- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004


Guards OK as standoff continues

BUCKEYE — Two prison guards held hostage inside a watch tower by a pair of inmates have sent a message that they are all right, authorities said as the standoff entered a fifth day yesterday.

“We had radio contact with the correctional officers last night during a health and wellness check that we requested,” said Cam Hunter, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman. “They said that they’re doing fine, and of course that’s considering that they’re in a terrible situation.”

That was at least the second time that negotiators had spoken with the officers since the standoff began Sunday morning when an inmate attacked a guard in a kitchen area.


Girl in limelight after Bush recognition

LINCOLN — She still had to go to school — but otherwise Wednesday was anything but routine for Ashley Pearson.

One day after President Bush included in his State of the Union address a letter Ashley had written, the 10-year-old found herself in a media whirlwind — appearing on national television, doing interviews on radio talk shows, even fielding a phone call from a congressman.

“Dear George W. Bush: If there is anything you know, I, Ashley Pearson, age 10, can do to help anyone, please send me a letter and tell me what I can do to save our country. … P.S. If you can send a letter to the troops — please put, ‘Ashley Pearson believes in you,’ ” she wrote.

Ashley’s father took the day off work to help field phone calls, but she went to school as usual. Her classmates clapped when she walked in, she said, but then it was back to studying.


Governor calls conference on deficit

JUNEAU — Gov. Frank H. Murkowski, a Republican, called a conference next month to debate whether the Alaska Permanent Fund should be used to help bridge a $500 million deficit in state government.

More than 800 persons were nominated for the 44 open spots. The fund was created in 1976 out of oil royalties. It provides an annual check for each Alaskan.


Actress Ann Miller dies of cancer at 81

LOS ANGELES — Ann Miller, the raven-haired, long-legged actress and dancer whose machine-gun taps won her stardom during the golden age of movie musicals, died yesterday of lung cancer. She was 81.

Miss Miller died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said Esme Chandlee, longtime friend and former publicist.

A onetime childhood dance prodigy, Miss Miller reached the peak of her film career at MGM in the late 1940s and early 1950s with “On the Town,” “Easter Parade” and “Kiss Me Kate.”

She remained a dazzling tapper in her 60s and earned millions on Broadway and touring with Mickey Rooney in “Sugar Babies,” a razzmatazz tribute to the era of burlesque.

Mr. Rooney said yesterday that Miss Miller “was a great talent. She is a great talent. I’ll never think of her as being gone.”


Cold, snow reduce train service

STAMFORD — Thousands of commuters who rely on Metro-North trains are coping with cancellations and crowded conditions because snow and extreme cold have knocked many train cars out of service, officials said.

The problems began about two weeks ago and are expected to continue at least until next week. Light, fluffy snow is shorting out electrical components, affecting the motors that power the trains as well as the doors, brakes and air compressors, officials said.


Cousteau’s grandson pushes reef studies

KEY WEST — Philippe Cousteau, the grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, is promoting a new license plate designed to boost awareness of coral reef preservation and raise money for reef research.

The plate features a Florida Keys’ underwater coral reef scene, with the inscription “Protect Our Reefs.” It costs $25.


U.S. flu activity declining, says CDC

ATLANTA — The number of states hit hard by the flu has dropped to five from a peak of 45 right before Christmas, and the death toll among children has climbed to at least 111, health officials said yesterday.

Only Delaware, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont reported widespread flu during the week ended Jan. 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty states were listed at that level the previous week.

Still, officials warned that cases could rise in some communities, and a second wave could hit the country, because influenza strains can peak at different times.

Most of this season’s activity has been from the type A form of the virus. Outbreaks of type B can appear late in a flu season.


Residents urge ‘go-slow’ consolidation

NEW HAVEN — Some residents of small communities surrounding Fort Wayne are urging state lawmakers to slow down a potential consolidation of the city with Allen County. Indianapolis and Marion County have the state’s only unified city-county government.

Under state law, Fort Wayne and Allen County could be forced to follow suit in three years.


Boarding school to close campus

NORTHFIELD — Trustees of the Northfield Mount Hermon School voted to close its Northfield campus and will consolidate the historic boarding school at its Gill campus by next year. School head Richard Mueller said he expects some layoffs.

The student body is expected to drop as much as 45 percent to level out at 600 to 750 boarding and day students.


Large-size trucker gets job back

ST. LOUIS — A 412-pound truck driver who said he was fired because he could not fit behind the wheel of a delivery truck has received an apology and a bigger rig from his employer.

Walter Geter, 49, also received back pay from USF Holland Inc. to cover wages since his firing Jan. 15.

“They were so apologetic, told me it was a mistake and told me this would never happen again,” Mr. Geter said Wednesday.

Steve Caddy, president of Michigan-based USF Holland, blamed “misunderstandings on both sides of the issue.”

Mr. Geter’s problems began when he arrived at a company terminal in Columbus, Ohio, where he learned that his regular truck had broken down. Managers told him to head for Milwaukee in a smaller truck used mainly for local deliveries.

Mr. Geter said he was fired after asking the chief dispatcher whether he could switch to a larger truck. He filed a grievance through the Teamsters union.


Review of work clears scientist

MISSOULA — A former director of the state crime lab whose comparisons of hair helped wrongly convict two men of rape made such analyses in more than 100 cases in Montana, but there is no evidence of other wrongful convictions related to his work there, the attorney general said yesterday.

In the 118 cases for which Arnold Melnikoff analyzed hair samples, only eight were felony cases that resulted in convictions and appeals, said Attorney General Mike McGrath, whose office oversaw a review of Mr. Melnikoff’s forensic work.

None of the appeals questioned the scientist’s work, Mr. McGrath said. In five cases, the defendant contended consensual sex or admitted that the victim had been in his bed, meaning that the hair analysis wasn’t pertinent, Mr. McGrath said.

The Innocence Project, a national legal group that uses DNA evidence to identify wrongful convictions, said a more thorough scientific review should have been conducted and that Mr. McGrath’s involvement at least suggested a conflict of interest.


Garfunkel charged with pot possession

NEW YORK — Singer Art Garfunkel was arrested for marijuana possession by a New York state trooper who had no idea that the former was half of the legendary ‘60s duo Simon and Garfunkel, police said yesterday.

The trooper arrested Mr. Garfunkel, 62, after stopping the driver of his limousine for speeding Saturday in Hurley, N.Y., 90 miles north of New York City, police said.

“The trooper noted a strong odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle,” police said. “The trooper found a small amount of marijuana in [Mr.] Garfunkel’s jacket pocket.”

Adding insult to injury, police said the arresting officer did not recognize Mr. Garfunkel, known with Paul Simon for such rock classics as “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The Sound of Silence” and “Scarborough Fair.”

Mr. Garfunkel, the only passenger, is due to appear Wednesday at the Town of Hurley Court, charged with unlawful possession of marijuana. The driver got a ticket for driving 61 mph in a 45-mph zone.


Shooter aiming for Olympic gold

RED CLOUD — Mark Rogers has been training for a shot at making the U.S. Olympic marksmanship team — in his living room.

Mr. Rogers fires about 200 shots a day from his custom air pistol inside his house. It fires small pellets propelled by a burst of air, so it won’t leave any holes in his walls.

The Red Cloud music teacher is in Colorado Springs this week at the Olympic Training Center, hoping to become one of the top-10 air-pistol shooters who will advance in May to the final Olympic-qualifying meet in Georgia.

The top four in that round will make the national team, but only the top two will carry the U.S. colors to the Olympic Games in Athens this summer.


Horses, llamas seized in neglect case

SALEM — Horses with open wounds and a llama with mud-matted fur were seized from a Salem-area farm, and the owners were cited for animal neglect.

Polk County Sheriff’s deputies seized 19 horses and four llamas from LeeAnn Lucas and Gail Solberg on Wednesday, sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Eric Shepherd said. The animals were sent to receive veterinary care.

Three or four of the horses seemed “extremely emaciated,” Mr. Shepherd said, adding that other horses’ hooves were in bad shape.


Agency promoting farmers markets

FARGO — A farmers market in Grand Forks that regularly draws crowds of more than 3,000 has state officials convinced that similar events could work in smaller towns.

Known as the Town Square Farmers Market, the event has attracted more than 60 vendors at different times in the summer. Traditionally, it is open on Saturdays from mid-June through mid-September, but organizers are planning to expand the market to Thursday nights during its fourth season this summer.

“It’s a wonderful example of what you can do with organizing farmers markets,” said Donna Thronson, marketing specialist with the state Agriculture Department.

The department is holding a conference in Carrington on Saturday for people interested in learning about farmers markets. The department tried to organize a similar event about eight years ago, but there was not enough interest, Miss Thronson said.

Kim Woods, volunteer organizer for the Grand Forks market, has been working with the department on ideas for other farmers markets. She thinks the time is right for other markets in the state.


Turnpike raises tolls average of 42 percent

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission voted unanimously to raise tolls an average of 42 percent for all vehicles.

Officials say the first increase in 13 years will raise more than $100 million per year to help replace aging bridges, tunnels and interchanges along the 470-mile highway system. The toll increase will take effect Aug. 1.


Electrical outlet ruled as cause of fire

MARYVILLE — A fire that killed three persons at a retirement home was traced to an electrical outlet in a bedroom, the state fire marshal’s office said yesterday.

The fire was ruled an accident.

Special agent Bob Pollard said an appliance was plugged into the outlet, but investigators could not tell what kind because of the fire damage. They also could not tell whether the appliance or the wiring caused the fire.

Lucille Law, 87, Molly Wright, 84, and Rosa Cheeks, 82, died in the fire Tuesday night at Home Away From Home Inc. retirement center. Twelve persons were injured.

Three victims remained in critical condition yesterday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s burn unit in Nashville. Three were in stable condition at Blount Memorial Hospital in Maryville, about 15 miles east of Knoxville.


State executes convicted murderer

HUNTSVILLE — A man convicted of murder in the 1987 stabbing of an oilfield worker was executed Wednesday after telling the victim’s family: “In the name of Jesus, I’m so sorry for the pain I’ve caused y’all.”

Kevin Lee Zimmerman’s execution came six weeks after he made a similar trip to the death chamber, only to have his life spared with 20 minutes left.

Zimmerman’s lawyers had filed a lawsuit contending that the combination of drugs used in the execution contributes to unconstitutional pain and suffering. The Supreme Court halted his punishment Dec. 10 but rejected an appeal five days later, clearing the way for the new execution date.

After expressing love to relatives and friends Wednesday, Zimmerman looked at five members of victim Leslie Gilbert Hooks Jr.’s family and asked for forgiveness.


Investigators probing nuke-plant shutdown

KEWAUNEE — Inspectors are trying to determine how silt and lake weeds clogged part of the Kewaunee Nuclear Plant’s emergency cooling system, causing the plant to shut down last week.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has started a special inspection of the plant, which shut down Jan. 16 and had not restarted as of Wednesday.

The problem was discovered during routine testing by plant staff, the commission said.

Maureen Brown, spokeswoman for Hudson-based Nuclear Management Co., which operates the plant, said the problem does not present any public-safety questions. The plant’s shutdown was not expected to affect the state’s electricity supplies.

From staff reports and wire dispatches

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