- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003


Buddhists bury suicide victim

CHARLOTTE — American, South Vietnamese and Buddhist flags fluttered as hundreds attended a funeral yesterday for a monk who died last week after setting himself on fire to protest communist Vietnam’s persecution of Buddhists.

Inside the Lien Hoa Temple, monks and worshippers chanted prayers around Thich Chan Hy’s lace-draped, flower-decked coffin. Scores of worshippers clutched beads and pressed their hands together, bowing in unison to the rhythm of the prayers led by the orange-and-yellow-robed monks.

Thich Van Dam, a monk from Falls Church, Va., called Mr. Hy’s suicide — about which the 74-year-old monk told no one beforehand — “the most significant, important event” in the struggle for religious freedom under Vietnam’s communist regime.


Boy, 12, rescues sister from fire

PARKERSBURG — A 12-year-old boy saved his 18-month-old sister from a fire in their home, running through smoke and flames and carrying her out through a second-floor window onto a porch roof.

“She’s my sister, and I’m supposed to take care of her,” said Michael Wedekamm, who suffered minor burns and smoke inhalation in the fire early Tuesday.

The blaze started in a first-floor bedroom and quickly spread to the rest of the two-story home where Michael lived with his mother and three sisters. All escaped with minor injuries.

Michael credited his Boy Scout training with helping him pick the best escape route, said Lt. Carl Sizemore, Parkersburg’s chief fire inspector.


Strip club owner dies before prison term

GADSDEN — Harvey Bowman, a strip club owner who unsuccessfully challenged Alabama’s law against nudity, has died less than two weeks before he was to begin a federal prison sentence for prostitution conspiracy.

Bowman, 60, who had a history of heart problems, died Tuesday at his lakeside home in Gadsden from natural causes, said Etowah County Coroner Jason Maise.

Bowman was to begin an 18-month sentence Jan. 9 for the prostitution conspiracy conviction related to his now-defunct Platinum Club in Anniston.

Prosecutors said that Bowman and his wife, Bobbie, reaped $10.5 million from the club operations and spent it on a lavish lifestyle of antiques, vehicles, furs and land.


Parks raising fees in July

SACRAMENTO — The nation’s largest park system is boosting visitor fees at state campgrounds, boat launching sites and museums to offset a $15 million cut in the California parks budget.

Under the new fees, effective July 1, the daily cost for a family to camp at a state park will nearby double, from a maximum of $13 to $25. The costs of day permits for individuals, annual passes and admission to Hearst Castle also will increase significantly.

The department is adopting a sliding scale, charging significantly more for the most popular campgrounds at the busiest times of the year. Seniors, veterans and people with disabilities still will be able to access facilities for free.

The department announced the increases on Tuesday because campers next month can begin making camping reservations for July, when the higher fees take effect.


China theme park closing its doors

TAMPA — After a decade of financial struggles, a China-themed entertainment park in central Florida yesterday shut its doors.

Florida Splendid China — a sprawling theme park in Kissimmee — opened 10 years ago. But “despite several years of attempting to achieve successful theme park operations, the company has concluded that it could no longer continue to incur significant losses.”

“This determination was made primarily due to the continued downturn of the tourist economy, as evidenced by the closing of other tourism-dependent businesses in the area,” the company explained in a statement.

Florida Splendid China was often picketed by protesters, who said its owner, China Travel Services Holdings HK Ltd., was owned and operated by the communist Chinese government. Spokesmen for the entertainment park denied the accusation.


Homeowner shoots thief with illegal gun

CHICAGO — A Chicago man whose municipality bans homeowners from keeping guns used one to stop a suspected burglar and has received some unexpected support.

Hale DeMar, 54, was home with his wife and two children when he confronted Morio Billings, 31, and shot him twice. Mr. Billings jumped out a front window of the house and escaped in a sport utility that had been stolen from Mr. DeMar earlier Monday, police told the Chicago Tribune.

He was caught a short time later when he drove the SUV to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, police said. While in the hospital on Tuesday, Mr. Billings was charged with two counts of felony residential burglary and one count of felony possession of a stolen motor vehicle.

Mr. DeMar has not been charged and village leaders do not seem eager to punish him, though they also think the ban will remain.

“I’m glad the guy had a gun,” Wilmette Village Trustee James Griffith said.


Governor doubts funds based on enrollment

TOPEKA — Gov. Kathleen Sebelius says she believes legislators should reconsider giving school districts extra money based on their enrollment. She stopped short of proposing to shift money from rural to urban schools.

At issue is about $302 million in aid distributed by district size, the majority of which is earmarked under Kansas law for small, rural districts.


Governor issues posthumous pardon

BATON ROUGE — One of the men pardoned by Gov. Mike Foster this week died more than two years ago.

Louisiana’s pardon’s board recommended clemency four years ago, while James Baker, who had built two businesses after serving 10 years for a 1953 holdup, had been alive.

“Oh, my God,” his widow, Elaine Baker said, her voice cracking, when the Advocate newspaper called her home in Ventura, Calif., to tell her about the pardon. She said she had almost given up hope.

“Now, if and when I dispose of my husband’s ashes, I can tell him he’s free,” Mrs. Baker said. “This was his last wish before he died.” Mr. Baker was 68 when he died in August 2001.


Woman sentenced for crushing baby

PONTIAC — A judge sentenced a 275-pound woman to 19 months to 15 years in prison for accidentally crushing her baby in bed.

A jury convicted Taria Anderson, 25, of involuntary manslaughter in the Dec. 11, 2002, death of 6-month-old Taniyah. Authorities said she drank alcohol and smoked marijuana before going to sleep.


Passenger tries to choke air marshal

MINNEAPOLIS — A woman tried to choke a federal air marshal after she became disruptive on a flight from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis, authorities said.

The air marshal approached the woman, who reportedly was intoxicated, vocal and obnoxious, aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 1057 on Tuesday, Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Jennifer Marty said.

The woman continued to be disruptive, and tried to choke the marshal in a later exchange, Miss Marty said. She also kicked the marshal in the groin and bit a law enforcement officer after she was escorted off the plane, Miss Marty said.

The flight landed at 8:30 p.m. at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport with the woman in handcuffs. The extent of the marshal’s injuries was not known.


Legislators back plan to improve university

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s top legislative leaders are backing a $190 million bond plan to help build six engineering and health sciences facilities at the University of Missouri.

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder call the plan an economic development tool. The bonds would require the approval of the legislature and Gov. Bob Holden.


Woman becomes 6th meningitis case

MANCHESTER — A 65-year-old woman was New Hampshire’s sixth confirmed case of bacterial meningitis in the past year, health officials said.

State Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen said officials are investigating whom the woman had contact with.

She was in good to fair condition at a Manchester hospital, and Mr. Stephen said the case was diagnosed early.

He declined to give her name or say what town she is from; he only said that she lives in the Manchester area.

An 18-year-old woman died from meningitis during the weekend and four other New Hampshire teens were diagnosed with it. Mr. Stephen said there is no known link between the woman’s case and the others.


State records fourth-wettest year

TRENTON — 2003 was the fourth-wettest year recorded in New Jersey, according to data compiled by the state climatologist at Rutgers University.

Average rainfall across the state was nearly 58 inches in the past year. That’s 11 inches above normal and just 2 inches short of the record set in 1996. Rainfall records in New Jersey date to 1895.


Man’s body found in jetliner

NEW YORK — The body of a man was found in the wheel well of a plane that landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport from London’s Heathrow Airport, authorities said.

The medical examiner planned to perform an autopsy yesterday. Port Authority police found the body on the plane after British Airways Flight 177 landed at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

No identification was found on the man, believed to be in his 30s. John Lampl, a British Airways spokesman, said yesterday that the airline was awaiting the autopsy results to help determine whether the man had boarded the plane in London or at an earlier stop.

Last week, the body of a man in his 20s was found in the wheel well of a plane at Kennedy Airport after a flight from Montego Bay, Jamaica.


$162 million ticket sold near Cleveland

SOUTH EUCLID — One ticket sold in Ohio won a multistate Mega Millions lottery jackpot worth $162 million, lottery officials said yesterday.

The ticket for Tuesday’s drawing, sold at a convenience store in this Cleveland suburb, was the only one to match all five numbers and the Mega Ball number, said Mardele Cohen, spokeswoman for the Ohio Lottery.

When redeeming the ticket, the winner may choose between an immediate cash payout of $95 million before taxes or $162 million over 26 years, Miss Cohen said. The lump-sum payment would be about $67.9 million after taxes, she said.

The jackpot grew yesterday morning from $155 million when lottery officials found that sales were stronger than anticipated, Miss Cohen said.


Inmate sues to practice Wicca

JOHNSTOWN — A jail inmate has filed a federal lawsuit against the sheriff and deputy warden, saying they are violating his right to religious freedom.

Charles Risenburg, who has been in jail since April, practices Wicca, a form of witchcraft.

Bedford County Sheriff Gordon Diehl says the state Department of Corrections doesn’t recognize Wicca, and he doesn’t either. That means he does not have to meet Risenburg’s requests for special meals or to have certain items — such as oils, wands, magic books or tarot cards — in his cell.


Lawmaker resigns; dealings questioned

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Senate President William Irons said yesterday that he is resigning from office because of questions raised about his business dealings.

The 60-year-old Democrat, who has served in the Senate since 1983, said in a statement that “questions have been raised about me, my clients and my livelihood.”

Mr. Irons, who owns an insurance company, did not specify the accusations or who had made them. But he said he had “received assurance from the state Ethics Commission that my activities were appropriate and proper.”

Mr. Irons will leave the Senate on Feb. 6.

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