- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

ARKANSAS

Explosions slam chemical plant

CONWAY — A series of explosions rocked a chemical plant in this central Arkansas city yesterday, shooting fireballs into the sky and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people from nearby schools and businesses.

Two persons were hospitalized with burns, one in critical condition. All plant workers were accounted for. The cause of the explosions wasn’t known.

Fires were spread throughout the Detco Industries plant on the city’s south side. The plume of smoke could be seen 30 miles away in Little Rock and was so thick that it showed up on weather-service radar screens.

FLORIDA

Police say girl, 11, sold heroin

SOUTH MIAMI — An 11-year-old girl sold heroin on the street while dressed in her school uniform or even her pajamas, doing the bidding of her mother and a man who might be her stepfather, police said.

Investigators and prosecutors will meet this week to decide whether to charge the girl, whose name has not been released. In the meantime, she and her 7-year-old sister have been turned over to the custody of the Department of Children and Families.

The girl’s mother, Alison Lolanda Davis, 36, was arrested Friday in a raid by police and Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Officers said they seized 10 grams of heroin, two grams of crack cocaine, 10 Xanax pills and two grams of marijuana, along with $1,300 and drug paraphernalia. A 60-year-old man remains at large.

CALIFORNIA

Driver, 87, pleads not guilty in deaths

LOS ANGELES — An 87-year-old man pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter yesterday in the deaths of 10 persons who were struck when his car barreled through a crowded farmers market.

George Russell Weller was charged with 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. In addition to the deaths, 63 persons were injured.

A judge released Mr. Weller without bail on condition he not drive. Prosecutors had asked for $50,000 bail.

Mr. Weller’s attorneys contended the July 16 incident in Santa Monica was an accident rather than a crime, and resulted from Mr. Weller’s stepping on the gas pedal instead of the brake.

Police said Mr. Weller avoided cars parked on either side and reached speeds of more than 60 mph. Police also concluded that he did not try to stop his car as it sped nearly 1,000 feet down the crowded street.

GEORGIA

Federal trial begins for ‘Nuwaubian’

BRUNSWICK — A federal prosecutor yesterday said the leader of a black religious sect was a vicious manipulator who coerced children into having sex with him and rewarded them with jewelry and candy.

In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Thacker said the children, ages 5 to 15, were under the complete control of Dwight “Malachi” York, of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. She said Mr. York set himself up as “the supreme authority … a god” who demanded the loyalty of his followers.

Mr. York, 58, faces 13 federal counts of child molestation and racketeering. His group attracted attention after moving in 1993 from Brooklyn, N.Y., to a rural compound near Eatonton, Ga., where they built elaborate neo-Egyptian structures.

IDAHO

Panel seeks to boost potato consumption

BOISE — Hoping to counter a dietary bias against carbohydrates, the Idaho Potato Commission is waging a national campaign to boost consumption of the state’s world-famous commodity.

“We’re not going to take a back seat on this issue anymore,” commission head Frank Muir said.

The commission has enlisted Denise Austin, host of the popular exercise program “Denise Austin’s Daily Workout” on the Lifetime network, to explain the critical role that complex carbohydrates such as potatoes play in keeping the body fit.

The $230,000 campaign, which includes sponsorship of the Austin program and a 30-second television commercial now airing in major urban markets, responds to a significant decline in demand for frozen potatoes — a foundation market for the industry. Global french fry sales are down 5 percent.

MICHIGAN

Snowmobiler crashes into priest’s home

WRIGHT TOWNSHIP — A man riding a stolen snowmobile died after crashing into a priest’s home as the clergyman said his evening prayers.

The Rev. Leo Rosloniec, 76, was sitting and praying by his Christmas tree Monday when the snowmobile barreled into his front yard, taking out a mailbox before plowing into concrete steps leading to the rectory’s porch.

The snowmobiler, Carl Charles Durham, was thrown from the vehicle and landed beneath an image of a cross on the front door of the priest’s home. Police said Mr. Durham, 34, was driving “at a very high rate of speed” on a nearby street and ran a stop sign before crossing into Father Rosloniec’s yard.

Mr. Durham was not wearing a helmet, authorities said. Father Rosloniec was not injured.

NEBRASKA

Barbers help injured colleague

GRAND ISLAND — Nebraska farmers are well-known for going to bat for an injured or ill friend by harvesting crops or taking care of livestock. It now seems central Nebraska barbers have the same bond.

Sixteen barbers and hairstylists have stepped up to help fellow barber Jerry Benker, of Grand Island, who suffered serious injuries in a fall from a roof in October. The group has committed to take care of his clientele and turn over all the money from those clients to Mr. Benker while he recovers.

In the fall, Mr. Benker suffered three broken ribs, a punctured lung and a broken hip. He spent seven weeks in traction, two weeks in rehabilitation and had to have his gallbladder removed.

NEW MEXICO

Court lets gun law stand

SANTA FE — The state Supreme Court on Monday let stand a new law that allows New Mexicans to be licensed to carry loaded, concealed handguns.

The five-member court rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the law filed by a children’s advocacy group and a physician. Under the law, the Department of Public Safety was authorized to issue concealed-carry licenses as of Jan. 1. Fifteen applications are pending, department spokesman Peter Olson said.

The law allows New Mexicans who are at least 25 years old to get two-year licenses to carry loaded, concealed handguns after completing firearms training courses and passing criminal background checks.

NEW YORK

City settles Diallo lawsuit

NEW YORK — The city agreed to pay $3 million to the family of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed West African immigrant killed by 19 police bullets nearly five years ago, its chief attorney said yesterday.

Mr. Diallo was fatally shot in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building Feb. 4, 1999, by undercover officers who said they mistook his wallet for a gun.

The officers were acquitted of state criminal charges in a February 2000 trial that was moved to Albany because of pretrial publicity. The Justice Department decided not to bring federal civil rights charges against the officers.

Mr. Diallo’s parents, Saikou and Kadiatou, had sought $81 million in their negligence lawsuit against the city.

OKLAHOMA

Prisoners beef about healthy menu

OKLAHOMA CITY — Prisoners at a northern Oklahoma prison were locked in their cells after they boycotted the cafeteria over a new, low-fat “heart-healthy” menu, officials said yesterday.

The prisoners remained locked up over the weekend at the Cimarron Correctional Facility, a privately run prison, because they objected to meals that take ground beef out of some dishes and replace it with lower-fat ground turkey, said Linda Hurst, the prison’s programs manager.

Miss Hurst said the situation at the prison was not volatile and prisoners returned to the cafeteria Monday. The typical dinner menu includes turkey meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and peas. “The meatloaf is where the heart-healthy diet comes in,” she said.

OREGON

Pacific Northwest hit by record cold, snow

PORTLAND — Roads and schools closed in parts of the Northwest yesterday as a storm blew in with record cold and unaccustomed snow accumulations.

Swirling snow and temperatures dipping into the teens forced Oregon State University and Western Oregon University to close, along with dozens of school districts around the state.

Snow blocked Interstate 5 between Roseburg and Cottage Grove, in an area that has been closed several times in recent days.

In Washington, classes were canceled in Seattle and Tacoma public schools, at Evergreen State College in Olympia and the University of Washington’s Tacoma branch.

Portland had a record low yesterday of 24 degrees.

PENNSYLVANIA

Report blasts police discipline

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Police Department’s disciplinary system remains “fundamentally ineffective” and should be taken over by an outside agency, a city watchdog office concluded.

The report by the Integrity and Accountability Office said nearly half the officers and supervisors engaged in serious misconduct since 2000 have not been punished, and reforms recommended more than two years ago have not been implemented.

The 50-page report was filed Monday with U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell, who is overseeing police changes promised in a 1996 settlement of a civil rights case. The settlement included the formation of the Integrity and Accountability Office in the mayor’s office.

Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson, on vacation Monday, “takes issue with certain aspects of that report,” said Inspector William Colarulo, a police department spokesman.

UTAH

Closed hearing sought in Smart case

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for the homeless couple accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart went to court Monday to block efforts by news outlets to have the suspects’ competency hearings held in open court.

Attorneys for Brian David Mitchell, 50, and his wife, Wanda Barzee, 58, argued their clients have no chance for a fair trial unless the judge closes the hearings on whether they are mentally able to stand trial.

Facts the attorneys would discuss are “intricately tied” to the case, Mrs. Barzee’s attorney Scott Williams told Judge Judith Atherton. David Biggs, defending Mr. Mitchell, said allowing the public access “would eradicate his chances for a fair trial.”

Judge Atherton likely will rule on the issue at a scheduled hearing Friday morning, immediately before Mrs. Barzee’s scheduled competency hearing.

A hearing on Mr. Mitchell’s competency is scheduled for Jan. 27.

WASHINGTON

Would-be singer faces assault charge

TACOMA — Maybe he thought it was a tryout for “American Idol.” Maybe he thought it was karaoke night. Maybe he thought the lead singer’s voice left a little to be desired.

Whatever the reason, a man climbed onstage at a nightclub uninvited last week and began singing along with the live band.

He was escorted offstage by two security guards, and when he punched one of them, he got a trip to jail. He was then taken to jail and booked on suspicion of simple assault, the Tacoma News Tribune reported.

WYOMING

Judge to revive snowmobile challenge

CODY — In the latest twist over snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, a federal judge has agreed to revive a court case that challenged a Clinton administration ban on snowmobiles four years ago.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer of Cheyenne has agreed to reopen the case, originally filed by snowmobile groups, and notified attorneys on both sides Monday. He did not set a schedule for proceedings.

The original case led to a settlement in 2001 between the Bush administration, which had been enforcing the Clinton-era ban, and the state of Wyoming and snowmobile groups.

The settlement reduced the number of snowmobiles allowed in the parks and a portion of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway connecting them, but did not ban the machines.

The settlement scrapped the Clinton-era plan that called for a phaseout of snowmobiles in favor of mass-transit snow coaches that would reduce pollution.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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