Thursday, July 31, 2008

Today's News-Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Developments in Shenandoah case

The FBI and Justice Department have opened an investigation into the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah. This comes less than a week after local authorities charged three teens, two with criminal homicide, and ethnic intimidation charges. Charges are to be filed shortly against another for providing alcohol to the accused. The preliminary hearings for Brandon Piekarsky, Colin Walsh and Derrick Donchak have been postponed till August 18th. A juvenile suspect whose allegedly involved in the case has not been formally charged yet.

Pottsville man sentenced in meth lab case

A Pottsville man will do time in state prison for his role in operating a meth lab in the city. 38-year-old Charles Brilla, who worked with Michael Setlock Jr. to run the drug lab, pleaded guilty to drug related counts, and was sentenced yesterday by Judge Charles Miller. Brilla, who is already at the state prison at Mercer, faces at least two more years in jail. Brilla and Setlock were arrested in October 2007, with meth in their possession. Police uncovered the lab at Brilla's home.

Fair Royalty

Senior Citizens day at the Schuylkill County Fair featured the crowning of more royalty. Ron Kramer of Reinholds and Patricia Liptok were crowned King and Queen of the fair, chosen from 12 contestants. A new feature was added to the lineup in 2008, with four local church choirs singing in competition. Echoes of Grace, from Grace EC Church in Schuylkill Haven were the winners. Competitions in the show ring are featured on Dairy Day today. Award-winning Elvis tribute artist Shawn Klush from Pittston will strut his stuff on the M&T stage this evening.

Minersville woman hurt in hit and run in Minersville

An 89-year-old woman is still hospitalized following a hit and run in Minersville Tuesday afternoon. Rita Olexa was crossing at Fourth and Sunbury Streets when she was struck by a pickup truck that was backing up. The vehicle left the scene. A grey haired man in his 50's or 60's was reportedly driving a Ford F-150 is suspected. Anyone with information should call Minersville PD at 544-2333.

A New Philadelphia man is behind bars in Schuylkill County on burglary charges. It all stems from an incident Wednesday night around 10:30. Police say 24-year-old Patrick Hill broke into his wife's home by removing an air conditioner from a window. Hill was sprayed in the face with a chemical and fled. He was caught a short time later driving drunk. Police say Hill and his wife 28-year-old Wendy Hill are married but live in separate homes.

4 states, NYC threaten to sue EPA over emissions from ships, aircraft, off-road vehicles

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Pennsylvania and four other states say they will sue the Environmental Protection Agency if it does not act soon to reduce pollution from ships, aircraft and off-road vehicles. In a letter to be sent Thursday to the EPA, the five states and New York City accuse the Bush administration of ignoring their requests to set restrictions. The letter is a procedural step required six months before a lawsuit would be filed. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is joining California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, and New York City in the action. A coalition of environmental groups also says it is considering legal action against the EPA. Domestic and international flights account for 3 percent of the
country's greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions from cargo and cruise ships account for 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Tractors, snowmobiles, riding lawn mowers and off-road vehicles produced about 220 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2007. That's roughly the same amount as produced by 40 million cars, according to the petitions.

Lawmakers probe electrocutions of soldiers in Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) - The attorney for the family of a Pittsburgh soldier electrocuted in Iraq says new documents contradict an initial federal report that said a private contractor was not at
fault. The report by the inspector general found no evidence that KBR Inc. or the Defense Contract Management Agency were aware of any life-threatening hazards at the Army barracks where Sgt. Ryan Maseth was electrocuted. Maseth's mother, Cheryl Harris, has filed suit in Pennsylvania against KBR. Her attorney, Patrick Cavanaugh, says the new documents include a work order that suggests that KBR employees installed the water pump implicated in Maseth's death. Cavanaugh says he "wouldn't be surprised" to see a subsequent report come to a different conclusion than the initial one. Lawmakers on Wednesday pressed officials from the company and the Pentagon to explain what has delayed the proper protection of U.S. forces in Iraq from deficient electrical work already being blamed for the deaths of at least 16 people.

Deterioration outruns repair money on Pa. bridges

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - An Associated Press analysis indicates that a dozen of the 20 busiest structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania have received no work in the past year beyond regular maintenance. Fourteen of the 20 bridges carry or are connected to Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, where a crumbling support pillar shut down the East Coast's major north-south artery for more than two days in March. The 12 that got only routine maintenance are scheduled for future work. Three others are listed as repaired, though two of those still have more work planned. Five more are listed as partially repaired with more work planned. The 20 Pennsylvania bridges carry an average of about 160,000 vehicles per day. Nineteen are in or near Philadelphia and one is in Pittsburgh. That span, the Saw Mill Run bridge on Parkway West, just south of the Fort Pitt Tunnel, is partially repaired with more work planned.

Specter seeks meeting with Raul Castro

WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. Arlen Specter says he hopes to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during a trip to Latin America in August.
The Pennsylvania Republican tells reporters that he's "a firm believer in dialogue."
Presidential candidates argued earlier this year over when and under what circumstances a president should sit down with adversaries. Hillary Rodman Clinton accused Barack Obama of
embracing a too-lenient stance on such face-to-face meetings. GOP nominee John McCain has repeated the charge, which Obama - now the Democratic nominee - has repeatedly rebuffed.
Speaking to reporters on a wide range of subjects Wednesday, Specter said his experience has been that meeting with world leaders leads to change. Specter says he met with Fidel Castro during previous stops in Cuba and talked to him about drug interdiction. He says he wrote a
letter to Raul Castro requesting a meeting, but has not heard back.

DOJ joins probe of Mexican slain in Pa. coal town

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The FBI and Justice Department have opened an investigation into the fatal beating of a Mexican immigrant in a small northeastern Pennsylvania town. The federal involvement comes less than a week after local officials in Schuylkill County charged three white teens in this month's attack on Luis Ramirez, a 25-year-old father of two. A Mexican-American advocacy group applauded the decision. The victim was attacked July 12 when he crossed paths with a group of teens who had been out drinking before attending a block party in the town of Shenandoah, about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Ramirez, a father of two, died two days later. On Friday, county officials filed homicide charges against two teens and ethnic intimidation charges against the pair and a third teen.

Judge to reconsider sentence for inmate who helped convicted murderer escape Albion prison

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - An Erie County judge says he will reconsider the sentence he gave an inmate who helped a convicted murderer escape from the State Correctional Institution at Albion.
Earlier this month, Judge Michael Dunlavey sentenced 26-year-old John David Gromer, of Philadelphia, to 2 1/2-5 years in prison. The sentence was concurrent with the five- to 10-year term Gromer is already serving for drug and weapons offenses. The prosecution wants Gromer to spend more time behind bars. Gromer admitted helping Malcolm Kysor escape on Nov. 25.
Authorities say Kysor hid in a garbage can while Gromer covered him then pushed the can onto the back of an open-bed pickup. Kysor was captured in California in April and returned to
Pennsylvania. He's charged with escape.

Pa. attorney testifies in own defense in death of girlfriend who fell from his truck

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) - Trial continues Thursday for a former suburban Philadelphia prosecutor charged in the death of his girlfriend, who fell off his truck and died of a head injury last year. Richard Patton took the stand in his own defense Wednesday and said he did not see 34-year-old Heather Demou hanging onto his truck as he drove away from a Newtown restaurant in April 2007. He said he heard a thud and couldn't believe it when he saw her body
lying on the pavement. Under cross-examination in Bucks County Court, Patton denied that his relationship with Demou was abusive or that he was jealous or possessive. He is charged with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person.
Patton previously worked as an assistant prosecutor in Bucks County and in the state attorney general's office.

Pa. search crews find body of 17-year-old swimmer in lake in Pine Grove Furnace State Park

CARLISLE, Pa. (AP) - Search crews on Wednesday found the body of a teenager who disappeared while swimming in a lake at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in south-central Pennsylvania. Officials say the 17-year-old boy vanished in Fuller Lake at about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday while hearing for shore with a group of other swimmers. The group was from Valley Youth House in Warminster, in suburban Philadelphia. Rescuers searched the 52-degree water with boats, divers and an underwater camera. Michelle Parsons of the Cumberland County
Department of Public Safety says the youth's body was recovered just before 5 p.m. She says an autopsy is planned to determine the cause of death. There were no lifeguards on duty at the 1.7-acre lake. The state, in order to save money, eliminated lifeguards at all state park beaches except Presque Isle near Erie this year.

AG reviewing 185 MySpace accounts of sex offenders after obtaining court order for records

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The state Attorney General's office says it is reviewing the MySpace accounts of 185 registered sex offenders who have accounts on the social networking Web site.
Attorney General Tom Corbett says the records were obtained from MySpace following a June 2008 court order issued by the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas. He says authorities want to find out if any sex offender has violated the terms of their release through use of the site. Corbett says such sites are supposed to be safe places for teens and young adults to connect with friends and meet new people. He says "convicted sex offenders have no business in that kind of an environment."

State welfare department wants suburban Pittsburgh personal care home to close

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The state is again trying to close a suburban Pittsburgh personal care home that officials say is unsafe. The Department of Public Welfare issued a non-renewal of license order to Windsor Place and banned new admissions to the Ross Township facility.
Windsor Place administrator Matt Harvey says the home has appealed the shutdown order and will continue operating. Harvey acknowledges that a resident who didn't want to take a shower in May was injured during an argument with a staff member. But he says the home handled the incident properly and has suspended the worker pending the outcome of a police investigation.
Harvey says the welfare department previously withdrew a January shutdown order for violation of regulations.

30,000 rare books destroyed in Pa. house fire

PLUMSTEAD, Pa. (AP) - Fire investigators are trying to find out what caused a blaze that burned down a 17th century stone barn in suburban Philadelphia, destroying 30,000 rare books. No one was injured, but all that was left of the newly converted historical barn after Tuesday's fire was the outside stone wall. Sixty-four-year-old Barry Cavanaugh and his wife, Peg, had thousands of collectibles and works of art inside the home, which had been renovated to fit the book collection. Neighbors apparently rushed into the burning home to try to save
some of the couple's valuables. Point Pleasant Fire Chief Scott Fleisher said he had to physically remove some people from the home. Hot, humid weather and the thousands of books made getting control of the fire difficult, Fleisher said. According to neighbors, the Cavanaughs owned the property for about 18 years and had just finished fully renovating and restoring the barn.

FDA finds salmonella strain at second Mexican farm

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal health officials say the salmonella strain linked to a nationwide outbreak has been found in irrigation water and a serrano pepper at a Mexican farm. Dr. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration's food safety chief, is calling the finding a key breakthrough in the case. Acheson said the farm is in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Previously, the
FDA had traced a contaminated jalapeno to a farm in another part of Mexico. Acheson and other officials were grilled Wednesday at a congressional hearing about why the investigation originally focused on tomatoes. The officials insisted that tomatoes still cannot be ruled out
and that it is quite possible that the outbreak was caused by several different kinds of contaminated produce.

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens is set to appear in federal court

WASHINGTON (AP) - Alaska Senator Ted Stevens will be in a federal court room today, where he's expected to plead not guilty to all seven felony charges he's facing. The government says the one-time U.S. Attorney never reported more than a quarter million dollars worth of gifts he got from an oil services company that did renovations on his home. Stevens says he's innocent and never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form. Meanwhile, Stevens keeps working. He's still performing his committee duties, and has voted on the Senate floor where some
colleagues have come by to embrace him and show their support. Yet several Senate Republicans have also already donated campaign contributions from Stevens to charity.

NYPD arrests man accused of killing woman, fleeing with his 4 kids, their mom

NEW YORK (AP) - A man accused of fatally stabbing a woman in a Massachusetts apartment and then fleeing with his four children and their mother faces murder charges. Police in New York say Rodlyn Petibois was taken into custody as he was walking down a Brooklyn Street. His children and their mother were found safe sitting under a tree in a park. Earlier, Massachusetts State police had said the children and their mother had been taken against their will. Amber Alerts were issued. But New York City police said they believed the family had not been abducted, but they said the details of the situation weren't available. The children's mother was not believed to be an accomplice.

Rescue work complete in New Mexico flooding

RUIDOSO, N.M. (AP) - The last of 900 people stranded by weekend flooding in Ruidoso, New Mexico, have been rescued. A foot bridge was built to retrieve the final three trapped when
remnants of Hurricane Dolly flooded the Rio Ruidoso, washing out 13 bridges and damaging some 200 homes. Road crews are now clearing debris, and state officials are working on drinking water. FEMA is expected to bring in portable bridges, but a spokeswoman for Ruidoso says that won't happen anytime soon. Officials say many residents and vacationers won't be able to return to their homes or cabins quickly. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has declared Lincoln County a disaster area, making it eligible for emergency money.

Body of girl who vanished while swimming found

NEW YORK (AP) - The body of the 10-year-old girl who disappeared Saturday while swimming in the waters off Coney Island in Brooklyn has been recovered. Police say Akira Johnson's body was discovered early Wednesday by a fisherman in Brighton Beach. The medical examiner's office has identified the body and ruled that she drowned after being pulled under by a rip current. Her disappearance was among a rash of swimming-related incidents in the area last week. At least six other people drowned or went missing while swimming.

No idle hands during Obama's convention speech

DENVER (AP) - The 75,000 Democrats expected to pack a football stadium for Barack Obama's convention speech in Denver won't be doing the wave. That's because many of them will be taking part in what could be the world's largest phone bank to boost voter registration. The audience will also be urged to text their friends. They'll be given call sheets created by comparing registration lists with lists of potential voters gleaned by mining consumer databases. An Obama adviser says, "If we do this right, we'll be unbeatable."

Newest McCain ad compares Obama to Britney Spears, Paris Hilton

AURORA, Colo. (AP) - John McCain's presidential campaign has released a hard-hitting TV ad comparing Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The ad suggests Obama is little more than a celebrity. Obama's campaign quickly responded with a commercial of its own,
dismissing McCain's complaints as "baloney" and "baseless." McCain's ad, titled "Celeb," is set to air in 11 battleground states. It features images of Obama on his trip to Europe last week
with video of Spears and Hilton.

Mortar kills family of 7 in Pakistan's Swat valley

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) - Pakistani police say mortar fire has killed a family of seven in a northern valley where security forces are battling Islamic militants. A police official said Thursday that the shell hit a house overnight as the family slept. The official says a man who worked in a local clinic died along with his wife and five children. It is unclear who fired the mortar round. Trouble flared in the region on Tuesday after militants kidnapped 25 security forces. Since then, fighting has reportedly killed 27 militants and seven troops. The violence jeopardizes the government's policy of offering peace deals to militants in a bid to combat their growing control of northwestern Pakistan.

Japanese: E-mail warns of more bombs in India

NEW DELHI (AP) - The Japanese embassy says it has received an e-mail warning of a bomb planted in a New Delhi market, and has warned its citizens to stay away from crowded public places. Nearly 30 explosions shook two Indian cities over the weekend, and 19 unexploded bombs have since been found in a western Indian city. E-mail warnings preceded those bombings. Japan's embassy says in a notice on its Web site Thursday that it has been warned of a bomb planted in the capital's popular Sarojini Nagar market. The notice urges Japanese citizens to stay away from public places, including markets, bus stops and religious institutions.
Sarojini Nagar was one of three New Delhi markets bombed in October 2005. Those blasts killed 62 people.

Attorney: Spears wants no contact with former friend Sam Lutfi

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A lawyer for Britney Spears says he won't seek an extension for a restraining order against Osama "Sam" Lutfi. But attorney Samuel Ingham says that that doesn't mean the pop star wants her former sidekick back in her life. Attorneys for Spears and her father, James, are expected to appear in a Los Angeles courtroom Thursday to give an update on the conservatorship. And a hearing on a temporary restraining order barring Lutfi from having contact with the pop singer is also scheduled for Thursday. Lutfi was a fixture in Spears' life during a period when the star exhibited erratic behavior, including being photographed without underwear, shaving her head and occasionally looking dazed in public.
Spears' father has control over his 26-year-old daughter's personal life and finances.


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