- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003


Couple arrested after sons found in cages

PHOENIX — A couple were arrested on child-abuse charges, accused of keeping their 5-year-old twin sons locked in filthy, makeshift cages for several hours a day.

Police found the boys Saturday after their older brother told officers at a grocery store about the squalid living conditions.

When police arrived at the home, they found the children inside two cribs that had been wired together and sealed by plastic crates. Roaches filled the cages, which contained a blanket and small mattress stained with feces and urine.

Louis and Etelvina Rodriguez of Phoenix were arrested on suspicion of child abuse and kidnapping. The children, who appeared healthy, were placed in state custody. Mrs. Rodriguez, 42, told police her husband wanted the boys locked up because he had health problems. She and her husband were being held on $243,000 bond each.


DNA tests free inmate of 17 years

ST. LOUIS — A man who served 17 years in prison for three rapes was freed yesterday after DNA tests proved he didn’t do it.

Circuit Judge Jimmie Edwards apologized to Lonnie Erby for the wrongful conviction, noting that the science of criminal investigation had improved since 1986. Mr. Erby, 49, said of the apology: “That was the one thing I was waiting for.” He was sentenced to 115 years for the 1985 attacks on three girls. He was released after genetic testing found that the semen taken from the victims was not his.

Immediately after being freed, Mr. Erby hugged the son he had seen just once since his incarceration.

Mr. Erby was the second inmate convicted of a St. Louis rape to be freed after DNA testing sought by the Innocence Project, headed by Barry Scheck, who gained fame as part of the O.J. Simpson defense team. In July 2002, Larry Johnson was released after spending 18 years in prison.


Village of 300 to get plumbing

FAIRBANKS — The village of Kaktovik in the northeast corner of Alaska finally is getting plumbing.

The North Slope Borough is spending more than $300,000 per building to deliver an underground water and sewer system to the village of about 300 people inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Officials said it will cost about $400 million to bring sewer services to seven villages without modern plumbing.


Carmel dedicates ‘Fountain of Woof’

CARMEL — For dogs lucky enough to live in Carmel-By-The-Sea, life just doesn’t get any better.

The upscale tourist town of art galleries and beautiful coastal vistas has a soft spot for its four-legged residents. Carmel now has a special place for dogs to quench their thirsts as well.

Carmel has dedicated the “Fountain of Woof,” a dogs-only drinking fountain at Carmel Plaza. The recirculating water fountain features a life-size dog’s head spurting water from its mouth onto a stair-step arrangement of rocky pools.

Mayor Sue McCloud inaugurated the fountain last week before a crowd of dogs and owners. “By ‘pup-ular’ demand,” she said, cutting a “rib-bone” to mark the occasion.


Teachers union chief pleads guilty to fraud

MIAMI — The longtime leader of the Miami-Dade County teacher’s union pleaded guilty yesterday in a deal after a public-corruption task force found he fraudulently charged the organization for up to $650,000 in personal expenses for cruises, vacations and other luxuries.

Pat Tornillo, on leave from the United Teachers of Dade, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and filing a false tax return under the deal in exchange for a two-year prison sentence. The maximum sentence for the charges was eight years.

Court records showed he billed the union for four Caribbean vacations, including a private villa during each trip, several cruises on the luxury Seabourn line, his trip to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and other first-class travel expenses.

He agreed to pay $650,000 in restitution, $160,000 in back taxes plus interest and penalties and a $25,000 fine.


House used as mosque destroyed in fire

SAVANNAH — A weekend blaze destroyed an Islamic center just three weeks after someone fired a gun into a garage door there, officials and religious leaders said.

Fire officials labeled the fire early Sunday as suspicious and were attempting to determine its cause. No one was injured, but a rare handwritten Koran was destroyed in the blaze. The two-bedroom house was being used as a temporary mosque.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said Muslims have been targeted in Savannah before.

On Aug. 3, the council said, five bullet holes were found in the garage door at the center. On Aug. 18, the apartment of a student who worships regularly at the center was burglarized. The burglar left behind a note demanding that Muslims leave Savannah and claimed they were being watched “24/7,” said Ibrahim Hooper.


Zebra mussels blamed for elimination of scud

CHICAGO — The spineless scud that makes up 25 percent to 75 percent of the diet for some Great Lakes fish is disappearing from some areas, researchers say.

They blame the invasion of nonnative zebra mussels. The scud, a quarter-inch crustacean, is a shrimplike bottom dweller that also feeds sculpin, smelt and chub, which in turn feed trout and salmon.


Man tastes victory in hamburger quest

STERLING — After three years of crossing the state on a quest for hamburgers, Bill Bunyan finally tasted victory on his 65th birthday.

Fifty friends and strangers gathered at Paddy’s Restaurant in downtown Sterling on Thursday to watch Mr. Bunyan, a retired teacher, complete his goal of eating a burger in every one of the state’s 105 counties.

Mr. Bunyan’s wife, Susan, made hamburger-shaped invitations and sent them to all the friends who had helped Mr. Bunyan eat his way across the state.

He started in June 2000 and would stop for a burger anytime he and his wife took a trip. Sometimes, they would drive out of the way to get to a county he hadn’t visited. Mr. Bunyan has a photo album filled with pictures of himself standing in front of almost every burger joint he tried along the way.

Although Mr. Bunyan enjoyed the journey, he is glad it’s over — and so is his doctor, who is treating Mr. Bunyan for high cholesterol.


Museum launching bluegrass program

OWENSBORO — Elementary students who live near the home of the late Bill Monroe — also known as the “Father of Bluegrass” — will soon get a chance to learn how to strum a guitar or pick a banjo the way he did.

Owensboro’s International Bluegrass Music Museum will launch a program next month that will incorporate the study of bluegrass in all 27 of the county’s elementary schools, both public and parochial.

To do that, the museum is donating four musical instruments to each of the schools and hopes eventually to augment those with others as funds are available.


Demand causes hardwood prices to rise

AUGUSTA — A strong demand combined with tight supplies is pushing prices for hardwood upward from roughly $120 a dry cord, cut, split and delivered, to $150.


Jail with view to be sold

ST. PAUL — A prime piece of downtown St. Paul real estate featuring sweeping riverfront views is about to go on the market. It’s more than captivating — it’s the county jail.

All the successful bidder needs are the time and money to gut a reinforced-concrete building featuring 134 cement-block cells with metal doors and toilets every six feet.

Ramsey County officials plan to put a for-sale-or-lease sign on the Adult Detention Center as soon as this week. Prisoners will be moved to a new 176-cell jail on the edge of downtown in December, freeing up the old jail for new uses.

The seven-story, 122,410-square-foot building is built into the bluff on the Mississippi River. The view is worth millions of dollars, said Steve Engstrom of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department.


Tollbooths closed to ease congestion

HAMPTON — There wasn’t even anyone to wave goodbye.

After a sunny weekend in northern New England, tens of thousands of tourists breezed by unmanned tollbooths as they headed south on Interstate 95 Sunday.

In a six-week experiment to try to reduce weekend gridlock without losing toll revenue, New Hampshire officials doubled the $1 toll for northbound passenger cars and eliminated the southbound toll. The interstate is the only direct conduit between heavily populated states to the south and the woods, lakes and coastline of New Hampshire and Maine.

“The traffic was definitely lighter,” said Glenn Delross of Providence, R.I., who was at a rest area on his way home from a Maine vacation. “I’d rather pay double and miss the traffic.”


Car plows into crowd at bakery

WILDWOOD CREST — A sport utility vehicle backed into a crowd outside a New Jersey shore bakery Sunday morning, killing one woman and injuring five persons — at least one critically, police said.

A preliminary investigation found that Dorothy Burke, 60, of Bensalem, Pa., was trying to parallel park outside Britton’s Gourmet Bakery when her Ford Explorer suddenly accelerated, backing over the curb and striking people on the sidewalk.

Police were continuing to investigate.

The crash killed a 42-year-old Piscataway woman whose name has not been released.


Judge gets 3 years in sex bribery case

SANTA FE — A former judge found guilty of offering female defendants lighter sentences in exchange for sex was sentenced to three years in prison.

Former Espanola Municipal Judge Charles Maestas had a courtroom full of supporters Saturday and more than 150 letters written on his behalf, but Judge Michael Vigil said he deserved prison.

“Your situation’s real disturbing,” Judge Vigil told Maestas. “You will never know the damage you have done to the judiciary.”

Maestas was convicted of rape and bribery. Six jurors later claimed they had not meant to convict Maestas of rape, but Judge Vigil denied the former judge’s request for a mistrial.


Unidentified 9/11 remains to be stored

NEW YORK — Thousands of parts of human remains still unidentified after the September 11 attacks on the New York World Trade Center will be dried, sealed and stored in a memorial at the site now known as ground zero, officials said yesterday.

The remains will be preserved so that if identification techniques improve they would be in usable condition to be identified, said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

More than 12,000 remains, some as small as bone chips or teeth, are unidentified, mostly because the DNA used to identify bodies is badly damaged, the medical examiner’s office said.

Of the 2,792 persons killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers, the remains of 1,518 have been identified, Miss Borakove said.


Ex-boyfriend charged in arson that killed 4

LANCASTER — A man was charged with homicide and arson yesterday in a row-house fire last week that killed his former girlfriend’s four children.

Francisco Parilla David, 34, had been released from prison two weeks before the Friday morning blaze and had sought unsuccessfully to reconcile with Cheryl Birster.

The children, ages 4, 7, 9 and 10, were found dead in their beds. Miss Birster, 34, and her current boyfriend told police they were forced by heavy smoke to jump out a second-floor window.

When police arrived, they found David fighting outside the burning house with Miss Birster and her boyfriend. Officers had to use pepper spray to subdue the suspect, and he was jailed on disorderly conduct charges.

Last summer, David pleaded guilty to criminal mischief stemming from an incident in which he reputedly hit Miss Birster.


State can enforce payment of club’s fine

PROVIDENCE — A judge yesterday refused to postpone collection of a $1 million fine imposed on the owners of the Station nightclub for failing to carry workers’ compensation insurance before February’s deadly fire.

Attorneys for Jeffrey and Michael Derderian were denied requests to stay the penalty while the case is on appeal. The Feb. 20 blaze killed 100 persons, including four club employees, and injured nearly 200 others.

Workers’ Compensation Court Judge Bruce Morin said his court didn’t have the authority to stay the penalty, and only the state Supreme Court could take such action. Jeff Pine, who represents Jeffrey Derderian, said the club owners planned to ask the Supreme Court to step in.

The fine levied on the brothers and their company, Derco LLC, is the maximum allowed under state law — $1.07 million, or $1,000 for each day the Derderians failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance from March 2000, when they bought the club, until it was destroyed.


Prices of homes expected to increase

PIERRE — The price of inmate-built homes sold to low-income families will rise in October, the South Dakota Housing Development Authority said.

The authority’s board voted to increase the price of the 960-square-foot, so-called Governor’s House to $28,000, up from $25,500. A larger version of the house designed for use as a day care center will rise from $28,750 to $31,500.


Army plans search for unexploded ammo

NASHVILLE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to search parts of the World War II-era Spencer Artillery Range for unexploded ammunition.

The Army leased more than 30,000 acres in Bledsoe, Sequatchie, Warren and Van Buren counties to train with artillery in the 1940s. The agency is researching archival records and trying to find people in the area who can help determine where to search.


Worker dies in wall collapse

CARROLLTON — A section of wall for a Home Depot store under construction collapsed during a thunderstorm, killing a construction worker.

The man, who had sought shelter next to the 17-foot-tall, 30-foot-wide section Sunday night, was buried under more than 7 tons of concrete, police Sgt. David Sponhour said.

The 25-year-old Lewisville man, whose name wasn’t immediately released, was among about 10 workers putting up stucco when the thunderstorm sent strong winds through Carrollton, a Dallas suburb.

“He was sitting next to the pillars with his back against the wall, I believe, just trying to get out of the storm when the wall collapsed,” Sgt. Sponhour said. He said another worker barely escaped.

From wire dispatches and staff reports



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