- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

TEXAS

Yates pleads insanity again

HOUSTON — Andrea Yates pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity yesterday in the drowning deaths of her children as she made her first court appearance since her 2002 capital murder convictions were overturned.

State District Judge Belinda Hill set a March 20 date for Mrs. Yates’ retrial.

During her original trial, jurors rejected her insanity defense and found her guilty for the 2001 deaths of three of the children drowned in the family bathtub. She was sentenced to life in prison, but her convictions were overturned in January 2005 by a state appeals court.

WEST VIRGINIA

Surviving miner fights fever

BUCKHANNON — Doctors treating Randal McCloy Jr. yesterday said the sole survivor of the Sago Mine disaster has developed a slight fever and remains in critical condition.

The doctors declined to speculate on when the 26-year-old would awake fully from a medically induced coma or comment on the extent of any brain damage suffered in the disaster that killed 12 fellow coal miners.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said federal mine safety officials would be called to testify before a Senate subcommittee that would begin hearings into the disaster Jan. 19.

ALABAMA

Budget battles loom with surplus

MONTGOMERY — After several years of fighting over how to spend too few dollars and seeking ways to balance state budgets, lawmakers face a surplus in the education budget of between $300 million and $1 billion.

House Speaker Seth Hammett, a Democrat, says the toughest budget fights often occur when a surplus of money is available to spend. The Legislature will open its regular session today.

CALIFORNIA

Arson attempt claims man’s life

DOWNEY — A man apparently upset about a parking dispute died in his burning house after trying to set fire to two of his neighbors’ homes using “homemade bombs,” authorities said.

Only the man was injured. His home in this Southern California town burned to the ground.

Police received a call about an explosion early Sunday and found the unidentified man, who was in his 80s, standing in the street holding two handguns. One of his arms was in flames. When police told him to drop the guns, he fled into his house. Minutes later, flames and smoke spewed from the home, followed by several explosions, the city said.

The homemade bombs at the neighbors’ houses did not ignite fully, the city said, but fire caused extensive damage to the house next door. A 5-gallon canister of flammable liquid that police think the man placed next to that home ignited but caused minimal damage.

COLORADO

Snowfall helps tame wildfire

DENVER — Snowfall during the night helped crews battling a wind-driven, 5,000-acre wildfire yesterday that had destroyed at least three homes in a southern Colorado town, but residents remained on alert for evacuation orders.

Residents of 215 homes near the southern Colorado town of Aguilar already had fled, and no injuries were reported. U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Barb Timock said the fire was human-caused but that no other details were available.

The fire in the Spanish Peaks area, about 160 miles south of Denver, was roughly 5 percent contained, authorities said. Wind gusts of up to 74 mph were reported Sunday.

That blaze, and at least 43 wildfires in Arkansas, erupted after fires on the drought-parched southern Plains ravaged parts of Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. At least 475 homes have been destroyed, and five persons have been killed.

FLORIDA

Professor charged as Castro agent

MIAMI — A college professor and his wife, a university administrator, have been charged with being illegal agents of Cuba’s communist government run by President Fidel Castro, according to court documents unsealed yesterday.

Carlos Alvarez, 61, a psychology professor at Florida International University, and his wife, Elsa Alvarez, 55, have been charged with acting as agents of Cuba without registering with the U.S. government as required.

They were ordered held without bond by U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton, who rejected pleas by their attorneys for release on bail. Judge Simonton said she agreed with federal prosecutors that the couple would leave their five children and return to Cuba if released.

Neither defendant entered a plea, and another hearing was set for Jan. 19. They were arrested Friday, months after giving voluntary statements during the summer about their contacts with Cuba to the FBI, prosecutors said.

Brian Frazier, an assistant U.S. attorney, said Mr. Alvarez had spied for Cuba since 1977 and his wife since 1982. Neither was charged with the more serious offense of espionage, and FBI agents acknowledged there is not evidence that they provided classified or military information to Cuba. Much of what they provided, Mr. Frazier said, involved information about the U.S. political situation, prominent Cuban-Americans in South Florida and the names of at least one FBI agent.

IDAHO

Fuel truck hits jet at airport

BOISE — A fuel truck struck an engine on a United Airlines jet waiting to leave a gate at the Boise airport, causing damage that could cost millions of dollars to fix, officials said. No one was injured.

The Western Aircraft fuel truck failed to stop while approaching the Boeing 737 Sunday afternoon, and both the engine and the truck were damaged, airport police Sgt. Bruce Gard said.

The plane was grounded and more than 100 passengers on United Flight 352 to Denver had to be put on other flights, with some forced to wait overnight, airline spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

LOUISIANA

Man dies trying to save niece

THORNWELL — A man who had helped his wife, daughter and a friend escape their burning home ran back inside for his 6-year-old niece but never made it out, authorities said.

Fire investigators were trying to determine what started the blaze early Saturday near Thornwell. Relatives said the family awoke about 3:30 a.m. to find the house on fire.

Louis Richard Jr., 45, was found two feet from the back door, still carrying his niece, Angela Dawn Ortego, said Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff Ricky Edwards.

Mr. Richard and his wife, Tammy, were the girl’s guardians.

MASSACHUSETTS

Accused priest killer goes on trial

BOSTON — Jury selection began yesterday for the trial of a prison inmate accused of killing convicted pedophile priest John Geoghan, with some prospects expressing doubts they could be impartial in the highly publicized case.

The trial of Joseph Druce will be less about whether he beat and strangled the former Roman Catholic priest in his prison cell in August 2003 than about whether he should be held criminally responsible.

Druce’s attorney, John LaChance, has said he plans to use an insanity defense, arguing during pretrial hearings that Druce was suffering from a “major mental illness” when he killed Geoghan, one of the men at the center of the clergy sex-abuse scandal.

Five jurors — three men and two women — were seated by early afternoon. About a dozen were dismissed from a jury pool of about 60 people.

MONTANA

Escaped cow may be spared

GREAT FALLS — A spirited cow that jumped a slaughterhouse gate and evaded capture for six hours has drawn clemency pleas and may not be doomed after all.

Appeals to spare the life of the 1,200-pound heifer came from across the nation after she fled Mickey’s Packing Plant on Thursday, and had several near-death experiences before walking into a makeshift pen and then a stock trailer.

Road and rail traffic nearly hit her, she almost drowned while crossing the Missouri River, and she refused to be stilled by three tranquilizer darts.

The manager of Mickey’s Packing Plant said the animal he dubbed Molly B. probably will be spared from the killing floor. Employees at Mickey’s voted 10-1 to keep her alive.

Manager Del Morris said the owner is willing to sell Molly B., who remained at the packing plant after her capture, but wants more than the estimated $1,140 she is worth slaughtered.

NEW YORK

Ferry pilot sent to prison

NEW YORK — The pilot at the helm of a Staten Island ferry during a 2003 crash that killed 11 persons was sentenced yesterday to a harsher-than-expected 18 months in prison. The city’s former ferry director was sentenced to one year in prison.

Assistant captain Richard Smith apologized to victims’ families and recalled how he was too exhausted to have been working that day.

The ferry director, Patrick Ryan, apologized to the families of the victims before he was sentenced to one year and a day.

The ferry crash was one of the worst mass-transit disasters in New York history. On a blustery day, the ferry Andrew J. Barberi set out on a routine run. As the vessel approached Staten Island, Smith — suffering from extreme fatigue and on painkillers — blacked out. The ship hit a concrete maintenance pier at full speed, injuring dozens of passengers.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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