Nation roundup for May 20
Official: Va. driver likely had medical condition
DAMASCUS, Va. (AP) — Authorities believe the driver who plowed into dozens of hikers marching in a Virginia mountain town parade suffered from a medical condition and did not cause the crash intentionally, an emergency official said Sunday.
Officials did not have a formal confirmation or any specifics on the condition, but based on the accounts of authorities and witnesses on the scene, they are confident the issue was medical, said Pokey Harris, Washington County’s director of emergency management. “There is no reason to believe this was intentional,” she said.
In what witnesses called a frantic scene at the parade, about 50 to 60 people suffered injuries ranging from critical to superficial Saturday. No fatalities were reported. Three of the worst injured were flown by helicopter to area hospitals.
Two people were kept at hospitals overnight, but their injuries were not critical as of Sunday, Harris said. Most were treated and released.
The crash happened around 2:10 p.m. Saturday during the Hikers Parade at the Trail Days festival, an annual celebration of the Appalachian Trail in Damascus, near the Tennessee state line about a half-hour drive east of Bristol.
Damascus Police Chief Bill Nunley didn’t release the driver’s name or age but said he was participating in the parade and he had traversed the Appalachian Trail in the past. Several witnesses described him as an elderly man.
Nunley said the man’s 1997 Cadillac was one of the last vehicles in the parade and the driver might have suffered an unspecified medical problem when his car accelerated to about 25 mph and struck the crowd on a two-lane bridge along the town’s main road. The driver was among those taken to hospitals.
David Milner of Springfield, Ill., marched in the parade as a through-hiker on the trail this year and said the accident happened during the tradition of hikers and spectators shooting water guns at each other.
” … So there’s a lot of yelling and then suddenly there was screaming, and I heard a thud-thud, and now the car’s even with me and I hear thud-thud-thud, and there’s just bodies getting flicked one side to the other,” he said. “And then the car ended up in front of me maybe 50 or 75 feet.”
Barbara Martin, a trail hiker from Maine, was walking in the parade when the accident happened. “It was really hard to process because it happened so fast, but just the noise of people hitting the car was incredible and something I won’t soon forget.”
Another witness was Julie Martin (no relation to Barbara), a hiker and emergency medical technician from Charlottesville who was helping at a friend’s vending stand. She said there were ambulances and other medical workers in the parade who immediately began treating the victims.
“I think it was awful that this had to happen,” she said. “I think it was amazing how many people very quickly started taking care of the people who were hurt.”
On Sunday, festival events were continuing as scheduled, Harris said. Mayor Jack McCrady had encouraged people to attend the final day.
“In 27 years of this, we’ve never had anything of this magnitude, and is it our job to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
“Trail Days is a big festival,” Julie Martin said. “For people who are on the trail, it’s a little break. For people who come back as alumni, it’s a chance to reconnect with people. For people on the trail and for vendors, it’s a chance to see what’s new in outdoor gear and outdoor culture.”
“It’s a random event,” Milner said. “It happened to happen at the Trail Days parade, but it could happen anywhere. It could happen in a Walmart parking lot. I don’t think there’s really any lesson to learn from this.”
He did question whether the man should have been driving a car in the parade. “If they wanted somebody that can’t physically walk (to participate), I think maybe having somebody drive him in a golf cart or something like that would have been more appropriate.”
Weeklong traffic mess possible after CT derailment
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Traffic in southwest Connecticut could be a mess for as much as a week until service is restored to the commuter rail line affected by a derailment that injured scores of passengers, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy warned Sunday.
Malloy used dire language to describe traffic troubles for the work week ahead in an area that even in normal times is a pain for motorists. And the governor warned that the weather will not cooperate as rainy weather forecast will make driving a bit more treacherous.
Malloy even urged commuters to stay out of the state if possible.
“Tomorrow’s commute will be extremely challenging,” he said at a brief news conference in Hartford. “Residents should plan for a week’s worth of disruptions.”
If all 30,000 affected commuters took to the highways to get to work, “we would literally have a parking lot,” the governor said. If a substantial number of affected consumers hit the roads, traffic will be “greatly slowed,” he said.
The state will dispatch more state troopers and tow trucks to respond to car accidents that could come with crowded roads and slipper conditions, he said.
“If you are going to New York and you get to New York or you’re transporting yourself to New York you may decide that perhaps you should stay there for the duration of this disturbance,” Malloy said.
Crews will spend days rebuilding 2,000 feet of track, overhead wires and signals following the collision between two trains Friday evening that injured 72 people. Nine remained hospitalized, with one critically.
“This amounts to the wholesale reconstruction of a two-track electrified railroad,” he said.
Several days of around-the-clock work will be required, including inspections and testing of the newly rebuilt system, Metro-North President Howard Permut said. The damaged rail cars were removed from the tracks on Sunday, the first step toward making the repairs.
Starting with the Monday morning rush-hour, a shuttle train will operate about every 20 minutes between New Haven and Bridgeport and two shuttle buses will run between Bridgeport and Stamford stations, state transportation officials said.
For morning and evening peak commutes, limited train service will operate between Grand Central Terminal and Westport.
State officials said travel times will be significantly longer than normal and trains will be crowded. Commuters are advised to use the Harlem line in New York.
Amtrak service between New York and New Haven was also suspended and there was no estimate on service restoration. Limited service was available between New Haven and Boston.
Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said he’s asked officials in numerous towns to suspend parking rules to accommodate what could be tens of thousands of motorists driving to unaffected train stations. Twelve stations are affected by the shutdown.
But Cameron said he doubts many commuters will use three modes of transportation to get to work: driving their cars to catch a bus to get to a train station for the final leg.
He suggested that local and regional officials post highway signs directing motorists to available parking so motorists “don’t get off the highway and drive in circles looking for where to dump their cars.”
About 700 people were on board the trains Friday evening when one heading east from New York City’s Grand Central Terminal to New Haven derailed just outside Bridgeport. It was hit by a train heading west from New Haven.
Dan Solomon, a trauma surgeon who lives in Westport and was headed to work at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, was on the train that derailed. He said he treated several injured passengers, including a woman with severely broken ankles.
He said he was in a front car that was not as badly affected as cars in the rear of the train.
“I hardly lost my iced tea,” Solomon said in an interview.
Solomon said walls were torn off both trains and he quickly checked injured passengers to separate the most badly injured from others.
“When the EMS arrived, I was covered in everyone’s blood,” he said.
Investigators are looking at a broken section of rail to see if it is connected to the derailment and collision. Officials said it wasn’t clear if the rail was broken in the crash or earlier.
NTSB investigators arrived Saturday and are expected to be on site for seven to 10 days. They will look at the brakes and performance of the trains, the condition of the tracks, crew performance and train signal information, among other things.
The MTA operates the Metro-North Railroad, the second-largest commuter railroad in the nation. The Metro-North main lines - the Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven - run northward from New York City’s Grand Central Terminal into suburban New York and Connecticut.
The last significant train collision involving Metro-North occurred in 1988 when a train engineer was killed in Mount Vernon, N.Y., when one train empty of passengers rear-ended another, railroad officials said.
Small Fla. city wonders who won Powerball jackpot
ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. (AP) — Some lucky person walked into a Publix supermarket in suburban Florida over the past few days and bought a ticket now worth an estimated $590.5 million — the highest Powerball jackpot in history.
But it wasn’t Matthew Bogel. On Sunday, he loaded groceries into his car after shopping at the Publix. He shook his head when asked about the jackpot.
“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” he said. “That’s so much money.”
It’s an amount too high for many to imagine. Compare it to the budget for the city of Zephyrhills: This year’s figure is just more than $49 million. The winning Powerball jackpot is 12 times that.
Whoever has the ticket hadn’t come forward as of Sunday afternoon.
“This would be the sixth Florida Powerball winner and right now, it’s the sole winner of the largest ever Powerball jackpot,” Florida Lottery executive Cindy O’Connell told The Associated Press. “We’re delighted right now that we have the sole winner.”
Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said that there are a lot of rumors about who won, but the store doesn’t know. “We’re excited for the winner or winners,” she said.
Florida Lottery spokesman David Bishop said Sunday afternoon that it was doubtful the winner would come forward that day. The ticket-holder can’t claim the prize until Monday when the agency opens, he said.
“It never happens this quickly,” Bishop said. “If they know they won, they’re going to contact their attorney or an accountant first so they can get their affairs in order.”
O’Connell said Florida has had more Powerball winners than any other state but did not give any indication whether anyone had stepped forward with the winning ticket in Saturday’s drawing.
But plenty of people in Zephyrhills — population 13,337 — are wondering whether it’s someone they know.
Joan Albertson drove to the Publix early Sunday morning with her camera in hand, in case the winner emerged. She said she had bought a ticket at a store across the street, and the idea of winning that much money was still something of a shock.
“Oh, there’s so much good that you could do with that amount of money.” Albertson said. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
Zephyrhills is a small city in Pasco County, about 30 miles northeast of downtown Tampa. Once a rural farming town, it’s now known as a hotbed for skydiving activity, and the home to large retiree mobile home parks and Zephyrhills bottled water.
And now, one lucky lottery ticket.
“I’m getting text messages and messages from Facebook going, ‘uh, did you win the lottery?’” Sandra Lewis said. “No, I didn’t win, guys. Sorry.”
Sara Jeltis said her parents in Michigan texted her with the news Sunday morning.
“Well, it didn’t click till I came here,” she said, gesturing to the half-dozen TV live trucks humming in the Publix parking lot. “And I’m like, wow I can’t believe it, it’s shocking! Out of the whole country, this Publix, in little Zephyrhills would be the winner.”
With four out of every five possible combinations of Powerball numbers in play, lottery executives said Saturday that someone was almost certain to win the game’s highest jackpot, a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars — and that’s after taxes.
The winning numbers were 10, 13, 14, 22 and 52, with a Powerball of 11.
Estimates had earlier put the jackpot at around $600 million. But Powerball’s online site said Sunday that the jackpot had reached an estimated $590.5 million.
The world’s largest jackpot was a $656 million Mega Millions jackpot in March 2012.
Terry Rich, CEO of the Iowa Lottery, initially confirmed that one Florida winning ticket had been sold. He told AP that following the Florida winner, the Powerball grand prize was being reset at an estimated jackpot of $40 million, or about $25.1 million cash value.
The chances of winning the prize were astronomically low: 1 in 175.2 million. That’s how many different ways you can combine the numbers when you play. But lottery officials estimated that about 80 percent of those possible combinations had been purchased recently.
While the odds are low for any one individual or individuals, O’Connell said, the chance that one hits paydirt is what makes Powerball exciting.
“There is just the chance that you will have the opportunity, and Florida is a huge Powerball state,” O’Connell said. “We have had more winners than any other state that participates in Powerball.”
The longshot odds didn’t deter people across Powerball-playing states — 43 plus Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands — from lining up at gas stations and convenience stores Saturday.
Clyde Barrow, a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, specializes in the gaming industry. He said one of the key factors behind the ticket-buying frenzy is the size of the jackpot — people are interested in the easy investment.
“Even though the odds are very low, the investment is very small,” he said. “Two dollars gets you a chance.”
Lewis, who went to the Publix on Sunday to buy water, said she didn’t play — and she isn’t upset about it.
“Life goes on,” she said, shrugging. “I’m good.”
Tornadoes hit Kan., Okla.; no injuries reported
EDMOND, Okla. (AP) — A powerful storm system rumbled through the Plains and upper Midwest on Sunday, spawning tornadoes that damaged roofs and structures near Oklahoma City and kicked up debris in Wichita, Kan.
There were no immediate reports of injuries caused by the funnel cloud that touched down in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond before moving off to the northeast, or the one that touched down near Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport late Sunday afternoon.
Forecasters had been warning for days that a big storm may barrel through the region over the weekend, and emergency responders were keeping a close eye on the system in several other states, including Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Texas.
“I knew it was coming,” said Randy Grau, who huddled with his wife and two young boys in their Edmond’s home’s safe room when the tornado hit. He said he peered out his window as the weather worsened and believed he saw a flock of birds heading down the street.
“Then I realized it was swirling debris,” Grau said. “That’s when we shut the door of the safe room.
“I probably had them in there for 10 minutes.”
In Wichita, there were few reports of damage after a storm hit near the airport shortly before 4 p.m. Sedgwick County (Kan.) Emergency Management Director Randy Duncan said officials were “very grateful” that the storm wasn’t more severe.
The Storm Prediction Center had been warning about severe weather in the region since last Wednesday and for the past two days had warned there was a moderate risk of severe weather on Sunday.
“They’ve been calling for this all day,” Edmond resident Anita Wright said after riding out the twister in an underground shelter. She and her husband Ed emerged from their hiding place to find uprooted trees, downed limbs and damaged gutters in their home.
In Katie Leathers’ backyard, the family’s trampoline was tossed through a section of fence and a giant tree uprooted.
“I saw all the trees waving, and that’s when I grabbed everyone and got into two closets,” Leathers said. “All these trees just snapped.”
Fate of LA pot shops left to voters
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles politicians have struggled for more than five years to regulate medical marijuana, trying to balance the needs of the sick against neighborhood concerns that pot shops attract crime.
Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide how Los Angeles should handle its high with three competing measures that seek to either limit the number of dispensaries or allow new ones to open and join an estimated several hundred others that currently operate.
Election Day in the nation’s second-largest city comes just two weeks after a pivotal state Supreme Court decision gave cities and counties the authority to ban pot shops. More than 200 local municipalities have bans, and some cities that were awaiting guidance from the state’s highest court have taken immediate action this month and begun shuttering clinics.
While some cities have been able to manage pot collectives, Los Angeles fumbled with the issue and dispensaries cropped up across the city as a result. Councilman Ed Reyes said Los Angeles has run into trouble where other cities such as Oakland haven’t because of the sheer size of LA and a movement that is more organized and litigious.
“The pie is so big here, so thick and rich, that we have many people making a run at it,” Reyes said. “Regardless of which measure you support, the city is going to have to focus on enforcement. I think as long as we don’t have enforcement, it’s just letters on paper.”
City councilors passed an ordinance in 2010 to cut the number of shops from roughly 1,000 to 70. But numerous lawsuits were filed against the city by dispensaries and the ordinance was allowed to expire last year, leading to another surge of pot shops.
Last summer, the city approved a ban, but two months later repealed it after enough signatures were gathered to get the measures on the ballot.
Proposition D would cap the number of collectives that opened prior to 2007 — about 135 — and raise taxes slightly; Proposition E also would do the same but raise no new taxes; Proposition F wouldn’t limit the number of pot shops but put stringent controls such as audits and background checks on employees. It also raises taxes.
The proposition with the most votes wins, but only if it collects a majority. If none of the measures receives more than 50 percent, the issue could bounce back to the City Council.
Proposition E is essentially dead on arrival because its supporters are now backing Proposition D, which has been endorsed by several council members. Proposition D backers said the initiative meets the criteria of neighbors and the medical marijuana industry by limiting the number of clinics.
“There’s been absolutely no control, and that’s what has hurt the city,” said Brennan Thicke, who runs a pot clinic called the Venice Beach Care Center. “At this point, voters need to finally decide this issue. There’s been an overwhelming belief in this city that medical marijuana should not go away.”
Those who support Proposition F say the medical marijuana industry should be an open market, and the measure does more to regulate the industry than its counterpart. They also note that if some of the 135 clinics under Proposition D later close, they won’t be replaced.
“There are bad apples in both groups,” said attorney David Welch, who has represented dispensaries in various lawsuits. “The idea that the (older) collectives are angels and everyone else are the devils is just plain wrong. They don’t want competition, and they want to control the supply and demand.”
Regardless of the election’s outcome, dispensary owners still are under the specter of the federal government, which maintains marijuana is illegal and has raided clinics, prosecuted owners and filed lawsuits against landlords.
US gas prices up 11 cents over past 2 weeks
CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — The average U.S. price of a gallon of gasoline has jumped 11 cents over the past two weeks.
The Lundberg Survey of fuel prices released Sunday says the price of a gallon of regular is $3.66. Midgrade costs an average of $3.84 a gallon, and premium is $3.98.
Diesel held steady at $3.93 gallon.
Of the cities surveyed in the lower 48 states, Tucson, Ariz., has the nation’s lowest average price for gas at $3.18. Minneapolis has the highest at $4.27.
In California, the lowest average price was $3.94 in Fresno. The highest was in San Francisco at $4.07. The average statewide for a gallon of regular was $4.03, up 18 cents.
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