- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

NEW JERSEY

Lawmakers abolish poet’s position

TRENTON — State lawmakers voted yesterday to eliminate the position of poet laureate of New Jersey — an effort that began after Amiri Baraka wrote a poem suggesting Israel had advance knowledge of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The Assembly approved a bill yesterday that passed the Senate in January. Democratic Gov. James E. McGreevey, who cut off the $10,000 annual stipend that goes to the poet laureate after Mr. Baraka refused to resign, intends to sign the bill, according to a spokesman.



Abolishing the position was the only way to remove Mr. Baraka because the governor and Legislature cannot fire the poet laureate. Mr. Baraka was criticized after reading his 60-stanza poem “Somebody Blew Up America” at a festival last summer.

WASHINGTON

Wildfire badly injures man

OROVILLE — A 66-year-old man was critically burned by a wildfire, one of many in Washington state and across the West.

Charles Eder Jr. was driving a bulldozer in an effort to protect a neighbor’s home when smoke and fire overtook him Monday. He leapt from the vehicle and rolled to extinguish flames covering his arms, legs, hands and face.

One of the driest Junes on record, combined with strong wind, also helped a wildfire in central Oregon grow to 16,000 acres in two days, officials said. The fire started near a campground about 12 miles west of LaPine, creating a smoke plume that could be seen in a satellite photo extending over Montana.

ALABAMA

Experimental plane crashes on takeoff

GADSDEN — An experimental jet crashed Monday upon takeoff, killing the pilot, who had just finished filming a segment about the aircraft for CNN.

Police said the L-39 Albatross crashed when it hit a flock of birds shortly after taking off from Gadsden Municipal Airport. The plane landed at the end of the runway and burned completely.

The pilot, Elmo Hahn, 53, had flown an L-39 for 15 years, logging 10,000 flight hours, said R.H. Beavers of International Jets. The company, which restores and sells old military aircraft, specializes in the Czech-made L-39.

When the crash happened, the CNN crew was interviewing Mr. Beavers about the experimental craft.

ARIZONA

Fish evacuated to avoid fire debris

TUCSON — Biologists and volunteers used buckets, nets and an electric-shock device yesterday to remove a rare species of fish endangered by ash and other debris from a wildfire that destroyed hundreds of mountaintop homes.

More than 600 Gila chubs, a minnowlike fish proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, were taken from the Sabino Creek and put aboard pickup trucks to be taken to the safety of a hatchery and research centers.

CALIFORNIA

State goes broke as budget fails to pass

LOS ANGELES — The nation’s richest and most populous state, California, officially went broke yesterday after failing to pass its annual budget just as opponents moved to oust the state’s staggering governor.

The world’s fifth-largest economy is hobbled by a budget deficit of $38.2 billion that has triggered a drive to replace Democratic Gov. Gray Davis — possibly with film star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

State legislators had until midnight Monday to pass the deadline ahead of the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, but partisan lawmakers were deadlocked over how to save money and balance the ailing budget.

With a budget deficit larger than those of all other U.S. states combined, California faces a series of rolling shutdowns of services and payments until a budget is passed.

GEORGIA

Court orders removal of Commandments

ATLANTA — The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that a washing machine-size Ten Commandments monument should be removed from the Alabama Supreme Court building.

The court affirmed a district court ruling that the monument, placed there by Chief Justice Roy Moore, violates the Constitution. The appeals court cited U.S. Supreme Court rulings saying that the government may not promote or affiliate itself with any religious doctrine or organization.

“If we adopted his position, the chief justice would be free to adorn the walls of the Alabama Supreme Court’s courtroom with sectarian religious murals and have decidedly religious quotations painted above the bench,” the three-judge panel wrote in its unanimous opinion.

Judge Moore put the monument in the courthouse in the middle of the night two summers ago.

ILLINOIS

Feeding tubes overused, study says

CHICAGO — One in every three U.S. nursing-home patients with advanced dementia is being nourished by a feeding tube, even though it may not prolong life or improve their remaining days, researchers said yesterday.

The reasons for widespread tube use range from profit motive to lack of staff, according to Susan Mitchell, a physician at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged in Boston.

She and colleagues at Brown University also said nursing homes with a higher percentage of nonwhite residents are more likely to use feeding tubes, although the study was not designed to find the economic or cultural reasons for that.

IOWA

Cat keeps returning to his old home

KEY WEST — Rusty the cat just can’t seem to forget where he came from.

In the past two years, he has navigated more than three miles of hills and busy streets to visit the old neighborhood — 33 times.

When the Beidler family moved to nearby Key West from Dubuque, they kept Rusty inside to help him adjust to his new digs. They thought the longhaired feline would love their ranch house in this northeast Iowa town.

One day, Rusty, who Jodi Beidler says looks like an orange raccoon, broke a front window and headed out on his first adventure. Two weeks later, Miss Beidler got a phone call from a former neighbor who said Rusty was sound asleep in his favorite spot on the deck.

Rusty’s longest trip lasted more than six months.

KANSAS

Construction delayed on veterans cemetery

JUNCTION CITY — Construction has been delayed on a new 90-acre veterans cemetery east of Fort Riley because funding for a required unexploded-ordnance survey wasn’t included in the county commission’s budget, officials say.

Some area veterans wonder where they will be buried. The only other veterans cemetery in the area is almost full.

KENTUCKY

Lexington council OKs smoking ban

LEXINGTON — Lexington, which has the nation’s highest adult-smoking rate, will ban smoking in most public buildings, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council decided yesterday.

The citywide ban is the first of its kind in Kentucky. Lexington is the state’s second-largest city.

By an 11-3 vote, the council enacted an ordinance that would be enforced by the county health department. The ordinance will take effect Sept. 29.

LOUISIANA

Fighter pilot faces reduced charges

NEW ORLEANS — A fighter pilot who accidentally bombed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan last year, killing four, will be tried for dereliction of duty after the Air Force set aside manslaughter and assault charges.

Maj. Harry Schmidt, 37, could be sentenced to six months in prison if convicted.

The dereliction-of-duty charge says Maj. Schmidt “failed to comply with the applicable rules of engagement” and “willfully failed to exercise appropriate flight discipline over his aircraft.”

Maj. Schmidt’s attorney, Charles W. Gittins, said the Air Force’s decision not to pursue the more serious charges “reinforces the fact that Harry didn’t act criminally and shouldn’t have been charged criminally.”

MISSOURI

99 persons contract salmonella at hospital

ST. LOUIS — At least 99 persons have contracted salmonella at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and the source of the intestinal illness remains a mystery.

The number of cases could rise because several people are still being tested, a hospital spokeswoman said Monday. The most recent case of the bacterial infection was confirmed Friday.

The cafeteria at the hospital was closed June 6 after health officials learned three staffers were sick.

The hospital has taken samples from more than 400 people who visited the hospital or ate in the cafeteria since May 1. The cafeteria reopened June 15 after two days of cleaning.

NEVADA

Man sues mayor, claims defamation

LAS VEGAS — Michael Hamdan, who told the FBI he had intercepted a phone call about a terrorist plot to attack Las Vegas, has filed a defamation of character lawsuit against Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

In the lawsuit filed June 18, Mr. Hamdan accuses Mr. Goodman of ridiculing him in the media after Mr. Hamdan told authorities that his cell phone picked up a conversation between two Arabic-speaking men in June 2002, the Las Vegas Sun reports.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Goodman “made defamatory statements regarding the credibility, trustworthiness and reputation of plaintiff Michael Hamdan and did so under the color of state law.”

The suit seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory damages, saying the mayor “damaged Hamdan’s reputation in the community and excited derogatory opinions about him.”

NEW YORK

Accused smuggler extradited to New York

NEW YORK — An accused alien smuggler, who waged a lengthy court battle to avoid extradition to the United States, has been extradited from Hong Kong to New York to face charges, according to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Chui Ping Cheng, also known as “Big Sister Ping,” had been a fugitive since a 1994 indictment was handed up in a federal court in New York for alien smuggling, kidnapping, hostage taking and money laundering.

During an initial appearance yesterday in New York, Mrs. Chui, 53, pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

She was ordered held without bail for her reported role in several alien-smuggling schemes, including the ill-fated “Golden Venture” voyage in 1993 in which a freighter carrying nearly 300 illegal immigrants ran aground in New York, causing 10 passengers to drown.

NORTH CAROLINA

Novelist accused of killing wife for cash

DURHAM — Prosecutors offered a motive yesterday in the case of a novelist accused of bashing his wife on the back of the head and trying to pass off her death as a fall, saying the couple were deeply in debt.

Michael and Kathleen Peterson had $143,000 in credit-card debt and were using credit for day-to-day living when he called 911 on Dec. 9, 2001, to report that his wife had fallen down a stairway, District Attorney Jim Hardin said.

Mr. Hardin also mentioned a life-insurance policy that Mrs. Peterson had through her job, which authorities say was for $1.4 million.

NORTH DAKOTA

Construction date eyed for Cowboy Hall of Fame

MEDORA — Construction of the $3 million North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame could get under way in September.

Architects say the design work is done, and the hall’s board of directors plans to review construction bids in August.

Dozens of people, places, animals and events have been inducted into the hall since 1998.

OKLAHOMA

Watts’ brother charged with murder

EUFAULA — The brother of former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts Jr. is accused of fatally shooting a man in a dispute over money.

Lawrence Watts, 52, was charged Monday with first-degree murder in last week’s slaying of Anthony Greco, 49, of Anadarko.

Mr. Watts was released Thursday from the McIntosh County Jail on $30,000 bond.

He is the older brother of the former congressman, who retired in January from the House of Representatives, where he was the fourth-highest ranking Republican.

Mr. Greco’s son, Anthony Hawkins, said his father was a cabinetmaker and was owed money for some work at Mr. Watts’ home.

PENNSYLVANIA

Man killed in scooter theft

PHILADELPHIA — As his 11-year-old son watched, a man was fatally shot Monday by two men who stole their motorized scooters, police said.

Pech Ying, 39, and his son were riding their motorized scooters on a bike trail in the city’s Olney section Monday afternoon when they were accosted by two young men, said Inspector Bill Colarulo.

Inspector Colarulo said the men jumped out from behind a tree and ordered them off the scooters. Mr. Ying refused and was pushed from his scooter.

After a short struggle, one of the men produced a silver revolver and shot Mr. Ying in the abdomen. The two men then rode away on the scooters, police said.

The son called police and rescue teams who arrived shortly thereafter. Mr. Ying was pronounced dead at the hospital, police said.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Girl, 11, shot in custody dispute

SENECA — An 11-year-old girl was taken to a hospital after she was shot during a custody dispute.

The girl, whose name was not released, was sitting in a vehicle with her mother and father when a pistol was fired into the vehicle, a sheriff’s spokesman said.

Tracy Denise Connally, 31, was charged with three counts of assault and battery with intent to kill, the spokesman told the Anderson Independent Mail.

The spokesman said Miss Connally was a friend of the girl’s mother.

WASHINGTON

Technician in ricin case under review for errors

SPOKANE — A crime-lab technician whose work is under review for errors is a witness in the federal trial of a man accused of making the biological weapon ricin.

Arnold Melnikoff, who is on administrative leave pending an internal review of his work for the Washington State Patrol’s crime lab, will be called to testify in the federal trial of Kenneth R. Olsen, Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks said Monday at a pretrial hearing.

Mr. Olsen is accused of making and possessing ricin, a deadly toxin that the government considers a biological weapon. Conviction on either count carries a maximum life sentence. Mr. Olsen, a former Scoutmaster, has said that he was researching ricin and other toxins as a Boy Scout project.

Mr. Melnikoff will testify about the handling of an ounce of powdered ricin found at Mr. Olsen’s work space at a Spokane Valley technology company said Mr. Hicks.

WISCONSIN

$1 million awarded in mob beating case

MILWAUKEE — A judge awarded a $1 million judgment Monday to the mother of a man who was beaten to death by a mob of children and adults last fall, her attorney said.

Fannie Young said she wanted to hold the culprits responsible and prevent anyone from profiting from the death of her son, Charlie Young Jr.

Mr. Young, 36, was beaten Sept. 29 with makeshift weapons including broomsticks, shovels and a milk crate. He died Oct. 1.

Tom Jacobsen, who represented the Young family, acknowledged it was unlikely anyone would collect the judgment because the culprits’ families are poor, but said it was nonetheless important.

Fifteen persons were initially charged with taking part in the beating and have received sentences ranging from 18 months to 18 years after reaching plea agreements.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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