- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008


Unknown disease killing state tree

MIAMI | The sabal palm, Florida’s state tree, is under attack by a microscopic killer that has scientists baffled.

An unknown but growing number of sabal palms in the Tampa Bay area have died from a mysterious disease that researchers are struggling to identify. Even after scientists pinpoint the disease, they will have to learn what insect spreads it. The disease will be tough to stop.

Sabal palms, also known cabbage palms, can grow to 50 feet. In the U.S., they can be found from the Florida Keys to parts of North Carolina and can grow in marshes, woodlands or along the coastline.

The new disease destroys the sabal palm and its other victims, which include Canary Island date palms and queen palms, from within.

First to go are the lower leaves in the tree’s canopy. Ultimately, the canopy collapses.


Judge upholds ex-mayor’s convictions

NEWARK | A federal judge Wednesday upheld the corruption convictions of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James and his one-time mistress, but indicated that James probably will get less than the 15- to 20-year prison sentence prosecutors are seeking.

U.S. District Judge William J. Martini rejected bids by James, 72, and Tamika Riley to scrap the verdicts and order a new trial, finding that their jury had substantial evidence to determine that Riley was able to purchase city land at bargain prices while James was mayor.

The convictions are to be appealed to a higher court.

But Judge Martini rejected prosecutors’ contention that aggravating factors merited a sentence of 15 to 20 years for James, who led New Jersey’s largest city for 20 years. He suggested that the appropriate sentencing range for James was about 10 to 12 years.

Prosecutors want eight to 10 years for Riley. Sentencing is set for Tuesday.


Second volcano in Aleutians erupts

ANCHORAGE | A second volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands has erupted in less than a month, shooting steam and ash as high as 20,000 feet into the air, officials said Tuesday.

The eruption on Mount Cleveland on Chuginadak Island took place 90 miles west of Okmok volcano, where ongoing eruptions since July 12 have captured the attention of scientists and forced nearby residents to evacuate.

The initial eruption on Mount Cleveland, a volcano about 940 miles southwest of Anchorage, occurred Monday, showering ash on nearby fishing vessels, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, a joint federal-state office that monitors Alaska’s plentiful volcanoes.

Mount Cleveland, one of Alaska’s most restless volcanoes, has continued to spew clouds composed mostly of steam, and a small lava flow appears to be trickling from the vent, the office said.


Driver in crash pleads to smuggling

EL CENTRO | A Mexican citizen accused of driving a sport utility vehicle into a canal, killing six illegal immigrants, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to smuggling charges.

Alejandro Toribio Gama, who his attorney said is probably a juvenile, balanced himself on crutches as the brief proceedings in federal court were translated into Spanish, according to the Imperial Valley Press. He was arrested Sunday at a hotel near the crash.

His court-appointed attorney, Diane Regan, said she suspected that Mr. Toribio may be 15 or 16 years old. A hearing was scheduled for Friday to determine his age.

The GMC Suburban crashed Friday night in Westmorland, about 125 miles east of San Diego, with about 20 people inside, U.S. and Mexican authorities said.


No survivors seen in B-52 crash

HONOLULU | All six crew members aboard a B-52 bomber that crashed Monday off Guam were killed, the Air Force said.

Andersen Air Force Base on Guam said a wide search effort has shifted focus from rescue to recovery of the crew. Two bodies have been found.

The Air Force released the name of one crew member: Maj. Christopher Cooper, 33, of Austin, Texas.

The crew was based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Flags are being flown at half-staff at the Louisiana state Capitol to honor them.

The unarmed bomber was making a swing around the island as part of Guam Liberation Day celebrations marking the island’s separation from Japan in World War II.


Zoo flamingos lay first eggs

CHICAGO | Giving the Chilean flamingos in Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo more plantings appears to have been followed by an outbreak of romance and 10 eggs.

Zoo officials said the eggs are the first laid by flamingos in the zoo for at least a half century and possibly the first ever, but “I’m not counting my flamingos until they’re hatched,” said Megan Moss, the general curator.

The first hatchlings are expected to break out of their eggs in about two weeks.


Man pleads guilty in kidnap-slaying

OLATHE | A man pleaded guilty Wednesday to abducting an 18-year-old woman from a store parking lot, raping her and strangling her with her own belt before dumping her body in a park.

Edwin Hall, 27, will be sentenced to life in prison without parole in the case of Kelsey Smith, whose abduction last year from outside a Target store in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park was captured by security cameras.

Her body was found naked four days later near a lake about 20 miles away in Missouri. Police arrested Hall the same day.

Hall’s plea deal with prosecutors averted a trial and a potential death sentence. He pleaded guilty to capital murder, aggravated kidnapping, rape and aggravated sodomy.

Hall is scheduled to be formally sentenced Sept. 16.


FEMA seeks relief from trailer suits

NEW ORLEANS | The Federal Emergency Management Agency asked a federal judge Wednesday for immunity from lawsuits over potentially dangerous fumes in government- issued trailers that have housed tens of thousands of Gulf Coast hurricane victims.

Attorneys for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita accuse FEMA of negligence for sheltering them in trailers with elevated levels of formaldehyde, a preservative used in construction materials that can cause health problems.

A government attorney told U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt that the FEMA’s responses to disasters, including its use of travel trailers after Katrina, are legally protected from “judicial second-guessing.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Gerald Meunier said FEMA can be held liable for providing hurricane victims with trailers that didn’t meet federal safety standards and weren’t designed to be long-term housing.

Judge Engelhardt took FEMA’s request for immunity under advisement and didn’t indicate how soon he will rule.


Woman kills self before foreclosure

TAUNTON | A 53-year-old wife and mother fatally shot herself shortly after faxing a letter to her mortgage company saying that by the time they foreclosed on her house that day, she would be dead.

Police said Carlene Balderrama used her husband’s high-powered rifle to kill herself Tuesday afternoon, shortly after faxing the letter at 2:30 p.m.

The mortgage company called police, who found Mrs. Balderrama’s body at 3:30 p.m. The auction was scheduled to start at 5 p.m., and interested buyers arrived at the property in Taunton, about 35 miles south of Boston, while Mrs. Balderrama’s body was still inside, said Taunton police Chief Raymond O’Berg.

Police did not release the name of the mortgage company.


Coaster champ rides for 20 hours

BLOOMINGTON | A Minnesota high school has teacher lasted 20 hours on a roller coaster to win the Ride the Tide Challenge at the Mall of America.

Jim Salava, 40, of Oakdale, was declared the winner at the Nickelodeon Universe theme park when his final opponent stepped down at 2:35 a.m. Tuesday.

Mr. Salava was among 10 riders who boarded the Avatar Airbender at 6:30 a.m. Monday. The pool dwindled to three riders just three hours into the competition.

The Avatar Airbender averages 43 mph and reaches heights of 70 feet. Other than bathroom and meal breaks, contestants remained on the ride at all times - even to sleep.

The top prize includes a family cruise, $1,000 spending cash and a lifetime pass to the theme park.


Woman gets prison in armored-car heist

AKRON | A woman who helped her boyfriend steal about $8 million from an armored-car company was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison.

Nicole Boyd, 25, admitted stealing the money in November with Roger Dillon to escape financial hardship.

Boyd and Dillon pleaded guilty in March to bank larceny and other charges in what federal prosecutors said was one of the largest thefts in northern Ohio.


Judge won’t reduce sentence for killer

LANCASTER | A Pennsylvania judge said a teenager who killed three members of a family must serve three consecutive life terms.

Judge David Ashworth denied a motion on behalf of 17-year-old Alec Kreider to make the sentences concurrent.

Judge Ashworth said Kreider bragged to a fellow inmate that he would kill again if he got the chance. The judge said he wants to make sure Kreider never has the opportunity.

Kreider’s victims in May 2007 were a friend and classmate, Kevin Haines, 16, and Kevin’s parents, Tom and Lisa Haines. The couple’s daughter escaped.


Driver’s alcohol level registers 0.491 %

PROVIDENCE | State police said they arrested a man early Tuesday whose blood alcohol level was 0.491 percent, the highest recorded in Rhode Island for someone who wasn’t dead.

Stanley Kobierowski was taken to a hospital, put in the detoxification unit and sedated, said Maj. Steven O’Donnell. He was arraigned Tuesday on charges of driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest, and he was released after promising to appear Friday at a court hearing.

Mr. Kobierowski, 34, of North Providence, was arrested after he drove into a highway message board on Interstate 95 in Providence, Maj. O’Donnell said.

After police arrived, Mr. Kobierowski had trouble getting out of the car, then grabbed it and refused to move, forcing troopers to carry him to the breakdown lane before taking him back to their barracks, Maj. O’Donnell said.

A breath test showed blood alcohol readings of 0.489 percent, followed by 0.491, Maj. O’Donnell said, the highest readings state officials could remember for someone who didn’t end up dead.

The legal limit in Rhode Island is 0.08 percent. A level of 0.30 percent is classified as stupor, 0.4 percent is comatose and 0.5 percent is considered fatal, according to the health department.


Authorities seek 5 sect members

SAN ANGELO | Texas authorities on Wednesday began looking for five indicted members of a polygamist sect, in a child sex-abuse case that the group’s spokesman said was a face-saving move by officials who lost a court battle over their seizure of hundreds of children from a sect-owned ranch.

The five men were indicted Tuesday with sect leader Warren Jeffs, who already was convicted in Utah and jailed in Arizona on charges related to underage marriages.

Jeffs and four of the followers were charged in Texas with felony sexual assault of a child, and the fifth follower was charged with failing to report child abuse. One of the followers also was charged with bigamy.

The identities of the men and details of the accusations were to remain under seal until the men are arrested.

Sheriff David Doran of Schleicher County, who cultivated a relationship with the ranch’s residents before state authorities raided the property April 3, said it’s hard to tell whether they are still in Texas.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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