- - Wednesday, April 25, 2012


SAN FRANCISCO — A survivor of the fatal grounding of a racing yacht on rocky islands west of San Francisco is calling on the sailing community to make safety a higher priority.

Bryan Chong is one of three crew members who survived after the sailboat Low Speed Chase wrecked on the Farallon Islands during a race April 14. One crew member was found dead and four remain missing at sea.

In a letter posted online Tuesday, Mr. Chong says none of the eight sailors was tethered to the sailboat when it was slammed by a monster wave that knocked seven into the chilly water.

Mr. Chong, 38, says he hopes the tragedy will spur wider discussion of sailboat safety.

San Francisco authorities said Tuesday they found no evidence of criminal negligence in the accident.


Woman admits faking cancer in wedding scam

GOSHEN — A New York woman admitted Wednesday that she faked cancer to con donors out of money and services for her wedding and Caribbean honeymoon.

Jessica Vega, 25, isn’t likely to do any time in state prison, court officials said, but she will have to repay $13,368 to her victims and remain in jail until her sentencing May 15.

She pleaded guilty in Orange County Court to scheming to defraud and possession of a forged instrument charges.

In 2010, Vega spread the word in her Hudson Valley community that she was dying of leukemia and wanted a “dream wedding” to Michael O’Connell, the father of her infant daughter, in the few months she had left.

Donors stepped up with rings, an embroidered wedding dress and a time-share in Aruba for the honeymoon. Other contributions included food, wine and hairdressing.

Vega was living in Montgomery, a town 60 miles north of New York City, when she launched the scam, which picked up steam when her story was featured in a local newspaper, the Times Herald-Record of Middletown.

But after their May 2010 wedding, Mr. O’Connell came to the newspaper with questions about her story and the couple divorced.

The forged instrument charge involved a bogus doctor’s letter that . Vega gave to the newspaper to bolster her story.

She was arrested April 3 in Virginia, where she was again living with Mr. O’Connell and their second child.

Vega is expected to be sentenced to time already served as long as she pays the restitution.

“We’re going to make that somehow,” said Vega’s attorney, Jeremiah Flaherty, adding that Mr. O’Connell will help pay back the victims.

“While he blew the whistle on her, at the same time this is the mother of his two children,” Mr. Flaherty said.


Residents evacuate after gas leaks from oil well

GLENROCK — More than 60 residents had to evacuate their homes after a natural gas leak at an oil well being drilled into the Niobrara formation in Wyoming.

Natural gas has been spewing into the air from the well since Tuesday. Witnesses told television station KCWY-TV that the roar of escaping gas could be heard six miles away.

Well operator Chesapeake Energy says air samples are normal but the company asked about 80 residents who live within 2.5 miles to voluntarily evacuate.

Chesapeake officials say they are working with contractors to bring the well under control.

The Niobrara is a deep oil deposit beneath Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska where drilling has increased in the past two years.


Claims against Islam blocked in trial about building mosque

MURFREESBORO — Plaintiffs in a trial trying to block a proposed mosque in Tennessee have been turned away so far in their efforts to raise arguments against Islam.

Plaintiffs want to void a May 2010 meeting of the Rutherford County Planning Commission in which it approved the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s site plan. They claim the public was not adequately notified ahead of time.

The judge overseeing the trial Wednesday blocked a few efforts by the plaintiffs to raise questions about whether the mosque poses a danger to the area because of the tenets of Islam.

Two neighbors testified that they did not hear about the meeting, but they also said they received no advance notice about plans for a Baptist church recently built in the neighborhood.


Remains found in creek thought to be starved boy’s

DALLAS — A law enforcement official says the Dallas County medical examiner believes skeletal remains found in a rural creek south of Dallas may be those of a 10-year-old boy who was allegedly starved to death by his parents.

Ellis County Justice of the Peace Bill Woody said Wednesday that the medical examiner’s office believes the remains found Saturday are Johnathan Ramsey’s. He says the medical examiner’s analysis is based on circumstances of the case as described by investigators. DNA test results are still pending.

The medical examiner’s office declined to comment because the case involves remains found in another county.

The child’s father and stepmother are jailed on charges of felony injury to a child.

Authorities say the boy was confined to a room and starved as punishment.


Court weighs disclosure in old communist probe

ALBANY — A writer whose parents were targeted by anti-communist investigators in the New York City school system 57 years ago is fighting in New York’s highest court for records from that chapter in America’s Red Scare, including the names of secret informants.

Lisa Harbatkin’s parents were among 1,100 teachers investigated. She is asking the Court of Appeals to uphold her Freedom of Information Law request for 140,000 pages of documents with nothing blacked out.

Historians say similar episodes occurred in local governments nationwide.

Lower courts upheld city officials’ decision to let Ms. Harbatkin see her parents’ files. But, citing privacy concerns, they offered access to the rest on the condition she doesn’t record or publish the names.

Ms. Harbatkin says public interest outweighs privacy, and her First Amendment rights are being violated.


Group wants street renamed where serial killer lived

CLEVELAND — Some neighbors of a now-demolished home where the remains of 11 murdered women were found want the street renamed to escape the stigma of the crimes.

A task force representing residents, business owners, ministers and relatives of victims are proposing the renaming of Imperial Avenue, the street where Anthony Sowell lived in the impoverished Mount Pleasant neighborhood east of downtown.

The Rev. Jimmy Gates told the Plain Dealer that the idea is to turn the street’s story “from tragedy to triumph.”

But some relatives say the victims’ families should memorialize the women as they choose and that the city should leave the property empty and not add the names of victims to any memorial.

“My mother is resting now, and I don’t want her name on anything over there,” said Donnita Carmichael, whose mother Tonia Carmichael was killed by Sowell.

“Would your kids play in that park? Would you eat or plant anything that came from a community garden grown on that soil? I don’t think so.”

The house was fenced off and kept intact for Sowell’s trial last year, when the jury toured the site. It was demolished in December.


‘Godzillus’ fossil find keeps scientists guessing

DAYTON — Scientists are trying to figure out what a fossil dubbed “Godzillus” used to be.

The 150-pound fossil recovered last year in northern Kentucky is more than 6 feet long and 3 feet wide. The Dayton Daily News reports scientists at a Geological Society of America meeting viewed it Tuesday at the Dayton Convention Center.

Scientists say the fossil is 450 million years old. University of Cincinnati geologist Carl Brett told the Cincinnati Enquirer that it’s the largest fossil ever extracted from that era in the Cincinnati region, once covered by water.

Amateur paleontologist Ron Fine of Dayton spotted the fossil on a hillside last year. He gave it a “primordial beast” name, but he said it also could be an early form of seaweed or kelp.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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