KSU athletics, NBAF lead year’s biggest news

By The Mercury

How news-crazy was 2013 in Manhattan and the surrounding area?

Well, in balloting by Mercury editors to determine the year’s top 10 stories, no less than 19 stories received at least one vote.

There were so many possibilities that the list bulged at the bottom – with a tie for 10th spot.

On the other hand, our No. 1 rose to the top like a rocket. As Mercury chairman Edward Seaton put it: “It was something we might never see again.”

The event was surely historic — not to mention sending the K-State Nation into utter delirium.

The rest of the list wasn’t nearly as clear-cut, in part because some things just don’t lend themselves to ranking news items.

For instance, Kansas State’s 150th anniversary was a historic celebration, and we covered countless ceremonies — but the sesquicentennial itself didn’t get voted into the top 10.

There were bizarre crimes with tragic consequences, along with some practical traffic news and a ruckus over the use of social media by academics.

And no surprise here: Bill Snyder had a hand (and a statue) in two of the year’s biggest news items.

If that seems matter of fact, however, many stories filling the list – and even Snyder’s involvement – contain plenty of fascinating tales.

Some made us proud, some forced us to wince.

But that’s what makes news so unpredictable, and why 2013 became a year to remember.


1K-State wins Big 12         triple crown


Despite participating in 12 sports, the Kansas State athletic department often goes years between conference championships.

But in 2012-13, K-State became one of only four schools in the BCS era to win league championships in football, men’s basketball and baseball in the same academic year — joining Texas (2005-06), Stanford (1999-00) and Louisville (2012-13).

There was tiny asterisk necessary for football and basketball, since those titles were shared with Oklahoma and Kansas, respectively.

But the trophies were real, and they’ve been displayed on billboards throughout the region for the past several months.

Those team titles, coupled with postseason appearances for the volleyball and women’s basketball teams, as well as the individual successes of Olympic high jumper Erik Kynard, three-time NCAA tennis qualifier Petra Niedermayerova and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein have given K-State fans an entertaining ride.

The banner year included K-State’s first Big 12 football title since 2003, the first men’s basketball championship since 1977 and the first baseball title since 1933.

K-State has won only three football conference championships in its history — 1934, 2003 and 2012.

2 NBAF signs positive, but           questions remain


Even as construction continues on the central utilities plant for the planned National Bio and Agro Defense Facility, it’s not entirely clear whether funding will actually come through to complete the billion-dollar facility.

The lab is intended to replace an aging lab at Plum Island, N.Y., and would conduct research on deadly animal pathogens.

President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a two-year budget deal that authorizes $404 million for NBAF (though the funding is not guaranteed until it passes as part of an appropriations bill).

That amount is not as much as the $714 million Obama included in his earlier budget, which means that the rest of the money will have to come later. But it is certainly a step in the right direction.

The government already has contributed $80 million for the utilities plant and $18 million for site preparation. In addition the state legislature has approved $202 million for the project.


3Researcher killed                 in apartment arson


On Feb. 6, a Kansas State University postdoctoral researcher was killed in an apartment fire intended as a diversion from a robbery.

Vasanta Pallem, 34, died from inhaling gases from the fire at Lee Crest Apartments, 820 Sunset Ave.

The fire was set by Patrick Martin Scahill, 21. He pleaded guilty to arson resulting in death in April and in July was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Scahill and conspirators Gavin Hairgrove, 20, Dennis Denzien, 21, Frank Hanson, 23, and Virginia Griese, 20, were involved in planning the fire as a distraction to police after Hanson and Denzien robbed a Dara’s Fast Lane convenience store, 1816 Claflin Road, with Scahill’s gun the morning of Feb. 5.

The conspirators were reportedly afraid that during a search of Scahill and Denzien’s apartment at 1838 Anderson Ave., police would find evidence of the robbery and also narcotics.

Police were called to the apartment not because of the robbery, but because there were reports that someone was firing a BB gun at parked cars that night.

An odor of marijuana led police to Scahill’s door, and the officers announced their intentions to search the apartment.

The group then created the diversion that would give Scahill time to re-enter the residence and remove incriminating evidence.

Around midnight on Feb. 6, Scahill and Griese drove to Lee Crest Apartments where Scahill poured gasoline in a hallway and started the fire that killed Pallem.

According to court documents, Griese purchased the gasoline Scahill used to set the fire and waited in the car.

Griese pleaded guilty to her involvement in April at the same time as Scahill. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Hairgrove pleaded guilty on Dec. 9 to being an accessory after the fact. He allegedly assisted Scahill with disposing his gasoline-smelling clothes and shoes after setting the fire. Hairgrove is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 24, 2014. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

Hanson, 23, was sentenced in August to 42 months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

Also in August, Denzien pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting a robbery for driving Hanson away after the crime. He was also sentenced to 20 months in prison. 



4Three charged       in double homicide


A mother and son were charged in connection with a Manhattan murder the weekend of Sept. 6. An acquaintance of theirs was arrested in both Geary and Riley counties for the Manhattan murder and a Junction City murder the same weekend.

Christina Love, 49, and her son James McKenith, 33, were arrested Sept. 11 on charges of first-degree murder in connection with the death of John Burroughs, 68, a resident of Redbud Estates Trailer Park.

Burroughs was found dead in his home on Sept. 8, shot and stabbed. Love and McKenith are accused of helping Anthony Nichols, 33, Kansas City, Kan., kill Burroughs.

Nichols also was arrested in for first-degree murder in Geary County in connection with the shooting death of 37-year-old Anthony Nixon of Junction City.

Police believe the crimes are drug-related. The three are pending court proceedings. A preliminary hearing for Love and McKenith is scheduled for Jan. 6 in Riley County District Court.

Nichols is expected to appear in Geary County court on Feb. 18, 2014.



5$90 million stadium expansion unveiled


The king of K-State football got a new castle in August with the opening of the West Stadium Center at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The 215,000-square foot facility underwent an extensive $90 million renovation (the second part of a six-phase improvement plan). It now boasts not only more room for fans on the enlarged concourse, but twice as many restrooms and concession stands.

A walk-through Hall of Fame features each of K-State’s athletic programs with interactive touch-screen monitors.

The space that housed the Cats’ Closet was transformed into a larger retail outlet for all things K-State, dubbed The K-State Super Store at the Stadium.

The project also included a new cafeteria for student athletes, an updated press box and outdoor patios.

While the original budget for the project was $75 million, the athletic department raised an extra $15 million that went to things like better lighting, new signage throughout the stadium and parking lot improvements.

The finishing touch was a statue of the king himself, coach Bill Snyder, unveiled just before the season opener in August.



6Schulz fires back   on social media


After the Kansas Board of Regents instituted a new social media policy for Kansas State professors earlier this month, university president Kirk Schulz and other faculty members expressed their displeasure.

The Regents’ policy said that any post “contrary to the message of the university” could result in suspension of the faculty member.

Schulz became the first university president in Kansas to express his opposition to the measure on Monday, writing in a letter to faculty, staff and students, “One of the fundamental principles of higher education in this country is the ability for faculty to speak out on controversial issues without fear of retribution.”

The policy came about after University of Kansas professor David Guth was placed on administrative leave after a Twitter rant against the National Rifle Association.



7Moderates elected in city vote


Manhattan voters in April elected three moderates for the city commission, which balancing the previous commission’s conservative majority and bringing the group closer to the middle of the road.

Voters chose former city and county commissioner Karen McCulloh and a new face, gradeschool teacher Usha Reddi, to four-year terms. The two-year term went to moderate incumbent Rich Jankovich.

The new commissioners replaced Loren Pepperd and Jim Sherow, neither of whom ran for re-election.

McCulloh and Reddi kept their campaign promises to support fixed routes for ATA Bus and the library expansion. Jankovich supported fixed routes and the library expansion while on the previous commission. He continued his support this year helping both issues gain approval from the city commission, but not without dissenting votes from Mayor John Matta and Commissioner Wynn Butler, who are the two conservatives who remain from the 2011 elections.


8Doc charged       for illegal prescriptions


Michael Schuster, 53, was indicted by a grand jury in May on allegations that he signed blank prescription forms that his staff used to give prescriptions to patients while he was out of the country.

The doctor practiced at Manhattan Pain and Spine, 1135 Westport Drive.

Prosecutors allege that 542 patients received prescription painkillers, including oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone, while he was away.

In October, Schuster was denied bail by a judge on the basis that he was a flight risk. The doctor was arrested April 23 at Manhattan Regional Airport.

One of Shuster’s former employees, Sarah Harding-Huffine, 29, also was indicted based on allegations that she wrote prescriptions for more than 20 people.

Harding-Huffine is charged of one count of conspiracy to distribute drugs and one count of drug distribution. She is free on bail.

Schuster is charged with conspiracy to illegally distribute controlled substances, drug distribution, unlawfully distributing drugs to a person under 21 years old and using and maintaining a premise for drug distribution.

His trial is scheduled for May 2014. 



990 arrested in area drug bust


An investigation dubbed Operation Adabag, conducted by several area agencies, resulted in the arrest of more than 90 people in May for the distribution of crack cocaine.

The members of the cocaine ring were arrested after an effort by the Riley County Police Department, the Geary County Sheriff’s Office, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation,the Geary County Attorney’s Office, Junction City Police Department and the Grandview Plaza Police Department.

The agencies investigated the case for more than a year before the arrests. Arrests were made throughout Manhattan, Ogden, Junction City and Grandview Plaza.

“If you’re one of the bad guys, just know that no matter where you are, you really can’t hide,” said RCPD director Brad Schoen. “You get on the radar, we’re going to work together to find you.”



10(TIE) K-18 reopens


A slow renovation process that began in 2010 finally ended when K-18 reopened in November.

The highway was reduced to two lanes for most of 2013, delaying traffic for those traveling on a 7-mile stretch of road between Manhattan and Ogden.

The road between the two towns was rebuilt to accommodate projected population growth in the area. The three-phase project included new bridges, a new interchange, flood control measures and associated utilities.

The $90 million project, funded by several entities including the state of Kansas, was completed in November when all lanes and ramps of the highway were opened. Final clean up and finishing work is scheduled to be finished in 2014.


10(TIE) Scientist accused of theft


A Manhattan man was one of two grain scientists from China accused in December of stealing rice samples from a research facility in Junction City.

Federal prosecutors said Weiqiang Zhang of Manhattan and Wengui Yan of Stuttgart, Ark., arranged for a Chinese delegation to visit the U.S. in August, and that customs agents later found the stolen seeds in the delegation’s luggage before the group flew back to China.

The two are charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets.

Zhang, 47, worked as an agricultural seed breeder at a Ventria Bioscience in Junction City.

The company, based in Fort Collins, Colo., develops rice that is genetically modified to grow proteins for medical and pharmaceutical uses.

Prosecutors said the business invested about $75 million in technology to create the seeds.

Investigators said a search of Zhang’s Manhattan residence turned up rice seeds similar to those the visiting delegation was attempting to take home.

If convicted, Zhang and Yan could face up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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