- Associated Press - Thursday, April 17, 2014
Blast on site of explosives plants kills 1

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - An explosion and fire at a plant in Tennessee where several ammunition and explosives businesses are based has killed one person and left three injured.

Police and fire dispatchers said rescue workers were called Wednesday afternoon to a blast at a plant in McEwen, about 55 miles west of Nashville.

The property where the plant is based is home to several businesses that have federal licenses for ammunition or explosives, said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesman Michael Knight. Knight said it was unclear which plant was involved, and he said agents were still trying to determine exactly what happened.

“The explosion did considerable damage to the facility,” said Odell Poyner, director of the Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency.

Poyner said authorities received reports that about 20 employees were in the building at the time of the explosion, which blew out two of the walls and a large portion of the roof. He said he didn’t know who owned the building but he believed that the property it sits on belongs to Accurate Energetic Systems, a company whose website identifies it as a manufacturer of explosive materials for the defense and aerospace industries.

A telephone number listed for AES rang busy numerous times and later was picked up by a recording saying the business was closed.


2 House Dems pressing inquiry into Tenn. VW vote

WASHINGTON (AP) - Two House Democrats said Wednesday they are beginning their own inquiry into whether Tennessee state officials may have violated “or otherwise run afoul of” federal law by their alleged conduct ahead of a vote by workers at a Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., that rejected a bid to be represented by the United Auto Workers union.

They sent a joint letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam seeking more information on activities by state officials ahead of the 712-626 vote against the UAW in February.

“Recent reports suggest that the interference on the part of state officials may be even more troubling that we originally thought,” said the letter by Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and John Tierney, D-Mass. Miller is the senior Democrat on the GOP-led House Education and the Workforce Committee. Tierney is the senior Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee of that committee.

In a news release, the two lawmakers said they wanted more information on “whether any Tennessee state officials conditioned, or threatened to condition, state aid to Volkswagen on the outcome of workers’ efforts to establish a union and/or a works council at the Chattanooga plant.”

“Recently released documents suggest that Tennessee state officials made the availability of state aid for expanding the Volkswagen plant - a mix of cash grants and tax incentives - contingent upon the workers’ decision not to seek union representation. Such state-level conditioning may interfere with employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain, as guaranteed under the National Labor Relations Act,” they wrote.

The union claims the election was tainted by threats and intimidation from Republicans including U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and state lawmakers. Corker and others have denied doing anything inappropriate.


Memphis making progress on rape kit testing

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Memphis is making progress in testing its backlog of 12,000 rape kits, including the filing of 14 indictments against sexual-assault suspects, but more work is needed to reduce the number of kits that sat ignored since the 1980s, officials said Wednesday.

Officials from the Memphis Police Department and other agencies held an information session to update the public about efforts to reduce the backlog. The meeting came days after the state Legislature in Nashville declined to provide $2 million for rape-kit testing in Tennessee, a decision that has drawn criticism from rape victim advocates.

Word of the backlog emerged last year, and it has led to a lawsuit from rape victims. Experts say Memphis has one of the nation’s largest known backlogs, and the Joyful Heart Foundation, a national organization with experience in dealing with rape kit backlogs, has been enlisted to help in the process.

Memphis is not the only place where sexual assault kit backlogs are an issue. Colorado, Illinois and Texas already have passed laws that mandate a statewide accounting of untested rape kits. Detroit announced in March that it had identified 100 serial rapists from its testing of backlogged sexual assault kits.

According to statistics provided by the city of Memphis, more than 4,000 kits have been tested for antibody levels and 30 have been examined for DNA. Another 5,500 kits remain untested, the statistics show.

More than 90 investigations have been opened, and 16 suspects who have been identified have been found to be previously convicted. The statistics also show that 14 indictments have been issued against people or DNA profiles, and two cases have passed the statute of limitations.


House passes bill to allow electric chair in Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee could electrocute death row inmates if lethal injection drugs are unavailable, under legislation what won approval Wednesday in the state House.

The chamber voted 68-13 for the measure sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro, but the Senate would have to agree to changes to the bill before it can head for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.

The bill would keep lethal injection as the preferred method for executions, but would allow the electric chair if the state were unable to obtain the necessary drugs or if lethal injections were found unconstitutional.

Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol uses a sedative commonly used to euthanize animals, but states are exhausting supplies.

Democratic Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar said he could not support the bill because he opposes the death penalty on religious grounds.

“I believe in the law and allowing the law of God to punish a man for his sins,” Shaw said. “But it is not for me to say I should throw that rock to administer death to him, because life and death is not in my hands.”

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