- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

CALIFORNIA

Female firefighter’s death a first

GROVELAND — A member of an elite helicopter wildfire crew has become the first female firefighter from the California Department of Forestry to die in the line of duty, state officials said yesterday.

Officials could give few details about what happened when the seven-member crew apparently was overrun by flames Sunday in the rugged terrain of the Stanislaus National Forest. The department identified the woman as Eva Schicke, 24, of Arnold.

Jim Wright, chief of fire protection at the Department of Forestry, said the crew appeared to have been on the ground about an hour.

Their job was to use hand tools to build a fire break ahead of the blaze, which had grown to 800 acres yesterday and was 20 percent contained. Six firefighters suffered minor injuries.

NEVADA

Airlift completes Mustang Ranch move

RENO — The last piece of a risque chapter of Nevada history — the Mustang Ranch brothel — was airlifted to a new home Sunday. Unlike other buildings from the state’s first legal bordello, the 63-foot-wide parlor where the working girls lined up for customers was too big to be moved by truck to its new location at the Wild Horse Adult Resort & Spa.

About a dozen women cheered and champagne flowed as a double-rotor helicopter gently lowered the skeleton of the parlor into place and workers secured it to a concrete pad.

Prostitution was illegal across Nevada when Sicilian immigrant Joe Conforte took over the 104-room ranch in 1967. It became the state’s first legal brothel in 1971. Prostitution is now legal in 12 mostly rural counties in Nevada.

ARIZONA

Man sentenced in crime spree

PHOENIX — A man who teamed up with his girlfriend to rob banks across the West in a modern-day Bonnie-and-Clyde robbery spree was sentenced yesterday to 22 years in prison. A federal judge also ordered Craig Pritchert, 43, to repay $206,406.

“I would like to apologize to the bank tellers and bank managers for subjecting them to the experience I put them through,” Pritchert said.

Authorities said Pritchert and Nova Guthrie robbed six banks in Oregon, Colorado and Arizona from 1997 to 1999. Pritchert carried out the holdups, and Guthrie drove the getaway car.

The couple were captured in South Africa, where they had lived for three years using aliases. Guthrie, 31, pleaded guilty last year to three robberies and will be sentenced Sept. 22. She could get up to 20 years in prison.

COLORADO

Students cite lack of homework

BOULDER — Some University of Colorado students say they did more homework in high school than at the university, and some professors say that needs to be changed.

The university is considering setting standards on how much homework to assign per class hour. Barbara Bintliff, chairwoman of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, says it would help address an academic-image problem.

CONNECTICUT

Ethics director fired for cheating

HARTFORD — The State Ethics Commission fired its executive director, Alan Plofsky. The board said it found enough evidence to prove charges that he cheated on work hours and told a subordinate to lie in response to a federal subpoena.

Mr. Plofsky, a 24-year veteran, denied the charges and said he would fight for his job.

FLORIDA

Poisoned soda burns worker

COOPER CITY — A supermarket worker was critically injured after drinking from a soda that was laced with a caustic substance, authorities said Sunday.

Santosh Malhotra, 68, was hospitalized with chemical burns to her mouth and throat, Broward County sheriff’s spokesman Jim Leljedal said. He described her condition as critical.

She drank from a 20-ounce bottle of Diet Coke that was refrigerated in an employee-only area of a Winn-Dixie store Saturday, authorities said. She felt a burning sensation, spat out the liquid and vomited.

Officials did not say whether the bottle had been opened before she took a drink. An initial test showed the presence of a substance similar to a weed killer.

ILLINOIS

Bear attacks park worker

PEORIA — State officials and the Agriculture Department are investigating procedures at the Wildlife Prairie State Park after a black bear mauled a worker. The bear was out of its den when Curtis Bach walked into the animal’s pen to feed it.

Park officials say a gate to the bear’s den apparently was left unlocked. Mr. Bach was reported in critical condition.

INDIANA

Prison allows feline companions

MICHIGAN CITY — There are some pretty tough cats at Indiana State Prison. However, they have done nothing wrong; they are pets of inmates.

The maximum-security prison with its 29 cat-owning inmates is the only correctional facility in the state that allows these pets, the Indiana Department of Correction said.

No one can say when the first cat appeared in the facility, or when inmates began adopting the animals as pets.

The cats have brought advantages: Their companionship has encouraged many inmates to keep their behavior in line, a corrections spokesman said.

LOUISIANA

Defendant denied new jury pool

BATON ROUGE — Serial killings suspect Derrick Todd Lee went on trial for his life yesterday with defense attorneys losing an effort to toss out the entire pool of potential jurors.

State District Judge Richard Anderson rejected defense contentions that discrimination may have played a role in paring down the original list of 1,300 people summoned for potential jury duty to about 400. The 1,300 had filled out questionnaires last week.

The lead prosecutor in the first-degree murder case against Mr. Lee expected to take at least a week to find 12 jurors and four alternates. Mr. Lee’s attorney said seating an impartial jury in Baton Rouge will be impossible because of the extensive press coverage, and he wants the trial moved.

Mr. Lee was arrested in May 2003. Authorities said DNA evidence linked him to the killings of seven women between April 1998 and March 2003.

MISSOURI

Plane crashes on island, killing 4

ST. LOUIS — A small plane crashed on an island in the Missouri River after circling the runway at an airport nearby, killing all four persons aboard, authorities said yesterday.

The crash happened Sunday night on Howell Island as a group of four adults flew from Sikeston to the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield, about 25 miles west of St. Louis, officials said. Witnesses reported that the Cessna circled the runway before going down, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

A police helicopter discovered the wreckage about an hour later on the small island. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating. The identities of the victims were not immediately released.

MONTANA

Business is slow this fire season

MISSOULA — As a slow wildfire season ends, businesses that depend on fire work are faced with some sobering numbers.

Steve Nelson of Big Sky Mobile Catering said business this year fell $400,000 short of the $1 million needed to break even. Other companies facing a setback include those that depend on contracts for use of their fire engines and crews.

NEW YORK

Hundreds sue from 9/11 cleanup

NEW YORK — Hundreds of people who worked on the World Trade Center cleanup have filed a class-action lawsuit against the leaseholder of the towers and those who supervised the job, saying they did little to protect workers from dust, asbestos and other toxins in the air.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Friday and made public yesterday, was brought against Silverstein Properties and the four construction companies hired to oversee the removal of the 1.5 million tons of debris.

David Worby, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he will seek billions of dollars in compensation for victims. The lawsuit also asks for the establishment of a system to track for the next 20 years all those who were exposed.

The lawsuit says many workers did not have access to protective gear, and those who did were not taught how to wear it properly. Although some of the plaintiffs suffer from afflictions ranging from tumors to heartburn, many say they show no symptoms from their work at the site, but have joined the lawsuit because they fear they risk developing cancer in the future.

OHIO

Snake owner dies from bite

CINCINNATI — Zookeepers helped police search for venomous and exotic pets in a house where a woman was fatally bitten by a viper. Alexandria Hall, 44, was bitten in her home last week and died at a hospital Saturday, police said.

Neighbors knew she had pets, including rabbits and birds, but were unaware of her collection of at least nine poisonous snakes and more than one dozen other snakes, lizards and alligators until police went to the suburban North College Hill house.

Police think an urutu pit viper bit the woman on Sept. 6, and neighbors said she drove herself to a hospital. She was transferred to University Hospital, where she remained in critical condition until her death Saturday evening.

Reptile specialists from Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens searched the house with an ambulance waiting outside in case a venomous snake attacked.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Guard struggles to fill vacancies

COLUMBIA — The South Carolina National Guard says it is struggling to meet its recruiting goals for the first time since the war in Iraq began.

Nearly 2 percent of Army Guard positions are vacant and about 4 percent of Air National Guard jobs are unfilled. Guard leaders are worried that retirements could trim ranks further.

TEXAS

Man stole from city halls

AUSTIN — You may not be able to fight city hall, but you can steal from it — at least for a while.

John David Woods has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for stealing more than $100,000 from 24 city halls across Texas to pay off Internet gambling debts. Prosecutors said Woods, 34, had developed a system during the three-year string of thefts: He would rent a car, drive to another town, sneak into the city hall and take all the money he could find.

Woods, who agreed to the sentence, was caught in December at the city hall in the central Texas town of Cedar Park. A city employee saw him there at about 9 p.m. and called police, a prosecutor said.

Cedar Park police broadened the investigation to more than 30 cities after Woods confessed to similar burglaries.

WASHINGTON

Settlement reached with state workers

SEATTLE — A tentative agreement was reached yesterday on a contract providing 4.8 percent pay increases for 30,000 Washington state government workers in the next two years, union leaders said.

Wages were the top issue in the talks, which wound up about 1:30 a.m., said Tim Welch, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees. If the pact is approved by union membership and the Legislature, the pay increases would be the first for union members since 2001.

The tentative contract provides “a fairly decent wage package and controls health insurance costs for our members” while preserving seniority and other key provisions that negotiators for Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat, sought to weaken or eliminate, Mr. Welch said.

WEST VIRGINIA

House approves park expansion

HARPERS FERRY — The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday approved expanding the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park by 1,240 acres.

The park’s boundary will grow from 2,505 acres to 3,745 acres, said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who authored the legislation. The U.S. Senate approved the bill in May.

Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, is the site of an armory that was captured by abolitionist John Brown and his followers in 1859. It became part of the National Park System in 1944, and efforts have been made in recent years to expand its boundaries to include Civil War battle sites threatened by development.

WISCONSIN

Deer hunters offered incentives

MADISON — The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is trying to garner support for its effort against chronic wasting disease by offering a longer hunting season in some areas and cash rewards.

DNR officials also said instead of trying to kill all deer in the so-called eradication zones, they want to drop populations to five deer per square mile.

WYOMING

Internment camp eyed as landmark

POWELL — A National Park Service study recommends that the World War II Japanese-American internment camp west of Powell be considered for National Historical Landmark designation. The Heart Mountain Relocation Center site was one of nine properties recommended for historic landmark designation out of the 37 sites nationwide that were examined.

The study focused on sites associated with Japanese-American exclusion, relocation and detention and with Japanese-American service in the U.S. military during World War II.

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