- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003


Park rangers fighting kudzu

MIDDLESBORO — First it was pioneers and Indians, and, later, Union and Confederate troops fighting for control of the Cumberland Gap. Now, a different sort of battle is under way in the historic passage through the Appalachians.

The National Park Service is waging war on kudzu, a fast-growing vine that has taken hold and threatens to smother the stately old trees on the mountain where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia come together.

Scott Teodorski, a ranger at the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, said the plant was inadvertently introduced to the mountain during a $4 million project to remove a highway and restore the mountain pass to its original contour. A contractor will be hired to kill the plant.


Three youths dead in shooting

HOUSTON — Three girls were killed and their mother and teenage sister were wounded in a shooting yesterday that the wounded teen blamed on her 35-year-old boyfriend.

The five were shot early yesterday in their home in southeast Houston. Police were searching for the boyfriend, Anthony Quinn Francois, spokesman John Cannon said.

Police identified the slain girls as Brittany Patterson, 10, and her sisters Ashley, 11, and Nakisha, 15. The mother, Sheila Patterson, 34, and her 16-year-old daughter, Shamika, were in surgery yesterday, Mr. Cannon said.

Shamika Patterson told an officer who first arrived at the scene that Mr. Francois had shot them. Cousin Nicole Nellums, 23, said Shamika and Mr. Francois had recently broken up.


Army stops weapons incinerator

ANNISTON — The Army’s new chemical weapons incinerator was shut down temporarily because of a problem with a conveyor system that carries rocket parts from a furnace to waste bins. Officials said the conveyor system appeared to jam.

State environmental officials said the problems didn’t immediately endanger anyone’s safety.


Doctors separate conjoined twins

LOS ANGELES — Two baby girls, born joined from the stomach to the hip, were separated early yesterday, doctors said.

Surgeons at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles began the nearly 24-hour operation Wednesday morning, delicately separating some of the girls’ internal organs.

The 9-month-old girls were recovering in an intensive care unit, and the hospital did not release further details on their conditions.

Each identical twin was born with one normally developed leg, and they shared a conjoined leg. Doctors used that leg to replace tissue and bone in the girls’ pelvic regions.

The girls were born along with a third sister, their fraternal triplet. The case is the second known instance of conjoined twins born as part of a triplet set, the hospital said.


Two workers hurt in plant explosion

DELMAR — Two employees suffered minor injuries in an explosion Wednesday morning at an asphalt mixing plant, Sussex County fire officials said.

The blast, which occurred about 8:15 a.m., was felt by residents two miles away. The explosion sent a dust plume high into the air and forced the plant to close, fire officials said. The cause of the explosion was not immediately known.

The Interstate Construction of Delmarva Inc. plant is located on Sussex Route 427 about a half-mile north of the Maryland line. The blast tore part of a mixing unit from the plant, tossing it about 125 yards.


Two-year-old boy crashes family car

TAMPA — A 2-year-old boy slipped out of his mother’s locked motel room, climbed into the family car and accidentally drove it through a door and window and into the room, authorities said.

The child, Rex Davis, was not injured and no one else was hurt in the accident Wednesday morning. The Hillsborough County sheriff’s office said Rex’s mother, Ginna Hopkins, was taking a shower when the boy got out.

“It’s almost unbelievable that a 2-year-old could have done that,” sheriff’s Lt. Rod Reder said. One detective dubbed him “Little Houdini.”

Mrs. Hopkins had left the unlocked car in first gear, and it lurched forward about eight feet when Rex started the vehicle, crashing through a door and window at the Red Roof Inn and causing about $2,000 in damage, Lt. Reder said.

Even as one deputy investigated, Rex left the locked room again and climbed back into the car.


U.S. moves to revoke ex-Nazi’s citizenship

CHICAGO — The Justice Department asked a federal court Wednesday to revoke the U.S. citizenship of a Romanian-born former Nazi SS member accused of serving as a concentration camp guard.

The government claims that Joseph Wittje, 83, of Bensenville, was a member of an SS Death’s Head battalion that guarded Sachsenhausen, a camp near Berlin where thousands died from starvation, disease, hanging, gassing and medical experimentation.

Mr. Wittje’s attorney, Joseph T. McGinness, said his client belonged to a Death’s Head battalion and was stationed near Sachsenhausen, but never served as a camp guard. Mr. McGinness said he would fight the revocation of Mr. Wittje’s citizenship.

The complaint was filed by the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which specializes in finding Nazi-era war criminals who persecuted Jews and others and are now living in the United States.


Inmate charged with killing Geoghan

WORCESTER — An inmate has been charged with murder of former priest John J. Geoghan, who was strangled and beaten in his prison cell last month.

Joseph L. Druce attacked Geoghan on Aug. 23 after jamming his cell door to prevent guards from coming to the defrocked priest’s rescue, authorities say.

Geoghan, 68, was serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for groping a 10-year-old boy and was accused of molesting nearly 150 boys over three decades. His case triggered the sex scandal that has rocked the nation’s Roman Catholic Church.

Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said yesterday that Druce, 38, who was serving a life sentence for the 1988 murder of a homosexual man, would be arraigned on the new murder charge at a later date.


Plants seized were not marijuana

GULFPORT — Narcotics officers thought they had made a big discovery when they seized 500 suspicious plants from Marion Waltman.

Authorities say the plants looked like marijuana, but they turned out to be protein plants used to bulk up deer. Mr. Waltman says the kenaf plant does look like marijuana.

Now Mr. Waltman is angry and he wants authorities to compensate him for his loss.

“We knew we were going to be criticized, whatever we did,” Harrison County Sheriff George H. Payne Jr. said. “We decided it was in the best interests of the public to remove it and test it.”

Mr. Waltman, president of the Boarhog Hunting Club, says he planted the kenaf, a high-protein plant that reportedly attracts deer and increases their size, in three fields that the club leases from a timber company. He says he paid $2,000 for a ton of kenaf and hemp seeds.


Lawmakers OK concealed weapons

JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers yesterday granted most Missourians the right to carry concealed guns, overriding Gov. Bob Holden’s veto and reversing the outcome of a statewide election on the issue held four years ago.

Republican state Sen. Jon Dolan, an Army public affairs officer, cast the deciding vote yesterday after being granted a last-minute request for military leave from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Senate’s 23-10 vote to override the veto just barely met the required two-thirds majority. The House voted 115-43 Wednesday to override the Democratic governor’s veto.

The gun bill would allow Missourians 23 and older to apply to their county sheriffs for a permit to carry concealed guns. Applicants would have to meet several qualifications, and concealed weapons would be banned from police stations, schools, churches and day care centers.


Cops to be stationed at motor bureaus

TRENTON — A police officer will be stationed in every Motor Vehicle Commission office as part of an ongoing crackdown on document fraud.

The agency says it will spend about $3 million a year to put municipal officers in 41 local offices and state troopers in its four regional offices.


Officials close slot machine room

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES — Accusations of nearly $90,000 in misappropriations prompted the Gaming Control Board to close the slot machine room in the Truth or Consequences Moose Lodge.

The criminal investigation is the first since the board began licensing nonprofit clubs in 1999.


Iraqi money denied to 9/11 victims

NEW YORK — A judge ruled yesterday that families of September 11 victims cannot tap into Iraqi funds frozen by the United States at the start of the 1991 Persian Gulf war because the money will be spent to reconstruct war-torn Iraq.

U.S. District Judge Harold Baer issued the decision after family members sought to freeze some of the $1.7 billion in funds — which the Bush administration already has started to use to help pay for Iraq’s revival — to satisfy an earlier court ruling saying Iraq owed the families $63.5 million.

Judge Baer said the law gave him little choice but to deny the request, even though it may mean that the families are denied the only available source to satisfy the judgment.

“The government contends that these funds … are needed to rebuild Iraq,” the judge wrote.


Mold removal to cost $9 million

DURHAM — Consultants say it will cost $9 million and take 18 months to remove mold from two dormitories at North Carolina Central University.

A report said the mold was caused partly by inadequate air-handling systems in the 4-year-old dorms.

Closing the dorms forced about 900 students to move to hotels and apartments.


Woman killed in tractor accident

HILLSDALE — A 61-year-old woman died after she was hit by an object thrown by a mowing tractor.

Patricia Anne Russell was standing in the driveway of her home Tuesday when an object — possibly a portion of a driveway reflector — hit her in the chest, the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office told the Toledo Blade. The object was kicked up by a county Road Commission tractor operated by Wilfred Hamilton, 77, who was mowing the sides of the road.

She was taken to the Hillsdale Community Health Center, where she was pronounced dead.


Scientist criticizes West Nile plan

SIOUX FALLS — Retired university entomologist Ben Kantack criticized as a short-term fix the state’s plan to spray 16 cities with pesticides to kill mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus.

Mr. Kantack said killing mosquito larvae before they hatch is the best way to eliminate the disease-carrying insects.

Seven South Dakotans have died from the disease this year.


Ex-sheriff enters plea on child porn charges

TACOMA — A former county sheriff has pleaded not guilty to charges of downloading child pornography on his personal computer.

Mark French, 54, charged last month with seven counts of possessing child pornography, entered the plea during his first court appearance Wednesday. If convicted, the former sheriff of Pierce County faces a year in jail.

The former sheriff is accused of downloading more than 100 sexual photos of children. His computer was seized April 24 following a Dallas-based investigation of a Russian child porn Web site.

Mr. French, who retired in 2000, was released on his own recognizance. He did not speak with reporters.

“He’s got a lot of support from his family,” defense attorney Donald W. Winskill said after the hearing. ”


DNA clears man jailed for 18 years

MADISON — A man who spent 18 years in prison was expected to be released yesterday after DNA tests cleared him of attacking a jogger in 1985.

Steven Avery, 43, was sentenced to 32 years in prison on charges of sexual assault, attempted murder and false imprisonment. Judge Fred Hazlewood, who handled the case in 1985, ruled Wednesday that he should be released.

DNA taken from the woman was tested at the state crime lab and matched that of another man who is serving a 60-year sentence for another sexual assault.

“It’s really a vindication for him,” said Keith Findley, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. “The system failed. He lost 18 years of his life.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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