- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

CALIFORNIA

Storms dampen wildfires

YUCCA VALLEY — Heavy rain and lightning forced firefighters from the ridges where they were battling a cluster of wildfires that have destroyed about 60 homes and blackened more than 130 square miles east of Los Angeles, authorities said yesterday.

A 40 percent chance of rain was forecast for the area yesterday, and a 60 percent chance of heavy rain with the potential for flash flooding was expected later in the week in canyons where fires have stripped away vegetation, said Robert Balfour, a National Weather Service senior forecaster assigned to the fires.

Late Sunday, lightning forced crews off high ground in the middle of the night, then rain soaked the crews on the ground.

Still, the increased humidity helped firefighters make progress against the largest of a group of fires in the area. That blaze, ignited by lightning July 9, had covered about 96 square miles but was 70 percent contained and some crews were being sent home.

NEW YORK

Doctor’s death deemed suicide

NEW YORK — A doctor suspected of blowing up his Manhattan town house to avoid selling it in a divorce settlement died from his severe burns, the medical examiner’s office said yesterday in declaring his death a suicide.

Dr. Nicholas Bartha, 66, had warned his wife in e-mail shortly before the July 10 explosion: “I will leave the house only if I am dead.”

He was pulled alive from the rubble after the blast, but died late Saturday from burns covering 35 percent of body, with diabetes and heart disease as contributing factors, said a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner, adding that “the manner of death is suicide.”

The physician, who lived and worked in the four-story landmark, was its lone occupant during the blast, which leveled the building and left the upscale block covered in bricks, broken glass and splintered wood.

CONNECTICUT

Clerk arrested in juice tampering

DARIEN — A store clerk who was said to be unhappy because of not being promoted was arrested yesterday on charges that he spiked bottled grape juice with dishwashing liquid, causing more than 40 people to fall ill at a church communion service.

The contaminated juice was bought at the CVS drugstore where Wendell Woodroffe worked, police said.

Mr. Woodroffe, 28, was charged with 22 counts of assault and 22 counts of assault on a victim 60 or older. He was jailed on $50,000 bail.

The victims fell ill during the Feb. 5 service at Calvary Baptist Church, a short distance from the drugstore. Five persons were treated at hospitals for nausea and vomiting. People who drank the juice reported a burning sensation in their throats.

Mr. Woodroffe also was charged in a previously unreported incident in which a Darien woman got sick from adulterated prune juice in December, police said. That case came to light after the church illnesses.

COLORADO

Ice rink opens amid heat wave

GRAND JUNCTION — Ski caps and earmuffs in 102-degree weather?

This city opened its first ice rink Saturday, and 1,300 people ducked inside, escaping the highest official temperature in the state.

“I got goose bumps in the bleachers watching a hockey game. We’ve had a hockey team for years, but they never had a home game. They always played on the road,” said Robbie Koos, one of the owners of the Glacier Ice Arena.

For years, skaters and hockey lovers had tried to raise money to build an ice rink. They held countless cookie sales and other fundraisers but always fell short.

Ultimately Mrs. Koos, her husband and his four siblings took on the project as a commercial investment. Costing $4.2 million, it opened just in time.

“When I saw the forecast for this weekend, I knew it would be great,” Mrs. Koos said. “It was a scorcher.”

INDIANA

Toddler dies in hot car

SOUTH BEND — A 3-year-old boy died after he apparently locked himself inside a car in 90-degree heat, relatives and neighbors said.

Abraham Barlue was found in the car by his grandmother Vester Zeon.

She said she had given the boy permission to go play at a neighbor’s apartment while she was cooking Saturday.

“The car was locked, and the key was in my bag. I do not know how he got a key,” she told WNDU-TV.

The National Weather Service said the temperature in South Bend at the time was about 90 degrees.

Police said their report was expected to go to prosecutors yesterday for a decision on whether any charges would be filed.

LOUISIANA

State confirms West Nile cases

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana’s health department has confirmed the state’s first two human cases of West Nile virus this year — a dangerous case involving infection of the nervous system and one less serious case of West Nile fever.

Both persons became ill late last month and are recovering from the mosquito-borne virus, Dr. Raoult Ratard, the state epidemiologist, said yesterday. Both cases were in communities north of Lake Pontchartrain: The more serious, neuroinvasive case was in Tangipahoa Parish, and the fever case was in St. Tammany Parish.

The Department of Health and Hospitals does not release identities of West Nile victims and said it will give patients’ ages and sexes only when it has several cases, to avoid releasing information about any individual patient.

In previous years, the first cases of West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne illness began appearing in late June or early July. Last year, 11 of the 118 patients with neuroinvasive disease died, and there were 70 known cases of fever.

The worst year for West Nile cases in Louisiana was 2002, with 204 neuroinvasive cases, 25 deaths and 125 known cases of fever.

MAINE

Rescue teams free entangled whales

BAR HARBOR — Two humpback whales that became entangled in marine gear off the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts were freed by whale-rescue teams, officials said.

People aboard a whale-watch boat spotted one distressed whale on Saturday about 15 nautical miles southeast of Mount Desert Island. Marine gear had cut deep into the whale’s head, according to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts.

When the whale moved close enough to the surface Sunday, a rescue team aboard a 17-foot inflatable boat cut the line with a knife mounted on a pole, the center said. The entangling gear dropped free, and the whale disappeared into the fog.

A second rescue team freed another humpback whale that had been entangled in gear about 150 miles off the Massachusetts coast, officials with the coastal studies center said Sunday.

Humpback whales are listed as an endangered species in the United States. About 12,000 humpbacks are estimated to live in the North Atlantic, with 900 feeding seasonally off the Northeast coast of the U.S., according to the center.

NEVADA

Mental exam sought in child snatching

LAS VEGAS — A teenager who was shot by police after he grabbed a 3-year-old boy from an airport toy store and ran through a checkpoint needs a mental evaluation before facing trial, his attorney said yesterday.

A Las Vegas judge yesterday approved sending Michael Allgood’s case to Clark County District Court, where attorney Frank Cremen said he will ask a state judge to order a psychiatric evaluation.

“He has got a mental problem. He’s probably schizophrenic,” Mr. Cremen said.

Authorities have characterized the 19-year-old as mentally ill, and police have said he indicated he was trying to commit suicide by provoking the shooting. Mr. Cremen said Mr. Allgood, of Wilsonville, Ore., had spent six months in a psychiatric facility in Oregon before traveling to Las Vegas.

WYOMING

3 students found violently killed

LARAMIE — Three college students found dead in a home near the University of Wyoming campus had been drinking that night and died violent deaths, police said yesterday.

The three victims and another student who was injured in the attack knew one another and apparently had been having a small party that night, said Dale Stalder, the Laramie police commander.

Investigators were still trying to piece together what happened in the home early Sunday, but the police commander said they think everyone involved had been accounted for and that it could have been a murder-suicide.

“There were several different kinds of weapons used,” he said. “This was a very violent criminal act.”

He declined to release further details. Autopsies on the three were being performed yesterday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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