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American Scene

- - Sunday, December 12, 2010

COLORADO

Database leak puts informants in jeopardy

DENVER | A Colorado sheriff's online database mistakenly revealed the identities of confidential drug informants and listed phone numbers, addresses and Social Security numbers of suspects, victims and others interviewed during criminal investigations, authorities said.

The breach potentially affects some 200,000 people, and Mesa County sheriff's deputies have been sifting through the database to determine who, if anyone, is in jeopardy.

"That in itself is probably the biggest concern we have, because we're talking about people's personal safety," Sheriff Stan Hilkey said.

The FBI and Google Inc. are trying to determine who accessed the database, the sheriff said. Their concern: That someone may have copied it and could post it, WikiLeaks-style, on the Internet.

CONNECTICUT

State seeks access to Google data grab

HARTFORD | Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says he has asked Google for access to data it collected from public Wi-Fi networks in the state.

The U.S. senator-elect said Friday that he and the state Consumer Protection Department issued a "civil investigative demand" that says Google must provide access to the data by Dec. 17 or face being taken to court.

Earlier this year, Google revealed it had mistakenly collected data from Wi-Fi networks during its Street View mapping project in more than 30 countries. It apologized in a statement Friday and said it will continue cooperating with authorities.

Mr. Blumenthal and officials in nearly 40 other states have been seeking access to the data for months to see if Google improperly accessed e-mails, passwords and other private data.

DELAWARE

Woman arrested in burqa robberies

WILMINGTON | State police say they've arrested a Wilmington woman who committed two bank robberies while wearing a burqa.

Lashawnda Jones, 30, was arrested Friday and faces charges including robbery, conspiracy and wearing a disguise during a felony.

Police say she robbed two TD Bank branches — one in Bear on Oct. 15 and one in Wilmington on Oct. 22. Each time, she wore a burqa — a traditional Islamic garment that covers the face. Police say she's also wanted for robberies at TD Bank branches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In both of the Delaware robberies, police say Ms. Jones handed the teller a note demanding money and implying she was armed. Police say she was accompanied by another woman, also wearing a burqa, during the second robbery.

Police say Ms. Jones became a suspect after a retired detective pointed out that he'd arrested her in 2004 for similar crimes

FLORIDA

Deputy killed in auto wreck

WINTER HAVEN | Authorities say a central Florida sheriff's deputy has been struck and killed by a car that continued on a destructive path, hitting a businesswoman and her store.

Authorities say Polk County Sgt. Wes Whitmore had just gotten out of his car at a 7-11 store Sunday in Winter Haven when a Cadillac Escalade rammed into his vehicle, pushing it into him and causing it to spin 180 degrees.

The Escalade, driven by a 79-year-old man, also struck a business owner and her store, continuing through a parking lot, shrubs and a retention pond before finally coming to a stop. The 60-year-old Sgt. Whitmore died shortly after. The driver and business owner have been taken to a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries

MISSOURI

Showboat survives night aground

BRANSON | More than 600 passengers and crew members of a Branson showboat are safely off the vessel after spending the night aboard the boat, which became grounded because of high winds and choppy water.

There were no injuries after the Branson Belle's captain decided it was safer to stay wrenched against the shore than try to guide the boat to its dock just across the channel on Table Rock Lake.

Herschend Family Entertainment spokeswoman Lisa Rau said the cruise departed at 4 p.m. Saturday and problems began two hours later when the winds picked up. Ms. Rau says nine people were evacuated from the boat overnight, including four with pre-existing medical conditions and members of their families.

She said passengers were upbeat as they began disembarking around 9 a.m. Sunday.

NEW YORK

Hacker leads Gawker to warn subscribers

NEW YORK | Gawker Media Inc. is urging subscribers to change their passwords because someone has managed to hack into the company's user database.

The company, which runs a series of irreverent blogs on media, technology and other issues, said in a posting on its website Sunday that the commenting passwords used on the sites were encrypted, but simple ones could be vulnerable to attacks by hackers' computers.

The company also said passwords on other sites should be changed if they were the same as the ones stored by Gawker Media.

"We're deeply embarrassed by this breach," the posting on gawker.com said. "We should not be in the position of relying on the goodwill of the hackers who identified the weakness in our systems."

The Gawker breach is the latest in a recent series of cyber-attacks on websites. Last week, the Visa and MasterCard sites were inaccessible for a short time, likely because of attacks by supporters of the WikiLeaks website, angry that the credit card companies had stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks.

NEW YORK

Basketball rules sold for millions

NEW YORK | A historic document that details the original rules of basketball, written 119 years ago as a winter sport for boys of a Massachusetts YMCA, was sold for more than $4 million on Friday to raise money for charity.

James Naismith wrote the 13 rules while a physical education instructor at the Christian association.

"Basketball is a pure invention," said Selby Kiffer, senior specialist in American history documents at Sotheby's, where the rules were sold by the Naismith International Basketball Foundation.

The sale price of $4.3 million includes a buyer's premium. The proceeds will benefit the Naismith foundation, which promotes sportsmanship and provides services to underprivileged children around the world.

It was purchased by David and Suzanne Booth, who hope to bring the rules to the University of Kansas. He is an alumnus.

NORTH CAROLINA

Missing woman found after 200-mile walk

FAYETTEVILLE | Authorities say a North Carolina woman reported missing in September walked 200 miles before she turned up at a Virginia shelter.

The Fayetteville Observer reported Saturday that 56-year-old Wilma Edwards of Fayetteville turned up last week in Richmond. Her information was found in a database of missing people, and she told authorities she had traveled to the shelter on foot.

Cumberland County sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Tanna said Miss Edwards is known by many as "Miss Betty" and frequently takes long walks around Fayetteville with a white bucket that she sits on when she gets tired. She had last been seen Sept. 19.

Ms. Tanna said Miss Edwards did not have needed medications and did not use her bank account during her disappearance. Her family says she disappeared once before, turning up in New York.

UTAH

Smart suspect found guilty

SALT LAKE CITY | A federal jury found a rambling street preacher guilty Friday of the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in a case that has tugged at hearts around the nation ever since the Utah teenager was snatched from her bedroom and resurfaced nine months later.

Miss Smart, who aided the conviction with wrenching testimony during the trial, gave a slight smile as she heard the guilty verdicts against Brian David Mitchell on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for the purposes of illegal sex.

Miss Smart then turned to her mother and both smiled. Miss Smart later hugged prosecutors in the Salt Lake City courtroom.

"It's real!" father Ed Smart said on his way out of the courtroom, giving a thumbs up and echoing the words he told a crowd gathered around a church on March 13, 2003, confirming his daughter had been found.

It took the jury just five hours to convict Mitchell, who could face up to life in prison on each count when he is sentenced May 25. However, a judge also could impose an unspecified, lesser sentence, prosecutors said.

The shackled Mitchell sat singing about Jesus Christ on the cross throughout the reading of the verdicts. He held his hands in front of his chest as though he was praying.

WASHINGTON

Flooding threatens Pacific Northwest

SEATTLE | Record rainfall in the Pacific Northwest triggered mudslides on Sunday as it swelled rivers and placed small towns in Washington and areas of Portland under flood threat.

Forecasters said storms were expected to dump up to 6 inches of rain in a day, and flooding was expected to be widespread.

"We're looking at the wettest storm system we've had in almost two years," said National Weather Service meteorologist Kirby Cook in Seattle.

Portland officials warned residents in flood-prone areas such as the Johnson Creek watershed to be prepared to evacuate. The tributary empties in the Willamette River about six miles south of downtown Portland.

WEST VIRGINIA

Foreman at fatal mine was unqualified

CHARLESTON | A Massey Energy Co. miner falsified his qualifications to work as a foreman at two of the Richmond, Va.-based coal company's mines, the Charleston Gazette reported Sunday.

The newspaper cited state records that show Thomas Harrah used two foreman's certificate numbers obtained from other miners while working for Massey.

Mr. Harrah performed more than 200 safety exams at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in 2008 and 2009 and at the Slip Ridge Cedar Grove mine in August 2009. However, he wasn't working at Upper Big Branch when an explosion killed 29 miners April 5, the deadliest at a U.S. coal mine in decades; his mining certificate was already suspended by that time, according to state records.

State mine safety chief C.A. Phillips told the newspaper that records about Mr. Harrah have been turned over to federal criminal investigators looking into the explosion. A spokeswoman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration would neither confirm nor deny that the agency is investigating Mr. Harrah. No one answered at a telephone number listed for Mr. Harrah on Sunday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports