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Headlines for Thursday, September 24, 2015


Kansas Regulators Approve $78 Million Rate Hike for Westar Energy 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas regulators have given final approval to a rate increase for the state's largest electric company that will cost most households in its territory between $5 and $7 more a month. The Kansas Corporation Commission approved an order Thursday raising Topeka-based Westar Energy's rates by $78 million annually. It ratifies an agreement among the company, the commission's staff, a state consumer advocacy agency and some of Westar's largest customers. Westar's rates will rise about 4 percent and the increase will take effect for customers' November bills. The utility has nearly 700,000 customers. Westar initially proposed a $152 million increase in its annual rates, largely to cover costs it already has incurred for improvements at power plants. Other parties argued for a rate increase of less than $56 million.


Attorney: Judges Still Pursuing Lawsuit on Judicial Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ An attorney for four Kansas judges says they will continue pursuing a lawsuit over the court system's budget despite an order in another case protecting its funding. Lawyer Pedro Irigonegaray questioned Wednesday whether a petition filed by Attorney General Derek Schmidt in Neosho County District Court was flawed. Schmidt's petition temporarily blocked enforcement of a law dealing with the judiciary's budget until March 15. The state legislature enacted the law this year to preserve a change in how chief district court judges are selected and said if the change was overturned, the judiciary's entire budget would be nullified. A Shawnee County judge last month struck down the law. 


Coalition of Kansas Hospitals Pushing for Medicaid Expansion 

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A hospital in southeastern Kansas says it's losing almost $14 million each year as a result of the state's decision not to expand Medicaid. Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg has joined a coalition of health care organizations pushing Governor Sam Brownback and the state Legislature to expand Medicaid during next year's session. As part of that effort, the hospital provided an update on its finances Wednesday, saying it lost about $14 million in both 2013 and 2014 because Medicaid wasn't expanded. The Wichita Eagle reports that Via Christi's president and CEO expects the hospital to see the same loss this year. Kansas is one of 20 states that have refused to expand Medicaid, the health care program that helps the poor and disabled.


Eudora Health Care Worker Convicted of Second-Degree Murder

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas health care worker has been convicted of second-degree murder Wednesday in the death of a disabled client. A Douglas County jury found 49-year-old Ronald Eugene Heskett of Eudora guilty in the September 2014 death of 65-year-old Vance Moulton, who suffered from cerebral palsy. The jury, which deliberated about four hours, could have found Heskett guilty of first-degree murder. Heskett admitted he helped Moulton die by twisting a towel around his neck. But he said he did so after repeated requests from Moulton to help him die. Prosecutors argued that no evidence was presented to show Moulton was suicidal. They said Heskett killed Moulton for financial gain..


Man Convicted of Killings at Jewish Sites Seeks New Trial 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The Missouri man convicted of killing three people outside Jewish sites in Kansas is seeking a new trial. Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. was convicted in August of capital murder for the three shooting deaths in April 2014. He said he wanted to kill Jewish people, although his victims were Christians. The Johnson County jury recommended Miller receive a death sentence. The Kansas City Star reports that Miller's motion for a new trial cites the denial of his request for a change of venue, his inability to consult with "standby" lawyers during court hearings and not being allowed to present all of his evidence. Miller also contends the judge gave jurors the impression that he thought Miller's defense was "outlandish and stupid." The motion will be considered before sentencing November 10.


Food Bank Raises $60K to Pay Tax Debt

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A food bank has wrapped up a fundraising effort that started after it was revealed that the former Lawrence mayor who was leading the nonprofit had failed to pay more than $61,000 in payroll taxes. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the group Just Food announced it had reached its goal of raising enough money to pay the taxes. Jeremy Farmer resigned as mayor of Lawrence last month, two days after he resigned from his job as executive director at the food bank. Farmer has said it was an oversight that the taxes weren't paid. The nonprofit's internal investigation has been turned over to law enforcement. 


Brownback Meets with Group Assigned to Shape Social Policy

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback met Wednesday for the first time with members of a newly formed council that will make recommendations on how the state should approach poverty and other social issues. The governor appointed the Social Services Policy Council in February to advise him on issues related to social services. Several members listed concerns they have about issues such as prison recidivism, the chain of welfare from generation to generation and where money dedicated to providing social services is being spent. The group is expected to meet at least twice a year. It will receive ongoing staff support from the Kansas Department for Children and Families. 


Jurors Indict Kansas Man Accused of Threatening Lawyer 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal grand jurors have indicted a Kansas man who's accused of threatening to "bash in" the head of a lawyer. The Kansas City Star reports that 52-year-old Rick Draskovich, of Ottawa, was indicted Wednesday on a charge of making the telephone threat on Aug. 31. The alleged victim wasn't identified. The U.S. attorney's office alleges that Draskovich said, "I am about to go to the law firm and bash his . head in." The indictment also says that Draskovich suggested the lawyer get a restraining order, but added it wouldn't do any good. The indictment says Draskovich then said that, "Just by the time he even understands what's happening, he's going to get his head bashed in." Draskovich's attorney didn't immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.


Prison Sentences Upheld in Kansas Pill Mill Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has upheld the decades-long prison sentences for a Kansas doctor and his wife who were convicted in a moneymaking conspiracy linked to 68 drug overdose deaths. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot on Thursday re-sentenced Dr. Stephen Schneider to 30 years in prison. Schneider's wife, Linda, was re-sentenced to 33 years in prison. The Haysville couple was convicted in 2010 of conspiracy to commit health care fraud resulting in deaths, unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering. The judge ordered a new sentencing after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that a victim's drug use must be the actual cause of death, not just a contributing factor. But on Thursday, the judge upheld the original prison sentences. Belot also has decided not to order restitution in the case, saying that it would be nearly impossible to assess in the criminal case how much money the couple owed former patients. Belot noted that numerous lawsuits have been filed in the case. Dr. Stephen Schneider told the court he was truly sorry if he and his wife hurt the community and said he hoped for mercy. His wife, Linda, also asked the judge for compassion. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway argued this wasn't a case for mercy. She says the deaths of at least 68 people have been linked to the clinic, and many other people became addicted. Defense attorneys say they'll appeal Schneiders' decades-long prison sentences. 



5 Ordered to Stand Trial in Salina Teen's Shooting Death

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has found sufficient evidence for five young men to stand trial in the mistaken-identity shooting death of a Salina girl. The Salina Journal reports that Andrew Woodring, Macio Palacio Jr., Stephen Gentry, Daniel Sims and Jerome Forbes were bound over for trial Wednesday. Palacio admitted in a police interview to firing the bullet that killed 17-year-old Allie Saum in May. But Saline County Attorney Ellen Mitchell argued that all five men were equally responsible, even though two of the men claim they weren't present. Mitchell says all the men were in on a plan to commit aggravated battery. Saum was a passenger in a truck that police say some of the defendants mistakenly believed belonged to a person who had been in an earlier altercation with them.


Man Charged in Wichita Woman's Slaying

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 21-year-old man has been charged in the fatal shooting of a 66-year-old woman in Wichita. Jacob Strouse made his first court appearance Wednesday and faces several charges including first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and criminal possession of a weapon by a convicted felon.According to authorities, Jacquelyn Harvey's son found her dead on September 16, when he was dropping off his son so Harvey could take him to school. Police say her purse and vehicle were stolen.It was not immediately clear if Strouse has an attorney. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 7. A 22-year-old woman is being sought by authorities in connection to the killing.


Man to Stand Trial in Molestation of Woman with Disability

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City transport van driver has been ordered to stand trial in the sexual molestation of a young woman who is developmentally disabled.The Kansas City Star reports that 74-year-old Terry Mize Curry was bound over for trial Wednesday on the felony charge of aggravated sexual battery after waiving his preliminary hearing.Johnson County court documents say that surveillance video captured Curry sexually assaulting a 20-year-old woman last September. The woman was a participant in a program for young adults with special needs operated by the Olathe school district. Curry was a driver for the company that contracted with the school district to provide transportation. The charge says the woman was unable to give consent to sexual contact because of "mental deficiency or disease."


Woman Sentenced to Probation in Patient Record Breach

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A woman has been sentenced to 18 months of probation for a mass transfer of emails that include information about 317 patients. The Wichita Eagle reports that 55-year-old April Galvan, of Mulvane, was sentenced Wednesday for seven counts of felony computer fraud. Galvan was fired in June 2013 from her job as the business manager for Cypress Surgery Center. In anticipation of losing her job, she forwarded emails from her work computer to her personal email account. The breach was discovered in an audit soon afterward. During trial, Galvan said she feared legal backlash from Cypress about an incident that involved fraudulent insurance billing. She says she forwarded the emails to her personal account to protect herself. Galvan's defense attorney says he plans to appeal.


Expert: Fracking Restrictions Coincide with Lesser Quakes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state geologist says a limit on the injection of saltwater into the ground by oil producers coincided with less intense earthquakes in south-central Kansas. Interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey Rex Buchanan says the reduction in earthquakes' magnitudes mirrored the adoption of the Kansas Corporation Commission's injection restraints in March. But he says a drop in drilling due to falling oil process and a potential lack of tension along fault lines are other probable factors. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Kansas Corporation Commission is expected to renew another six months of injection restraints in Harper and Sumner counties. The injection restraints were inspired by the proliferation of earthquakes in the area. About 125 earthquakes shook Kansas in 2014. The region reported about one small earthquake per year in the three decades before oil producers began using the wastewater injection procedure. 


EPA Awards $475K for Environmental Cleanup in Kansas City 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Kansas City, Missouri has been awarded $475,000 in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency for environmental cleanup. The award was announced Wednesday as a part of an approximately $13 million national package of supplemental loan funding. The Kansas City Star reports that the city won the grant based on its success in cleaning up brownfields, where development has been restricted due to contamination. Kansas City brownfields coordinator Andrew Bracker said the money should be enough to clean up as many as four contaminated areas. 


Newman University Dean Performs Heimlich on Choking Provost 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Newman University dean is the talk of campus after saving the provost of the Wichita school from choking. The Wichita Eagle reports that Provost Michael Austin says a Starburst candy was sucked into his windpipe Tuesday when he coughed. Newman's dean of students Levi Esses was visiting with a student worker when he noticed Austin having what he thought was a coughing fit. Esses says Austin initially waved his hand like he was OK. But as Austin continued walking down the hallway, he began to wheeze loudly. Esses asked him if he was choking, and Austin nodded his head and spread his arms. Esses performed the Heimlich maneuver on him until the candy became dislodged. Esses later received applause from students. He says that was "kind of cool."


22-Year-Old Man Fatally Shot in Kansas City, Kansas 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating after a man was fatally shot in Kansas City, Kansas. Police say a sport utility vehicle circled a block several times early Thursday before shots were fired at three people who were standing outside a residence. A 22-year-old man who exchanged gunfire with the SUV shooter was hit. The wounded man died about 2 ½ hours later at a hospital. The name of the victim wasn't immediately release. Authorities are urging anyone with information to come forward.


Ex-Osawatomie City Official Pleads Guilty in Embezzlement

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The former recreation director for the city of Osawatomie has admitted embezzling more than $125,000 from the city. Federal prosecutors say 53-year-old Ron Maring of Osawatomie pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of tax fraud and false statement, and one count of money laundering. He admitted that he wrote checks on the Osawatomie Recreation Commission's account to himself and used the money for personal expenses. Maring said he persuaded recreation commission board members to sign blank checks, used his own signature as an endorsement and instructed a recreation commission employee to endorse checks. Sentencing is set for December 11.


El Dorado High School Student Arrested After Social Media Threats

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) _ An El Dorado student has been arrested in connection to threats that were made against the school on social media. According to El Dorado school district officials, a student was arrested Wednesday afternoon. El Dorado school superintendent Sue Givens said in a statement that the student is a minor, and the student's name will not be released. Authorities say the threat was made Monday, and the high school was locked down for about two hours. All rooms were searched before students were released on schedule. 


Group Proposes Making Pittsburg More Walkable, Bikeable 

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A group focused on making Pittsburg more walkable and bikeable is suggesting that the city focus on $2.9 million in priority projects over ten years. The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports that the PedNet Coalition was hired by Live Well Crawford County to make recommendations to improve Pittsburg's non-vehicle transportation. The priority projects include bike lane, sidewalk and trail additions. They're included in a list of $22 million in possible improvements. Robert Johnson, director of consulting for the coalition, said Wednesday that the goal is to make the community "accessible to everybody over the age of 8." Johnson says an eighth of a percent sales tax, if the city chooses elects that route, would generate $430,000 to $450,000 a year. He added the city could also pursue grants.


Royals Rally Past Mariners in 10th Inning for 4-3 Win

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lorenzo Cain singled home pinch-runner Paulo Orlando in the 10th inning as the Kansas City Royals rallied past the Seattle Mariners to win 4-3 Wednesday night. The victory reduced the Royals' magic number to two for clinching the AL Central crown as they close in on their first division title in 30 years. They can lock it up tonight (THUR) with another victory over Seattle and a Minnesota loss to Cleveland. The defending AL champions have not won a division since taking the AL West in 1985 and going on to win the World Series.


Royals Reliever Holland Injured; Won't Pitch for Remainder of Season 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland will not pitch again this year due to a right elbow injury. Holland will see Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles next week to determine the severity of the injury. Holland, 29, leads the Royals with 32 saves in 37 opportunities, but has been erratic this season. His fastball velocity has dipped to the upper 80s and lower 90s mph. Manager Ned Yost acknowledged Holland has been pitching through elbow issues since the All-Star break. Yost said on Tuesday that Wade Davis would be his closer for the remainder of the season and postseason.


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