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Regional Headlines for Monday, November 19, 2012




Attorney Fired over Tweets During Kline Hearing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Court of Appeals research attorney has been fired after an investigation into comments she posted to Twitter last week during an ethics hearing for former Attorney General Phill Kline. Sarah Peterson Herr was a research attorney for Court of Appeals Judge Christel Marquardt. Herr tweeted several negative comments about Kline during the hearing. Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said Monday that Herr had been fired and that her case had been referred to other offices for possible ethical violations. She was suspended with pay on Friday, the same day she apologized because she said the public tweets may have reflected badly on the state's court system. Herr said she failed to realize her posts were readable by all Twitter readers.


October Kansas Jobless Rate Falls to 5.7 Percent 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report says the Kansas unemployment rate continues to decline. The state Labor Department said Monday that unemployment fell to 5.7 percent in October from 5.9 percent in September. Last month's figure is also down sharply from a seasonally adjusted 6.6 percent in October 2011. September's figure marked the first time since December 2008 that Kansas unemployment was below 6 percent. Interim Labor Secretary Lana Gordon says she's encouraged by the latest report. But a Labor Department economist says the slow pace of seasonal hiring shows a tentativeness in the economy.

Kansas Childhood Poverty Group Meets

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A newly formed childhood poverty task force is meeting to discuss current trends and data on childhood well-being in Kansas. The group was formed earlier in November by Republican Governor Sam Brownback and met Monday to hear how Kansas ranks nationally in a number of childhood indicators. More than 18 percent of Kansas children live in poverty. Since being elected in 2010, Brownback has made it a goal of his administration to improve children's health by reducing poverty, strengthening families and boosting educational opportunities. The task force was told about efforts by state agencies and the private sector to address the causes of childhood poverty, including the need to reduce the number of children living in foster care.

Analysis: Kobach Motives Become Part of Kansas Postelection Fight

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A postelection legal battle between Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and a legislative critic has resolved little. But it has demonstrated how disputes involving Kobach often can pivot to questions about his motives. Kobach intervened as Democratic state Representative Ann Mah of Topeka sought the names of voters who cast provisional ballots in her close re-election race. Mah and her supporters saw an opportunity to avert a narrow loss by contacting the voters and helping them address problems so that county officials would count their ballots. Kobach advised county election official statewide against releasing voter names. When that didn't prevent Mah from getting lists, he pushed the dispute into federal court. Kobach has been a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats and liberal groups nationwide for months over his hard line against abortion and illegal immigration.


2 Fort Riley Soldiers Die in Afghanistan

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — Two soldiers from Fort Riley's 1st Infantry Division have been killed while deployed to Paktika Province in Afghanistan. The division issued a release Monday saying Sergeant Channing Hicks and Specialist Joseph Richardson were killed Friday when they were attacked by militants using roadside bombs and small-arms fire. Both men were assigned to 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry of the division's 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and were on their first deployment to Afghanistan. The 24-year-old Hicks was from Greer, South Carolina and joined the Army in June 2006. He had two previous deployments to Iraq. Richardson, 23, was from Booneville, Arkansas and joined his unit in October 2008. He had one previous deployment to Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division.


Kansas Concealed-Carry Permit Holders Commit Few Gun Crimes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Statistics show few Kansans who hold a concealed-carry gun permit have been charged with a firearm-related crime. Records from the Kansas Attorney General's Office show that of the 51,078 permits issued in Kansas since the law took effect in 2007, just 44 permit holders were charged with a crime committed while using a firearm. The Wichita Eagle reports that works out to one charge for every 1,161 permit holders, or 0.09 percent. Meanwhile, interest in obtaining a permit has spiked recently, particularly among women. The number of Kansans applying for a concealed-carry license has gone up 24 percent over the previous year, with more than 12,400 Kansans applying between July 2011 and June 2012. Among women, the number was up 57 percent with nearly 2,500 applications during that time.


Hawker Beechcraft Customers Balk at Plane Inventory Liquidation; Judge Agrees

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A bankruptcy judge has sided with a group of Hawker Beechcraft customers who objected to the Kansas aircraft maker's plan to immediately sell off its inventory of discontinued Hawker 4000 jets. Hawker Beechcraft wanted to sell the inventory quickly because it believes the value of the discontinued planes will continue declining as competitors introduce new aircraft. The Committee of Hawker 4000 Customers argued in a court filing Monday that the 20 aircraft normally retail at about $20 million, amounting to $400 million. The customers argued there's no reason to rush the sale of assets. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stuart Bernstein cited the committee's objection in rejecting the company's request. The judge says Hawker Beechcraft failed to identify any imminent sales or explain how the failure to obtain an expedited hearing will affect sales.

KU Professor Claims Feds Opened His Mail

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A retired professor at the University of Kansas wants to know why the government has opened two letters he received from The Philippines. Grant Goodman says U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened a letter he received recently from a friend in the Philippines whom he met decades ago. Customs also opened a letter from the same friend in 2005. Goodman specializes in the study of Japan and southeast Asia, and gets mail from The Philippines every two weeks. He says he feels like he's being targeted. He says the letters contain newspaper clippings and are harmless. A spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection says she can't comment on specific cases, but says the agency is always on the lookout for drugs and other contraband entering the U.S.


Election Rekindles Hope for Wind Energy Credit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The re-election of President Barack Obama is rekindling hopes among wind energy supporters for the extension of the production tax credit for the industry. Obama strongly backs alternative energy. Democrats also gained seats in the Senate and House this election. The Wichita Eagle reports the American Wind Energy Association has predicted that losing the credit will lead to 37,000 layoffs as demand for new wind turbines and wind farms drops sharply. The credit expires January 1. The conservative-dominated U.S. House has opposed reviving the wind energy subsidy. Two Republicans in the Kansas delegation — Mike Pompeo and Tim Huelskamp — contend the tax credits distort the free market. But industry officials say the political mood may be shifting to allow a short-term extension before the end of the year.


Police Say Man Who Attacked Police Car Was High

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police say a man likely was high on narcotics when he fired a gun and assaulted a police vehicle near the Washburn University campus. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that police were dispatched around 6:15 am Monday on reports of shots fired. A 31-year-old man who lives in an apartment across the street from the incident says he heard gunshots and stepped outside to find a man lying on the ground. Jason How says the man jumped up when he saw a Washburn University police car arrive, then got onto the vehicle's hood and started attacking the car. The officer walked to the back of the car, causing the man to jump down and go after him. How says another officer took the man into custody before he could attack.

Focus Shifts to 2nd Suspect in Kansas Mom's Killing

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — After obtaining one conviction in the mistaken-identification killing of a Hutchinson mother, authorities have shifted their focus to a second suspect. The Hutchinson News reports that Billy Joe Craig is set to stand trial January 28th in the 2011 shooting death of Jennifer Heckel. Another man, Charles Christopher Logsdon, was convicted earlier this month of charges that include first-degree murder. Investigators have said they believe Craig and Logsdon planned to rob someone else. Instead, they are accused of going to the wrong house and killing Heckel. Her 5-year-old son was home at the time, and he alerted neighbors. Prosecutors told Reno County jurors it was Logsdon who shot Heckel in the head. Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder says Craig is alleged to be "the driver" in the case.

Police Seek Man in Missouri Triple Homicide

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Independence police are looking for a man who might have information about a triple homicide last week and would like the public's help in finding him. Police say 32-year-old Antonio Cervantes III knew several people who lived at the home where three people were killed Friday. The Kansas City Star reports 48-year-old Maria Hernandez, her 20-year-old son Antonio Hernandez and Thomas Madrigal, whose age was not available, were killed in what investigators say was not a random attack. A fourth person was critically wounded after at least two armed men invaded the home. That victim's name has not been released. Police say one gunman was a light-skinned Hispanic man with light-colored hair and a stocky build. A second gunman wore mostly dark clothing and had his face covered.

Republican River Water Users in Nebraska Face Limits

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska officials are predicting that many farmers along the Republican River will have to limit their water use more next year because of the dry conditions. The Hastings Tribune reports that the extra conservation measures are likely to be needed to make sure enough water flows downstream to Kansas. In the past, Nebraskans have been accused of using more of the Republican River's water than they are entitled to. The issue has led to two lawsuits between Kansas and Nebraska, including one that's still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources says the Upper and Lower Republican River Natural Resource Districts will need to impose additional water conservation measures next year. The Middle Republican River NRD is expected to be OK without additional conservation.

Seasonal Diseases Lead to Deer Deaths in Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Deer herds are a little thinner in a couple Kansas counties because of a seasonal virus that might be worse than normal because of the summer's drought. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that dozens of dead deer have been found near lakes and ponds in Douglas and Franklin counties. A spokesman for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says about 400 deer deaths from epizootic hemorrhagic disease have been reported. Wildlife and disease coordinator Shane Hesting says the disease has affected only a small portion of a total deer population that exceeds half a million. Hesting says this year's death toll was higher than normal because of receding waters in lakes and ponds that exposed more mud, which is breeding ground for tiny flies that carry the disease.

Kansas Energy Conference to Focus on Businesses, Jobs

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials and leaders in the oil and gas industry will gather in Hutchinson next week to give an update on activity in the geologic formation known as the Mississippian Lime Play. The discussion set for November 27 is part of a daylong conference on how small businesses and job seekers can benefit from the resurgent oil and gas activity. The state Commerce Department says Governor Sam Brownback is among the officials scheduled to take part in the morning roundtable. A networking session will give small-business owners a chance to meet officials from oil and gas companies and their suppliers. There will also be a career fair in the afternoon. The event takes place in the Encampment Building at the Kansas State Fairgrounds.

Kansas State to Educate More Chinese Veterinary Students

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University is taking part in a program to train more students from China to become veterinarians. Kansas State's College of Veterinary Medicine signed a memo of understanding with Chinese officials last month. It provides for up to 10 Chinese students per academic year to take pre-veterinary courses at Kansas State while they become familiar with U.S. culture and education. Students in the program may then apply to study veterinary medicine at Kansas State or one of five other veterinary schools around the country. An organization called the China Scholarship Council has committed about $13 million to fund the students' educations after their first year of courses.

Kansas Man Uses Pitchfork to Chase Burglars Away

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a man caught two burglars at his elderly neighbor's home and chased them away with a pitchfork. KAKE-TV reports the man saw two teenagers inside his neighbor's residence just after 9:30 am Saturday and called 911 before confronting them with a pitchfork. Officers arrived at the scene and found that the victim's home had been ransacked. Two suspects, ages 16 and 19, were found hiding nearby and booked into jail on burglary charges. The victim is an 86-year-old woman who was not at home at the time.


KC Man Charged in Killing of Woman Found in Trash

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City, Missouri man has been arrested in the killing of a woman whose body was found in a trash can. The Kansas City Star reports that the 50-year-old suspect was taken into custody Saturday in Blue Springs, Missouri. Kansas City police say the body of 40-year-old Wanda Benenhaley was found Friday. The Jackson County Medical Examiner in Missouri ruled her death a homicide by strangulation. Police says the suspect has denied any involvement in Benenhaley's death. Witnesses say the victim and suspect had been drinking with other people Friday night. The suspect is accused of pinning Benenhaley to the floor, striking her and strangling her. Police say the suspect then placed Benenhaley's body in a trash can and dragged the container across the street.


Oxygen Masks Deployed as Southwest Jet Loses Pressure

DALLAS (AP) — Passengers and crew aboard a Southwest Airlines jet had to wear oxygen masks as the plane lost cabin pressure and safely landed in Dallas. WFAA-TV reports that 134 people were on board the Kansas City to Dallas flight on Saturday night. Nobody was hurt and crews at Dallas Love Field are inspecting the plane. Southwest officials did not immediately return a message Monday. A Southwest official earlier told WFAA that the jet had a cabin pressure issue and the pilots followed protocol by dropping to a lower altitude. Passenger David Wilding says the plane went into a sudden, steep dive and the oxygen masks were deployed for about 20 minutes until the jet dipped below 10,000 feet. Further details were not immediately available. Southwest Airlines Company is based in Dallas.

Kansan Pleads Not Guilty in Fatal Nebraska Crash

LEXINGTON, Neb. (AP) — A 22-year-old Kansas man has pleaded not guilty to charges that he was driving drunk during a chase and caused a fatal collision. A trial is scheduled to begin February 12 for Destry Swartz, of Coats, Kansas, who made his pleas Friday in Dawson County District Court. The Nebraska State Patrol says Swartz was speeding away from a state trooper in Lexington on October 9 when Swartz ran a red light and slammed into a pickup driven by 68-year-old Ruben Maravilla-Cortes, of Lexington, Nebraska. Maravilla-Cortes died at the scene. If convicted of all the counts, Swartz faces up to 30 years in prison.

Kansans' Stories Told in Dust Bowl Documentary

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The stories of some Kansans are included in the new Ken Burns documentary "The Dust Bowl." The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that tears welled up in the eyes of Dale and Floyd Coen as they recalled their 2½-year-old sister Rena Marie. She died in 1935 of dust pneumonia. The Coens are two of seven brothers who grew up and still reside in Morton County. The disaster encompassed that part of southwest Kansas, although parts of Oklahoma were even harder hit. Dale Coen says that as the only girl in a family of boys, Rena Marie was "precious" and "a pretty little girl." His brother, Floyd Coen, called the toddler "the sweetest little thing that you had ever seen." Burns's two-part series aired Sunday and continues Monday on PBS.

Kansas Names 2013 Teacher of the Year

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A language arts teacher at Andover Middle School has been named the 2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year. Dyane Smokorowski won the honor during ceremonies Saturday night in Wichita. As Teacher of the Year, she receives a $4,000 cash award and an educational technology package worth about $11,000. In addition to teaching eighth-graders, Smokorowski works with other teachers across Kansas and the nation to better use technology in their classrooms. The other seven finalists were Colleen Mitchell of the Emporia school district, Sarah Berblinger of the Buhler district, Laura Moyers of the Leavenworth district, Sue Commons of the Baxter Springs district, Judy Domke of the Blue Valley district, Scott Keltner of the Eudora district and Ramie Allison of the Haysville district. The finalists each get a $2,000 cash award.


KU Women Move Into Top 25 in Basketball Poll

The Associated Press women's basketball poll was released Monday, and the University of Kansas team has moved into the top 25. Stanford is the new number 1 team in the nation, barely edging Connecticut for the top spot. Stanford beat former number 1 Baylor 71-69 on Friday night, ending the Lady Bears' 42-game winning streak. Baylor, which was first in the previous 21 polls, fell to third. Duke is fourth and Notre Dame fifth. KU is now ranked number 22. UCLA, Dayton and North Carolina also moved into the Top 25, while Delaware, Texas A&M, Miami and Georgetown fell out.

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