- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008


White River threatens record flooding

LITTLE ROCK — High water pouring down the White River could cause historic flooding in cities along its path in eastern Arkansas, forecasters warned yesterday.

The river, one of many out of its banks across wide areas of the Midwest, could top levels recorded in a devastating flood 25 years ago, National Weather Service meteorologist John Robinson warned.

A tributary of the White River, the Black River, ruptured a levee in two places Saturday near Pocahontas, said Renee Preslar, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. The Army Corps of Engineers worked through the night to plug the breaks and that work appeared to be holding as of yesterday, Miss Preslar said.


2003 photos show bridge warping

MINNEAPOLIS — Old photos of the Interstate 35W bridge show that two steel connecting plates were bent as early as 2003 — four years before the span collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 persons.

Minnesota Department of Transportation officials declined to say when the state first knew about the bending in the pieces of steel, called gusset plates.

Two photos, part of a report issued this month by the National Transportation Safety Board, reveal slight bends in gusset plates that hold beams together at two connecting points. The plates are in areas thought to be among the first points of failure when the span collapsed.

The NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety confirmed that the bowing is part of the investigation into why the bridge collapsed Aug. 1, the Star Tribune newspaper reported yesterday.


Plant explosion forces evacuations

BOONEVILLE — An explosion at a meat-packing plant yesterday caused an ammonia gas leak that forced 180 persons from their homes, but none of those working at the plant was injured, emergency responders said.

The explosion in the western Arkansas town of 4,000 occurred in the freezer section of the Cargill Meat Solutions plant, which makes frozen ground beef patties and steaks, said Renee Preslar, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Emergency Management.

Mark Klein, a spokesman for Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc., said the plant is closed Sundays but about 20 contractors and a few other employees were at the site at the time of the fire. The plant employs about 800 people, he said.

The fire involved an estimated 88,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, plus the plant had 100,000 of nonflammable carbon dioxide, which is used in refrigeration systems, she said.

Firefighters were not able to fight the blaze using conventional equipment because of the danger and opted to let it burn itself out.


Car stolen in 1970 to be returned

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles man is getting his stolen Mustang back — 38 years later.

The vehicle has an extra 300,000 miles and a different paint job, but Eugene Brakke’s 1965 Mustang is evidently running just fine.

Mr. Brakke reported the car stolen to Burbank police in May 1970.

One month later, a Long Beach teenager named Judy Smongesky received the car as a high-school graduation gift from her father, who bought it at a Bellflower used-car dealer.

Miss Smongesky, who now lives in San Diego, said Thursday she had been driving and maintaining the car for nearly four decades, and only learned it was stolen when she recently prepared to sell it. San Diego police verified the car was hot.

Mr. Brakke discovered Miss Smongesky twice rebuilt the engine and painted the Mustang from its old gold color to silver-blue.

The pair planned to meet to transfer the car soon.

“It was hard, but it was the right thing to do,” Miss Smongesky said.


Tap water a source of salmonella

DENVER — It could be three more weeks before residents of a southern Colorado town can drink water from the tap after dozens of cases of salmonella poisoning were linked to municipal water, putting seven persons in the hospital.

An analysis indicates the municipal water system in Alamosa is the source of the bacterial outbreak, as suspected, said Ned Calonge, chief medical officer for the state health department.

Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., a Democrat, declared an emergency Friday in Alamosa County, activating the National Guard and providing as much as $300,000 for response efforts. The city and county also declared emergencies as officials scrambled to provide safe water and disinfect the system with chlorine.

The earliest the city water system could be flushed is tomorrow, and disinfecting it and ensuring its safety could take many days, said James B. Martin, executive director of the state health department.

As of Friday, 138 cases of salmonella linked to the outbreak were reported in people from infancy to age 89, of which 47 were confirmed by lab testing, Mr. Calonge said. The conditions of those hospitalized weren’t released.


Driver tries Oreo defense

SALISBURY — Police said a man’s excuse for speeding through a small Connecticut town takes the cake — or at least the cookie.

A state trooper who stopped the 1993 BMW last fall said its driver, Justin Vonkummer, 28, of Millerton, N.Y., blamed his driving problems on an errant Oreo.

Mr. Vonkummer told the trooper that an Oreo had just slipped from his fingers as he dunked it in a cup of milk, and that he was trying to fish it out when he lost control of his car.

Prosecutors learned in court last week that Mr. Vonkummer is charged with speeding and driving under a suspended license — not driving under the influence, as a clerk had mistakenly noted in the court records.

Mr. Vonkummer’s attorney declined to comment. The case is pending.


Overloading eyed in plane crash

LANTANA — A small plane that crashed in South Florida, killing all four persons aboard, apparently spun into the ground and might have been overloaded, according to a National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report released Saturday.

The Cessna 172S was carrying four men weighing a total of 768 pounds, 40 pounds of baggage and a substantial load of fuel, the report said. The plane was permitted to hold up to 862 pounds in occupants, baggage and fuel.

Kemper Aviation co-owner Jeffrey Rozelle, who was the pilot, two Florida Atlantic University students and a bird specialist were killed in the March 13 crash, which remains under investigation.


Exhibit features extreme weather

TOPEKA — After a year in which Kansas endured destructive ice storms, killer tornadoes and severe flooding, it seemed the state history museum carefully timed the opening of an exhibit on extreme weather.

But organizers said the timing is a coincidence, because they have worked on the “Forces of Nature” exhibit for more than a year.

“Weather is a huge part of our identity,” said Rebecca Martin, project manager for the exhibit, which opened Friday at the Kansas Museum of History. “People around the world will forever associate us with a really famous tornado in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ ”

The Kansas State Historical Society is using the exhibit to collect Kansans’ recollections of memorable storms. The society set up a small booth with a microphone and computer, so that visitors can tell and record their stories.

The exhibit displays photos of power lines and utility poles sagging under the weight of ice from the winter of 2006-07 next to a photo from an 1886 blizzard.

Photos from a night of tornadoes in May that leveled most of Greensburg in southwest Kansas and killed at least 13 persons hang next to images from a twister that left 16 dead in Topeka in 1966. Debris from both also are on display.


Probe results due into mayor’s case

DETROIT — Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy today will reveal the results of her probe into whether Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former top aide committed perjury or other crimes.

The findings of her independent review of a text-messaging sex scandal will end two month’s of speculation that has consumed the city.

Miss Worthy wouldn’t hint at what, if any, charges would be filed against the mayor and ex-Chief of Staff Christine Beatty.

She said she and her staff have pored over more than 40,000 pages of documents since January, when the Detroit Free Press published excerpts of sexually explicit text messages sent to Miss Beatty’s city-issued pager in 2002 and 2003.

The messages contradict statements Mr. Kilpatrick and Miss Beatty gave under oath during a whistleblowers’ trial last summer when each denied a romantic relationship.


Jogger mugged in Central Park

NEW YORK — Knife-wielding muggers attacked a jogger running in Central Park who was preparing for an Army physical fitness test, police and the victim’s family said.

“I’m in a lot of pain,” Johnny Reberon, 23, said as he returned from a hospital Friday to his Manhattan home.

He was slashed in the arm and leg by two men who accosted him at about 8:45 p.m. Thursday, police said.

His mugging was near the park road where a 28-year-old investment banker was found after being attacked while jogging April 19, 1989. She became known worldwide as “the Central Park jogger.”

Mr. Reberon’s attackers took his wallet and IPod, police said. They were searching for suspects early Saturday.

His mother, Carmen Zega, said her son called 911 on a cell phone he had tucked in one of his socks, but was in too much agony to talk to the operator. Two bicyclists stopped and helped him, she said.


Toddler crushed by obese relative

LA JOYA — A 2-year-old boy who died of a fractured skull might have been accidentally crushed by a morbidly obese relative, authorities said.

Investigators think the woman fell on the child, who was pronounced dead Tuesday, said Bobby Contreras, Hidalgo County justice of the peace.

“It didn’t look like there was any foul play from what I saw,” he said.

An autopsy was scheduled, with the cause of death to be released today.

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino, who called the death “suspicious,” said he would wait for an announcement on the cause before deciding whether to file charges.

The child was thought to have been dropped off by his mother to spend the day with the bedridden relative, the McAllen Monitor reported Friday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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