- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

Missing hiker feared dead

ATLANTA — Authorities said yesterday they think a hiker who disappeared from the northern Georgia woods on New Year’s Day is dead, and they charged the man who reportedly was last seen with her with kidnapping.

Union County Superior Court Judge David Barrett signed a warrant charging Gary Michael Hilton, 61, with kidnapping with bodily injury in the disappearance of Meredith Emerson, Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said.

Mr. Bankhead said the search for the 24-year-old woman, who was hiking with her dog in the Chattahoochee National Forest, is now focused on finding her body.

“The search has changed from rescue to recovery, based on the evidence we’ve uncovered so far,” he said.

Mr. Hilton is already in federal custody near Atlanta, held on a warrant for failure to appear in federal court for a charge of abandoning property in a national park.

Court upholds ‘minute of silence’

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas schoolchildren will continue to pray or meditate during a daily minute of silence after a federal court threw out a challenge to the state law.

The ruling issued Thursday stems from a complaint by a North Texas couple who say one of their children was told by an elementary school teacher to keep quiet because the minute is a “time for prayer.”

The complaint filed in 2006 by David and Shannon Croft names Gov. Rick Perry and the suburban Dallas school district the Crofts’ three children attend.

The 2003 law allows children to “reflect, pray, meditate or engage in any other silent activities” for one minute at the beginning of each school day.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn upheld the constitutionality of the law, concluding that “the primary effect of the statute is to institute a moment of silence, not to advance or inhibit religion.”

Worker found dead in Capitol

SALT LAKE CITY — A construction worker was found dead in a crawl space Friday at the Utah state Capitol, where government officials were holding a ceremony to mark the building’s recent renovation.

The body of John David Welsh, 30, was found in a confined space where heating ducts and pipes run, said Trooper Cameron Roden, a Utah Highway Patrol spokesman.

Foul play was not suspected, but “we’ll look into every aspect,” Trooper Roden said. An autopsy was planned.

Mr. Welsh had reported to work Friday morning. His body was discovered by another worker about 2 p.m., Trooper Roden said.

Skier killed in avalanche

VAIL, Colo. — An avalanche killed a 27-year-old man Friday while he was skiing outside the boundaries of a ski resort.

Jesse Brigham, a Vail Resorts employee, was skiing with two companions when the avalanche hit. The others pulled Mr. Brigham from the snow after 10 to 20 minutes, but attempts to revive him failed, Eagle County sheriff’s spokeswoman Shannon Cordingly said.

Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis said the cause of death was asphyxiation.

Mr. Brigham worked at a luxury hotel run by Vail Resorts’ hotel management company, RockResorts.

Judge delays fight over Astor’s will

NEW YORK — The family fight over Brooke Astor’s $198 million estate is on hold until at least May while the late philanthropist’s son faces criminal charges of plundering her fortune.

Westchester County Surrogate’s Court Judge Anthony Scarpino agreed Friday to put a stay on the civil case surrounding Mrs. Astor’s will until May 7. Depositions had been scheduled to start tomorrow.

Manhattan prosecutors asked the judge to postpone action in the case while they pursue grand larceny and other charges against Mrs. Astor’s 83-year-old son, Anthony Marshall. He has pleaded not guilty.

The civil case centers on which of two wills, signed on different dates, best conveys Mrs. Astor’s intentions.

Man charged with torching girlfriend

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — A man suspected of setting his girlfriend on fire out of jealousy was arrested after police found him hiding in an attic, authorities said.

Shannon McGee, 34, is accused of attacking his 29-year-old girlfriend on Dec. 22. Authorities say he punched her, poured a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her and set fire to her. She was treated for burns at a Grand Rapids hospital.

Police used a Global Positioning System on Friday to track a cell phone Mr. McGee had with him in the attic.

Mr. McGee was being held early yesterday in the Muskegon County Jail on $10,000 bond. Sheriff’s Sgt. Todd Gilchrist said Mr. McGee would be arraigned tomorrow on a warrant charging him with assault to do great bodily harm less than murder.

Man charged with trail vandalism

FULLERTON, Calif. — Police said they arrested a man who acknowledged digging holes on a park bike trail as payback for nearly being run down by a cyclist.

Warren John Wilson, 52, faces a single felony count of vandalism, police Sgt. Linda King said Friday.

Sgt. King said nearly 50 holes measuring about 1-by-2 feet have been found since June along a trail at Laguna Lake Park, and in some cases attempts had been made to hide them from cyclists. She said some riders went over their handlebars after hitting the holes, but none reported major injuries.

Detectives watching the trails questioned Mr. Wilson, who said he had nearly been run over by a mountain bike rider and began digging the holes in retaliation, Sgt. King said.

Police said Mr. Wilson had been released from custody. A phone listing for him could not be found.

From staff reports and wire dispatches

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