Tweeting before fatal train crash
ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — They were seemingly ordinary tweets from two friends hanging out on a railroad bridge in their hometown, enjoying one last summer night together before heading back to college.
“Drinking on top of the Ellicott City sign,” read one. “Looking down on old ec,” read another. Accompanying photos showed their view from the bridge and their bare feet, one with painted blue toenails, dangling over the edge. “Levitating,” read another tweet.
Minutes after the messages were sent, a CSX freight train loaded with coal barreled down the tracks and derailed, killing the 19-year-old women and toppling railcars and coal on the streets below.
Investigators were still trying to figure out what caused the derailment. Witnesses heard squealing brakes and a thunderous crash around midnight Monday.
It wasn’t clear whether the women’s presence on the tracks had anything to do with the derailment. They were sitting on the edge of the bridge as the train passed a few feet behind them, Howard County police said, and their bodies were found buried under coal. Authorities said they needed to do autopsies before their cause of death could be determined. Killed were Elizabeth Conway Nass, a student at James Madison University in Virginia and Rose Louese Mayr, a nursing student at the University of Delaware.
Huge Calif. fire burns near towns
MANTON, Calif. (AP) — As a lightning-sparked wildfire raged near Lynn Rodgers’ home of less than a year, the evacuated resident said Tuesday she remained optimistic — in spite of her growing frustration and fear.
“Yeah, but what can you do? Everything is in God’s hands — and the firefighters,” said Rodgers, who lives in Shingletown.
Aided by a shift in winds, firefighters were making a stand against the fire, which has destroyed seven homes and prompted fearful residents to take shelter at a sports complex in nearby Redding.
Since igniting Saturday, the fire grew to more than 30 square miles. Nearly 1,900 firefighters were battling the blaze in rugged, densely forested terrain as it threatened 3,500 homes in the remote towns of Shingletown, Manton and Viola, about 170 miles north of Sacramento.
The fast-moving fire is one of many burning across the West, where dry lightning has sparked up grass, brush and timber, bringing an early start to the fire season.
Many other evacuees were anxious to hear the latest information from officials. Dozens of people, as well as about a dozen dogs, were waiting at the Redding gym.
Alleged groping prompts landing
DENVER (AP) — A Chicago man is accused of groping a pregnant woman and refusing to follow crew instructions on a JetBlue flight, prompting the plane to make an emergency landing in Denver.
Marcus Covington was advised in federal court Tuesday that he faces a charge of interfering with the duties of a flight crew and flight attendant.
Authorities allege the 32-year-old was intoxicated and groped the pregnant woman as he waited for the bathroom while on the Los Angeles-bound flight from New York late Sunday.
Federal prosecutors say Covington refused a flight attendant’s request to stay seated, prompting the crew to ask an FBI agent on the plane to intervene. Covington sat between the agent and another passenger until the plane landed.
Did tainted beef enter supply?
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Federal regulators who shut down a Central California slaughterhouse after receiving an animal welfare video were investigating Tuesday whether beef from sick cows reached the human food supply.
The video appears to show workers bungling the slaughter of cows struggling to walk and even stand. Under federal regulations, sick animals cannot be slaughtered for human consumption.
The investigation will determine whether sick cows were slaughtered and whether meat products from the company should be recalled, said Justin DeJong, a spokesman for the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service.
The agency suspended operations Monday at Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford after receiving the video Friday from the animal welfare group Compassion Over Killing.
The footage shows animals bleeding and thrashing after being repeatedly shot in the head with a pneumatic gun in unsuccessful efforts to render them unconscious for slaughter. Federal regulations say that to avoid unnecessary suffering during slaughter, animals must be rendered unconscious by a single shot to the head from a pneumatic gun that fires a bolt through the skull to pierce the brain.
In-N-Out Burger, a fast food chain, severed its ties with the company after learning about the situation. Mark Taylor, chief operating officer, said on Tuesday that the company acted immediately upon becoming aware it.
“As soon as we became aware of the allegations regarding Central Valley Meat Company and their handling of cattle, we immediately severed our supplier relationship with them. In-N-Out Burger would never condone the inhumane treatment of animals and all of our suppliers must agree to abide by our strict standards for the humane treatment of cattle,” Taylor said to The Associated Press in a written statement.
In-N-Out’s agreement with suppliers prohibits companies from shipping beef from sick animals. The agreement also includes standards on humane treatment of animals.
The USDA said investigators are trying to determine whether the cows in the video were just lame or sick, which would render them unfit for human consumption.
“That’s the main issue right now,” said DeJong of the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service.
Central Valley Meat Co., owned by Brian and Lawrence Coelho, declined to comment on the video, saying company officials had not seen it. On Tuesday the company hired a public relations firm, which issued a statement saying the company is cooperating with investigators.
“Central Valley Meat is working closely with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to address animal-handling concerns arising from a covert video provided to USDA by an animal rights group. Central Valley Meat takes these issues very seriously and is now developing a plan of action to present to FSIS to remedy any potential violations of USDA guidelines. Based on our own investigation and 30 years of producing safe, high-quality US beef, we are confident these concerns pose no food safety issues. We take these allegations very seriously and will immediately address any concerns the USDA may have,” the company said.
The video taken by an undercover investigator for Compassion Over Killing also shows cattle lying in pens unable to move, and at least one unable to stand to leave a stock transportation trailer.
Some clips show cattle with swollen udders that are unable to keep their legs under them. Other footage shows a downed cow trembling and unable to stand even as workers try to pull her up by the tail.
Within hours of seeing the video, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General sent investigators who found evidence of “egregious inhumane handling and treatment of livestock.” The possibility that animals were being inhumanely treated caused officials to shut down the plant while the investigation unfolds.
The USDA had at least two inspectors stationed at the site, and federal officials, when asked whether there was evidence the inspectors had neglected their duties, said the investigation is ongoing.
The USDA received hours of videotape from the Washington D.C.-based animal welfare group, which said its undercover investigator was employed by the slaughterhouse and made the video over a two-week period in June and early July.
Four minutes of excerpts the animal welfare group provided to The Associated Press showed cows being prepared for slaughter. One worker appears to be suffocating a cow by standing on its muzzle after a gun that injects a bolt into the animal’s head had failed to render it unconscious.
In another clip, a cow is still conscious and flailing as a conveyor lifts it by one leg for transport to an area where the animals’ throats are slit for blood draining.
“The horror caught on camera is sickening,” said Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing. “It’s alarming that this is not only a USDA-inspected facility but a supplier to the USDA.”
Online USDA records show the company has contracted to sell ground beef to USDA food programs.
“It’s a good sign that the USDA is taking this seriously, but I want to see what comes next,” said Meier of Compassion Over Killing, adding the video will be posted on the organization’s website.
The case is reminiscent of a 2008 undercover operation by the Humane Society of the United States at the Hallmark slaughter plant in Chino that led to the largest-ever recall of beef and the conviction of two people found to have treated cows cruelly. In that case, video showed downed cows being prodded with a folk lift.
Health safety advocates want melon farm identified
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Food safety advocates called on federal officials Tuesday to release the name of an Indiana farm that recalled its cantaloupes amid a salmonella outbreak that’s killed at least two people and sickened dozens of others in 20 states.
Advocacy groups said people have a right to know the farm’s name and the details of its cantaloupe distribution network so they can protect their families from the outbreak that’s killed two Kentucky residents and stricken at least 140 others, including about 30 who have been hospitalized.
Barbara Kowalcyk, chief executive officer of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, said health officials usually are careful not to point fingers early in investigations of foodborne illnesses because they don’t want to hurt farms, food manufacturers or others who may later turn out to have no role in an outbreak.
But she said her group believes it’s crucial to get information to the public “in a timely manner.”
“When you have people who are getting sick and hospitalized and even dying, in my opinion as a consumer advocate, that takes precedence,” Kowalcyk said. “You need to give people the information they need to make informed decisions for their families.”
Indiana health officials issued an advisory Friday telling residents to discard any cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana that they bought on or after July 7. The Food and Drug Administration also has advised consumers to throw out any cantaloupe that may be from that area.
The state’s advisory said a farm in that region — where most of Indiana’s cantaloupes and melons are grown — had voluntarily recalled its cantaloupes and stopped shipping them as a “precaution.” It did not name the farm, and officials have declined since then to release additional information about the farm, saying the investigation being led by the FDA isn’t complete.
FDA spokeswoman Shelly L. Burgess said Tuesday that until investigators have pinpointed the source or sources of the salmonella, the agency won’t release the name of any farm suspected of being involved.
“We want to be sure,” she said. “We don’t want to falsely or prematurely name someone.”
Amy Reel, a spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Health, said test results from samples taken from a farm suspected as the source of contamination are expected early next week. But she also said officials are also looking at multiple other possible sources of contamination, “including a number of farms, retailers and distributors.”
Identification as the source of a disease can put a farm out of business. Jensen Farms in Colorado filed for bankruptcy soon after its melons were identified as the source of a listeria outbreak that killed 30 people last year. Its owner, Eric Jensen, now faces multiple lawsuits related to the outbreak.
Indiana ranked fourth in the nation in cantaloupe production last year, and growers are worried about the consequences of the latest outbreak.
Hubert Etienne, who co-owns Etienne Farms near Washington, Ind., said his wholesale customers began canceling orders for cantaloupe as soon as last week’s advisory was issued.
“It was immediate. The wholesale market just dried up,” he said. “It wasn’t a big hit for us, but some of the big farmers had to dump all of their cantaloupes. They’re losing thousands of dollars a day. I really feel bad for those big growers.”
Etienne said his farm’s cantaloupes were tested and found to be free of salmonella, but there are few takers for them now at the farm’s market.
Most cantaloupes have a sticker identifying where the fruit was grown, and consumers should ask retailers about any fruit that’s not labeled, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised on its website. The agency urged consumers to throw out any fruit with unclear origins.
Melon growers outside Indiana say they too are feeling the effects of such warnings.
Sales are down at Westside Produce, which ships about 2 million boxes of cantaloupe each year from California’s San Joaquin Valley, said Garrett Patricio, the company’s vice president and general counsel.
Patricio said retailers are already wary of cantaloupe after last year’s listeria deaths and the public sometimes fail to pay attention to the details of foodborne illness outbreaks.
“Oftentimes, if someone says don’t eat cantaloupe, people don’t eat cantaloupe regardless of where it’s from,” Patricio said.