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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Dry Conditions Feed Kansas Grass Fires

TONGANOXIE, Kan. (AP) — Dry conditions are partly blamed for three large fires in a single northeastern Kansas county, and forecasters are warning of a high risk for much of the state as winds pick up Wednesday. Leavenworth County officials say up to 15 acres burned and a mobile home was destroyed Tuesday afternoon after a homeowner flicked cigarette ashes on the ground. Around the same time, sparks from a tractor hitting a rock started a fire that burned nearly 50 acres near Tonganoxie. And a third fire in Leavenworth County scorched about 15 acres Tuesday afternoon. The cause of that blaze is under investigation. The National Weather Service says much of northeastern, central and east-central Kansas will be at risk for fires Wednesday afternoon and evening as humidity levels drop and winds pick up.

Kansas DA Says Evidence Lacking on Governor's Meetings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prosecutor says a lack of evidence from interviews with legislators prevented him from concluding that private meetings with Governor Sam Brownback resulted in substantial violations of the state's open meetings law. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor said Tuesday that lawmakers committed technical violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act during seven dinner meetings with Brownback in January at Cedar Crest, the governor's official residence. Brownback held the gatherings for members of 13 legislative committees. Taylor told reporters during a news conference that Kansas courts generally won't impose sanctions or issue corrective orders over technical violations of the open meetings law. He said the lawmakers his office interviewed in investigating the meetings couldn't remember enough details for him to show that substantial violations had occurred.

Kansas Getting $400K to Monitor Prescription Drug Usage

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is getting a $400,000 federal grant to improve its prescription drug monitoring program to combat what U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom calls the nation's fastest-growing drug problem. Grissom announced the grant to the Kansas Board of Pharmacy on Tuesday. The board will use the money to strengthen the Kansas program and find new ways to share information between states. Kansas pharmacies report all controlled substances they dispense to the monitoring program. Grissom says the system is designed to help doctors track their own prescribing practices and their patients' experiences with controlled substances. Grissom says far more Americans abuse prescription drugs than the total number of those who use cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and inhalants.


Kansas Atty General Launches Anti-Gang Initiative

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorney General Derek Schmidt is launching a new initiative aimed at educating the public about the warning signs of gang activity in Kansas. During a statewide tour that began Wednesday, Schmidt announced a new web site and partnership with law enforcement to reduce the number of gangs, gang members and criminal activity. The materials include the warning signs that a youth might be involved with a gang or being recruited by a gang. Those signs include tattoos, bruising, using unusual hand signs or language or a change in behavior. Schmidt says community awareness and education can help identify if gang activity is occurring and how to contact law enforcement for assistance. The online materials are available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Judge Rules for City of Topeka in Discrimination Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled for the city of Topeka in a discrimination lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil on Tuesday rejected Corrie Lynn Wright's contention that the city discriminated against her by promoting a man to a position she said she had been promised. Wright works in the city's housing and neighborhood development department. Wright claimed she had been promised the position of deputy director of the department. She contended the job was given to a man in part because of her gender and because she tried to stop the city from firing an employee with a disability. The city said it chose the man for the position because he was better qualified. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a pretrial order indicated Wright had sought more than $397,500.


About 20 Residents Evacuated after Gas Leak in KCK

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — About 20 people have been allowed to go home in Kansas City, Kansas, after breaks in two natural gas mains forced evacuations. KCTV reports workers from the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities were digging in the area to replace a water valve when they struck the mains about 11:30 am Wednesday. The BPU says a gas company had marked only one of the mains. Five nearby homes were evacuated for about an hour before the leaks were brought under control. No injuries were reported.


Wild Horses, Burros on Offer in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — More than 50 wild horses and burros will be available for adoption during a three-day event in Lawrence. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the adopt-a-thon begins Thursday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management holds adoptions around the country for animals removed from public lands to maintain healthy herds and range lands. Competitive bidding begins at 2 pm for buyers hoping to claim the best horses and burros. Adoptions will then take place Thursday evening, all day Friday and from 8 am to noon Saturday. There will also be an auction Friday afternoon of two saddle-trained mustangs.


State: Third Hays Patient Tests Positive for Hepatitis C

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials say a third former patient at Hays Medical Center has tested positive for a strain of hepatitis C linked to a cluster of New Hampshire cases traced to a traveling hospital technician. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says 474 people were potentially exposed to hepatitis C when David Kwiatkowski worked at the Hays hospital's cardiac catheterization lab from May 24 to September 22, 2010. KDHE says 366 former Hays patients have been tested so far. Two were reported positive earlier this month. KDHE reported the third positive test this week. Some former patients are still being tested. Kwiatkowski has denied allegations that he stole drugs from the New Hampshire hospital, injected himself and contaminated syringes that were later used on patients. He previously worked in seven other states, including Kansas.

Petitions Opposing Salina Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Delivered

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Opponents have turned in petitions seeking to repeal a Salina ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Members of Awaken Salina cheered and applauded Tuesday after the city clerk finished going through the petition, which contained more than 2,300 signatures. The group needed only 1,297 verified signatures. Awaken Salina started circulating the petitions in June after city commissioners passed the amendment. Saline County Clerk Don Merriman said he expects his staff to be done verifying the signatures by early next week. The Salina Journal reports  that the city commission will have 20 days to act on the petition. If the commission denies the repeal, the issue must be put up for a vote within 90 days.

Butler County Opts Out of 5-County Planning Grant

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — Butler County will not participate in a planning effort for five south-central Kansas counties. The county commission voted Tuesday not to send a representative or make in-kind contributions to the $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Urban Development. The grant goes to the Regional Economic Area Partnership of South Central Kansas. It was designed to help Sedgwick, Butler, Reno, Harvey and Sumner counties make regional planning decisions. Sumner County also chose not to participate. Opponents say the grant gives the federal government too much influence on local planning decisions. The Wichita Eagle reports that supporters say not participating leaves Butler County without a voice in planning decisions that will affect the county. Sedgwick, Harvey and Reno counties have agreed to participate in the effort.

Wichita Will Vote on Adding Fluoride to Water

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita residents will vote in November on whether to add fluoride to the city's water supply. The Wichita City Council decided Monday to put the issue on the November 6 election ballot. The decision came after fluoride supporters presented the council with petitions containing more than 11,000 signatures. Proponents of fluoridation believe it helps prevent tooth decay. Opponents contend fluoride can cause health problems, and forcing citizens to use it is a violation of individual freedoms.

Kansas ACT Scores Almost Unchanged from Last Year

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new report shows Kansas students performing about the same on the ACT college entrance exam this year as they did in 2011. Data released Wednesday for the class of 2012 show the state's composite score was 21.9, compared to 22 the year before. The highest score possible is 36. Nationally, the average score was 21.1. The percentage of Kansas graduates earning scores indicating readiness for college was highest in English at 73 percent and lowest in science at 35 percent. Eighty-one percent of the state's 2012 graduates took the exam, compared to 79 percent last year.

Retired Air Refueling Jet Making Move to Kansas Museum

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A retired air refueling plane that first flew during the Eisenhower administration is heading for permanent display at the Museum of the Kansas National Guard in Topeka. The KC-135 was added to the Air Force fleet in July 1958. It was used by the Air Force and then by the Kansas National Guard's 190th Air Refueling Wing until 2007. The museum staff requested that the KC-135E Stratotanker be spared decommissioning at an Air Force depot in Arizona. Instead, it was scheduled to be moved Wednesday moved from the Air National Guard's facilities on the north side of Forbes Field to the museum on the south end of the field. Some traffic in Topeka will be rerouted while the aircraft is moved.


Kansas City Police Seeking Phony Officer in Robberies

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City investigators are seeking a man suspected of posing as a police officer and robbing four women at motels throughout the city. Police said Wednesday that one of the women was also sexually assaulted. Officers believe there may be more victims who are reluctant to come forward. The first attack happened May 11, and the latest on Sunday. In all cases, police say, the women arranged by phone to meet the suspect and invited him into their motel rooms. Three of the women were handcuffed while the man searched their rooms and stole items before leaving. Police say the man wears a sleeveless vest over a gray "Police KC/MO" T-shirt. In each case he had some kind of generic badge and carried a black handgun.


KCK School System Benefits from Breakfast Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas City, Kansas school district is benefiting from a program that allows students to eat breakfast in their classrooms for free this year.  A group of educational and advocacy organizations called Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom started the program last year in five school districts. Ten districts were added this year, including Kansas City, Kansas, where 13 schools are participating. The Breakfast in the Classroom program uses a $5 million Walmart Foundation grant to provide breakfast at no charge to all students. Students eat in the classroom, not in the cafeteria. The partners say many students eligible for the federally funded school breakfast program don't participate, partially because they don't want to be labeled as low-income. Other issues include school bus schedules and pressure to go directly to class.


Kansas Beauty Shop Owners Face Federal Gun Charges

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A southeast Kansas couple operating a joint beauty salon and gun shop is facing federal firearms charges. The U.S. Attorney's office says 50-year-old Jeffrey Eberhart was charged Wednesday with unlawful possession of a firearm and dealing firearms without a license. Forty-one-year-old Tracey Eberhart is charged with aiding a felon in possessing firearms and providing firearms to a convicted felon. The Eberharts run Traceys Dream Weavers Salon and Sporting Goods in Augusta, which marketed guns to women. Investigators said Tracey Eberhart failed to mention her husband — a convicted felon — when she sought a federal license to sell firearms. Agents reported seeing Jeffrey Eberhart selling guns at Dream Weavers' booth at a January gun show in Topeka. Neither Eberhart has an attorney. A call to their shop was unanswered.


UPDATE: Witnesses' Testimony Claims Soldier Told Them Kansas Marriage Was False

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Witnesses in the trial of a Jamaican woman accused of marrying a Kansas soldier to become a legal immigrant told jurors that the marriage was not real. The testimony came Wednesday in the trial of 28-year-old Shannakay Hunter on federal charges of conspiracy, marriage fraud and lying to the government. She married a Fort Riley soldier, Joshua Priest, who has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Priest's cousin, Tawanna Priest-Stewart, said she arranged the couple's meeting and marriage. She testified the couple didn't meet until Hunter came to Kansas for the wedding. His military superiors testified Priest admitted to them he was defrauding the government with the sham marriage in order to receive added housing and subsistence benefits.

Court Hearing for Ex-Lawman Closed to Public

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) — A pretrial hearing for a former Kansas law enforcement instructor accused of killing his wife was closed to the public. District Judge Larry Solomon closed Wednesday's pretrial hearing in the first-degree murder case against Brett Seacat of Kingman. Seacat, a former Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Vashti, at their Kingman home in 2011. Brett Seacat and their two children escaped the blaze. Seacat has claimed his wife committed suicide. The hearing was to discuss possible evidence for Seacat's trial, which is set to begin in December. The judge ruled Seacat might not be able to get a fair trial if the hearing was open to the public. Several media outlets filed a motion to keep the hearing open.

Kansas Court to Stream Video of Hearings Online

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court will offer live, online video streaming of oral arguments beginning next week. The court has offered live audio streaming of arguments since 2004. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss announced the addition of video streaming Tuesday. Nuss says it's intended to make the judicial process more accessible to the public. He says the justices believe the service will also benefit schools, colleges and universities. The high court will hear arguments Monday through Friday next week from 9 am to noon. Nuss noted that the week's docket includes arguments August 31 on a case of broad public interest — a challenge by environmental groups to state permits for a proposed coal-fired power plant in southwestern Kansas.

Ex-Soldier Testifies Kansas Marriage Was Fraudulent

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Fort Riley soldier has testified he was in a financial bind when he married a Jamaican immigrant so he could get more money from the military and she could get her green card. The testimony came Tuesday in the federal trial of 28-year-old Shannakay Hunter in Wichita. Hunter, who lives in Bronx, New York, is charged with conspiracy, marriage fraud and making a false statement to the government. Joshua Priest was an Army private stationed at Fort Riley when he and Hunter married in 2010. He has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Prosecutors say the marriage was never consummated. The defense attacked the credibility of Priest's testimony against Hunter, forcing him to admit numerous lies including some he made under oath.

**this story has been updated. Please see above.

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