- - Tuesday, July 10, 2012

NEW YORK — An appeals court said New York City cannot try to scare smokers by requiring grotesque images of diseased lungs and decaying gums at stores that sell cigarettes. It said the federal government gets to decide how to warn people about the dangers of smoking tobacco.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan issued its ruling Tuesday. It rejected a 2009 city Board of Health resolution requiring tobacco retailers to display signs bearing graphic images showing the adverse health effects of smoking.

The appeals court said the resolution is pre-empted by the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, enacted by Congress in 1965.

Richmond-based cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris USA said it’s pleased with the court’s ruling. The city’s health department said the ruling is likely to reduce the number of smokers who quit.

MASSACHUSETTS

Man to plead in plot to blow up Pentagon

BOSTON — A Massachusetts man charged with plotting to fly remote-controlled model planes packed with explosives into the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol will plead guilty to two charges, his lawyers and prosecutors said in a plea agreement filed in federal court Tuesday.

Rezwan Ferdaus, a Muslim-American from Ashland with a physics degree from Boston’s Northeastern University, was arrested in September after federal employees posing as al Qaeda members delivered materials he had allegedly requested, including grenades, machine guns and what he believed was 24 pounds of C-4, a plastic explosive.

Prosecutors and Mr. Ferdaus‘ lawyers said he will plead guilty to attempting to provide material support to terrorists and attempting to damage and destroy federal buildings by means of an explosive.

The two charges carry a combined maximum of 35 years in prison, but under the plea agreement, prosecutors and defense attorneys have agreed to request a 17-year sentence.

A change-of-plea hearing has been scheduled for July 20.

Under the plea agreement, prosecutors have agreed to dismiss four other charges.

COLORADO

Thousands of warnings on wildfires not delivered

COLORADO SPRINGS — More than 20,000 evacuation calls were never delivered to residents in the path of a wildfire that destroyed about 350 homes around Colorado Springs last month, records show.

It marked the second time in five months that Colorado residents said they didn’t get calls to pack up and flee as flames raced toward their homes.

Officials in El Paso and Teller counties were trying to determine why two-thirds of the 32,000 affected residents did not receive calls during the Waldo Canyon fire that began on June 23.

Nearly 10,000 attempts to reach residents in Colorado Springs were abandoned after the calls were not completed, and more than 11,000 calls were not answered, according to records obtained by KMGH-TV.

Cassidian Communications, the reverse-notification provider, said some calls were not completed because of heavy volume. Phone company officials said their phones were working fine at the time.

A spokesman for El Paso/Teller County E911 said his agency wants to know why some calls went through and others did not, and he intends to hold meetings to discuss the problem.

OHIO

Governor spares killer of store owner

COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich has spared the condemned killer of a convenience-store owner whose execution was opposed by the prosecutor who had pushed for a death sentence and a judge who meted it out.

Those opposing the July 26 execution of John Eley included the detective who investigated the 1986 killing of store owner Ihsan Aydah.

Records show Eley, 63, refused to testify against his alleged conspirator, Melvin Green, in exchange for a deal that would have removed the death penalty.

Former Mahoning County prosecutor Gary Van Brocklin has said he tried repeatedly to get Eley to testify against Green, considered the mastermind of the shooting in Youngstown.

Former Mahoning County sentencing Judge Peter Economus, now a federal judge, also opposes Eley’s execution.

INDIANA

Episcopal Church approves blessing of gay unions

Episcopalians approved a churchwide ceremony Tuesday to bless same-sex couples, the latest decisive step toward accepting homosexuality by a denomination that nine years ago elected its first openly gay bishop.

At the Episcopal General Convention, which is divided into two voting bodies, about 80 percent of the House of Deputies voted to authorize a provisional rite for same-sex unions for the next three years. A day earlier, the House of Bishops approved the rites 111-41 with three abstentions during the church meeting in Indianapolis.

Other mainline Protestant churches have struck down barriers to gay ordination in recent years or allowed individual congregations to celebrate gay or lesbian unions. However, only one major U.S. Protestant group, the United Church of Christ, has endorsed same-sex marriage outright.

Under the new Episcopal measure, each bishop will decide whether to allow the ceremonies in his or her local diocese. The new policy bars any penalty for Episcopalians who oppose its use.

Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, while 30 states have passed constitutional amendments limiting marriage to unions between a man and a woman.

MONTANA

2 boys rescue struggling swimmer

GREAT FALLS — Two Montana boys on paddle boards rescued a man who was struggling in the current of the Missouri River near Great Falls.

Daniel Chapman, 20, said he and a female friend were wading in the river Sunday when he entered deep water and was pulled down by an undercurrent.

On the shore, Henry Vidal, his 14-year-old-son Jacob and 10-year-old J.T. Whitaker spotted Mr. Chapman struggling. He was yelling that he couldn’t swim, Henry Vidal said.

“I looked at Jake and said: ‘Go out and get them,’” Henry Vidal told the Great Falls Tribune.

Jacob and J.T. were wearing life vests and grabbed their stand-up paddle boards, which look like heavy surf boards and are propelled by a long paddle. They reached Mr. Chapman, who by then was floating face down in the water.

With the help of Mr. Chapman’s friend, the boys lifted him up onto one of the boards and took him to shore.

“If he hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have made it,” Mr. Chapman said of Jacob.

CALIFORNIA

School district sued in molestation case

LOS ANGELES — A lawsuit claims Los Angeles Unified School District officials did nothing to protect students from a teacher who is charged with molesting 23 youngsters in his classroom.

The negligence suit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles contends that the current and former principals of Miramonte Elementary School and other district officials ignored complaints dating back a decade about Mark Berndt.

Mr. Berndt was arrested in January and has been fired. He’s pleaded not guilty to committing lewd acts with 23 students. Prosecutors claim he blindfolded students, photographed them and fed them his semen.

The suit was filed on behalf of 14 mothers of alleged victims. Two previous lawsuits were filed on behalf of more than 30 former students.

FLORIDA

Alligator bites off swimming teen’s arm

MOORE HAVEN — An alligator at least 10 feet long lunged at a teenager swimming in a river and bit off the teen’s right arm below the elbow, state wildlife officials said Tuesday.

Kaleb Langdale, 17, survived the encounter Monday in the Caloosahatchee River west of Lake Okeechobee.

Wildlife officers who caught and killed the alligator retrieved the arm, but doctors were unable to reattach it.

“We found the alligator that was responsible,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said. “We were able to kill the alligator and dissect the alligator, remove the arm and transport the arm to the hospital to see if the doctors could reattach the limb.”

The alligator was 10 or 11 feet long, Mr. Pino said.

The teen was in good condition Tuesday at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers.

From wire dispatches and staff reports