- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2005

FLORIDA

Group launches drive for gay ‘marriage’ ban

ORLANDO — A group with ties to conservative Christian organizations yesterday officially launched a petition drive aimed at writing a ban on same-sex “marriage” into Florida’s constitution.

To put the amendment before the voters in November 2006, Florida4Marriage.org must collect 611,001 valid signatures by next February. It the signatures are collected, the Florida Supreme Court would decide whether the amendment’s language meets state requirements before it goes on the ballot.

Florida already has a law prohibiting same-sex “marriage,” but the group’s leaders said an amendment is necessary to stem challenges from “activist” judges.

NEW YORK

Suspect had ‘fascination’ with Columbine

KINGSTON — A man who opened fire in a crowded shopping mall with an assault weapon, wounding two, seemed to have a “lurid fascination” with the Columbine High School massacre, a prosecutor said yesterday.

Robert Bonelli, 24, is accused of wounding two persons and sending shoppers scurrying for safety Sunday after shooting his way into the Hudson Valley Mall, then giving up when he ran out of ammunition.

Police searching the suspect’s room in nearby Saugerties that night found a cache of “Columbine memorabilia,” Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams told the Associated Press.

ALABAMA

Mourners remember starved children

HUNTSVILLE — More than 1,500 mourners filled an Alabama church Sunday to remember three children who died after their mother reportedly starved them.

The children were found Feb. 4 at a Huntsville apartment they shared with their mother, Nathshay Ward, who has been charged with capital murder after admitting she starved the three, police said.

Elder Joe Hereford, pastor at a church where the children sometimes attended Bible classes, challenged mourners “to reach out with compassion and with love” in his eulogy to the youngsters — Shanieka Ward, 11; Latrica Ward, 9; and Christopher Ward, 8.

As rain fell, mourners released balloons over the children’s graves.

CALIFORNIA

Blake withdrawals raised bank query

LOS ANGELES — Robert Blake withdrew $126,000 from two accounts in the months before his wife was killed — transactions that triggered a suspicious-activity report from his bank, a bank official testified yesterday.

Prosecutor Shellie Samuels suggested at the outset of the trial that Mr. Blake might have made the withdrawals as part of a plot to hire someone to kill his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.

The checks were cashed in mostly $5,000 increments between September 2000 and March 2001, said Helga Shattuck, a compliance specialist for City National Bank. When the total reached $126,000, federal banking officials were notified of “suspicious activity.”

Mr. Blake, 71, is charged with shooting his wife, 44, on May 4, 2001, as she sat in a car near a restaurant.

GEORGIA

Courtroom decked for Valentine’s vows

LAWRENCEVILLE — Who says there is no romance in the legal system?

On every Feb. 14 for the past decade, Gwinnett County Chief Magistrate Judge Warren Davis has decked out the courtroom normally used for criminal hearings and offered marrying couples a courtly way to say, “I love you.”

The ribbons from more than four dozen balloons hung from the courtroom ceiling yesterday, while pink and red hearts adorned the safety glass that greets all those entering. Soft music emanated from a small compact disc player, and a sign resembling a license plate hung near the entrance, reading “Just Married — State of Bliss.”

The magistrate judges conducting the morning ceremonies, Michelle Knight and Jan Moja, both of whom were working their first Valentine’s Day in Judge Davis’ court, were giddy as couple after couple exchanged vows.

Weddings are a common occurrence in the magistrate court, but this Valentine’s Day brought in three times the usual number. In all, 56 couples tied the knot and another four renewed their vows.

INDIANA

Lawmakers to allow for church suppers

INDIANAPOLIS — State lawmakers are scrambling to fix a 2001 law that inadvertently outlawed the traditional pitch-in suppers hosted by churches and civic groups.

The law required “food establishments” to hire certified food handlers. It took full effect in January and was aimed at restaurants. However, it failed to include an exemption for churches and nonprofits that host community suppers.

KENTUCKY

‘Maternal instinct’ saved mom-to-be

FORT MITCHELL — A pregnant woman who killed her attacker said a maternal instinct helped her fight off the woman who investigators think was after her unborn child.

“I do believe that I fought harder because it was for my child,” Sarah Brady told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in interviews aired Sunday and yesterday. “It is a maternal instinct to protect your child to the very end.”

Katherine Smith, 22, died Thursday after luring Mrs. Brady to her apartment to pick up a package supposedly delivered to the wrong address. When Mrs. Smith pulled out a knife and attacked the pregnant woman, Mrs. Brady fought back, striking Mrs. Smith on the head with an ashtray and stabbing her three times with her own knife, police said.

Mrs. Brady, 26, who is nine months pregnant and due with a girl any day, said the baby is a blessing.

LOUISIANA

Amtrak train hits truck, kills 4

ROSELAND — An Amtrak passenger train slammed into a pickup truck Sunday in southeastern Louisiana, killing a man and three children, police said.

Chris Crowe, 31, was driving with his 6-year-old daughter, his 8-year-old son and his fiancee’s 12-year-old daughter when the collision occurred in Roseland, about 40 miles northeast of Baton Rouge.

Police Chief Tommy Cutrer said the truck was pushed down the tracks about 200 hundred yards by the train, which was heading from New Orleans to Chicago.

Mr. Crowe’s fiancee was following in her vehicle and witnessed the collision but was too distraught to give investigators a clear picture of what happened.

MICHIGAN

Blood on floor not Hoffa’s

DETROIT — Blood found on the floor of a Detroit home is not that of Jimmy Hoffa, police said yesterday, ruling out what had seemed to be one of the most promising leads in the disappearance of the Teamsters leader nearly 30 years ago.

Authorities had ripped up floorboards from a house where Delaware Teamsters official and one-time Hoffa ally Frank Sheeran said he fatally shot Mr. Hoffa.

Police in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Township received a written report from the FBI’s crime lab yesterday morning concluding the blood found on the floorboards was not Mr. Hoffa’s.

Police Chief Jeffrey Werner said investigators and Oakland County prosecutors were skeptical of the lead from the beginning but were obligated to pursue it after Fox News Channel claimed that its own investigation had turned up blood on the floor of the house.

Mr. Hoffa last was seen on July 30, 1975, at a restaurant in Bloomfield Township.

MISSOURI

Symphony agrees to labor mediation

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s musicians and management agreed to federal mediation in a labor dispute that has forced 13 concert cancellations. Union members Jan. 3 resoundingly rejected a four-year contract offer that required them to take a pay cut.

The symphony is ranked among the nation’s best, with six Grammy awards and 56 nominations.

MISSISSIPPI

D’Iberville mayor switches to GOP

JACKSON — Mayor Rusty Quave of D’Iberville, Miss., switched his party affiliation yesterday to Republican.

With Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour at his side, Mr. Quave said he was honored to have found a proper home for his views.

“I have served the citizens of D’Iberville as mayor for the past 12 years with a conservative attitude and strong emphasis on economic development and quality of life,” Mr. Quave said.

Mr. Quave’s decision comes just days after members of the Democratic National Committee elected former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to be the party’s national chairman.

NEVADA

Whistleblower sues university again

RENO — A whistleblower filed a second federal lawsuit against the University of Nevada at Reno, accusing officials of trying to smear him after he discovered a hidden police camera outside his lab last month.

UNR associate professor Hussein S. Hussein also sued the school last year, claiming he became the target of reprisals after he notified the U.S. Agricultural Department of reputed animal abuse at UNR barns and holding pens. UNR officials have denied the claims in the first lawsuit and declined comment on the latest lawsuit.

NORTH CAROLINA

Fire can’t stop GI flower orders

SPRING LAKE — The owners of a flower shop that burned down last month labored under a rented white tent yesterday to fill Valentine’s Day orders, many from Fort Bragg soldiers serving in Iraq.

“There was no way we were going to let them down,” said LaRonda Freeman, co-owner of Freeman’s Florist.

A fire last month destroyed their shop in Spring Lake, which is a few miles outside Fort Bragg. Firefighters saved the corner of the building where the shop’s office and prepaid flower order records were located.

Miss Freeman, whose father was in the special operations forces, said she felt a special obligation to fill the many orders they had from soldiers.

The owners hope to open their new shop building within a few months.

RHODE ISLAND

Campaign urges bag recycling

PROVIDENCE — An ad campaign will ask Rhode Islanders to reuse or recycle plastic grocery bags from retail stores.

The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. says it spends nearly $1 million a year picking up bags that blow out of trash delivered to a landfill in Johnston. The $250,000 television and newspaper ad campaign is aimed at persuading residents to help combat the problem.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Village outsmarts sign thief

WECOTA — The sign said it all: “Wecota, Pop. 19. We’re all here because we’re not all there.”

That is until earlier this month, when somebody stole the sign that had been bolted to a wooden fence on the west side of the Faulk County village since September. But Wecota townsfolk are nothing if not clever.

It turns out that part-time Wecota resident Dave Griffith, who came up with the idea for the sign, had ordered two of them — just in case something happened to the first one.

Resident Jerry Barondeau said the second sign will go up, and this time, it will be welded into place.

Mr. Griffith paid for the signs, as well as the town’s first street signs — one for each of Wecota’s two streets.

TEXAS

Mother found incompetent for trial

McKINNEY — A mother who cut off her baby’s arms was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial on murder charges yesterday.

The jury’s verdict came after minutes of deliberations in Dena Schlosser’s brief competency trial. Both the prosecution and the defense had requested that she not stand trial.

Attorneys said they expect the judge to commit Mrs. Schlosser to a state hospital today. She still could stand trial if she is found competent someday.

Mrs. Schlosser, 36, was charged with murder Nov. 22 after she told a 911 operator she had severed her 10-month-old daughter’s arms. Police found her in the living room, covered in blood, still holding a knife and listening to a church hymn.

She later was diagnosed with manic depression.

WASHINGTON

Letourneau, ex-pupil set wedding date

SEATTLE — Mary Kay Letourneau plans to marry the former sixth-grade pupil with whom she had two children, months after her release from prison for raping him, according to an online bridal registry.

The former teacher, 43, and Vili Fualaau, 22, set a wedding date of April 16, according to their registry at a department store. She served 7 years on a 1997 conviction for raping Mr. Fualaau, who has said in the past that he hoped to wed her.

“It’s been long overdue,” Noel Soriano, a friend of the couple, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in a story published yesterday. “It’s going to be fabulous, seeing them get hitched finally.”

WISCONSIN

Distributor worker fired for wrong beer

RACINE — Just sipping a brewski gave Isac Aguero a career hangover.

Mr. Aguero, 24, said he was fired from his job with a Miller Brewing distributor, the same day a picture appeared in the Journal Times of Racine of him drinking a Bud Light, which is brewed by rival Anheuser-Busch Co.

The photo, taken Feb. 5, was part of the newspaper’s weekly “On the Town” feature, which depicts the city’s night life.

Mr. Aguero, who had been a forklift operator at CJW Inc. for four years, told the newspaper he was informed by co-workers when he arrived at work last week that he was in trouble because of the picture.

He said he was called into the general manager’s office and told he was fired. Mr. Aguero said he was not given a reason and claimed he never had problems with his bosses.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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