Tribe is shaken by brutal murders
PORTERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Gravediggers work the old fashioned way on the Tule River Indian Reservation, chipping away at the hard pan by hand with pickaxes and shoveling the dirt aside. They say it’s a sign of respect not to use machinery, but never has the crew had to dig so many at one time.
On Monday the brothers who run the reservation cemetery were preparing to dig a grave for Alyssa Celaya, 8, who died Sunday in a rampage that also took the life of her grandmother and the grandmother’s two brothers. It will be the first of five they’ll dig this week, they said.
The brutal murders have shaken this peace-preaching tribe because it goes against their teachings that love for family exists above all. Law enforcement authorities said the killer was Alyssa’s father Hector, who also died Sunday after a shootout with sheriff’s deputies, but they were trying to figure out why he did it.
Celaya, 31, also had wounded his two other children, one who suffered life-threatening injuries.
“The community is a peaceful one, and the tribe tries to teach children to be nonviolent,” said Tribal Council Secretary Rhoda Hunter. “We teach our children to not even kill insects.”
Pot now officially legal in Colorado
DENVER (AP) — Marijuana for recreational use became legal in Colorado Monday, when the governor took the procedural step of declaring the voter-approved change part of the state constitution.
Colorado became the second state after Washington to allow pot use without a doctor’s recommendation. Both states prohibit public use of the drug, and commercial sales in Colorado and Washington won’t be permitted until after regulations are written next year.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, opposed the measure but had no veto power over the voter-approved amendment to the state constitution. He tweeted his declaration Monday and sent an executive order to reporters by email after the fact. That prevented a countdown to legalization as seen in Washington, where supporters gathered to smoke in public.
The law allowed him until Jan. 5 to declare marijuana legal. Adults over 21 may now possess up to an ounce of marijuana, or six plants. Public use and sale of pot remain illegal.
Ex-officer gets life in girl’s death
SYCAMORE, Ill. (AP) — A former Washington state policeman was sentenced Monday to life in prison for kidnapping and killing a 7-year-old girl more than 50 years ago in the small Illinois town where he grew up.
Jack McCullough, 73, was convicted in September in one of the oldest unsolved crimes in American history to make it to trial. He was sentenced in a small town courtroom a few blocks from where Maria Ridulph played with a friend on Dec. 3, 1957, before she was grabbed, choked and stabbed to death in an alley. Her body was found months later in woods more than 100 miles away.
Bike, large truck deaths increase
WASHINGTON (AP) — Deaths of bicyclists and occupants of large trucks rose sharply last year even as total traffic fatalities dropped to their lowest level since 1949, federal safety officials said Monday.
Bicyclist deaths jumped 8.7 percent and deaths of occupants of large trucks increased 20 percent, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in an analysis of 2011 traffic deaths.
Overall traffic fatalities dropped 1.9 percent, to 32,367. The decline came as the number of miles driven by motorists dropped by 1.2 percent.
Last year also saw the lowest fatality rate ever recorded, with 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2011, down from 1.11 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2010.
The increase in bicycle deaths probably reflects more people riding bicycles to work and for pleasure, said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety agencies.
Washington, D.C., for example, reports a 175 percent increase in bicyclists during morning and evening rush hours since 2004. The city also tripled its bike lane network during the same period.
“Our culture is beginning to move away from driving and toward healthier and greener modes of transportations,” Adkins said. “We need to be able to accommodate all these forms of transportation safely.”
The increase in deaths of large-truck occupants is more puzzling, but may be due to more trucks returning to the road as the economy improves, he said.
“There are more questions than answers about what is occurring here,” Adkins said. NHTSA said the agency is working with the Federal Motor Carrier Administration to gather more information to better understand the reason for the increase.
Industry officials suspect there may be a connection between states increasing their speed limits and the increase in deaths, Sean McNally, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, said. Texas, for example, recently increased the speed limit to 85 mph on Highway 130 between Austin and San Antonio, the fastest in the nation, he noted.
But Fred McLuckie, legislative director at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said it’s not clear speed limit increases played a role in rising deaths.
Truck driving is “one of the most dangerous jobs in the country,” he said. “These guys work long hours. There’s a lot of stress. There’s greater congestion on our highways. There are dozens of reasons why those numbers could be up.”
Congress passed a transportation bill earlier this year that directs NHTSA to study how well large trucks protect their occupants in crashes.
Motorcycle deaths also rose 2.1 percent, marking the 13th time in the last 14 years that motorcycle rider deaths have risen.
Despite the overall progress in 2011, preliminary crash data for this year shows that motor vehicle deaths and injuries are trending upward again, Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.