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Regional Headlines for Thursday, January 10, 2013


Kansas Budget Shortfall Narrows

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is seeing its projected budget shortfall shrink because of better-than-expected revenue collections. The Legislature's research staff issued a new projection Thursday of $267 million. The figure represents the gap between anticipated revenues and current spending commitments for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The end-of-November figure had been $295 million. But the state saw a bulge in revenues in December, particularly in individual income tax collections. Legislative researchers shared the new shortfall projection with The Associated Press before distributing their report to most legislators and making it public. The shortfall results from massive income tax cuts approved last year to stimulate the economy. Governor Sam Brownback and other supporters of the tax cuts have acknowledged that a boost in economic activity would lag, possibly causing budget shortfall issues.


Drought Disaster Declared for 104 Kansas Counties

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared a drought disaster in 104 of Kansas's 105 counties, clearing the way for farmers and ranchers to seek low-interest emergency loans. Wednesday's declaration omits only Doniphan County, located on the Missouri River in far northeastern Kansas. Eighty-eight counties were designated primary disaster areas, meaning they've had severe drought for at least eight consecutive weeks. Sixteen neighboring counties were designated contiguous disaster areas. Governor Sam Brownback took the occasion to note that Kansas is entering the third straight year of severe drought. The governor says it's a reminder for all Kansans to do what they can to conserve water. Brownback is meeting Friday with the Kansas Drought Response Team for updates on the drought's toll.


Kansas Lawmakers Ready to Take Up Judicial Selection

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas lawyers say they're open to changes in how the state picks upper-level judges, but they don't think the current system should be completely scrapped. The Kansas City Star reports that the Legislature is poised to take up judicial selection as early as next week. The Kansas Bar Association is pushing a plan that would add six members to a nominating commission that submits nominees for top judicial posts and reduce some control by attorneys. The current nominating panel includes five attorneys and four non-attorneys named by the governor. Critics say that gives too much power to attorneys who are not accountable to the public. Supporters of the current system say it protects the system from political gamesmanship, and that efforts to change it are driven by an ideological agenda.


Brownback Unveils $10M Kansas Mental Health Program

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is proposing a $10 million initiative to boost mental health services to targeted populations. The initiative would direct funding to what Brownback called the most at-risk and challenging mental health patients to meet their specific treatment requirements. The program will not target residents who are receiving services through Medicaid. The Republican governor announced the proposal Thursday in Kansas City, Kansas, with Shawn Sullivan, secretary of the Department for Aging and Disability Services. Brownback also announced creation of a task force to evaluate the state's current mental health system and recommend improvements. Brownback said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that the state should examine whether it's providing sufficient mental health services.


Interim Kansas Secretary of Administration Named

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has appointed Mark McGivern as interim secretary of the Department of Administration. Brownback named McGivern on Thursday as the temporary replacement for Dennis Taylor, who is leaving to become executive director of the Kansas Lottery. A permanent secretary is expected to be named in the coming months. McGivern currently directs the Office of Facilities and Property Management within the Department of Administration. The department oversees state purchasing, upkeep of state office buildings and computer and phone services for state agencies. Taylor's appointment as head of the Kansas Lottery becomes effective Friday. He succeeds Dennis Wilson, who resigned in November for health reasons.


Kansas Ranks Number 37 in Education Week Rankings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas public schools are 37th in the nation in Education Week's annual rankings. The publication released its 2013 "Quality Counts" rankings Thursday. Kansas's overall grade was a C. Kansas received a B minus for its standards, assessments and accountability. It also got a B minus for a category called chance for success. The index looks at 13 indicators, such as high school graduation, family income and preschool and kindergarten enrollment. But Kansas got a D plus for kindergarten through 12th grade achievement. It also got a D plus for the teaching profession category. Maryland received the highest score in the survey, followed by Massachusetts, New York and Virginia.

Emporia School Security Guards Will Be Armed

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A decision to let security guards at Emporia's high school and middle school carry guns comes as districts across Kansas re-evaluate their safety protocols in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre. Attorney Donna Whiteman of the Kansas Association of School Boards says numerous districts are now reviewing their safety and security plans in the wake of the last month's shooting rampage that left 27 people dead. The Emporia school district's board of education voted Wednesday to allow its security guards, who are school employees, to carry guns starting February 1. The guards would have to meet strict new job qualifications such as law enforcement experience and training, among other requirements. Many districts already have armed school resource officers and share costs with local law enforcement agencies.


2 Felons Arrested in McDonald's Shooting Incident

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two convicted felons have been arrested in connection with a shooting at a Wichita McDonald's that resulted when the restaurant got their order wrong. Police say a 27-year-old woman who was driving a Trailblazer that tried to cut in front of another vehicle Wednesday morning in a drive-thru lane after discovering her order was incorrect. The driver of the car that was cut off refused to budge, and eventually the woman in the Trailblazer threw a tire iron at her. Police say a man in the Trailblazer got out and fired a shotgun blast into the driver's side of the car before the Trailblazer drove off. The two were arrested after a standoff at a Wichita home. They were still in custody Thursday afternoon and are expected to be charged Friday.

Report Recommends Drastically Reduced Payment in Nebraska/Kansas Water Dispute

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court has recommended that Nebraska pay Kansas $5 million in damages in their dispute over the Republican River Basin, far less than the $80 million demanded by Kansas. The draft report released Wednesday was the newest twist in an ongoing water-sharing dispute between the states. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning says lawyers in his office believe the $5 million recommendation is still too high, but they're pleased that the larger demand was rejected. The special master also recommended that Kansas' request for future water restrictions for Nebraska be denied. The report is subject to additional changes. Lawyers for both states will have the chance to comment on the recommendations on January 24th.

Kansas GOP's Annual Gathering to Be Held in Hutchinson

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Republican Party is holding its annual convention in Hutchinson near the end of the month. State GOP Chairwoman Amanda Adkins announced in an email Wednesday that the two-day gathering will begin January 25. Hundreds of party activists are expected to attend. The convention features receptions by elected public officials and a dinner speaker on the opening night. The next day's events include a meeting of the GOP's state committee and a lunch with U.S. Senator Pat Roberts. The Republican Party traditionally schedules the convention close to the January 29 anniversary of the state's admission to the union in 1861. However, two years ago, the GOP ended the tradition of having the gathering in Topeka, deciding instead to move it around the state.


Topeka Man Pleads Guilty in Jogger's Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 21-year-old Topeka man has pleaded guilty to capital murder and other charges in the death of an 18-year-old woman. Dustin Leftwich pleaded guilty Thursday to charges stemming from the May death of Brenna Morgart. He also entered guilty pleas stemming from a vehicular assault on an unidentified 14-year-old girl. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Morgart was killed May 25, five days after she graduated from Seaman High School. Leftwich was initially accused of committing premeditated first-degree murder by hitting Morgart with his vehicle while she was jogging. Prosecutors amended the charges in November to include rape and capital murder. The only sentencing option for Leftwich in the capital murder charge would be life in prison without the possibility of parole. He's scheduled to be sentenced on February 15.

Alcohol-Related Deaths and Accidents Decrease in Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — State transportation officials say the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities dropped dramatically in 2012 in Kansas. Preliminary data from the Kansas Department of Transportation says 57 people died in alcohol-related crashes, compared with 102 in 2011. Alcohol-related traffic accidents also declined last year to 2,184, the lowest number in more than a decade. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Pete Bodyk, traffic safety manager for the transportation department, says one of the reasons for the decline is likely a law enacted in 2011 that requires even first-time DUI offenders to use an ignition interlock device. However, the department says 402 people died in traffic accidents overall in Kansas last year; that's a 5 percent increase over 2011.


4-Year-Old in Critical Condition After KC Shooting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 4-year-old girl was in critical condition after accidentally being shot in the head at a south Kansas City home. Police responded to the home just before noon Thursday after a woman ran to a neighbor's house and asked the neighbor to call 911. Police say four children were in the house at the time of the shooting, at least three of whom were alone in a room where a gun was accessible. The Kansas City Star reports the 4-year-old grabbed the weapon and apparently fired it. An investigator told the newspaper the ages of at least some of the children were 6, 5 and 4 years old. KMBC reports the girl's mother was in another room when the shooting happened.


Suspect in Mother's Death Sues Shawnee County

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man charged with killing his mother alleges in a lawsuit that he is being discriminated against in jail because he is a Muslim. Jason W. Hachmeister is in Shawnee County jail awaiting trial for first-degree murder in the strangulation death of his mother, Sheila Hachmeister. She was found dead in their Topeka home in September 2010. Hachmeister, a practicing Muslim, is seeking $100 million in the federal lawsuit. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Hachmeister is accusing jail officials of not providing him with food that met the requirements of his Muslim faith. He also says Muslims aren't allowed to witness to their faith in jail. Shawnee County counselor Rich Eckert says such lawsuits are common from inmates who are unsatisfied with the food provided in jail.


Former Missouri Tax Preparer Faces Federal Charges

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A former southeast Missouri tax preparer is facing federal charges for filing nearly 100 returns that under-reported income, and having the refunds placed into her own account. Federal prosecutors say 41-year-old Cynthia Raymond, formerly of Jackson, Missouri, was indicted Wednesday on 10 federal felony counts. She was arrested Thursday at the home where she now lives in Kansas City, Kansas. Raymond is accused of including false deductions on the returns and providing clients with a different return than what she filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Prosecutors say she directed payment of the false refunds to her own account. Authorities believe Raymond received $103,000 of direct deposits into her account from the false refunds.


Wichita Man Jailed After Standoff in Hutchinson 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A 30-year-old Wichita man has been jailed after barricading himself inside a Hutchinson home for more than six hours. The man surrendered peacefully Wednesday evening after the standoff and is imprisoned in Reno County awaiting charges. Authorities say the standoff began when a state parole officer saw the man in a car that had been stolen in Wichita. The suspect had violated his parole on Sedgwick County charges including aggravated assault and endangering a child. After a brief chase, the man ran inside a Hutchinson home. Residents inside the home got out of the house and the suspect holed up in the basement. A Hutchinson school near the scene of the standoff was placed on lockdown but students were released at the normal time.


Sporting KC to Host MLS All-Star Game in July 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Major League Soccer is bringing its All-Star game to the home of Sporting Kansas City. MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced Thursday that Livestrong Sporting Park would host the game between MLS All-Stars and an international club still to be determined on July 31. It will be the 10th time that MLS All-Stars have played an international opponent. The game follows a successful showing by the Kansas City area in hosting Major League Baseball's All-Star game last summer. Fans packed every event during the festivities at Kauffman Stadium, just across the state line in Kansas City, Missouri. Last year's MLS All-Star game was played in Philadelphia.


Acclaimed Writer Evan S. Connell Has Died at 88

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A niece of Evan S. Connell says the acclaimed author of "Mrs. Bridge" and writer of literary explorations ranging from Depression-era Kansas City to shipwrecks in ancient times has died. Donna Waller of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, said her uncle was found dead Thursday at his Santa Fe, New Mexico apartment and likely died of old age. He was 88. Connell wrote 19 books, including two book-length poems, a biography of Spanish painter Francisco Goya and a historically detailed novel about the Crusades. His best-known books included his first novel, "Mrs. Bridge," published in 1959 and nominated for a National Book Award. His historical account of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, "Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn," was a best-seller and adapted for a network television miniseries. Connell was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and received an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Kansas in 1947. 


Wichita Man Sentenced for Sex with Young Girls

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 49-year-old Wichita man has been sentenced to 17 life terms for having sex with two young girls who were provided to him by their mother. James Lamont Brown will not be eligible for parole under the sentences imposed Thursday by Sedgwick County District Judge Gregory Waller. Brown was already a registered sex offender when he was charged with repeatedly molesting two sisters, then 11 and 12 years old, at a Wichita hotel. He was convicted in November 2011 of nine counts of rape and eight counts of trafficking. The girls' mother has admitted driving them to Wichita from their home in Kansas City, Kansas, to have sex with Brown. The mother is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to multiple counts of sex trafficking and child endangerment.

KCK Mayor Reardon Won't Seek 3rd Term

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The mayor and CEO of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas has decided against running for a third term this spring. Forty-four-year-old Joe Reardon made the announcement Wednesday, saying he made the decision over the holidays. Reardon says he wants to spend more time with his family as his two sons grow up. Reardon won his first four-year term in 2005. He comes from a well-known political family. His father, Jack Reardon, served three terms as mayor of Kansas City, Kansas and his uncle, Bill Reardon, served 30 years in the Kansas Legislature. Reardon was honored by his peers in 2012 as Kansas Mayor of the Year. The mayoral primary is February 26th, with the general election set for April 2nd.


Longtime KC Deputy Fire Chief Gets Promotion

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A longtime Kansas City Fire Department leader has been promoted to replace Richard "Smokey" Dyer as the department's chief. City Manager Troy Schulte on Thursday announced the appointment of Paul Berardi, who served 11 years as deputy chief before taking over as interim chief after Dyer retired in July. Berardi has a master of public administration degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, a bachelor's degree in business administration from Baker University and an associate degree in fire science from Metropolitan Community College. Schulte says Berardi was picked after a national search. He has been with the department more than 26 years. Dyer's last day was July 30. He and several dozen senior firefighters took advantage of a retirement incentive package and left the department.

Hunt for New Uses for Closed KC Schools Continues

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City school district continues efforts to find new life for unused schools. After a grocery store operator terminated its contract for the closed Bingham Middle School, the search for a new buyer resumed. On Thursday, community stakeholders will hear a proposal about transforming the former school into a Walmart Neighborhood Market. The district's list of unused schools grew to 30 after a massive consolidation effort in 2010. Since then, one of the unused buildings has been leased, while the district has sold or is in the process of selling nine others. The district also is accepting proposals and offers for four more closed school sites. Open houses are scheduled for this month at the former Chick, Ladd, Marlborough and Pershing schools.

Salina Man Pleads No Contest in Child's Death

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A Salina man has pleaded no contest to first-degree murder in the beating death of a toddler. The Salina Journal reports that 28-year-old Antonio M. Brown Sr. pleaded no contest Wednesday in Saline County court to first-degree murder during commission of a felony. Brown also pleaded no contest to two counts of child abuse in connection with the 2011 beating death of 14-month-old Clayden Lee Urbanek. Saline County District Judge Rene Young set sentencing for February 12. The child's mother, 21-year-old Brittney Betzold, was sentenced earlier this month to about 13 years in prison for second-degree murder and for not intervening to stop Brown from abusing the child before his death.

Giant Movie Screen Arrives at KC's Union Station

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A movie screen billed as the largest in the region has arrived at Union Station at Kansas City and will be installed as part of a facelift of the facility's theater. Union Station officials say the 74-foot screen arrived Wednesday and will sit in the building for a few days before being unrolled and installed. The five-story-high screen is part of a renovation project to transform the movie theater into a 3-D digital theater. The screen was trucked in to Kansas City from Canada.

Bronze Sculpture in Wichita Park Vandalized

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita are investigating vandalism to a life-size bronze sculpture in a city park. The city's Arts and Cultural Services Division says a resident discovered the damage to the sculpture, called "Heritage Woman," on Wednesday. The sculpture is more than 5 feet tall and is located in Heritage Park, behind the Wichita Sedgwick-County Historical Museum. Authorities say the sculpture was knocked off its base and broken in half. It's not known when the damage occurred or how much the repairs will cost. The sculpture was created by Richard Bergen, of Salina, and donated to the city of Wichita in 1976 by the local chapter of the Junior League.


Norton Man Buys Historic Kansas Ranch

ULYSSES, Kan. (AP) — A western Kansas ranch that contains nationally recognized chalk formations and other important historical artifacts has been sold, pending some legal research. The Hays Daily News reported Wednesday that businessman and rancher Norman Nelson bought the Pyramid Ranch in Gove County for $10 million. Its 12,900 acres includes the Monument Rocks chalk formations, which have been designated a National Natural Landmark, as well as fossil finds and two graves of U.S. Cavalry soldiers. Nelson owns First State Bank and land in Norton, Trego and Russell counties. Nelson says he plans to use the land for his ranching organization and will expand oil exploration. He also says he's not sure if he'll continue to allow complete public access to the Monument Rocks, out of concern for liability issues.


Man Found Guilty in St. Joseph Man's Death

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — The trigger man in the shooting death of a St. Joseph man has been convicted in the killing. A Buchanan County jury on Wednesday convicted Elijah Pickett of second-degree murder and other charges in the death of 28-year-old Brian Ulmer during an attempted robbery at Ulmer's home last August. Prosecutors said Pickett was the person who shot Ulmer three times at close range during the robbery. Pickett was 17 years old at the time. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that the jury recommended 30 years on the murder conviction and 15 years on all other charges, for a total of 105 years. Sentencing will be March 8. Two other men have pleaded guilty to murder in the case. Two others are charged with first-degree attempted robbery.

Kansas Senate GOP Proposing Major Procedural and Organizational Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans in the Kansas Senate are proposing major changes in the chamber's rules, and one measure would give the Senate's top leader more influence over shaping legislation. Senate Vice President Jeff King outlined the measures drafted by a GOP leadership panel during an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. They'll be presented to the Senate when lawmakers open their annual session Monday. One change would transfer the leadership panel's power to make committee assignments to the Senate president. Committees do much of the drafting of legislation. Some Republicans argue the current system is unwieldy. Another proposal would establish a panel to settle disputes over the rules during debates. Currently, the person presiding over a debate settles disagreements. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the chamber 32 to 8.

Former Nebraska Police Officer Pleads to Lesser Crash Charge

FALLS CITY, Neb. (AP) — A former police officer in southeast Nebraska faces sentencing March 5 after making a plea deal in a crash death case. The Lincoln Journal Star reports that 36-year-old Steven Darveau Jr., of Falls City, Nebraska, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor vehicular homicide after prosecutors lowered the felony manslaughter charge. Prosecutors say that on August 5, 2011, Darveau made a left turn in front of a motorcycle at the intersection of U.S. Highway 73 and South 703 Loop, three miles south of Falls City. The motorcyclist died at the scene. He was identified as 64-year-old Edward Packard, of Cleves, Ohio. Darveau had worked as a police officer for the Sac and Fox Nation in northern Kansas and as a Falls City police officer before that.


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