- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

CALIFORNIA

Fresh firefighters help contain blaze

GEYSERVILLE — An infusion of fresh manpower helped firefighters gain the upper hand yesterday on a wildfire that had burned across more than 12,500 acres and destroyed four homes in Northern California’s wine country.

Cooler, moist air that had been forecast for the region failed to materialize during the night, but the extra personnel more than compensated for the weather, said Janet Marshall, spokeswoman for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

With more than 2,600 firefighters on the front lines, up from 1,110 a day earlier, officials said the blaze in Sonoma and Lake counties was 85 percent contained.

OHIO

Gunman dies after wounding three

GENEVA — A man opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle on the town’s main thoroughfare as residents headed to work yesterday, wounding three persons before he was killed.

Police Chief Dan Dudik would not confirm that the man had killed himself, but he said no one else, including police, had fired any shots. Michael J. Harwood, 32, of nearby Madison, fired about 50 shots from a .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle with a telescopic sight, the police chief said.

Chief Dudik would not discuss a motive, but he said Harwood was aiming at a specific car, whose driver was wounded and in guarded condition at a hospital.

ARIZONA

Tests seen affecting phys-ed classes

PHOENIX — Pressure on students to score higher on standardized tests has led to a decline in physical-education classes in Arizona, educators and health experts say.

Less than a quarter of Arizona high-school students attend physical-education classes daily. Children in elementary schools attend gym class an average of twice a week.

DELAWARE

Aggressive driving faulted in crashes

WILMINGTON — Aggressive driving is a factor in almost two-thirds of the state’s fatal crashes, officials say. This year, at least 48 persons have died in crashes that officials say were caused by aggressive driving.

Last year, Delaware State Police issued 56,338 tickets for violations related to aggressive driving.

IOWA

Graduation gift prompts good deeds

DeWITT — Members of the Central Community High School Class of 2004 were given one last assignment when they graduated — and most didn’t seem to mind.

On the last day of high school, Mike and Jill Selby gave each of the 155 graduates a $10 bill and a letter. They asked the graduates to spend the gift in a way that would reflect the values of their son, Cory, who would have graduated with the class.

The Selbys asked the students to let them know how they spent the money, and the response, they say, has been overwhelming.

Adam Jacobs, who was one of Cory’s best friends, wrote that one of his last memories of Cory was watching a St. Louis Cardinals-Chicago Cubs baseball game on the day that the 15-year-old died of a rare heart ailment the summer before his sophomore year.

“I plan to take a friend to a minor-league baseball game and share Cory’s passion for the game with someone else,” Mr. Jacobs wrote.

KENTUCKY

University plans short January term

BOWLING GREEN — Western Kentucky University plans an abbreviated January term starting in 2006 to give students another way to complete course requirements.

The new term will feature field courses, online courses, special certificate programs, some makeup courses and other selected offerings. The fall and spring semesters, now 16 weeks long, will be reduced to 15 weeks.

MASSACHUSETTS

Mayor welcomed at Labor Day event

BOSTON — Mayor Thomas M. Menino received a standing ovation from local union leaders at an annual Labor Day breakfast a year after he was excluded from the same event because of a dispute with the city’s police union.

The conflict led to delays in the renovation of the Democratic National Convention site and raised the specter of pickets during the political gathering. The contract dispute was resolved days before the convention began.

MISSOURI

Ex-police officer denies killing lover

COLUMBIA — A former police officer accused of killing a college student who had once been his lover pleaded not guilty yesterday in the man’s death.

Steven A. Rios, 27, is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the June 5 death of Jesse James Valencia, a student at the University of Missouri. Police say Mr. Rios, who is married, acknowledged a sexual relationship with Mr. Valencia.

They said Mr. Rios killed Mr. Valencia by cutting his throat after the student threatened to tell the police chief about the relationship. Prosecutor Morley Swingle said lab tests found Mr. Rios’ DNA under Mr. Valencia’s fingernails.

Mr. Rios and his attorneys have declined to comment. He twice has threatened suicide and is being held in a state mental hospital pending trial. He resigned from the police department on June 16 and was charged July 1.

NEBRASKA

Judge’s words void molester’s sentence

LINCOLN — An appeals court threw out a child molester’s sentence yesterday because of religious comments made by the trial judge — the same judge who had another sentence thrown out for the same reason in 1998.

Jay Bruna, a former bus driver sentenced to 15 to 50 years for sexually assaulting a child on his bus, will remain in prison until he is resentenced.

The Nebraska Court of Appeals based its decision on the fact that District Judge George Thompson made religious references before sentencing, referring to his own earlier case.

In 1998, the Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the sentence of Aaron Pattno, charged with sexually abusing a boy, because at his sentencing, Judge Thompson read a lengthy excerpt from the Bible that addressed homosexuality.

In throwing out the sentence, the court found that “a reasonable person could conclude that the sentence was based upon the personal bias or prejudice of the judge.”

NORTH CAROLINA

Pakistani enters plea in immigration case

CHARLOTTE — A Pakistani man who was arrested earlier this summer while videotaping Charlotte’s skyline pleaded not guilty in federal court yesterday to six charges not related to terrorism.

Kamran Akhtar, 35, of New York City, also requested a jury trial during a brief appearance in federal court. His attorney, George Miller, didn’t make a request for bail during the hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes.

Mr. Akhtar has been jailed since his arrest on July 20, when police found a videotape in his camera showing the 60-story Bank of America tower and the skyscraper that houses the Charlotte FBI office.

An indictment charges Mr. Akhtar with two immigration violations and four counts of lying to investigators. He could face up to 55 years in prison if convicted on all six counts.

TEXAS

Infant found dead in car trunk

HOUSTON — Houston police were investigating the discovery of a dead, day-old boy found in a car trunk, the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday.

Detectives were examining the car, which was parked in a driveway in a residential suburban area. Police released few details to the press, and it was not determined whether foul play was suspected or whether the infant died of natural causes.

The unidentified mother was reportedly at an area hospital on Monday night, possibly suffering from complications of childbirth, the newspaper said.

WASHINGTON

Court strikes down marriage law

OLYMPIA — Echoing the ruling of another local court, a Thurston County judge ruled yesterday that Washington state’s ban on same-sex “marriage” is unconstitutional.

A King County judge had ruled in favor of homosexual “marriage” rights in a separate case last month. Both cases will go to the state Supreme Court, where they likely will be consolidated.

“For the government, this is not a moral issue. It is a legal issue,” wrote Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks in his ruling, posted yesterday on the court’s Web site.

Judge Hicks acknowledged that the intent of the state’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act was very clear: Legislators wanted to limit marriage to a union between one man and one woman. But, Judge Hicks said, that law directly conflicts with the state constitution.

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