Archive for Tuesday, January 7, 2003


January 7, 2003


California: Winds fan wildfires, contribute to 2 deaths

Strong winds raked Southern California again Monday, fanning wildfires across Malibu hillsides, overturning trucks, and toppling trees and power poles.

Two deaths were reported: a woman killed when a eucalyptus tree fell on her in San Diego, and a passenger in a car hit by a flying fiberglass pickup truck cover on a freeway in Riverside east of Los Angeles.

Hundreds of homes in Malibu were threatened Monday evening by a 1,200-acre wildfire in the Santa Monica Mountains. Wind whipped another blaze in brush near Norco, 45 miles east of Los Angeles.

The dry, warm Santa Ana wind started blowing Sunday night and had gusts up to 79 mph. It was expected to continue through noon today.

California: Commuter train derails after deadly collision

A Southern California commuter train smashed into a truck Monday morning in a fiery rush-hour accident that killed the truck driver and injured 32 others, two critically, authorities in Burbank said.

Witnesses said the crossing gates were lowered and the signal lights were flashing before the truck -- a pickup or flatbed -- went onto the track.

The 450-ton Metrolink train tore the truck in two, carrying some of the wreckage down the track while the rest exploded in flames.

The train was carrying 58 passengers and a crew of two from the Santa Clarita Valley to downtown Los Angeles, Metrolink spokeswoman Sharon Gavin said. The accident happened 10 miles northwest of downtown.

The train had four passenger cars and an engine at the rear, and all five cars jumped the tracks. One passenger car came to rest with one end sticking up in the air. Two cars fell onto their sides.

Colorado: Former forest worker pleads guilty in wildfire

A former U.S. Forest Service employee pleaded guilty Monday in Cripple Creek to state arson charges for setting the biggest wildfire in Colorado history.

Terry Barton, 38, could get up to 12 years in prison when she is sentenced on March 5. Last month, she pleaded guilty to federal charges for setting the fire and lying to investigators and is expected to get six years behind bars at her sentencing on those charges next month.

Prosecutors filed the state arson charges because of the damage done by last summer's 137,000-acre blaze in four counties outside Denver.

The fire began June 8 and was brought under control July 19. It destroyed 133 homes and cost more than $29 million to contain in the mountains.

Minnesota: Internet-surfing dad jailed in son's drowning

A Willmar man who was surfing the Internet while his 13-month-old son drowned in the bathtub was sentenced to a year in jail Monday.

Tyler Bratsch, 25, pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter. He admitted visiting pornographic, sports and music sites and checking e-mail while his son, Logan, was in the tub.

Judge Don Spilseth also fined Bratsch $1,000 and ordered him to perform 1,000 hours community service and write a letter of apology to the emergency and hospital workers who tried to save Logan.

He must also write a letter of apology to Logan every year for the next five years on the anniversary of his death. And if Bratsch has another child, he must attend parenting classes.

Illinois: Swindling scheme brings prison term

A man convicted of racketeering in a scheme to swindle the town of Cicero out of $12 million through a bogus insurance company was sentenced Monday to 6 1/2 years in federal prison.

Michael Spano Jr., the son of the reputed boss of the Cicero mob, was convicted in August for helping operate dummy companies and creating fraudulent records. U.S. District Judge John Grady also sentenced Spano to five years of probation and to make restitution of $11 million.

Former Cicero town President Betty Loren-Maltese and six other defendants were convicted of racketeering conspiracy. Loren-Maltese is scheduled to be sentenced later this week, as are Michael Spano Sr. and former Cicero Police Chief Emil Schullo.

California: Military satellite launched into orbit

The military launched a satellite early Monday to keep tabs on the weather in space and over the world's oceans and to help improve cell phone communications.

The Coriolis satellite lifted off aboard a Titan II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, officials said. Nearly an hour later, the satellite successfully separated from the booster and was communicating with ground stations on Earth.

The $223.5 million Coriolis mission placed two instruments in orbit, one to watch the winds that buffet Pentagon ships at sea and another to monitor the solar storms that can affect its satellites in space.

Baltimore: Snow wreaks havoc in Mid-Atlantic states

Snow fell for a second day Monday, closing schools in parts of the central Appalachians and mid-Atlantic states and making highways treacherous.

Up to 4 inches of snow had fallen by midmorning in West Virginia, and parts of Virginia and Maryland collected up to 4 inches on Sunday. Snow also fell Monday across parts of the Ohio Valley, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and southeastern New York.

Schools were closed Monday in Maryland and West Virginia.

Sunday's snowfall contributed to a 34-vehicle pileup on the Baltimore Beltway in which 27 people were injured. Other accidents throughout the state were blamed for three deaths.

"It was nerve-racking," said Gayle Colonna of Clairton, Pa., who was driving in the area of Beckley, W.Va. "People were getting hung up, and when I saw an 18-wheeler going down a hill sideways, I knew I shouldn't travel any further."

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