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Regional Headlines for Thursday, October 25, 2012


UPDATE: Kansas Democratic Leaders Outline Jobs Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic leaders in the Kansas Legislature are proposing a law to require state agencies to use goods from American manufacturers. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Paul Davis announced the initiative, called the "Buy American Act," at a news conference Thursday in Kansas City, Kansas. They planned similar events in Topeka and Wichita, and all of them were at the headquarters of local labor unions. They said they'll pursue the proposal during next year's legislative session and believe that it would create new manufacturing jobs. The proposal comes less than two weeks before the November 6 election. Governor Sam Brownback and fellow Republicans are touting massive income tax cuts enacted this year as a way to create new jobs. Democrats contend the reductions will lead to big budget cuts.

Closely Watched Race for Kansas Senate Heats Up

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Democratic incumbent in one of the hottest races for the Kansas Senate is accusing her Republican challenger of ducking forums. Senator Laura Kelly of Topeka said Wednesday she believes GOP rival Dick Barta wants to avoid questions about supporting massive income tax cuts approved by lawmakers this year. Democrats contend the reductions were reckless and will lead to big education funding cuts. Barta, also of Topeka, said he's surprised by Kelly's criticism because he's attended a number of forums. Kelly is seeking a third term in the 18th Senate District in the Topeka area. Barta is a former Shawnee County sheriff. Kelly listed six forums Barta has skipped since September 9. Barta responded with a list of six he's attended, although at least one was before the August 7 primary.


Romney Expected to Win Kansas; Question Is "By How Much?"

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Mitt Romney is expected to roll up an easy victory in Republican-leaning Kansas, while Democrats wonder how much worse President Barack Obama's showing will be than it was four years ago. Kansas has been largely ignored in the presidential race. Both major parties assumed from the outset that the state's six electoral votes will go to GOP nominee Romney. Obama energized many fellow Democrats four years ago and captured nearly 42 percent of the vote. It was the best result for a Democratic candidate in 20 years. Since Obama's election, conservative Kansas Republicans have made big strides by playing off the president and the federal health care overhaul that he championed. The rise of the tea party movement has also helped push the state's politics hard to the right.

Police: Kansas Soldier Died of Accidental Overdose

OGDEN, Kan. (AP) — Riley County police say a Fort Riley soldier found dead at his off-post home accidentally overdosed on medication he was taking after surgery. Officers were called to the Ogden home of 33-year-old Army Sergeant Duriel Powell the morning of September 28 after a relative found him not breathing. Emergency responders said Powell was deceased by the time they arrived. Riley County Police Lieutenant Josh Kyle told WIBW-TV that Powell was taking medication while recovering from unspecified surgery. Foul play was not suspected, but an autopsy was performed to determine the cause of death. Officials with the 1st Infantry Division said Powell was a field artillery radar operator. He was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team.


3 of Victim's Relatives Charged in Topeka Slaying

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors have charged four people, including three of the victim's relatives, in the death of a 34-year-old Topeka woman. Ashley Alcala died after being found severely injured in her home Oct. 18. Her husband, Manuel Campos Alcala, is being held on $1 million bond on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy. Also charged in her death are Ashley Alcala's mother-in-law, 57-year-old Manuela Alcala; her brother-in-law, 19-year-old Gabino Campos Alcala; and 19-year-old Benjamin Anaya, all of whom are from El Paso, Texas. They are also charged with first-degree premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree premeditated murder.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor said Wednesday that Supreme Court rules prevent his office from releasing details about Ashley Alcala's death.


Trustee: Hawker Beechcraft Attorney Fees Excessive

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Justice Department's watchdog agency is objecting to more than $12 million in fees racked up during the first three months of Hawker Beechcraft's bankruptcy proceedings. In a filing Thursday, U.S. Trustee Tracy Hope Davis particularly chided the company for fees lawyers billed for the company's failed attempt to pay its eight senior executives millions in bonuses. The government called the fees excessive and unreasonable. And the trustee noted the lawyers spent more time working on the bonus plan than other projects. More than $12.2 million in compensation and $642,000 in expenses were billed between May and July. The trustee is asking the court not to grant any fees sought in connection with the executive bonus plan.


Kansas Trial Dates Set for Parents of Bound Children

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Trial dates have been set for the parents of two children found bound and blindfolded in a Walmart parking lot in eastern Kansas. The Douglas County district attorney's office says 52-year-old Adolfo Gomez will stand trial on January 7. His wife, 44-year-old Deborah Gomez, is set for trial February 4. The Gomezes, of Northlake, Illinois, have pleaded not guilty to charges of child abuse and child endangerment. They were arrested June 13 after Lawrence police found two children, ages 5 and 7, tied up outside the family's vehicle. Three other older children were inside the SUV unrestrained. The couple told police they were on their way to Arizona when their car broke down, and that they periodically restrained their children as part of their religion and to ward off demons.


BB Vandalism Continues for 2nd Night in Hutchinson

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Hutchinson police report that vandals continued their spree of shooting out windows across the city for a second night in a row. Sergeant Glenn McMurray said reports of broken windows starting coming in about 9 pm Wednesday. The number of overnight reports was not available early Thursday. That was after police received close to 30 vandalism reports between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The Wichita Eagle reports police have no description of any suspects. Police believe the suspects are using a car because the vandalism is spread across Hutchinson.


Ex-Wife Takes Stand in KC Steakhouse Arson Trial 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A woman has testified that her ex-husband smelled strongly of gasoline and was "beet red" after a fire broke out at a landmark downtown Kansas City steakhouse.  The Kansas City Star reported that Jenifer Sorrentino testified Thursday in the federal trial of Mark Sorrentino. He is one of three men on trial for arson and fraud in the 2008 blaze at the Hereford House. The men are accused of conspiring to torch the steakhouse and fraudulently collect insurance money. Jenifer Sorrentino testified that the smell of gas emanating from her then-husband was "unbelievable" the morning of the fire. The Sorrentinos later divorced. And Mark Sorrentino's attorney suggested Jenifer Sorrentino fabricated the story because she was bitter about the break-up and needed money. She collected $10,000 for assisting in the investigation.


Drought Holds Its Grip as Growers Pivot to Wheat

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The worst U.S. drought in decades is showing little sign  of easing as farmers close out their corn harvests and pivot toward growing winter wheat that's now struggling in the dry conditions. The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor update released Thursday shows that more than roughly 62 percent of the land in the lower 48 states is experiencing some degree of drought. The federal government says farmers have harvested 87 percent of the nation's corn crop and 80 percent of its soybeans. Farmers had planted 81 percent of the winter wheat crop as of Monday. Only half of the crop has emerged, which is 7 percentage points lower than average. In South Dakota, only 13 percent of the wheat crop has germinated, compared with the five-year average of 80 percent.


KU Endowment Provides Record $119.3M

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The KU Endowment provided a record $119.3 million in direct financial support to the University of Kansas in fiscal 2012. The endowment said in a news release Thursday that total is a 6 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. The funds are used to support students, faculty, programs, facilities and patient care on all university campuses, including the University of Kansas Hospital. The funds include $39.1 million for programs, $35.3 million for faculty, $30.2 million for students and $14.7 million for facilities and technology. The foundation says its funds provided financial help to more than 6,900 students in fiscal 2012. It also supported professors, faculty research, community outreach and acquiring library and museum holdings.


Drought, High Prices Pushing Dairies to the Brink

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Two years of inadequate rainfall has Kansas dairy farmers in survival mode as high feed and fuel costs continue to push many operations to the brink of bankruptcy. The prolonged drought has hit the nation's food supply hard as farmers such as Mary Jane and Orville Miller of Hutchinson are forced to chop up burned crops for silage. The Hutchinson News reports the two are doing everything they can to ensure a future for their son and daughter-in-law, who want to come back to the farm. But that hasn't been easy. The National Agricultural Statistics Service says dairy farmers lost 24 cents on every gallon of milk sold in May and June because of high production costs.


Former Thayer City Clerk Sentenced for Theft

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former southeastern Kansas city clerk whose thefts have left the community near bankruptcy will spend a year and a day in federal prison for her crimes. Fifty-year-old Laura Whittley sobbed Wednesday as U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten rejected a passionate defense request for probation. He also ordered her to repay $120,000 in restitution. Whittley pleaded guilty in May to bank fraud and money laundering. She apologized in court and said she will do her best to repay the stolen money. Thayer is a Neosho County community of 500 people with just 183 households and a median family income of about $35,000. Mayor Anthony Vining says the city was forced to raise its mill levy and its water rates and soon its local sales tax because of the thefts.


Kansas Jehovah's Witness Loses Liver Disease Battle

HILL CITY, Kan. (AP) — A northwest Kansas woman who won her battle to get the state to pay for an out-of-state transplant has lost her fight against liver disease.  The Kansas City Star reports 66-year-old Mary Stinemetz of Hill City died Sunday at a Colorado hospital located near her daughter, three years after she learned she needed a new liver. The Jehovah's Witness refused to undergo a transplant at the University of Kansas Hospital because she would need a blood transfusion, which went against her religion. Last year a Kansas appeals court found the state violated her constitutional right to exercise her religious faith by denying Medicaid coverage for a bloodless transplant in Nebraska. Her condition got worse by the time she got on a transplant list, and she became ineligible for the procedure.


New Recycling Program to Kickoff at KU Football Game

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Fans tailgating at the University of Kansas game against Texas Saturday will see volunteers asking them to recycle their trash. A new group, Recycle & Blue, will promote recycling at football games. Saturday is the first day of the effort, but the plan is to eventually expand the program to most KU athletic events. Blaine Bengtson of Salina is in charge of the project. He says about 50 students, faculty and staff will set out recycling bins outside the stadium. They'll also visit tailgaters to collect plastic bottles and aluminum cans, while handing out promotional items.  The Lawrence Journal-World reportsthat the group received about $7,700 from Student Senate this year to encourage the program. Nearly all the funds will go toward buying the recycling bins.

Ethics Complaint Against Kansas Lawmaker Dismissed

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has dismissed a complaint against a conservative Democratic House member. The commission concluded Wednesday that Representative Jan Pauls of Hutchinson didn't intend to violate the law when she failed to list a rental property she owns on annual financial disclosure forms. Pauls filed a new form with the secretary of state's office in July after questions were raised. She said she and her husband lost money on the duplex they rented out. The complaint against Pauls was filed by the chairman of a Kansas Democratic Party caucus that advocates for gays and lesbians. Gay rights supporters have targeted Pauls because of her strong backing of legislation that critics say would nullify local anti-discrimination ordinances helping gays and lesbians.

Trial Reset for Man Charged with Hurting Kids

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — A new trial date has been set for a western Kansas man who's charged with trying to kill his three children. Thirty-one year-old Irineo Garcia of Liberal has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted first-degree murder. He's scheduled to stand trial February 11 in Seward County District Court. The Hutchinson News reports that a psychological evaluation delayed Garcia's trial, which initially was scheduled for last February. He's accused of trying to kill his three children, then ages 5, 6 and 7, in 2010. Prosecutors say he also tried to kill himself. The children and Garcia were found injured at their home after his estranged wife notified police. Officers found him bleeding outside the home and the children inside. They have all recovered from their injuries.


Proposed Nebraska Pipeline will Increase Republican & Platte River Flows

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Four natural resource districts are joining forces for a project to increase water flows to the Republican and Platte Rivers, both crucial to Nebraska farmers and subject to water-usage agreements with Kansas and other states. District officials have agreed to buy a farm south of North Platte and retire approximately 15,800 acres from production. Doing so will allow them to save water that would otherwise be used for irrigation, and ship it down to the rivers when it's needed to make sure Nebraska stays in compliance with interstate water agreements. The districts are expected to split the $83 million cost to buy the property and make upgrades to help ship the water. Officials estimate that they'll need 17 miles of pipeline to transport water to both rivers.


Public Comment Sought on Lesser Prairie Chicken

PRATT, Kan. (AP) — A five-state effort is under way to develop a conservation plan to address the decline of the lesser prairie chicken. Kansas is participating in the effort along with Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has contracted with the Ecosystem Management Institute to prepare a lesser prairie chicken conservation plan for Kansas. It is seeking public input. Public meetings are planned in southwest Kansas to present information and discuss ways to encourage landowners, industry and others to voluntarily join with management agencies to improve habitat. Those meetings begin November 13 in Ness City and move the next day to Ulysses before finishing on November 15 in Greensburg. Written comments will also be accepted through December 14 via email to janc@gci.net.


KU, Georgetown Agree to 4-Year Hoops Series

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas and Georgetown University...perennial college basketball powerhouses...have agreed to play annually over the next four seasons with the first game scheduled for December 21, 2013, at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks will also host the Hoyas during the 2015-16 season. The two teams will play at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons. Despite their pedigrees, KU and Georgetown have only met twice previously. The Jayhawks beat Georgetown in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational last season, while the Hoyas prevailed in the Southeast Regional of the 1987 NCAA tournament.