- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2003

ALABAMA

Teen due in court on murder charges

FAYETTE — A teenager faces arraignment today on capital murder charges in the fatal shooting of two police officers and a dispatcher who were gunned down as they booked the teen on a car-theft charge.

Devin Moore, 18, will be charged at the Fayette police station with capital murder in the Saturday slayings, Fayette County District Attorney Chris McCool said.

The police officers and dispatcher were killed after Mr. Moore snatched one of the officers’ guns and opened fire, police say. He fled in a police vehicle but was captured about 3 hours later in Mississippi, about 12 miles west of the Alabama border.

Officer Arnold Strickland, in his mid-50s, Cpl. James Crump, 40, and dispatcher Leslie “Ace” Mealer, 40, were killed.

ARIZONA

Fugitive sighting prompts new search

PHOENIX — Scottsdale police searched anew Saturday for Robert Fisher, the fugitive who police believe killed his family and blew up his home two years ago, after a woman said she saw Mr. Fisher in his old neighborhood.

“We got a call at 6:50 a.m. from a neighbor who said she, in fact, saw Robert Fisher in front of his [former] house,” Sgt. Doug Dirren, a Scottsdale police spokesman told the Arizona Republic.

Mr. Fisher, a cardiac technician and former Navy firefighter, is on the FBI’s list of most-wanted fugitives. On April 10, 2001, the charred remains of his wife, Mary, and two children were discovered in their beds after the house exploded.

The victims were killed before the blast, which was set intentionally.

Days later authorities found Mr. Fisher’s dog and sport utility vehicle in the woods east of Payson, but Mr. Fisher was not found.

GEORGIA

State will license gator hunters

MACON — Georgia has declared open hunting season on its booming alligator population, which has grown during the past few decades from nearly nothing to a nuisance.

Starting in September, Georgia will join neighboring states when it holds its first alligator-hunting season. Officials say hunters will help the state get rid of alligators that have settled in creeks and near homes and businesses.

The state’s alligator population has jumped from almost none in the 1960s to about 200,000 today, said Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Melissa Cummings.

Hunting will be restricted to select counties, mostly along the coast and in the southwest corner of the state.

ILLINOIS

Skydiving center owner dies in jump accident

OTTAWA — The owner of a skydiving center, whose business had been criticized for a high number of fatalities and who once served time for drug smuggling, has died in a parachuting accident at his facility.

Roger Nelson, 48, was jumping Saturday with another man, who bumped into Mr. Nelson and caused his parachute to collapse, investigators said.

Mr. Nelson was pronounced dead at a hospital, police said.

The other parachutist, Todd Fey, 43, of Fargo, N.D., was being treated at a hospital.

Mr. Nelson’s death was the 14th at Skydive Chicago since the facility opened in 1993. Eleven of those deaths occurred in the past five years, making the center’s fatality rate eight times the national average.

LOUISIANA

State offers tourists quickie marriages

BATON ROUGE — Gov. Mike Foster wasted no time legalizing quickie marriages in New Orleans.

Mr. Foster, a Republican, signed Senate Bill 565 on Friday, the day he officially got it from the Legislature, which passed it by large margins, the Baton Rouge Advocate reports.

The law allows out-of-state visitors to New Orleans to waive the traditional three-day waiting period between getting a marriage license and tying the knot. It took effect Friday.

The law is designed to turn touristy New Orleans into a marriage mecca like Las Vegas.

Impatient Louisiana couples, however, will still have to go to Vegas. The waiting period still applies to Louisiana citizens in New Orleans and elsewhere in the state.

MASSACHUSETTS

Archdiocese will announce replacement

BOSTON — The Archdiocese of Boston is expected to announce a permanent replacement for Cardinal Bernard Law this month and has identified locations where the announcement could be made, according to a published report.

Citing unidentified church officials, the Boston Sunday Globe reported that Pope John Paul II’s choice to lead the archdiocese could be made public as early as tomorrow.

Some church officials with knowledge of the internal process believe that the most likely candidate is Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh, according to the Globe. It also named Archbishops Harry J. Flynn of Minneapolis-St. Paul and Edwin F. O’Brien of the Military Services as possible candidates.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for Boston’s interim administrator, Bishop Richard Lennon, confirmed that he had been seeking sites for the announcement but said the report is speculative.

MISSISSIPPI

State’s reputation for lawsuits grows

BILOXI — In recent years, Mississippi has become infamous on the national scene for its “jackpot justice”; its 22nd Circuit Court District, dubbed a judicial “hellhole”; and its record-setting jury awards.

The state became a popular place for filing class-action lawsuits, such as the one filed against a pharmaceutical company for the diet drug fen-phen.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has warned companies about doing business in Mississippi, calling the state the “lawsuit mecca of America.”

Last year, the Tort Reform Association named 11 areas “judicial hellholes,” including Mississippi’s 22nd Circuit Court District, which covers Claiborne, Copiah and Jefferson counties.

NEVADA

Brothel holds grand opening

PATRICK — The champagne flowed, employees milled with guests sampling hors d’oeurves and the hostess proclaimed the grand opening a success.

It wasn’t an ordinary opening, though. The hostess is a madam, and the employees are prostitutes who say the luxurious Wild Horse Resort & Spa has elevated the brothel business to a new level.

“I want to be the finest in the world,” owner and real estate developer Lance Gilman said at the open house Saturday. “I want it to be known as a resort and a spa and a fine restaurant that also has a brothel license.”

General manager and madam Susan Austin, who supervised everything, including the African hunting trophies in the parlor and the paint schemes in the private suites, echoes Mr. Gilman’s quest for excellence in decor and employees.

“I tried to create a feeling in the house that … makes it clean, elegant, beautiful,” she said.

NORTH CAROLINA

Student electrocuted at rock concert

CHARLOTTE — Authorities are investigating the death of a college student who was electrocuted while walking barefoot on a wet stairway during a concert by Snoop Dogg and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Ashley Faris, 26, was pronounced dead at a hospital Friday, police said. A passer-by who tried to help him was treated at the hospital for electrical shock but was released Saturday.

Police said Mr. Faris, a University of North Carolina-Charlotte student, was walking Friday night on a lighted, concrete stairway with metal edges at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre when he was electrocuted.

Verizon officials have declined to answer questions about the incident, providing only written statements.

OHIO

Men plead not guilty in girl’s gang rape

AKRON — Four men have pleaded not guilty to charges that they kidnapped and raped a 13-year-old girl.

Darryl Clay, 18; Mark Conwell, 18; Davon Debman, 20; and Jimmy Schmidt, 20, all of Akron, were arraigned Friday. Each is jailed on $100,000 bail.

County Prosecutor Sherry Bevan Walsh said the men are charged with rape, kidnapping, sexual battery, unlawful sexual contact with a minor and gross sexual imposition.

Another suspect, 18-year-old Lamar D. Harris, remains at large. He’s charged with kidnapping and intimidating a witness.

Two Akron police officers testified Friday that the girl told them that as many as 20 men forced her into sexual acts in the basement of an Akron house.

PENNSYLVANIA

Guardsmen return from Middle East

PITTSBURGH — Master Sgt. Matt Vybiral was looking forward to spending time with his wife and children — and tasting his first glass of fresh milk in three months — after returning from active duty in the Middle East.

Sgt. Vybiral was one of a dozen members of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 171st Air Refueling Wing who arrived back in Pittsburgh on Saturday. A 13th member of his squad returned earlier.

He and his security team had served in Qatar and Iraq.

“I look at the mission as a complete success,” Sgt. Vybiral, the squad leader, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a telephone interview. “I left with 13 and came home with 13.”

The 171st operates from a military airfield next to Pittsburgh International Airport. Sgt. Vybiral, a bus driver in civilian life, and his wife, Gail, have four children. All were among the friends and family on hand to greet the reservists on their return.

He is a 20-year member of the National Guard and also was called up during the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the Kosovo campaign of 1999.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Gullahs preserve distinct culture

CHARLESTON — The right hand presses the dry bundle of sweetgrass firmly together, while the left wraps the hard strip of palmetto palm around the grass bundle.

With her fast fingers, Elouise Frazier is keeping alive the ancient West African basket-weaving tradition.

Mrs. Frazier is a member of the Gullah-Geechee ethnic group, which sells its artful baskets in a former slave market in Charleston.

“I learned the art 55 years ago from my grandmother,” she said with pride.

It is being left to the older generations to preserve Gullah-Geechee culture along the southeast coast of the country.

After their liberation during the Civil War, many Gullahs stayed on the islands and bought the land they had worked on earlier as slaves.

TEXAS

‘Railroad killer’ claims more slayings

HOUSTON — Since his arrest four years ago, the man known as the “Railroad Killer” has given authorities crucial details that have helped close four murder cases in three states.

However, Angel Maturino Resendiz, who sits on Texas’ death row for one of 14 murders he is accused of committing, has not convinced investigators that he was behind another killing.

Two persons are serving life sentences for a June 1998 slaying of a man near Houston whom Resendiz says he killed.

“Nobody seems to be interested in these cases,” Resendiz, 43, told the Associated Press in an interview from death row. “One thing you can take back on this case, they can never prove one case that I’ve claimed that I haven’t done.”

Information that Resendiz provided led to the discovery of a body in Florida and to official conclusions that he was the killer in two slayings there, one in Texas’ Bexar County, and another in Carl, Ga.

UTAH

Rescue pilot killed in copter crash

SALT LAKE CITY — A Life Flight helicopter based in Salt Lake City crashed Saturday, in the second such incident in five months, killing its pilot and seriously injuring a flight nurse and paramedic.

The helicopter, which had just been involved in a rescue of a heat-stricken hiker from Mount Olympus, was on its way back to LDS Hospital about 8:15 p.m. when it dropped suddenly from 600 feet in the air, landing on the foothills above Wasatch Drive near 5600 South.

Authorities did not release names of those injured, pending notification of family members.

“It’s devastating,” Jess Gomez, spokesman for LDS Hospital, which operates the Life Flight service, told the Salt Lake Tribune.

The flight nurse was expected to be released yesterday after sustaining minor injuries, and the paramedic was listed in satisfactory condition and being held for observation. That they survived, Mr. Gomez said, “is pretty miraculous, considering the crash scene.”

The 20-year-old female hiker was dropped off just moments before the crash in a hoist operation delivering her from the canyons to a nearby command center.

WISCONSIN

Disease outbreak linked to prairie dogs

MADISON — Doctors initially feared a smallpox outbreak as they began seeing cases of a mysterious disease that has spread to at least 19 persons who came into contact with pet prairie dogs in the Midwest, health officials said yesterday.

The symptoms were alarmingly similar — fever, chills, rashes and swollen lymph nodes — said Milwaukee’s health commissioner, Dr. Seth Foldy. It was when the prairie dog connection surfaced that they knew it must be something else.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday that pet prairie dogs from Phil’s Pocket Pets, a suburban Chicago pet distributor, are likely to be infected with monkeypox, a member of the same viral family as smallpox.

At least 17 persons in Wisconsin, and one each in Illinois and Indiana have become sick since early May with symptoms consistent with monkeypox after coming in contact with prairie dogs.

Monkeypox, found in West African nations, has never been detected in the Western Hemisphere. If the disease gets a foothold in indigenous North American species, it could become almost impossible to control and more people could become ill, Dr. Foldy said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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