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Archive for Saturday, September 30, 2000

National briefs

September 30, 2000

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LOS ANGELES

Firefighters rescue puppies

A fire at a strip mall early Friday filled a pet shop with smoke, killing some animals, but firefighters managed to rescue a dozen puppies, using oxygen masks to revive some of them.

Three pups, as many as 60 birds and some hamsters died in the crowded store. But firefighters rescued a few hamsters and most of the puppies, including a few they carried from the store unconscious.

"The dogs were very limp and apparently not breathing, and the guys supplied oxygen and kind of massaged them and somehow the dogs came to," said city fire Battalion Chief Michael Little. "They were frightened and they were happy to see the firefighters."

Television footage showed one tiny puppy lying still and seemingly lifeless as a firefighter holds an oxygen mask over his snout. Suddenly, the puppy's tail begins to wag wildly as the pooch regains consciousness.

DALLAS

Killer given death sentence

A former car wash employee was sentenced to death Friday in connection with a workplace massacre that left five people dead. Prosecutors said Robert Wayne Harris, 28, shot five former co-workers to death out of revenge on March 20, three days after he was fired for exposing himself in a restroom.

Harris was convicted of murdering cashier Rhoda Wheeler, 45, and assistant manager Augustin Villasenor, 36, at the Mi-T-Fine Car Wash in suburban Irving. He was charged but not tried in the three other deaths.

The jury that convicted Harris on Tuesday deliberated several hours before deciding Harris should receive a lethal injection instead of life in prison.

PHILADELPHIA

Teachers hold off on strike

The city school board imposed new salaries and working conditions on its 21,000 teachers, but their union said they would not strike in response, at least for now.

The city school board imposed the new terms of employment in the nation's fifth-largest school district Thursday night after negotiators failed to reach a contract agreement.

The new terms would extend the school day by one hour and the school year by two days, give principals more say over where teachers are assigned and implement a merit pay system in which teachers whose pupils are doing well are paid more money.

In exchange, the teachers would get a $500 bonus and a raise of 17 percent over five years, Street said.

washington, d.c

U.S. territories get quarters

Part of the realm for more than a century, Puerto Rico may soon get its own coin of the realm: a specially designed quarter commemorating the island as a U.S. commonwealth.

The House of Representatives this week passed a measure to include Puerto Rico and five U.S. territories in the national mint's popular program of recognizing individual states with specially designed quarters. The Senate must still approve the bill.

Started in 1999, the 10-year program calls for five quarters to be minted each year. Nine coins, issued in the order in which the states entered the union, have already been struck.

Besides Puerto Rico, the other political entities that may get their own quarters are Washington, D.C., American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Marianas and Guam.

Texas

Koch Industries indicted

A federal grand jury has indicted one of the nation's biggest oil pipeline companies for alleged air pollution crimes in Texas, even though the company disclosed the problem to regulators and fixed the problems.

The indictment charges Koch Industries Inc., its subsidiary Koch Petroleum Group and four employees with 97 felonies for problems dating to 1995 with the cancer-linked pollutant benzene at a Corpus Christi plant.

The company disclosed the problems to Texas regulators and corrected them, but the indictment alleges Koch engaged in a conspiracy and lied to Texas officials.

Koch spokesman Jay Rosser disputed the allegations as "not consistent with the facts."

Wichita, Kan.-based Koch said it disclosed the problems to Texas in 1995, fixed them within months, and has been in compliance on the benzene issue for more than four years.

Washington

Long-buried radioactive waste found

High-level nuclear waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation was buried decades ago in bottomless containers less than four miles from the Columbia River, the Energy Department said Friday.

The agency said that may be why the level of radioactive tritium in area groundwater is 400 times higher than the federal safety standard. Wade Ballard, assistant manager for planning and integration, couldn't say why the agency used the containers. He said it might have been to prevent water from accumulating in them and then leaching radioactive material into the ground.

Five bottomless caissons, or large corrugated metal pipes, and 50 bottomless drums are buried 3 1/2 miles from the Columbia River in south-central Washington. It was unclear how much waste is stored there, but it includes 11 to 22 pounds of plutonium, which was manufactured at Hanford for nuclear weapons

New Mexico

Punishment urged for lab workers

Three review panels have recommended punishment for several Los Alamos National Laboratory employees following the disappearance and reappearance of hard drives containing nuclear secrets, officials said Friday.

"The type of severity or magnitude (of the punishment) has not been determined yet," laboratory spokesman James Rickman said after the panels of lab officials and nuclear experts made the recommendation.

Lab workers in May noticed that two hard drives containing information on terrorist and nuclear emergencies had disappeared. Supervisors were not told about it for weeks, and the drives mysteriously reappeared in June. A spokesman for the University of California, which manages the laboratory, said several lab managers and supervisors faced punishment, but declined to identify them.

Alabama

X-33 spacecraft revamped

NASA and contractor Lockheed Martin have announced a plan to complete the controversial X-33 spacecraft, an experimental vehicle intended to demonstrate technologies that might be used in a replacement for the space shuttle. The new plan calls for replacing the original hydrogen tanks, which were made of a lightweight layered composite material, with more conventional aluminum tanks.

The redesigned spacecraft is scheduled to fly in 2003, but that will happen only if Lockheed Martin wins additional NASA funding beyond the $912 million that the space agency has already committed to the project. Lockheed Martin has spent $300 million on the project and is committed to spending $56 million more through March.

SAN DIEGO

Police force engaged in racial profiling

San Diego police officers are more likely to stop and search blacks and Hispanics than whites and Asians, according to a study for the police department.

Researchers found that whites and Asians had an 8 percent chance of being pulled over in traffic stops during the first six months of this year. Blacks and Hispanics had a 14 percent chance of being stopped, they found.

Police Chief David Bejarano, the city's first Latino chief, ordered the $100,000 study last year after complaints that officers stop blacks and Hispanics for minor infractions that would be overlooked if committed by a white or Asian.

The study was based on data collected by officers during 91,552 traffic stops in the first six months of the year.

Rhode Island

Mr. Potato Head statue racism alleged

A 6-foot Mr. Potato Head statue, one of dozens dotting Rhode Island as part of a tourism campaign, will be taken down because of complaints that the grinning, brown-skinned figure appeared racist.

The "Tourist Tater" was painted dark brown to appear suntanned and wore an ill-fitting Hawaiian shirt, glasses and a hat.

The fiberglass figure had been on display since May, but no one had complained until its photo appeared Thursday in a newspaper.

NEW YORK CITY

Imprisoned mobster's throat cancer returns

Imprisoned mobster John Gotti's throat cancer has returned and spread aggressively, the Daily News reported Friday. Gotti, 59, who is serving a life sentence for racketeering and murder, was moved from the maximum-security federal prison in Marion, Ill., to a prison hospital in Springfield, Mo., on Sept. 13, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons told the newspaper.

Nearly two years ago, doctors at the prison hospital performed surgery on Gotti to remove a cancerous tumor from his neck. Gotti returned to the hospital for a routine checkup and tests showed his cancer was no longer in remission, the Daily News reported.

SEATTLE

Homeless people find missing surgery patient

A brain surgery patient who wandered out of the hospital was found more than a day later asleep on a sidewalk, thanks to the help of some homeless people.

John Bassham, 29, was recovering Friday but has no memory of leaving Virginia Mason Medical Center. Bassham had brain surgery last week to remove a cyst, and he was discovered missing at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Early Thursday, Bassham's wife asked some homeless people if they had seen her husband, whose most distinguishing feature was a surgical scar on his shaved head. They directed her to an office tower, where she found her husband wearing his hospital ID bracelet.

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