Archive for Saturday, March 19, 2005

Briefly - Nation

March 19, 2005



Police concede missteps in courthouse shooting

The city's embattled police department acknowledged Friday that it made mistakes just after last week's deadly courthouse rampage, and the chief revealed that the suspect spent as many as 12 hours undetected outside a busy mall.

Police Chief Richard Pennington said he would oversee a review of his department's response to the attacks, communication problems among agencies, and their ill-fated focus on finding a stolen car that later turned up in the same parking garage from where it was stolen.

Pennington said Nichols hopped a subway train from downtown shortly after the shootings and rode north about seven miles, to the Lenox Square Mall stop. Wearing a jacket he had allegedly stolen during the carjacking, he spent much of the day milling about in the streets around the mall. He apparently did not enter the mall, the chief said.

Nichols didn't surface until about 10 p.m., about 13 hours after the shooting, when officers received a report of a couple assaulted near the Lenox Square train station by a man matching Nichols' description.

Washington, D.C.

Astro, Safari at bottom in minivan crash test

Two General Motors vehicles, the Chevrolet Astro and the GMC Safari, fared the worst in government crash tests of minivans, according to results released Friday.

In rollover tests, the Ford E-150 van received the worst rating and was the only vehicle among 13 models tested to tip over.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Astro and Safari three out of five stars for driver's frontal crash tests. Three stars means there is a 21 percent to 35 percent chance of serious injury in a similar real-world crash. NHTSA conducts the front-impact test at 35 mph.

Five models earned the top rating of five stars in both frontal and side-impact tests: Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Mazda MPV and Nissan Quest. Five stars mean there is a 10 percent chance or less of serious injury.

None of the models studied scored less than four stars in side-impact tests, which are conducted at 38.5 mph. Four stars translate to an 11 percent to 20 percent chance of serious injury.


Suicidal father abducts, kills 9-month-old

A man abducted his 9-month-old son from the mother's home, then shot and killed the baby and himself as police closed in, authorities said.

Police tracked Randall King, 46, through three counties Thursday night and used spikes to puncture his vehicle's tires nearly 100 miles from the baby's home in Evarts in eastern Kentucky.

Police found the bodies of King and his son, Landon, inside the SUV after it crashed. The baby had been shot three times.

Kentucky State Police Trooper Scott Hopkins said police tried to stop the vehicle before it crashed but were unsuccessful. After the deflation devices were used, the SUV traveled about another mile before running off the road.

Hopkins said investigators thought King shot the baby and himself before the crash.

The baby's mother, Eva Daniels, was shopping for Easter baskets when her baby was abducted, said her brother, John Howard.

King broke into the home armed with a shotgun and a handgun and asked the teenage baby sitter where Daniels was, Howard said. King then took the baby and fled, he said.


Cassini finds atmosphere on a Saturn moon

The Cassini spacecraft, which has been unveiling the secrets of Saturn's giant moon Titan, has found an atmosphere on a second moon circling the ringed planet.

The discovery of an atmosphere around the icy moon Enceladus is perplexing scientists because, at only 310 miles in diameter, it had been considered far too small to be able to hold on to an atmosphere.

Scientists discovered something unusual was going on at Enceladus on March 9, when Cassini approached to within about 300 miles of the surface. The spacecraft measured fluctuations in the moon's magnetic field that were consistent with a surface atmosphere, according to researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

That makes Enceladus only the second moon in the solar system to have an atmosphere. Titan is the other one.

Scientists are uncertain what the atmosphere is made of. Cassini's instruments detected ionized water vapor, water that carries a positive or negative charge.

Washington, D.C.

EPA, states settle pollution lawsuit

An Ohio company will pay $1.1 billion in fines and cleanup costs at four power plants in the second-largest federal settlement with an electric utility over air pollution.

The case, filed in 1999 against FirstEnergy Corp.'s W.H. Sammis plant north of Steubenville, was the first involving dozens of Midwest plants to go to trial over accusations that the plants spewed dirty air that caused smog and health problems across the Northeast.

A federal judge in Columbus, Ohio, ruled in August 2003 after a three-week trial that Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy had violated the Clean Air Act by making physical changes at its coal-fired plant without upgrading pollution controls.

Friday's agreement, which involved the Environmental Protection Agency, Justice Department and New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, completes the penalty phase of the case.


Deliberations to begin in immigrant driver case

The driver of a tractor-trailer in the nation's deadliest smuggling attempt was blinded by greed to the suffering of more than 70 illegal immigrants packed inside the sweltering, airless truck, prosecutors said Friday in closing arguments.

Tyrone Williams' lawyer depicted him as an inexperienced pawn of a smuggling ring who didn't know 17 immigrants were slowly dying in the trailer because he didn't speak Spanish and couldn't hear them banging on the walls to get out. Two more immigrants died later.

The case went to the jury Friday but deliberations were to begin Monday. The defense rested quickly Friday after calling just one witness -- a meteorologist who briefly testified about the outside temperatures along the smuggling route.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Craig Washington said the government was overreaching in seeking the death penalty for Williams.

Colorado river debt to Kansas hits $34 million

Pueblo, Colo. -- Experts say inflation has pushed Colorado's debt to Kansas to $34 million for water that was illegally pumped from the Arkansas River Basin.

David Robbins, a lawyer who represented Colorado in the decades-old case, said Thursday the state should find a way to pay the bill soon because inflation will only push it higher.

Atty. Gen. John Suthers and the Legislature are studying ways to pay the debt.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that wells drilled in Colorado were pumping water from the Arkansas Valley that legally belonged to Kansas. After years of dickering over the value of the water, the high court last year set Colorado's debt at $29 million.

It was not clear why the amount reached $34 million so quickly.

Colorado remedied the water flow issue with well rules adopted in 1996. Several questions remain unresolved, including whether Colorado must pay Kansas' court costs.

Washington, D.C.

Rehnquist may return to bench next week

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, ailing with thyroid cancer, might return to the bench Monday when the Supreme Court comes back from a two-week break.

Rehnquist, 80, hasn't decided whether to sit for arguments, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Friday. She did not provide any update on his condition.

This is the first time in months the court hasn't unequivocally declared Rehnquist would not be on the bench when justices hear arguments.

Rehnquist last sat for cases in the fall. He was hospitalized Oct. 22 and underwent a tracheotomy to help him breathe.

He has been working regularly at the court for many weeks, presiding over private meetings of the justices, reading transcripts of the arguments and voting on decisions, but not appearing for arguments.

Rehnquist, looking frail, made his first and only public appearance since the fall in January, when he swore in President Bush.

Washington, D.C.

Survey tracks assaults at military academies

One female student in seven attending the nation's military academies last spring said she had been sexually assaulted since becoming a cadet or midshipman, according to a report on the first survey of sexual misconduct on the three campuses released Friday by the Defense Department.

More than half the women studying at the Naval, Air Force and Army academies reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment on campus, according to survey responses. But few of those incidents, and only a third of the assaults, were reported to authorities. A new confidentiality policy for assault victims, also released Friday, attempts to improve reporting of sex crimes on military campuses.

The survey, conducted largely in response to allegations of widespread sexual harassment and assault at the Air Force Academy in 2003, suggests a prevailing climate at the academies that worries military leaders. Too many students condone off-color jokes and unwanted sexual advances. Too few dare to confront classmates with their transgressions or to report them to anyone else, the survey shows.

New York City

Stewart wins ruling on sentencing

Martha Stewart is trying to break out of home, and she just got a dash of hope from a federal appeals court.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled late Thursday that a lower-court judge may reconsider Stewart's prison sentence. The decision gives U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, who presided over Stewart's obstruction of justice conviction last year, the right to reconsider -- and thus, to shorten -- the sentence, said Megan Gaffney, a federal court spokeswoman.

The home-design entrepreneur was released from a five-month prison term two weeks ago and is serving five months of home confinement at her suburban New York estate.

Legal experts say Stewart probably will seek to have the home confinement sentence terminated outright, or have it substituted with a softer penalty such as community service.


Study: Virginity pledges don't always stop STDs

Teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are more likely to take chances with other kinds of sex that increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, a study of 12,000 adolescents suggests.

The report by Yale and Columbia University researchers could help explain their earlier findings that teens who pledged abstinence are just as likely to have STDs as their peers.

The latest study, published in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that teens pledging virginity until marriage are more likely to have oral and anal sex than other teens who have not had intercourse.

Among virgins, boys who have pledged abstinence were four times more likely to have had anal sex, according to the study. Overall, pledgers were six times more likely to have oral sex than teens who have remained abstinent but not as part of a pledge.

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