- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

CALIFORNIA

Wildfire, forest fire on collision course

YUCCA VALLEY — A wildfire that has already burned 40,000 acres and destroyed 100 buildings roared through high desert wilderness yesterday, threatening to merge with a fire in national forest land filled with dead, dry trees.

“If it starts in there, it will be almost impossible to stop,” California Department of Forestry spokeswoman Karen Guillemin said of the fire edging toward San Bernardino National Forest.

The blaze, about five miles from a 1,200-acre fire in the forest, was mainly consuming fast-burning fuel such as greasewood, Joshua trees and brush. If it expands from the high desert to the mountains, it could grow more devastating by burning millions of larger trees killed in recent years by a severe bark beetle infestation.

The fire, ignited by weekend lightning, destroyed 42 houses, 55 other buildings and 91 vehicles in and around Yucca Valley, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, authorities said. As of yesterday, it was only about 20 percent contained.

FLORIDA

Jury selection stopped in murder trial

TAVARES — The judge halted jury selection yesterday in the trial of a sex offender accused of kidnapping 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford and burying her alive, saying an impartial jury can’t be found so close to her home.

Circuit Judge Ric Howard had already moved jury selection to Lake County, about 50 miles east of Homosassa, because of publicity surrounding the case. On Thursday, after attorneys had spent three days trying to find jurors who hadn’t been exposed to news reports about the case, Judge Howard declared they were still too close to find an impartial jury. It wasn’t clear whether he would shift only the jury selection process or move the entire trial.

John Evander Couey, 47, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, sexual battery on a child, kidnapping and burglary in the girl’s death.

Associated Press

John Evander Couey’s trial on charges of killing Jessica Lunsford, 9, may be moved again because the court is having trouble finding an impartial jury.

CONNECTICUT

Judge: Civil unions offer enough rights

HARTFORD — A Superior Court judge has ruled that same-sex couples are not harmed by state marriage laws because the state’s new civil union law provides them with the rights and protections of marriage.

“Civil union and marriage in Connecticut now share the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law,” Superior Court Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman said in her ruling, which was issued Wednesday. Lawmakers reserved the word “marriage” for opposite-sex couples and adopted “civil union” for same-sex unions, she said, adding that the state constitution requires “there be equal protection and due process of law, not that there be equivalent nomenclature for such protection and process.”

The eight same-sex couples who sued the state for the right to “marry” will appeal, said lawyers with the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.

KANSAS

Accomplice jailed in dog-crate escape

LEAVENWORTH — A prison volunteer who admitted helping a convicted murderer escape hidden in a dog crate was sentenced Wednesday to 21 months behind bars.

Under a plea agreement reached last month, Toby Young, who ran a dog-training program at Lansing Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting aggravated escape and introducing contraband — a cell phone — into the prison.

Young, 48, admitted she smuggled murderer John Manard, 27, out of prison on Feb. 12 by hiding him in a dog crate in the van she used for the dog-training program she ran at the penitentiary. They were at large for two weeks before being captured in Tennessee.

MASSACHUSETTS

Donors delay gifts to Harvard

BOSTON — Prominent donors have delayed multimillion-dollar gifts to Harvard University since Lawrence Summers resigned as the school’s president and a search began for his replacement, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.

Last month, Oracle Corp. chief executive Larry Ellison announced that he would not donate $115 million to Harvard because Mr. Summers’ participation in overseeing how the money would be spent was crucial.

The former U.S. Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration announced his resignation in February after a turbulent five-year tenure.

Now, Mortimer Zuckerman, a billionaire publisher and real-estate developer; Richard Smith, a former member of Harvard’s governing board; and David Rockefeller, a banker and a philanthropist, have delayed making their gifts, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

NEBRASKA

Short sex offender labeled high risk

LINCOLN — A sex offender who was sentenced to probation instead of prison partly because of his short stature was classified as a high risk to reoffend.

Richard W. Thompson was rated Wednesday after assessment in 14 areas by the Nebraska State Patrol, said Shannon Black, clinical director of the patrol’s Sex Offender Registry.

Thompson, 50, was sentenced in May by Judge Kristine Cecava for having sexual contact with a girl last summer. Judge Cecava said his crimes deserved a long sentence, but she also expressed concern that he would be especially vulnerable to prison dangers because he is 5-foot-1.

NEW MEXICO

Power outage caused by snake, bird

LAS CRUCES — A power outage that blacked out about 2,000 customers in Las Cruces is being blamed on the combination of a snake and a bird.

The customers lost their electricity Tuesday after a bird dropped a bullsnake on a power line, shorting out the line, El Paso Electric Co. spokeswoman Teresa Souza said.

OHIO

Mother drowns trying to rescue girl

MANSFIELD — A woman drowned after jumping into fast-moving floodwaters to try to rescue her 9-year-old daughter, who slipped on a stone walkway into the water and was swept through 460 feet of drainage pipe into another creek.

The girl emerged from the pipe without serious injuries and was able to get out of the water and seek help, police Lt. Dave Nirode said. Firefighters found the body of her mother, Dianna Snyder, 40, about 100 feet downstream from where the girl came out of the pipe.

OKLAHOMA

Teenager killed in paintball battle

JENKS — A sport utility vehicle carrying high-school football players having a paintball fight with teammates in another vehicle flew out of control on a highway and flipped, killing 17-year-old Garrett Austin Bennett, officials said.

The teens had just left a paintball adventure park Wednesday afternoon after meeting up other players and coaches from the Jenks High School football team, said Les Miller, manager of Paintball Adventure Games.

TEXAS

Mistaken psychiatrist testifies in Yates trial

HOUSTON — The forensic psychiatrist whose testimony about a TV show episode led to Andrea Yates’ 2002 murder conviction being overturned took the witness stand yesterday in Mrs. Yates’ retrial for the bathtub drowning of her children.

Dr. Park Dietz, who evaluated Mrs. Yates in November 2001, began by recounting his professional experience.

In the first trial, he told jurors that Mrs. Yates knew drowning her five children was wrong. But Dr. Dietz, who had been a consultant for the “Law & Order” television series, also testified that one episode showed a woman being acquitted by reason of insanity after drowning her children in a bathtub. No such episode existed, and Mrs. Yates’ conviction was overturned because of the erroneous testimony.

UTAH

Police dog blamed in car accident

OGDEN — A police dog that was left in a pickup with the engine running apparently knocked the vehicle into gear and ran down a woman who was walking to her mailbox.

Mary F. Stone, 41, was expected to remain hospitalized with a fractured pelvis and tailbone until at least today, said her husband, Paul Stone.

The dog, a German shepherd named Ranger, had been left in the truck while its handler responded to a domestic disturbance call Tuesday, police Lt. Loring Draper said. The truck’s engine was left on so Ranger would have air conditioning.

Lt. Draper said Ranger must have hit the shift on the steering column, putting the automatic transmission into gear. As the truck slowly rolled forward, police officers yelled to Mrs. Stone, but she couldn’t get out of the way in time, he said.

A front and rear tire ran over her. “She had tire marks on her clothes,” her husband said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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