Tuesday, January 2, 2007


2.37-carat diamond unearthed from crater

MURFREESBORO — An Arkansas man has found a 2.37-carat white diamond at the world’s only diamond-bearing site where visitors are allowed to search for and keep the gems they find.

Gary Dunlap of Jefferson named the diamond he found the Star of Thelma to honor his wife of more than 10 years. Mr. Dunlap’s find was the fourth-largest of the 486 diamonds found last year at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro.

In March, a state trooper from Nowata, Okla., unearthed the 4.21-carat yellow Okie Dokie Diamond. In September, a Point, Texas, couple found the 6.35-carat brown Roden Diamond. The next month, a visitor from Ripon, Wis., found the 5.47-carat yellow Sunshine Diamond.

The largest of the 25,000 diamonds found at the site since it became a state park in 1972 is the 16.37-carat Amarillo Starlight. A visitor from Texas found the white diamond in 1975.


Snow for sale on EBay

LOVELAND — Call it a winter sale.

Jim and Mary Walker are selling snow on EBay. Starting bids were holding steady Friday at 99 cents for samples from “Blizzard I and Blizzard II.”

The Walkers got the idea for selling snow after shoveling mounds from two storms a week apart that together dumped more than 4 feet along the Front Range.

“I figured EBay has ghosts and all sorts of weird stuff, so why not snow?” said Mary Walker, who teaches business workshops on employee communications.

How much snow the winning bidder gets is not clear. The Walkers’ auction notice suggests avoiding shipping and handling charges by stopping by their home and picking it up — in a dump truck.

Only 10 offerings of snow are available, and the proceeds are earmarked for a used snowblower for Jim or a pair of shovels.

Mrs. Walker said she doesn’t really expect to find a buyer for their blizzard overstock.

“We just wanted to just give some folks a laugh,” she said.


Mysterious craft said spotted over airport

CHICAGO — Federal officials say it probably was just some weird weather phenomenon, but a group of United Airlines employees swear they saw a mysterious, saucer-shaped craft hovering over O’Hare International Airport in November.

The workers, some of them pilots, said the object didn’t have lights and hovered over an airport terminal before shooting up through the clouds, according to a report in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune.

The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged that a United supervisor had called the control tower at O’Hare, asking whether anyone had spotted a spinning elliptical object. But the controllers didn’t see anything, and a preliminary check of radar found nothing out of the ordinary, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said.

“Our theory on this is that it was a weather phenomenon,” Miss Cory said. “That night was a perfect atmospheric condition in terms of low (cloud) ceiling and a lot of airport lights. When the lights shine up into the clouds, sometimes you can see funny things.”

The FAA is not investigating.


First black mayor found fatally shot

WESTLAKE — The newly elected mayor of this Louisiana town was found fatally shot over the weekend, fewer than three days before he was set to become the community’s first black leader.

Gerald “Wash” Washington, 57, was found Saturday night in the parking lot of a former high school. He had been shot in the chest, police said. Authorities said Mr. Washington was lying by his truck with a pistol nearby. Investigators were treating the death as a homicide.

Mr. Washington, who served on the City Council, was sworn in Dec. 19 as Westlake’s first new mayor in 24 years. He was set to take office Tuesday.

The City Council has 10 days to appoint an interim mayor for the town of about 5,000 residents, about 30 miles east of the Texas border on Interstate 10.


Head versus heart in annual think-off

NEW YORK MILLS — They’ve popped the question for the 15th Great American Think-Off: Which should you trust more — your head or heart?

The Great American Think-Off, sponsored by the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, is a national philosophy competition designed to provide ordinary people a chance to voice their opinions on some of life’s more perplexing questions.

The winner gets to claim bragging rights as “America’s Greatest Thinker.”

Would-be deep thinkers can enter by submitting an essay of 750 words or less by April 1. Essays can be mailed to the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, P.O. Box 246, New York Mills, MN 56567; or submitted via the contest’s Web site, www.think-off.org.

Four finalists will be selected by a panel of judges to travel to New York Mills to debate June 9 before a live audience that will decide the winner. The finalists will be announced May 1 and will each receive $500 plus travel, food and lodging expenses.

Last year’s Think-Off posed the question, “Which is more valuable to society: safety or freedom?”


Jail worker charged in theft of toiletries

CINCINNATI — An employee at a Hamilton County jail has been accused of stealing toilet paper, paper towels and hygiene kits intended for inmates, prosecutors said.

A grand jury on Friday indicted Nicholas Diehl, 60, a data-entry worker, on a felony charge of theft in office.

Although the value of the items Mr. Diehl is accused of stealing is less than $100, the case is about a violation of the public trust, said Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Bill Anderson.

“He was not only stealing from the sheriff, but the taxpayers of Hamilton County,” Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Diehl was arrested Dec. 5 after he was caught loading the paper products in his car outside the jail, prosecutors said. If convicted, he faces up to a year in prison.


Rain postpones Mummers Parade

PHILADELPHIA — The Mummers Parade, a New Year’s Day tradition, was postponed yesterday because of heavy rain, in part to protect their elaborate costumes from the downpour.

The parade, featuring flamboyantly dressed male performers, was moved to Saturday, parade organizers said.

Organizers considered delaying the parade a few hours, but the forecast offered no guarantee there would be enough clear weather for all the groups to perform, said Leo Dignam, the city’s parade director. The event can last as long as eight hours.

The Mummers Parade, part of the city’s fabric for more than a century, includes competitions in four divisions: comics, the satirists; Fancies, with the flashiest outfits; Fancy Brigades, with choreographed theatrical works; and String Bands, the dancing musicians.

Mummery, sometimes described as Philadelphia’s Mardi Gras, is known for the parade theme song, “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers.”


Rising homicide rate tied to Katrina influx

HOUSTON — The number of homicides last year in Houston hit a 12-year high and increased by 13.5 percent from 2005, figures the mayor attributes in part to the arrival of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

Houston had 379 homicides in 2006. That was the most since 1994, when 419 were reported, police said. In 2005, the city had 334 homicides.

Mayor Bill White pointed to Katrina evacuees from New Orleans as one reason for the increase.

Houston’s population increased by 148,000 in 2006.

Nationally, the homicide rate increased by 1.4 percent last year, according to FBI figures.

Some analysts disagreed with Mr. White’s characterization, pointing to national trends indicating rising rates of violent crime.

From staff reports and wire service dispatches.

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