- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

CALIFORNIA

Gunman kills self, 2 others at diner

PISMO BEACH — A homeless man who entered a Denny’s restaurant at lunchtime muttering and looking dazed opened fire, killing two persons and wounding a couple before turning the gun on himself, police said.

The man, holding a semiautomatic handgun in one hand and a revolver in the other, entered the restaurant Wednesday and began shooting within a few steps of the front door, sending patrons and workers fleeing to the restaurant’s bathrooms and kitchen.

The dead were identified as Frank Velasquez, 65, of Oceano, who was killed in front of his wife and 5-year-old great-granddaughter, and Harold Hatley, 73, of Grover Beach. The gunman, identified as 60-year-old Lawrence Edward Woods, also wounded a couple before shooting himself in the head, police said.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Judge OK’d freeing rape suspect

HARTSVILLE — A man sought by police in connection with the rape of two teenage girls in an underground room behind his home had been recommended for the state’s sexually violent predator program, officials said yesterday.

Just before his release from prison in 2000, prosecutors recommended that Kenneth G. Hinson be kept behind bars indefinitely under the state’s violent predator program, but the judge rejected it.

Authorities say that late Monday, Hinson took the two 17-year-old girls one at a time from a nearby mobile home while they were sleeping. He bound the first girl’s mouth with tape and took her to a shed on his property, said Chief Deputy Tom Gainey of the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office.

ALABAMA

Arson suspects to stay in jail

BIRMINGHAM — Three college students accused of setting fire to a string of rural churches were granted release on bail by a federal judge yesterday, but they will remain in custody because of new arrest warrants issued by the state.

The Alabama warrants charged the trio with arson in Bibb County, where five of the nine blazes occurred early last month. Officials are considering charges in the western Alabama counties where four more small Baptist churches were torched.

“Even if they make [the federal] bond, they will not be going home,” U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said.

The three were arrested March 8 on federal charges of conspiracy and setting fire to one of the churches. Evidence indicates the fires began as a prank that went out of control on a night of drinking and hunting. Defense attorneys have said the fires were not hate crimes.

ARIZONA

Voters support dead councilman

SIERRA VISTA — Voters in the town of Bisbee stuck by their incumbent city councilman, even though he died nine days before the election.

Bob Kasun easily defeated Jeff Harris on Tuesday by a margin of 246-to-83. The four-term councilman died March 6 of lymphoma and renal failure at age 79. His funeral was Monday.

Councilwoman Luche Giacomino, who survived a recall attempt, said she was happy to win but especially pleased that Mr. Kasun was not voted from office. The Bisbee City Council now will decide whom to appoint to fill out Mr. Kasun’s term, which expires Dec. 2.

CONNECTICUT

Sex offender arrested in girl’s death

HARTFORD — A database of DNA from convicted sex offenders has linked a Connecticut man to the rape and killing of an 11-year-old girl in Florida almost 10 years ago, police said yesterday.

Robert S. Mitchell, 43, of New Britain was charged Wednesday with being a fugitive from justice and was expected to be extradited to Florida to face charges after a hearing yesterday.

The body of sixth-grader Cherie Morrisette of Jacksonville, Fla., was found Dec. 8, 1996, in the St. John’s River about 10 miles from the apartment she shared with her mother and sister.

FLORIDA

Teachers lose jobs in credentials scam

MIAMI — A growing scandal over teachers who paid to get credit for courses they never took has cost nearly three dozen educators their jobs, and hundreds of others were being investigated.

The Miami-Dade County School Board voted 5-4 on Wednesday to fire six teachers and accept resignations from 26 others.

The punishments stem from a scam run by former high school teacher William McCoggle, who claimed to offer continuing-education classes through a private company. McCoggle pleaded guilty to fraud in November, admitting he did little more than sell transcripts, requiring no tests, homework or other academic work.

On Wednesday, dozens of students and parents defended the teachers who lost their jobs, saying that removing them in the middle of the school year would be too disruptive.

ILLINOIS

Board votes to ban junk food in schools

SPRINGFIELD — Vending machine candy, chips and soda will be history when the state’s elementary and middle school students start classes this fall.

The Illinois State Board of Education voted yesterday to ban schools from offering junk food during the school day for pupils through eighth grade in an effort to keep unhealthy food out of their hands.

Local school officials had complained about the plan, saying they get crucial revenue from vending machine sales. The plan originally included high schools, but they were exempted.

MAINE

Officials lose jobs with veterans homes

PORTLAND — The top three officials responsible for overseeing six veterans homes from Scarborough to Caribou have been ousted by the homes’ trustees, who concluded they were not working well together.

The chief executive officer, chief operating officer and compliance officer have resigned, and the board chairman said searches have been started to fill the first two jobs.

NEW YORK

Colombia extradites smuggling suspect

NEW YORK — A high-ranking member of a Colombian drug cartel suspected of smuggling more than $10 billion worth of cocaine and heroin into the United States was extradited to New York yesterday to stand trial on charges of racketeering and narcotics importation, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said.

Julio Cesar Lopez-Pena was named in a federal grand jury indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in New York as one of 10 leaders of the Norte Valle cartel, accused of being personally responsible for smuggling thousands of pounds of cocaine and heroin, worth an estimated $100 million, since at least 1998.

According to the three-count indictment, Mr. Lopez-Pena operated a cocaine laboratory under the control of the Norte Valle cartel and produced hundreds of pounds of cocaine per week, a majority of which was sent to the United States. The indictment said many of the shipments contained more than 3,000 pounds of cocaine.

DEA spokesman Garrison K. Courtney said that beginning in 2004, Mr. Lopez-Pena was the leader of a criminal organization responsible for smuggling multi-pound quantities of heroin into the United States for distribution using, among other methods, suitcases inside which the drugs were stashed.

NORTH CAROLINA

Four die after boat overturns in ocean

OAK ISLAND — Searchers found the bodies of four persons missing from a small boat that overturned in the Atlantic Ocean more than a mile from shore, the Coast Guard said yesterday.

Two survivors were able to swim to Oak Island, on the state’s southern tip, and were hospitalized, Coast Guard spokesman Mark Adams said.

The bodies of the four others who had been aboard the 18-foot boat when it capsized Wednesday evening were discovered shortly before midnight. The boaters, who had set out from nearby Shallotte, at first tied themselves to the craft, but about 10 p.m. they tried to swim the 11/2 miles to shore, Mr. Adams said.

The four victims were all wearing life jackets when their bodies were found in the 58-degree water. They were identified as men in their 20s and 30s from Banner Elk, in the North Carolina mountains.

WISCONSIN

University sets policy on Bible studies

MADISON — Resident assistants are free to host Bible studies in their rooms, as well as sales or political meetings, under a policy adopted unanimously by the University of Wisconsin system’s Board of Regents.

The assistants, who receive stipends in exchange for supervising students in residence halls, are warned that they should create an inclusive environment and not use their positions to coerce people to attend.

The new policy applies to the system’s 13 four-year universities. Each campus will have to set up ways to address student complaints about their resident assistants, University President Kevin Reilly said.

The regents in effect rescinded policies at the Madison and Eau Claire campuses, where assistants were barred from religious or political meetings in their rooms.

Last fall, an Eau Claire student challenged the unwritten policy after he was warned he faced disciplinary action for hosting Bible studies. The student filed a federal lawsuit against the university.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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