found Listeria monocytogenes (mon-oh-SYT'-oh-jeens) in some ready-to-eat Cheesy Macaroni salad and Reser's issued a voluntary recall of affected products. Putnam says a follow-up inspection of the plant by the FDA and the state of Kansas determined there was a potential for cross-contamination with other products, so the recall was expanded. In all, some 450 products sold under the name of Beaverton, Oregon-based Reser's and others were recalled. Listeria can produce fever, headache, diarrhea and abdominal pain, and can be fatal for people with weak immune systems.

KS Rule on Utility Shutoffs Taking Effect

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A rule that prevents utilities from disconnecting Kansas customers during extreme cold will take effect on November 1. The cold weather rule is enforced by the Kansas Corporation Commission and runs from Friday through March 31. The rule bars utilities from disconnecting electric or natural gas service for nonpayment when temperatures of 35 or lower are forecast for the following 24 hours. Utility companies must offer customers a 12-month payment plan to maintain or re-establish service. Shutoffs must be announced 24 hours in advance, and may be carried out only if the temperature is expected to top 35 degrees for 48 hours.

No Charges in KCK Party Bus Death

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — No criminal charges will be filed after a Kansas woman fell to her death from a party bus. The Kansas City Star reports that the family of 26-year-old Jamie Frecks responded Tuesday in a statement released through their attorneys. The statement said the family appreciated the investigative work of the Wyandotte County district attorney's office and understood the burdens of pursuing criminal charges. The family also is pursing civil litigation, and said in the statement that they hope to learn more as discovery continues. Frecks died while celebrating a friend's bachelorette party May 4 when she fell out of the 1999 wheelchair van-turned-party bus. She fell when the bus' side double doors suddenly opened on Interstate 35 in Kansas City, Kansas and she was hit by several vehicles.


FHSU President to Retire

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Fort Hays State University President Ed Hammond says he'll retire as the western Kansas school's top administrator at the end of June 2014. Hammond announced his plans Wednesday. He has been the university's president since 1987 and is now the longest-serving president in the state university system. Hammond noted that he turns 70 in the spring and said it's time for the university to transition to new leadership. Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Fred Logan called Hammond an innovator in higher education. During Hammond's tenure, Fort Hays State formed a Virtual College to offer online courses and began a partnership to offer courses at Chinese universities. The university's enrollment grew from about 5,700 students when he took over to a record of more than 13,400 this fall.


Fire District Treasurer Accused of Stealing $427K

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former treasurer for a Kansas rural fire district is facing federal charges accusing him of stealing more than $427,000 from his employer over a five-year period and leaving the district unable to pay its bills. Prosecutors say 67-year-old Holton resident Richard Bontrager was charged Tuesday with one count of embezzlement. He is accused of making unauthorized transfers from the Mayetta Rural Fire District's bank account into an account belonging to him and his wife at the same bank from 2008 through 2013. Bontrager, who had served as treasurer since 1994, also is accused of issuing checks with forged signatures of board members payable to a fictitious entity he created. Nobody answered a phone at his home, and it was unclear in online court documents whether he had an attorney.


Former KC Worker Admits Insurance Fraud

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former Kansas City municipal court employee has pleaded guilty in a scheme to use an insurance member benefit program to illegally rack up tens of thousands of dollars in gift cards. The U.S. attorney's office says 43-year-old Crystal Burgin-Woods admitted Wednesday that she made fraudulent submissions to the city's health insurance program on behalf of 383 employees. Those claims resulted in the issuance of 939 gift cards worth nearly $186,000. The fraudulent submissions included claims that a 3-year-old child had completed four triathlons, three marathons, two duathlons and three half marathons. Five other employees also have pleaded guilty in the scheme. Each of the defendants face up to 20 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000.


KS Store Owner Admits Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita store owner has admitted trafficking in fake luxury items bearing such designer labels as Prada and Chanel. Glenda Sue Morgan pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to one count of trafficking in goods bearing counterfeit trademarks. Morgan and her business, The Fabulous Store LLC, were indicted in April on charges of conspiracy and trafficking. In exchange for Morgan's plea Tuesday, prosecutors agreed to drop at sentencing the remaining charges against her and all charges against the store. Prosecutors allege Morgan sold handbags, wallets, sunglasses and jewelry bearing brand names that were not made by the companies. Investigators seized 400 replica items with a retail value of $14,000. The goods would have been worth $140,000 had the trademarks been genuine. Sentencing is January 17.


KS Motorist Killed in Ditch Accident

NESS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A western Kansas man has died after trying to free his pickup truck from a muddy ditch. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the accident happened shortly before midnight Tuesday on a Ness County road southwest of Ness City. The patrol says 46-year-old Ness City resident Darren Eugene Mcvicker was driving south when his pickup repeatedly entered the ditches on both sides of the road. The truck became stuck in one ditch, and Mcvicker was trying to get the vehicle out when he fell under the rear tire and was run over.


Take-Back Effort Lands 450 Pounds of Unused Drugs

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence and Douglas County residents disposed of more than 450 pounds of unused prescription drugs over the weekend during National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The Lawrence Journal-World reports more than 160 people dropped off unwanted drugs in Lawrence on Saturday in an event that happens twice a year in conjunction with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Abuse of prescription medications has been identified as one of the nation's top drug problems. As part of the effort to remove unwanted or unused drugs from local medicine cabinets, Douglas County Sheriff's Office also has been running an ongoing take-back service since July.

KS School Enrollment Grows Slightly in 2013

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Preliminary enrollment figures show the number of Kansas students attending public schools grew by less than 1 percent this fall. The raw figures disclosed Tuesday by the Kansas Department of Education were based on the September 20 enrollment count. The figures show there were nearly 460,000 full-time equivalent students attending Kansas public schools. The figure is different than the headcount enrollment which counts actual students in attendance. However, students who are in kindergarten are counted as halftime students. Actual headcount figures won't be released until enrollment numbers are audited. Legislators use the number of full-time-equivalent students to base state funding, which is currently $3,838 for the 2013-14 school year.

Man Found in Wrecked Car in Wichita Was Shot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a man who died after a rollover crash in southeast Wichita was shot before the wreck. Investigators are trying to determine if the man who died after the accident early Tuesday was killed by the gunshot or the car crash. The car came to rest in the yard of a private residence. No one else was injured. Emergency crews freed the 47-year-old man from the car but he died at a Wichita hospital. His name has not been released. Police discovered the victim had been shot in the torso, and also found a bullet hole in the car. Wichita police Lieutenant Todd Ojile says the man did not live in the area and investigators aren't sure where he was going.

Kingman County Rejects Tax Hike for Law Enforcement

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — Kingman County voters have rejected a tax increase that would have been used to build a new law enforcement center. Unofficial returns from Tuesday's voting showed the measure lost 802 to 749. The proposal was for a new one-quarter percent retailers' sales tax for 20 years and to extend a current three-quarters percent sales tax, also for 20 years. KAKE reports that the county planned to use the sales tax revenue and payments from a commercial wind farm to build an $11.8 million law enforcement center. It would have housed the county sheriff's office and Kingman police.The current law enforcement center was built in 1959. Supporters of the tax say the current center is outdated and too small.

Reward in Unsolved KC Murder Grows to $4,000

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The reward for information in the shooting death of a Kansas City man has increased to $4,000. Investigators are asking for the public's help in the June 30 death of 47-year-old David Ruth in northern Kansas City. KMBC reports that police believe Ruth was shot during a robbery at his home. His firearms were taken and his truck was found abandoned more than 10 miles from his home. Police say an anonymous donor recently contributed another $2,000 to the reward for information leading to an arrest. Ruth was the brother of Sergeant Danny Ruth of the Clay County Sheriff's Office. Danny Ruth says he's confident the killer will eventually be caught.

Fort Scott Ends Partnership Talks with PSU

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Talks to change and improve an existing partnership between Fort Scott Community College and Pittsburg State University have stalled. The community college's Board of Trustees on Monday voted to discontinue the discussions. The Joplin Globe reports that the two schools have had a partnership since 1985, with some Fort Scott operations in Crawford County. Community college students also can take courses and live in Pittsburg State dorms. Senior officials at both schools were discussing a more formal partnership, with a goal of being more efficient. Fort Scott president Clayton Tatro says he was surprised by the board's decision. He says the primary concerns seem to be about governance issues and a loss of identity for the community college.

Royals Snare Gold Glove Awards

Major League Baseball Gold Glove awards have been announced. Kansas City catcher Salvatore Perez, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer and Royals left fielder Alex Gordon were all named to the American League Gold Glove squad.


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