- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

NEW YORK

Underground wires shocking people, pets

NEW YORK — When a New Yorker walking her dogs was electrocuted in January by faulty wiring under the pavement, it seemed as if it were the freakiest of accidents — until several pets in other big cities also were killed or shocked.

Now utilities are rushing to fix the problems — blamed largely on work crews tearing up the streets — and to reassure the public. Dog owners, meanwhile, are buying booties for their pets to insulate their paws.

On Jan. 16, 30-year-old architect Jodie Lane was electrocuted while walking through New York’s East Village with her two dogs. An investigation by Consolidated Edison found that utility workers had failed to properly wrap an exposed wire.

In Chicago, a dog was electrocuted on Jan. 27 after touching a charged metal grate. And at least three dogs have been electrocuted in Boston, which like New York is an old city with many underground systems.

FLORIDA

Police illegally obtained R&B; singer’s photos

BARTOW — Detectives illegally seized photographs reputedly showing R&B; singer R. Kelly having sex with an underage girl, and prosecutors cannot use them to try him on child-pornography charges, a judge ruled yesterday.

Circuit Judge Dennis Maloney agreed with Mr. Kelly’s lawyers that Polk County sheriff’s detectives did not have enough evidence to justify a search of the signer’s Davenport home when they asked a judge for a warrant in June 2002. The photographs were on a digital camera that was wrapped in a towel inside a duffel bag.

Assistant State Attorney Chip Thulberry said if there is no appeal, prosecutors would drop the 12 counts of child pornography against the singer, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly.

Mr. Kelly also faces 14 counts of child-pornography charges in Chicago and has pleaded not guilty. Those charges are not affected by the judge’s ruling.

ALABAMA

Budget not factor in verdict, judge says

MONTGOMERY — A judge considering whether to uphold a record $11.9 billion verdict against Exxon Mobil Corp. said yesterday that it made no difference that the jury heard the case while Alabama was going through budget cutbacks.

Lawyers for the oil giant argued that jurors who ruled against Exxon Mobil in November were biased by the state’s financial problems, presenting hundreds of media reports published about the issue at the time.

But at a hearing on the issue, Montgomery Circuit Judge Tracy McCooey said company attorneys never asked potential jurors about Alabama’s budget problems when the jury was selected for trial.

Last year, a jury ordered Exxon Mobil to pay $11.9 billion in damages after finding that the oil giant had cheated the state out of natural gas royalties.

CALIFORNIA

Coroner needs crane for 700-pound body

SAN FRANCISCO — Removing the body of a 700-pound man who died in his home proved to be a challenge for authorities, who finally summoned a crane to place the body in a coroner’s van.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the 49-year-old man, whose name was withheld pending notification of family, died of natural causes in his home. He had been complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath, said Alameda County Coroner’s Supervisor Dan Apperson.

Authorities summoned to the home had to call in firefighters and a heavy-rescue truck to remove the man and place him in the coroner’s van.

GEORGIA

Families will get $40 million settlement

ROME — The families of more than 300 people whose bodies were found strewn across the grounds of a Georgia crematory will receive nearly $40 million in a settlement announced yesterday.

The funeral homes agreed to pay $36 million and the insurer for Tri-State Crematory agreed to pay $3.5 million. The Marsh family, which operates the crematory, also agreed to preserve two acres as a tribute to the dead.

The families brought a federal class-action lawsuit in 2002 after crematory operator Ray Brent Marsh was arrested and accused of dumping 334 bodies instead of cremating them. Investigators say he gave families cement dust instead of relatives’ ashes.

Fifty-eight funeral homes in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama had sent the bodies to the crematory from 1988 to 2002.

MASSACHUSETTS

Boston teachers call one-day strike

BOSTON — The Boston Teachers Union has called for a one-day strike by its more than 7,000 members who are seeking increased wages in a new contract.

The union called on its members to report to Boston City Hall for a rally March 23 rather than to their classrooms and schools. According to a release on the union Web site, nearly 1,500 union members attended a meeting Wednesday and by near-unanimous voice vote approved the call for the one-day strike.

The Boston Globe reported that the teachers union is seeking wage increases totaling $107 million in three years. School officials have countered with an offer of $52 million in three years. The average annual salary for a teacher in Boston is $62,000.

NEW YORK

State withdraws from program

ALBANY — New York has dropped out of a multistate crime database program that civil liberties groups have criticized as an invasion of privacy, state officials said yesterday.

Questions over federal funding for the Matrix database and its potential benefits led state officials to withdraw, said a spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Public Security. State officials had cited privacy concerns previously.

Matrix lets states share criminal, prison and vehicle information with one another and cross-reference the data with up to 20 billion records in databases held by Seisint Inc., a private company based in Boca Raton, Fla.

New York started questioning Matrix when several states that had explored the program dropped out because of privacy or cost concerns. They were Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas.

Matrix, short for the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, began in 2002 in Florida. Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania had signed onto the program, helped by $12 million in initial funding from the federal government.

MICHIGAN

Dog-handler pleads guilty in case

DETROIT — A once-celebrated trainer and handler of cadaver-sniffing dogs has pleaded guilty to federal charges that she planted bones and other evidence in cases she worked.

Sandra M. Anderson, 43, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that included obstruction of justice and making false statements. The charges carry up to 30 years in prison. No sentencing date was set.

Prosecutors said Anderson faked evidence in several cases in Michigan and Ohio. They said she planted bones in search areas and used her body fluids to stain a saw blade, coins and a piece of cloth.

MINNESOTA

Helpful suspect gets 30 days

BLAINE — The security guards at Northtown Mall were surprised when they opened a black Wilson duffel bag they found in a mall alley nearly a year ago. Inside were 25 plastic bags containing what looked and smelled like marijuana and IDs for Bruce Jermaine Hall, 26. They called police.

Officer Scott Parks arrived. While the bag was being examined in the mall security office, Hall showed up. He asked a security guard whether anyone had found a Wilson black duffel bag.

Yes, said a security guard. “It’s mine,” Hall said, helpfully.

So the guard took him to Officer Parks. Hall identified himself and Officer Parks snapped on the cuffs. Hall said the bag was his, but the contents were his brother’s. When Hall was searched, marijuana cigarettes, 10 similar bags of marijuana and $450 cash were found.

Hall pleaded guilty to fifth-degree drug possession and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, five years’ probation and a $500 fine or community service.

NEVADA

Environmentalists buck mining project

BATTLE MOUNTAIN — On a high-desert mountain where prospectors first struck it rich in the 1860s, the world’s largest gold mining company plans a major expansion that critics say could pollute the environment for tens of thousands of years.

Newmont Mining Corp.’s proposed $200 million Phoenix project would cover nearly 10 square miles of northern Nevada, reclaiming parts of a 3,000-acre contaminated site and spreading gold mining operations over an additional 4,300 acres beginning in 2006.

The Bureau of Land Management backs the project, but the Environmental Protection Agency agrees with a watchdog group’s contentions that the Denver-based company is sharply underestimating the potential costs of environmental risks.

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