Monday, June 21, 2004


Woman fights Romanian adoption bill

CONCORD — When Allyson Schaaf adopted her son, Iain, from Romania four years ago, the process went so smoothly she didn’t hesitate to try for a daughter two years later.

But the political climate in Romania changed, partly because the country wants to join the European Union, which has criticized some of its adoption practices. Natasha, now 27 months old, remains in Romania, and the country’s legislators two weeks ago approved a bill severely restricting adoptions by foreigners.

Now the Schaafs, along with about a dozen other New Hampshire families whose adoptions might be affected, are asking Romanian President Ion Iliescu not to sign the measure, which would take effect in January.


Cooking oil fuels family vacation

BERKELEY — Mali Blotta and David Modersbach were unfazed by rising gas prices when they drove 11,000 miles during a recent family road trip from California to Argentina.

Their 24-year-old station wagon runs on much cheaper fuel: recycled vegetable oil.

Hitting the road for five months, the couple and their 4-year-old son toured 11 countries in a converted Volkswagen powered by waste grease they collected from restaurants and fried-food factories along the way.

“We’re promoting an alternative to the oil economy,” Mr. Modersbach said. “The trip wasn’t just about the voyage. It was about spreading information about vegetable-based fuel.”


Town OKs building of larger stores

HOMER — Voters in this scenic, seaside town approved a measure that nearly doubles the limit on the size of store construction.

The vote gives a green light to Fred Meyer to build a 45,000-square-foot store, the minimum size that the company would consider.


Projects work to restore river

PHOENIX — The dust, rocky soil and blazingly hot summers make it hard to imagine why anyone would have settled here before air conditioners and sprinkler systems.

But a century ago, Phoenix was a riverside community, a settlement with sometimes flowing water and even an occasional flood as the Salt River ebbed and flowed with the desert seasons. Eventually, dams upstream tamed the water supply but dried up the riverbed.

That is starting to change. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local governments are working to return water to the riverbed and trees and vegetation to its banks. Sections of the Salt River in the metropolitan area, totaling about 40 miles, are in various stages of study or rehabilitation.

Stretches of the Rio Salado project — Spanish for Salt River — in Phoenix and Tempe are under construction. Tempe even has a 200-acre Town Lake in a separate development in the river channel. A wetlands demonstration project, Tres Rios, is complete.

The Phoenix project should be open next year. The first phase of the Tempe project is nearly done. Proposals for other stretches are being studied and refined.


Hundreds report illness from restaurant food

FORT COLLINS — Health officials say they’re investigating reports by more than 240 people that they were sickened after eating at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Fort Collins.

The restaurant, part of a national chain based in Louisville, Ky., was closed temporarily.


Bill would fine minors caught with tobacco

DOVER — The state Senate approved a bill barring children younger than 18 from possessing tobacco products. Under the bill, juveniles caught with tobacco products would face fines of up to $50.

An opponent, Democrat Robert Venables, said informing a child’s parents might be more effective. The bill now goes to the House.


Islamic center near Tampa vandalized

LUTZ — Vandals broke windows of an Islamic center in a Tampa suburb and scrawled the words “Kill All Muslims” on the walls inside, Islamic officials said Saturday.

The vandalism at the Community Education Center in Lutz was discovered Friday, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The graffiti, written in marker and crayon, also included a derogatory message about Allah.

Donation boxes and file cabinets were broken into or damaged, CAIR-Florida spokesman Ahmed Bedier said.

The FBI has been asked to investigate the vandalism as a possible hate crime, Mr. Bedier said.


Ex-warden jailed for sexual assault

WAILUKU — A former prison warden has been sentenced to a year in jail for sexually assaulting a female inmate.

Albert Murashige, who oversaw the Maui Community Correctional Center, also must spend five years on probation for the attack, which occurred last year in his office.

Murashige, 46, was indicted on 13 counts but was allowed to plead no contest to two counts of sexual assault and two counts of attempted sexual assault as part of a plea agreement.

Judge Reinette Cooper rejected the state’s request for a 10-year sentence, noting that Murashige had led a “stellar, law-abiding life” before the crimes and that psychological evaluators indicated that he was unlikely to commit another offense.


Police report drop in homicide rate

CHICAGO — Chicago, which had more homicides than any other city in 2003, is reporting a sharp drop in homicides after employing new anticrime strategies.

Police reported Friday that 166 persons were homicide victims from January through May this year — down from the 236 homicides reported in the first five months of 2003.

Police Superintendent Philip Cline said one of the most effective new strategies appears to be the “saturation patrols” by officers assigned to the most violence-prone neighborhoods.

Other measures adopted last June as the homicide rate began to spike include surveillance cameras near street corners frequented by drug dealers and a more active police role in breaking up drug-dealing street gangs.

Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, reported 599 homicides in 2003; New York was second with 596; and Los Angeles had a little less than 500. Chicago has had fewer homicides than either of the larger cities this year.


Ex-nuclear workers seek compensation

IOWA CITY — Hundreds of former nuclear-weapons-plant workers sickened from radiation are petitioning the government for easier access to benefit programs.

The petition is designed to circumvent stalled investigations in many of the 1,041 claims filed by former workers at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Middletown. The complex made, tested and disassembled nuclear weapons from 1948 to 1975.


Ethanol plant celebrates opening

HOPKINSVILLE — The Commonwealth Agri-Energy ethanol plant celebrated its grand opening. The farmer-owned company plans to convert more than 7 million bushels of corn into 20 million gallons of ethanol each year.

The demand comes from cities where gasoline must be blended with oxygenate additives such as ethanol to curb emissions.


Taxi drivers slam flat-fee voucher plan

BOSTON — Boston taxi drivers are angry over a city proposal that they accept flat-fee $10 vouchers from delegates attending the Democratic National Convention.

Drivers say the vouchers, combined with convention traffic and road closings, could mean that they will lose money going to and from Logan International Airport.


Off-course jet lands at Air Force base

ST. PAUL — A Northwest Airlines flight that was headed to Rapid City, S.D., landed a few miles off course at Ellsworth Air Force Base, and passengers had to wait in the plane for more than three hours while their crew was interrogated.

Passengers on Northwest Flight 1152, an Airbus A-319 from St. Paul, expected to be welcomed to Rapid City Regional Airport on Saturday, but after about five minutes, they were told to close their window shades and not look out, said passenger Robert Morrell.

“[The pilot] hemmed and he hawed and he said, ‘We have landed at an Air Force base a few miles from the Rapid City airport, and now we are going to figure out how we’re going to get from here to there,’” Mr. Morrell told the St. Paul Pioneer Press by cell phone during the delay Saturday.

Eventually, the captain and first officer were replaced by a different Northwest crew for the short hop to the right airport.


Albuquerque sues to protect land

ALBUQUERQUE — The city filed a condemnation lawsuit to protect 125 wooded acres around the Rio Grande from being developed as an upscale subdivision.

City negotiations to buy the land failed May 20. The developer said he would sell for $17.5 million, more than four times the city’s offer.


More pelicans vanish from refuge

MEDINA — An additional 2,000 American white pelicans have vanished from the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, abandoning chicks and eggs, officials say. It comes on the heels of the disappearance of 27,000 pelicans a couple of weeks ago.

Biologists say theories including predators and disease have not been proven.


Prosecutor jailed over cell phone

LA GRANDE — A prosecutor was briefly sent to jail with the man he helped convict of manslaughter after the lawyer refused a judge’s order to turn on his cell phone.

Union County District Attorney Martin Birnbaum was released Friday night after spending the evening in a La Grande cell about 40 feet away from the man he prosecuted.

Judge Phillip Mendiguren tried to reach Mr. Birnbaum with a jury question while the lawyer was on his lunch break Friday, Undersheriff Dana Wright said. When Mr. Birnbaum returned to court, Judge Mendiguren ordered him to keep his cell phone on. The prosecutor refused, and the judge cited him for contempt.

The jury eventually convicted Jeremy Wilson of manslaughter and assault in the death by shaking of his girlfriend’s child.


Winning ticket sold in El Paso

AUSTIN — There was one winning ticket sold in the record-setting $145 million Lotto Texas drawing Saturday night, lottery officials said.

The lucky ticket was purchased at a Chevron station in downtown El Paso. The winning numbers were 9-26-28-29-40, with a bonus ball of 16.

Earlier Saturday, people lined up at grocery stores and gas stations statewide to buy tickers in hopes of winning the state lottery’s largest jackpot ever.

Texans seemed undeterred by their slim chances. The odds against winning Lotto Texas with a single $1 ticket are 1 in 47.8 million.

At 10 p.m. Saturday, average hourly sales for the lottery were 36,931 tickets a minute. Lottery officials said Saturday sales totaled $17.6 million.


Passer-by tackles costumed employee

OREM — Talk about a frosty reception.

Andrea Wilcox was trying to lure customers to a suburban Salt Lake City Dairy Queen restaurant during the June 12-13 weekend by wearing an inflatable “Curly Top” suit (resembling the restaurant’s signature ice cream in a cone), when she was suddenly tackled for no apparent reason.

“I heard a truck drive up behind me, so I turned around and was waving at them when a kid jumped out and ran toward me,” said Miss Wilcox, who didn’t get a good view of the person. “I thought, ‘What is he doing?’ and he just tackled me like a football player.”

Manager Sophie Thomas devised a new policy when it comes to wearing Curly Top.

“I will now only let them out there if there are two of them,” she said.

The incident did not frighten Miss Wilcox too much. About 15 minutes later, she was back out waving to passers-by.


Bodies leave investigators puzzled

PLEASANT PRAIRIE — The discovery of three bodies tied together on the shore of Lake Michigan baffled officials who had no reports of missing people or any word of a boat in distress.

Officials said they did not suspect foul play in the deaths of the man and two children found Saturday, tied at the waist with nylon rope.

“If you were in a boating accident, the adult would tie the children to the adult, so they would not get away from the adult,” said Pleasant Prairie Fire Chief Paul Guilbert Jr.

The three were not wearing life jackets, said Anthony Riley, petty officer with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Officials said the bodies had been in the water at least several days, and their identities and the sex of the children were not known.

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