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Regional Headlines for Wednesday, July 11, 2012

82 Kansas Counties to Be Declared Drought Disaster Areas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will declare 82 Kansas counties hit hard by drought as federal disaster areas. Governor Sam Brownback's office says the disaster designation, effective Thursday, makes agricultural producers eligible for federal disaster assistance for lost crops and livestock. Primary disasters are being declared in 66 Kansas counties, and 16 neighboring counties will also receive disaster designations. 

Counties declared primary disasters are: Allen, Anderson, Barber, Barton, Bourbon, Butler, Chautquaua, Cheyenne, Clark, Coffey, Comanche, Cowley, Crawford, Decatur, Edwards, Elk, Finney, Ford, Gove, Graham, Grant, Gray, Greeley, Greenwood, Hamilton, Harper, Harvey, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearney, Kingman, Kiowa, Labette, Lane, Linn, Logan, Lyon, McPherson, Meade, Montgomery, Morton, Neosho, Ness, Norton, Pawnee, Phillips, Pratt, Rawlins, Reno, Rice, Rooks, Scott, Sedgwick, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stafford, Stanton, Stevens, Sumner, Thomas, Trego, Wallace, Wichita, Wilson and Woodson. 

The contiguous counties are: Chase, Cherokee, Dickinson, Ellis, Ellsworth, Franklin, Marion, Morris, Miami, Osage, Osborne, Rush, Russell, Saline, Smith and Wabaunsee.


State of Kansas Fills Medicaid Inspector General Post

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former Sedgwick County elections official and Wichita city council member has been hired to fill a vacancy as inspector general for Kansas Medicaid programs. Bill Gale started work Monday as inspector general within the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's Division of Health Care Finance. The position was created in 2007 when the division was a stand-alone agency known as the Kansas Health Policy Authority. The position has been vacant for about a year. The inspector general audits Kansas Medicaid programs and contracts, including three new agreements signed by the state with managed care providers. Medicaid provides health care coverage to the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. Gale was on Sedgwick County's election commission from 2003 to 2011. He also was on the Wichita council from 1995 to 2003.

Latest NBAF Review Due for Release Friday

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The National Research Council is scheduled to release a new report that assesses three options for building a new biosecurity lab in Kansas. The review set for release Friday was requested by the Department of Homeland Security as it continues the process for building the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility on a site near Kansas State University. A panel of experts is determining if the lab will be built as planned, scaled back or if the government will keep its existing animal research capabilities at Plum Island, New York. The $1.14 billion Kansas site would replace the Plum Island site. However, Congress hasn't approved funding for construction of the new lab because of concerns about its cost, the scope of its mission, and whether the United States needs the lab.


Judge Sets Hearing Date on Hawker Beechcraft Deal

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A bankruptcy judge in New York has granted Hawker Beechcraft's request to fast-track a hearing over the Kansas plane maker's plan to enter exclusive negotiations with a Chinese firm. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stuart Bernstein on Wednesday set July 17 for the proceedings. The move comes a day after Hawker filed documents seeking authorization to spend 45 days exclusively negotiating with Superior Aviation Beijing Company, Ltd., to finalize the deal. The filing included a letter from Superior outlining its $1.79 million bid to acquire on a debt-free basis all of Hawker's assets, except its defense business. Superior would not assume any pension liabilities. Superior also agreed to pay up to $50 million during the negotiations to maintain product lines Hawker would otherwise discontinue but for Superior's interest in acquiring them.


Sentencing Phase Continues in Northeast Kansas Capital Murder Trial 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Defense attorneys have finished presenting testimony in the sentencing phase of the trial for a former northeast Kansas man convicted of killing his girlfriend and their son. Luis Aguirre was convicted last month of suffocating 18-year-old Tanya Maldonado and the couple's 13-month-old son, Juan. The deaths occurred in September 2009 at Aguirre's Ogden home. The bodies were found the next month near Ogden. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Aguirre. A psychologist testified Wednesday that he believed Aguirre's had potential for rehabilitation and showed remorse for the murders. The defense is arguing Aguirre should be spared the death penalty in part because of his troubled childhood. KMAN reports closing arguments will be presented Thursday morning.


Kansas Farmers Cutting Corn for Silage Amid Drought

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — More Kansas growers are cutting down their corn crops for silage to feed livestock as they struggle to salvage what they can from parched fields hard hit by another season of drought and heat. Jere White, executive director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, said Wednesday it is premature to get a handle yet on how much of the state's corn crop is going into silage this year, but says quite a bit of it is being cut. He says that is not a bad option under the circumstances. The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported this week that 43 percent of the state's corn crop is in poor to very poor condition. White says he was not totally surprised by that estimate, but says it is "a staggering prediction."


USDA Announces Steps to Help Farmers Receive Drought Aid

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ The U.S. Department of Agriculture is streamlining the process for farmers to apply for government disaster aid, as crops in many states are withering in the most widespread drought in nearly 25 years. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says more than 1,000 counties nationwide will automatically qualify for disaster assistance if they're in a severe drought for at least eight weeks or were in extreme drought this growing season. The department also is lowering the interest rate on emergency loans to 2.25 percent from 3.75 percent. As much as $39 million is available under the program. In addition, the government will help farmers use part of the land set aside in a conservation program for hay or grazing since the drought is expected to reduce the amount of corn available for feed.


Witness Problem Arises in Kansas Planned Parenthood Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prosecutor has acknowledged in court that he faces a new problem in pursuing a criminal case against a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Kansas City area. Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said Wednesday that he's trying to replace an expert witness whose testimony supports allegations that the Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park performed illegal abortions in 2003. The clinic faces 58 misdemeanor charges. Howe said the expert, an out-of-state physician, is now too ill to serve as a witness. Johnson County District Judge Stephen Tatum set another hearing for August 17. Planned Parenthood has denied the allegations. Clinic attorney Pedro Irigonegaray said a delay is unnecessary and the charges should be dismissed. In November, 49 other charges against the clinic were dismissed.


Kansas Department of Commerce Announces Reinke Plant Expansion 

BELLEVILLE, Kan. (AP) — A Nebraska manufacturing company has announced plans to expand its facility in north-central Kansas, a move that will more than double its current workforce. The Kansas Department of Commerce said in a release Wednesday that Reinke Manufacturing Company of Deshler, Nebraska, is expanding its facility in Belleville, pushing employment there to about 50 workers by the end of 2013. The current facility manufactures electrical assemblies. The department says the new facility will be about 20,000 square feet in size.


Kansas Board of Education Makes $450M Funding Request

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education is requesting an additional $450 million in state spending on public schools for the 2014 state budget cycle. Board members voted 7-2 on Tuesday to submit the request to Republican Governor Sam Brownback and the GOP-controlled Legislature. The request covers education expenses for the 2013-14 school year. Members say they felt they had to ask legislators to increase education spending, including increasing the base state aid per pupil to $4,492, up from the $3,838 that districts now receive. The increase represents $440.1 million of the board's request. The request includes identifying other priorities, including maintaining required funding for special education and increasing money for teachers' professional development.

Semi Explodes in Kansas after Hitting Truck

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) _ The driver of a semitrailer truck pulled his 7-year-old daughter out of the truck just moments before it exploded and burned on a Kansas highway.  Geary County Undersheriff Tony Wolf says the explosion happened Tuesday afternoon on Interstate 70 east of Junction City. The semitrailer hit a truck being used by a contract crew for the state transportation department to paint lines on the interstate.  Wolf says the tractor trailer driver tried to miss the truck but clipped it, rupturing the semitrailer's fuel tank.  WIBW reports the driver was able to get his daughter out of the truck before it exploded. No injuries were reported.  Traffic was blocked on the highway for several hours.  Authorities decided to let the wreckage cool overnight and will remove the debris Wednesday.


Report: Size of Kansas Wheat Crop Up 43 Percent over 2011

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new government report estimates that Kansas farmers harvested 396 million bushels of winter wheat this year. The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service said Wednesday that would make this harvest 43 percent larger than last year's drought-stricken crop. It is also up 2 percent from last month's forecast. The agency says this year's crop was cut from 9 million acres of land, making it the largest area harvested since 2006 in Kansas. The average yields were 44 bushels per acre, far better than the 35 bushels per acre Kansas farmers were averaging a year ago. The monthly forecast is based on crop conditions as of July 1. By that time, the harvest in Kansas was 99 percent complete. This is also is the earliest Kansas wheat harvest on record.


More Possible Heat Deaths Investigated in KC Area

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ The number of Kansas City-area deaths being investigated as possibly heat-related has grown to seven.  In a news release Wednesday, the Kansas City Health Department announced that heat is suspected as a factor in two more Jackson County, Missouri deaths - one of a man born in 1956, the other of a woman born in 1960. The Jackson County medical examiner is investigating the deaths.  The department would not comment further.  St. Louis officials say heat has played a role in 14 deaths there, and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services says another heat-related death was reported in the central part of the state.

City of Russell Imposes Water Conservation Measures

RUSSELL, Kan. (AP) _ The central Kansas town of Russell is taking steps to conserve water. The Russell City Council has voted in special session to approve a resolution moving the city into Stage 3 water conservation, a step away from its most restrictive stage. The resolution bans outside watering of gardens, lawns, trees and playing fields except for one day a week. The day coincides with an individual property's trash pickup day. The Hays Daily News reports that on those days, watering will be  allowed only before 10 am and after 9 pm.  City officials say industrial users also are being asked to reduce water use to 75 percent of average monthly consumption.  Much of Kansas has been under drought conditions recently, compounded by excessively hot weather and high winds.

Kansas Pilot Involved in Wyoming Plane Crash

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) _ A pilot from Kansas who was aerially spraying for mosquitoes is being treated for burns after his plane crashed in a field west of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Thirty-eight-year-old Michael Childress of Nortonville was able to pull himself out of the wreckage after Tuesday's crash and paramedics found him walking around the crash site.  He suffered burns to the upper half of his body and was in critical condition Wednesday at the Western States Burn Center in Greeley, Colorado. The Cessna 188 was contracted by Laramie County. It knocked down some power lines, causing outages to about 400 customers. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported that it's the second straight summer in which a spray plane has crashed in the county. Last August, a plane spraying a potato field near Pine Bluffs crashed after clipping a power line.


Prosecutor: Kansas Doctor, Wife Received Fair Trial

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors are urging an appeals court to uphold the convictions of a Kansas doctor and his wife convicted in a moneymaking conspiracy linked to 68 overdose deaths. Documents filed Tuesday with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals argued Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, had a fair trial despite the involvement of a national patient advocate. The couple was convicted in 2010 of unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering. The doctor was sentenced to 30 years, and his wife to 33 years. Their new attorneys contend their trial lawyers had a conflict of interest that allowed the advocate to direct defense strategy. But the government argues the couple waived rights to conflict-free representation in separate hearings before two federal judges. Prosecutors say the couple got a fair trial.

Woman Survives 5-Story Fall at WSU

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A woman survived a fall from a fifth-story window at Wichita State University after landing on a first-floor awning. The Wichita Eagle reports that Sedgwick County emergency dispatchers say the woman's fall was reported Tuesday afternoon. When emergency crews arrived they found the woman suffering from potentially serious injuries and took her to a hospital. Dispatchers said police at Wichita State are investigating the cause of the fall.

Company Agrees to Clean Up Eastern Missouri Site Contamination

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Missouri company has agreed to settlement terms over cleaning up pollution at its former metal fabrication plant in eastern Missouri. The regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency said in a release Tuesday that the settlement requires the Kellwood Company to cleanup PCE contamination at the plant in New Haven, Missouri. PCE, also called tetrachlorethylene, is an industrial solvent that has contaminated groundwater and soil at the site. The EPA says company also has to pay past and future response costs that the state and the EPA incurred from the site. The company owned and operated the site from about 1973 until 1985.

Hyatt Proposes $80M Hotel for Downtown Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hyatt wants to build an $80 million luxury hotel project near the Country Club Plaza. Hyatt operated a hotel for more than 30 years at Crown Center near Kansas City's downtown. That hotel became a Sheraton on January 1. The Kansas City Star reports that the proposed 12-story development would be jointly developed by Hyatt and Block Real Estate Services of Kansas City. Hyatt would own and operate the hotel. The proposal is scheduled to be introduced Wednesday to the Kansas City Tax Increment Financing Commission. The site selected for the development is now occupied by apartments. If the plan is approved, the two-year construction project could begin in spring 2013.

Wildcats and Jayhawks Headline New Kansas Hall of Fame Class

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Former Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop and former University of Kansas basketball star Bud Stallworth are among the nine members of the 2012 class of inductees to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. Bishop was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1998, setting several school records along the way. Stallworth was the Big Eight player of the year in 1972. Kurt Budke, the Oklahoma State women's basketball coach who died in a plane crash last year, will be inducted posthumously during the ceremony October 7 in Wichita. Budke is originally from Salina, and played basketball at Washburn. Other members of the class include former KU quarterback David Jaynes and basketball player Wayne Simien; Kansas State basketball player Willie Murrell; Olympian Harold Manning; longtime tennis coach David Snyder and softball player Brenda Stolle.


Juveniles Arrested in Sedgwick County Thefts

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in Sedgwick County say they've arrested six juveniles in connection with a string of recent thefts. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Department says in a release that the juveniles are 16 and 17 years old. They were arrested Monday and booked into the Juvenile Detention Center on charges of burglary and theft. The youths are accused of thefts totaling about $700. The sheriff's department says the stolen property has been returned.

Wichita Woman Dies in Polilce-Related Shooting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A 45-year-old Wichita woman has died after being shot by police officers. Police Chief Norman Williams said Karen Day was shot Wednesday morning after she came toward officers who were investigating a domestic dispute.  Williams said Day had stabbed herself with a knife shortly after officers arrived. She then walked toward officers saying, "shoot me'' repeatedly. Officers issued several orders to drop the knife and fired at Day when she refused.  She died at a Wichita hospital.  No one else was injured.

Suspected Bank Robber Apprehended

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — It didn't take long for Kansas City police to arrest a bank robbery suspect who might have been trying to pull off a quick-change caper. The Kansas City Star reports officers were called to the Bank of the West in the northern part of the city Tuesday afternoon. Police say a man indicated he had a weapon and demanded cash. As the man was fleeing, police say a teller saw him duck into nearby woods where apparently he had hidden a change of clothes. He was arrested a short time later when he came out of the woods wearing a different shirt and hat, carrying a backpack. The robbery remains under investigation by police and the FBI.


'Our Time' Turning into 'Next Time' for Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The All-Star game is in the rear-view mirror, and baseball fans in Kansas City are back to rooting for the Royals again. That hasn't been an easy chore in the past couple of decades, and this season hasn't been a whole lot better. Despite their promises about "Our Time," the team finished the first half of the season in a slump, and sits nearly 10 games back in the American League Central division. Pitchers such as Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sanchez that were the subject of so much promise have been disappointing. Still, there are many in the organization who see a future full of potential, and they are quick to ask fans weary of losing for patience just one more time.


Analysts Skeptical about Hawker Beechcraft Deal, Job Claims

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Aviation analysts are skeptical about claims being made in the planned sale of aircraft maker Hawker Beechcraft to a Chinese firm. Industry analysts said Tuesday that the $1.79 billion offer by Beijing-based Superior Aviation is a lot of money for a struggling company with old product lines. They also question the companies' claims that thousands of U.S. jobs will be saved if the deal moves forward. Analyst Richard Aboulafia with Fairfax, Virginia-based Teal Group says assurances that Superior will continue building planes are far-fetched. He says Superior is likely to shed Hawker's product lines but keep its parts and distribution business. Aboulafia notes Superior has no aircraft manufacturing experience. Hawker Beechcraft officials refused to comment about the sale Tuesday.

Sentencing Phase Continues for Northeast Kansas Man

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Riley County jurors will spend a third day hearing testimony in the sentencing phase of the trial for a former northeast Kansas man convicted of killing his girlfriend and their son. Luis Aguirre was convicted last month of suffocating 18-year-old Tanya Maldonado and the couple's 13-month-old son, Juan. The deaths occurred in September 2009 at Aguirre's Ogden home. The bodies were found the next month near Ogden. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Aguirre. Several witnessed called Tuesday by defense attorney Jeffrey Wicks testified about Aguirre's difficult childhood. Wicks is arguing Aguirre should be spared the death penalty in part because of his troubled childhood. KMAN reports Judge Meryl Wilson told jurors Tuesday they'd hear the last witnesses Wednesday and closing arguments could begin Thursday.

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

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