- - Sunday, December 30, 2012

PITTSBURGH — A Pennsylvania beauty queen who resigned after alleging that the Miss USA pageant had been fixed says she is stunned by an arbitrator’s ruling that she must pay the pageant organization $5 million for defamation.

Former Miss Pennsylvania USA Sheena Monnin tells the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the “most logical course” would be to contest the ruling, but she’s considering her options.

Arbitrator Theodore Katz says Ms. Monnin’s allegations that finalists had been selected in advance were false, harmful and malicious and cost the pageant a $5 million fee from a potential 2013 sponsor.

Ms. Monnin points to a Miss USA contract clause giving top pageant officials the power to pick the top five finalists and the winner, but a company official calls that a catch-all that’s never been used.

NEW YORK

Woman accused in subway death to undergo mental-health tests

NEW YORK — A 31-year-old woman accused of shoving a man to his death in front of a subway train because she thought he was Muslim laughed and smiled during a court hearing where she was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Erika Menendez was charged Saturday night with murder as a hate crime after she told police she spontaneously pushed Sunando Sen, according to prosecutors.

“There is no reason. I just pushed him in front of the train because I thought it would be cool,” she said, according to the Queens district attorney’s office.

She laughed so hard during her arraignment in Queens criminal court that Judge Gia Morris told her lawyer: “You’re going to have to have your client stop laughing.”

Defense lawyer Dietrich Epperson said Ms. Menendez’s behavior in court was no different from how she had been acting when he spoke to her privately. Ms. Menendez was held without bail and ordered to have a mental health exam.

Prosecutors said she pushed the 46-year-old India native to his death because she blamed “Muslims, Hindus and Egyptians” for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Jet slips off runway into snow; no injuries

ALBANY — A plane has skidded into a snow bank at an upstate New York airport and become stuck, temporarily stranding passengers.

A spokesman for the Albany County Airport Authority says there were no injuries.

GoJet Airlines Flight 3645 was leaving the gate in Albany en route to Chicago on Saturday when it slid off a paved roadway. It had been snowing lightly all day. The flight was operating as a United Express flight.

The 66 passengers and four crew members were sent back to the airport by bus.

Airport authority spokesman Doug Myers says the accident didn’t cause any other airport delays. The plane was removed from the snow bank. A GoJet spokesman says the aircraft will remain in Albany and undergo a full inspection by maintenance crews.

MISSISSIPPI

Choctaw family killed by SUV crash in creek

PHILADELPHIA — Funeral plans are set for five young siblings and an adult who died when a sport utility vehicle driven by the children’s father careened off a Mississippi road and into a creek.

All of the victims of Saturday’s crash near Philadelphia were members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Tribe spokeswoman Misty Dreifuss says a funeral for the children, who ranged from 18 months to 9 years old, will be held Wednesday at a tribal building in Choctaw.

A funeral for 37-year-old Diane Chickaway, a friend of the children’s family, will be held Thursday at a church in Leake County.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Neshoba County Sheriff Tommy Waddell says the children’s father remained hospitalized Sunday. Their mother and Ms. Chickaway’s husband also survived.

CONNECTICUT

Scholar of Franklin’s papers dies at 92

NEW HAVEN — Author and scholar of Benjamin Franklin’s papers Claude-Anne Lopez has died at age 92.

Ms. Lopez started her studies of Franklin’s papers at Yale University with secretarial-type work and rose to a top editor’s job. Her son, Larry Lopez, says she had Alzheimer’s disease and died Friday at her New Haven home.

Ms. Lopez spent years working on The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, a project at the university to collect, edit and publish Franklin’s writings. She specialized in the American Founding Father’s private life, and wrote a handful of books about him.

Former Yale colleague Jonathan Dull ranks Ms. Lopez as one of the 20th century’s great Franklin scholars.

She also helped found a Philadelphia-based network of people interested in Franklin’s life.

MAINE

Snowstorm parking possible motive in fatal shootings

PORTLAND — Police say a 74-year-old Maine man faces charges in the shooting deaths of two tenants inside an apartment he rented at his home over a possible dispute about where they were parking their cars during a snowstorm.

Maine State Police say James Pak was arrested at about 10 p.m. Saturday following a standoff at his home in Biddeford. He is charged with killing 19-year-old Derrick Thompson and Mr. Thompson’s girlfriend, 18-year-old Alivia Welch.

Officials say police were called Saturday evening regarding a dispute over cars being parked in Mr. Pak’s driveway during the snowstorm. Minutes after police left, they received a call reporting the shootings.

Mr. Thompson’s mother, 44-year-old Susan Johnson, was being treated for a gunshot wound at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Ms. Johnson’s 6-year-old son was not hurt.

FLORIDA

Vultures pick at visitors’ vehicles in Everglades

HOMESTEAD — Visitors to parts of Everglades National Park are getting tarps and bungee cords to make their vehicles less delectable to vultures.

Migrating vultures have developed a habit of ripping off windshield wipers, sunroof seals, and other rubber and vinyl vehicle parts. Visitors to the park’s Homestead and Flamingo entrances are loaned “anti-vulture kits” to protect their vehicles.

Park wildlife biologist Skip Snow tells The Miami Herald that the vultures are migrating as normal. It’s just not clear why the birds are picking at parked cars and trucks. Park employees have tried to scare away the vultures, but nothing has worked.

Park Superintendent Dan B. Kimball says complaints about the vultures have declined since employees began distributing the tarps and bungee cords last year.

From wire dispatches and staff reports