- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007


Wildfires hit Malibu mansions

MALIBU — A wildfire fanned by Santa Ana winds destroyed eight seaside mansions and damaged five others yesterday as it spread over more than 10 acres in this celebrity enclave, authorities said.

Flames boiled furiously out of the skeletons of million-dollar beach homes as palm trees bent in winds blowing at 21 mph. More than 300 firefighters battled the blaze, which began about 5 p.m., said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Ron Haralson.

The blaze erupted near West Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road. Residents were being evacuated on the west end of the canyon road, Sheriff’s Sgt. John Hocking said.

TV news helicopters showed a large area of flames blowing down the slopes toward shoreline homes, with lines of flashing lights from emergency vehicles that converged on the area. Winds appeared to be blowing the fire toward the ocean rather than up into steep, brushy canyons.

“It’s so windy out there, it’s kind of scary,” said Roberto Cardenas, an employee at Coogies Beach Cafe.


Padilla wants statements tossed

MIAMI — Attorneys for terrorism suspect Jose Padilla asked a federal judge yesterday to keep statements he made during his detention in a Navy brig out of evidence in the U.S. government’s terrorism-support case against him.

Mr. Padilla has said he was tortured during 3 years in military custody as an enemy combatant, charges that the Justice Department and Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied. His prolonged confinement and abuse from interrogators render involuntary any statements he made during his time in the brig, according to a motion filed in U.S. District Court.

“The action of the government agents in this case constitute police coercion and overreaching at its highest,” the motion states. “Consequently, the government has forfeited the right to use these statements for any purpose at Mr. Padilla’s trial.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment yesterday. Messages left for Padilla’s public defenders were not returned.

Mr. Padilla, a U.S. citizen who converted to Islam, is charged along with two others in the U.S. with being part of a support cell that provided money, recruits and supplies to Muslim extremists around the world.


Official concerned about abortion records

TOPEKA — Kansas’ new attorney general said yesterday that he’s concerned that patient records gathered by his predecessor in a failed attempt to prosecute a nationally known abortion doctor may have been copied and are not secure.

Phill Kline, who unsuccessfully ran in November for re-election as attorney general, had appointed a special prosecutor to handle the case against Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the nation who perform late-term abortions.

Mr. Kline’s successor, Paul Morrison, said he plans to fire the special prosecutor, a Democrat who has protested outside Dr. Tiller’s clinic. But he said Mr. Kline already had given the man partial records on about 90 abortion-clinic patients.

The special prosecutor, Wichita lawyer Don McKinney, did not return a telephone message left at his office seeking comment.


Jury selection starts in Katrina lawsuit

GULFPORT — More than a quarter of the jury pool was sent home within a couple of hours yesterday as attorneys started selecting jurors for the trial of one of the hundreds of insurance lawsuits filed by policyholders after Hurricane Katrina.

Norman and Genevieve Broussard, whose Biloxi home was reduced to a slab by Katrina, sued State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. after the insurer denied their entire claim. State Farm says all the damage was caused by floodwaters, but the Broussards say a tornado destroyed their home before any flooding.

Hundreds of Mississippi homeowners have sued their insurance companies for refusing to cover billions of dollars in damage from Katrina’s storm surge. This is the second case to be tried since the Aug. 29, 2005, storm destroyed or severely damaged tens of thousands of homes.

Soon after yesterday’s session began, U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. dismissed six potential jurors who said they could not be impartial in the case.


Christmas trees to provide home for fish

BOZEMAN — More than 1,000 old Christmas trees were loaded onto a flatbed truck and taken to a lake with the hope of deep-sixing them — literally.

A walleye fishing club Saturday dumped the trees on the banks of Canyon Ferry Lake, one step in a plan to create a suitable nesting space for perch to lay their eggs, which will hatch and become food for other fish, namely walleye.

“Some people think we’re crazy,” said Marvin Hansen, president of a local chapter of Walleyes Unlimited, the group doing the picking up and the dumping.

The group has been tree dumping for almost a decade, hoping that laying a Christmas tree carpet on the lake bottom will improve the lake’s ecosystem. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks authorized the group to dump the trees.


1 killed, 9 injured in plant explosion

BEVERLY — An explosion at a coal-burning power plant killed a worker delivering liquid hydrogen and injured nine yesterday, authorities said.

Officials weren’t sure what caused the blast outside the Muskingum River Plant, said Vikki Michalski, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power.

Although hydrogen gas is highly explosive, it is used to cool steam generators at the plant because it has a high capacity for heat and is more efficient than using air.

The nine workers were treated at local hospitals for injuries, mostly cuts and bruises, authorities said. None of the injuries was considered life-threatening.

There was no major damage to the plant, where 210 persons work, officials said.


Judge, hero enshrined in Hall of Fame

MYRTLE BEACH — U.S. District Judge Matthew Perry was enshrined in the South Carolina Hall of Fame yesterday, recalling how an incident as a young Army recruit steeled his resolve to become a lawyer to fight the evils of segregation.

“The level of insult I felt you need to understand,” Judge Perry told hundreds of Horry County school children before he was inducted to honor his career as a civil rights lawyer and federal judge, which has spanned more than a half-century.

Judge Perry recounted that as a young soldier in World War II, he was returning to his Columbia home from training in Alabama when white soldiers, as well as a group of Italian prisoners of war, were fed a meal in a warm room at a railroad station restaurant. Black U.S. soldiers, he said, had to line up outside a kitchen window.

“I and other black soldiers were outside shivering in the cold, waiting to be fed,” Judge Perry recalled.

The other inductee into the Hall of Fame was Peter Horry, the Revolutionary War hero who was a lieutenant of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox.


Pizza chain accepts Mexican pesos

DALLAS — Mexican pesos won’t buy you much north of the border — except for a pizza.

A Dallas-based pizza chain that caters to the Hispanic community began accepting the Mexican currency at all its 59 U.S. stores starting yesterday, giving the greenback some unusual competition at the cash register.

“Unlike many other businesses, for us it makes sense. Our stores are located in predominately Hispanic communities, and so the majority of our customers are Hispanic,” said Andrew Gamm, director of brand development for Pizza Patron.

Mr. Gamm said he was aware of businesses in border towns that accept pesos but thinks Pizza Patron is the first to offer such a service at outlets far from the Rio Grande.

The franchise operates in five states: Texas, Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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