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American Scene

- - Thursday, December 17, 2009

ALABAMA

Candle services need firefighters

HOMEWOOD — Churches in an Alabama city better count on a few extra guests at Christmas Eve candlelight ceremonies.

The Birmingham suburb of Homewood requires a permit and four off-duty firefighters to attend any service where candles are passed out to parishioners.

Fire Chief John Bresnan said the rule has been in place for 10 years, but many churches didn't know about it.

Pastor Sid Burgess of Edgewood Presbyterian Church said that the rule "does seem like overkill" and that the cost of up to $400 to hire firefighters can be a lot for a small church.

The rule doesn't apply if ministers and other church leaders are the only ones handling the flames.

The fire chief said the rule was to ensure safety in crowded rooms with open flames.

COLORADO

Boy shoots self with hidden gun

CORTEZ — Authorities say a 12-year-old Colorado boy accidentally shot himself in the leg while playing with a loaded pistol that his parents had hidden behind the family Christmas tree.

Montezuma County Sheriff Gerald Wallace said that the boy was shot in the calf Monday morning but that the injury wasn't serious.

Sheriff Wallace said the parents had left for work, but other family members took the boy to a hospital.

The sheriff said he won't recommend charges because the parents had left the .22-caliber pistol a reasonable distance from the child.

It wasn't clear why the weapon was hidden there. Sheriff Wallace said the boy was "digging around" when he found it. His father had other weapons locked in a safe.

FLORIDA

Police chief 'friendly' with Ponzi suspect

FORT LAUDERDALE — The Fort Lauderdale police chief says he developed a "friendly relationship" with a South Florida lawyer charged by federal authorities with operating a $1 billion Ponzi scheme and was surprised to learn about the allegations.

Chief Franklin Adderley issued a written statement Wednesday responding to allegations by local media about his relationship with disbarred attorney Scott Rothstein.

He said that as police chief, he associates and has relationships with a diverse group of people, and it was through those contacts that he developed a friendly relationship with Mr. Rothstein.

Chief Adderley said that if he had known or suspected that Mr. Rothstein was participating in illegal activity, "I would have initiated an investigation and certainly would not have associated with him."

ILLINOIS

Quinn says he knew about prison release

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he knew ahead of time that his Corrections Department planned to begin releasing some prisoners after just a few days behind bars.

But Mr. Quinn wouldn't explain Wednesday why he halted the practice after the Associated Press reported the release of hundreds of inmates — including some convicted of violent crimes.

He also refused to say whether he knew the release program would include violent criminals.

The governor said his corrections director had told him about the plan, which includes dropping a policy of requiring that all inmates serve at least 61 days in prison. That change makes some inmates eligible for release almost as soon as they arrive in prison.

Mr. Quinn has ordered a review of the program.

OHIO

Day care sued amid sleep aid probe

CINCINNATI — The parents of an Ohio infant say the girl often appeared groggy after attending a church day care where some workers are accused of giving children an over-the-counter dietary supplement at nap time.

Joseph and Andrea Coleman have filed a lawsuit against Covenant Apostolic Church near Cincinnati.

Their attorney, Alan Statman, said Wednesday that he is seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.

Messages seeking comment were left at the church. The pastor has said he learned of the allegations Sunday and later fired two staffers.

Springfield Township police are investigating allegations that melatonin was given to some children.

PENNSYLVANIA

Kidnap-hoax mom wins early release

DOYLESTOWN — A Pennsylvania woman who falsely claimed she and her 9-year-old daughter were abducted by two men, only to be found later at Disney World, could be freed from prison in two months.

A judge Wednesday agreed to release Bonnie Sweeten, of Feasterville, on house arrest after she serves about six months of her nine- to 24-month prison term.

Sweeten, 38, has been in prison since her August guilty plea to identity theft and making false reports. The judge once called her calculating and manipulative. But Sweeten says she has changed in prison.

Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry says Sweeten remains a flight risk.

Federal authorities also are investigating allegations that Sweeten stole money from relatives and her employer.

TEXAS

Parents fight school over son's long hair

BALCH SPRINGS — The parents of a pre-kindergarten student are battling a suburban Dallas school's decision to segregate their son because his long locks violate the district dress code.

Taylor Pugh again found himself facing in-school suspension on Wednesday. The Mesquite school district is keeping Taylor in the library apart from his classmates because his floppy hair falls in his eyes and extends below his earlobes and shirt collar.

The school district says all students must adhere to the code of conduct.

But Taylor's parents say they won't cut his hair, even after they said the school principal threatened to permanently suspend their 4-year-old son from school.

From wire dispatches and staff reports