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Regional Headlines for Friday, July 6, 2012


Fireworks-Related Blazes Claim Multiple Homes in Kansas

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — The toll from fires blamed on Fourth of July fireworks is adding up around Kansas. In Hutchinson, authorities estimate the damage at $600,000 from a fire that left a home in ruins and killed a couple's two dogs. Investigators say Thursday's pre-dawn blaze apparently began when fireworks landed on the roof from somewhere in the neighborhood. Fireworks are also suspected in several house fires in the Wichita area. Even spent fireworks can spark a blaze. WIBW-TV reports a house in Emporia went up in flames Thursday when two children put a couple of spent sparklers in the ground. The sparklers ignited dry grass under the front porch, starting a fire that spread quickly. No one was injured.


Heat-Related Death Reported in Northwest Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials say the death of a 43-year-old man in northwest Kansas was heat-related, making it the state's third such fatality this year. The state Department of Health and Environment confirmed Thursday the latest heat-related death was reported last week but declined to provide additional details to protect the victim's privacy. The state's other two heat-related deaths occurred in May. Health department officials also said hospitals have voluntarily reported about 40 heat-related injuries and illnesses since the beginning of June. High temperatures in northwest Kansas have hit or exceeded 100 degrees for most of the past two weeks, and Governor Sam Brownback has declared a drought emergency in the western third of the state, including northwest Kansas.


Kansas Man Dies Following Fireworks Show

LANSING, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas park is closed while police investigate the explosion death of a man who was helping clean up after a community fireworks show. KCTV reports the 44-year-old Lansing man was a volunteer at Wednesday night's Fourth of July fireworks display at Kenneth W. Bernard Community Park. Lansing police said he and others were disposing of fireworks that had not discharged when one of the devices exploded near him. A crowd of about 3,500 people who attended the show had already left the park when the man was killed. The death is being investigated as an accident.


Costs from Agency Name Changes Rile Kansas Lawmaker

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Democrat in the Kansas House is criticizing Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's reorganization of state social service agencies because new names for two departments come with a projected $220,000 cost. The reorganization took effect this week. It's part of Brownback's larger effort to overhaul the state's $2.9 billion-a-year Medicaid program, which covers health care for the poor, disabled and needy. The administration contends the overhaul, which turns the program's management over to private insurance companies, will result in better-coordinated care and save more than $1 billion over five years. But Representative Sean Gatewood, a Topeka Democrat, is skeptical of those projections. He said Friday that even if the Medicaid overhaul makes the program less costly, he questions whether the state needed to rename two agencies, creating additional administrative expenses.


Kansas Legislative Panel to Discuss School Audits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative oversight committee is scheduled to consider seeking additional audits of Kansas school district operations and a new review of the costs for implementing national education standards. The Legislative Post Audit Committee has asked the state's independent auditing staff to review school district operations over recent years, looking for ways to help districts find efficiencies in spending and organization. The audits generally have found that districts could save money by purchasing supplies in bulk and by modifying the way their academic schedules are assembled. Committee members will meet Tuesday in Topeka to discuss future audits, as well as the need to determine how much additional money it will cost schools to implement new national academic standards. The changes, developed by a coalition of states, seek to provide common expectations.


Kansas Seeks to End Case over Abortion Insurance Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys for a Kansas official argue in federal court filings that critics of a law restricting insurance coverage for abortions haven't shown that it burdens women seeking to end their pregnancies. Lawyers for Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger on Friday asked U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson to uphold the 2011 statute without a trial in a lawsuit filed against it by the American Civil Liberties Union. The law prohibits insurance companies from offering abortion coverage as part of general health plans, except when a woman's life is at risk. Kansas residents who want coverage for elective abortions must buy supplemental policies. The ACLU argued in a filing last month that the law makes it more difficult to obtain abortions. Attorneys for Praeger contend there's no proof of that.


Denied Kansas House Hopeful Launches Independent Bid

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Democrat who couldn't seek a Kansas House seat because his filing form was lost now hopes to run as an independent. Larry Meeker of Lake Quivira says he'll kick off a petition drive Saturday in Shawnee. He needs signatures from 4 percent of the registered voters in the 17th House District in the Kansas City area to qualify as a candidate in the November general election. Meeker can gather signatures until August 6, the day before the state's primary election. State Representative Brett Hildabrand, of Shawnee, and another Republican also are running for the seat. Democrats contend the secretary of state's office lost Meeker's filing form after it was delivered on the June 11 deadline. The secretary of state's office says there was no proof it was submitted.


Amid Criticism, Kansas Man Retools Mug Shot Website

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — A version of a website that posted mug shots of people arrested in Johnson County was back up and running after being temporarily offline. Matthew Creed, of Shawnee, said Friday he temporarily took down the site,, on Thursday so he could make changes to it. The site was running Friday, but without its full map component. Creed's 2-month-old website featured a map of the bistate Kansas City area with dots showing the Kansas or Missouri hometowns of people arrested in Johnson County. Clicking on the dots brought up the mug shots and addresses of people arrested. Some of the photos were of people arrested for such infractions as being a minor in possession of tobacco, or driving with expired registration. Some critics called Creed's business extortion or blackmail.

Mexico's Gift Supports Kansas Health Program

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Mexico's government is helping promote a health-care screening and prevention program in southwestern Kansas. The Garden City Telegram reports the Mexican government has donated $31,000 to support a staff position with the Juntos Center for Advancing Latino Health. The Juntos program is an initiative of the University of Kansas Medical Center. The staff member will help connect people to clinics in Liberal, Great Bend, Dodge City and Garden City where they can be screened for cancer, diabetes and other illnesses. Juntos Center director Dr. Paula Cupertino says the program brings the services of KU Medical Center to underserved communities in southwestern Kansas.


Fired KC Star Columnist Sues McClatchy Company

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former Kansas City Star columnist has sued the newspaper's parent company, saying his reputation was damaged when the newspaper fired him for representing the work of others as his own. Steve Penn was fired from The Star in 2011 for using sections of press releases verbatim or representing other peoples' conclusions and opinions as his own. The newspaper said it found more than a dozen examples of misrepresentation in Penn's columns. In his lawsuit filed June 29 in Jackson County (MO) against McClatchy Newspapers Inc., Penn says his supervisors knew about his use of press releases, which he says was a "widespread practice." He also accuses the newspaper of making an example of him. He's seeking at least $25,000 and punitive damages. McClatchy didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Friday.


SE Kansas Woman Sentenced in Newborn's Death

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A 23-year-old southeast Kansas woman has been sentenced to more than 13 years in prison in the April death of her newborn son. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Karen Marie Bailey of LeRoy was sentenced Thursday to 13 years and seven months in prison. She pleaded guilty earlier to second-degree murder and aggravated endangerment of a child. Prosecutors say Bailey gave birth April 2 in her car and left the baby unattended there for several hours, which resulted in his death.


Negro Leagues Museum Hopes for Big All-Star Game Boost 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is banking on a boost from All-Star game festivities in Kansas City this weekend as it continues to recover from the brink of closure. The museum had fallen on hard times during the economic downturn, due in part to politics and in-fighting. But the museum has largely recovered over the past year, just in time for Major League Baseball to bring its annual Midsummer Classic to its doorstep. Events are planned throughout the weekend at the museum, located in the historic 18th and Vine District. Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson are among the stars involved. Museum president Bob Kendrick won't even hazard a guess as to how many people will push through the turnstiles, but he expects a financial windfall approaching $500,000.


Judges Move to Reduce State Costs in Kansas Remapping Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The legal bills facing Kansas from a federal lawsuit over political redistricting may not be as big as state officials initially feared. Three federal judges have moved to limit the amount of legal expenses that parties who sued the state can have covered by taxpayers. Nineteen plaintiffs are asking to have nearly $700,000 in legal bills covered. Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Thursday they're pleased by the judges' order this week limiting what can be covered by the state, although the final amount will be set later. The judges drew new congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts last month after the Legislature failed to do so. The districts must be redrawn every 10 years to account for population changes.


Grassfire Prompts Evacuations in West Lawrence 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Crews are monitoring the remnants of a large grassfire that forced the temporary evacuation of residents in a west Lawrence neighborhood. The fire was reported around 10:30am Thursday just east of the South Lawrence Trafficway. Police Sergeant Trent McKinley says residents in a two-block stretch were evacuated because the fire was threatening homes. The fire was also close to Langston Hughes Elementary School, which is closed for the summer. McKinley says crews from Lawrence and the surrounding area had the fire controlled shortly after noon, allowing residents to return to their homes. Crews stayed on the scene to put water on hot spots. No significant structural damage or injuries were reported. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a squirrel is believed to have caused the fire by somehow causing a power line to spark and ignite dry vegetation nearby.


Kansas Health Officials Lift Advisory for Creek

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — State officials have lifted a health advisory for a south-central Kansas creek that was contaminated last month by a sewage leak. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Thursday lifted the advisory for Eight Mile Creek in Butler and Cowley counties after taking water samples that showed bacteria concentrations in the creek are back to acceptable levels. The Wichita Eagle reports that KDHE issued the health advisory June 25, a day after finding that a pump station equipment failure resulted in untreated sewage being dumped into a tributary of the creek. It's unclear how much untreated water leaked into the waterway, but officials estimate the release lasted about a day.


3rd Former KCK Police Officer Sentenced after Electronics Sting

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A third member of a Kansas City, Kan., police unit has been sentenced to eight months in federal prison for stealing electronics from houses during searches. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says 34-year-old Dustin Sillings also has to serve one year of supervised release for violating a federal civil rights law. He was sentenced Thursday. Sillings and two other members of the Police Department's Selective Crime Occurrence Reduction Enforcement Unit were charged after a sting operation in January 2011. Thirty-two-year-old Darrell M. Forrest has been sentenced to 12 months and a day in prison, and 34-year-old Jeffrey M. Bell was sentenced earlier to eight months behind bars. Sillings admitted stealing $340 in cash from the sting house and five or six video games during other searches.


KC's All-Star Game Cleanup Efforts Rankle Some Residents

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Residents in Kansas City's urban core say they welcome the city's efforts to clean up blighted neighborhoods near sites that will host activities associated with next week's All-Star Game. They also are wondering why it took a professional sporting event to get something done about eyesores the city has largely ignored for decades. City workers and volunteers have been working for months to clean up areas near Kauffman Stadium east of town and several urban areas where four days of youth baseball and softball tournaments are being played. The efforts include tearing down 32 abandoned homes near the ballparks that residents think should have been taken care of a long time ago. City leaders say most residents have supported the call to clean up their properties.


Reaction to Viral Video Sensation Surprises Kansas Teen

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Three brothers from Kansas have become Internet sensations with their farm parody of LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It." "I'm Farming and I Grow It" has had more than 3.28 million views since it was posted on YouTube on June 25. It stars Greg Peterson and his two brothers feeding cattle, driving tractors and jumping on hay bales. Peterson says he started coming up with the lyrics while hanging out with friends from Kansas State University. When he got home to the family farm near Assaria, he got his brothers and younger sister to help make the video. He says he had no idea it would be so popular and all the attention has been a little overwhelming. Now he's trying to get back to normal things, like mowing hay.


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