Ex-lawmaker guilty of bribery
ANCHORAGE — A former Alaskan lawmaker was convicted of bribery yesterday for getting thousands of dollars out of a corrections-company consultant in exchange for his help in the Legislature.
"I'm devastated," former state Rep. Tom Anderson said after the federal jury announced its verdict. Anderson, 39, was accused of conspiring to take money that he thought was coming from a private prison firm, Cornell Industries, Inc.
The money was supplied by the FBI through an informant working for Cornell who secretly recorded his conversations with Anderson and a co-conspirator, former municipal lobbyist Bill Bobrick. Judge John Sedwick ordered Anderson to surrender his passport and scheduled sentencing for Oct. 2.
Bus strike disrupts morning commute
SANTA ANA — Orange County's first bus strike in more than two decades disrupted the morning commute for thousands of riders yesterday after 1,100 transportation workers walked off the job.
The strike began Saturday after union leaders rejected a proposed contract offer.
Only 31 of the county's 81 bus lines were still running, most of them short routes and rail feeders operated by a subcontractor. Transit officials were bracing for plenty of confusion and frustrated residents.
"We're really hopeful this won't be a long-term situation. We want the union to come back and talk to us," said transit spokesman Joel Zlotnik.
Orange County Transportation Authority board members were to meet yesterday to discuss their next move, and members of the union picketed outside the transit headquarters. Both sides agreed yesterday morning to resume negotiations later in the day, which Mr. Zlotnik called a positive step.
About 70 percent of the public-transportation riders don't have access to a car.
The drivers are demanding a 14 percent pay raise spread over three years.
More inmates may go to problematic prison
BOISE — The state's top prison official wants to send more inmates to a Texas lockup run by a private company, which is accused of abuse by guards, a suicide, filthy conditions and lack of treatment.
Prison Director Brent Reinke concedes his agency failed to properly monitor conditions but said moving inmates to another prison run by the GEO Group doesn't mean problems will recur.
Van injures four at Cosi restaurant
CHICAGO — A van veered off a downtown street and slammed into a restaurant Monday, injuring four persons, two critically, authorities said.
The driver suddenly veered onto the sidewalk about 9:30 a.m., hitting a pedestrian and striking the Cosi restaurant, Chicago police spokesman John Henry said. A witness said the driver appeared to have been trying to avoid another vehicle.
The pedestrian and a person in the van were taken to hospitals in critical condition, said Chicago Fire Department spokeswoman Eve Rodriguez. Two others injured in the van were in stable and good condition, she said.
Mr. Henry said police had not determined whether citations would be issued.
"I've been shaking all morning," said Tom McCarthy, 30, who was at the restaurant and saw the crash. "It was just the scariest thing I'd ever seen."
Wandering toddler's mother pleads guilty
INDIANAPOLIS — A woman whose 3-year-old son was found wandering on a busy highway pleaded guilty yesterday to child neglect charges.
Nancy Dyer, 31, was arrested Dec. 30 after stunned motorists found her son running on Interstate 465 on the city's northwestern side, wearing only a diaper and a T-shirt. The boy was not hurt.
Dyer admitted in court before her bench trial was to start that she had been sleeping about 9 a.m. the day her son was found on the highway and that she knew the boy could get out of their apartment. She pleaded guilty to three of four counts against her of neglect of a dependent.
Prosecutor Carl Brizzi said his office would seek a two-year prison term for Dyer when she is sentenced Aug. 20. He said it was just happenstance that the boy was not hurt.
Authorities said at least six cars and a semitrailer swerved into other highway lanes to avoid the boy, who after leaving the family's second-floor apartment, got around a fence and onto the highway about 200 yards away.
Body of missing boy found in garbage truck
LOUISVILLE — The body of a 4-year-old boy who disappeared outside his home near Churchill Downs was found in a garbage truck over the weekend, and authorities say he was killed.
Cezar "Ivan" Aguilar-Cano was last seen playing outside his apartment building on June 29 near the home of the Kentucky Derby. His death was a homicide, Jefferson County Coroner Ron Holmes said.
Trash workers discovered the body Saturday in the neighborhood where he was last seen alive.
Police had received more than 100 tips, and authorities, friends and neighbors organized extensive searches for the child. A Louisville-based advocacy group for missing children, the Exploited Children's Help Organization, asked volunteers to take thousands of fliers door to door within a mile of the boy's home to dig up leads.
Neighbors told police that Cesar was a curious boy who would sometimes run around the complex unsupervised. It wasn't uncommon for the boy to go inside open apartment doors, they said
No arrests have been made, authorities said.
Court officials' cars head for auction block
LANSING — This year's state auction of surplus vehicles will include vehicles that members of the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals drove at taxpayer expense until earlier this year.
Justices and judges gave up their vehicles this year as the state faced a budget crisis. Use of state vehicles was a perk dating to the 1960s.
Man charged in acrobat-slave case
LAS VEGAS — Three men are facing criminal charges in Las Vegas over slavery accusations concerning 20 members of a Chinese acrobatic troupe, justice officials said yesterday.
A spokesman for the FBI's Las Vegas office said the men — Li Youzhi, 38, Shen Yang, 21, and Hu Jun, 43 — were arrested last week after authorities were contacted by a woman working with the troupe.
The woman, a Chinese national who worked as an interpreter for the team — China Star Acrobats — told police that she and other members of the squad were being held against their will, the FBI said.
The FBI raided the house in Las Vegas and found 14 members of the troupe who were identified as victims of human trafficking and were then taken into protective custody.
An FBI spokesman said the acrobats had been given limited food, were not being paid the salary promised to them and had had their passports and visas confiscated.
They were also watched and controlled by "enforcers," who instilled a fear that "their families in China, as well as themselves, would be harmed if they attempted to leave," the FBI said.
Prosecutors say the acrobats were also forced to live with up to six people in a room.
Infection reporting gets $1 in funds
CONCORD — Hospitals are unlikely to comply with a new state law requiring them to report when patients contract three serious infections because the legislature allocated only $1 for the program.
Supporters say the public deserves to know about hospital-acquired infections, but opponents argue tracking and reporting the data is complex and expensive.
Charges dropped for exonerated man
ELIZABETH — Prosecutors yesterday dropped all the remaining charges against a man who spent 22 years in prison for the murder and rape of two children but was recently freed after DNA testing exonerated him.
In a statement released before a court hearing yesterday, Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow said he decided not to pursue the remaining charges after "careful re-evaluation of the case" against Byron Halsey.
Mr. Halsey, 46, was released from prison on May 15 after prosecutors threw out his convictions. New DNA testing, not available when he was convicted, linked a neighbor to the crime.
However, until yesterday, Mr. Halsey still faced charges of aggravated sexual assault, aggravated manslaughter, felony murder, child abuse and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
Mr. Halsey was convicted in 1988 of murdering and sexually assaulting Tyrone and Tina Urquhart, the children of his live-in girlfriend, at a Plainfield rooming house.
UNC president hits state lottery ads
CHAPEL HILL — University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles said state campuses shouldn't allow ads for the state lottery at sporting events because they encourage gambling.
The contracts between the lottery and the universities for radio ads, signs and announcements during games expired last week, and the president asked chancellors not to renew contracts.
Mother Nature gives firefighters a hand
HOT SPRINGS — Overnight rain and lower temperatures slowed a wildfire that had raced out of a canyon, destroyed at least 30 houses and killed a homeowner who went back to try to save his belongings, a top fire official said yesterday.
The change in weather gave firefighters a chance to shore up their fire lines, though conditions could shift again for the worse, state wildland fire coordinator Joe Lowe told crews at a morning briefing held in light rain.
"This fire is not over yet," he said. "This fire could come back to life again."
The blaze was started by lightning on Saturday, and by yesterday, it had covered about 11 square miles just southwest of Hot Springs, on the southern side of the Black Hills. It was 20 percent contained, and crews expected to have it fully contained by Thursday. A state highway that cuts through the fire area remained closed.
Among the evacuees taking shelter at a Hot Springs community center was Mary Goulet, who said she and her husband didn't realize the seriousness until it was almost too late. She said she called 911 when fire surrounded the house.
"The flames burned our cars, and we couldn't get out," she said. Then a firefighter in protective gear appeared at their door and led them to his firetruck and to escape, she said.
Crews in California's eastern Sierra Nevada also gained ground against a fire that had charred at least 37,000 acres, or 58 square miles, in the Inyo National Forest.
Fresh flooding renews misery
DALLAS — A new round of flooding swamped parts of Texas, leading officials in one county to declare a fresh disaster area in the hard-hit Plains.
Smith County officials made a disaster declaration Sunday night, asking for state and federal aid. They say flooding has caused about $200,000 worth of damage to their eastern Texas county.
"We still have areas that are dangerous," county Commissioner Bill McGinnis told KLTV of Tyler. "We have barricaded those off. We beg people not to go around those barricades because it is just so extremely dangerous to do that."
The search for a 26-year-old man missing since his raft capsized on the rain-swollen Trinity River near Fort Worth resumed yesterday morning, said Kent Worley, spokesman for the Fort Worth Fire Department.
Teams had shifted their search from a rescue mission to a recovery, Mr. Worley said.
"The water has gone down, but it's still fairly swift. It's still fairly rapid," he said.
In central Texas, some homes in low-lying areas were flooded in Hico, about 100 miles southwest of Dallas. No injuries were reported, but some major roads into the town were closed.
High temperatures blamed in fish deaths
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — A heat wave has warmed the Firehole River to as much as 82 degrees, killing hundreds of rainbow and brown trout.
Park officials say the trout died last week when temperatures reached triple digits in some places. The warm water has prompted voluntary fishing restrictions along several Yellowstone rivers and streams.
From combined dispatch and wire reports