- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003


15th shooting investigated

COLUMBUS — A bullet hole found in a van has been linked to a string of shootings along a stretch of interstate, bringing the total number of cases under investigation to 15, authorities said yesterday.

The shooting at a used-car lot on U.S. Highway 23 was reported on Nov. 15, 10 days before a woman was killed while driving on nearby Interstate 270, where most of the shootings happened. The van shooting was connected to the others through ballistics tests.

On Monday, workers put up cameras on I-270 in an attempt to learn who is behind the shootings.


Indictments returned in nightclub blaze

WARWICK — The owners of the nightclub where 100 persons were killed in a fire in February were indicted on involuntary manslaughter charges yesterday along with the tour manager for the band whose pyrotechnics ignited the blaze.

Club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian and Great White tour manager Dan Biechele each was charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter — two for each death. All three men pleaded not guilty. The club owners were released after posting $5,000 cash bail, while bail for Mr. Biechele was set at $10,000 cash.

The indictment marks the first criminal charges to result from the Feb. 20 fire at the Station nightclub. About 200 people were injured in what was one of the deadliest nightclub fires in the nation’s history.


Singer pleads not guilty to assault

PHOENIX — Glen Campbell pleaded not guilty yesterday to a felony aggravated-assault charge stemming from an incident with a police officer after a hit-and-run near his Phoenix home.

Mr. Campbell, 67, was accused of kneeing an officer after he was arrested Nov. 24 for striking another car and leaving the scene. Nobody was hurt.

He waived his right to a preliminary hearing and pleaded before Judge Gregory H. Martin in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The singer has lived in Arizona for 22 years. His hits include “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Galveston,” “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”


Veterinarians urge distemper vaccinations

TEXARKANA — Veterinarians say they are seeing an increase of distemper in dogs and are urging pet owners to have their animals vaccinated.

Distemper is a viral disease that’s highly contagious and spread by coughing. It often spreads from wild coyotes and wolves to domestic dogs that spend time outdoors. At the local animal shelter, all new animals are being quarantined before adoption.


Memo: Jackson cleared of molesting accuser

LOS ANGELES — Child-welfare investigators earlier this year found there was no basis for charges that Michael Jackson had abused the boy now accusing him of molestation, according to a confidential memo.

The memo from an administrator with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services was based on an investigation last February and was leaked to the Web site thesmokinggun.com, which posted it yesterday.

Both the boy and his brother told investigators Mr. Jackson had not sexually abused them, according to the memo. A source familiar with the document confirmed its authenticity to the Associated Press.

The memo said the department began a 13-day inquiry after a Los Angeles school district official called its hot line Feb. 14 out of concern for the boy and his brother. The school official suspected neglect by the boy’s mother and sexual abuse by Mr. Jackson, according to the memo. But the department and the police concluded the charges were “unfounded,” the document said.


Bus fares to rise by dime in January

HARTFORD — Bus fares in Connecticut’s cities will rise by a dime in January, the Department of Transportation said. Beginning Jan. 4, fares will rise from $1 to $1.10 per trip on the eight CTTRANSIT urban bus systems.

The buses run in Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Waterbury, New Britain, Meriden, Bristol and Wallingford.


Elian’s relatives sue U.S. agents

MIAMI — Florida relatives of shipwrecked Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez, who washed up on Florida’s shores in 1999, filed a lawsuit yesterday against U.S. agents for using excessive force to take custody of the boy.

The suit contends the six immigration agents used “extreme and unnecessary force” to break into the house where Elian was held. The relatives harbored Elian inside the house in defiance of an order to turn the 6-year-old over to his father.

The conservative Judicial Watch organization that brought the suit did not reveal the indemnification sought nor the names of the Immigration and Naturalization Service agents involved.

In April 2000, a hundred agents enforced an order issued in Washington to return Elian to his father after his mother and others drowned in an effort to reach U.S. territory illegally.


Truckers urged to buckle up

ATLANTA — Citing an “alarming statistic” that only 48 percent of commercial truck drivers fasten their seat belts, the U.S. transit chief yesterday announced plans to join with the trucking industry to increase safety-belt use among the nation’s 11 million truckers.

“Today we are raising the safety bar up another rung by urging America’s truckers to buckle up,” Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta told a news conference at a Roadway Express truck terminal in Atlanta.

The Transportation Department released a study of 3,900 trucks in 12 states that found more than half of truck drivers don’t fasten their seat belts, even as safety-belt use rises to an all-time high of 79 percent among the general public.

To increase safety-belt use, the government will work with trucking companies to place safety messages at truck stops and distribute educational materials at roadside-inspection facilities and other venues.


City wants to amend state’s sunshine laws

OVERLAND PARK — City officials want the Legislature to amend the state’s sunshine laws so that local governments’ meetings and documents about homeland security are shielded from public access.

Overland Park is drafting a proposal to permit the closing of records that discuss terrorism-related security measures.


Firm starts list to bar problem gamblers

LAS VEGAS — The world’s largest casino company is creating a list of problem gamblers who would be barred for life from all Park Place Entertainment casinos, company officials said yesterday.

Problem gamblers on the list would also lose any jackpots they win on return visits to Park Place casinos, which include Caesars, Bally’s and Hilton properties.

People can be placed on the company’s “Responsible Gaming List” by voluntary self-exclusion — or involuntarily if casino employees learn any of its patrons are problem gamblers.


Judge OKs expansion of bear hunt

TRENTON — A judge yesterday lifted an order that had closed a sprawling national recreation area to bear hunters, as the state’s first open season on the animals in more than three decades went into its second day.

On Monday, the first day of the new bear season, hunters bagged 61 bears, the largest weighing 498 pounds, the state Department of Environmental Protection said.

Officials hope the hunt will reduce the state’s population of an estimated 3,200 bears by 500 to stem the rising tide of complaints about the animals breaking into suburban homes, raiding trash cans, killing livestock and wandering into traffic.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton lifted a temporary restraining order that had kept hunters out of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.


DWI prevention funds diverted, report says

SANTA FE — A review by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that hundreds of thousands of federal dollars that were supposed to be spent by the state Traffic Safety Bureau on drunken-driving prevention were instead diverted to other programs.

Most of the $440,000 was spent on general traffic patrols and to arrest speeding motorists.


Marine fights bill for late tax return

MEDFORD — Marine Sgt. Sean Bell thought he had a pretty good excuse for a late tax return this year — he was trying to stay alive in war-torn Iraq.

But that didn’t stop the state from sending him a late payment bill amounting to 10 percent of his state taxes. And when Sgt. Bell, 34, called the state Revenue Department to explain, he said he was told that it was standard policy to charge a late-payment penalty and nothing could be done about it.

Concerned others in the military would be penalized, Sgt. Bell sent a letter to the department and copies to state and federal lawmakers and a newspaper in Medford.

Debra Buchanan, the Revenue Department’s legislative coordinator, said it was not agency policy and, like the federal Internal Revenue Service, the state Revenue Department can waive the late penalty for service members who serve in combat zones.

She said the agency will follow up with Sgt. Bell and return any interest or penalty charged incorrectly. The Revenue Department also “will do some communications in-house. We don’t want to make it any more difficult for people in uniform.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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