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Headlines for Friday, December 26, 2014


Fatalities Rise After Kansas Increases Speed Limit

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Traffic-related fatalities and injuries in Kansas are up on roads with increased 75 mph speed limits. The Kansas City Star reports numbers from the state's transportation department show a 54 percent increase in highways deaths on those roads since the speed limit was raised three years ago. Injuries are up about 13 percent compared with the two years before the new speed limit went into effect in 2011. Highways affected include I-135 north out of Wichita, and rural patches of I-35, I-70, U.S. 69 and I-470 near Topeka. An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety spokesman says higher limits often lead to more accidents. But state transportation officials say it's too early to draw conclusions.


Questions Raised Following Audit of Kansas Rural Phone Service 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A recent audit of Kansas's rural telephone service program has found that it is generally well-run and efficient, but it also suggests that lawmakers consider the types of services taxpayers are now subsidizing. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the audit was conducted of the Kansas Universal Service Fund which was established in 1995. The audit notes that taxpayers currently subsidize broadband data and other unregulated services. State Senator Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, says broadband service today can include services similar to cable TV delivered through a phone line. The Kansas Legislature's Telecommunications Study Committee hired the private firm QSI Consulting Inc. to conduct the audit, and make recommendations to lawmakers.


March Retrial Set for Man in Topeka Killing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Topeka man sentenced to more than 55 years in prison for killing a man is getting a new trial. 47-year-old Stephen Alan Macomber will be retried for the 2010 killing of Ryan Lofton. Lofton was shot during a dispute on a Topeka driveway. The Kansas Court of Appeals reversed Macomber's earlier conviction, ruling the trial court incorrectly allowed evidence about his prior convictions. The new trial starts March 9. As he did the first time, Macomber will represent himself. A Topeka attorney will be his standby attorney. Authorities have said that after Macomber shot Lofton, he shot and wounded a Marshall County deputy during a traffic stop in Blue Rapids, then held an elderly woman hostage during a police standoff.


Police Concerned About Homeless Near Kansas City Parks and Schools 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Charitable groups in Kansas City, Missouri, are being asked not to feed the homeless near parks or schools, over concerns that doing so could violate a state law restricting where sex offenders are allowed to be. Kansas City police discovered a homeless camp in November on the city's West Side. City spokesman Chris Hernandez says five registered sex offenders were living in a wooded area within 500 feet of a park and 1,000 feet of two elementary schools in violation of a state law aimed at protecting children. It prohibits sex offenders in those areas. Police found that food was being delivered within the restricted area. State law that addresses the issue of knowingly aiding a sex offender means that those who provide the meals could be cited.


Car Blamed for Fire That Damaged 2 Wichita Homes 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Firefighters in Wichita believe a car in a driveway caused a fire that damaged two homes. KAKE-TV reports that the fire broke out around 1:15 am Friday on a street near West Shopping Center. Five people were inside the home with the most damage, but a mother was able to get everyone out safely. Fire Captain Derek Pierce says the car had been recently repaired. It apparently caught fire and the blaze eventually engulfed both homes. Damage to the second home was apparently limited to melted siding. An investigation continues.


Average Missouri Gas Price Drops Below $2 a Gallon 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri is the first state in more than five years to have a statewide average gas price of below $2 a gallon, and Oklahoma was expected to get there by the weekend. AAA spokesman Michael Green says the national average price of gas is $2.32 per gallon, the lowest since May 2009. Missouri's average fell below $2 per gallon Friday morning and stood at $1.98 midday. Green says Oklahoma's average Friday morning was $2.01, while Kansas had the third-lowest average at $2.06. Green called the steady decline in gas prices unlike anything AAA has previously tracked. He says the national average has dropped for 92 days in a row — the longest streak on record. He says gas prices could go down another 5 to 10 cents by year's end.


Juvenile Detentions at 7-Year Low in Saline County

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - The number of juveniles in detention in Saline County, Kansas, is down significantly since a judge took over the juvenile docket. The Salina Journal reports that Judge Mary Thrower says that rather than detain juvenile offenders for an extended period, she seeks out the best option for each one. She took over the juvenile docket in the county in July. A Saline County official says the number of juveniles from the county at the North Central Kansas Regional Detention Center in Junction City is at a seven-year low, with just three. In the past, there have been as many as 20.


Woman in KC Plans to Defy Church and Become a Priest 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A woman is planning to defy the Roman Catholic Church and become a priest - the first to do so in Kansas City, Missouri. The Kansas City Star reportsthat 67-year-old Georgia Walker knows that once she takes the step, she will be excommunicated from the church, but it doesn't faze her because she doesn't accept the legitimacy of the excommunication. The church will not accept her ordination, scheduled for January 3. Under canon law, only men can be priests. Walker is part of a movement called the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. Instead of leaving the church, they hope to change it from within. There are nearly 200 women priests, all but about 50 of them in the U.S.


Food-Grade Sorghum Cultivation Increases in Kansas 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Sorghum is traditionally thought of as a fodder plant, but there is a growing movement of food-grade sorghum. The Hutchinson News reports that for the past three years at elevators in Brenham, Kansas, farmers have hauled in loads of food-grade sorghum. It is one of a few locations across Kansas taking in largely a white sorghum that is good for milling into flour. Bobby Martin, general manager of Southern Plans Co-op, says the first year, about 12,000 bushels of white sorghum were binned at Brenham. Last year, it surpassed 100,000 bushels, and this year will reach that number, if not top it.


Report: Poor, Rural Schools Get Less Experienced Teachers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - New data shows teachers in Missouri's poorest and most rural schools are less experienced and earn lower salaries than elsewhere in the state. The data is part of a draft report that Missouri is submitting to the U.S. Education Department amid a federal push to ensure that the least experienced people aren't disproportionately teaching the neediest students. Assistant Commissioner Paul Katnik says the state's next step is to work with educators and administrators in the field to analyze the data and come up with strategies for addressing the situation. He says the challenge is recruiting teachers to the places where they are most needed and retaining them. The Education Department is asking states to develop plans to make sure every student has an effective teacher.


Kansas Man Dies After Christmas Eve Stabbing 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a Kansas man is dead after a 16-year-old boy stabbed him on Christmas Eve. The Wichita Eagle reports that police Sergeant William Stevens said the boy stabbed the 32-year old man at about 11:30 pm Wednesday. The man later died from his injuries at the hospital. Police took the 16-year-old boy into custody for the man's killing. Stevens says police will give more information during a Friday briefing. He declined to give additional details Thursday.


Kansas Growers Harvest Bountiful Cotton Fields

ANTHONY, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas growers have been harvesting bumper crops of cotton this season. That is giving a boost in the state to a crop touted for its good profit margin and low water use.  The Hutchinson News reports that the uptick in yields is a positive sign for a crop that has been struggling to regain acreage since it spiked at more than 115,000 acres in 2006. Kansas has four cotton gins.  The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service estimates cotton production in Kansas at 52,000 bales, up 27 percent from a year ago.  Cotton acres harvested in 2014 will be up 12 percent, with 29,000 acres cut. The average yield is forecast at a record 861 pounds per acre, or about 104 pounds per acre more than a year ago.


Kansas State Tower Project Studies Climate Change

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - A tower at Kansas State University will be used in a 30-year-long project with the National Science Foundation. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the 26-foot tower at the Konza Prairie Biological Station will begin collecting data in the spring for the climate research project. The $430-million project with the National Ecological Observatory Network project will collect information from more than 100 sites across the country. Data from the project will be provided free to the public. The Kansas State University tower will gather data on climate change, land use change and invasive species. Crews in Kansas will study small mammals, mosquitoes, plants and soil. Researchers also will focus on the spread of the hantavirus by deer mice and transmission of West Nile virus by mosquitoes.


Petition Filed to Legalize Pot in Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A second initiative petition to legalize marijuana in Missouri has been filed. Secretary of State Jason Kander this week announced the petition is open for public comment. The proposal would amend the Missouri Constitution to allow residents to use the drug for medical or recreational use. Missourians also could legally grow the plant if the initiative passes. Initiative petitions need approval from Kander's office before they can be circulated to the public. Residents vote on the measures if they receive enough signatures to make it onto the ballot. Another initiative that would allow those 21 years or older to use or grow marijuana also is open for public comment.


Shockers Lose to GWU in Honolulu Upset

HONOLULU (AP) — George Washington University has won an in-season tournament for the first time in 10 years. Kethan Savage sparked a late rally and scored 12 points to lead the unranked Colonials to a 60-54 upset over No. 11 Wichita State in the Diamond Head Classic title game in Honolulu. George Washington trailed by seven with seven minutes left before Savage swatted away a pass and turned it into a layup. The 10-2 Shockers shot 34 percent from the floor and hit just one field goal over the last six minutes.


Chiefs QB Alex Smith Out with Lacerated Spleen 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith will miss Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers because of a lacerated spleen. Chase Daniel will start in his place. Team trainer Rick Burkholder said Friday that Smith was likely hurt on a hit during the third quarter of last weekend's loss to the Steelers, but the quarterback didn't have significant symptoms. The lacerated spleen was diagnosed by a scan Thursday when Smith continued to experience mild discomfort after practicing all week. He will not need surgery and a full recovery is expected. If the Chargers beat Kansas City, they make the playoffs. The Chiefs would need to win and have Baltimore and Houston lose to earn a postseason berth. Smith would be out for a potential playoff game. Daniel has one career start in six NFL seasons.


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