Nation roundup for December 16


New systems to avert train crashes

NEW YORK (AP) — After a speeding Metro-North Railroad commuter train barreled into a curve and derailed in New York City on Dec. 1, safety advocates said similar deadly accidents might soon be avoided. Railroads across the country are preparing to deploy high-tech control systems that will let computers automatically slow trains that are moving too fast or headed for a collision.

Yet there is already low-tech equipment, widely available since the Great Depression, that could have prevented the crash, and every Metro-North train already has it.

For many years, the trains have been outfitted with control systems that will sound an alarm if an engineer exceeds a designated speed or blows through a red light, then robotically slam on the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond.

Historically, though, the system has been used on Metro-North mainly to keep trains from colliding, not to enforce speed limits on curves, hills or bridges.

That meant that no alarm sounded when engineer William Rockefeller failed to slow as he approached a tight curve in the Bronx. Federal investigators said the train was moving at 82 mph, well above the curve’s 30 mph speed limit. Four people died in the wreck. Rockefeller said he became dazed or nodded at the controls, according to federal investigators, his lawyer and a union official.

A week after the derailment, Metro-North adjusted its signaling system so trains approaching the bend too fast will trigger the alarm and automatic braking system.

Similar upgrades are planned over the next few months to enforce speed limits at eight other curves and bridges in Metro-North’s 384-mile system.

The relatively quick fix for the deadly section of track raises a question: Why wasn’t it done sooner?

The simplest answer seems to be that on most U.S. rail systems, engineers have been seen as capable of handling routine speed adjustments on curves and bridges without mechanical backup.

‘Hobbit’ rakes in $73.7 million

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Undaunted hobbits trumped princess power at the multiplex.

Per studio estimates Sunday, Warner Bros. “Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” was No. 1 at the weekend box office with $73.7 million, besting last weekend’s No. 1 film, Disney’s animated fable “Frozen.”

Melting down to the No. 2 position, “Frozen” earned $22.2 in its third weekend, bringing its impressive overall domestic ticket total to nearly $164.4 million. Internationally, the Disney hit gained $31.5 million.

Despite its first place position, “The Desolation of Smaug” fell short of topping its prequel’s debut. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which opened this same weekend last year, gained $84.6 million. It earned $131.2 million in international sales.

“‘Hobbit’ rules this date and Warner Bros. has linked this brand to this time of year very effectively,” said box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak.

“We had an excellent weekend,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. “Of course, it could have been a little better, but the weather back East was really tough last night and probably took a couple million dollars out of my pocket. But our box office will survive. We are right on target to do very similar numbers to the last ‘Hobbit,’ which grossed a $1 billion worldwide (overall).”

Lionsgate’s holiday-themed “Tyler Perry’s a Madea Christmas” came in third place with $16.2 million.

“All of the Tyler Perry movies have done in that $20 million plus range, but the weather was a factor in some of the performances of these films,” said Dergarabedian.

Polygamists hail ruling in Utah

Associated Press

Advocacy groups for polygamy and individual liberties on Saturday hailed a federal judge’s ruling that key parts of Utah’s polygamy laws are unconstitutional, saying it will remove the threat of arrest for those families.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups said in the decision handed down Friday that a provision in Utah law forbidding cohabitation with another person violated the First Amendment right of freedom of religion.

The ruling was a victory for Kody Brown and his four wives who star in the hit TLC reality show “Sister Wives” and other fundamentalist Mormons who believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.

The Brown family filed their lawsuit in July 2011 and fled Utah for Las Vegas last year under the threat of prosecution.

Anne Wilde of Salt Lake City, co-founder of the polygamy advocacy group Principle Voices, said polygamous families have lived under the threat of arrest for decades and no longer have to worry about being charged with a felony.

There are an estimated 38,000 fundamentalist Mormons who practice or believe in polygamy, most living in Utah and other Western states, said Wilde, who was a plural wife for 33 years until her husband died.

Neighbor arrested in girl’s slaying

Associated Press

A neighbor has been arrested in the killing of a 9-year-old Ohio girl whose body was found in a trash bin near her home.

The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office says 24-year-old Jerrod Metsker was arrested on a murder charge early Sunday afternoon.

Sheriff Travis Hutchinson wouldn’t say how Reann Murphy was killed or offer a motive. He described Metsker as a family friend and neighbor.

Reann was last seen Saturday night playing outdoors at the mobile home park where she lived in Smithville, about 30 miles southwest of Akron.

Deputies found her body in a trash bin at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, about five hours after she was reported missing.

It’s unclear whether Metsker yet has an attorney. His first court appearance is set for this morning.

 

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