Huntsville: Hartselle schools called off classes Thursday because water from a rising creek flooded a water pumping station, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement posted on Facebook. Utility officials in the town of about 14,000 people asked residents to conserve water. Elsewhere, transportation officials shut down a major highway leading to Huntsville because of a crack that developed in the road after days of heavy rain. Crews were repairing both sides of U.S. 231 near Lacey’s Springs, forcing commuters to take detours. Flood warnings cover much of north and west Alabama. Workers had to clear roads in Lawrence County after strong winds overnight knocked down trees that toppled over in saturated soil. A flood warning for the Tennessee River at Florence in northwest Alabama is in effect until Feb. 20. Parts of central Alabama have received more than 6 inches of rain since Tuesday, and rainfall totals in excess of 3 inches were common.
Anchorage: Police arrested the wrong person in the 2017 shooting deaths of three men at a coin and precious metals shop in Anchorage, a defense attorney said at the murder trial of the suspect, who provided security at the store. Anthony Pisano, 45, is charged in the deaths of Steven Cook, 31, an owner of The Bullion Brothers, and building tenants Kenneth Hartman, 48, and Daniel McCreadie, 31. During opening statements Wednesday, defense attorney Kevin Fitzgerald said co-owner Michael Dupree killed Cook, the Anchorage Daily News reported. When Hartman and McCreadie responded to the shots, Fitzgerald said, Pisano shot them in self-defense. Prosecutor Brittany Dunlop said only Pisano was responsible for killing the three men on Sept. 12, 2017, and his motive was robbery. Cook and Dupree opened the store in 2015. Dunlop described it as “the Cheers of gold bullion shops” where friends and customers would stay for hours to “shoot the breeze.” Dupree and Cook met Pisano through a mutual friend and police officer. Pisano was a former paratrooper stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. After nearly two decades in the Army, he had retired as a sergeant and was hired to provide security for the store. Pisano desperately needed money, Dunlop said, noting that the day before the shooting, security footage showed him checking how much cash was inside the store. The prosecutor displayed photos from the day of the killings showing Pisano entering the store, turning off security cameras and carrying in a black box containing flares and two bottles filled with gasoline.
Buckeye: A police dog is expected to recover after getting hit with a pellet gun by a suspect who was barricaded in a home. Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies booked 61-year-old Harold Whistler into jail Tuesday on five counts of aggravated assault and one count of harming a working service animal. Authorities were called after several people reported someone was pointing a rifle and pistol in traffic. Upon deputies’ arrival, Whistler went inside his home. The suspect went in and out of the home with a firearm for several hours, according to deputies. He ignored all commands. A SWAT team negotiator attempted to facilitate a surrender. Officers then decided to enter the house with Karl, a police canine. Investigators said Whistler fired three rounds from a pellet gun at the dog, hitting him in the ear and mouth. The dog grabbed onto the suspect’s leg. Whistler tried to flee by hitting the dog in the head with the gun. Officers then took Whistler into custody, according to authorities. Whistler was transported to a Phoenix jail and treated for a dog bite. It was not immediately known Wednesday if he had an attorney. Sheriff’s officials said Karl will make a full recovery and return to “pursuing bad guys.”
Little Rock: A federal judge has set a July trial for a lawsuit challenging a Ten Commandments display outside the state Capitol. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker on Monday ordered the trial over the display installed on the Capitol grounds in 2018 to begin the week of July 13. Opponents of the privately funded display argue it’s an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by government and are seeking its removal. The granite monument replaces a display that was destroyed in 2017 less than 24 hours after its installation. A 2015 law required the state to allow the privately funded monument on Capitol grounds.
Dana Point: A delighted passenger on a whale-watching cruise was able to pet a 35-foot gray whale that surfaced near a boat off Southern California. The curious whale approached the boat Monday near Dana Point, the Orange County Register reported. “Oh my gosh, that’s her face,” a passenger exclaimed on a video posted online by Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari. The woman splashed her hand in the water, tapped the boat’s side and blew kisses to the giant mammal. Suddenly, the whale’s head popped out of the water and the woman reached out and pet it. The up-close encounter is rare in Southern California, where whales typically keep a distance from boats as they migrate between Alaska and Mexico, the newspaper said. Steve Burkhalter, a captain with Dana Wharf Whale Watching, was the first to spot the gray whale about a half-mile from shore. “It was pretty awesome,” Burkhalter told the Register. “It was definitely the most friendly gray whale we’ve ever had.”
Pueblo: Doctors at a state psychiatric hospital released a man who pushed a snowboarder off a ski lift. Thomas Proesel, 35, was released from the state’s psychiatric hospital Tuesday to live on his own in Pueblo, The Aspen Times reported. Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin said Proesel appears to have made significant process at the hospital in Pueblo, but ruled against Proesel’s request to live in an Aspen condominium he owns during his supervised release. Proesel was at the Aspen Highlands ski and snowboard area in January 2016 when he pushed a 28-year-old snowboarder and photographer off the Loge Peak Lift. The reason Proesel pushed the snowboarder was unclear, but he reportedly made an innocuous comment that might have been misinterpreted by Proesel. The snowboarder fell 20 to 25 feet but landed in deep snow and was not injured. Proesel was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and another psychiatric disorder.
Middletown: Police are looking for a masked suspect caught on surveillance video using an ax to force their way into a military museum and steal several items. Police in a Facebook post said they responded to a burglar alarm at the Greater Middletown Military Museum on Tuesday night. Surveillance video posted on Facebook showed a hooded and masked person swinging the ax several times at a rear door lock mechanism to break into the museum. Officers searched the area for the suspect with the help of a K9 unit but did not find anyone. Museum officials told WVIT-TV that the suspect took a replica .45 caliber automatic pistol from a Vietnam War display and did not get anything of value. Neighbors near the museum have been asked to check their security cameras for any images of the suspect. The museum opened last year.
Wilmington:The owners of the Hercules Plaza building downtown said that because they struggle to attract tenants in a stagnant office market, they should have to pay less in property taxes to the city, New Castle County and local schools. If successful, they could reduce their city property tax bill by nearly $400,000 a year, which would be one of Wilmington’s largest revenue losses on a building in recent years. A Delaware Superior Court judge has partially sided with owner McConnell Johnson Real Estate, ruling last month that the county tax authority must consider the building’s vacancy rates when deciding whether to lower the property’s assessed value. The case is another sign of downtown Wilmington’s struggling office market, and the latest crack that Delaware’s courts have dealt to the outdated method used by all three county taxing authorities to value real estate. The Delaware Supreme Court previously ruled that a building’s depreciation must also be a factor in assessing a property’s value – before New Castle County then calculates what that value would have been in 1983, the last time the county comprehensively valued every property. Those assessment methods are on trial in a separate case before the Delaware Chancery Court, in which school funding activists and Wilmington officials claim all three counties’ three- to four-decade-old property values are so inaccurate, they violate the state constitution. The Hercules case, however, presents a revenue quandary for the city. It loses taxes when declining commercial properties get their assessments reduced, but real estate sources say in an “anemic” local office market, high taxes on those buildings hurt the local economy, too.
District of Columbia
Washington:Neighborhood leaders are demanding that Metro not cut bus routes as part of its proposed annual budget, WUSA-TV reported. Riders are now able to submit public comments online after the transit agency announced plans to “eliminate” 22 bus routes in December. In a letter sent to Metro leaders, 12 commissioners from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1A near Columbia Heights said they are “extremely concerned” about changes to the 54 bus route. Metro has proposed the line be absorbed by the 59 bus, which commissioners said provides fewer stops. “That this change will disproportionately affect senior residents, residents with disabilities, and residents of affordable housing developments in portions of our Commission along 14th Street and of ANC 1B to our south,” the letter said. The route connects Takoma to Metro Center using 14th Street through Columbia Heights. ANC Commissioners said the 54 bus makes 14 stops in their area but the 59 route that Metro favors stops just nine times. “This change will disproportionately affect senior residents, residents with disabilities, and residents of affordable housing developments in portions of our Commission along 14th Street and of ANC 1B to our south,” commissioners said. Any changes to Metrobus routes would need the approval of Metro’s board, the transit agency underscored in a statement. Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly said there will be “an extensive multiweek public outreach period where customers can make their voices heard.” “No decisions will be made until all public comments have been delivered to the Metro Board for their consideration,” Ly said.
Palm Beach:During a dive charter trip on Walker’s Dive Charters out of Riviera Beach on Tuesday, a group of scuba divers encountered a great white shark. The encounter took place near a spot known as The Breakers Reef, a location just one mile offshore of the famous Breakers Hotel on Palm Beach. During the dive, an estimated 20-foot-long great white shark slowly drifted by near the bottom, enabling divers to get photos and brief video. Many on the trip were thrilled with the encounter. “Only need two words to describe diving West Palm with Walker’s Dive Charters today: Great White!” diver Jim Cocci of Viera wrote on his Facebook page. There was pretty good visibility during the dive, so it was easy for divers to get photos and video without spooking the shark. The shark had no visible satellite tag affixed to it’s dorsal fin so it was not a shark tagged by OCEARCH. Great white sharks are being observed by divers once or twice a year off the coast of South Florida. Last year, a group of spearfishermen saw one in 80 feet of water off Jupiter. Capt. Bill Walker of Walker’s Dive Charters said the great white shark sighting was the first for one of his charters in 27 years of operation. There were 11 divers on the trip and all were able to get a glimpse of the big shark. Walker said this time of year, his charters generally see bull sharks, lemon sharks and nurse sharks, along with an occasional hammerhead. Mutton snapper, large stingrays, spotted eagle rays and moray eels are also common.
Atlanta: Georgia’s public safety chief said he’s stepping down just weeks after an entire graduating class of the State Patrol’s Trooper School was fired or resigned after being accused of cheating on an online exam. Department of Public Safety Commissioner Col. Mark McDonough announced his resignation Thursday after Gov. Brian Kemp told the commissioner he wanted new leadership. Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce confirmed that the governor asked for McDonough’s resignation. Kemp thanked McDonough in a statement for “his dedicated service, leadership, and sacrifice. We wish him the very best in the years ahead.” McDonough said in late January that 30 troopers were fired after being accused of cheating on an online exam for the speed detection operator component of the school’s curriculum. One trooper resigned after the cheating allegations came to light. All were August graduates of the 106th Trooper School. The investigation began in October after officials learned about the allegations from the girlfriend of one of the cadets, who said she took the online test for him. McDonough said then that all the graduates signed an oath to uphold professional conduct and standards, which they violated, leading to their dismissals.
Kailua-Kona: The Coast Guard has scrapped plans to move a fishing vessel that ran aground after inspectors discovered flooding in the boat, an official said. The 63-foot ship named Midway Island was grounded Feb. 3 north of Hilo on the Big Island, West Hawaii Today reported Tuesday. Environmental impact has been minimal and there is no evidence of pollution discharge caused by water leaking into the ship, the Coast Guard said. The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the vessel until a new plan to move the ship is approved. Coast Guard officials previously planned to move the Midway Island to a berth outside Wailoa Boat Harbor in Hilo during Monday afternoon’s high tide. Contractors found water in the fish hold and the engine room while preparing the ship, said Chief Warrant Officer Russell Strathern, a Coast Guard pollution response expert. The Coast Guard is working with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and other partners on plans to safely move the boat and mitigate any pollution on board. Officials said 1,352 gallons of petroleum products including marine diesel fuel, lube and hydraulic oil were safely removed along with the ship’s batteries and household cleaners. Officials estimated less than 40 gallons of liquid products remain on board. A safety zone extending 100 yards from the vessel in all directions remains in effect, authorities said.
Boise: A lawmaker wants to ban transgender women athletes from participating in sports that align with their gender identity. The bill by Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt was introduced Wednesday in the House Education Committee, Boise State Public Radio reported. It must undergo a public hearing before the committee will vote on whether to send it to the full House. It could add significant complications for state colleges and universities that are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The NCAA requires its members to allow transgender athletes to participate in sports that align with their gender identity. Transgender men can do so immediately, but transgender women must undergo testosterone suppression therapy for a year before competing. Ehardt said transgender athletes are acting as a “roadblock” to girls and women who want to play sports with their peers. Her bill would prevent someone who was assigned male gender at birth but who identifies as female from playing on a sports team as a woman. Transgender men – assigned female gender at birth but who identify as male – would be exempt from restrictions. Rep. Steve Berch, a Boise Democrat, tried to block the introduction of the bill but failed. Similar legislation has been proposed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Washington state, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The measures are part of a national campaign backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious freedom group based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Chicago: Chicago Public Schools said it has launched an investigation after four students complained that a teacher told a Hispanic student she should go back to her own country because she didn’t stand during the national anthem. The students at Senn High School on the city’s north side said they heard the teacher make the comment to the girl, who is a U.S. citizen, during a Hispanic heritage assembly Jan. 30. If the allegations are true, the teacher’s comments would be a violation of the district’s anti-discrimination policy. “CPS is committed to fostering learning environments that embrace and support all students, and the alleged actions of the teacher in question run counter to our beliefs and priorities,” district spokesman James Gherardi said. Yesica Salazar said she and the other students stayed seated during the anthem to protest police brutality, U.S. immigration policies and anti-immigrant political rhetoric. She said the teacher asked her if her legs were broken then said she should “go back to my own country if I didn’t want to stand,” Salazar said. The four students held a sit-in at the school on Wednesday to protest what they called the school’s slow response to their complaint as well as to urge the teacher’s removal from the school. Authorities have not released the teacher’s name and the CPS has not said if any actions was taken against him.
Indianapolis:An Indianapolis boy is asking for Valentine’s Day cards as he awaits a heart transplant at Riley Children’s Hospital. Ten-year-old William Sidebottom was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital defect that left him with half a heart. He underwent three open-heart surgeries before getting a transplant when he was 6. But now doctors said that heart is failing. Although the family had lived in North Carolina for several years, they made the decision to move back to Indiana to be closer to relatives. “The family, including older brothers Jared Green, 18, and Dylan Sidebottom, 13, moved back to Indiana in January. William was admitted to Riley on Jan. 28, the day before his 10th birthday. During their hospital stay in North Carolina, a family friend suggested they ask for Christmas cards – and they ended up receiving 5 million, including messages from Poland and Australia. The family hopes to keep that momentum going through Valentine’s Day. William is a fourth-grader at Glenns Valley Elementary School, but because he’s unable to attend classes, a teacher visits the hospital for an hour every day. When he’s not doing schoolwork, he spends his time playing board games and video games. Cards can be mailed to William at the hospital or sent virtually through a patient postcard form on Riley’s website.
Des Moines:Dozens of schools across Polk County and the state delayed start times or closed altogether Thursday. Rapidly falling temperatures mixed with overnight snow made for dangerous conditions across Iowa. In metro Des Moines, most schools started two hours late, including Ankeny, Des Moines, Johnston, Southeast Polk, Urbandale, Waukee and West Des Moines. The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory for all of central Iowa, which began at midnight Wednesday and ended at noon Thursday. Temperatures hovered around 10 degrees at 10 p.m. Wednesday, and wind chills were expected to dip as low as minus-25 degrees around 6 a.m. Thursday. Temperatures should reach 20 degrees on Friday, but wind chills might be as low as minus-10. Saturday will see temperatures climb into the 40s.
Emporia: The Kansas Highway Patrol said several children from Wichita suffered minor injuries Wednesday when a school bus they were on rolled onto its side near Emporia. Patrol Lt. Dave Hundley said 36 students, two teachers, a chaperone and the driver were aboard the bus when it went into a ditch about 14 miles south of Emporia. He said the road was slushy from snow but it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the accident. Seventeen children were taken to a hospital in Newton for treatment and the others were transported to Emporia High School. The Emporia Gazette reported the children were fifth-graders from Park Elementary School in Wichita on a field trip to Topeka.
Louisville:A large rock slide caused a fiery train derailment Thursday morning in eastern Kentucky, briefly trapping two crew members and causing a chemical leak into a river, authorities said. Two crew members of the CSX train were initially trapped in a flaming locomotive along the river’s edge before climbing out and waiting for firefighters to rescue them by boat. They were taken to a hospital with minor injuries, officials said. There weren’t any other reports of injuries. CSX said in a statement that the train derailed into the Big Sandy River around 7 a.m. because of a rock slide over the tracks. The derailment happened in the small community of Draffin, about 160 miles southeast of Lexington. Video showed a wooded area behind homes ablaze shortly after the derailment occurred. CSX said the train had 96 cars carrying ethanol and two cars loaded with rocks. It was not clear how many cars derailed. One locomotive and an unknown number of cars caught fire. The blaze was still going nearly four hours later. Kentucky State Police spokesman William Petry said authorities were not sure whether diesel fuel or ethanol was fueling the blaze, but authorities decided to let the fire burn itself out since it did not pose a public safety threat. No homes were damaged in the sparsely populated area and residents who were briefly evacuated have been allowed to return. CSX said it had mobilized its emergency teams and were working with local authorities. Petry said the slide that caused the derailment was large. Heavy rains have caused flooding and multiple rock slides in the region since last week. Pike County got 3 to 4 inches of rain last week and probably another inch over the last 48 hours, said Dustin Jordan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending team of six to investigate the derailment. The public is being asked to avoid the area if possible, police said.
Shreveport:Canadian manufacturer E.I. Williams Industries will create 100 jobs in Sarepta in the North Webster Parish Industrial Park, the company’s president and Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday. The company will locate in an existing building and invest $700,000 there, where it will manufacture industrial sound control equipment. Edwards said Louisiana Economic Development provided an incentive package that includes a $250,000 grant and access to the state’s workforce training program FastStart. The company will create 100 direct jobs over five years with an average annual salary of $37,400 plus benefits. E.I. Williams will begin installing its manufacturing equipment during this quarter. The company designs and manufactures vent silencers, fan silencers, industrial silencers and noise enclosures. It’s E.I. Williams’ first manufacturing site in the United States.
Portland: The number of flu cases in Maine shot up by nearly a quarter over the course of a week. There were almost 1,000 new cases reported for the week that ended Feb. 8. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that increase brought the total confirmed cases of influenza to nearly 5,000 for the season. More than 275 people have been hospitalized and 17 have died, the Portland Press Herald reported. Flu cases are above last year’s pace. The state had 3,056 cases through early February last year, but a surge in March helped bring the total to more than 10,000. The flu season has not yet peaked in Maine. Every week since November has brought more cases statewide than the previous week. Public health authorities recommend hand washing, vaccination and staying home when ill.
Annapolis: The state Senate has approved a measure that would create a statewide ban on the intentional release of balloons into the atmosphere. The Senate voted 38-8 on Tuesday for the measure. The bill creates a civil penalty of up to $250 per violation by an organization or a person who is at least 13 years old. Supporters of the measure said it’s needed to stop littering. Last year, researchers in Virginia released a study about the local problem of balloon litter in the marine environment. In August, Queen Anne’s County became the first county in Maryland to ban the intentional release of nonbiodegradable balloons.
Newburyport: Several explosions rocked a chemical plant Thursday morning, blowing a hole in the roof and leading to an evacuation but injuring no one, authorities said. Firefighters responding to a fire alarm went to the PCI Synthesis building in Newburyport, Massachusetts, around 4:30 a.m. They evacuated the building after hearing three explosions, Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Bradbury said. There were three more explosions about 15 minutes later, including one that blew an 8-foot-wide hole in the roof, he said. There were workers in the building at the time but no reports of injuries, authorities said. A hazmat team was sent to the scene, a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal said. The cause of the explosions is under investigation. Three nearby businesses were closed for the day as a precaution, Bradbury said.
East Lansing:City officials have approved a lethal option to manage the growing number of deer. The city council voted this week to authorize culling as a way to reduce deer herds, the Lansing State Journal reported. East Lansing’s city manager would have to initiate a cull and partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife services to bring in sharpshooters to target deer in city parks. Residents would be given advance notice of the hunts, according to the newspaper. Environmental Services Administrator Catherine DeShambo told city officials that December is the earliest a deer cull could be held because the Agriculture Department is “completely booked up.” The cost would be just under $6,000, she added. But City Manager George Lahanas said East Lansing likely will budget closer to $20,000 in case the program would be needed in more areas and for a longer period of time. More than 380 deer have been killed in Ann Arbor, about 60 miles southeast of East Lansing, since 2016 when hunters first were hired to cull the animals. East Lansing’s deer population has been a growing issue since 2011 and became a bigger concern when chronic wasting disease was found in deer in nearby Meridian Township. The fatal illness first was discovered in Michigan in a free-ranging deer in May 2015.
Minneapolis:Fear of frostbite kept many students home Thursday across Minnesota and the National Weather Service warned people to limit time outdoors. The arrival of arctic air has pushed wind chill readings down to minus-40 degrees across northern and western Minnesota. The Anoka-Hennepin School District notified parents classes were canceled Thursday because of “extreme winter weather conditions in the early morning hours.” Other districts canceling school include Little Falls, Osseo, St. Cloud and St. Francis. The Star Tribune reported in Elk River and Cambridge-Isanti, students will have an e-learning day, meaning instruction will be delivered online. “Proper care should be taken to cover exposed skin and limit time outdoors,” the weather service said. “Frostbite could develop in as few as 10 minutes.” Temperatures were expected to recover for the weekend with highs reaching 35 degrees on Saturday before dropping into the 20s for most of next week.
Columbus: The Mississippi Ethics Commission said a school board did not violate the state Open Meetings law when it held superintendent interviews behind closed doors, with 15 handpicked citizens allowed to attend but others from the public excluded. The Commercial Dispatch filed a complaint against the Lowndes County School District Board of Trustees in November, days after the board held the interviews during executive session. The Ethics Commission dismissed the newspaper’s complaint Friday, the Commercial Dispatch reported. The school board’s attorney, Jeff Smith, described the executive session as a “limited public forum.” Board members selected 15 people – three residents each from their respective elected districts – as a citizen panel to observe the interviews for a new superintendent and offer written feedback to the board. Mississippi law allows executive sessions during public meetings for discussion of personnel matters. Public bodies might “invite specific individuals to attend an executive session, if the members feel that individual’s presence is necessary,” with all other members of the public excluded, according to the commission’s order of dismissal. Commercial Dispatch publisher Peter Imes said he does not plan to appeal the commission’s decision. “We were concerned the hand-picking of citizens to represent the concerns of the public in an otherwise closed executive session may have pushed the limits of Open Meetings laws,” Imes said.
Clayton: Keith Wildhaber , a gay St. Louis County police lieutenant who was passed over for promotion 23 times, said he has no plans to leave the department after he settled a discrimination lawsuit for $10.25 million. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Wildhaber said Wednesday that he was happy with his new job as commander of the department’s new diversity and inclusion unit, which he was named to after jurors awarded him $20 million in October. Both sides entered into negotiation talks about the verdict, reaching a settlement this week. “I’ve got 26 years in. I want to finish my career on my terms,” Widhaber said. Wildhaber, 47, said he was focused on learning how to promote diversity in the department and has no special plans for the windfall, other than to take care of family. The county agreed to pay Wildhaber $7 million within 60 days, and an additional $3.25 million by Jan. 31, 2021. After his attorneys are paid, he will clear $6.5 million. Wildhaber said he had been out as a gay man for about half of his career. “There was a lot of time I just stayed in the closet, really for personal reasons. The settlement was completed hours after Jon Belmar announced his retirement as police chief. After the verdict, Belmar’s leadership was called into question, although County Executive Sam Page said Belmar’s retirement was not a condition of the settlement.
Butte: A fire that badly damaged a historic building in Butte started in a storage room on the second floor of the building where several appliances, including a portable heater, were plugged into a power strip. Butte-Silver Bow fire marshal Brian Doherty said the Jan. 23 fire was ruled accidental. The building was constructed in 1922 to house the Butte Daily Post newspaper. It housed three bars – the Irish Times Bar, the Post Bar and the Muddy Creek Brewery. The storage room was between the brewery and the Post Bar and held an ice maker, a microwave, a refrigerator and a beverage cooler. A portable heater was behind the ice maker to keep it from freezing, as it had in the past, investigators said. “Each of these appliances should have been plugged into wall outlets, which still may have overloaded the available circuits,” the report stated. Investigators found a burned electrical cord with the plug melted, a burned portable heater and a burned power strip with several melted plugs still attached. The refrigerator was plugged into an extension cord coming from the brewery side. The report said “the burn patterns appear to start near the back of the ice maker and extend out and up from that corner,” and that it’s “difficult to eliminate the burned up power tap as the likely cause of the incident.”
Columbus: Pat Pope, the president and chief executive officer of Nebraska Public Power District, said Thursday that he intends to leave his post. A district news release said Pope expects to remain available to aid with the transition to his replacement. The release said it’s likely the board of director’s executive committee will recommend that Tom Kent replace Pope. Kent is the district’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. Pope joined the district in December 1979 as an electrical engineer and held several positions as he moved up over the years. He became president and CEO in April 2011. “It has been a pleasure working with Pat, and I wish him and his wife, Jackie, the best in the coming years,” said the board chairman, Barry DeKay. “Some may be surprised with this announcement, but Pat has been talking to the executive committee of the board for the past few months to ensure a smooth leadership transition.” The publicly owned utility includes all or parts of 86 of Nebraska’s 93 counties.
Reno:The City Council will be looking for a new city manager again – the second search in less than three years. City Manager Sabra Newby, who started in May 2017 after a career at Clark County, announced in an email to city employees late Wednesday that she wants to move back to Southern Nevada. Newby said she will stay in the post until July 3 to help the city through “this transitional period to securing a new City Manager.” In the email, she praised city workers and touted accomplishments such as a new master plan and downtown improvement district, and a focus on homelessness and affordable housing. “In my time here, I have witnessed the incredible passion and grit that our employees use in their service to this community,” she said. “They truly go above and beyond in their service, often in difficult situations with limited resources.” Newby arrived during a period of upheaval at the city following the termination of former City Manager Andrew Clinger amid accusations of creating a hostile workplace.
Portsmouth: Interstate fishing regulators are holding a series of public hearings in March about plans to try to better manage the fishery for Atlantic herring. Herring are the subject of a major fishery on the East Coast, as the fish are used as food for humans and as bait for species such as lobsters. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission said in a statement that a recent assessment of the herring stock found downward trends in the health of the population. Proposed changes to the way the fishery is managed would give regulators more flexibility when the quota for the fish is low, the commission said in a statement. The rule changes would apply to the inshore Gulf of Maine area. The public hearings are scheduled for March 2 in Gloucester, Massachusetts; March 3 in Wakefield, Massachusetts; March 3 in Portsmouth; and March 9 in Augusta, Maine.
Trenton: Two men serving life sentences for a double killing 25 years ago, but whose convictions were recently thrown out because of evidence that cast doubt on their guilt, celebrated with relatives and friends after they walked out of prison. Loved ones of Kevin Baker and Sean Washington waited for hours for their release Wednesday outside of New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. A state appeals court ruled last month that new evidence cast doubt on the guilty verdicts against the pair, who were convicted of killing two people outside a Camden housing project in January 1995. The Camden County prosecutor’s office announced this month that it would not seek to retry the men. Baker and Washington had been serving life sentences with no parole eligibility for 60 years. Some of the evidence used to overturn their convictions wasn’t available at their trial: for instance, specialized testing not in common use at the time led one expert to conclude in 2013 that the bullets had struck the ground and ricocheted before hitting one of the victims, contradicting the one eyewitness’ account of the shooting. Other evidence could have been used but wasn’t, according to court documents. Alibi witnesses for both men weren’t called to testify, nor was a man who told police he was with the eyewitness and cast doubt on whether she saw the shooting. Washington also contended he made a 911 call after noticing the two victims when he left a relative’s house to use a pay phone. At a hearing in 2016, he testified no one obtained a copy of the call until 2013. His trial lawyer admitted he hadn’t known of the tape, according to court documents.
Albuquerque: Portions of the Gila River would be protected as wild and scenic under legislation proposed by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. The New Mexico Democrats are seeking public comments as they draft the measure. They have posted online a summary of the legislation along with maps detailing proposed protection areas and other information. The greater Gila watershed makes up the largest remaining network of naturally flowing river segments in the Southwestern United States, according to the lawmakers. “The Gila River is an irreplaceable New Mexico treasure,” Udall said. “The Gila watershed is one of the last wild, undammed rivers in the Southwest, it is one of the most biologically diverse watersheds in our state, and it is one of New Mexico’s most iconic outdoor destinations.” The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Adopted in 1968, the act came at the height of the modern dam-building era to ensure that the construction of new dams was balanced with the protection of select river segments that possess nationally significant values. The senators said the law is the highest form of protection for rivers in the United States. Under the legislation, the Gila River’s traditional values and uses would be protected along with the free-flowing nature of some of its segments and tributaries. Aside from protecting recreational pursuits along the river, the bill would allow for continued uses such as grazing. The senators said the bill would not change how private landowners use their own land nor would it open up private lands to public access. The bill also would not affect existing valid water rights, interstate water compacts or irrigation or water delivery operations.
Glens Falls: A northern New York city with frequent political gatherings adopted new regulations to govern protesters after several months of review. The Glens Falls Common Council passed the law Tuesday. The legislation regulating protests was proposed by the council last year in response to a growing number of political gatherings including climate, second amendment and protests and counter protests about immigration. One rule in particular remains under scrutiny by some members of the community: the allowed distance between opposing protest groups. The original changes to the city code were first drafted in September and put the required distance between protesters at 30 feet. After consulting with the New York Civil Liberties Union, the distance was reduced to 8 feet, which has previously been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Several residents at the meeting expressed concern that the 8-foot distance was not enough to keep agitated protesters on either side from harassing each other. People recounted the use of a bullhorn in close proximity by pro-Trump supporters and the shouting of obscenities at participants of a women’s march. The only self-identified Trump supporter at the event said he felt his pro-Trump group had faced plenty of verbal harassment from the other side as well. Fifth Ward Councilman Jim Clark said after the vote that he is discouraged that some of the uncivil political discourse at the national level has spread to the city, the Post-Star reported.
Ocracoke: Contractors will soon be placing sandbags along a stretch of N.C. 12 on North Carolina’s Outer Banks to protect the road from getting washed out again. The Raleigh News & Observer reported Thursday that the North Carolina Department of Transportation is using the sandbags to reinforce a ridge of sand between the Atlantic Ocean and the road on Ocracoke Island. The new dune replaces one that was washed away by Hurricane Dorian. The September storm flooded the island and buckled about 1,000 feet of roadway. Highway 12 reopened in early December. Contracts will lay sandbags along three-quarters of a mile of the roadway near the north end of the island. N.C. 12 runs for about 12 miles from Ocracoke Village to the north end of the island, where ferries can be taken to and from Hatteras Island.
Bismarck: The state reached a proposed settlement agreement Thursday with American Indians who sued over the state’s voter ID laws requiring residents to provide a street address, arguing they are a form of voter suppression. Native Americans argue that such addresses are not always evident on reservations. Many tribal members don’t know their address, don’t have a provable one because they’re homeless or stay with friends or relatives, or can’t afford to get an updated ID with a street address. The proposed federal consent decree announced jointly by tribal attorneys and the state follows U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland’s ruling Monday that the Spirit Lake Nation and the Standing Rock Sioux, as well as six individual Native American plaintiffs, can challenge the state’s requirement that voters have ID with a verified street address. Under the deal, the burden would be on the state to assign or verify street addresses for Native American voters, ensuring they will still be able to cast a ballot, said Tim Purdon, an attorney for the tribes. The Spirit Lake and Standing Rock tribal councils still must approve the settlement agreement, which would halt a federal trial scheduled for May on the issue. North Dakota doesn’t have voter registration, but the state has required voters to provide ID since 2004. The state accepts a driver’s license as identification or ID cards issued by the state, long-term care facilities or North Dakota’s American Indian tribes. The law required that all must have a birth date and valid street address. State officials argued that not requiring street addresses could lead to voter fraud and people voting in the wrong district. The state maintains everyone has a street address via the statewide 911 system, but lawyers for the tribes have argued the system is “incomplete, contradictory and prone to error on reservations.” Native American voters who do not have or do not know their residential street address now will be allowed to mark their residence on a map. State and county officials, in coordination with tribal governments, will then use those maps to assign or verify the voter’s residential street address and will provide that address to the voter, Purdon said.
Columbus: The state House again approved a measure covering post-traumatic stress disorder for emergency responders who haven’t suffered a physical injury. Police and firefighters have been pushing for the coverage under the state insurance fund for injured workers for years. The groups argue that it’s wrong for coverage to be available for responders who suffer a traumatic injury but not for those affected by witnessing or experiencing traumatic events. The legislation will help prevent first responders’ deaths by suicide by offering benefits and treatment for PTSD, said Rep. Tom Patton, a Strongsville Republican and the bill’s sponsor. The House approved a similar measure as part of its Bureau of Workers’ Compensation budget last year before the Senate rejected the idea after lawmakers said they wanted more time to study the concept. The bill passed Wednesday moves next to the Senate, where Senate President Larry Obhof, who supports the idea, promised a “full and fair process.” State senate lawmakers have been working on the issue, including a version that would offer the same benefits but outside of the Workers’ Comp budget, Obhof said.
Oklahoma City: The state plans to resume executing death-row inmates, five years after lethal injections were put on hold following a series of death-chamber mishaps, state officials said Thursday. Gov. Kevin Stitt, Attorney General Mike Hunter and Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow said in a joint news release that the state will resume executions using a three-drug lethal injection protocol and that a source for the drugs has been secured. The three drugs are: midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. “I believe capital punishment is appropriate for the most heinous of crimes and it is our duty as state officials to obey the laws of the state of Oklahoma by carrying out this somber task,” Stitt said. Hunter said his office has notified the state criminal appeals court that they’re ready to resume executions, which triggers a five-month wait before an execution can be scheduled. Dale Baich, a federal public defender representing death row prisoners who are challenging the state’s execution procedures in federal court, said in a statement that he’s disappointed the state is reverting to the same three-drug protocol that has been used in past problematic executions. Oklahoma once had one of the busiest death chambers in the nation, but executions were put on hold following a botched lethal injection in 2014 that left an inmate writhing on the gurney and drug mix-ups in 2015 in which the wrong lethal drugs were delivered. One inmate was executed with an unapproved drug and a second inmate was just moments away from being led to the death chamber before prison officials realized the same wrong drug had been delivered for his execution. The execution protocol announced Thursday utilizes the same drugs that Oklahoma used previously including midazolam, which the U.S. Supreme Court found constitutional in 2015. Hunter said he anticipated court challenges but that any past problems during executions have been associated with human error, rather than the drugs themselves. Meanwhile, more than two dozen inmates have exhausted all their appeals and are awaiting execution dates to be set. There are 47 inmates on Oklahoma’s death row, Hunter said.
Happy Valley: The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined two companies for safety violations that led to the deaths of two workers at a Portland-area music festival. OSHA issued $31,000 in fines to Pickathon LLC and GuildWorks LLC after two workers died at the Pickathon Music Festival in August in a lift accident, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Brandon Blackmore and Brad Swet were in a boom lift taking down an installation when the lift, which was on an incline, tilted and fell, killing them. The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said that they were wearing safety equipment and were roped to the boom lift. OSHA said two alarm devices on the boom lift had been disabled. Each company was fined $12,500 for disabling the alarms. OSHA also fined GuildWorks $6,000 for not following instructions provided by the boom lift manufacturer. The agency said the investigation revealed that Pickathon and Guildworks had “a history of failing to follow proper safety procedures.” Pickathon’s founder and festival director Zale Schoenborn said in a statement Thursday that the tragic loss was heartbreaking and continues to shake them to their core. GuildWorks didn’t respond to a request for comment. The companies set up a fundraiser for the families of the men after the incident
Philadelphia: A federal judge sentenced a former Philadelphia Navy Yard worker on Thursday to six months in prison for lying to the FBI about his ties to a white nationalist group in order to obtain security clearance. Federal authorities said Fred C. Arena, 42, lied on his application for a national security clearance and then to FBI agents who later questioned him about his association with the group Vanguard America. Arena, who changed his plea to guilty in December, told the court Thursday that he was no longer affiliated with white nationalist groups. “I would like to say I’m not part of that stuff any more. I’ve realized it was stupid,” Arena said in court Thursday. “I don’t believe I’m a danger or anything like that…. I got sucked into this left-right stuff and I just took it too far.” Senior U.S. District Judge John R. Padova said the sentence should serve as a deterrent to anyone who would consider lying on applications or to agents when they sought security clearances, saying it was a serious threat. According to court documents, Arena pleaded guilty to five counts of providing false information to federal authorities. Two of those counts were related to lying about his affiliation with Vanguard America and about having a car repossessed on his application for security clearance for a position with a safety contractor at the Navy Yard. The other three charges came from lying to FBI agents during the investigation.Court records did not say how Arena’s affiliation with the white nationalist group became known to federal investigators, but documents said Arena had chatted with at least one agent who posed as someone with similar ideals online. Arena, who listed a Salem, New Jersey address, was denied bail late last year after federal prosecutors argued he was a danger, saying he had advocated for violence and made threats online against people who might have cooperated with investigators.
Providence: A Roman Catholic bishop responded to the controversy created by a priest who said he would deny communion to state legislators who support abortion and then defended his stance by saying abortion is worse than pedophilia. The Rev. Richard Bucci, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in West Warwick, distributed fliers in January that said that every lawmaker who voted last year to preserve the right to an abortion in state law would be denied communion, The Providence Journal reported. He also mailed them to lawmakers’ homes. Bucci, when questioned by WJAR-TV, said, “pedophilia doesn’t kill anyone and this does.” Diocese of Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin wrote Wednesday on Twitter that “no one has an absolute right to receive Holy Communion.” He said in a statement Thursday “it is important to affirm that both the sexual abuse of minors and abortion are horrific, immoral actions that have very serious, harmful consequences.” A group of state lawmakers and clergy sex abuse victims called on Tobin to suspend Bucci, who said he isn’t planning to resign. Tobin’s statement does not mention any disciplinary action. His office said there will be no further comment at this time.
Columbia: A 6-year-old girl who disappeared earlier in the week after getting off her school bus was found dead Thursday, and a homicide investigation has been opened, authorities said. The body of a man also was found recently in the neighborhood where the child, Faye Marie Swetlik, disappeared Monday, said Cayce Public Safety Director Byron Snellgrove. Snellgrove didn’t immediately provide any evidence to link the deaths, but said at a brief news conference to announce the developments that there was no danger to the public. He said no arrests have been made in the girl’s death. The coroner confirmed the girl’s death but has not released the identity of the dead man, Snellgrove said. The girl’s disappearance had brought more than 250 officers to the neighborhood in Cayce, just across the Congaree River from the state capital of Columbia. Searchers knocked multiple times on the doors of every home in the neighborhood. They also checked trash cans and a nearby landfill and towed cars. The girl was last seen getting off the school bus Monday. Her family discovered her missing about 3:45 p.m. and called 911 after looking for her for about an hour, authorities said. The girl’s mother, the mother’s boyfriend and her father cooperated with investigators, authorities said. Flyers with Faye’s picture had appeared all over Cayce and people in the area tracked every development in the case.
Sioux Falls:The Sioux Falls Regional Airport will spend millions in the coming years on a multistory, 1,100-space parking ramp and another 600-space parking lot. That’s according to Dan Letellier, executive director of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport, who told the Argus Leader on Wednesday that the facility is at capacity when it comes to accommodating parking for airline passengers’ automobiles. The parking ramp project is estimated to cost between $25 million and $27 million, depending on whether a skywalk to connect to the terminal is included. The project will go out for designs in the coming months. The parking lot expansion is estimated at $1.5 million. Although plans to add parking have been in the works for year, the number of vehicles using the airports existing lots has spiked in recent months as the airlines flying in and out of Sioux Falls continue to add more routes and destinations. The planned parking garage will be built over the existing short-term parking lot. In 2019, 1.2 million people flew in and out of Sioux Falls. The airport has 2,500 total parking spaces across its three lots. And during peak parking season – typically this time of year when snow birds and spring-breakers are heading to warmer climates – it can add a few hundred overflow spots in various areas around the facility. But that’s not a long-term solution, so the Sioux Falls Airport Authority, the governmental entity that oversees the airport, has been saving for a permanent fix. The parking lot expansion project that will add about 600 spaces will be built this summer, Letellier said. And the garage, coming in 2022, will be built over the short-term lot, which has about 400 spaces now. When both projects are completed, the airport will have about 3,800 total parking spaces. In the meantime, Letellier said flyers who live in Sioux Falls are encouraged to catch a ride to the airport to ensure that out-of-town flyers can find a place to park when they arrive at the airport.
Nashville:Tennessee has not performed autopsies on the four death row inmates who chose to die in the electric chair since the state resumed executions in 2018. The state honored requests that autopsies not be performed from all those inmates. Documents provided to the Associated Press showed that just one autopsy was performed on an inmate in the last 18 months, even though six inmates have been executed. That autopsy was performed on an inmate executed by lethal injection. Those who asked not to have autopsies included Lee Hall, who was electrocuted Dec. 5. Two white plumes of what looked like smoke rose from Hall’s head as he died for the 1991 murder of his former girlfriend. State officials have maintained it was steam. Davidson County Chief Medical Examiner Feng Li said autopsies are typically routine after an execution because they are classified as homicides. There are exceptions, Li said, including for inmates who said they did not want an autopsy performed. That means the last autopsy of an electrocuted inmate in Tennessee was performed in 2007, when Daryl Holton was executed for the 1997 murders of four children. Autopsies are considered vital in determining the cause and manner of death. When the electric chair is used, autopsies can help determine how quickly an inmate died when given jolts of electricity and help determine if the chair worked properly. Questions have surrounded the effectiveness of Tennessee’s electric chair, which was built by a self-taught architect who has warned the chair could fail due to recent changes the state has made to it over the years. When lethal injection is the execution method, autopsies can provide insight in determining if the anesthetic worked. They can be valuable in piercing through the public myth that witnesses are watching someone “fall asleep” during the execution, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Houston: Texas’ highest criminal court on Wednesday overturned the death sentence of a man who was convicted of capital murder after having been accused of shooting five people, including his mother and aunt. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did not reverse Charles Brownlow’s conviction in the 2013 slaying of Luis Gerardo Leal-Carrillo, a convenience store clerk. But in its opinion, the court said the trial jury in North Texas’ Kaufman County wasn’t properly told how to determine whether Brownlow had an intellectual disability. Brownlow was arrested in October 2013 after a series of killings in Terrell, about 25 miles east of Dallas. He was accused of having killed his mother, Mary, and setting her body on fire in her home, then shooting other people in the area, including his aunt. He was ultimately tried and convicted for the death of Leal-Carrillo. Experts during Brownlow’s sentencing testified that he had tested as intellectually disabled when he was 5 years old and that he had been diagnosed with several psychological disorders. The appeals court said the judge and prosecutors applied the state standard correctly at the time of his May 2016 sentencing, but the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 2017 opinion that rejected that standard, requiring a new hearing. The Kaufman County district attorney’s office declined to comment Wednesday on whether prosecutors would seek a new hearing since the case is pending. A conviction of capital murder in Texas carries either a death sentence or mandatory life in prison without parole.
West Valley City: A police officer helped deliver a baby whose mother got stuck in rush-hour traffic en route to a hospital – but he conceded he was not calm in the process. West Valley officer Jeremy Dean was on duty Tuesday when a car in front of him stopped and the driver got out waving his hands, the Deseret News reported. The driver shouted at Dean that his wife was having a baby. Dean pulled on gloves, got a blanket from his patrol car and released a huge exhale. “Oh, boy,” he said. “Baby was coming, so I quickly got some gloves on and she said she was going, and baby came out,” Dean said. “I just tried to keep the baby from going anywhere and tried to keep it warm.” Dean had worked as an emergency medical technician before moving into police work but does not think it helped prepare him to handle the birth. “Yeah, I had prior experience, but not in delivering babies,” he said. “Mostly just in repairing injuries.” “In 18 years on the job, I’ve heard of it twice,” police Lt. Bill Merritt said about officers stepping in to deliver babies. “The way he handled it, as calm as he was … what I heard on the radio was very impressive.” After delivering the baby, Dean visited the hospital and learned the baby was named Michelle and was doing great. “Congratulations to mom and dad on No. 5,” he said. “A little girl, pretty cute, too.”
Montpelier: A Pennsylvania man has been charged with smuggling seven parrots into the United States by carrying them across the Quebec-Vermont border. A federal court affidavit alleged that Jafet Rodriguez picked up the birds from a car parked in Canada outside the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles the border, on Dec. 30 and then carried them across the border in Derby Line to a car in Vermont. Five of the birds were yellow-headed Amazon parrots and the other two white-bellied parrots. Rodriguez, 39, was charged Jan. 28, but the case was sealed until after his Monday arrest. He was due in court in Burlington on Thursday. Rodriguez’s attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The affidavit said that a surveillance camera showed a man cross into Canada, open the rear door of a car parked just across the border, retrieve a black bag and then cross back into the United States, where he was apprehended by Border Patrol agents. In speaking with agents, Rodriguez said he had made arrangements with people in New York to buy the birds from someone in Canada. Rodriguez told agents he didn’t know that he had crossed the border when he picked up the birds, but he said he had seen the border marker. Rodriguez told the agents he had one of the birds with him in the United States, but because he didn’t have documentation to prove it, all the birds were seized, the affidavit said. Trade in both of the species seized is covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, which provides a mechanism for the international trade in the covered species. The affidavit said the treaty allows for the trade of yellow-headed Amazons only for scientific and research purposes, and then only with valid permits. Commercial trade in white-bellied parrots is allowed, but only with strict regulation. The seven birds were turned over to officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and placed in quarantine at the New York Animal Import Center in Rock Tavern, New York.
Richmond: More than 1,000 people rallied at the state Capitol on Thursday, protesting legislation advancing in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly that would ease restrictions on abortion access. Speakers urged the crowd that gathered in a steady rain to pressure lawmakers to vote against bills that they said would undo regulations that protect pregnant women. They encouraged attendees to join anti-abortion advocacy groups to push back against Democrats who retook control of the General Assembly in November, and they vowed to unseat members of the new majority. The House and Senate have passed bills to undo restrictions on abortion access that were enacted when the legislature was under GOP control, including a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling. The bills, which Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam supports, would also roll back the requirement that an abortion be provided by a physician and undo strict building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed. Each chamber must pass the other’s before they could be sent to Northam for his signature. Abortion-rights advocates said the restrictions injected politics into a health care decision and made obtaining an abortion overly burdensome. Democrats have also defeated some Republican-sponsored bills this session that would have enacted abortion restrictions. Abortion opponents said the existing restrictions protect pregnant women’s health and safety and are prudent, given the gravity of the decision to obtain an abortion. Capitol police spokesman Joe Macenka said the crowd numbered at more than 1,000, though he said the department could not provide an exact count.
Mount Vernon: Four nonprofits filed a joint lawsuit Tuesday against the state Department of Fish & Wildlife for issuing a permit for steelhead farms in the marine waters of Skagit and Kitsap counties. The Skagit Valley Herald reported Wild Fish Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth argued that allowing Cooke Aquaculture to raise steelhead in floating net pens would jeopardize the region’s wild steelhead, salmon and endangered Southern Resident orca whales. Puget Sound steelhead, including those from the Skagit River, have been listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2007. Cooke Aquaculture and the wildlife agency did not respond to requests for comment. The groups behind the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court said exposure to farm-grown steelhead could put the wild species at increased risk of disease and genetic impacts from interbreeding. They are particularly concerned because of Cooke Aquaculture’s history of growing Atlantic salmon in area waters. In August 2017, one of the company’s farms near Cypress Island in Skagit County collapsed under the weight of debris the company neglected to clean off, and the majority of the 300,000 fish in that net pen escaped.
Charleston: Soaking rains caused part of a hillside to collapse in southern West Virginia and prompted a flood warning along the Ohio River. Highways officials said high water forced road closings in multiple counties Thursday. Near Williamson, a rock slide Wednesday night covered old U.S. Route 52, knocked over power poles and caused a minor traffic accident. No serious injuries were reported. Crews were trying to remove multiple boulders on Thursday. Rising water levels have hampered search efforts for a kayaker who went missing in Barbour County. Jamie L. Gray, 41, was part of a group of about 10 kayakers near Audra State Park, said Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina. Weather-related school closings or delays occurred in at least 15 of West Virginia’s 55 counties Thursday. The National Weather Service issued a warning for minor flooding along the Ohio River at Point Pleasant and Huntington. The downtown areas of both cities are protected by floodwalls. The weather service said some areas received about 1.5 inches of rain over already saturated ground. In Huntington, the storms prompted U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams to postpone a visit to Marshall University, which said the event is expected to be rescheduled.
Madison: The state recorded its second child death of the flu season as influenza activity surges in the state, health officials said Thursday. The child who died from flu was from southern Wisconsin, said Tom Haupt, influenza surveillance coordinator for the state Department of Health Services. Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 78 child deaths from flu nationwide since October. Health officials reported more than 500 flu hospitalizations this week, including at least 100 hospitalizations reported Thursday morning, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. “We’re not at peak activity yet,” Haupt said. “We probably won’t be at peak activity for several weeks, followed by many more weeks of high activity.” The strains of flu circulating most in Wisconsin now tend to strike people under 50, unlike most flu that is typically a problem for older adults, Haupt said. More than 40% of Wisconsin residents have received flu vaccine this season, which is a record, Haupt said. But that still leaves many people unprotected, and vaccine remains available, he said. Although it’s too early to know how effective this year’s vaccine is, Haupt said vaccination is still the best means of protection against influenza. “It is not too late to get the vaccine,” he said.
Casper: An anonymous tipster application marketed to Wyoming students received a record number of tips last year, with suicide being the most frequently reported concern, a report said. The Safe2Tell program confirmed more than 1,750 tips were sent across the state in 2019, a 37% increase from the previous year, the Casper Star-Tribune reported Tuesday. The program is designed to allow students to anonymously report safety or health concerns for themselves or their peers to Wyoming Highway Patrol and various school officials, officials said. The top five reported concerns last year included suicide with 239 reports, vaping with 229 reports, bullying with 193 reports, selling or using drugs with 179 reports and self harm with 127 reports, the report said. The program launched in October 2016 in the Natrona County School District before later being introduced to the entire state. Safe2Tell can be used by its application, by phone calls or by using its website, officials said.