- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

COLORADO

Man gets stuck in chimney

WESTMINSTER — Santa must have a trick.

A man who was locked out of his house in this Denver suburb tried to get in by sliding down the chimney early Friday, but he got stuck and had to be rescued, authorities said.

The man, whose name wasn’t released, fell about 12 feet down the shaft. Authorities said he was hurt but did not elaborate on the nature and extent of his injuries.

He convinced authorities it was his home, and there was no evidence he was breaking in, city spokeswoman Jennifer Galli said. Police were present but made no arrests.

Firefighters rescued the man by lowering a ladder into the chimney and lifting him to safety, Miss Galli said.

Emergency workers were summoned at about 3:20 a.m., but it wasn’t clear who called them.

FLORIDA

Cougar mauls girl at birthday party

CORAL GABLES — A 4-year-old girl was mauled at a children’s birthday party by a cougar that had been brought in by a wild-animal business to entertain the youngsters, authorities said.

The girl was attacked on Nov. 18 at the home of Goya Foods President Francisco Unanue during a party for his 7-year-old child and suffered severe cuts to her eyelid, cheek and ear, authorities said. Doctors sewed back part of her severed ear.

Police said Wild Animal World owner and trainer Corinne Oltz removed the leashed cougar from its cage to show it to the children, but the girl sneaked behind the trainer and startled the animal. The declawed cat took the child’s head with her teeth.

The 62-pound cougar was destroyed so that it could be tested for rabies; it did not have rabies.

State wildlife officials said Friday they were considering charges against Wild Animal World, a company that provides wild animals for parties.

MINNESOTA

School bus crashes into SUV, injures 20

HAM LAKE — A school bus crashed into a sport utility vehicle Friday after its brakes apparently failed, injuring more than 20 people, four of them critically, authorities said.

The bus driver was trying to stop at a red light but could not slow down. “He pushed on the pedal, and it was rock-hard,” sheriff’s Capt. Dave Jenkins said.

About two dozen people were taken to hospitals. The drivers of the SUV and a station wagon were critically injured, along with two students.

Mark Van Voorhis, principal of McKinley Elementary School, where the bus was going, said roughly 40 students were aboard the bus. Eighteen were taken to hospitals.

NEW JERSEY

Proposal requires medical insurance

TRENTON — State lawmakers are drafting a plan to bring universal health insurance to New Jersey, a step that would extend coverage to more than 1 million New Jersey residents.

The proposal, which could be introduced early next year, would require every resident to obtain medical insurance — similar to the way drivers here must have automobile insurance — and require residents to file proof of insurance with their state income tax returns, the Newark Star-Ledger reports.

Those who don’t have coverage would join a state-subsidized plan. Uninsured patients who arrive at an emergency room would be automatically enrolled. Employers not offering insurance would be expected to establish pretax accounts and deduct premiums from workers’ paychecks.

Officials say the plan could cost state taxpayers at least $1.7 billion in the first year alone.

NEW YORK

City to go easy on fat-ban fines

NEW YORK — City officials are promising to be gentle when it comes to enforcing the first-in-the-nation ban on trans fats, which restaurants will have more than a year to rid from their food.

But the food industry fears the ban — approved last week — will lead to hefty fines against kitchens that inadvertently fail to remove the artificial fats from every item on the menu.

Restaurant owners say the city has been increasingly tough in policing code violations in recent years, and some in the industry don’t expect that will change.

“They feel that these people are out to whack these restaurants, and it’s a cash cow for that purpose,” said Richard Lipsky of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance.

City officials strongly deny inspectors will start snooping through pantry shelves simply to run up fines. The health department is pledging “technical support” to cooks before the first part of the ban takes effect next summer.

The new trans-fat rule bans food containing more than trace amounts of artificial trans fats. Another change requires about 2,000 fast-food joints to put calorie information on their menus.

OHIO

Secret Santa gives money to strangers

COLUMBUS — One of Santa’s helpers roamed the streets, thrift stores and coin-operated laundries of the state’s capital, making small talk before peeling $100 bills from his pocket and giving them to needy strangers.

“He just said ‘Merry Christmas’ and gave me $100,” said Yvonne Dail, 50. “I don’t know what to say except that I needed it. I just got divorced, had my gas turned off, and I’ve been feeling pretty low.”

Shannen Messer, 27, who is helping his sister raise seven children, had $15 in his wallet Wednesday when Secret Santa gave him and his sister $300 as they shopped at a Volunteers of America thrift store.

When the day was done, the Secret Santa had handed out $4,500.

The network of Secret Santas was started by Kansas City businessman Larry Stewart, who began giving out cash anonymously in 1979. Mr. Stewart recently revealed his identity along with the news that he is battling cancer, but the identities of the other Secret Santas he has recruited over the years remains a secret.

PENNSYLVANIA

Family gets fake tree to avoid opossum

ENGLEWOOD — A woman who hurled last year’s Christmas tree out in the yard when an opossum popped out, scaring her teenage daughter, said the family will stick with an artificial tree this year.

“My daughter’s still afraid she’ll look at the tree and see eyes looking back at her,” Patricia A. O’Connor said. Though her husband, Michael, would like a real tree, she said, “We thought we’d give it one more year.”

Daughter Mary Kathleen O’Connor was doing her homework by the tree a few days before Christmas, when, she said at the time, “this head just popped up. — I was thinking, ‘Oh my God!’ And I screamed.”

The family came running and called the state Game Commission. A wildlife conservation officer removed an 18-inch-long opossum and released it in the woods about five miles away.

TENNESSEE

Woman steals to impress boyfriend

McMINNVILLE — A married woman stole items worth tens of thousands of dollars in a string of burglaries to make her boyfriend think she had a high-paying job, authorities said.

Nickey Davidson, 25, is charged with three counts of aggravated burglary and theft in a series of house burglaries that seem to have been used to finance a double life.

“When we told her boyfriend about what had happened, he was shocked. He was even more shocked to find out she is still married,” Warren County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Tommy Myers said.

Capt. Myers said the thefts involved items that would not immediately be detected as missing, such as checks from the back of a checkbook or guns from a large collection.

In the last burglary, $15,000 worth of jewelry was stolen from a home, though thousands of dollars worth of jewelry sitting in plain sight was left behind.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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