Thursday, March 29, 2007

National and State News-Thursday, March 29th

UNDATED (AP) - Many of the tornadoes that swept across the Plains yesterday and last night were over open land and didn't cause much damage. But two deaths are reported from a possible twister that hit a home near Elmwood, Oklahoma.

BAGHDAD (AP) - Bombs have killed at least eight people and wounded dozens in Iraq today. One bomb was planted under a parked car at an outdoor market in Baghdad. Meanwhile, Ryan Crocker has been sworn in as the new U-S envoy in Iraq.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Britain is rejecting Iran's call that it admit 15 sailors and marines were operating in Iranian waters when they were seized last week. The dispute was one of the
topics today when the U-N chief met with Iran's foreign minister.

WASHINGTON (AP) - A former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has a date with the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning. Kyle Sampson is expected to defend the firings of eight federal prosecutors last year.

ATLANTA (AP) - The Final Four isn't just fun and games for some college kids. Sports management students at Florida's Lynn University are traveling to Atlanta for this weekend's basketball finals. They get credit for taking a firsthand look at what goes into a major sporting event.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The National Park Service wants to hear the public's ideas on the future of the parks. Superintendents from national parks in the region are to be in
Philadelphia tonight to listen. The forum that the park service calls a "listening session"
begins at 5:30 p-m at the National Constitution Center.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The state Senate has confirmed three of Governor Ed Rendell's nominees -- two for positions on state courts and one atop the Pennsylvania National Guard
Major General Jessica Wright, the state's first female adjutant general, received approval to continue to lead the 19-thousand-member guard. A 31-year veteran of the guard, she was
first nominated in November 2003. Philadelphia Judge James Fitzgerald the Third will fill an
opening on the state Supreme Court. Robert Daniels, a lawyer in private practice from Villanova, will fill a vacant seat on the lower Superior Court. Voters will elect successors to Daniels and Fitzgerald in November.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A state-sponsored study says requiring Lehigh Valley hunters to use shotguns instead of rifles would not necessarily make the area safer during deer season.
The study was ordered following a November 2004 accident in which a pregnant, 18-year-old Lehigh County woman sitting in a car in her driveway was struck in the head by a stray bullet from the rifle of a hunter a half-mile away. The study, commissioned by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, compared the ranges of a rifle and a shotgun, including the distance that the projectiles traveled after ricocheting off the ground. It said the conventional wisdom that rifle bullets travel farther is not always true. When fired parallel to level ground, the study says rifle bullets tend to tumble after they strike the ground, slowing down as they ricochet, while shotgun slugs tend to maintain more of their velocity.

BEAVER, Pa. (AP) - The Beaver County Prison Board has suspended jail Warden William Schouppe for one week without pay in response to a county-ordered investigation that alleged wrongdoing at the jail. County Controller Richard Towcimak says Schouppe also has been
put on probation for one year for failing to properly manage the jail. The board is responding to a report submitted by investigators who say they found a pattern of inappropriate and possibly criminal behavior at the lockup, including sexual encounters between guards and inmates, physical abuse and drug use. Schouppe attended the prison board meeting but declined to

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Philadelphia fire commissioner is cutting two 9-1-1 operator jobs to save money. Commissioner Lloyd Ayers says the city can get by with 52 operators instead of 54. He says he'll pay overtime or, if he has to, have firefighers fill in for 9-1-1 operators. Ayers says the cutback will save about 139-thousand dollars a year. But City Council president Anna Verna doesn't like this. She says the city is endangering public safety with this budget cut.

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A cultural organization in Pittsburgh has become the first group to be fined by Allegheny County for violating the new smoking ban. The county health department fined the Lithuanian Citizens' Society of Western Pennsylvania 16-thousand-250 dollars because the organization allowed 65 people to smoke at its bingo game on March 21st.
The county says the group was sent a warning letter last month and an inspector visited the bingo game last week. The group's officials say they will appeal the fine because they
believed the club was exempt until May First, like bars and restaurants. But, the health department says the group wasn't exempt because it had employees who worked during the bingo games and was therefore considered a workplace. The organization has now removed all ash trays and hung "No Smoking" signs in the building.

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Allegheny County voters will not get to decide in May whether the sheriff should be appointed rather than elected. County Judge Eugene Strassburger has blocked the proposed referendum, saying the county has to wait five years after its last change to home-rule government to make any new changes. The county amended its form of government in 2005 by allowing six of 10 previously elected row offices to be appointed. The county tried to bypass the five-year rule by having the decision on the sheriff's position take effect in 2010.

CHESTER, Pa. (AP) - A Delaware man charged with rape and other offenses is in custody undergoing evaluation after a long standoff on the Commodore Barry Bridge in Chester.
He's 37-year-old Brian Smith, who lives near New Castle, Delaware. He had been threatening to jump from the bridge for several hours before he surrendered to police about 9 p-m
yesterday. He's accused of raping a 14-year-old girl on Monday evening. Police call it "an extended, calculated and brutal attack." Police say Smith is also wanted in Mooresville, North Carolina, where he's suspected of another rape.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - More than 100 people, alternately tearful and energized, called for an end to violence at a rally in southwest Philadelphia. It's in the neighborhood where gunfire
killed a mother of four and injured three others on Sunday. A bullet struck 28-year-old Jovonne Stelly in the head during a shootout in front of her home. Authorities said Stelly was killed trying to get her children out of the line of fire. Police have charged Stelly's boyfriend and her brother with her murder and issued an arrest warrant for a third suspect.

HUGHESVILLE, Pa. (AP) - An Army National Guard member from Hughesville, Lycoming County, has been killed in Iraq. His mother says 33-year-old Sergeant First Class Sean Michael
Thomas died when a rocket exploded over his head in Baghdad's Green Zone. Thomas is survived by his wife, Carrie, and their six-month-old daughter, Alexa. His mother, Diana Thomas, says he had been planning to attend Officer Candidate School in October and wanted to be a teacher when he returned to civilian life. She says Thomas was sent to Iraq last summer, less than a year after he returned from duty in Afghanistan.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) - Two soldiers with Pennsylvania ties were among four members of the North Carolina-based 82nd Airborne who died in Iraq on Sunday when a bomb exploded near their truck. The Defense Department says 22-year-old Corporal Jason Nunez, who was born in Fountain Hill, near Bethlehem, lived in Naranjito, Puerto Rico. He joined the Army in March 2005 and moved to the 82nd Airborne in October of that year as a nuclear, biological, and
chemical specialist. Twenty-one-year-old P-f-c Orlando Gonzalez of New Freedom,
Pennsylvania, joined the Army in June 2005 and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne in November 2005 as a scout. Each was assigned to the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. Also killed in the blast were 21-year-old P-f-c Anthony White of Columbia, South Carolina and 24-year-old Sergeant Jason Swiger of South Portland, Maine.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Former state Senator Joe Conti can continue to share a house in Harrisburg with Senator Don White. He can even shoot the breeze about baseball with his former Senate colleagues. But the State Ethics Commission is drawing the line at his
representing or discussing the business of his new employer, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. That's how Conti is supposed to behave for the next eight months, until the expiration of a yearlong prohibition on state officials and employees interacting in an official capacity with the agency or body they left. Conti sought the Ethics Commission's opinion for a formal definition of the state law. Conti was picked by Governor Ed Rendell to become the first chief executive of the Liquor Control Board.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A major South Korean shipbuilder says it will be building additional tankers and container ships at the old Philadelphia Navy Yard. The parent of Aker Philadelphia Shipyard says its expanded deal with Hyundai Mipo Dockyard covers an additional six tankers as well as exclusive rights for container ships. Under a 2004 deal, Hyundai Mipo has been providing design and procurement services for a series of 10 tankers currently under construction in Philadelphia. Aker Philadelphia Shipyard and its parent, Aker American
Shipping, are part of the Norway-based Aker group of oil services, engineering, construction and shipbuilding companies.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Pennsylvania's two largest health insurers have agreed to merge.
The prospective merger of Independence Blue Cross of Philadelphia and Highmark Incorporated of Pittsburgh got a swift reaction in the Legislature. The state Senate unanimously approved legislation yesterday intended to require the merger to undergo a review by state insurance regulators. The bill still needs approval by the House of Representatives before it can go to Governor Ed Rendell's desk. Should the merger go through, the organizations will maintain dual headquarters, where they're now based.


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