Nation roundup for November 13
Gawkers head to storm wreckage
NEW YORK (AP) — Garbage trucks, hulking military vehicles and mud-caked cars move slowly through a Staten Island waterfront neighborhood still reeling from Superstorm Sandy’s storm surge. Then comes an outlier: a spotless SUV with three passengers peering out windows at a mangled home choked with sea grass.
Residents recognize the occupants right away. They’re disaster tourists, people drawn to the scene of a tragedy to glimpse the pictures they’ve seen on television come to life.
Two weeks after the superstorm socked the region, cleanup continues in New York and New Jersey, which bore the brunt of the destruction. At its peak, the storm knocked out power to 8.5 million in 10 states, and some during a later nor’easter. About 73,000 utility customers in New York and New Jersey remained without power late Sunday, most of them on Long Island.
But the storm didn’t just bring darkness and despair; it also brought the gawkers.
“It’s a little annoying,” said Chris Nasella, who paused as he finished cleaning up a home reduced to a shell on the first floor. “By the same token, I would do it, too. I don’t think anyone wouldn’t want to look at boats that are picked up and left on the streets. As long as you don’t get a kick out of it, it’s an amazing thing.”
Petraeus shocked to hear of emails
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — CIA Director David Petraeus was shocked to learn his mistress was suspected of sending threatening emails warning another woman to stay away from him, former staff members and friends told The Associated Press Monday.
Petraeus told these associates his relationship with the second woman, Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, was platonic, though his biographer-turned-lover Paula Broadwell apparently saw her as a romantic rival. Retired Gen. Petraeus also denied to these associates that he had given Broadwell any of the sensitive military information alleged to have been found on her computer, saying anything she had must have been provided by other commanders during reporting trips to Afghanistan.
The associates spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the matters, which could be part of an FBI investigation.
Petraeus, who led U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned Friday, acknowledging his extramarital affair with Broadwell and expressing deep regret.
Elmo puppeteer faces accusations
NEW YORK (AP) — The puppeteer who performs as Elmo on “Sesame Street” is taking a leave of absence from the iconic kids’ show in the wake of allegations that he had a relationship with a 16-year-old boy.
Puppeteer Kevin Clash has denied the charges, which, according to Sesame Workshop, were first made in June by the accuser, who by then was 23.
“We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action,” Sesame Workshop said in a statement issued Monday. “We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation.”
The organization described the relationship as “unrelated to the workplace.” Its investigation found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated. But it said Clash exercised “poor judgment” and was disciplined for violating company policy regarding Internet usage. It offered no details.
“I had a relationship with the accuser,” Clash said in a statement of his own. “It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to characterize it as something other than what it was.”
Sex with a person under 17 is a felony in New York if the perpetrator is at least 21. It was unclear where the relationship took place, and there is no record of any criminal charge against Clash in the state.
Deadly blast may be tied to furnace
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The owner of one of the homes that exploded in Indianapolis said Monday that a problem furnace could be to blame for the blast that killed two people and damaged dozens of homes so severely officials say they must be demolished.
John Shirley, 50, of Noblesville, told The Associated Press that his daughter sent him a text message last week complaining that the furnace in the home where she lives with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend had gone out and required them to stay at hotel.
But Shirley also said when he asked if the furnace had been fixed, his daughter said yes, and he wasn’t aware of any additional problems until he heard from his daughter again Sunday morning.
“I get a text from my daughter saying ‘Dad, our home is gone. Then I called my ex-wife and she said what happened,” he said.
Penalty lower in mogul’s slander
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge has cut by more than half the $40 million jury verdict that casino mogul Steve Wynn was recently awarded against “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell issued the ruling Friday, reducing the award by $21 million. Her ruling eliminates $20 million in punitive damages the jury granted Wynn and $1 million they said he deserved because of comments Francis made on “Good Morning America.”
The ruling only affects damages awarded in the case and preserves the jury’s determination that Francis defamed Wynn on three separate occasions, including on ABC’s national morning show.
Francis vowed to appeal the remainder of the verdict.
“Judge O’Donnell committed a judicial error by allowing this case to even proceed to a trial, and she knows it,” Francis said. “This is only the first step of her back peddling and unwinding her illegal actions in order to try to keep her job as a judge.”
Francis’ lawyers also have argued the statements on “Good Morning America” were not part of the initial case and shouldn’t be included in the judgment.
The trial, which ended in September, centered on Francis’ repeated claims that he was told Wynn had threatened to hit him in the head with a shovel and have him buried in the desert. Wynn denied making such threats and claimed they damaged his reputation and put his casino license at risk.
Francis testified he heard about the claims from Grammy-winner Quincy Jones, who told the jury that no such statements were made.
Wynn’s attorney Mitchell Langberg said the casino executive was not disappointed by the ruling. “Steve Wynn is very happy with a $19 million compensatory damages award,” he said.
Langberg said the ruling upheld the jury’s determination that Francis made untrue statements about Wynn, confirming “what the case was about.”
O’Donnell’s ruling states that the jury had no evidence to support awarding punitive damages in the case. “The jury’s punitive damage award was speculative and clearly the result of the jury’s dislike of the defendant and/or his businesses,” the judge wrote.
Wynn is the CEO of Wynn Resorts Ltd. and designed Las Vegas casinos such as The Mirage, Bellagio, Wynn and Encore. After the trial, Wynn called Francis a “digital assassin” and said he hoped the large verdict would discourage others from taking what he described as cheap shots.
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