Rushmore undergoes first cleaning
MOUNT RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL — Visitors might not be able to tell the difference, but the Mount Rushmore faces have been washed for the first time since they were carved more than 65 years ago.
Workers removed dirt, grime and invasive lichens, which had begun digging into the stone images of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. The three-week-long project was expected to end yesterday or today, said Duane Bubac, Mount Rushmore facilities manager.
The faces were designed by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who began working on them in 1927. Roosevelt’s image, the last one to be carved, was dedicated in 1939.
‘GAYSROK’ license plate approved
SALT LAKE CITY — The state of Utah can’t block a woman from using her license plate to tell the world “GAYSROK,” a judge has ruled.
The state has no good reason to prevent Elizabeth Solomon from having that plate — which can be read “Gays are OK” or “Gays Rock” — or another one saying “GAYRYTS,” said Jane Phan, an administrative law judge with the Utah State Tax Commission.
“The narrow issue before us is whether a reasonable person would believe the terms ‘gays are OK’ and ‘gay rights’ are, themselves, offensive to good taste and decency. It is the conclusion of the commission that a reasonable person would not,” Judge Phan wrote.
Fines increase for juror no-shows
MONTGOMERY — The Legislature has stiffened the punishment for people who fail to show up for jury duty. It increased the fine from $100 to $300 for failing to serve.
For those who do appear, the bill provides in part that employers can’t make employees use vacation or leave time for days away from work while on a jury summons.
City dump filling too quickly
JUNEAU — Officials are concerned that garbage is piling up too quickly at the landfill since operators closed the site’s two aging incinerators last summer.
Operators say the dump has up to 35 years to go, but city officials fear it might reach its limit in 10 years. Juneau generates about 30,000 tons of garbage each year.
Defendant ‘crushed’ sex partner was male
HAYWARD — A man charged with murdering a transgender teenager testified that he felt betrayed and threw up after learning the fun, attractive girl with whom he had a sexual encounter was biologically male.
“I was crushed,” Jose Merel said Wednesday. “I don’t know. … It just broke my heart to hear that.”
Mr. Merel, 25, and two other men are charged with first-degree murder in the death of Gwen Araujo, who prosecutors say was strangled with rope after her identity was revealed at Mr. Merel’s house in 2002.
Bishops take cleric to church court
HARTFORD — Nine conservative Episcopal bishops said yesterday that they will take Connecticut’s bishop to religious court over his suspension of one priest and threat to remove five others.
The conflict stems from Connecticut Bishop Andrew Smith’s support for Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the church’s first openly homosexual bishop. Bishop Robinson’s 2003 consecration has divided the U.S. Episcopal Church. Dubbed the “Connecticut Six,” the priests had asked to be supervised by a different bishop because they disagreed with Bishop Smith’s support of Bishop Robinson.
Earlier this month, Bishop Smith used his power to “inhibit” one of the six, the Rev. Mark Hansen, and appointed another priest to lead St. John’s Church in Bristol. The inhibition prevents Mr. Hansen from leading any congregation in Connecticut for up to six months. Diocesan officials said Mr. Hansen was suspended because he took an unauthorized sabbatical.
Shark bites teen wading in ocean
DAYTONA BEACH — A 13-year-old girl was bitten on the hand by a shark as she waded in shallow water in the Atlantic Ocean, authorities said.
Nichole Carlos of Jupiter suffered a cut on the back of her left hand and had bite marks near her wrist, emergency workers said. She was attacked while wading in waist-deep water Wednesday evening.
The teenager was taken to Halifax Medical Center, where she was in stable condition early yesterday, hospital officials said.
Soldier found guilty of missing movement
FORT STEWART — An Army mechanic who refused to go to Iraq while he sought conscientious-objector status was acquitted of desertion but found guilty of a lesser charge during a court-martial yesterday.
Sgt. Kevin Benderman, 40, was sentenced to 15 months in prison on the charge of missing movement. He also was given a dishonorable discharge from the military and a reduction in rank to private. If he had been found guilty of desertion, he could have faced five years in prison.
Benderman failed to deploy with his 3rd Infantry Division unit Jan. 8, 10 days after he told Fort Stewart commanders he was seeking a discharge as a conscientious objector.
Benderman said during the sentencing phase that he didn’t mean for his actions to hurt his comrades.
“I am not against soldiers,” he said. “I don’t care what anyone says. Though some might take my actions as being against soldiers, I want everyone to be home and safe and raising their families. I don’t want anyone to be hurt in a combat zone.”
Toddler plunges 40 feet into river
GARY — Rescuers searched a river yesterday for a 2-year-old girl who flew out of the window of her mother’s sport utility vehicle and plunged 40 feet into the water after her mother lost control of the vehicle.
Divers looked for Jatama Greene in the Grand Calumet River in an industrial area near the Gary/Chicago International Airport, close to railroad track abutments where the water was coated with moss, algae and debris. Fire Chief Mark Everett said the divers were having trouble seeing clearly and had little hope that Jatama would be found alive.
A truck driver jumped in to try to reach the toddler, Chief Everett said. “He said he saw her about 10 feet away, but he just couldn’t get to her,” Chief Everett said.
Jatama’s sobbing mother, Jacqueline Greene, was restrained by a friend from descending the river bank to search the water herself.
Half of surplus to be set aside
FRANKFORT — Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican, said nearly half of the state’s $214 million surplus will be set aside for the rainy-day fund to meet future spending needs and ease the concerns of Wall Street.
The remaining $124 million could cover the burgeoning Medicaid deficit, teacher salaries or other elementary and secondary education assistance.
Authorities crack down on crime family
NEW YORK — A suspected acting crime boss and 19 other members and associates of the Genovese organized crime family were arrested yesterday on extortion, loan-sharking and other charges, authorities said.
The defendants include longtime capo Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello, who reportedly became one of the family’s acting bosses after Vincent “The Chin” Gigante was convicted, authorities said.
Mr. Ianniello and the other defendants awaited arraignment in federal court yesterday with additional charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, extortion and influencing a union official.
An indictment claims that under Mr. Ianniello’s leadership, the mob family infiltrated a local union and extorted payments from a medical center that rented office space from it.
Interview, letters to be used at trial
HAYWARD — Transcripts of an interview and letters sent to a Chicago Tribune reporter can be used at the trial of a man accused of killing six hunters, a judge has ruled.
Defense attorneys tried to have the jailhouse communications kept out of the trial, but Judge Norman Yackel said in his order Wednesday that defendant Chai Vang knew authorities were monitoring all of his calls and letters.
Mr. Vang made one telephone call and sent two letters to reporter Colleen Mastony in March, and jail authorities copied and shared the correspondence with prosecutors.
The Tribune said it would oppose attempts to get Miss Mastony to testify. Her story has not been published.
The trial is scheduled to start in September.
From wire dispatches and staff reports