- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2004


Two men convicted in smuggling scheme

HOUSTON — Two men were convicted yesterday for their role in the nation’s deadliest human-smuggling attempt — a journey that ended in the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants crammed inside a sweltering tractor-trailer in May 2003.

Victor Jesus Rodriguez and Fredy Giovanni Garcia-Tobar each faced 58 counts. Both could face life in prison when sentenced in March.

The trailer was abandoned at a truck stop near Victoria, about 100 miles southwest of Houston, after the immigrants began succumbing to the heat, estimated at 173 degrees. Seventeen immigrants were found dead inside the trailer. Two died later.

Garcia-Tobar, 25, from Guatemala, was accused of helping transport them to loading sites and helping recruit truckers to haul them. Rodriguez, 38, was accused of picking up several immigrants.


Mother sues Wal-Mart over gun sale

DALLAS — Lavern Bracy is suing Wal-Mart for $25 million, saying clerks should have known about her daughter’s mental illnesses or done more to find out about it before selling her a gun.

Shayla Stewart, who was diagnosed bipolar and schizophrenic, assaulted police officers and was arrested in an attack on a fellow customer at a Denton Wal-Mart, where she had a prescription for anti-psychotic medication.

Given all those signs, Mrs. Bracy said, another Wal-Mart just 7 miles away should never have sold her the shotgun that she used to kill herself at 24 in 2003. She said Wal-Mart’s gun department could have checked its security files or the pharmacy department’s prescription records before selling her the weapon.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher declined to comment on the lawsuit. The store conducted a background check on Miss Stewart, as required under federal law, but her name did not show up in the FBI database. The reason: The database contains no mental-health records from Texas and 37 other states.


Town may change zoning law for SUVs

MESA — Keeping up with the Joneses is not only a daily pressure, it also may become a law.

The town of Gilbert is considering several amendments to its zoning code, including a major change that would set a minimum interior garage size for homes. When recommending the change, town staff told a commission that 74 percent of registered vehicles in this southeast Phoenix suburb are trucks or sport utility vehicles.

The minimum garage size would be an unobstructed 20 feet by 20 feet, meaning 20 feet from interior wall to interior wall with no water heaters or anything else in the way, the proposal says. The current code requires only two enclosed parking spaces and has no size minimum.

The council is scheduled to vote to approve the final draft Jan. 25.


County breakup could be expensive

SANTA BARBARA — If voters approve a county split and form a new Mission County in the north, residents in remaining Santa Barbara County will be saddled with the $43 million in existing capital debt.

A five-member panel deciding the financial viability of a new county spent months wrestling with a “fair, just and equitable” division of assets and debt. Voters are expected to decide on a split in June 2006.


IRA member deported, denied asylum

DENVER — A 32-year-old convicted criminal and known member of the Irish Republican Army was deported this week to his home country after a decision last month by a federal judge to deny a request for asylum.

Customs officers removed Ciaran O’Fearaigh, a felon who entered the United States in December 2000 under the Visa Waiver Program. O’Fearaigh had been convicted in Ireland for conspiracy to murder and possession of firearms with the intent to endanger life.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said O’Fearaigh’s Nov. 4, 2003, application for asylum was denied by an immigration judge, and the felon was ordered removed from the United States for his convictions and engagement in terrorist activity through his membership to the IRA. Officials said the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals supported the judge’s ruling to remove O’Fearaigh from the United States and declined his petition for relief.


2 nuns killed in highway crash

HARTFORD — Two nuns were killed Wednesday and a third was critically injured when a van rear-ended their car on Interstate 95, sending the car crashing into a concrete barrier, police said.

The three women were stopped on the Baldwin Bridge over the Connecticut River in Old Saybrook when a GMC Savana slammed into the back of their sedan, police said. The car hit the barrier and crumpled, trapping the women inside.

State police were investigating the crash. Police said the nuns apparently had car trouble but did not make it to the breakdown lane.

Sisters Caroline Carroll, 71, and Rita Sheehan, 83, were pronounced dead at the scene. Sister Catherine O’Connell was seriously injured. The driver of the van, 22-year-old Cesar Valencia, of Bristol, and a passenger sustained minor injuries.


Ground broken for museum

MIAMI — Ground was broken for a museum recalling the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. A restored B-26 bomber will be part of the display at Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport.

Cuban-American exiles from Miami filled the ranks of the U.S.-led invasion. Ten exile pilots and four American airmen died in the attempt to dislodge Fidel Castro from power.


Museum wants mummies X-rayed

CHICAGO — A new X-ray machine will help anthropologists uncover mysteries locked inside some of the Field Museum’s collection of ancient mummies and pottery. Mikron Digital Imaging is lending the $225,000 portable X-ray, which typically is used to diagnose broken bones.

Among 40 specimens selected from the museum’s 1.5 million anthropology objects, researchers will examine the skeleton of “The Magdalenian Girl” to gauge her exact age.


Strike OK’d in state’s largest school district

ST. LOUIS — Teachers have authorized a strike against the state’s largest school district. The vote was 1,427-225, more than the two-thirds majority necessary.

No walkout date has been set. The district’s 3,450 teachers have worked without a contract since July. Missouri law doesn’t allow public school teachers to strike, but doesn’t specify penalties.


Municipalities bid for computer plant

WINSTON-SALEM — The city and surrounding Forsyth County proposed giving a combined $37.2 million to Dell Inc. if it builds a computer plant there. Dell could hire more than 2,000 workers for the Triad plant.

Guilford and Davidson counties also have offered lower incentive deals. Dell announced last month that it would move to the region after the legislature agreed to incentives totaling $242.5 million.


Man fatally shot outside store

PORTLAND — A man who witnesses say was panhandling outside a busy downtown department store was fatally shot yesterday in front of horrified holiday shoppers. A suspect was quickly arrested.

Witnesses said the gunman fired three shots at the victim, then calmly walked away. Police said the motive for the shooting was not known.

KPAM radio reported that witnesses said the victim had been panhandling in front of the landmark Meier & Frank store. Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz said the suspect surrendered without incident. His name was not released.

Holiday shoppers were on the streets and a Salvation Army Santa Claus was nearby when the shooting occurred about 8:20 a.m.


Former tunnel to be opened to traffic

PITTSBURGH — A 3,600-foot tunnel route in and out of Pittsburgh will open Monday for the first time in 74 years.

Officials hope the former railroad tunnel will ease traffic for the city hedged in by rivers. The tunnel was closed when the old Wabash Railroad went bankrupt.

The passage will be restricted to car pools during rush hour. As many as 4,500 vehicles are expected to use the tunnel daily.


Student sues to join girls gymnastic team

STEVENS POINT — A junior at Stevens Point Area Senior High has filed a court injunction against the state’s high school sports association, seeking to compete on the girls gymnastics team.

Junior Keith Michael Bukowski says he is being sexually discriminated against. The school does not have a boys gymnastics team. More than 300 students have signed a petition backing him.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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