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Headlines for Thursday, December 18, 2014


Kansas House Speaker Changes Leaders of Key Panels

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick has replaced the leaders of two key committees and filled vacancies in two other chairmanships.  Merrick spokeswoman Rachel Whitten confirmed Thursday that Representative Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe will be chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.  Ryckman replaces Rep. Gene Suellentrop of Wichita.  Merrick appointed Rep. Ron Highland of Wamego as Education Committee chairman. He replaces Rep. Kasha Kelley of Arkansas City.   Whitten declined to discuss the reasons behind the changes.  Merrick appointed Rep. Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park as Taxation Committee chairman and John Barker of Abilene as Judiciary Committee chairman. The previous chairmen did not seek re-election this year.  Merrick is a Stilwell Republican. All of the new chairmen are Republicans, in keeping the GOP's 97-to-28 majority in the House. 


Death Penalty Sought in Jewish Site Shootings 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prosecutor will seek the death penalty for a white supremacist from Missouri who is charged with killing three people at two Jewish sites in suburban Kansas City. Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe announced his intention Thursday at a hearing where 74-year-old Frazier Glenn Miller of Aurora, Missouri, was ruled competent to stand trial. Miller is charged in the April 13 shooting deaths of 69-year-old Dr. William Lewis Corporon, 14-year-old Reat Griffin Underwood and 53-year-old Terri LaManno. After a judge on Thursday scheduled a three-day preliminary hearing in March, Miller protested the hearing date, shouting "What about my speedy trial?" A Kansas judge last month ordered Miller to undergo a mental evaluation when his attorneys expressed concern about his ability to help with his defense.


Bedbugs Found in Kansas State Office Building 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials say bedbugs have been found inside a state office building near the Statehouse targeted for demolition. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the pests were discovered on the third floor of the Docking State Office Building, west of the Capitol. The floor houses Department of Revenue offices. Department spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda said it has brought in an exterminator. She initially said the problem was confined to a small area with a handful of desks, but later said the exterminator will determine the extent of the problem. The state is moving offices for the revenue agency and the Department for Children and Families to other buildings next year. It plans to demolish the building because officials believe renovations of the 1950s-era high-rise would be too expensive.


Governor Fills New Spots on Saline County Board 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has named a banker and small-business owner to two newly-created seats on the Saline County Commission. On Thursday, Brownback announced the appointments of Luci Larson and David Smith to the county board. Both are from Salina and take office January 12. Saline County voters in November approved expanding the commission from three to five members. Under Kansas law, the current commissioners were required to draw new districts within a month, and the governor was required to fill the seats. The new commissioners will stand for election in 2016. Larson is a travel agency owner who served on the Salina City Commission and as the city's mayor in 2009 and 2010. Smith has been a banker and real estate appraiser since 1972.


Kansas Officials Consider Changes After Crash 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Transportation is considering a safety improvement after two men were killed in a highway crash. Spokeswoman Kim Qualls told the Topeka Capital-Journal on Wednesday that officials are considering installing a flashing beacon or an interchange at the intersection of N.W. 62nd and U.S. Route 75 in north Shawnee County. The Kansas Highway Patrol says 62-year-old driver Steven Galarneau and 64-year-old passenger David Hilleland were killed Tuesday when Galarneau ran a stop sign and struck a vehicle on the highway. The driver and the passenger in the other vehicle weren't injured. Four people have died at the intersection in the past 16 months.


KU Puts Kappa Sigma Fraternity on Probation 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas has ordered two years of probation for a fraternity that was the focus of a sexual assault investigation. Kappa Sigma is barred from having alcohol in its chapter house and must turn over materials to investigators and offer sexual assault prevention training. The Kansas City Star reports that the university imposed the sanctions Wednesday after an investigation into reports that women were sexually assaulted during some type of gathering at the Kappa Sigma house on September 26 and 27. The investigation found that the fraternity had violated a student code, although the university didn't offer specifics. Vice public affairs chancellor Tim Caboni said "significant and substantial sanctions" were placed on the fraternity because of the "seriousness and disturbing nature" of what happened.


Kansas Woman Faces Charge in Near-Collision Incident

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence police have arrested a woman who they say stole a man's cellphone when he tried to record her vehicle after it nearly collided with his bicycle. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the 29-year-old woman was arrested at her home Wednesday. She faces an aggravated robbery charge. Sergeant Amy Rhoads says a 31-year-old Lawrence man was riding his bike when the suspect's vehicle nearly struck him. She says the victim used his phone to photograph the vehicle before he got into a confrontation with the woman. Rhoads says the suspect grabbed the phone and drove away. No injuries were reported.


Sex Offender Arrested After Posing as Santa Claus 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say a sex offender has been arrested after performing as Santa Claus for Kansas City area children. The Jackson County (Missouri) Sheriff's Office said in a news release Thursday that the 50-year-old man faces a charge of failing to register as a sex offender for not reporting his employment. The man was booked into jail Wednesday and bond was set at $20,000. The release said the man was arrested after authorities received a confidential tip. The sheriff's office told KCTV that the man worked in customer service at a home decor store and would at times interact with customers while dressed up as Santa. The name of the business wasn't released. The man was convicted in 1992 and 1998 in California on sex-related charges including child molestation and indecent exposure.


Sprint Accused of Billing for Unwanted Services

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators are accusing Sprint Corporation of illegally billing its wireless customers tens of millions of dollars in unwanted charges for text message alerts and other services. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Wednesday it has sued the telecom company over billing for unauthorized charges, a practice known as "cramming." The agency said Sprint failed to oversee third-party companies, allowing illegal charges to be put on customers' bills. The bureau said the charges ranged from one-time fees of 99 cents to $4.99, to monthly subscriptions costing $9.99 a month. It said Sprint received up to 40 percent of the revenue from the charges. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Communications Commission is expected to fine Sprint a record $105 million for the alleged violations.


Woman Charged in Son's Death Granted Continuance

WELLINGTON, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas woman charged with fatally beating and stabbing her 10-year-old son was granted a court continuance so her defense attorney could become familiar with the case. At a scheduling hearing Thursday, court-appointed defense attorney Mike Brown said he hadn't had enough time to meet with 33-year-old Lindsey Nichole Blansett. A new court date was set for January 8. Blansett is charged with first-degree murder in the death Sunday of her son, Caleb, at their home in Wellington. Court records indicate she told police she was concerned about her son's future and wanted him to "go to heaven tonight." Caleb Blansett's funeral is scheduled for 3 pm Saturday at First Christian Church in Wellington. A visitation is scheduled for 1-8 pm Friday at Day Funeral Home.


State Extends Deadline for SE Kansas Casino 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Lottery Commission has extended the deadline for applications for managers of a planned casino in southeast Kansas to January 30. The original deadline was Friday. The state-owned casino is planned for a region that includes Cherokee and Crawford counties. Executive Director Terry Presta said the deadline was extended to allow recently appointed board members time to learn the duties. The Joplin Globe reports that two developers have already said they will compete to build a casino in Crawford County. Another developer has indicated interest in building a casino in Cherokee County. After January 30 deadline, the lottery will have 90 days to negotiate contracts with qualified applicants. A lottery review board will select the contract and the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission will approve or reject the applicant.


KU Hospital Provides Update on Reorganization 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas Hospital is making progress toward streamlining clinical operations. Officials with the medical center and the hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, told the Board of Regents Wednesday the reorganization would make it easier for patients to access care. University of Kansas Hospital spokeswoman Jill Chadwick said Thursday that expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is important for the hospital to continue to grow. She says there may be other hospitals in Kansas that might have to cut back services without Medicaid expansion. But she says the University of Kansas Hospital will survive. A nonprofit group that runs most of the clinics on campus has to negotiate among 18 different organizations. The plan is to combine those under the University of Kansas Hospital Authority.


Plunging Oil Prices Rattle Independent Operators in Kansas 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Plunging crude prices are hitting oil producers especially hard in Kansas. That is because the oil industry in the state is dominated by small, independent operators who depend heavily on the cash flow from producing wells to pay to drill new ones. The Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association says the low prices are causing many companies to re-evaluate their drilling plans. Analysts say the growth in new drilling across the country will slow as drillers avoid rock that is either not well understood or known to be unproductive. At high oil prices, that drilling can be profitable but at low oil prices the drilling is either too risky or unprofitable. That is particularly true in Kansas, where the majority of oil wells are low-producing.


Wichita Residents Track Snow Plows with New Website 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Residents in Wichita can now track the location of the city's snow plows on a new interactive website. The city on Wednesday unveiled the site that provides citizens with real-time data from all 50 of the city's GPS-equipped snow plows. That allows people to determine which streets and areas have been treated. Public works director Alan King says this is the city's latest effort to improve how it responds to snow storms while providing citizens with the information they need to travel safely. Residents can follow the plows during winter events at www.wichita.gov/snowremoval.


Engine Failure Blamed for Boonville Plane Crash

BOONVILLE, Mo. (AP) — A preliminary report says engine failure caused a small plane crash in central Missouri that killed a man from Kansas. The National Transportation Safety Board's report does not suggest what might have caused the engine to fail when a plane went down November 30 near a Boonville airport. The pilot, Charles Sojka, of Salina, died. Three passengers in the Bellanca 17-30A Super Viking were injured. NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway says the final report, with an official cause of the crash, will not be released for 12 to 18 months. Sojka was flying from Chesterfield to Kansas City when he tried to land after hitting dense clouds near Sedalia. The report says the engine lost power and eventually completely stalled about 250 feet above the ground.


Ohio Man Arrested in Ex-Football Player's Death 

CLEVELAND (AP) — Authorities say the man suspected of fatally shooting a former Kansas State University football player outside a Cleveland nightclub has been arrested in northeast Ohio. The U.S. Marshals Service says 30-year-old Barry Blevins of East Cleveland was arrested early Wednesday in Cleveland. Blevins was sought on an aggravated murder warrant after the October shooting of 26-year-old David Garrett. Police say Garrett was struck in the chest when Blevins fired into a crowd after a fight that began in a Cleveland nightclub spilled outside. Garrett earned all-Big 12 honorable mention honors as a Kansas State defensive back in 2010 and 2011. He graduated from Thomas W. Harvey High School in Painesville, east of Cleveland and played arena football in Kansas City in 2013. No attorney information for Blevins was available Thursday.


Kansas Colleges Want Longer Coaching Contracts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three Kansas universities in the NCAA Division II are asking a state panel to approve a proposal that would let them sign multiyear contracts with their athletic coaches. The Kansas Board of Regents is expected to vote next month on the proposal that would give the schools the same authority Division I colleges have. The Lawrence Journal-World reports some regents are concerned the proposal would bring the "excesses" of larger college sports to smaller institutions, such as coaches earning higher salaries than university presidents and other officials. Much of the push for the change is coming from Pittsburg State University. Its president says other Division II schools in the U.S. offer their coaches longer contracts, and Kansas schools risk losing their coaches if they can't do the same.


KC Councilman Accused of Choking Aide Resigns

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Baptist pastor accused of choking an aide is resigning as a Kansas City councilman. The Kansas City Star reported Wednesday that Michael Brooks blamed a "media circus" in a letter announcing plans to step down effective January 2nd. The letter arrived just as the city attorney of Kansas City was preparing to tell City Council members that they would have to decide whether a violence allegation against Brooks merited removing him from office. Brooks has denied the choking claims. Police have turned over a case file to Jackson County for review. Brooks also came under scrutiny last year when he acknowledged an online relationship with a woman involving graphic text messages. His attorney said that Brooks never met the woman in person and that there was no impropriety.


KCC Approves Rate Increase for Black Hills Energy

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Corporation Commission approved a rate increase for natural gas customers of Black Hills Energy. The Wichita Eagle reports the KCC on Tuesday approved an increase that will cost the average customer about of $3 a year. The settlement gives Black Hills an overall increase of $5.23 million. But customers were already paying about $4.5 million of that through special riders on their bills. The company applied for a $5.1 million net increase in April, which would have raised the average bill by $4.17 a month, or about $50 a year. Black Hills serves about 110,000 customers in Kansas.


Kansas City Man Charged in 34 Home Burglaries 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Prosecutors say a Kansas City man charged with committing 34 residential burglaries was linked to the crimes by a GPS in an ankle bracelet he was wearing because he was on parole for burglary. Sixty-four-year-old Roy E. Samuels was charged Wednesday with one count of first-degree burglary, 33 counts of second-degree burglary and 26 counts of theft. The burglaries occurred in Kansas City between July and September 2013. At the time, Smith was on parole for a burglary in Grandview. Court records say the GPS placed Samuels inside 34 homes where burglaries were reported. The homeowners lost such items as electronics and guns. It was not immediately clear if Samuels has an attorney.


Missouri Truck Driver Convicted of Sex Trafficking 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A northwest Missouri commercial truck driver has been convicted of transporting a minor across state lines for prostitution. The U.S. attorney's office says 55-year-old Tony Eugene Wardlow, of St. Joseph, was found guilty Wednesday. The self-employed driver was registered as a sex offender after he was convicted in 1997 in Nodaway County of crimes involving two children. Prosecutors said Wardlow paid the minor victim for sex on multiple occasions while she was working as a prostitute in Kansas City. He also took her out of town in his truck on several occasions, including a 2011 Texas trip that involved prostitution activity. A co-defendant who accompanied them to Texas pleaded guilty in February to aiding and abetting Wardlow. Wardlow faces up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole.


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