Nation roundup for November 21


Prosecutor: Ind. blast no accident

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The house explosion in Indianapolis that killed two people and left a neighborhood in ruins was not an accident, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry told The Associated Press that city arson investigators and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had concluded the Nov. 10 blast, which also destroyed five homes and damaged dozens more, was not an accident.

Officials announced Monday that the probe was a criminal homicide investigation, but did not explicitly say accidental causes had been ruled out. They also said Monday that search warrants had been executed.

Curry said Tuesday additional search warrants had been issued by local judges and not all had been executed. He declined to discuss details of the investigation or the search warrants, which he said would remain sealed until — or if — any criminal charges are filed.

If the warrants became public at this point, Curry said “it would jeopardize the ongoing investigation.”

Woman sentenced in day care fire

HOUSTON (AP) — It had been Jessica Tata’s dream to run a day care.

She was soon in over her head, caring for too many kids and taking chances by leaving them alone to run errands. The young woman’s actions ultimately proved fatal: Four children died and three others were injured when a fire broke out at her home day care after she had left them alone to go shopping at a nearby Target.

On Tuesday, jurors sentenced the 24-year-old woman to 80 years in prison for the death of one of the children, 16-month-old Elias Castillo. She still faces charges related to the rest of the children.

“Nobody wins in this situation,” Elias’ great-grandmother, Patty Sparks, said after the sentence was announced. “My heart goes out to the Tata family and those precious mothers and fathers who lost their babies.”

Tata, who was only a few years removed from her teens when she started her day care, worked alone most of the time. Investigators said the February 2011 blaze happened when a pan of oil she had left cooking on the stove ignited while she was out shopping.

Ex-Sen. Rudman dies at age 82

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Colleagues knew former Sen. Warren B. Rudman for his abrupt manner, but they trusted his expertise. On one matter in particular, though, he wished people would have listened to him: that the U.S. was vulnerable to a major terrorist attack.

Rudman left the Senate in the early 1990s but later led a commission that predicted the danger of terrorism on American soil just months before the attacks of Sept. 11 and called for the creation of a Department of Homeland Security.

“No one seemed to take it seriously, and no one in the media seemed to care,” Rudman said in 2007. “The report went into a dustbin in the White House.”

Rudman, who also co-authored a groundbreaking budget balancing law and championed ethics, died just before midnight Monday at a Washington, D.C., hospital of complications from lymphoma, said Bob Stevenson, a longtime friend and spokesman.

Rep. Charlie Bass of New Hampshire didn’t serve with him, but looked up to Rudman, who died Monday.

“He’d say, ‘Vote the tough way,’ and he’d say, ‘Don’t let people push you around,’” Bass recalled. “‘If you know what’s right, vote the way that’s right, and if you’re forceful and persuasive and sure of yourself, people will support you even if they don’t agree with you.’”

President Barack Obama pointed to Rudman’s early advocacy for fiscal responsibility in mourning the passing of “one of our country’s great public servants.”

Elmo actor quits amid sex scandal

NEW YORK (AP) — Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash resigned from “Sesame Street” on Tuesday amid allegations he sexually abused underage boys, bringing an end to a 28-year career in which he turned the furry red monster into one of the most beloved — and lucrative — characters on TV and in toy stores.

“Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work ‘Sesame Street’ is doing and I cannot allow it to go on any longer,” the 52-year-old performer said in a statement. “I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately.”

His departure came as a 24-year-old college student, Cecil Singleton, sued Clash for more than $5 million Tuesday, accusing the actor of engaging in sexual behavior with him when he was 15. Singleton charged that Clash made a habit of trolling gay chat lines for underage boys and meeting them for sex.

It was the second such allegation in just over a week. On Nov. 12, a man in his 20s said he had sex with Clash at age 16. A day later, though, the young man recanted, saying their relationship was adult and consensual.

Clash was a young puppeteer at “Sesame Street” in the mid-1980s when he was assigned a little-used puppet now known as Elmo and turned him into a star, creating his high-pitched voice and child-like personality. Clash also served as the show’s senior Muppet coordinator and Muppet captain, winning 23 daytime Emmy awards and one prime-time Emmy.

In a statement, Sesame Workshop said that “the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us want,” and that Clash had concluded “he can no longer be effective in his job.”

“This is a sad day for Sesame Street,” the company said.

Clash did not address the new allegations. He said previously that he had an adult and consensual relationship with the first accuser. The divorced father of a grown daughter, he acknowledged that he is gay.

At a news conference Tuesday, Singleton said he and Clash met on a gay chat line when he was 15, and for a two-week period, they had sexual contact but not intercourse. He said he didn’t know what Clash did for a living until he was 19 and Googled the man’s name.

“I was shocked when I found out what he did for a living,” said Singleton, a student in criminal psychology who lives in New York but would not say where he goes to school.

He said he didn’t consider speaking up until he heard about last week’s accusation.

“I thought I was a unique circumstance,” Singleton said. “I did not know that it was something he had done habitually.”

Singleton’s lawyer, Jeff Herman, said he had been contacted by two other potential victims and expects additional legal action. Sex with a person under 17 is a felony in New York if the perpetrator is 21 or older.

Elmo has been a major moneymaker for Sesame Workshop. By one estimate, Elmo toys account for one-half to two-thirds of the $75 million in annual sales the Sesame Street toy line generates for Hasbro.

Clash became something of a star himself. In 2006, he published an autobiography, “My Life as a Furry Red Monster,” and he was the subject of the 2011 documentary “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.”

Episodes with Clash performing as Elmo will presumably continue well into 2014. Taping of season No. 44 will wrap by mid-December and will begin airing next September, according to someone close to the show who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to publicly discuss details of its production.

As for who might take over as Elmo, other “Sesame Street” puppeteers have been trained to serve as Clash’s stand-in, Sesame Workshop said. “Elmo is bigger than any one person,” the company said last week.

On Tuesday, Hasbro echoed that sentiment with its own statement: “We are confident that Elmo will remain an integral part of Sesame Street and that Sesame Street toys will continue to delight children for years to come.”

Wind, rain pummel Pacific Northwest, cause 1 death

SEATTLE (AP) — Residents in Washington and Oregon braced for more wet weather after a fierce storm swamped streets, toppled trees and large trucks, cut power to nearly 50,000 residents, and caused at least one death.

Though the main threat is over, the rain will continue but shouldn’t disrupt Thanksgiving holiday travel plans, since all major roads and passes in the Northwest are open.

Thanksgiving should be mainly dry in the Northwest, the National Weather Service said, but drivers may encounter winter driving conditions in mountain passes on their way home over the weekend.

Flood warnings were issued for a handful of western Washington rivers, with moderate flooding expected Tuesday along the Chehalis River in the Centralia area. Residents there were told where to find sandbags and were directed to move any endangered livestock to higher ground.

Nearly 2 inches of rain fell in six hours Monday in one Seattle neighborhood — a total that Seattle Public Utilities meteorologist James Rufo-Hill called “extraordinary.”

“It was a pretty big storm for most of the city — lots of rain in a relatively short amount of time,” he said, but several neighborhoods “really got drenched.”

The rain caused widespread reports of flooded roads and highways, some mudslides and residential flooding, and even sewage overflows in parts of Seattle and Everett. Several blocks of downtown streets were briefly flooded in Port Orchard, west of Seattle.

Puget Sound Energy reported 24,000 electricity outages at mid-afternoon in its western Washington service area, with most service restored by Monday evening.

In Oregon, the storm knocked out electricity to as many as 24,000 Pacific Power customers. Several thousand remained in the dark Monday night, mainly in Clatsop, Lincoln and Coos counties.

BNSF Railways imposed a 48-hour moratorium on passenger and commuter trains travel between Everett and Seattle, starting around noon Monday, after at least 10 mudslides affected the tracks, spokesman Gus Melonas said.

Wet weather was expected to continue through the week, but National Weather Service meteorologist Jay Neher in Seattle said Monday night that the “heavy rain is over.”

“We’re into showers now,” Neher said.

On Oregon’s northwest coast, a hunter was killed Monday morning when a tree crashed on his tent near Nehalem. Two hunters in an adjacent camp heard the tree snap as gusts reached more than 70 mph and saw it lying across the tent. They cut it away in an attempt to rescue the man, to no avail.

Tillamook County Sheriff Andy Long identified the hunter as Nathan Christensen, 52, of Seattle.

A Portland police officer was seriously injured during all-terrain vehicle training when a tree fell. Sgt. Pete Simpson said the accident on Hayden Island in the Columbia River appeared to be weather-related.

Also in Oregon, a woman who identified herself as Susan Seale and said she was homeless called 911 Monday afternoon to report that her Clackamas campsite southeast of Portland was surrounded by rising water.

Rescuers used a small boat to rescue Seale and her dog, Clackamas County sheriff’s Sgt. Adam Phillips said.

In southwest Washington, a Washington State Patrol car and another vehicle were struck by a tree carried by a mudslide on U.S. Highway 101 near Naselle.

The patrol car started burning, and the trooper had to break a window to crawl to safety. The trooper was unhurt, and the female driver of the other vehicle was OK except for neck pain. Both vehicles were destroyed by the fire.

Four Seaside, Ore., firefighters narrowly avoided injury when a tree fell on their fire truck. Fire Chief Joey Daniels said the four had gone to U.S. Highway 26 to help clear a tree. When they got back into the truck, they saw another one starting to fall.

“They all opened their doors and jumped out,” Daniels said.

Strong winds overturned large commercial trucks on two highways Monday. One tractor-trailer tipped over while crossing the Astoria-Megler Bridge that carries U.S. 101 across the Columbia River. That caused a lengthy traffic headache.

Another semi was blown onto its side in the middle of the Chehalis River Bridge in Aberdeen, on the Washington coast, Aberdeen police said.

In Washington, peak storm gusts reached 101 mph on the Megler bridge linking Oregon and Washington and 61 mph at Hoquiam on the Washington coast. They hit 114 mph on isolated Naselle Ridge in the mountains of southwest Washington, the Weather Service reported.

On the Oregon coast, strong gusts included 98 mph at Yaquina Head, 85 mph at Lincoln City and 80 mph at Newport, the Weather Service said. In Newport, the wind peeled back the roof of a restaurant.

The Weather Service reported 24-hour Washington rainfall totals as of Monday evening that included 4.09 inches in Bremerton, west of Seattle; 2.97 inches at Hoquiam on the Washington coast; and 6 inches at Cushman Dam on the Olympic Peninsula.

In Oregon, Lincoln City saw 3.55 inches of rain in 24 hours while 2.13 inches fell at the Portland airport and 2.08 inches in Salem. The Portland suburb of Hillsboro reported 3.42 inches, the Weather Service said.

Grand Ronde in the Oregon Coast range reported 6.10 inches.

In Portland, Weather Service meteorologist Kirsten Elson said powerful Northwest storms are not uncommon even as early as November. The storms, however, generally include either heavy winds or drenching rains, not both.

 

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