- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2010

ARIZONA

Medical marijuana backers aim for ballot

PHOENIX | Voters may get to decide in November whether to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Supporters of a medical marijuana initiative submitted petition signatures Wednesday to the secretary of state’s office to qualify the proposal for the general-election ballot.

The measure would allow people with certain medical conditions to have a small amount of marijuana if they have a doctor’s recommendation.

It would allow the creation of nonprofit marijuana dispensaries to sell the drug to approved patients.

Thirteen other states allow the possession of small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine signed a medical marijuana bill in January, but it hasn’t yet become effective.

CONNECTICUT

Sailor accused of sex assault of girl

GROTON | A Navy sailor has been charged with sexually assaulting a 12-year-old Connecticut girl on Independence Day, and authorities say two others face related charges for their roles in the encounter.

Arrest warrants say the girl told police she had sex with one of the men in a truck and sexual contact with the other two inside a house.

Police said the sailors turned themselves in on Monday.

Police charged Gabriel Dominguez, 21, of Manteca, Calif., with sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor. Benjamin Boyter, 22, of Woodruff, S.C., and Keith Douglass, 23, of Schoolcraft, Mich., are charged with risk of injury to a minor.

Navy spokesman Steven Myers said the sailors remain on active duty while an investigation continues.

FLORIDA

Clemency sought for UBS whistleblower

MIAMI | An imprisoned ex-Swiss banker credited with exposing widespread tax evasion at Swiss bank UBS AG is seeking clemency from President Obama, his attorneys said Wednesday.

Lawyers at the Washington-based National Whistleblowers Center said they will file a clemency petition Thursday for Bradley Birkenfeld, timing it to coincide with the day U.S. income tax returns are due for most people. The petition seeks a reduction in Birkenfeld’s three-year-plus sentence for a fraud conspiracy conviction to time served since he reported to prison Jan. 8.

The Justice Department has acknowledged that Birkenfeld, 45, was vital in the UBS investigation but was prosecuted because he failed to disclose his own wrongdoing quickly enough. The investigation resulted in a $780 million fine against the bank and an unprecedented agreement requiring UBS to turn over names of about 4,450 suspected American tax dodgers to the Internal Revenue Service.

IOWA

Coach killer gets life sentence

ALLISON | A judge has sentenced an Iowa man to life in prison after the family of slain high school football coach Ed Thomas gave tearful testimony about the impact of Mr. Thomas’ murder.

Mark Becker was convicted March 2 of first-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence without parole. Becker, 24, gunned down Mr. Thomas at the Aplington-Parkersburg High School weight room on June 24, 2009.

Iowa District Judge Stephen Carroll said Becker “imposed a nightmare” on Becker’s and Mr. Thomas’ families, along with the town of Parkersburg.

A jury earlier rejected Becker’s plea that he was not guilty by reason of insanity.

MARYLAND

FBI joins probes of taped police beating

COLLEGE PARK | Prince George’s County police have suspended a second officer in their investigation of a video showing officers in riot gear beating a University of Maryland student during a rowdy celebration after a basketball game.

Maj. Andy Ellis said Wednesday at a news conference that police had suspended the officer and anticipated additional suspensions shortly. Police said the first officer who was suspended is Officer Sean McAleavey, who filed charging documents against two students, including the one seen in the video being beaten. Prosecutors have dropped assault charges against those students.

Maj. Ellis said police have received “hostile and threatening” phone calls from across the country from people angered at the incident and the officers.

Meanwhile, FBI spokesman Rich Wolf said agents are reviewing the video and the events of that night. A spokesman for the Justice Department said that after the FBI is finished, the department will determine whether civil rights laws were violated.

MINNESOTA

Program to help rural homebuyers is broke

MINNEAPOLIS | A federal loan program that has helped hundreds of thousands of Americans buy homes in rural areas is about to run out of money, potentially crippling the real estate market in many small communities.

Since last fall, the loans from the Department of Agriculture have fueled much of the real estate business in some parts of the country. Real estate agents are pleading with Congress to find a way to keep the money flowing until more funding becomes available later in the year.

The program has doubled in size thanks to stimulus money, but it appears to be a victim of its own success, largely because of the generous terms offered to borrowers.

NEW JERSEY

School learns lesson in cross-dressing project

MAPLE SHADE | A New Jersey school has learned a lesson after canceling a class project because a parent complained it would require third-grade boys to dress like girls.

Teachers at the Maude Wilkins School in Maple Shade recently sent a letter to parents telling them their children were required to participate in a fashion-show project for Women’s History Month.

The letter spelled out that boys did not have to wear skirts or dresses, but there was confusion nonetheless.

Mother Janine Giandomenico complained on Facebook — and the story started popping up on blogs and other media outlets this week. The school reacted by canceling the project.

Superintendent Michael Livengood said Wednesday that the district will do better to monitor teachers’ letters to parents.

NEW MEXICO

Families sue over treatment of bodies

ALBUQUERQUE | A New Mexico man received what he thought were the cremated remains of his wife’s body after donating her organs to medical science. A few weeks later, however, he learned that police had found her body, intact, at the company that was supposed to handle the donation.

Philip Fajardo is now one of two people suing the Albuquerque company, Bio Care, claiming it gave them ashes represented as the remains of their loved ones.

The lawsuit says authorities later told them at least parts of the bodies had never been cremated.

Mr. Fajardo, of Bernalillo County, and Farrah Fasold of Denton County, Texas, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in state district court in Albuquerque against Bio Care, New Mexico Mortuary Service Inc. and Director’s Choice LLC.

Bio Care’s owner was arrested last month on fraud charges after body parts were found at a Kansas medical waste company.

NEW YORK

Sebelius: New plan to reduce health disparities

NEW YORK | Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that she is developing a national plan of action that would focus for the first time on reducing health care disparities between minority and white populations.

HHS has been writing reports for 25 years documenting the gap in health care services between white and minority communities, but there never has been an action plan to address the gap, she said in an address to the National Action Network convention.

“I’m here to say that’s going to end this year,” Mrs. Sebelius said.

She said one in three U.S. Hispanics and one in five blacks do not have health insurance, adding that the National Institutes of Health also is looking into the issue.

OHIO

Anesthesia allergy could complicate execution

COLUMBUS | A condemned Ohio inmate who says he’s allergic to anesthesia is undertaking what appears to be a unique legal maneuver, arguing that no one knows how his body will react if state officials are allowed next week to inject him with the one lethal drug they now use.

A doctor is studying what impact, if any, the allergy could have on the execution process after lawyers for Darryl Durr uncovered evidence of Durr’s allergy in his 800-page prison medical record. Durr was sentenced to die for raping and strangling a 16-year-old girl in 1988.

“One of the things the Ohio Constitution guarantees is that he has a quick and painless execution,” said defense attorney Kathleen McGarry.

“If he’s going to react to the anesthetic drugs in such a manner that he’s going to have a violent reaction, either vomiting or seizures or whatever the spectrum is that could happen, then obviously the execution has problems,” she said.

PENNSYLVANIA

Gunman disarmed after hitting school guard

PITTSBURGH | A gunman who entered a Pittsburgh magnet school was disarmed after he fought with a security guard and both men crashed through a large window near the school’s entrance, officials said.

Police said a 23-year-old man sneaked the weapon into the Creative & Performing Arts School Wednesday afternoon.

Pittsburgh Public Schools spokewoman Ebony Pugh said she isn’t sure how the man got inside because the only two entrances have metal detectors. She said a student saw the man with the gun in a restroom and alerted the security guard.

The security guard was taken to a hospital for injuries he suffered from the broken glass.

The weapon was never fired, and no students were hurt. The school serves students in grades six through 12.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Police: Motel guest uses snake to hit man

ROCK HILL | An argument between two motel guests ended when one of the men was hit in the head with a snake, police said.

Rock Hill police said the victim told officers that he argued Tuesday night with Tony Smith, 29, over loud music coming from Mr. Smith’s room.

The dispute appeared to be over, but the man told police Mr. Smith walked up to him several hours later with a 4-foot python and hit him in the face with the snake’s head.

Mr. Smith surrendered the snake to family members before police handcuffed him and took him to jail.

Mr. Smith was charged with assault and battery. He remains in the Rock Hill jail on a nearly $1,100 bond.

TENNESSEE

Deceased man wins mayor’s race

TRACY CITY | A dead man has been elected mayor of Tracy City.

Carl Robin Geary died suddenly a few weeks ago, but he received 268 votes anyway in Tuesday’s nonpartisan election, beating out incumbent Barbara Brock with 85 votes in the two-candidate race.

An election administrator, Donna Basham, said Wednesday she wouldn’t speculate on why Mr. Geary won posthumously but noted that his death had been reported widely at the time in this corner of southeastern Tennessee.

She said the city council will have to appoint a mayor to the four-year term.

UTAH

High-tech dirigibles tested over desert

SALT LAKE CITY | The U.S. military has begun testing massive high-tech dirigibles — designed to provide battlefield commanders with a bird’s-eye view of cruise missiles or other threats — in the skies over the Utah desert.

Two unmanned 233-foot-long balloons were launched Wednesday morning about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. Vast tracts of military-owned desert were chosen for the testing because of their remoteness and resemblance to the mountainous, arid environment of Afghanistan, the military said.

Known as aerostats, the dirigibles are outfitted with radar and communications systems to provide long-range surveillance targeting threats from aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles.

Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon Co. was awarded a $1.4 billion contract from the Army in 2007 to design, build and test the aerostats.

WEST VIRGINIA

Inspections ordered for 200 coal mines

CHARLESTON | Gov. Joe Manchin on Wednesday ordered the immediate inspection of all underground coal mines in West Virginia after an explosion last week killed 29 miners and injured two.

Mr. Manchin also asked for the state’s more than 200 underground coal mines to cease production Friday to mourn the victims of the nation’s worst coal-mining disaster in 40 years.

“I don’t know any better way to honor the miners we’ve lost and the families who are grieving so much,” he said. The economic cost of such a shutdown would “take care of itself,” the governor said.

The executive order tells state regulators to start checking mines that repeatedly have had combustion risks over the past year.

Highly explosive methane gas is thought to have played a role in the April 5 blast at Upper Big Branch mine. The levels of gas also have been a constant problem since the explosion, preventing crews from finding four missing miners for several days and this week keeping investigators from going underground to look for a cause of the blast.

Mr. Manchin wants the high-priority mines inspected within two weeks. His order says inspectors who find such risks or other health or safety violations can partially evacuate the mine or close it.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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