$100M lawsuit filed over injuries suffered in police van

By PAT EATON-ROBB for the Associated Press

Lawyers for Randy Cox, a Black man who was paralyzed from the chest down in June when a police van without seat belts braked suddenly, filed a $100 million lawsuit Tuesday against the city of New Haven, Connecticut.

FILE – Doreen Coleman, left, mother of Richard “Randy” Cox Jr., walks with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump during a march for Justice for Randy Cox on Dixwell Avenue in New Haven, Conn., Friday, July 8, 2022. At right is Attorney Michael Jefferson. Lawyers for Cox, a Black man who was paralyzed from the chest down in June when a police van without seat belts braked suddenly, filed a $100 million lawsuit Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, against the city of New Haven. (Arnold Gold/New Haven Register via AP, File)

Cox, 36, was being driven to a police station in the city June 19 for processing on a weapons charge when the driver braked hard, apparently to avoid a collision, causing Cox to fly headfirst into the wall of the van, police said.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said Cox’s legal team is still in talks with the city but filed a federal negligence lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court to make sure Cox is compensated for his suffering.

“If we say we respect life and respect Randy Cox’s life experiences and people like Randy Cox, similarly situated, then we have to show that by action, not just by rhetoric,” Crump said. “Not just say we care about Black lives, but we have an actual duty in New Haven and throughout America to show that we believe Black lives matter.”

In the lawsuit, the city and the officers involved in Cox’s transport are accused of negligence, recklessness, use of excessive force, denial of medical treatment and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Cox’s supporters say the police mocked his cries for help after he was injured and accused him of being drunk and faking his injuries. Police video shows the officers dragged him by his feet from the van and placed him in a holding cell at the police department before paramedics finally took him to a hospital.

“The treatment of Mr. Cox while in the custody of the New Haven Police Department was completely unacceptable, and the City of New Haven is deeply committed to doing everything within its power to ensure an incident like this never happens again,” Mayor Justin Elicker said.

LaToya Boomer, Cox’s sister, said, “We don’t want any lip service; we want action. The action can’t come from me, it has to come from the people have those jobs, being the mayor or the police commission or someone with any of those titles. I’ll be waiting.”

The case drew outrage from civil rights advocates like the NAACP, along with comparisons to the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. Gray, who was also Black, died in 2015 after he suffered a spinal injury while handcuffed and shackled in a city police van.

Five officers were placed on administrative leave in Cox’s case.

New Haven officials announced a series of police reforms this summer stemming from the case, including eliminating the use of police vans for most prisoner transports and using marked police vehicles instead. They also require officers to immediately call for an ambulance to respond to their location if the prisoner requests or appears to need medical aid.

People trapped, 2M without power after Ian swamps SW Florida

By CURT ANDERSON from the Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Hurricane Ian left a path of destruction in southwest Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, damaging the roof of a hospital intensive care unit and knocking out power to 2 million people before aiming for the Atlantic Coast.

Curious sightseers walk in the receding waters of Tampa Bay due to the low tide and tremendous winds from Hurricane Ian in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel via AP)

One of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States barreled across the Florida peninsula overnight Wednesday, threatening catastrophic flooding inland, the National Hurricane Center warned.

The center’s 2 a.m. advisory said Ian was expected to emerge over Atlantic waters later on Thursday, with flooding rains continuing across central and northern Florida.

In Port Charlotte, along Florida’s Gulf Coast, the storm surge flooded a lower-level emergency room in a hospital even as fierce winds ripped away part of the roof from its intensive care unit, according to a doctor who works there.

Water gushed down onto the ICU, forcing staff to evacuate the hospital’s sickest patients — some of whom were on ventilators — to other floors, said Dr. Birgit Bodine of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital. Staff members used towels and plastic bins to try to mop up the sodden mess.

The medium-sized hospital spans four floors, but patients were forced into just two because of the damage. Bodine planned to spend the night there in case people injured from the storm arrive needing help.

“As long as our patients do OK and nobody ends up dying or having a bad outcome, that’s what matters,” Bodine said.

Law enforcement officials in nearby Fort Myers received calls from people trapped in flooded homes or from worried relatives. Pleas were also posted on social media sites, some with video showing debris-covered water sloshing toward homes’ eaves.

Brittany Hailer, a journalist in Pittsburgh, contacted rescuers about her mother in North Fort Myers, whose home was swamped by 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water.

“We don’t know when the water’s going to go down. We don’t know how they’re going to leave, their cars are totaled,” Hailer said. “Her only way out is on a boat.”

Hurricane Ian turned streets into rivers and blew down trees as it slammed into southwest Florida on Wednesday with 150 mph (241 kph) winds, pushing a wall of storm surge. Ian’s strength at landfall was Category 4 and tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane, when measured by wind speed, to ever strike the U.S.

Ian dropped in strength by late Wednesday to Category 1 with 90 mph (144 kph) winds as it moved overland. Still, storm surges as high as 6 feet (2 meters) were expected on the opposite side of the state, in northeast Florida, on Thursday.

The storm was about 55 miles (90 km) southwest of Orlando with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph) at 2 a.m. Thursday, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

A hurricane warning remained in effect north of Bonita Beach, about 31 miles (50 km) south of Fort Myers, to Anclote River including Tampa Bay and from Sebastian Inlet to the Flagler/Volusia county line.

The center discontinued a hurricane warning between Bonita Beach and Chokoloskee. A tropical storm warning from Chokoloskee to Flamingo on the state’s southwest tip also was discontinued.

Hurricane-force winds were expected across central Florida through early Thursday with widespread, catastrophic flooding likely, the hurricane center said.

No deaths were reported in the United States from Ian by late Wednesday. But a boat carrying Cuban migrants sank Wednesday in stormy weather east of Key West.

The U.S. Coast Guard initiated a search and rescue mission for 23 people and managed to find three survivors about two miles (three kilometers) south of the Florida Keys, officials said. Four other Cubans swam to Stock Island, just east of Key West, the U.S. Border Patrol said. Air crews continued to search for possibly 20 remaining migrants.

The storm previously tore into Cuba, killing two people and bringing down the country’s electrical grid.

The hurricane’s eye made landfall near Cayo Costa, a barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers. As it approached, water drained from Tampa Bay.

More than 2 million Florida homes and businesses were left without electricity, according to the PowerOutage.us site. Nearly every home and business in three counties was without power.

Sheriff Bull Prummell of Charlotte County, just north of Fort Myers, announced a curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. “for life-saving purposes,” saying violators may face second-degree misdemeanor charges.

“I am enacting this curfew as a means of protecting the people and property of Charlotte County,” Prummell said.

The Weather Underground predicted the storm would pass near Daytona Beach and go into the Atlantic before veering back ashore in South Carolina on Friday.

The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia all preemptively declared states of emergency. Forecasters predicted Ian will turn toward those states as a tropical storm, likely dumping more flooding rains into the weekend.

At Freedom House, these Black men saved lives. Paramedics are book topic

From NPR

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — John Moon stands on the 2000 block of Centre Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. He’s in front of a building that houses the Hill District Federal Credit Union, but he points to a plaque affixed to the stone façade commemorating the Freedom House ambulance service, widely acknowledged as the first paramedic program in the United States.

A group shot of Freedom House paramedics.
Heinz History Center

A half-century ago, Moon was a Freedom House paramedic, and he remains fiercely proud of it: The service, staffed overwhelmingly by Black men from the neighborhood, revolutionized emergency street medicine on the same blocks where many were underemployed, or even believed to be “unemployable.”

“We were considered the least likely to succeed by society’s standards,” said Moon, who was 22 and a hospital orderly when he started training to join Freedom House. “But one problem I noticed is, no one told us that!”

Today, however, Moon worries that Freedom House is in danger of being forgotten – a victim not just of time, but of the deliberate erasure of its memory.

“Unfortunately, today there are probably people who live here that has never heard of Freedom House ambulance service,” he said.

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Their story is committed to the page

American Sirens” (Hachette Books), by Kevin Hazzard, tells the story of Freedom House, which operated from 1967-75, its historic accomplishments, and its unjust and untimely demise.

Moon, himself, plays a central role. He spent much of his childhood in an Atlanta orphanage before relatives living in the Hill adopted him. As an orderly at Oakland’s Montefiore Hospital, he was astonished one night when two Black men entered with a patient on a stretcher, giving orders and clearly in command – a nearly unimaginable thing in those days. Moon learned they were from Freedom House, and he vowed to follow in their footsteps.

Cover of American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America’s First Paramedics by Kevin Hazzard.

Hachette Books

Hazzard sketches other key characters. One is Peter Safar, the storied Viennese-born anesthesiologist and Holocaust survivor who invented cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, in the 1950s, while working in Baltimore. Safar was also interested in emergency street medicine at a time when ambulances were driven by police, volunteer firefighters or even mortuary workers with little to no medical training. For victims of car crashes, heart attacks and gunshots, there was no on-site treatment, only an imperative to get them to the hospital as quickly as possible. Mortality rates were high. In the 1960s, working at Pittsburgh’s Presbyterian Hospital, Safar developed a plan to do emergency street medicine, but he had no means to implement it.

Enter Philip Hallen, a former ambulance driver who was now president of the Maurice Falk Medical Fund, a local foundation. Hallen also saw the need for street medicine, especially in the Hill, which was medically underserved. He reached out to James McCoy Jr., a Hill-based entrepreneur who ran a job-training program called Freedom House Enterprises. After connecting with Safar, the men took the unusual step of recruiting their first class of “paramedics” – a job that, technically, did not yet exist – from the Hill itself.

“So, what you end up with was, you know, a number of guys maybe who were fresh back from Vietnam. A number of guys maybe who were fresh out of prison. A number of guys who were in-between jobs, because literally they’re picking people up who they see kind of wandering the streets,” said Hazzard, an Atlanta-based writer and former paramedic.

The rigorous training paid off, Hazzard writes: Serving just the Hill and Oakland at first, Freedom House saved lives that would have been lost before. Tour the Hill today with Moon, for instance, and stops will include the site of his first call for a heroin overdose, as well as the story of how he became, he believes, the first paramedic to intubate a patient in the field. The latter story involves another key figure in the book, Nancy Caroline, a doctor who in later years was Freedom House’s medical director.

Doctors speak of Freedom House’s success

“They were the first true paramedic program in the world,” said Ronald Stewart, a Canadian expert in emergency medicine who was medical director for Pittsburgh’s Public Safety department in the 1970s and ’80s.

“It just amazes me, the quality of the program they were able to develop,” said Jon Krohmer, a Michigan-based expert in emergency medicine and a board member of the National EMS Museum.

One intangible impact of Freedom House was the community pride it generated: Highly trained technicians – dozens of them, over the years — were saving lives in their own neighborhood, which was often ignored by the rest of the city.

“Often times, when a person would call for assistance, they would say, ‘Don’t send the police, send Freedom House,’ ” said Moon.

The flip side: Hazzard recounts that some white patients refused treatment by Freedom House, even though their lives might have been at stake.

Freedom House defibrillator.

Heinz History Center

Freedom House operated under a city contract – meaning that for years, the Hill had better emergency care than the rest of the city, where ambulances were still driven by police. But, in fact, emergency medicine was in the midst of a revolution sparked in part by “Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society,” a 1966 report by the National Academies of Sciences/National Research Council. In this atmosphere, Freedom House’s influence spread nationally, too. Under a contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Freedom House director Dr. Caroline wrote the first national curricula on emergency street medicine.

Saving lives gets in the way

But despite such successes, in “American Sirens,” Hazzard writes, a new Pittsburgh mayor, Pete Flaherty, began to withhold support from Freedom House. At least one issue was racism: The overwhelmingly white police force saw the work of the overwhelmingly Black paramedics as an incursion onto their turf.

“There are many within Freedom House who eventually came to the conclusion that, you know, the problems that we’re having with City Hall are not what we’re doing, but rather who’s doing it,” said Hazzard.

Headshot of author Kevin Hazzard.

Hachette Books

Funding cuts were followed, in 1975, by the absorption of Freedom House into a new citywide EMS department. Many Freedom House paramedics stayed on, but most say they were treated poorly, their years of experience discounted. John Moon recalls being forced to “ride as the third person on a two-person crew.”

“I endured a concerted effort to eliminate as many, if not all, of Freedom House employees as humanly possible, and it was very, very successful,” he said.

But Moon himself persisted: In 2009, he retired as assistant chief of the department. These days, he is one of the main advocates for keeping the memory of Freedom House alive.

Savoring their memory

Public remembrances include the plaque on Centre Avenue (which was the headquarters of Jim McCoy’s Freedom House Enterprises), and another on the site of UPMC Presbyterian, where the Freedom House ambulance service actually operated (though the original building is gone). Heinz History Center also houses a Freedom House display as part of its permanent exhibit “Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation.”

Moon hopes “American Sirens” helps spread the word. But in any case, Freedom House lives on in his heart.

“I owe Freedom House a debt that I don’t think I will ever be able to repay,” he said, “because they’re the ones that instilled that motivation and that drive into me that I could do something no matter what it is, no matter what the hurdle, no matter what the barrier.”

Shortage of new police cars has some Virginia departments concerned: ‘Ford canceled all of our orders’

From WTVR News Richmond

PETERSBURG, Va. — Law enforcement agencies across Central Virginia, including Virginia State Police, are facing challenges acquiring new police vehicles this year.

Maj. Robert Ruxler with Colonial Heights Police said he believes the issue is nationwide as police departments and sheriff’s offices routinely buy new vehicles because of the miles they quickly rack up.

“We would run for 100,000 miles before we actually pull them out of service,” Petersburg Chief Travis Christian explained. “We’re quickly approaching those numbers right now.”

But now there is a problem trying to replace aging police cars in the Tri-Cities that date back from 2011, 2015 and 2017.

“The accessibility of vehicles is usually pretty easy,” Capt. Damon Stoker with Hopewell Police said. “But now I think, universally, they’re harder to come by.”

Colonial Heights got the bad news about their July 2021 order from Ford on Monday.

“We were notified that Ford canceled all of our orders for 2022 Police Interceptors,” Ruxler said.

Ruxer said the department was given the option to purchase 2023 vehicles, but with a caveat.

“The cost was increased by approximately $7,500 per vehicle,” Ruxer said. “Fortunately, our city is very supportive and understood our needs for police vehicles and was able to work with us to make this purchase.”

Petersburg Police Chief Travis Christian
Petersburg Police Chief Travis Christian

Christian said Petersburg has been seeking 15 new cars for over six months.

“We’ve been trying since actually late December of last year to find vehicles, we can’t find vehicles,” Christian said.

Because the cruisers are hard to find and buy, Petersburg decided to lease. But that that still came with another issue.

“So even though we can purchase more vehicles by way of leasing, there’s still a delay in getting those vehicles because the manufacturers, can’t produce the vehicles fast enough for us to purchase,” Christian said.

Poster image (43).jpg

Stoker said Hopewell is still expecting several 2022 models, but like many agencies they are also looking to save money while still equipping their fleet.

“Hopefully we can make a deal with our sheriff’s office,” Stoker said. “They got a vehicle that’s used, got some mileage on it… It’s outfitted for a police K-9 and hopefully we can get that from them.”

State police also got the cancellation notice for more than 100 2022 models. As a result, the agency will now be getting 2023 models at the increased price.

Judge bars enforcement of Delaware ‘ghost gun’ restrictions

By RANDALL CHASE for the Associated Press

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A federal judge has issued an injunction barring Delaware from enforcing provisions of a new law outlawing the manufacture and possession of homemade “ghost guns,” which can’t be traced by law enforcement officials because they don’t have serial numbers.

Friday’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by gun rights advocates after Democratic Gov. John Carney signed a law last October criminalizing the possession, manufacture and distribution of such weapons as well as unfinished firearm components.

Judge Maryellen Noreika denied a motion by Democratic state Attorney General Kathleen Jennings, the sole defendant, to dismiss the lawsuit. She instead granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs to prohibit enforcement of certain provisions pending resolution of the lawsuit.

The judge wrote that without an injunction, the plaintiffs would “face irreparable harm … because they are threatened by criminal penalties should they engage in conduct protected by the Second Amendment.”

While declining to issue a permanent injunction, Noreika said that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in their arguments that a ban on possessing homemade guns violates the Second Amendment, and that the prohibition on manufacturing untraceable firearms is also likely unconstitutional.

Noreika said Jennings had offered no evidence to support her assertion that the prohibitions don’t burden protected conduct because untraceable firearms are “not in common use and typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”

Jennings similarly failed to substantiate her argument that the prohibitions on possession and manufacturing are “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

At the same time, however, Noreika said restrictions on the distribution of unfinished firearm frames or components do not unduly burden a person’s Second Amendment rights. She noted that such components are still available if they include serial numbers and manufacturer information and are obtained from federally licensed gun dealers.

The judge also held that a provision restricting the distribution of instructions for using a three-dimensional printer to produce a firearm or component is not an unjustifiable regulation of speech under the First Amendment.

“The statute prohibits only the distribution of functional code,” the judge wrote. “It does not prohibit gunsmiths and hobbyists from exchanging information about how to use their 3D-printer to manufacture a firearm, or for instructing individuals on how to program their 3D-printer to make the firearm of their choice.”

Mexico City police injured by explosion at protest

By FABIOLA SÁNCHEZ and FERNANDO LLANO for the Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — An explosion occurred outside Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office on Thursday, injuring police as protesters demonstrating ahead of the anniversary of the 2014 disappearance of 43 students clashed with officers clad in riot gear.

A police officer grimaces in pain as he is aided by paramedics after being injured by an explosive device thrown by protesters during clashes outside of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office in Mexico City, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. The demonstrators were marching ahead of the anniversary of the 2014 disappearance of 43 students of a teachers’ college in Iguala, Guerrero. Multiple police were injured by the explosion and loaded onto ambulances. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Those injured by the explosion were loaded onto ambulances. Broken glass and blood were visible.

Members of a bomb squad cordoned off the area. One undetonated object that an explosives technician recovered appeared to be a small pipe bomb — a tube with two capped ends.

Mexico City’s police department said that 11 police officers were injured by shrapnel from fireworks and some suffered bruises. They were all taken to hospitals and the injuries were not considered life threatening.

The protest was just one of a host of activities planned in advance of Monday’s 8th anniversary of the students’ disappearances. Protests that includes relatives of the disappeared students have usually remained peaceful.

Thursday’s demonstration started that way too, with chants and speeches. Most of the protesters boarded buses and left before a small group that stayed behind clashed with police.

Some masked protesters threw rocks and launched bottle rockets into police lines. Others spray painted areas around the building with demands for the missing students’ safe return.

The police bunched together, crouching below their plastic shields and were engulfed in smoke.

“I was in the entrance to my store when four bombs went off like bottle rockets which is what they launched at the Attorney General’s Office, toward the windows,” said 19-year-old Jose Rivera Cruz, who sells clothing to one side of the office. “There was smoke and they closed the metro bus station (across the street). And most of the police were running and trying to get to the patrol cars and the ambulances.”

As more police arrived to help the injured and secure the area, the protesters left, he said.

On Sept. 26, 2014, local police in Iguala, Guerrero abducted 43 students from a radical teachers’ college. They were allegedly turned over to a drug gang and never seen again. Three victims were later identified by burned bone fragments.

Last month, Interior Undersecretary Alejandro Encinas, who leads a truth commission investigating the case, called it a “state crime” and directly implicated the military, among other state actors including local and state police.

Former Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, who oversaw the original investigation into the disappearances, was arrested last month on charges of torture, official misconduct and forced disappearance. Last week, Mexico arrested a retired general, who had been in charge of the local army base in Iguala when the abductions occurred.

Dozens of student protesters arrived at the Attorney General’s Office aboard buses Thursday morning. Police with helmets and riot shields formed several lines of defense in front the entrances.

On Wednesday, activists had vandalized the exterior of Israel’s embassy in Mexico City. Mexico is seeking the extradition from Israel of another key figure in the investigation of the students’ disappearances.

Wily seal that cruised to pond surrenders at police station

From the Associated Press

BEVERLY, Mass. (AP) — A gray seal that wandered into a Massachusetts pond and evaded authorities’ attempts to capture him turned himself in Friday after waddling up to the local police station.

The gray seal first appeared earlier this month in Shoe Pond in the city of Beverly, northeast of Boston. The animal is believed to have traveled to the pond from the sea via a river and drainage pipes.

The seal quickly became a local attraction and was even named “Shoebert” after his chosen pond.

Firefighters and wildlife experts used boats and giant nets in an effort to capture the wily animal Thursday, but gave up after several fruitless hours. Early Friday morning, however, Shoebert left the pond, crossed a parking lot and appeared outside the side door of the local police station looking, according to a police statement, “for some help.”

The seal was quickly corralled by a team of wildlife experts, firefighters and the police department’s “entire midnight shift,” according to a Facebook post from the Beverly Police Department.

“Shoebert appeared to be in good health and was a little sassy in the early morning hours,” the department noted.

The seal was transported to Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, where aquarium staff will perform a medical exam before releasing him back into the wild, Sarah Callan, manager of the aquarium’s animal rescue program, wrote in an email.

“He is acting like a typical, feisty, 4-year-old gray seal,” Callan added. “We are planning to release him in a quiet, remote location near other seals.”

Seattle mayor appoints Adrian Diaz as city’s police chief

From the Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has named Adrian Diaz as the city’s new police chief.

FILE – Then-Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz addresses a news conference in Seattle, on Sept. 2, 2020. Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has named Diaz as his pick for permanent chief of the Seattle department. Harrell on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, announced his intent to appoint Diaz, who has served as interim police chief since 2020. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Harrell on Tuesday announced his intent to appoint Diaz, who has served as interim police chief since September 2020.

“Throughout this process, we’ve heard Seattleites’ clear expectations for the Seattle Police Department: effective public safety, meaningful community engagement, and a commitment to accountability and continuous improvement,” Harrell said in a written statement. “I am confident that Chief Adrian Diaz will provide the leadership necessary to advance these critical priorities and make Seattle safe for all residents.”

Harrell had encouraged Diaz to apply for the permanent role and chose him after a committee appointed by the mayor identified Diaz, Seattle Police Department Assistant Chief Eric Greening and Tucson Police Assistant Chief Kevin Hall as finalists for the position, The Seattle Times reported.

The Seattle City Council must confirm Harrell’s selection.

In a public forum last week, the finalists fielded questions about alternatives to police response, culture within the department and violence in the city. Diaz indicated support for increased policing alternatives and reform within the department, but he spoke more about his previous experience than about new ideas.

Diaz joined the agency in 1997 and has worked in the Seattle Police Department’s patrol and investigations units. He also served as assistant chief of the collaborative policing bureau before he was promoted to deputy chief.

Diaz said in a statement Tuesday that he was committed to ensuring that community is at the forefront of the department’s work and engagement.

“I approach this work with optimism, mindful of the trust that was shattered by the events of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, of the combined trauma of community and our officers alike, and of the long path towards reconciliation ahead of us,” Diaz said.

Former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best resigned in August 2020 after a tumultuous summer of racial justice protests in Seattle and nationally, sparked by the police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis.

Best, Seattle’s first Black police chief, said at the time that she quit in protest of efforts to decrease police spending.

The Seattle City Council voted in late 2020 to shrink the budget of the Seattle Police Department by about 18%, which was less than the proposed cuts that prompted Best to resign and far less than the 50% some advocates had sought.

The council at the same time approved hiring more than 100 officers and has since approved money for incentives as it has, like many cities, struggled to retain and attract police.

City Council members and residents had criticized Best for the department’s response to the 2020 protests against police brutality — which at times included tear gas, pepper spray and other less lethal weapons.

As interim chief, Diaz reworked the department’s crowd management policies and procedures, reducing the need for police use of crowd control tools, the statement from the city said.

Harrell and Diaz have said little about how they will navigate reform within the department, which has been under a federal consent decree for a decade because of sustained issues of force and bias within the department.

Harrell said in the statement that Diaz understands the department must continue striving for excellence, reject bias and complacency, and act on the needs of the city’s communities.

Milwaukee police sue city over inadvertent gun discharges

From the Associated Press

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee’s police union is suing the city over service weapons that officers say aren’t safe because they have inadvertently fired without anyone pulling the trigger.

It’s the latest legal action involving the P320 model firearm manufactured by SIG Sauer, including a case filed in Philadelphia in June by a U.S. Army veteran who suffered a serious leg injury when his holstered gun discharged. SIG Sauer, based in Newington, New Hampshire, has denied the P320 model is defective.

The Milwaukee Police Association says the department-issued handguns have inadvertently misfired three times in the last two years resulting in injuries to two officers.

Most recently, a 41-year-old officer was shot in the knee on Sept. 10. In July 2020, Officer Adam Maritato, who is a party in the union’s lawsuit that was filed this week, was unintentionally shot in the leg by another officer’s holstered gun.

The lawsuit alleges that when the city purchased the guns in 2019, it knew, or should have known, about the discharge and safety issues. It also says that during training for the weapons, the city “failed to disclose that the P320 had issues with discharging without a trigger pull, and the officers relied on the safety training to be accurate and complete.”

The lawsuit accuses the city of endangering the safety of its officers and the public by issuing the firearm. The union is asking a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge to force the city to pay damages for the officers’ injuries and to replace every department-issued P320 with another firearm.

“It is unacceptable that we now have hundreds of cases around the country with known unintentional discharges and the city is failing to act,” union President Andrew Wagner said in a statement Tuesday.

Wagner said the union filed the lawsuit after the latest shooting because it had not heard anything since it formally notified the city in June 2021 that it needed to replace the guns for “known safety issues.”

The Milwaukee city attorney did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Blind dog rescued from hole at California construction site

From the Associated Press

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters have rescued a 13-year-old blind dog that fell into a hole at a California construction site.

This image provided by the Pasadena Fire Department showing firefighters pose with a Cesar a blind dog that was rescued from a hold in Pasadena, Calif. on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Firefighters have rescued a 13-year-old blind dog that fell into a hole at a California construction site. The dog, named Cesar, lives next to the site in Pasadena with his owner. He apparently wandered onto the site, said Cesar’s owner Mary, who declined to give her last name. (Pasadena Fire Department via AP)

According to KABC-TV, the dog, named Cesar, lives next to the site in Pasadena with his owner. The dog apparently wandered onto the site, said Cesar’s owner Mary, who declined to give her last name.

Cesar then fell into the hole, which was about 15 feet (4.5 meters) deep and 3 feet (0.91 meters) wide, around 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Mary was alerted by the barking of her other dog. Cesar responded and she could hear he was no longer in her own yard. A Pasadena search and rescue team soon responded to the scene.

Pasadena Fire Chief Chad Augustin said confined-space rescues present unique challenges for firefighters.

“There’s a lot of steps we need to do to make it as safe as possible. For not just the dog but also our rescuers,” Augustin said.

The team hooked up a series of ropes and pulleys to lower one team member into the hole. It took the team member about 12 minutes to reach the dog, secure him in a harness and bring him back to the surface.

Cesar appeared to be healthy and uninjured after he was retrieved from the hole. He shook off a heavy coat of construction dirt and dust and was reunited with his owner at the scene.

Fatal Hawaii ambulance fire linked to oxygen device

By CALEB JONES for Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) — Preliminary findings from an investigation into an ambulance fire that killed a patient and injured a paramedic last month show the blaze originated in an oxygen device that is routinely used, officials in Hawaii said Wednesday.

The Aug. 24 fire killed a 91-year-old patient and severely injured a 36-year-old paramedic when flames engulfed the back of the ambulance in the parking lot of a Kailua hospital.

“Based on the preliminary findings of this investigation … the fire is classified as accidental and originated at the portable oxygen regulator assembly,” Honolulu Fire Chief Sheldon “Kalani” Hao said at a news conference. “The exact and definitive cause of this fire cannot be determined within the scope of the Honolulu Fire Department.”

Dr. Jim Ireland, the emergency services director for the city and county, said the injured paramedic reported hearing a loud sound when he was connecting a breathing device called a CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure, to an oxygen source in the back of the ambulance.

“It is reported that at the time the paramedic connected the CPAP oxygen line to the portable oxygen cylinder, there was a sound described as a pop, followed by a bright flash of light with the back of the ambulance immediately filling with smoke and fire,” Ireland said.

He said the emergency medical technician who was driving the ambulance reported hearing the same sound before the fire.

The city hired investigators from the Emergency Care Research Institute, a private, nonprofit firm that specializes in medical device evaluations, to help the fire department determine the cause of the fire.

Ireland said the investigation into what sparked the fire is ongoing and a final report will be issued once complete.

Found: Alligator, drugs, guns, money. But where’s the tiger?

From the Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An alligator, drugs, guns and money were seized during a raid at two homes in Albuquerque last month, but New Mexico wildlife officials said Saturday they are still searching for a young tiger they believe is being illegally kept as a pet.

This undated image released by New Mexico Department of Game and Fish shows a missing tiger in Alburquerque, N.M. The animal is believed to be less than 1 year old and 60 pounds, but tigers can grow to 600 pounds. Officials say the alligator was taken to a wildlife facility after a Aug. 12 search, and a 26-year-old man was arrested. Authorities in New Mexico found an alligator and large quantities of drugs, guns and money at two homes in Albuquerque last month, but on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, they said they are still searching for a young tiger they think is being being illegally kept as a pet. (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish via AP)

Investigators think the tiger is with someone “in New Mexico or a nearby state,” New Mexico Department of Game and Fish conservation officers said in a statement

The animal was believed to be less than 1 year old and weigh under 60 pounds (27 kilograms), but tigers can grow to 600 pounds (272 kilograms), the department said, calling large meat-eating animals such as tigers and alligators a clear danger to the public.

Wild tigers are listed globally as an endangered species. Alligators were listed as endangered in the U.S. from 1967 to 1987, but today thrive in the wild.

The alligator seized by authorities is about 3 feet (almost 1 meter) long. It was taken to a wildlife facility after state conservation officers and federal, state and local police served search warrants Aug. 12.

Albuquerque police reported a 26-year-old man was arrested and investigators seized 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) of heroin, 10.5 pounds (4.75 kilograms) of cocaine, 49 pounds (22 kilograms) of marijuana, 17 rifles and pistols, fentanyl and Xanax pills, and nearly $42,000.

Firefighters rescue dogs from kennel roof after evacuation

From the Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Firefighters used a ladder truck to rescue dogs from the roof of a downtown kennel on Monday after chemical fumes from work on a floor forced an evacuation.

Two workers and several animals at Dog Days of Birmingham began having what appeared to be breathing difficulties after a contractor put new sealant on a concrete floor that was being refinished, said Jay Barrett, a spokesperson for the company.

Small dogs that were kept on the ground floor were taken out the front door to safety, he said, but 13 larger dogs that were housed on the second floor were taken to a rooftop play area to get out of the fumes.

Firefighters used a ladder truck parked beside the building to carry the animals off the roof. Firefighters handed down one animal from a fire truck to kennel workers waiting on the ground.

Four people and 26 animals were inside the business when the smell became too strong to remain, he said.

“The humans are all fine. We did take five dogs to the vets as a precaution,” said Barrett. “All were cleared and returned to their owners.”

Capt. Orlando Reynolds of the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service said crews were trying to clear the building of the fumes before staff returned inside.

Rains, mudslides prompt Southern California evacuations

By STEFANIE DAZIO from the Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Heavy rains Monday unleashed mudslides in a mountain area east of Los Angeles that burned two years ago, sending boulders and other debris across roads and prompting evacuation and shelter-in-place orders for thousands of residents.

In this photo released by the San Bernardino County Fire Department, a fallen tree and other debris blocks a road in Forest Falls after a mudslide in San Bernardino County, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. (San Bernardino County Fire Department via AP)

Firefighters went street by street in the community of Forest Falls to make sure no residents were trapped. Eric Sherwin, spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Fire Department, said crews hadn’t found anyone who needed to be rescued and no one was reported missing.

Many structures in the area had varying levels of damage, Sherwin said, including a commercial building where the mud was so high it collapsed the roof.

The rains were the remnants of a tropical storm that brought high winds and some badly needed rainfall to drought-stricken Southern California last week, helping firefighters largely corral a wildfire that had been burning out of control about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the mudslides.

The mud flows and flash flooding occurred in parts of the San Bernardino Mountains where there are burn scars — areas where there’s little vegetation to hold the soil — from the 2020 wildfires.

“All of that dirt turns to mud and starts slipping down the mountain,” Sherwin said.

One of the wildfires, the El Dorado Fire, was sparked by a smoke device used by a couple to reveal their baby’s gender. A firefighter died and the couple was criminally charged in a pending case.

Concerns about additional mud and debris flows Monday night prompted authorities to put 2,000 homes in the San Bernardino Mountain communities of Oak Glen and Forest Falls under evacuation orders after nearly 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain fell on Yucaipa Ridge.

For some homes in Forest Falls it was too late to evacuate and residents were told to shelter in place through the night because it was safer than venturing out.

“The roads are compromised or they’re covered in debris,” Sherwin said, adding that crews planned to work all night using heavy equipment to clear routes.

The mudslides came after a week that saw California endure a record-long heatwave, where temperatures in many parts of the state rocket past 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), and pushed the state’s electrical grid to the breaking point as air conditioners sucked up power. The Fairview Fire and the Mosquito Fire burning east of Sacramento broke out and raged out of control.

The tropical storm aided crews battling the Fairview Fire about 75 miles (121 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles. The 44-square-mile (114-square-kilometer) blaze was 56% contained by late Monday. Two people died fleeing the fire, which destroyed at least 30 homes and other structures in Riverside County.

The Mosquito Fire has grown to 76 square miles (197 square kilometers), with 16% containment, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. While crews were able to take advantage of cooler temperatures and higher humidity Monday to strengthen control lines, more than 5,800 structures in Placer and El Dorado counties remained under threat, and some 11,000 residents were under evacuation orders.

Smoky skies from wildfires in many areas of the West caused air quality to deteriorate Monday, with dangerous levels of particulate pollution detected by government and private monitors in portions of eastern Oregon and Washington, Northern California, central Idaho and western Montana. In some areas, people were told to avoid all outdoor activity until the pollution cleared.

In Washington, fire officials scrambled to secure resources for a blaze sparked Saturday in the remote Stevens Pass area that sent hikers fleeing and forced evacuations of mountain communities. As of Monday, the Bolt Creek Fire was 2% contained and had scorched nearly 12 square miles (31 square kilometers) of forestland about 65 miles (104 kilometers) northeast of Seattle. A larger incident management team and additional fire crews were slated to arrive Tuesday, officials said.

In Oregon, utility companies said Monday they restored power to tens of thousands of customers after shutting down service over the weekend to try to prevent wildfires during high winds, low humidity and hot temperatures.

Both Portland General Electric and Pacific Power enacted planned power shutoffs Friday as gusting winds and low humidity moved into Oregon, posing extreme fire danger. The utilities were concerned that the winds would cause power lines to break or sag, making sparks that could ignite tinder-dry vegetation.

South of Portland, evacuation levels were reduced near the 135-square-mile (349-square-kilometer) Cedar Creek Fire, which has burned for over a month across Lane and Deschutes counties. Firefighters were protecting remote homes in Oakridge, Westfir and surrounding mountain communities. Sheriff’s officials warned that people should remain ready to leave at a moment’s notice should conditions change.

Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. In the last five years, California has experienced the largest and most destructive fires in its history.

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UK police officer who shot unarmed Black man suspended

For the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — A police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Black man in London has been suspended from duty, the British capital’s Metropolitan Police force said.

Chris Kaba, 24, was killed in south London on Sept. 5 after police pursued his car and tried to stop it. His vehicle was hemmed in by two police cars in a narrow residential street in the Streatham Hill neighborhood, and one round was fired from a police weapon.

Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Amanda Pearson said Monday the firearms officer was suspended partly because of the “significant impact on public confidence.”

“We understand how concerned communities are, particularly Black communities, and thank those who are working closely with our local officers,” she said.

The police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, launched a homicide investigation last week into Kaba’s death.

The office said the shooting came after the activation of an automatic number plate recognition camera, which indicated that the vehicle Kaba was driving was linked to a firearms incident in previous days. It said the car that Kaba was driving wasn’t registered to him.

Wind, storms could spread wildfires in Oregon this week

From the Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon firefighters will face challenges this week as continued heat combines with windy and unstable conditions, possible thunderstorms and unwanted east winds, fire meteorologists said.

Forecasters said the concern isn’t on the same level as the 2020 Labor Day fires east wind event, but there is concern about active wildfires near Oakridge, Grants Pass and Joseph spreading as well as new blazes starting and growing quickly.

Oregon utilities told the Statesman Journal they’re watching conditions closely and may consider shutting down power lines to limit wildfire danger. Falling power active lines in the high winds were at least partly to blame for the Labor Day wildfires.

Eric Wise, fire meteorologist for the Northwest Coordination Center, described his level of concern as “about a 6 or 7,” on a scale of 1 to 10.

August has generally been the state’s busiest month for wildfires, but in September — when hot and dry east winds are involved — Oregon has experienced the largest wildfire spreads in state history.

“This is a concerning forecast for western Oregon, but we’re also not expecting anything like the winds we saw back in 2020,” Wise said about this week.

Wednesday and then Friday into early Saturday are the most concerning days, officials said.

Heat Tuesday and Wednesday combined with an unstable atmosphere could create dry thunderstorms, with lightning strikes that could ignite fires.

Friday and into Saturday is when the east winds are forecast. Unlike the moisture-laden winds from the Pacific, east winds have a tendency to dry out over the Cascade Range and sweep down into western Oregon.

Weather models are projecting sustained winds speeds around 20 mph (32 kph) with gusts up to 40 mph (64 kph) in the Columbia River Gorge.

That’s decent news for the largest active fire in southwest Oregon — the Cedar Creek Fire — which is southeast of Eugene and about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Oakridge. The fire, next to Waldo Lake, has burned about 28 square miles (72 square kilometers) and growth appears likely.

Other wildfires likely to be impacted include the Rum Creek Fire in southwest Oregon above the Rogue River, and the Double Creek, Sturgill and Nebo fires in the Wallowa Mountains of northeast Oregon.

Pacific Power spokesman Drew Hanson said if the forecasted conditions develop, the utility is prepared to turn off power to reduce wildfire risks. Hanson said the goal is to notify potentially affected customers 48 hours in advance.

Portland General Electric spokeswoman Andrea Platt said it was too early to say whether a public safety power shutoff may be called.

Cooler temperatures and possibly even rain are expected next week.

New city watchdog to investigate series of police shootings

From the Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The new police department watchdog for Ohio’s capital city will investigate three recent police shootings, including the killing of a man shot in his bed.

The probes by Inspector General Jacqueline Hendricks follows a vote by the Columbus Civilian Police Review Board on Tuesday directing Hendricks’ office to look into the shootings, including the Aug. 30 death of Donovan Lewis, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Lewis, 20, was shot less than a second after Columbus officer Ricky Anderson opened the door of the bedroom where Lewis was sleeping. An attorney representing Lewis has called the shooting reckless and senseless. Officers were at the apartment trying to arrest Lewis on multiple warrants.

Hendricks’ office will also investigate the Aug. 24 nonfatal shooting of a 17-year-old boy and an Aug. 22 incident when a Columbus officer fired at — but did not hit — two fleeing suspects. The reviews will start after the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation completes its examination of the first two shootings. The state declined to investigate the Aug. 22 incident.

Hendricks will determine whether to recommend that administrative misconduct charges be filed against officers involved in the shootings. The civilian review board has the final say on whether those recommendations are forwarded to the Columbus public safety director or police chief for review and possible disciplinary action.

Hendricks says her office has opened 50 investigations into complaints of alleged misconduct by Columbus police, including 10 alleged cases of excessive force, in the new office’s first two months, the Dispatch reported.

Dog sniffs out cocaine hidden in wheelchair at Milan airport

From the Associated Press

ROME (AP) — A drug-sniffing dog led frontier police Friday at a Milan airport to some 13 kilograms (nearly 30 pounds) of cocaine stuffed into the leather upholstery of a motorized wheelchair, whose user immediately stood up and was arrested, authorities said.

This picture made available Friday, Sep. 2, 2022, by the Italian Financial Police shows the motorized wheelchair used by a man who tried to sniff some 13 kilos (nearly 30 pounds) of cocaine, foreground, at Milan airport, northern Italy. Police said that when the cocaine was found, the chair user, a Spaniard who had requested airport personnel to help guide the wheelchair, got up, walked without assistance, and was taken into custody. (Guardia di Finanza via AP)

The specialized canine unit was being deployed at Malpensa airport to check arriving passengers and their luggage from a flight from the Dominican Republic, since previously drug couriers had used that route, the Financial Guard police said in a statement.

When a dog drew officers’ attention to the traveler, police first checked his luggage, which yielded nothing, then slashed the wheelchair’s upholstery, discovering the cocaine.

Police said that when the cocaine was found, the chair user — a Spaniard who had requested airport personnel to help guide the wheelchair — got up, walked without assistance and was taken into custody.

The passenger was brought to a local jail, where judicial authorities upheld his detention pending investigation of the case, the statement said.

Police said the 11 packets of cocaine, weighing a total of 13.35 kilograms (nearly 30 pounds) could have yielded some 27,000 individual doses of the drug and had a street sale value of some 1.4 million euros (dollars).

Ukrainian firefighters rescue kitten from burning building

From the Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian firefighters known for rescuing people from buildings hit by shelling in more than six months of war helped a small, furry survivor this weekend — a gray-and-white kitten.

In this image made from video, a firefighter holds a kitten after rescuing it from a burning building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. Ukraine’s emergency services posted video to Facebook on Sunday showing the firefighters petting and cuddling the kitten as they carried it to safety. One said, “We found a beauty.” Ukraine’s emergency services said the kitten’s paw needed medical attention. (State Emergency Service of Ukraine via AP)

The rescuers, wearing full firefighting gear, battled raging flames and smoke to pull the kitten out from under a metal chair in the rubble of a wooden hotel-restaurant complex hit by a rocket in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, the country’s emergency services said Sunday on Facebook.

Video showed the firefighters petting and cuddling the feline as they carried it to safety. One used water from a firetruck to wipe down the kitten in his arms.

“We found a beauty,” one of the firefighters said as the kitten wiggled around in a colleague’s arms. Another said, “Get this kitty some oxygen.”

Ukraine’s emergency services said the kitten’s paw needed medical attention.

“Heroes of our time,” the emergency services proclaimed of the firefighters. “They protect, work, save, treat … And we wish the cat a speedy recovery.”

Canadian police hunt for suspects after 10 stabbed to death

By ROB GILLIES and ROBERT BUMSTED for the Associated Press

WELDON, Saskatchewan (AP) — Canadian police searched Monday for two men suspected of killing 10 people in a series of stabbings in an Indigenous community and a nearby town, as a massive manhunt for the perpetrators of one of the deadliest attacks in the nation’s history stretched into its second day.

Investigators gather in front of the scene of a stabbing in Weldon, Saskatchewan, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. A series of stabbings at an Indigenous community and at another in the village of Weldon left multiple people dead and others wounded, Canadian police said Sunday as they searched for two suspects. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press via AP)

Authorities have said some of the victims were targeted and others appeared to have been chosen at random on the James Smith Cree Nation and in the town of Weldon in Saskatchewan province. They have given no motive for the crimes, which also left 18 people injured — but a senior Indigenous leader suggested drugs were somehow involved.

Police believe the suspects were last spotted around midday on Sunday in the provincial capital of Regina, about 335 kilometers (210 miles) south of where the stabbings happened. Authorities issued alerts in Canada’s three vast prairie provinces — which also include Manitoba and Alberta — and contacted U.S. border officials.

With the suspects still at large, fear gripped communities in the rural, working class area of Saskatchewan surrounded by farmland that were terrorized by the crimes. One witness who said he lost family members described seeing people with bloody wounds scattered throughout the Indigenous reserve.

“No one in this town is ever going to sleep again. They’re going to be terrified to open their door,” said Ruby Works, who also lost someone close to her and is a resident of Weldon, which has a population of about 200 and is home to many retirees.

As the Labor Day holiday weekend drew to a close Monday, police urged Saskatchewan residents who were returning from trips away to look for suspicious activity around their homes before entering.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Damien Sanderson, 31, and Myles Sanderson, 30, and both men face at least one count each of murder and attempted murder. More charges are expected.

Police have given few details about the men. Last May, Saskatchewan Crime Stoppers issued a wanted list that included Myles Sanderson, writing that he was “unlawfully at large.”

The attack was among the deadliest mass killings in Canada, where such crimes are less common than in the United States. The deadliest gun rampage in Canadian history happened in 2020, when a man disguised as a police officer shot people in their homes and set fires across the province of Nova Scotia, killing 22 people. In 2019, a man used a van to kill 10 pedestrians in Toronto.

Deadly mass stabbings are rarer than mass shootings, but have happened around the world. In 2014, 29 people were slashed and stabbed to death at a train station in China’s southwestern city of Kunming. In 2016, a mass stabbing at a facility for the mentally disabled in Sagamihara, Japan, left 19 people dead. A year later, three men killed eight people in a vehicle and stabbing attack at London Bridge.

“It is horrific what has occurred in our province,” said Rhonda Blackmore, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Saskatchewan.

Police got their first call about a stabbing at 5:40 a.m. on Sunday, and within minutes heard about several more. In all, dead or wounded people were found at 13 different locations on the sparsely populated reserve and in the town, Blackmore said. James Smith Cree Nation is about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Weldon.

She couldn’t provide a motive, but the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations suggested the stabbings could be drug-related.

“This is the destruction we face when harmful illegal drugs invade our communities, and we demand all authorities to take direction from the chiefs and councils and their membership to create safer and healthier communities for our people,” said Chief Bobby Cameron.

As the manhunt stretched on, Regina Police Chief Evan Bray urged anyone with information to come forward.

“They have not been located, so efforts continue,” Bray said in a video posted on Twitter on Monday morning. “We will not stop until we have those two safely in custody.”

The night before, he said police believed the suspects were still in Regina but didn’t say why.

The elected leaders of the three communities that make up the James Smith Cree Nation declared a local state of emergency.

Chakastaypasin Chief Calvin Sanderson — who apparently is not related to the suspects — said everyone has been affected by the tragic events.

“They were our relatives, friends,” Sanderson said of the victims. “It’s pretty horrific.”

Among the 10 killed was Lana Head, who is the former partner of Michael Brett Burns and the mother of their two daughters.

“It’s sick how jail time, drugs and alcohol can destroy many lives,” Burns told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. “I’m hurt for all this loss.”

Burns later posted on Facebook that there were dead and wounded people everywhere on the reserve, making it look like “a war zone.”

“The look in their eyes couldn’t express the pain and suffering for all those who were assaulted,” he posted.

Doreen Lees, an 89-year grandmother from Weldon, said she and her daughter thought they saw one of the suspects when a car came barreling down her street early Sunday as her daughter was having coffee on her deck. Lees said a man approached them and said he was hurt and needed help.

But Lees said the man took off after her daughter said she would call for help.

“He wouldn’t show his face. He had a big jacket over his face. We asked his name and he kind of mumbled his name twice and we still couldn’t get it,” she said. “He said his face was injured so bad he couldn’t show it.”

She said she began to follow him because she was concerned about him, but her daughter told her to come back to the house.

Weldon residents have identified one of the dead as Wes Petterson. Works said the 77-year-old widower was like an uncle to her.

“I collapsed and hit the ground. I’ve known him since I was just a little girl,″ she said, describing the moment she heard the news. She said he loved his cats, was proud of his homemade Saskatoon berry jam and frequently helped out his neighbors.

“He didn’t do anything. He didn’t deserve this. He was a good, kind hearted man,″ said Works.

Weldon resident Robert Rush described the victim as gentle.

“He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” he said.

Rush said Petterson’s adult grandson was in the basement when the suspects entered the home, and he phoned police.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the flag above Canada’s parliament building in Ottawa would be flown at half-staff to honor the victims.

“As Canadians, we mourn with everyone affected by this tragic violence, and with the people of Saskatchewan,” Trudeau said.

Memphis officer shot while looking for stolen vehicles

From the Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A police officer was shot and critically wounded Wednesday while patrolling for stolen vehicles in Memphis, Tennessee, officials said.

The Memphis Police Department said the officer was shot by someone in a silver Infiniti. The officer was taken to a hospital by a fellow officer and listed in critical but stable condition, police said.

A second officer was hurt in a crash with another car. That officer was taken to a hospital in noncritical condition, police said. The civilian driver of the other vehicle also was taken to a hospital. That person’s condition was not immediately known.

Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said the shooting took place during an operation in an area where vehicle thefts have been committed and where stolen cars have been dropped off.

Three people have been detained for questioning, Davis said in a news conference outside Regional One Hospital.

Schools in the area of the shooting were placed on lockdown during the incident. The lockdowns have been lifted.

Delivery driver’s actions save pups from Florida house fire

From the Associated Press

LAKE CITY, Fla. (AP) — Three puppies in northeast Florida were saved from a burning house after a delivery driver noticed a fire in the home whose owner was away, fire officials said.

The driver for Amazon was delivering a package on Tuesday when she noticed smoke coming from the home and called 911. Firefighters rescued the pups from the home and revived them from smoke inhalation, according to Columbia County Fire Rescue. Firefighters contained the fire to the room where it was started.

“Thank you to the Amazon driver who noticed the smoke and called 911,” Columbia County Fire Rescue said in a Facebook post. “Since the homeowner was not at home at the time, she saved the home and the puppies’ lives!”

The county is located about 60 miles (about 97 kilometers) west of Jacksonville, Florida.

It’s not the first time a delivery driver has come to the rescue.

In January, a newspaper delivery woman in Georgia saved the lives of three adults, four children and several household pets after she noticed smoke billowing from the family’s garage. In July, a UPS driver administered emergency CPR to a girl who had nearly drowned in a swimming pool near Soap Lake, Washington.

Medic who cared for Mariupol wounded heads for Ukraine front

By HANNA ARHIROVA for the Associated Press

KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — For 22 days, Serhiy Chornobryvets barely slept and rarely took off his red paramedic uniform. Day and night, he raced around his hometown of Mariupol, rescuing those wounded by the Russian bombs and shells that pummeled the southern Ukrainian city.

Ukrainian medic Serhiy Chornobryvets poses for a photo on Aug. 20, 2022, in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Chornobryvets, who won praise for his bravery in the siege of Mariupol, now works to save soldiers on the front lines of Ukraine’s war with Russia. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

When he finally escaped Mariupol — whose residents endured some of the worst suffering of the war during a nearly three-month siege — he still did not rest. Instead, he joined an organization that sends medics to the front lines in eastern Ukraine, where the fighting is currently concentrated.

“Me before Mariupol and me after what happened: It’s two different people,” the skinny, fresh-faced 24-year-old said during a recent interview with The Associated Press in Kharkiv, another city that has endured intense bombardment.

“If I had not survived Mariupol, I would not have gone to work as a paramedic now. I wouldn’t have had enough courage,” explained Chornobryvets, who is simply called “Mariupol” on the battlefield and now wears a patch that bears the symbol of the port city, a yellow anchor, on his camouflage uniform.

In fact, he could see no other way of making sense of the horrors he witnessed in a place that became a worldwide symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s invasion. Residents suffered relentless bombardment, many trapped without food, water, heat or electricity.

“It was like going back to the Stone Age,” Chornobryvets said. “There was looting, constant shelling, planes, aerial bombardment. People around us were losing their minds, but we got on with our work.”

While many hid in basements or bomb shelters, Chornobryvets said he never did. He stayed above ground to tend to the wounded — all while risking his own life. He finally fled on March 18 — his birthday — still in his red paramedic’s overalls.

His tireless efforts were publicly praised by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, when the leader accepted an award in May from the Atlantic Council, the Washington-based think tank, on behalf of the Ukrainian people.

Chornobryvets said that his new work on the front and what he did in Mariupol were almost indistinguishable: “Same wounds, only I’m wearing a different uniform.”

In footage from July, he and his fellow medics can be seen rushing toward a soldier hit by Russian fire. They tightened a tourniquet around the man’s right thigh, and then carefully tended to a gaping wounds in an arm and a leg, where the bone was exposed.

He has a year left of college to finish — but resists making plans for the future. Until the war is won, he has vowed to stay on the battlefield.

“Medicine is my life, and my duty is to save people,” said Chornobryvets.

He dreams of one day returning to Mariupol, which fell to the Russians in May, but tries not to think about it too much because it’s too painful.

“My soul will calm down when I enter Mariupol — and the Ukrainian flag is flying over it,” he said.

Beasley touts sheriff support, opposes ‘defund the police’

By HANNAH SCHOENBAUM for the Associated Press

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley pitched herself Monday as a bridge between law enforcement and the Democratic party, appealing to moderate voters in one of the nation’s most competitive races for a seat in the narrowly divided chamber.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley speaks during a campaign appearance in Durham, N.C., on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

Joined by more than a dozen current and former law enforcement officers at a news conference in Durham, Beasley announced new legislative priorities to strengthen public safety and mend the frayed relationship between her party and the police force.

The Democrat committed to working with Republican lawmakers to secure funding for local law enforcement to train officers on deescalation techniques, mindful responses to behavioral health crises and alternatives to using force. She also told sheriffs she would fight for federal funding to help rural departments address officer shortages and the ongoing opioid crisis.

With the Senate in a 50-50 deadlock, North Carolina is one of the few states where Democrats have strong potential to flip a seat this November. Beasley, former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, will face off this fall against Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

Beasley distanced herself Monday from the “defund the police” movement — a progressive push to divest funds from police department budgets and reallocate them to social services and other community resources.

Popularized by Black Lives Matter activists during the 2020 George Floyd protests, the slogan spun into a political weapon for Republican candidates in the last election cycle, giving them a mechanism to paint their Democratic opponents as anti-law enforcement.

“I do not support defund the police,” Beasley said Monday. “I know that police officers need more funding … for recruitment, retention, training, mental health and addressing the opioid crisis. We’ve got to be more realistic about the kinds of issues that they’re dealing with in our communities.”

Beasley is among several Democratic candidates in competitive races who have recently spoken out against the polarizing political movement.

U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat and former Orlando police chief who’s challenging U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio for his seat, pledged in a recent campaign ad to protect Floridians from “crazy” ideas like “defund the police.” And Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, who is fighting for a second term in one of the nation’s most contentious gubernatorial races, has called unjustified police shootings “isolated instances” and lauded the state’s high law enforcement budget.

Budd said Monday that it’s “dishonest” for Beasley to portray herself as favored by law enforcement. He touted his own endorsements from the North Carolina Troopers Association, a separate union that represents most border patrol agents, and many local sheriffs as evidence that he’d be the best candidate to support officers and deputies.

Beasley’s campaign is in “a desperate place when it comes to law enforcement,” Budd said after a speech to Christian ministers and their spouses at a Greenville church.

Republicans criticized Beasley last year when a Federal Election Commission filing showed her campaign listed as participating in a joint fundraiser that included the campaign committee for Democratic U.S. Rep. Cori Bush from Missouri. Bush is a vocal advocate for defunding the police and reinvesting that money in social services and mental health programs. Budd made an indirect reference to Beasley’s association with Bush at his campaign appearance Monday.

Later organizational documents filed for the “Lead the Way 2022” committee do not mention the Beasley campaign’s continued involvement.

Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said Beasley has been rightfully critical of law enforcement, noting that she was the first chief justice in the nation to call out racial bias in the justice system after a white Minneapolis police officer murdered Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, in May 2020.

But Birkhead also described her as the only candidate in the race “who law enforcement officers can truly count on.”

“She has demonstrated her knowledge and her leadership and her advocacy,” the sheriff said. “Folks like her opponent talk a big game about supporting us, but his (Budd’s) record speaks otherwise.”

Georgia targets $100M from feds to aid police, cut violence

From the Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia will give out $100 million in federal COVID-19 money to bolster policing and reduce violence, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday.

Local agencies can apply for up to $1.5 million apiece if they can show that violent gun crimes and other violence got worse during the pandemic in their communities. State agencies can’t apply.

“With these funds, I am sending reinforcements to those on the front lines to help with recruitment and retention, crime reduction, violence intervention, and equipment and technology,” the Republican Kemp said in a statement. “I look forward to the positive impact these investments will have and expect local governments to take full advantage of these available funds to take the fight to the criminals.”

It’s the third announcement spending federal pandemic relief funds that Kemp has made in recent days as he runs for reelection, with more likely to come. The announcements infuriate Democrats, who say Kemp is using money he opposed to bolster his chances against Democrat Stacey Abrams.

“Once again, Brian Kemp is turning to funds provided by Democrats’ American Rescue Plan, which he called ‘a slap in the face for hardworking Georgians’ and urged Georgia’s U.S. senators to oppose,” state Democratic Party spokesperson Max Flugrath said in a statement.

Kemp has been hammering Abrams on the stump and in advertising, claiming that her statements and her membership on the boards of the Black Voices for Black Justice Fund and Marguerite Casey Foundation show she favored defunding the police. Abrams says she does not support defunding the police. In a public safety plan released in June, Abrams said she actually supports increasing police funding, proposing to raise starting pay for state trooper cadets, prison guards and juvenile justice guards to $50,000, at a cost of $182 million over two years.

Abrams also called for $25 million in grants to raise officer pay and subsidize housing, saying local agencies would have to adopt state best practices to be eligible.

Kemp rolled out endorsements from 102 of Georgia’s 159 sheriffs in June and was endorsed Thursday by the Fraternal Order of Police. While Kemp touts his “back the blue” stance, state documents make clear that much of the money could go to other programs that aim to reduce violence that Abrams supports.

One use of the grants announced Thursday would be to hire back for public safety positions that were eliminated or went unfilled between January 2020 and March 2021. Agencies could also hire more officers than they had before the pandemic if they meet certain federal qualifications.

The money can also go for items including hiring outreach workers to try to persuade people who are violence-prone to choose other ways of addressing their problems, according to a document published by the state Office of Planning and Budget. For example, some hospital-based programs reach out to shooting victims and their family and friends to try to deter them from seeking revenge. Abrams supports violence intervention programs in her plan.

The grant document also spotlights programs that respond to certain police calls with mental health professionals and other non-police personnel. Georgia lawmakers this year passed a bill requiring the state’s 23 community service boards to provide mental health co-responders to any local law enforcement agency that wants them, and the grants could fund that program.

The grants could also be used to pay for equipment and technology that allows police to respond to rising gun violence.

Applications are due Nov. 18 and state officials are likely to decide who gets the money in January. Funds have to be spent by Oct. 31, 2026.

Hawaii ambulance fire leaves patient dead, paramedic injured

From the Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) — A patient died and a paramedic was critically injured when their ambulance caught fire outside a hospital in Hawaii, emergency officials said.

“We had an ambulance tonight for reasons we don’t understand catch on fire, possibly explode, prior to entering the hospital,” said Dr. Jim Ireland, the emergency services director. “We’re all just very concerned about our team and the patient that lost their life.”

The 91-year-old patient and the paramedic were in the back of the ambulance as it pulled up to Adventist Castle Health in Kailua on Wednesday night. Another emergency medical technician who was driving the ambulance escaped injury after helping the injured paramedic escape the back of the burning vehicle.

The injured 36-year- old paramedic, a 10-year veteran, was initially treated at the hospital and then taken to another emergency room at the Straub Burn Unit, a city and county news release said.

“All our paramedics, EMTs and dispatchers are all treasured members of our staff and or family, they save lives every day, and it’s just very hard to be in a situation where our team is the ones who are injured. I’ll just leave it at that,” Ireland said. “Please pray for him.”

Ireland said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that officials at this time would not be releasing the names of the injured paramedic or the patient who died.

The patient, who was being transported to the hospital after a 911 call, died inside the ambulance. Officials declined to say what the initial call was for, citing privacy concerns.

The Honolulu Fire Department and federal officials will investigate the cause of the fire.

“This morning we were in contact with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as the ATF, and we are making all records available to these agencies because I want answers,” Ireland said. “We want answers because we want to know what happened and we want to make sure this never happens again.”

Calls and emails to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were not immediately answered.

Ireland said that he and his colleagues could not recall a similar incident in Hawaii.

“This is extremely rare. And if you look at reports from the mainland, it has happened, but it’s very, very rare,” Ireland said. “In 30 years here, I’ve never seen it.”

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This story has been corrected to show the injured paramedic is a 10-year veteran, not eight.

Western fires outpace California effort to fill inmate crews

By DON THOMPSON for the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — As wildfires rage across California each year, exhausted firefighters call for reinforcements from wherever they can get them — even as far as Australia.

Cadets, who were formerly-incarcerated firefighters, train at the Ventura Training Center (VTC) during an open house media demonstration Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Camarillo, Calif. California has a first-in-the nation law and a $30 million training program both aimed at trying to help former inmate firefighters turn pro after they are released from prison. The 18-month program is run by Cal Fire, the California Conservation Corps, the state corrections department and the nonprofit Anti-Recidivism Coalition at the Ventura Training Center northwest of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Yet one homegrown resource is rarely used: thousands of experienced firefighters who earned their chops in prison. Two state programs designed to get more former inmate firefighters hired professionally have barely made a dent, according to an Associated Press review, with one $30 million effort netting jobs for just over 100 firefighters, little more than one-third of the inmates enrolled.

Clad in distinctive orange uniforms, inmate crews protect multimillion-dollar homes for a few dollars a day by cutting brush and trees with chainsaws and scraping the earth to create barriers they hope will stop flames.

Once freed from prison, however, the former inmates have trouble getting hired professionally because of their criminal records, despite a first-in-the-nation, 18-month-old law designed to ease their way and a 4-year-old training program that cost taxpayers at least $180,000 per graduate.

“It’s absolutely an untapped pool of talent,” said Genevieve Rimer, who works with former inmates trying to clear their records. “Thousands of people are coming back from California’s fire camps annually. They have already been trained. They have a desire to go and put their lives on the line in order to ensure public safety.”

California is hardly alone in needing seasoned smoke eaters, but the nation’s most populous state faces different challenges than other more sparsely settled Western regions. A wildfire that nearly leveled the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Paradise nearly four years ago, for instance, was the nation’s deadliest wildfire in nearly a century, killing 85 people.

The U.S. Forest Service is short about 1,200 firefighters, 500 of them in California, and the Interior Department is down about 450 firefighters, 150 of them in California, said two of the state’s top elected officials, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, in a recent letter to Biden administration officials.

Other Western states are grappling with the issue. Nevada is considering a program like Arizona’s “Phoenix Crew,” which started in 2017 and provides mostly former inmate firefighters a pipeline to firefighting jobs.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the California legislation in 2020, allowing former inmates to seek to withdraw guilty pleas or overturn convictions. A judge can then dismiss the charges. Former inmates convicted of murder, kidnapping, arson, escape and sex offenses are excluded.

Since the law took effect, the nonprofit Forestry & Fire Recruitment Program, started by two former inmate firefighters, has worked with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles to help former inmates clear their records and get hired.

Yet they have only been able to file 34 petitions, and just 12 had records expunged during what the program warns “can be a long and drawn out process.”

Ashleigh Dennis is one of at least three attorneys filing expungement petitions through the Oakland-based advocacy group Root & Rebound. She has similarly been able to file just 23 requests, with 14 granted.

Among other hurdles, applicants must show a judge evidence they have been rehabilitated, and the expungement only applies to crimes they were incarcerated for while working in firefighting crews. Many people have unrelated convictions that must be separately expunged.

It’s been a learning curve to educate judges about the law and get the corrections department to speed up certifying to the court that inmates have served as firefighters, said Dennis and one of her clients, Phi Le. He petitioned the court in October and his record was expunged in January.

Da’Ton Harris Jr.’s record was finally cleared in August, about 18 months after starting the process.

“I’m out here, a public servant, risking my life every day to try and better my community,” said Harris. “I don’t think it was a smooth transaction at all.”

Despite his record, Harris obtained firefighting jobs with the U.S. Forest Service, the state’s firefighting agency Cal Fire, and the Forestry & Fire Recruitment Program.

But like Le, his advancement was limited because his criminal record made him ineligible for an Emergency Medical Technician certification, an obstacle that disappeared with the expungement. Outside of temporary federal and state firefighting agency jobs, most fire departments require applicants to be licensed EMTs — a certification the state bans certain felons from obtaining because the job comes with access to narcotics and sharp objects.

Rimer, the Forestry & Fire Recruitment Program’s director of supportive services, said California should automatically expunge records of eligible former inmates, much as it does for those convicted of antiquated marijuana crimes. And it should include their entire criminal record, she said.

“I think it spearheaded opportunity for people, but I don’t think it’s good enough,” she said of the expungement law.

The law’s author, Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Reyes, a Democrat from San Bernardino, has been struggling ever since to learn how many former inmates it has helped. She said many former inmates have contacted her office to praise “the life-changing impact of the legislation.”

The corrections department informs eligible inmates about the law but doesn’t track expungements, said department spokeswoman Tessa Outhyse. Cal Fire, the court system and the state Department of Justice also couldn’t say how many have had their records expunged.

In another effort, California in 2018 created a training program to help former inmates get hired professionally.

The 18-month program is run by Cal Fire, the California Conservation Corps, the state corrections department and the nonprofit Anti-Recidivism Coalition at the Ventura Training Center northwest of Los Angeles. Conservation corps members also are eligible. Former inmates convicted of arson or sex offenses are excluded.

Participants spend six months on life skills and firefighter training and the next year fighting or preventing fires and doing other community service, for which they are paid $1,905 a month. The center has four fire crews with 60 participants.

In four years the program has cost over $29.5 million but has just 106 graduates.

Nearly all found a professional job: 98 are with Cal Fire and three are with other agencies including the Orange County Fire Authority and the U.S. Forest Service, according to corrections officials. Cal Fire provided slightly different figures.

But they’re the fortunate ones among the 277 who have participated since the program’s inception. Another 111 participants, or 40%, left before completing the program, said Outhyse.

Climate change is making wildfires more frequent and destructive, so the shortage comes at a time when demand for wildfire crews is going up.

And the state is turning more to professional wildland firefighters, largely because inmate crews are less available after voters shortened criminal sentences and officials released thousands of lower-level inmates early to prevent coronavirus infections.

This August about 1,670 inmates are in fire camps, including staff like cooks and laundry workers, down about 40% from August 2019. The corrections department was budgeted for 152 crews this year, but fielded just 51, each with about 15-18 firefighters.

With fewer inmate crews, California is turning more to other agencies. The conservation corps is responsible for filling 30 crews, Cal Fire 26 and the California National Guard 14.

The state also is creating what officials called the first all-hazards fire engine strike team operated by a state National Guard. The fire engines can respond both to wildfires and urban blazes.

“We’ve recognized for a few years now that due to early release, due to COVID, a number of other reasons, we have to do something,” said Battalion Chief Issac Sanchez, a Cal Fire spokesman.

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Police: Bag found at Stockholm festival had an explosive

From the Associated Press

STOCKHOLM (AP) — A bag with an explosive charge was found in a Stockholm park during an annual cultural festival and police have opened a preliminary investigation into attempted public destruction, police in Sweden said Monday.

On Sunday, a bag was found and its content was immediately “assessed as dangerous.” The surrounding area was cordoned off and traffic was temporarily rerouted, police said. A bomb squad neutralized the content of the bag on the spot.

“It is only after the investigation at the national forensic center that we can say whether the dangerous object was functional,” said Erik Åkerlund, local police manager.

The police department said it was working ”widely,” interviewing witnesses and examining photo and video images. At the moment no one is in custody.

Police said the bag was found at 9:40 p.m. Sunday. The Aftonbladet newspaper said it was left near the Cafe Opera, a famous nightclub.

The five-day Stockholm Culture Festival ended Sunday with a concert by Iranian pop singer Ebi, whose real name is Ebrahim Hamedi and who is a known Iranian dissident. The free festival included musical acts, activities and performances in six areas across the Swedish capital.

3 Arkansas officers suspended after video captures beating

By ANDREW DeMILLO for the Associated Press

MULBERRY, Ark. (AP) — Three Arkansas law enforcement officers were suspended, and state police launched an investigation after a video posted on social media showed two of them beating a suspect while a third officer held him on the ground.

A car is parked outside the Kountry Xpress in Mulberry, Ark. Three law enforcement officers have been suspended after a video posted on social media showed a South Carolina man being held down on the ground and beaten by police. Arkansas State Police said Sunday night that it would investigate the use of force by the officers earlier in the day outside the convenience store in Mulberry, about 140 miles northwest of Little Rock. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

The officers were responding to a report of a man making threats outside a convenience store Sunday in the small town of Mulberry, about 140 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock, near the border with Oklahoma, authorities said.

The video shows one officer punching the suspect with a clenched fist, while another can be seen hitting the man with his knee. The third officer holds him against the pavement.

In video recorded from a car nearby, someone yells at officers to stop hitting the man in the head. Two of the officers appear to look up and say something back to the person who yelled. The officers’ comments could not be heard clearly on the video.

Two Crawford County sheriff’s deputies and one Mulberry police officer were suspended, city and county authorities said.

Arkansas State Police said the agency would investigate the use of force. State police identified the suspect as Randal Worcester, 27, of Goose Creek, South Carolina.

He was taken to a hospital for treatment then released and booked into the Van Buren County jail on multiple charges, including second-degree battery, resisting arrest and making terroristic threats, state police said.

Worcester’s father declined to comment when contacted Monday by The Associated Press. He referred a reporter to a law firm representing the family. That firm said it was still trying to gather information and did not immediately have a comment on the video.

Worcester is white, according to jail booking information, and the three officers involved also appear to be white.

Authorities have not released the names of the three officers.

“I hold all my employees accountable for their actions and will take appropriate measures in this matter,” Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante said.

In a statement released Sunday evening, Mulberry Police Chief Shannon Gregory said the community and the department take the matter “very seriously.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Twitter that the incident “will be investigated pursuant to the video evidence and the request of the prosecuting attorney.”

Cellphone video of often-violent police interactions has put a spotlight on officer conduct in recent years, particularly since the 2020 killing of George Floyd while he was being arrested by police in Minneapolis.

The resulting nationwide protests called attention to officer brutality that often targets Black Americans.

The front door at building that serves as the Mulberry police headquarters and city hall was locked Monday. A sign on the door directed anyone with questions about “the police investigation” to contact Arkansas State Police.

It was unclear whether the officers were wearing body cameras.

Amid public pressure for transparency and the proliferation of videos exposing police misconduct, there has been some pushback against recording officers. In July, the governor of Arizona signed a bill that makes it illegal to knowingly record officers from 8 feet (2.5 meters) or closer without permission.

Mulberry is a town of 1,600 people on the southern edge of the Ozarks in western Arkansas, right off Interstate 40, which runs from California to North Carolina.

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This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Randal Worcester. Authorities initially gave an incorrect spelling.

Georgia woman charged after using pepper spray on school bus

From the Associated Press

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia woman is jailed after police said she pepper-sprayed a school bus driver and bus monitor who were trying to remove her from a bus.

Shaquayle Cuyler, 29, was arrested after she boarded a bus Tuesday morning in Brunswick following a Friday disagreement with the bus driver, Glynn County Schools Police Chief Rod Ellis told The Brunswick News.

Cuyler boarded the bus when it stopped to pick up students, Ellis said. When the driver and monitor tried to remove her, Ellis said she aimed the pepper spray at the two adults.

The driver and monitor were taken to a Brunswick hospital, while paramedics examined the 24 children aboard and cleared them to proceed to their elementary school on another bus. The Glynn County school district said parents were notified.

Cuyler is charged with three counts of battery, cruelty to children, criminal trespass, intentional disruption of a school bus and reckless conduct.

“It was just absolutely bizarre,” Ellis told the newspaper. “She was aggravated. She had words with the driver about something that happened Friday. Then she forced her way onto the bus and got into a confrontation. It is unlawful to just board a bus like that.”

Cuyler is jailed without bail. It’s unclear if she has a lawyer representing her.

16 dead, 18 missing in flash flood in western China

From the Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — A sudden rainstorm in western China triggered a landslide that diverted a river and caused flash flooding in populated areas, killing at least 16 people and leaving 18 others missing, Chinese state media said Thursday.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, residents clear sludge from their property in the aftermath of floods in Qingshan Township of Datong Hui and Tu Autonomous County in northwest China’s Qinghai Province on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. A sudden rainstorm in western China triggered a landslide that diverted a river and caused flash flooding in populated areas, killing some and leaving others missing, Chinese state media said Thursday. (Zhang Hongxiang/Xinhua via AP)

Rescuers, who earlier reported 36 people missing, had found 18 of them by early afternoon, state broadcaster CCTV said in an online update. The Wednesday night disaster affected more than 6,000 people in six villages in Qinghai province, CCTV said.

China is facing both heavy rains and flooding in some parts of the country this summer and extreme heat and drought in other regions. State media have described the prolonged heat and drought as the worst since record keeping started 60 years ago.

Emergency authorities described the flash flooding in Qinghai’s Datong county as a “mountain torrent.” Such torrents generally result from heavy squalls in mountainous areas. Water running down the mountain can turn gullies or streams into raging rivers, catching people by surprise.

Video posted by the Beijing News website showed muddy water rushing down a wide street at night and debris-strewn areas with uprooted trees, partially washed-away roads and overturned cars after the waters had receded.

Seven people died last weekend from a mountain torrent in southwestern China’s Sichuan province.

Elsewhere in Sichuan and other provinces, crops are wilting and factories have been shut down as a drought cut hydropower supplies and high temperatures raised demand for electricity to run air conditioners.

Tesla Ltd. and SAIC, one of China’s biggest state-owned automakers, suspended production at factories in Shanghai due to a lack of components from 16 suppliers in Sichuan that shut down, the Shanghai Economic and Information Industry Committee said in a letter released Thursday.

The Shanghai committee appealed to its counterpart in Sichuan to make sure auto components factories have adequate power during daytime working hours to avoid supply disruptions.

Authorities in three provinces shot rockets into the sky in recent days to “seed” clouds with agents to try to induce them to produce more rain, according to Chinese media and government reports.

Iowa council member countersues police over protest arrest

From the Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Des Moines council member is countersuing two police officers who took the unusual step earlier this year of suing several people who participated in a 2020 protest following a Minneapolis officer’s killing of George Floyd.

FILE – Protestors chant “Let them go” as Des Moines, Iowa, police vans arrive at the Polk County Jail after protestors were arrested outside the Capitol, in Des Moines, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Two central Iowa police officers are suing Indira Sheumaker, who is a sitting Des Moines City Council member, and five other people who participated in a racial justice protest in 2020. Now, Sheumaker is countersuing the two police officers. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register via AP, File)

Councilwoman Indira Sheumaker’s countersuit says that Officers Peter Wilson and Jeffrey George used excessive force and violated her civil rights when they arrested her during a protest on July 1, 2020, outside the Iowa State Capitol. Sheumaker’s lawsuit — first reported by the Des Moines Register — also accuses the officers of filing a frivolous lawsuit against protesters.

In June, Wilson and George sued Sheumaker and five other protesters, accusing them of assault and seeking monetary damages, including an unspecified amount in punitive damages.

The protest was among demonstrations against racism and police brutality that erupted worldwide following Floyd’s killing. It began as a rally at the Iowa State Capitol to push for the restored voting rights to felons and turned violent as police led away arrested protesters.

The officers’ lawsuit — which they filed as individuals and not as representatives of the Des Moines Police Department — accuses Sheumaker and another protester of putting George in a chokehold as protesters attempted to thwart the officers’ attempts to arrest several people on prior warrants.

The officers’ lawsuit describes protesters’ actions as “nothing short of domestic terrorism.” Protesters have said police escalated tensions and were heavy-handed in their handling of arrests.

Sheumaker, who was elected to the City Council in 2021 on a platform calling for police reform, denies the officers’ accusations in her countersuit. The lawsuit says she was taking video of police actions at the protest when she was pushed by the crowd into George. As she tried to get back on her feet, her countersuit says, Wilson put her in a chokehold and dragged her across the ground before both officers tackled her.

Sheumaker also states in her counter claim that that the officers’ lawsuit is barred by Iowa case law known as the “fireman’s rule,” which holds that firefighting and policing are inherently dangerous jobs and generally keeps emergency responders from suing or collecting damages for injuries that occur in the course of their duties.

The officers’ attorney, Mark Hedberg, called Sheumaker’s claim meritless, the Register reported.

Seattle ambulance contractor pays $1.4 M in fines

From the Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — The private ambulance contractor for the Seattle Fire Department paid nearly $1.4 million last year for violating the terms of its contract with Seattle and arriving late to calls.

American Medical Response contracts with Seattle to provide basic life support ambulance services and transport low-acuity patients. Under the contract, AMR has target response times they must meet at least 90 percent of the time to avoid paying fines.

The first AMR ambulance must arrive in under 11.5 minutes. Last year, AMR ambulances arrived late around 20 percent of the time, according to records KUOW obtained from the Seattle Fire Department. Many ambulances were a few minutes late. A few took an hour or more to show up.

In a statement, a spokesperson for AMR said the longer response times are due to staffing shortages and long wait times at emergency rooms.

“During these waits for a hospital bed, which can range from 40 minutes to four hours, ambulance crews continue providing high-quality patient care either in the ambulance or in the receiving areas of the emergency department,” the statement said. “However, ambulances held at local emergency rooms with patients cannot respond to other 911 calls.”

Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins was not available for an interview.

In a statement, department spokesperson Kristin Tinsley said, “Chief Scoggins recognizes that there is a larger challenge with the entire healthcare system for transporting and getting patients to emergency rooms. His hope is that AMR can meet their contractual obligations so SFD units can remain available for the next response.”

She said AMR’s failure to meet its obligations “keeps our units on scene for longer and presents a challenge for SFD to provide the best customer service to the patients we treat.”

The company’s performance didn’t improve much during the first part of 2022. AMR racked up nearly $500,000 in fines as of May 1. The money goes into the city of Seattle’s general fund.

First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England

From the Associated Press

Winds over 100 kph (60 mph) were recorded at the top of the Eiffel Tower during a flash flood Tuesday, and similar winds were forecast Wednesday in the southeast.

People with umbrellas walking in the rain on Millennium Bridge, London, Wednesday Aug. 17, 2022.. After weeks of sweltering weather, which has caused drought and left land parched, the Met Office’s yellow thunderstorm warning forecasts torrential rain and thunderstorms that could hit parts England and Wales. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

Hail hammered Paris and other regions in Tuesday’s sudden storm. Rainwater gushed down metro station stairwells and onto platforms, and cars sloshed along embankments where the Seine River broke its banks.

In southern France, thunderstorms overnight and Wednesday flooded the Old Port of Marseille and the city’s main courthouse and forced the closure of nearby beaches.

As scattered storms swept across Belgium on Wednesday, one flooded parts of the historic town of Ghent following weeks of unrelenting drought.

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London and other parts of southern England were lashed with torrential rain and thunderstorms after one of the driest summers on record which gave the country its first-ever 40 degree Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) temperature last month.

There was widespread flash flooding as the downpours fell on parched ground.

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Despite the rain, much of Britain is still officially in drought. Thames Water, which supplies 15 million people in and around London, says a ban on watering lawns and gardens will take effect Aug. 24.

Much of Western Europe has experienced a season of extreme weather that scientists link to human-made climate change.

Amid the storm warnings, French President Emmanuel Macron postponed an event Wednesday on the French Riviera to mark the 78th anniversary of a key Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France. It was rescheduled for Friday.

The dramatic downpours put an end to weeks of historic heat that left much of France parched, rivers dry and dozens of villages without running water.

Across much of Europe this summer, a series of heat waves has compounded a critical drought, creating prime wildfire conditions.

Rainfall in recent days has eased the burden on firefighters facing France’s worst fire season in the past decade, though emergency authorities said scattered wildfires continued to burn Wednesday in southwest France.

PARIS (AP) — After a summer of drought, heat waves and forest fires, violent storms are whipping France and neighboring countries and have flooded Paris subway stations, snarled traffic and disrupted the president’s agenda.

Winds over 100 kph (60 mph) were recorded at the top of the Eiffel Tower during a flash flood Tuesday, and similar winds were forecast Wednesday in the southeast.

Hail hammered Paris and other regions in Tuesday’s sudden storm. Rainwater gushed down metro station stairwells and onto platforms, and cars sloshed along embankments where the Seine River broke its banks.

In southern France, thunderstorms overnight and Wednesday flooded the Old Port of Marseille and the city’s main courthouse and forced the closure of nearby beaches.

As scattered storms swept across Belgium on Wednesday, one flooded parts of the historic town of Ghent following weeks of unrelenting drought.

London and other parts of southern England were lashed with torrential rain and thunderstorms after one of the driest summers on record which gave the country its first-ever 40 degree Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) temperature last month.

There was widespread flash flooding as the downpours fell on parched ground.

Despite the rain, much of Britain is still officially in drought. Thames Water, which supplies 15 million people in and around London, says a ban on watering lawns and gardens will take effect Aug. 24.

Much of Western Europe has experienced a season of extreme weather that scientists link to human-made climate change.

Amid the storm warnings, French President Emmanuel Macron postponed an event Wednesday on the French Riviera to mark the 78th anniversary of a key Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France. It was rescheduled for Friday.

The dramatic downpours put an end to weeks of historic heat that left much of France parched, rivers dry and dozens of villages without running water.

Across much of Europe this summer, a series of heat waves has compounded a critical drought, creating prime wildfire conditions.

Rainfall in recent days has eased the burden on firefighters facing France’s worst fire season in the past decade, though emergency authorities said scattered wildfires continued to burn Wednesday in southwest France.

UK watchdog probes police stop of sprinter dos Santos

From the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s police watchdog is investigating after armed officers pulled over Portuguese sprinter Ricardo dos Santos’ car in London two years after a traffic stop of the athlete led to accusations of racial profiling.

The Metropolitan Police force said officers on a routine patrol pulled over a car in west London early Sunday because they thought the driver might be using a mobile phone at the wheel. The force said officers spoke to the driver, who then went on his way.

Police said the driver lodged a complaint and the force has referred the incident to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, “recognizing the public interest.”

Dos Santos, 27, said Tuesday that he doesn’t feel safe driving in the British capital.

“I’ve recently changed cars. I’ve got a family car just so I can stand out a lot less, but I guess it’s not the car – it’s the person driving the car,” he told the BBC.

“And every time I do see a police car when I’m driving I think, ‘Is it going to happen this time? Will it happen this time? When is it going to happen again?’” he said.

In 2020, dos Santos and his partner, British runner Bianca Williams, were stopped in west London while traveling with their 3-month-old baby in a car. The couple, who are both Black, were handcuffed and searched for weapons and drugs. Nothing was found.

Police later apologized, and five officers face gross misconduct hearings over the 2020 stop and search.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in 2020 that the incident highlighted the need to overhaul the leadership of the Metropolitan Police, Britain’s largest police department.

London police chief Cressida Dick quit in February after Khan publicly criticized her leadership following a string of allegations involving racist and misogynistic behavior within her department’s ranks.

Boston police boat comes to rescue of stranded groom

From the Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Officers with the Boston Police Department’s harbor patrol unit are used to helping boaters in distress, but last weekend Officer Joe Matthews came to the rescue of a groom in danger of missing his own wedding.

This photo provided by the Boston Police Dept., shows from left, Patrick Mahoney, Hannah (Crawford) Mahoney and Boston police officer Joe Matthews on the dock at Thompson Island in Boston Harbor on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. Patrick Mahoney was scheduled to get married on Thompson Island, but the boat that was supposed to ferry him to the island where his bride-to-be was waiting broke down. Officer Matthews transported the groom and his party to the island on his police boat so Mahoney’s marriage to Hannah Crawford could go on as scheduled.(Boston Police Dept. via AP)

Patrick Mahoney was scheduled to get married on Thompson Island in the middle of Boston Harbor on Saturday, but the boat that was supposed to ferry him to the island where his bride-to-be was already waiting broke down, police said in a post on their website.

It gets worse. The groomsmen, photographer, DJ and floral arrangements were also stuck on the mainland.

Enter Matthews, who transported more than a dozen people to the island on his police boat so Mahoney’s marriage to Hannah Crawford could go on as scheduled.

“They were there very quickly to get my groomsmen and all of our vendors out here to the island and kind of save the day,” Mahoney told The Boston Globe.

Matthews was only too happy to help.

“It was good to get a nice call for a change and help people out,” he said. “They seemed happy, and we were happy we could do it. It all worked out.”

Preds Foundation teams with police on ‘Gift Card for Guns’

From the Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Nashville Predators Foundation is teaming up on an event offering people gift cards, preseason vouchers and giveaways if they turn in guns to the city’s police.

The NHL team says its foundation is partnering on the event Saturday at Greater Revelations Missionary Baptist Church.

People can turn in guns to the Metro Nashville Police Department there with no questions asked.

They can also drop off unused or expired medication that police will destroy.

In seven Gift Card for Guns days since 2011, people turned in 658 firearms. It’s the first year the Preds Foundation has been involved in the event.

Predators Vice President of Community Relations Rebecca King expressed hope that the initiative would make the community safer.

Firefighters subdue deadly blaze at key oil facility in Cuba

By ANDREA RODRÍGUEZ from the Associated Press

HAVANA (AP) — A deadly fire that consumed at least half of a large oil storage facility in western Cuba and threatened to bring more power failures to the island’s already fragile electricity system was largely controlled Wednesday after nearly five days, authorities said.

Firefighters work to put out a deadly fire at a large oil storage facility in Matanzas, Cuba, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. The fire was triggered when lighting struck one of the facility’s eight tanks late Friday, Aug. 5th. (Yamil Lage, Pool photo via AP)

Flames that recently consumed the fourth tank in the eight-tank facility in Matanzas were almost quelled, although the third tank remained on fire and surrounded by smoke, officials said.

Col. Daniel Chávez, second in command at Cuba’s firefighting department, said the fire could keep burning for the next couple of days, but he did not expect it to spread further. He said the next step is to cool the area.

The blaze killed at least one person and injured 128 others, with 14 firefighters still reported missing and 20 people hospitalized. The fire also forced officials to evacuate more than 4,900 people and shut down a key thermoelectric plant after it ran out of water, raising concerns about a new round of blackouts in addition to the ones the government announced last week for Havana.

Arturo López-Levy, a politics and international relations professor at Holy Names University in California, said the fire will complicate an already difficult scenario in Cuba.

“I think any realistic forecast would point to more blackouts and more difficulty in carrying out the minimum economic activity in the country,” he said.

López-Levy also warned that it would be difficult “to lift up this country after this triple tragedy,” referring to the U.S. sanctions, the pandemic and now the fire.

Some Cubans worry the blaze could lead to more planned power outages as the government grapples with a fuel shortage.

“That gives way to more justification of blackouts that are going to occur,” said Pedro Pozo, a state worker.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel praised the work by local firefighters and special teams sent byt Mexico and Venezuela that employed boats, planes and helicopters to fight the blaze whose billowing, toxic smoke could be seen from the capital of Havana.

“(Tuesday) was a victory day, but we cannot be overconfident,” the president tweeted Wednesday as he warned about a possible switch in the wind direction. “Danger is lurking.”

The fire at the Matanzas Supertanker Base began Friday when lightning struck the key infrastructure, which operates an oil pipeline that receives Cuban crude oil that powers thermoelectric plants. It also serves as the unloading and transshipment center for imported crude oil, fuel oil and diesel.

The government has not provided an estimate of damages or said how much it has lost overall in key fuel supplies. The first tank was at 50% capacity and contained nearly 883,000 cubic feet (25,000 cubic meters) of fuel. The second tank was full.

Paramedic, biker killed when car runs into wreck scene

From the Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A paramedic and the motorcyclist he was trying to help after a wreck were killed when a car drove into the scene of emergency responders to the crash on a South Carolina highway Tuesday night, a sheriff said.

Four people in all were struck as the car crossed into the crash scene in Florence from the other lanes of traffic, including a state trooper and a Florence police officer, authorities said.

The first responders were helping after two motorcyclists were severely injured in a crash around 9 p.m. on state Highway 51 near Florence, The officers and paramedics had little time to respond as the car came toward them, Florence County Sheriff TJ Joye said.

“The city police officer pushed the trooper out of the way,” the sheriff said. The police officer appeared to suffer a broken ankle and the trooper suffered a head injury, but both are expected to recover, Joye said.

The driver who hit the people was taken to a hospital. Investigators said she appeared to be elderly. The sheriff did not release her name or condition.

“Why she plowed through there, I have no idea,” Joye said.

The paramedic killed was Sara Kinsey Weaver, 32, and the motorcyclist who died was Cedric Antonio Gregg, 37, Florence County Coroner Keith von Lutcken said.

A crash reconstruction team out of Myrtle Beach is helping his department’s investigation. Deputies will review the team’s findings and consult with prosecutors to see if any charges should be filed, the sheriff said.

Florence County Emergency Medical Services said its people are “heartbroken and overwhelmed by grief” by the deaths, according to a post on the agency’s Facebook page.

Brazil police recover art masterpieces stolen in elderly con

By DAVID BILLER from the Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Police in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday were seeking the arrest of six people accused of involvement in stealing 16 artworks together valued at more than 700 million reais ($139 million), some of which were recovered.

In this photo provided by the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police, officers show artist Tarsila do Amaral’s painting titled “Sol Poente” after it was seized during a police operation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. Police say they seek the arrest of six people accused of stealing 16 artworks, valued at a total of more than 700 million reais ($139 million), stolen from an 82-year-old widow whose daughter orchestrated the theft. (Rio de Janeiro Civil Police via AP)

Police said in a statement that the group stole the works from an 82-year-old widow, who had been married to an art collector and dealer.

The haul included museum-quality pieces from Brazilian masters Tarsila do Amaral and Emiliano Di Cavalcanti. Video provided by police showed them finding more than 10 works underneath a bed and, at the bottom of the pile, was “Sol Poente” – a do Amaral painting of a brilliant-hued sunset.

“Wow! Look who’s here!” one officer exclaimed as she removed bubble wrap from the work. “Oh, little beauty. Glory!”

The theft was orchestrated by the widow’s daughter, according to the statement, which didn’t provide either of their names. The daughter was among those arrested Wednesday, according to local media, which also showed images of a woman attempting to escape through a window as police arrived.

The paintings weren’t stolen in a heist, but rather through a bizarre con. In January 2020, a self-proclaimed soothsayer approached the widow in the Copacabana neighborhood and informed her that her daughter was sick and soon to die, according to the police statement.

The widow, who holds mystical beliefs, was compelled to make bank transfers totaling 5 million reais over the course of two weeks for supposed spiritual treatment. Her daughter, who encouraged the payments, proceeded to fire domestic employees so her accomplices could enter the residence unimpeded and remove the artworks. Upon receiving threats from her daughter and the accomplices, the widow made additional bank transfers.

Three of the artworks, collectively worth more than 300 million reais, were recovered in an art gallery in Sao Paulo. The gallery’s owner told police he had purchased them directly from the widow’s daughter, and sold two others to the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires, according to the statement.

A press officer for the world-renowned museum told The Associated Press that its founder, Eduardo Costantini, purchased the works for his personal collection, and possible display at the museum in the future. The museum identified the widow as Genevieve Boghici and said Costantini has maintained direct contact with her throughout the acquisition of the paintings and since.

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AP writer Daniel Politi contributed from Buenos Aires

Firefighters make gains against deadly California fire

By HAVEN DALEY and CHRISTOPHER WEBER from the Associated Press

KLAMATH RIVER, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters have gotten their first hold on California’s deadliest and most destructive fire of the year and expected that the blaze would remain stalled through the weekend.

A chimney stands at a home destroyed by the McKinney Fire on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Klamath National Forest, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The McKinney Fire near the Oregon border was 10% contained as of Thursday morning and bulldozers and hand crews were making progress carving firebreaks around much of the rest of the blaze, fire officials said at a community meeting.

The southeastern corner of the blaze above the Siskyou County seat of Yreka, which has about 7,800 residents, was contained. Evacuation orders for sections of the town and Hawkinsville were downgraded to warnings, allowing people to return home but with a warning that the situation remained dangerous.

About 1,300 residents remained under evacuation orders, officials said.

The fire didn’t advance much on Wednesday, following several days of brief but heavy rain from thunderstorms that provided cloudy, damper weather.

“This is a sleeping giant right now,” said Darryl Laws, a unified incident commander on the blaze.

In addition, firefighters expected Thursday to fully surround a 1,000-acre (404-hectare) spot fire on the northern edge of the McKinney Fire.

The fire broke out last Friday and has charred nearly 92 square miles (238 square kms) of forestland, left tinder-dry by drought. More than 100 homes and other buildings have burned and four bodies have been found, including two in a burned car in a driveway.

The blaze was driven at first by fierce winds ahead of a thunderstorm cell. More storms earlier this week proved a mixed blessing. A drenching rain Tuesday dumped up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) on some eastern sections of the blaze but most of the fire area got next to nothing, said Dennis Burns, a fire behavior analyst.

The latest storm also brought concerns about possible river flooding and mudslides. A private contractor in a pickup truck who was aiding the firefighting effort was hurt when a bridge gave out and washed away the vehicle, Kreider said. The contractor had non-life-threatening injuries, she said.

However, no weather events were forecast for the next three or four days that could give the fire “legs,” Burns said.

The good news came too late for many people in the scenic hamlet of Klamath River, which was home to about 200 people before the fire reduced many of the homes to ashes, along with the post office, community center and other buildings.

At an evacuation center Wednesday, Bill Simms said that three of the four victims were his neighbors. Two were a married couple who lived up the road.

“I don’t get emotional about stuff and material things,” Simms said. “But when you hear my next-door neighbors died … that gets a little emotional.”

Their names haven’t been officially confirmed, which could take several days, said Courtney Kreider, a spokesperson with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office.

Simms, a 65-year-old retiree, bought his property six years ago as a second home with access to hunting and fishing. He went back to check on his property Tuesday and found it was destroyed.

“The house, the guest house and the RV were gone. It’s just wasteland, devastation,” Simms said. He found the body of one of his two cats, which he buried. The other cat is still missing. He was able to take his two dogs with him to the shelter.

Harlene Schwander, 82, lost the home she had just moved into a month ago to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law. Their home survived but her house was torched.

Schwander, an artist, said she only managed to grab a few family photos and some jewelry before evacuating. Everything else — including her art collection — went up in flames.

“I’m sad. Everybody says it was just stuff, but it was all I had,” she said.

California and much of the rest of the West is in drought and wildfire danger is high, with the historically worst of the fire season still to come. Fires are burning in Montana, Idaho and Nebraska and have destroyed homes and threaten communities.

Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. California has seen its largest, most destructive and deadliest wildfires in the last five years. In 2018, a massive blaze in the Sierra Nevada foothills destroyed much of the city of Paradise and killed 85 people, the most deaths from a U.S. wildfire in a century.

In northwestern Montana, a fire that has destroyed at least four homes and forced the evacuation of about 150 residences west of Flathead Lake continued to be pushed north by winds on Wednesday, fire officials said.

Crews had to be pulled off the lines on Wednesday afternoon due to increased fire activity, Sara Rouse, a public information officer, told NBC Montana.

There were concerns the fire could reach Lake Mary Ronan by Wednesday evening, officials said.

The fire, which started on July 29 in grass on the Flathead Indian Reservation, quickly moved into timber and charred nearly 29 square miles (76 square km).

The Moose Fire in Idaho has burned more than 85 square miles (220 square km) in the Salmon-Challis National Forest while threatening homes, mining operations and fisheries near the town of Salmon.

And a wildfire in northwestern Nebraska led to evacuations and destroyed or damaged several homes near the small city of Gering. The Carter Canyon Fire began Saturday as two separate fires that merged.

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Weber reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporters Amy Hanson in Helena, Montana; Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; and Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

Feds charge 4 police officers in fatal Breonna Taylor raid

By DYLAN LOVAN for the Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department announced civil rights charges Thursday against four Louisville police officers over the drug raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman whose fatal shooting contributed to the racial justice protests that rocked the U.S. in the spring and summer of 2020.

Attorney General Merrick Garland with Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division, speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. The U.S. Justice Department announced civil rights charges Thursday against four Louisville police officers over the drug raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman whose fatal shooting contributed to the racial justice protests that rocked the U.S. in the spring and summer of 2020. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The charges are another effort to hold law enforcement accountable for the killing of the 26-year-old medical worker after one of the officers was acquitted of state charges earlier this year.

Federal officials “share but cannot fully imagine the grief” felt by Taylor’s family, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in announcing the charges.

“Breonna Taylor should be alive today,” he said. The charges range from unlawful conspiracies, use of force and obstruction of justice, Garland said.

The charges are against former officers Joshua Jaynes and Brett Hankison, along with current officers Kelly Goodlett and Sgt. Kyle Meany. Louisville police said Thursday they are beginning termination procedures for Goodlett and Meany.

Local activists and members of the Taylor family celebrated the charges and thanked federal officials.

“This is a day when Black women saw equal justice in America,” lawyer Benjamin Crump said.

Some of Taylor’s family and other supporters gathered in a park downtown Thursday and chanted “Say her name, Breonna Taylor!”

Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said she has waited 874 days for police to be held accountable.

“Today’s overdue but it still hurts,” she said Thursday. “You all (are) learning today that we’re not crazy.”

Taylor was shot to death by Louisville officers who had knocked down her door while executing the search warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot that hit one of the officers as they came through the door and they returned fire, striking Taylor multiple times.

In the protests of 2020, Taylor’s name was often shouted along with George Floyd, who was killed less than three months after Taylor by a Minneapolis police officer in a videotaped encounter that shocked the nation.

Garland said the officers at Taylor’s home just after midnight on March 13, 2020, “were not involved in the drafting of the warrant, and were unaware of the false and misleading statements.” Hankison was the only officer charged Thursday who was on the scene that night.

Hankison was indicted on two deprivation of rights charges alleging he used excessive force when he retreated from Taylor’s door, turned a corner and fired 10 shots into the side of her two-bedroom apartment. Bullets flew into a neighbor’s apartment, nearly striking one man.

He was acquitted by a jury of state charges of wanton endangerment earlier this year in Louisville.

A separate indictment said Jaynes and Meany both knew the warrant used to search Taylor’s home had information that was “false, misleading and out of date.” Both are charged with conspiracy and deprivation of rights.

Jaynes had applied for the warrant to search Taylor’s house. He was fired in January 2021 by former Louisville Police interim chief Yvette Gentry for violating department standards in the preparation of a search warrant execution and for being “untruthful” in the Taylor warrant.

Jaynes and Goodlett allegedly conspired to falsify an investigative document that was written after Taylor’s death, Garland said. Federal investigators also allege Meany, who testified at Hankison’s trial earlier this year, lied to the FBI during its investigation.

Federal officials filed a separate charge against Goodlett, alleging she conspired with Jaynes to falsify Taylor’s warrant affidavit.

Garland alleged that Jaynes and Goodlett met in a garage in May 2020 “where they agreed to tell investigators a false story.”

Former Louisville Police Sgt. Johnathan Mattingly, who was shot at Taylor’s door, retired last year. Another officer, Myles Cosgrove, who investigators said fired the shot that killed Taylor, was dismissed from the department in January 2021.

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Pilot shortage leads to Med-Flight service hour cuts

From the Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia State Police has temporarily reduced the operating hours for its Med-Flight helicopter service in central and southwest Virginia due to a shortage of pilots.

State police said until more pilots can be hired and trained, the service has been reduced from 24-hour coverage to 16 hours per day, from 8 a.m. through midnight, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The changes went into effect on Sunday.

In the meantime, private, for-hire air ambulance services such as those offered by VCU Health Systems and HCA Hospitals will fill the gap in the Richmond area. Med-Flight is free of charge, but the private services bill patients for the transport. In most cases, the fee is covered by a patient’s health care insurance.

Traditionally, sworn state police officers have piloted Med-Flight helicopters, but civilian pilots have been employed in the past and the shortage has opened hiring to civilians.

The state has posted job listings seeking pilots for the Med-Flight programs based in Chesterfield County and Abingdon.

Blaze contained in southern France but 4 firefighters hurt

From the Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — A weekend wildfire in the southern French Gard region that injured four firefighters has now been contained, officials said Monday.

This photo provided by the fire brigade of the Gard region (SDIS 30) shows a water-bombing plane spreads water at a forest fire in Aubais, southern France, July 31, 2022. A weekend wildfire in the southern French Gard region that injured four firefighters has now been contained. Firefighter spokesman Colonel Eric Agrinier told French media that 370 hectares were burned and two homes affected by the flames. (SDIS 30 service audiovisuel via AP)

Firefighter spokesman Col. Eric Agrinier told French media that 370 hectares (915 acres) were burned and two homes affected by the flames. But he highlighted “dozens and dozens of houses were preserved and (we saw) a human toll of zero casualties among civilians.”

The fire was contained overnight Sunday with some 400 firefighters monitoring the blaze Monday morning, according to the civil protection agency.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted an alert on Sunday regarding the fire that broke out around 3 p.m. in a pine forest in Aubais, a village of 2,000. Several families were evacuated.

France is set to face another heat wave, and several regions have been put on alert for possible wildfires.

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Sheriff: Woman intent on revenge set fire to wrong house

From the Associated Press

SALISBURY, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina woman apparently seeking revenge on her ex-boyfriend tried to set fire to a house owned by someone else, according to a sheriff’s office.

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said in a report that a homeowner in Gold Hill was awakened Friday by a neighbor who saw a woman trying to set fire to the house. There were bundles of wood and a fire on the front porch and deputies found a jug of oil that they say was used to start the fire.

As the homeowner went to get a garden hose, he saw burning pieces of wood around a propane tank. The garden hose didn’t work because the woman had apparently used a sealant to block the flow of water, deputies said.

The homeowner grabbed a rifle and confronted the woman, who was holding one of his dogs on a leash. With law enforcement and emergency personnel approaching, the woman drove off, the sheriff’s office reported.

Deputies arrested the woman and charged her with felony first-degree arson, assault with a deadly weapon, and larceny of an animal. Bond was set at $101,500. It couldn’t be determined Tuesday if she had an attorney.

Investigators estimate the home sustained approximately $20,000 in damage.

Police: California burglar forgot keys inside crime scene

From the Associated Press

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California burglar returned to the scene of the crime this weekend after he forgot his keys inside a doughnut company’s corporate office.

This Monday, July 25, 2022, image taken from a surveillance video posted on YouTube and provided by the San Rafael Police Department shows a subject who forced entry into the corporate office of Johnny Doughnuts in San Rafael. The burglar had to double back to the scene of the crime, the corporate office of a the San Francisco Bay Area doughnut company – this week because he forgot his keys. Police are asking for the public’s help in identification. (San Rafael Police Department via AP)

The thief stole some petty cash from Johnny Doughnuts’ office in the San Francisco Bay Area on Saturday night, police said. In another twist, he also grabbed the keys to a bakery vehicle, but didn’t steal the vehicle itself.

San Rafael police are seeking the public’s help to identify the burglar, who used an unknown tool to “manipulate” the office’s doorknob and get inside around 10 p.m., according to Lt. Dan Fink. The crime was reported to police on Monday.

Surveillance video shows the man moving between the office and a back storage area, where he pried open a filing cabinet, Fink said.

The lieutenant said the thief took a bank bag with an unknown amount of cash.

“Part of the investigating is finding out why this specific business was targeted,” he said.

Craig Blum, founder of Johnny Doughnuts, said his company plans to deliver a few dozen doughnuts to the San Rafael police officers “who came to our aid to ensure that we can continue serving our community hand-crafted doughnuts without interruption.”

“It was an unfortunate incident, but we’re glad no doughnuts or team members were harmed,” Blum said. “Sometimes even the thought of a doughnut makes you do crazy things.”

Appalachian floods kill at least 16 as rescue teams deploy

By DYLAN LOVAN and BRUCE SCHREINER for the Associated Press

JACKSON, Ky. (AP) — Search and rescue teams backed by the National Guard looked Friday for people missing in record floods that wiped out entire communities in some of the poorest places in America. Kentucky’s governor said 16 people have died, a toll he expected to grow.

Members of the Winchester, Ky., Fire Department walk inflatable boats across flood waters over Ky. State Road 15 in Jackson, Ky., to pick up people stranded by the floodwaters Thursday, July 28, 2022. Flash flooding and mudslides were reported across the mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, where thunderstorms have dumped several inches of rain over the past few days. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Gov. Andy Beshear told The Associated Press that children were among the victims, and that the death toll could more than double as rescue teams search the disaster area.

“The tough news is 16 confirmed fatalities now, and folks that’s going to get a lot higher,” the governor said later at a briefing. He said the deaths were in four eastern Kentucky counties.

Powerful floodwaters swallowed towns that hug creeks and streams in Appalachian valleys and hollows, swamping homes and businesses, trashing vehicles in useless piles and crunching runaway equipment and debris against bridges. Mudslides marooned people on steep slopes and at least 33,000 customers were without power. Numerous state roads were blocked by high water or mud, and crews were “unable to even get to some of these roadways it is so bad,” Beshear said.

“We’ve still got a lot of searching to do,” said Jerry Stacy, the emergency management director in Kentucky’s hard-hit Perry County. “We still have missing people.”

Emergency crews made dozens of air rescues and hundreds of water rescues, and more people still needed help, Beshear said: “This is not only an ongoing disaster but an ongoing search and rescue. The water is not going to crest in some areas until tomorrow.”

Rachel Patton said floodwaters filled her Floyd County home so quickly that her mother, who is on oxygen, had to be evacuated on a door that was floated across the high water. Patton’s voice faltered as she described their harrowing escape.

“We had to swim out and it was cold. It was over my head so it was, it was scary,” she told WCHS TV.

The water was so swift that some people trapped in their homes couldn’t be reached on Thursday, said Floyd County Judge-Executive Robbie Williams.

Just to the west in Perry County, some people remained unaccounted for and almost everyone in the area had suffered some sort of damage, firefighter Glenn Caudil said.

“Probably 95% of the people in this area lost everything — houses, cars, animals. It’s heartbreaking,” Caudil told WCHS.

Determining the number of people unaccounted for is tough with cell service and electricity out across the disaster area, Beshear said: “This is so widespread, it’s a challenge on even local officials to put that number together.”

More than 330 people have sought shelter, Beshear said. He deployed National Guard soldiers to the hardest-hit areas. With property damage so extensive, the governor opened an online portal for donations to the victims. President Joe Biden called to express his support for what will be a lengthy recovery effort, Beshear said, predicting it will take more than a year to fully rebuild.

Biden also declared a federal disaster to direct relief money to more than a dozen Kentucky counties, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency appointed an officer to coordinate the recovery. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell joined Beshear at a briefing.

“We’re committed to bringing whatever resources are necessary to support the life-saving efforts as well as the ongoing recovery efforts,” Criswell said.

Even the governor had problems reaching the devastation. His plans to tour the disaster area on Friday were initially postponed because conditions at an airport where they planned to land were unsafe, his office said. The governor scheduled a flyover for later in the day.

Days of torrential rainfall in the region sent water gushing from hillsides and surging out of streambeds, inundating roads and forcing rescue crews to use helicopters and boats to reach trapped people. Flooding also damaged parts of western Virginia and southern West Virginia, across a region where poverty is endemic.

“There are hundreds of families that have lost everything,” Beshear said. “And many of these families didn’t have much to begin with. And so it hurts even more. But we’re going to be there for them.”

Poweroutage.us reported more than 33,000 customers remained without electricity Friday in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, with the bulk of the outages in Kentucky.

Rescue crews also worked in Virginia and West Virginia to reach people in places where roads weren’t passable. Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six counties in West Virginia where the flooding downed trees, power outages and blocked roads. Gov. Glenn Youngkin also made an emergency declaration, enabling Virginia to mobilize resources across flooded areas of southwest Virginia.

“With more rainfall forecasted over the next few days, we want to lean forward in providing as many resources possible to assist those affected,” Youngkin said in a statement.

The National Weather Service said another storm front adding misery to flood victims in St. Louis, Missouri, on Friday could bring more thunderstorms to the Appalachians, where flash flooding remained possible through Friday evening in places across the region.

Brandon Bonds, a weather service meteorologist in Jackson, said some places could see more rain Friday afternoon and begin to dry out on Saturday “before things pick back up Sunday and into next week.”

The hardest hit areas of eastern Kentucky received between 8 and 10 1/2 inches (20-27 centimeters) over a 48-hour period ending Thursday, Bonds said. Some areas got more rain overnight, including Martin County, which was pounded with another 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) or so leading to the new flood warning.

The North Fork of the Kentucky River rose to broke records in at least two places. A river gauge recorded 20.9 feet (6.4 meters) in Whitesburg, more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) over the previous record, and the river crested at a record 43.47 feet (13.25 meters) in Jackson, Bonds said.

In Whitesburg, Kentucky, floodwaters seeped into Appalshop, an arts and education center renowned for promoting and preserving the region’s history and culture.

“We’re not sure exactly the full damage because we haven’t been able to safely go into the building or really get too close to it,” said Meredith Scalos, its communications director. “We do know that some of our archival materials have flooded out of the building into Whitesburg streets.”

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Contributors include Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Ky., Timothy D. Easley in Jackson, Ky., and Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Md.,

Marines halt new amphibious vehicle use at sea after mishaps

From the Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The U.S. Marine Corps will keep its new amphibious combat vehicle — a kind of seafaring tank — out of the water while it investigates why two of the vehicles ran into trouble off Southern California’s coast this week amid high surf, military officials said Wednesday.

FILE – Amphibious Assault Vehicles storm Red Beach during exercises at Camp Pendleton, Calif., June 2, 2010. The U.S. Marine Corps will keep its new amphibious combat vehicle – a kind of seafaring tank – out of the water while it investigates why two of the vehicles ran into troubles off the Southern California coast this week amid high surf, military officials said Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi, File)

No Marines or sailors were injured when one of the vehicles rolled onto its side Tuesday in waves that were unusually high because of a storm in the southern hemisphere. The other one became disabled when waves as high as 8-feet (2.4 meters) slammed the coastline.

The mishaps prompted troops to leap out of the vehicles and make their way to shore at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. The mishaps were first reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The new vehicles were introduced to replace Vietnam War-era amphibious assault vehicles, one of which was involved in one of Marine Corps’ deadliest training accidents of its kind two years ago off Southern California’s coast.

Lt. Gen. David J. Furness, the deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for plans, policies, and operations, said the officials decided to halt waterborne operations involving the newer vehicles as a precaution while an investigation is underway. The Marine Corps will continue using the vehicles for land operations.

“This is the right thing to do,” Furness said in a statement. The effort will allow time to “ensure our assault amphibian community remains ready to support our nation,” he added.

In the July 30, 2020 amphibious vehicle accident, eight Marines and one sailor died when the vehicle sank rapidly in 385 feet (117 meters) of water off San Clemente Island. Seven of the Marines were rescued.

A Marine Corps investigation found that inadequate training, shabby maintenance and poor judgment by leaders led to the sinking.

The Marines use the amphibious vehicles to transport troops and their equipment from Navy ships to land. The armored vehicles that have machine guns and grenade launchers look like tanks as they roll ashore for beach attacks, with Marines pouring out of them to take up positions.

More charged after 911 operator accused of not sending help

From the Associated Press

WAYNESBURG, Pa. (AP) — Authorities have filed charges against three more people in the case of a Pennsylvania 911 operator accused of failing to send an ambulance to the rural home of a woman who died of internal bleeding about a day later.

Kelly Titchenell sits on her porch in Mather, Pa., holding a photo of her mother Diania Kronk, and an urn containing her mother’s ashes, Thursday, July 7, 2022. A Greene County, Pa., detective last week filed charges against 911 operator Leon “Lee” Price, 50, of Waynesburg, in the July 2020 death of Diania Kronk, 54, based on Price’s reluctance to dispatch help without getting more assurance that Kronk would actually go to the hospital. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

According to a criminal complaint, the three men were charged Monday with tampering with public records, tampering with or fabricating evidence and obstruction.

They are or were managers for Greene County’s emergency management. Prosecutors allege they failed to provide policy memo binders that detail standard operating procedures.

According to the criminal complaint, the three conspired to “knowingly and purposefully conceal, withhold, omit, obstruct or pervert the release of documents” to investigators.

Earlier this month, authorities charged 911 operator Leon “Lee” Price, 50, of Waynesburg, with involuntary manslaughter in the July 2020 death of Diania Kronk, 54, based on Price’s reluctance to dispatch help without getting more assurance that Kronk would actually go to the hospital.

“I believe she would be alive today if they would have sent an ambulance,” said Kronk’s daughter Kelly Titchenell, 38.

Price, who also was charged with reckless endangerment, official oppression and obstruction, questioned Titchenell repeatedly during the four-minute call about whether Kronk would agree to be taken for treatment.

Oregon man pleads guilty in gun theft tied to deputy killing

From the Associated Press

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — An Oregon man has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison in connection with a stolen firearms trafficking scheme that led to the shooting death of Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Brown in southwest Washington.

Brian Clement, 51, pleaded guilty in Clark County Superior Court Tuesday to second-degree burglary and theft of a firearm, The Columbian reported. A charge of unlawful possession of a firearm was dismissed as part of his plea agreement.

The plea deal also requires Clement to testify against his co-defendant, Misty Raya. Prosecutors say he helped her break into a storage unit to steal firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Prosecutors have said one of the stolen guns was used by Raya’s brother-in-law, Guillermo Raya Leon, to shoot Brown as he was working undercover July 23, 2021 at an apartment complex in east Vancouver.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Smith said during Tuesday’s hearing that Clement was not directly involved in Brown’s death, but Clement’s actions set off a series of events that led to it. She said he helped Raya break into safes inside the storage unit to get to the guns and ammunition.

Defense attorney Kari Reardon said that under different circumstances, she likely would’ve asked Judge John Fairgrieve to sentence Clement to drug treatment court, because he had relapsed at the time.

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Clement apologized to the Brown family Tuesday and said he wouldn’t have been involved if he knew someone would be killed.

“As a previous military police officer, my heart goes out to the family,” Clement said.

Fairgrieve ordered the agreed-upon 90-month sentence and acknowledged the compromises prosecutors have made to ensure cooperation agreements and stronger cases against those charged directly with Brown’s killing. He also recognized that Clement showed remorse for his role.

Investigators have said that Raya Leon admitted to shooting Brown, 46, while the detective was seated in an unmarked police SUV.

Detectives were following Raya Leon, his brother, Abran Raya Leon and his brother’s wife, Misty Raya that day as part of an investigation into the firearms and ammunition theft from the storage unit.

Court records say Misty Raya’s friend, Lani Kraabell, was helping them find buyers for the stolen guns when Guillermo Raya Leon shot Brown.

Kraabell pleaded guilty in June to second-degree manslaughter in connection with Brown’s death and also agreed to cooperate with the criminal cases against her co-defendants. She was sentenced to six years in prison.

Raya Leon has pleaded not guilty to first-degree aggravated murder and other charges. Misty Raya has pleaded not guilty to burglary, identity theft and multiple counts of firearm theft.

Too close to home: Fire at firehouse in Mississippi town

From the Associated Press

PEARL RIVER COUNTY, Miss. (AP) — A volunteer fire department in a Mississippi community lost the use of three trucks when its own station went up in flames.

WLOX TV reports that the fire happened Monday night at the Nicholson Volunteer Fired Department station. Nicholson is a community in Pearl River County, near the Gulf Coast and the Louisiana state line. Five neighboring firefighting agencies assisted in fighting the blaze.

Three trucks were heavily damaged, according to the TV station. And a county press release says several other pieces of key firefighting equipment were destroyed in the fire.

Former Nicholson fire chief Bobby Robbins estimated the damage at $1 million and said it could take around 100 days to have the equipment replaced. There were no injuries. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

Robbins said the trucks were donated by Deep South, a company the team is now considering renting from. The Pearl River County Fire Marshal added they are working with other agencies in the meantime to borrow equipment.

Authorities must determine how the fire started as well as how to provide immediate protection in Nicholson without the fire trucks, equipment and a useable firehouse.

Police: Man cut loose after crawling down pizza oven vent

From the Associated Press

LITHONIA, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia man became trapped while trying to crawl down through a vent from a strip mall roof into a pizza restaurant on Tuesday, forcing firefighters to slice open the vent to free him, police said.

The man was taken to a hospital and the extent of his injuries was unclear.

Police told local news outlets that emergency responders cut open the vent where it extended upward from a pizza oven at a Little Caesars outlet in suburban Lithonia, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) east of downtown Atlanta.

Brittany Davis, a U.S. Army recruiter, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she could hear the man yelling for help when she arrived for work at a neighboring recruiting office.

“I looked on the roof but couldn’t see anybody,” Davis said. She called 911.

Davis said a Little Caesars employee told her he could hear the man’s voice coming from inside the oven. Davis said she went inside the pizza restaurant and spoke to the man, who reported he was in pain and having a panic attack.

“I’m not sure what time the restaurant closes at night but the oven still gives off heat after they close I imagine,” DeKalb County Fire Cpt. Jason Daniels told WXIA-TV. “For him to get down into the pipe … he had to do it in a certain window of time when the oven was cool enough and obviously nobody was there.”

The man walked to an ambulance shortly after being removed and was taken to a hospital. Police did not identify him or announce any criminal charges.

Photographs showed the vent broken off and laying on the roof and firefighters cutting away the sheet metal vent while standing atop the oven.

Jan. 6 rioter apologizes to officers after House testimony

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN and ALANNA DURKIN RICHER for Associated Press

A man who joined the pro-Trump mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol apologized Tuesday to officers who protected the building after telling lawmakers that he regrets being duped by the former president’s lies of election fraud.

Stephen Ayres, who pleaded guilty last in June 2022 to disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building, shakes hands with Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges as the hearing with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, concludes at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

During a hearing before the U.S. House committee that’s investigating the insurrection, Stephen Ayres testified that he felt called by former President Donald Trump to come to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.

He described being swept up by Trump’s bogus claims, and believing as he marched to the Capitol that Trump would join them there and that there was still a chance the election could be overturned.

“I felt like I had like horse blinders on. I was locked in the whole time,” said Ayres, who is scheduled to be sentenced in September after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in the riot.

His message to others: “Take the blinders off, make sure you step back and see what’s going on before it’s too late.”

“It changed my life,” he said. “And not for the good.”

Ayres, who was not accused of any violence or destruction on Jan. 6, said he worked for a cabinet company in northeast Ohio for 20 years, but lost his job and sold his home after the riot. He was joined by his wife at the hearing.

After the hearing, Ayres approached officers in the committee room who have testified about being verbally and physically attacked by the angry mob. Ayres apologized for his actions to Capitol Police Officers Aquilino Gonell and Harry Dunn, Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges and former MPD officer Michael Fanone.

The officers appeared to have different responses to Ayres’ attempt to make amends.

Fanone told The Associated Press that the apology was not necessary because “it doesn’t do s— for me.” Hodges said on CNN that he accepted the apology, adding that “you have to believe that there are people out there who can change.”

Gonell, who recently found out that the injuries he succumbed to on Jan. 6 won’t allow him to be a part of the force any longer, said he accepted the sentiment from Ayres, but it doesn’t amount to much.

“He still has to answer for what he did legally. And to his God. So it’s up to him,” the former sergeant said.

Dunn, who didn’t stand up when Ayres approached him, said he does not accept his apology.

The Jan. 6 House committee that’s investigating the insurrection sought to use Ayres’ testimony to show how Trump’s Dec. 19, 2020, tweet calling his supporters to Washington mobilized not only far-right extremist groups, but average Americans to descend on the nation’s capital.

Ayres described being a loyal follower of Trump on social media before Jan. 6 and said he felt he needed to heed the president’s call to come to Washington, D.C., for the “Stop the Steal” rally.

“I was very upset, as were most of his supporters,” Ayres said when asked about Trump’s unfounded election claims. Asked by Rep. Liz Cheney if he still believes the election was stolen, Ayres said, “Not so much now.”

Ayres said he wasn’t planning to storm the Capitol before Trump’s speech “got everybody riled up.” He had believed the president would be joining them at the Capitol.

“Basically, we were just following what he said,” Ayres said.

Ayres said he and friends who accompanied him to Washington decided to leave the Capitol when Trump sent a tweet asking rioters to leave. If Trump had done that earlier in the day, “maybe we wouldn’t be in this bad of a situation,” Ayres said.

Ayres said it makes him mad that Trump is still pushing his bogus claims about the election.

“I was hanging on every word he was saying,” he said. “Everything he was putting out, I was following it.”

His testimony echoed the words of many Capitol rioters who have expressed remorse for their crimes at sentencing hearings.

He’s among about 840 people who have been charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6 riot. More than 330 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanor charges punishable by no more than one year in prison. More than 200 have been sentenced.

In his court case, Ayres admitted that he drove from Ohio to Washington on the eve of the “Stop the Steal” rally to protest Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote count. He entered the Capitol through the Senate Wing doors and remained inside for about 10 minutes, joining other rioters in chanting.

In a Facebook post four days before the riot, Ayres attached an image of a poster that said “the president is calling on us to come back to Washington on January 6th for a big protest.”

In another Facebook post before the riot, he wrote, “Mainstream media, social media, Democrat party, FISA courts, Chief Justice John Roberts, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, etc….all have committed TREASON against a sitting U.S. president! !! All are now put on notice by ‘We The People!’”

____

Associated Press reporters Farnoush Amiri, Mary Clare Jalonick and Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report from Washington.

Cambodian catches world’s largest recorded freshwater fish

By JERRY HARMER for the Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — The world’s largest recorded freshwater fish, a giant stingray, has been caught in the Mekong River in Cambodia, according to scientists from the Southeast Asian nation and the United States.

In this photo provided by Wonders of the Mekong taken on June 14, 2022, a man touches a giant freshwater stingray before being released back into the Mekong River in the northeastern province of Stung Treng, Cambodia. A local fisherman caught the 661-pound (300-kilogram) stingray, which set the record for the world’s largest known freshwater fish and earned him a $600 reward. (Chhut Chheana/Wonders of the Mekong via AP)

The stingray, captured on June 13, measured almost 4 meters (13 feet) from snout to tail and weighed slightly under 300 kilograms (660 pounds), according to a statement Monday by Wonders of the Mekong, a joint Cambodian-U.S. research project.

The previous record for a freshwater fish was a 293-kilogram (646-pound) Mekong giant catfish, discovered in Thailand in 2005, the group said.

The stingray was snagged by a local fisherman south of Stung Treng in northeastern Cambodia. The fisherman alerted a nearby team of scientists from the Wonders of the Mekong project, which has publicized its conservation work in communities along the river.

The scientists arrived within hours of getting a post-midnight call with the news, and were amazed at what they saw.

“Yeah, when you see a fish this size, especially in freshwater, it is hard to comprehend, so I think all of our team was stunned,” Wonders of the Mekong leader Zeb Hogan said in an online interview from the University of Nevada in Reno. The university is partnering with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and USAID, the U.S. government’s international development agency.

Freshwater fish are defined as those that spend their entire lives in freshwater, as opposed to giant marine species such as bluefin tuna and marlin, or fish that migrate between fresh and saltwater like the huge beluga sturgeon.

The stingray’s catch was not just about setting a new record, he said.

“The fact that the fish can still get this big is a hopeful sign for the Mekong River, ” Hogan said, noting that the waterway faces many environmental challenges.

The Mekong River runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is home to several species of giant freshwater fish but environmental pressures are rising. In particular, scientists fear a major program of dam building in recent years may be seriously disrupting spawning grounds.

“Big fish globally are endangered. They’re high-value species. They take a long time to mature. So if they’re fished before they mature, they don’t have a chance to reproduce,” Hogan said. “A lot of these big fish are migratory, so they need large areas to survive. They’re impacted by things like habitat fragmentation from dams, obviously impacted by overfishing. So about 70% of giant freshwater fish globally are threatened with extinction, and all of the Mekong species.”

The team that rushed to the site inserted a tagging device near the tail of the mighty fish before releasing it. The device will send tracking information for the next year, providing unprecedented data on giant stingray behavior in Cambodia.

“The giant stingray is a very poorly understood fish. Its name, even its scientific name, has changed several times in the last 20 years,” Hogan said. “It’s found throughout Southeast Asia, but we have almost no information about it. We don’t know about its life history. We don’t know about its ecology, about its migration patters.”

Researchers say it’s the fourth giant stingray reported in the same area in the past two months, all of them females. They think this may be a spawning hotspot for the species.

Local residents nicknamed the stingray “Boramy,” or “full moon,” because of its round shape and because the moon was on the horizon when it was freed on June 14. In addition to the honor of having caught the record-breaker, the lucky fisherman was compensated at market rate, meaning he received a payment of around $600.

Officials try to deliver aid to flooded South Asia villages

By JULHAS ALAM and WASBIR HUSSAIN for the Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Authorities in India and Bangladesh struggled Monday to deliver food and drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people evacuated from their homes in days of flooding that have submerged wide swaths of the countries.

A man stands at the doorway of his flooded shop in Sylhet, Bangladesh, Monday, June 20, 2022. Floods in Bangladesh continued to wreak havoc Monday with authorities struggling to ferry drinking water and dry food to flood shelters across the country’s vast northern and northeastern regions. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

The floods triggered by monsoon rains have killed more than a dozen people, marooned millions and flooded millions of houses.

In Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh along the Surma River, villagers waded through streets flooded up to their knees. One man stood in the doorway of his flooded shop, where the top shelves were crammed with items in an effort to keep them above water. Local TV said millions remained without electricity.

Enamur Rahman, junior minister for disaster and relief, said up to 100,000 people have been evacuated in the worst-hit districts, including Sylhet. About 4 million are marooned, the United News of Bangladesh said.

Flooding also ravaged India’s northeastern Assam state, where two policemen involved in rescue operations were washed away by floodwaters on Sunday, state officials said. They said about 200,000 people were taking shelter in 700 relief camps. Water in all major rivers in the state was above danger levels.

Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Monday his administration is using military helicopters to airlift food and fuel to badly affected parts of the state.

Assam has already been reeling from massive floods after torrential rains over the past few weeks caused the Brahmaputra River to break its banks, leaving millions of homes underwater and severing transport links.

The Brahmaputra flows from Tibet through India and into Bangladesh, with a nearly 800-kilometer (500-mile) journey through Assam.

Major roads in affected regions of Bangladesh were submerged, leaving people stranded. In a country with a history of climate change-induced disasters, many expressed frustration that authorities haven’t done more locally.

“There isn’t much to say about the situation. You can see the water with your own eyes. The water level inside the room has dropped a bit. It used to be up to my waist,” said Muhit Ahmed, owner of a grocery shop in Sylhet.

Bangladesh called in soldiers on Friday to help evacuate people, but Ahmed said he hasn’t seen any yet.

“We are in a great disaster. Neither the Sylhet City Corporation nor anyone else came here to inquire about us,” he said. “I am trying to save my belongings as much as I can. We don’t have the ability to do any more now.”

The national Flood Forecasting and Warning Center said on Sunday that flooding in the northeastern districts of Sunamganj and Sylhet could worsen. It said the Teesta, a major river in northern Bangladesh, may rise above danger levels. The situation could also deteriorate in other northern districts, it said.

Officials said floodwaters have started receding in the northeast but are posing a threat to the central region, where water flows south to the Bay of Bengal.

Media reports said villagers in remote areas are struggling to obtain drinking water and food.

BRAC, a private nonprofit group, opened a center Monday to prepare food as part of plans to feed 5,000 families in one affected district, but the arrangements were inadequate, senior director Arinjoy Dhar said. In a video posted online, Dhar asked for help in providing food for flood-affected people.

Last month, a pre-monsoon flash flood triggered by water from upstream in India’s northeastern states hit Bangladesh’s northern and northeastern regions, destroying crops and damaging homes and roads.

Bangladesh is mostly flat and low-lying, so short-term floods during the monsoon season are common and are often beneficial to agriculture. But devastating floods hit the country every few years, damaging its infrastructure and economy. Almost 28% of the nation’s 160 million people live in coastal regions, according to the World Bank.

One of the worst floods took place in 1988, when much of the country was under water. In 1998, another devastating flood inundated almost 75% of the country. In 2004, more prolonged flooding occurred.

Scientists say flooding in Bangladesh has been worsened by climate change. According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, about 17% of the population will need to be relocated over the next decade or so if global warming persists at the present rate.

___

Hussain reported from Gauhati, India. Associated Press writer Al-Emrun Garjon in Sylhet, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.

Judge resets trial to Oct. 24 for 2 ex-cops in Floyd killing

By STEVE KARNOWSKI and AMY FORLITI for the Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A judge on Tuesday rescheduled the state trial for two former Minneapolis police officers in George Floyd’s killing to Oct. 24 to resolve dueling requests for a new trial date after the state sought to start it as soon as this summer while a defense lawyer asked to delay it to next spring.

Community members lay flowers down near gravestone markers at the ‘Say Their Names’ cemetery Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Minneapolis. The intersection where George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers was renamed in his honor Wednesday, among a series of events to remember a man whose killing forced America to confront racial injustice. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP)

Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 2020 killing of Floyd. Their trial was supposed to start this month, but Judge Peter Cahill earlier this month postponed it until Jan. 5, saying that would improve prospects for a fair trial. He settled on the October date during a brief hearing Tuesday.

The killing of Floyd, who was Black, sparked immediate protests in Minneapolis that spread around the U.S. and beyond in a reckoning over police brutality and discrimination involving people of color. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who pinned Floyd’s neck to the pavement with his knee for more than 9 minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and eventually grew still, was convicted last year of murder.

Thao held back onlookers at the scene. Kueng helped restrain Floyd.

State prosecutor Matthew Frank on Friday had requested a speedy trial on behalf of Floyd’s family, which under Minnesota law could have meant mid-August. Kueng’s defense attorney, Tom Plunkett, followed with a request Sunday for a longer delay — until April — because of a scheduling conflict.

Attorneys for all sides told Cahill they agreed to the Oct. 24 start date for jury selection. The judge also scheduled a hearing on pretrial motions for Sept. 26-27.

Frank told the court that it would have been “traumatic” for the Floyd family to push the trial date out farther. Not only was their loved one killed by police officers, he said, they’ve had to watch the video of his dying minutes “time and time again in the media and throughout the trial process.”

Thao and Kueng have already been convicted of federal counts of violating Floyd’s rights. Their former colleague, Thomas Lane, was also convicted on a federal count and pleaded guilty in May to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. All three are free pending their federal sentencing hearings, which have not been set.

Cahill also presided over last year’s trial of Chauvin, who was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 22 1/2 years. Chauvin has been in prison since that conviction. He also pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge.

Danish-Canadian deal ends 49-year-old feud over Arctic isle

From the Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A territorial dispute between Denmark and Canada over a barren and uninhabited rock in the Arctic that has led to decades of friendly friction has come to an end, with the two countries agreeing to divide the tiny island between them.

A decades-old dispute between Denmark and Canada over a tiny, barren and uninhabited rock in the Arctic has come to an end.

Under the agreement, to be signed later Tuesday, a border will be drawn across the 1.3-square-kilometer (half-square-mile) Hans Island, in the waterway between the northwestern coast of the semi-autonomous Danish territory of Greenland and Canada’s Ellesmere Island. The rock has no mineral reserves.

“It sends a clear signal that it is possible to resolve border disputes … in a pragmatic and peaceful way, where the all parties become winners,” said Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod. He said it was “an important signal now that there is much war and unrest in the world.”

Canada and Denmark agreed in 1973 to create a border through Nares Strait, halfway between Greenland and Canada. But they were unable to agree which country would have sovereignty over Hans Island, which lies about 1,100 kilometers (684 miles) south of the North Pole. In the end, they decided to work out the question of ownership later.

In the following years, the territorial dispute — nicknamed the “whisky war” by media — raised its head multiple times.

In 1984, Denmark’s minister of Greenland affairs raised a Danish flag on the island, buried a bottle of Danish schnapps at the base of the flagpole and left a note saying, “Welcome to the Danish island.” Canadians then planted their own flag and left a bottle of Canadian brandy. Since then, the countries have in turns hoisted their flags and left bottles of various spirits in tit-for-tat moves.

In 2002, Nana Flensburg was part of a Danish military crew that stood on the cliff to perform a flag-raising ceremony. The Politiken newspaper on Tuesday quote her as saying in her diary that “among the stones in the cairns were lots of bottles, glasses, etc. with documents that informed about previous visits to the island.”

The agreement enters into force after the two countries’ internal procedures have been completed. In Denmark, the Parliament must first give its consent to the agreement.

Texas shooting records could be blocked by legal loophole

By ACACIA CORONADO for the Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — As public pressure mounts for more information on the deadly Uvalde school shooting, some are concerned that Texas officials will use a legal loophole to block records from being released — even to the victims’ families — once the case is closed.

FILE – A Texas Department of Public Safety officer keeps watch on June 3, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas, near a memorial outside Robb Elementary School created to honor the victims killed in last a school shooting. As public pressure mounts for more information on the deadly Uvalde school shooting, some are concerned that Texas officials will use a legal loophole to block records from being released — even to the victims’ families — once the case is closed. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Since the May 24 shooting at a Texas elementary school that left 19 kids and two teachers dead, law enforcement officials have provided little or conflicting information, sometimes withdrawing statements hours after making them. State police have said some accounts were preliminary and may change as more witnesses are interviewed.

A number of questions remain unanswered by authorities: Why did police take more than an hour to enter the classroom and confront the gunman? What do their body cameras show? How did law enforcement officers communicate with one another and the victims during the attack? What happened when dozens of officers gathered outside the classroom, yet refrained from pursuing the shooter?

Officials have declined to release more details, citing the investigation. In a letter received Thursday by The Associated Press and other media outlets, a law firm representing the City of Uvalde asked for the Texas attorney general’s office to rule on records requested in relation to the shooting, citing 52 legal areas — including the section containing the loophole — that they believe exempt the records from being released. Amid the growing silence, lawyers and advocates for the victim’s families are beginning to fear they may never get the answers, that authorities will close the case and rely on the exception to the Texas Public Information law to block the release of any further information.

“They could make that decision; they shouldn’t have that choice,” said Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, who since 2017 has led several efforts to amend the loophole. “To understand what our government is doing should not be that difficult — and right now it is very difficult.”

The law’s exception protects information from being released in crimes for which no one has been convicted. The Texas Attorney General’s Office has ruled that it applies when a suspect is dead. Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old man who police say was responsible for the mass killing at Robb Elementary School, was fatally shot by law enforcement.

The loophole was created in the 1990s to protect those wrongfully accused or whose cases were dismissed, according to Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “It is meant to protect the innocent,” Shannon said. But she said that in some cases “it is being used and misused in a way that was never intended.”

Following the shooting, Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, took to Twitter to voice his continued support for closing the loophole during the Texas Legislature’s next session, which begins in January 2023.

“More than anything, the families of the Uvalde victims need honest answers and transparency,” Phelan tweeted. He said it would be “absolutely unconscionable” to deny information based on the “dead suspect loophole.”

Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, said the organization was opposed and “will always be opposed” to a loophole amendment proposed in previous years that he said would have allowed the release of records pertaining to law enforcement officers, even those falsely accused of wrongdoing. He said that would negatively affect the officers’ ability to keep working. But Wilkison said he would be willing to participate in future discussions in an attempt to find a middle ground.

Public focus in the Uvalde shooting has been on school district police Chief Pete Arredondo. Steven McCraw, head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said recently that Arredondo believed the active shooting had turned into a hostage situation, and that he made the “wrong decision” to not order officers to breach the classroom more quickly to confront the gunman.

Arredondo has not responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press. In an interview with The Texas Tribune published Thursday, however, he said he did not consider himself in charge of the law enforcement response and assumed someone else had taken control.

The New York Times reported Thursday that it obtained documents showing police waited for protective equipment as they delayed entering the campus, even as they became aware that some victims needed medical treatment.

If efforts to amend the public information loophole fail and law enforcement continues to refuse to release information, families could turn to any involved federal agencies. In one case in Mesquite, Texas, the parents of an 18-year-old who died after being arrested received records from federal authorities showing that police had used more force against their son than they had originally understood. The police had refused to turn over any information under the legal loophole.

“If someone dies in police custody, this is when we would want to open all of our records,” the father, Robert Dyer, said as he testified before the legislature in 2019 in favor of amending the legal exception.

Mayra Guillen said she and her family were stymied by the state loophole when they tried to get details on a case involving her sister Vanessa Guillen. Authorities say the 20-year-old soldier was killed at a Texas military base by fellow soldier Aaron Robinson, who then disposed of her body.

Military officials and law enforcement said Robinson pulled a gun and shot himself as police were trying to make contact with him. But local police wouldn’t allow Vanessa Guillen’s family to view the officers’ body camera footage of the confrontation because the suspect hadn’t been convicted, Mayra Guillen said.

“We were honestly just trying to receive closure and see if what was being said was true,” Guillen said. “It is only right to have these records be public to some extent. It is so hard to tell whether there will be justice or not.”

Flooding pummels Yellowstone region, leaves many stranded

By AMY BETH HANSON and MATTHEW BROWN for the Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Raging floodwaters that pulled houses into rivers and forced rescues by air and boat began to slowly recede Tuesday across the Yellowstone region, leaving tourists and others stranded after roads and bridges were knocked out by torrential rains that swelled waterways to record levels.

The flooding across parts of southern Montana and northern Wyoming forced the indefinite closure of Yellowstone National Park just as a summer tourist season that draws millions of visitors annually was ramping up.

In this photo provided by Sam Glotzbach, the fast-rushing Yellowstone River flooded what appeared to be a small boathouse in Gardiner, Mont., on Monday, June 13, 2022, just north of Yellowstone National Park. (Sam Glotzbach via AP)

Just north of the park, hundreds of people remained isolated after the Yellowstone River and its tributaries washed away the only roadways in and out of the area.

Near Gardiner, Montana, campground manager Marshall Haley said some people had evacuated before the roads washed out after being warned that the river was rising. But others stayed behind and now couldn’t leave, he said. There was no word on when the roads could be repaired and re-opened.

“We’re on an island so to speak,” said Haley. “Most of the motels were full, and the store’s going to run out of food pretty soon probably because no truck can get down here.”

The towns of Cooke City and Silvergate, just east of the park, were also isolated by floodwaters.

Numerous homes and other structures were destroyed, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or fatalities.

Heavy rain on top of melting mountain snow pushed the Yellowstone, Stillwater and Clarks Fork rivers to record levels Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Officials in Yellowstone and in several southern Montana counties were assessing damage from the storms that also triggered mudslides and rockslides. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster.

In Livingston, low-lying neighborhoods were evacuated and the city’s hospital was evacuated as a precaution after its driveway flooded.

It was unclear how many visitors to the region remained stranded or have been forced to leave Yellowstone, or how many people who live outside the park were rescued and evacuated.

Some of the worst damage happened in the northern part of the park and Yellowstone’s gateway communities in southern Montana. National Park Service photos of northern Yellowstone showed a mudslide, washed out bridges and roads undercut by churning floodwaters of the Gardner and Lamar rivers.

Officials in Park County, which includes Gardiner and Cooke City, said extensive flooding throughout the county had made drinking water unsafe in many areas.

The Montana National Guard said Monday it sent two helicopters to southern Montana to help with the evacuations.

In south-central Montana, flooding on the Stillwater River stranded 68 people at a campground. Stillwater County Emergency Services agencies and crews with the Stillwater Mine rescued people Monday from the Woodbine Campground by raft. Some roads in the area are closed because of flooding and residents have been evacuated.

“We will be assessing the loss of homes and structures when the waters recede,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Cory Mottice, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings, Montana, said rain is not in the immediate forecast, and cooler temperatures will lessen the snowmelt in coming days.

“This is flooding that we’ve just never seen in our lifetimes before,” Mottice said.

Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme events such as storms, droughts, floods and wildfires, although single weather events usually cannot be directly linked to climate change without extensive study.

The Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs crested at 13.88 feet (4.2 meters) Monday, higher than the previous record of 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) set in 1918, according the the National Weather Service.

At a cabin in Gardiner, Parker Manning got an up-close view of the water rising and the river bank sloughing off in the raging Yellowstone River floodwaters just outside his door.

“We started seeing entire trees floating down the river, debris,” Manning, who is from Terra Haute, Indiana, told The Associated Press. “Saw one crazy single kayaker coming down through, which was kind of insane.”

On Monday evening, Manning watched as the rushing waters undercut the opposite riverbank, causing a house to fall into the Yellowstone River and float away mostly intact.

Floodwaters inundated a street in Red Lodge, a Montana town of 2,100 that’s a popular jumping-off point for a scenic, winding route into the Yellowstone high country. Twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) to the northeast, in Joliet, Kristan Apodaca wiped away tears as she stood across the street from a washed-out bridge, The Billings Gazette reported.

The log cabin that belonged to her grandmother, who died in March, flooded, as did the park where Apodaca’s husband proposed.

“I am sixth-generation. This is our home,” she said. “That bridge I literally drove yesterday. My mom drove it at 3 a.m. before it was washed out.”

On Monday, Yellowstone officials evacuated the northern part of the park, where roads may remain impassable for a substantial length of time, park Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.

But the flooding affected the rest of the park, too, with park officials warning of yet higher flooding and potential problems with water supplies and wastewater systems at developed areas.

The rains hit just as area hotels have filled up in recent weeks with summer tourists. More than 4 million visitors were tallied by the park last year. The wave of tourists doesn’t abate until fall and June is typically one of Yellowstone’s busiest months.

Yellowstone got 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of rain Saturday, Sunday and into Monday. The Beartooth Mountains northeast of Yellowstone got as much as 4 inches (10 centimeters), according to the National Weather Service.

The flooding happened while other parts of the U.S. burned in hot and dry weather. More than 100 million Americans were being warned to stay indoors as a heat wave settles over states stretching through parts of the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas.

Elsewhere in the West, crews from California to New Mexico are battling wildfires in hot, dry and windy weather.

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Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert in Denver, Mead Gruver in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, contributed to this report.

Hurricane Agatha sets May record, then weakens over Mexico

By JOSÉ MARÍA ÁLVAREZ from the Associated Press

SAN ISIDRO DEL PALMAR, Mexico (AP) — Hurricane Agatha made history as the strongest hurricane ever recorded to come ashore in May during the eastern Pacific hurricane season, making landfall on a sparsely populated stretch of small beach towns and fishing villages in southern Mexico.

This satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Agatha off the Pacific coast of Oaxaca state, Mexico on Monday, May 30, 2022, at 8:30 a.m. EDT. (NOAA via AP)

The storm hit Oaxaca state Monday afternoon as a strong Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165kph), then quickly lost power as it moved inland over the mountainous interior.

Remnants of Agatha were moving northeast Tuesday into Veracruz state, with sustained winds down to 30 mph (45 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm should dissipate by the evening, but warned that the system’s heavy rains still posed a threat of dangerous floods for Mexico’s southern states.

Oaxaca Gov. Alejandro Murat told local media that the state’s emergency services office had no reports of deaths. Several municipalities near the coast remained without power Tuesday and mudslides blocked a number of the state’s highways.

San Isidro del Palmar, only a couple miles inland from the coast, was swamped by the Tonameca river that flows through town.

Residents waded through neck-deep water to salvage what items they could from their homes, walking gingerly with piles of clothing atop their heads and religious figures in their arms.

Argeo Aquino, who had lived in the town his whole life, could recall only two other occasions when he saw such flooding.

“The houses are totally flooded, so they are getting everything out,” Aquino said Monday as he watched his neighbors. “There are stores, houses. More than anything else, we have to try to save all the good material, because everything else is going to be washed away.”

The Tonameca’s brown waters reached the windows of parked cars and the minibuses used for local transportation.

Nearby, heavy rain and big waves lashed the beach town of Zipolite Monday, long known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe.

“There is a lot of rain and sudden gusts of strong wind,” said Silvia Ranfagni, manager of the Casa Kalmar hotel in Zipolite. Ranfagni, who decided to ride out Agatha at the property, said as the storm approached, “You can hear the wind howling.”

Agatha formed on Sunday and quickly gained power. It was the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in May in the eastern Pacific, said Jeff Masters, meteorologist with Yale Climate Connections and the founder of Weather Underground.

Washington police say drivers aren’t stopping for them

From the Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The Washington State Patrol says drivers are increasingly refusing to stop for troopers – and other law enforcement agencies also say this is becoming a common occurrence.

The Northwest News Network reports that from January 1 to May 17 of this year, the agency logged 934 failure-to-yield incidents. While the patrol didn’t track this in the past, veteran troopers say there’s been a dramatic uptick in drivers fleeing traffic stops.

“Something’s changed. People are not stopping right now,” said Sgt. Darren Wright, a WSP spokesperson with 31 years on the job. “It’s happening three to five times a shift on some nights and then a couple times a week on day shift.”

Local police departments are also seeing this behavior. The Puyallup Police Department logged 148 instances of drivers fleeing from officers from July 26, 2021 to May 18, 2022.

Asked if that represents a significant increase, Chief Scott Engle wrote in an email, “I could 1,000,000% say this is completely absolutely emphatically totally unusual.”

In Lakewood, another small city in Pierce County, Chief Mike Zaro said drivers are refusing to stop for his officers on average once a day.

“A lot of times they’re stolen cars; sometimes we don’t know what the deal is,” Zaro said.

Steve Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and others in law enforcement connect the increase in failures-to-yield to passage last year of House Bill 1054, a sweeping police tactics law that, among other things, barred high-speed pursuits except in very limited circumstances.

The law was part of a package of police reforms majority Democrats passed in response to the murder by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other high-profile police killings — reforms aimed at addressing racial disproportionality in policing.

Minority Republicans in the Legislature criticized many of the changes, including the pursuit law, and said they jeopardized public safety.

Strachan said he doesn’t dispute the need for statewide rules governing police pursuits, but thinks the new law went too far.

Under the new law, police officers can’t give chase unless there’s reasonable suspicion to believe the driver is impaired or the higher standard of probable cause to believe they’re an escaped felon or have committed a violent crime or a sex crime.

Even then there are restrictions on when officers can pursue. Officers must balance whether the person poses an “imminent threat” and whether the safety risks of the person getting away outweigh the danger of engaging in a high-speed chase.

This year both the Washington House and Senate passed a bill with bipartisan votes that would have amended the new pursuit law in response to concerns from police that it was too restrictive. But a final version of the measure died in the state Senate. Advocates for police reform opposed the change.

“Why is it we are so concerned about hot pursuits,” asked Martina Morris with the group Next Steps Washington at a February rally at the Capitol. “Because they are dangerous. They are the number two cause of deaths during encounters with police.”

The prime sponsor of House Bill 1054, Democratic state Rep. Jesse Johnson, also opposed lowering the threshold for pursuits.

“I just do not believe pursuits in a 21st century policing system are needed,” Johnson said in a March interview on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

Probe could shed light on police time lapse in Uvalde deaths

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST for the Associated Press

Since the Columbine High School massacre more than 20 years ago, police have been trained to quickly confront shooters in the horrific attacks that have followed.

People visit a memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Monday, May 30, 2022. On May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old entered the school and fatally shot several children and teachers. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

But officers in Uvalde, Texas, took more than an hour to kill a shooter who massacred 19 children, a lapse of time that will likely be a key part of a Justice Department probe into the police response.

The rare federal review comes amid growing, agonized questions and shifting information from police. Authorities now say that several officers entered the elementary school just two minutes after alleged gunman Salvador Ramos and exchanged fire with him, but he wasn’t stopped until a tactical team entered a classroom more than an hour later.

That’s a confounding timeline for law enforcement experts like Jarrod Burguan, who was the police chief in San Bernardino, California, when the city was hit by a terrorist attack that killed 14 people in 2015. Officers entered that facility, a training center for residents with developmental disabilities, within two minutes of arriving.

“Columbine changed everything,” Burguan said Monday. Officers are now trained to form up and enter buildings to confront shooters as quickly as possible to prevent them from killing more people. “This has been drilled into this industry for years now.”

Justice Department officials probing the Texas slayings will examine a host of questions about the police response in Uvalde. A similar review that largely praised the response to the San Bernardino mass shooting was over 100 pages long.

In announcing the review, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said it would be conducted in a fair, impartial and independent manner and the findings would be made public. It could take months. Handling the review is the department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

One key question for Maria Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, is why a school district police chief had the power to tell more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary.

“The key question for me is, who designated him to be in charge?” she said.

Officials have said he believed the suspect was barricaded inside adjoining classrooms and there was no longer an active threat. But school police officers don’t typically have the most experience with active shooters, and Haberfeld questioned why people with more specialized training didn’t take the reins.

A U.S. Border Patrol tactical team finally used a janitor’s key to unlock the classroom door and kill the gunman, raising more questions about the choice of entry.

“It’s not some fortified castle from the Middle Ages. It’s a door,” she said. “They knew what to do. You don’t need the key.”

The Justice review won’t investigate the crime itself, or directly hold police civilly or criminally liable. What it will likely do is examine things like how police communicated with each other, said Thor Eells, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association. It’s not yet known why the school chief, Pete Arredondo, thought the shooter was barricaded and he hasn’t commented.

“I think we need to be a little patient on that and wait to ensure we understand what that mindset was,” Eells said. “It goes back to communication. What information did they have?”

The review will also likely examine how well officers were prepared with gear like weapons and body armor. The shooter wore a tactical vest and was armed with an AR-15-style rifle, a powerful weapon capable of piercing basic bulletproof vests.

In previous shootings reviewed by the Justice Department, non-specialized law enforcement units did not have the kind of body armor needed to fully protect themselves.

At the 2016 massacre that killed 49 people and hurt dozens more in the LGBT community at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a detective on the scene exchanged gunfire with the suspect, knowing his handgun was “no match” for the weapon being fired in the club. Despite that, the first officers on the scene formed up in a team to enter the club quickly and begin searching for the shooter, according to the report.

In San Bernardino, meanwhile, only one of the first officers on scene had a shotgun and several did not have body armor. But they still used their training on active shooter situations to form up in a four-officer team to immediately enter the complex.

Moving quickly is important not only to stop a shooter from killing more people, but to help the wounded. In San Bernardino and Orlando, the Justice Department reviews credited the quick response in getting the wounded transported to treatment within a “golden hour” where victims are mostly likely to survive.

It is unclear what impact the delayed entry into the Texas classroom might have had on any of the children who were wounded and needed treatment more than an hour away in San Antonio.

Police do have to quickly analyze the risks to themselves and others in a violent, quickly changing situation — but they’re also trained to stop people from getting hurt, Eells said.

“Making an entry into that room is very, very, very dangerous,” he said. “But we are going to incur that risk, knowingly and willingly, because our priorities are to help those that cannot help themselves.”

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Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writer Gary Fields in Washington contributed to this report.

Firefighters rescue ‘Cinder’ the elk calf from fire’s ashes

MORGAN LEE for the Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Firefighters have rescued an abandoned newborn elk calf found amid the ashes of the nation’s largest wildfire as calving season approaches its peak in New Mexico and fires rage across the American West.

In this photo provided by Nate Sink, a newborn elk calf rests alone in a remote, fire-scarred area of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Mora, N.M., on Saturday, May 21, 2022. Sink says he saw no signs of the calf’s mother and helped transport the baby bull to a wildlife rehabilitation center to be raised alongside a surrogate gown elk. (Nate Sink via AP)

Missoula, Montana-based firefighter Nate Sink said Tuesday that he happened upon the motionless elk calf on the ground of a fire-blackened New Mexico forest as he patrolled and extinguished lingering hot spots.

“The whole area is just surrounded in a thick layer of ash and burned trees. I didn’t think it was alive,” said Sink, who was deployed to the state to help contain a wildfire that by Wednesday had spread across 486 square miles (1,260 square kilometers) and destroyed hundreds of structures.

It’s is one of five major uncontained fires burning in New Mexico amid extremely dry and windy conditions. More than 3,000 firefighters battling the biggest blaze have made significant progress halting its growth in recent days ahead of more dangerous fire conditions forecast to return into the weekend, crew commanders said Wednesday night.

Wildlife officials in general discourage interactions with elk calves that are briefly left alone in the first weeks of life as their mothers forage at a distance. Sink says he searched diligently for traces of the calf’s mother and found none.

The 32-pound (14.5-kilogram) singed bull calf, dubbed “Cinder,” was taken for care to a nearby ranch and is now regaining strength at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Espanola, north of Santa Fe.

Veterinarian Kathleen Ramsay at Cottonwood Rehab says she paired Cinder with a full-grown surrogate elk to be raised with as little human contact as possible.

“They do elk things, they don’t do people things,” said Ramsay, noting Cinder arrived at a tender days-old age with his umbilical cord still attached.

Ramsay said the calf hopefully can be released into the wild in December after elk-hunting season. The strategy has worked repeatedly with elk tracked by tags as they rejoined wild herds.

The calf’s rescue was reminiscent of events 70 years ago in New Mexico involving a scalded black bear cub and the fire prevention mascot “Smokey Bear.”

The U.S. fire-safety campaign took on new urgency in 1950 with the rescue by firefighters of a black bear cub that was badly burned by wildfire in southern New Mexico. The cub — named Smokey Bear after the mascot — recovered and lived at the National Zoo until its death in 1976.

Wildfires have broken out this spring in multiple states in the West, where climate change and an enduring drought are fanning the frequency and intensity of forest and grassland fires.

Crews battling the biggest U.S. fire in northern New Mexico took advantage of one last day of favorable weather Wednesday before hotter, drier and windier conditions are forecast to return late Thursday and continue to worsen into next week.

“All across the fire, we’re making a lot of really good progress over the last few days,” incident commander Carl Schwope said at a briefing Wednesday night.

“We do have some more critical fire weather moving in … starting now and getting warmer and drier throughout the weekend. (But) feeling real confident that we are ahead of the curve on that,” he said.

Bruno Rodriguez, an inter-agency meteorologist assigned to the fire, said gusts should continue to increase by about 5 mph (8 kph) per day, from 25 mph (40 kph) Thursday to as strong as 50 mph (80 kph) by Monday.

“It’s definitely going to be a critical fire weather pattern and unfortunately it’s going to be fairly prolonged and persistent,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Scott Sonner contributed to this report from Reno, Nevada.

Police face questions over response to Texas school shooting

By JAKE BLEIBERG, JIM VERTUNO and ELLIOT SPAGAT for the Associated Press

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Law enforcement authorities faced mounting questions and criticism Thursday over how much time elapsed before they stormed a Texas elementary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.

A family pays their respects next to crosses bearing the names of Tuesday’s shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday, May 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Investigators were also unable to say with any certainty whether an armed school district security officer outside Robb Elementary in the town of Uvalde exchanged fire with the attacker, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, when Ramos first arrived on Tuesday.

The motive for the massacre — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago — remained under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.

During the siege, which ended when a U.S. Border Patrol team burst in and shot the gunman to death, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.

“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside a house across the street.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him.

“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”

But a department spokesman said Thursday that authorities were still working to clarify the timeline of the attack, uncertain whether that period of 40 minutes to an hour began when the gunman reached the school, or earlier, when he shot his grandmother at home.

“Right now we do not have an accurate or confident timeline to provide to say the gunman was in the school for this period,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez told CNN.

Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz did not give a timeline but said repeatedly that the tactical officers from his agency who arrived at the school did not hesitate. He said they moved rapidly to enter the building, lining up in a “stack” behind an agent holding up a shield.

“What we wanted to make sure is to act quickly, act swiftly, and that’s exactly what those agents did,” Ortiz told Fox News.

But a law enforcement official said that once in the building, the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.

Olivarez said investigators were trying to establish whether the classroom was, in fact, locked or barricaded in some way.

Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside.

Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.

“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”

“They were unprepared,” he added.

Carranza had watched as Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a funeral home, who ran away uninjured.

Olivarez told CNN that the school security officer outside was armed and that initial reports said he and Ramos exchanged gunfire, “but right now we’re trying to corroborate that information.”

As Ramos entered the school, two Uvalde police officers exchanged fire with him, and were wounded, according to Olivarez. Ramos went into a classroom and began to kill.

Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner.

“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” he said.

On Wednesday night, hundreds packed the bleachers at the town’s fairgrounds for a vigil. Some cried. Some closed their eyes tight, mouthing silent prayers. Parents wrapped their arms around their children as the speakers led prayers for healing.

Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared.

Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.

Ramos ran out the front door and across the yard to a truck parked in front of the house and raced away: “He spun out, I mean fast,” spraying gravel in the air, Gallegos said.

Ramos’ grandmother emerged covered in blood: “She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me.’” She was hospitalized.

Gallegos said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse of Ramos, whom he rarely saw.

Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually she found out the girl was OK.

But that night, her niece had a question.

“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

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Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

States divided on gun controls, even as mass shootings rise

By RACHEL LA CORTE and ANDREW DEMILLO for the Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was quick to react to this week’s carnage at a Texas elementary school, sending a tweet listing the gun control measures the Democratic-controlled state has taken. He finished with: “Your turn Congress.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the recent mass shooting in Texas, during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Flanked by lawmakers from both houses of the state legislature, Newsom said he is ready to sign more restrictive gun measures passed by lawmakers.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

But gun control measures are likely going nowhere in Congress, and they also have become increasingly scarce in most states. Aside from several Democratic-controlled states, the majority have taken no action on gun control in recent years or have moved aggressively to expand gun rights.

That’s because they are either controlled politically by Republicans who oppose gun restrictions or are politically divided, leading to stalemate.

“Here I am in a position where I can do something, I can introduce legislation, and yet to know that it almost certainly is not going to go anywhere is a feeling of helplessness,” said state Sen. Greg Leding, a Democrat in the GOP-controlled Arkansas Legislature. He has pushed unsuccessfully for red flag laws that would allow authorities to remove firearms from those determined to be a danger to themselves or others.

After Tuesday’s massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead, Democratic governors and lawmakers across the country issued impassioned pleas for Congress and their own legislatures to pass gun restrictions. Republicans have mostly called for more efforts to address mental health and to shore up protections at schools, such as adding security guards.

Among them is Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has repeatedly talked about mental health struggles among young people and said tougher gun laws in places like New York and California are ineffective. In Tennessee, GOP Rep. Jeremy Faison tweeted that the state needs to have security officers “in all of our schools,” but stopped short of promising to introduce legislation during next year’s legislative session: “Evil exists and we must protect the innocent from it,” Faison said.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has repeatedly clashed with the GOP-controlled Legislature over gun laws. He has called for passage of universal background checks and “red flag” laws, only to be ignored by Republicans. Earlier this year, the Democrat vetoed a Republican bill that would have allowed holders of concealed carry permits to have firearms in vehicles on school grounds and in churches located on the grounds of a private school.

“We cannot accept that gun violence just happens,” Evers said in a tweet. “We cannot accept that kids might go to school and never come home. We cannot accept the outright refusal of elected officials to act.”

On Wednesday, a day after the Texas shooting, legislative Democrats asked that the Wisconsin gun safety bills be taken up again, apparently to no avail. Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos did not return messages seeking their response.

In Pennsylvania, an effort by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday in the GOP-controlled Legislature to ban owning, selling or making high-capacity, semi-automatic firearms failed, as House Republicans displayed their firm opposition to gun restrictions. The GOP-majority Legislature has rejected appeals by Democratic governors over the past two decades to tighten gun control laws, including taking steps such as expanding background checks or limiting the number of handgun purchases one person can make in a month.

The situation is similar in Michigan, which has a Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature. On Wednesday, Democrats in the state Senate were thwarted in their efforts to advance a group of bills that would require gun owners to lock up their firearms and keep them away from minors.

“Every day we don’t take action, we are choosing guns over children,” said Democratic Sen. Rosemary Bayer, whose district includes a high school where a teen was charged in a shooting that killed four in November and whose parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter, accused of failing to lock up their gun. “Enough is enough. No more prayers, no more thoughts, no more inaction.”

Republican state Sen. Ken Horn responded by urging discussion about the other potential causes of gun violence.

“I would just point out that there are political solutions, but there are just as many spiritual solutions,” he said. “We don’t know what’s really happening in this world, what’s happening in this country, what’s happening to young men.”

Florida stands out as a Republican-controlled state that took action. The 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland that left 14 students and three staff members dead prompted lawmakers there to pass a law with a red flag provision that lets law enforcement officers petition a court to have guns confiscated from a person considered a threat.

Democrats now want that expanded to allow family members or roommates to make the same request of the courts, but there has been little appetite among Republicans to amend the law. Instead, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said he wants lawmakers to allow people to carry handguns without a permit. The state currently requires a concealed weapons license.

While Republicans have supported red flag laws in some other states, most legislative action around gun control in recent years has been in states led by Democrats.

In Washington state, the governor earlier this year signed a package of bills related to firearm magazine limits, ghost guns and adding more locations where guns are prohibited, including ballot counting sites.

In California on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom and top Democratic legislative leaders vowed to fast-track gun legislation, identifying about a dozen bills they plan to pass this year. Newsom highlighted a bill that would let private citizens enforce a ban on assault weapons by filing lawsuits – similar to a law in Texas that bans most abortions through civil enforcement.

Oregon’s Democratically controlled Legislature has passed bills that require background checks, prohibit guns on public school grounds, allow firearms to be taken from those who pose a risk and ensure safe storage of firearms. On Wednesday, a group of six Democrats said more must be done after the mass shooting in Texas and the racially motivated massacre in Buffalo, New York. They pledged additional action next year.

“We ran for office to solve big problems and make life better for our constituents — and that includes taking on the gun lobby and politicians that place profits and political power over children’s lives,” they said in a joint statement.

But there are limits even in some Democratic-controlled states, underscoring the challenge of gaining consensus to combat the rising frequency of mass shootings in the U.S.

Rhode Island has passed restrictions in recent years that include measures to ban firearms from school grounds and close the “straw purchasing” loophole that had allowed people to buy guns for someone else. But bills that would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons have been bottled up in committee, in part because the overwhelmingly Democratic chamber includes many lawmakers who have opposed the measures, citing their support for the Second Amendment.

In Connecticut, gun violence legislation supported by both parties swiftly followed after 20 children and six staff members were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary Schoo l in 2012. But additional gun control measures stalled this year in the Democratic-led General Assembly, in large part because of a short legislative session and threats by Republicans to hold up legislation through a filibuster.

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday he’s uncertain whether he will call a special session on the bills. They would put limits on bulk purchases of firearms and require the registration of so-called ghost guns, untraceable firearms that can be assembled at home.

“I think it’s become an incredibly partisan argument right now in our society,” Lamont said. “It wasn’t that way, you know, 30, 40 years ago. So that is disturbing, even in a state like Connecticut, where after Sandy Hook we had strong bipartisan support.”

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DeMillo reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press statehouse reporters from around the U.S. contributed to this report.

Rain brings relief to massive, record-wildfire in New Mexico

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN for the Associated Press

Lightning sparked a few new small fires in the drought-stricken Southwest Monday but the thunderstorms brought welcome rain to the monster blaze that’s been churning for a month in New Mexico and is now the state’s largest in recorded history.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the active fire lines of the Hermits Peak wildfire, in Las Vegas, New Mexico, on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Wildfire in the West is on a furious pace early this year. Wind-driven flames tearing through vegetation that is extraordinarily dry from years-long drought exacerbated by climate change has made even small blazes a threat to life and property. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

“We haven’t seen rain in a really long time so that’s exciting,” San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez said Monday might at a briefing on the biggest active fire in the U.S. burning east of Santa Fe.

“It gave us a little bit of a breather,” he said at one of the command posts in Las Vegas, New Mexico, on the southeast flank of the blaze that’s charred 465 square miles (1,204 square kilometers).

More than 2,000 fire personnel remain on the lines in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range south of Taos. The fire now covers an area nearly one-quarter the size of Delaware.

More than 260 homes have burned and more evacuations were prompted over the weekend as the blaze moved through dry — and in some cases dead — stands of pine and fir trees. Huge columns of smoke could be seen from miles away, and fire officials and weather forecasts continue to refer to it as an unprecedented situation.

Stepped up aerial attacks also helped about 1,000 firefighters continue to make progress Monday on a big fire west of Santa Fe.

Richard Nieto, wildland fire manager officer for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Monday night authorities were preparing to relax the status of evacuation alerts as crews were pushing back the flames about 3 miles (5 km) southwest of the lab’s federal boundary.

New lightning-sparked fires Monday included one about 2.5 miles (4 km) from Sedona, Arizona, but fire officials said Monday night it had burned less than an acre and the growth potential was low.

Forecasters said the weather will remain unstable throughout the week with shifting winds and rising humidity. But crews should enjoy at least another day of more favorable fire conditions.

It should be a “good work day for the crews,” fire behavior specialist Stewart Turner said Monday night. “Not suspecting big growth at all.”

Monday’s reprieve allowed ground crews to move into position to capitalize on retardant drops from airtankers and water spilled from helicopter buckets to expand contingency plans for back-up fire lines in the days ahead farther south of Santa Fe and to the northeast toward the Colorado line.

“We’re trying to think bigger box, bigger picture,” Nickie Johnny, an incident commander from California who is helping with the fire, said about efforts to find places miles ahead of the flames where crews can cut fire lines and mount a defense.

Fires also were burning elsewhere in New Mexico and in Colorado as much of the West has marked a notably hot, dry and windy spring. Predictions for the rest of the season do not bode well, with drought and warmer weather brought on by climate change worsening wildfire danger.

Colorado Springs enacted a fire ban after a series of fires have spread quickly due to hot and dry conditions, including a fatal one caused by smoking. Under a ban taking effect Monday, smoking and grilling will be prohibited in parks in Colorado’s second-largest city and people grilling at home will be allowed to use only gas or liquid fuel, not charcoal or wood.

Burn bans and fire restrictions also have been put in place in cities and counties around New Mexico in recent weeks, with officials warning that any new fire starts would further stress firefighting resources.

Nationwide, about 2,030 square miles (5,258 square kilometers) have burned so far this year — the most at this point since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin in Denver and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

Hungary’s military finds mission in life for abused dog

By JUSTIN SPIKE for the Associated Press

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s military has found a new mission in life for a talented dog who was rescued from abusive owners, recruiting 2-year-old Logan to serve in counterterrorism operations for an elite bomb squad.

Sgt. 1st Class Balazs Nemeth and his bomb sniffer dog Logan are seen together at the garrison of Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Warship Regiment of the Hungarian Defense Forces in Budapest, Hungary, April 28, 2022. Logan, a two-year-old Belgian shepherd, has received a second chance after being rescued from abusive owners and recruited to serve in an elite military bomb squad. Logan is undergoing intensive training as an explosive detection dog for the Hungarian Defense Forces. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky)

The Belgian shepherd is undergoing intensive training as an explosives detection dog for the explosive ordnance disposal and warship regiment of the Hungarian Defense Forces.

At the unit’s garrison on the Danube River in the capital Budapest, Logan receives daily socialization and obedience exercises, and is trained to recognize the smell of 25 different explosive substances.

“He has already started to learn how to smell explosives in a completely homogeneous environment, and he has also started to learn how to search motor vehicles and ships,” said Logan’s trainer, Sgt. 1st Class Balazs Nemeth.

Logan’s new role as a bomb sniffer came only after an early life full of hardships. In 2021, animal welfare officers received a tip that a dog was being abused and held in inhumane conditions at a rural residence in northeastern Hungary. During an on-site inspection, the officers found Logan confined to a one-meter (3-foot) chain and suffering from malnourishment.

Several weeks later, Nemeth, the regiment’s training officer, visited the shelter where Logan was housed and began assessing his suitability for becoming a professional bomb sniffer.

“The moment we met him the first impressions were very positive. We saw a well-motivated dog in relatively good condition and we immediately had confidence in him,” Nemeth said.

In a demonstration at the unit’s garrison, Nemeth opened a case containing two dozen vials of mock explosive materials like C-4, TNT, ammonium nitrate and others, which Logan is trained to detect.

After concealing a small package of explosive in a hidden crevice on one of the regiment’s river boats, Nemeth brought Logan to the training area where he went immediately to work sniffing for the package, which he found within seconds. The dog’s body tensed as he pointed with his nose at the source of the smell, alerting his handler.

The regiment’s commanding officer, Col. Zsolt Szilagyi, said that the increased use of improvised explosive devices by extremist cells since the turn of the millennium have made it necessary to employ new methods for detecting potential bombs.

“This was a challenge to which the military had to respond, and one of the best ways to detect these devices is to use explosive detection dogs,” Szilagyi said. “These four-legged comrades have been supporting the activities of our bomb disposal soldiers.”

Logan, he said, will serve as an inspector of important sites in Hungary, and could be sent along with the country’s military to NATO missions abroad.

While rescued dogs often present challenges in training given their often traumatic backgrounds, Nemeth said he is confident that Logan will be successful and make a valuable addition to the unit.

“Logan is very valuable because about one out of 10,000 rescued dogs is fit for military service, both medically and psychologically,” he said.

Recruiting rescued dogs often reveals their undiscovered capabilities, and allows for them to find a new home where they can thrive, Szilagyi said.

“There are dogs that have great potential but for some reason they have been pushed to the margins,” he said. “We can give these dogs a new opportunity to be placed in a family, so to speak, where they can live a proper life in loving, competent hands and be useful.”

Nearly 43,000 people died on US roads last year, agency says

By TOM KRISHER for the Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to the highways after the pandemic forced many to stay at home.

FILE – The scene of a fatality car crash, June 2, 2021, in Tulsa, Okla. Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to the highways after the pandemic forced many to stay at home. The 10.5% jump over 2020 numbers was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began its fatality data collection system in 1975. (Tanner Laws/Tulsa World via AP, File)

The 10.5% jump over 2020 numbers was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began its fatality data collection system in 1975.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said America faces a crisis on its roads. The safety administration urged state and local governments, drivers and safety advocates to join in an effort to reverse the rising death trend.

Preliminary figures released Tuesday by the agency show that 42,915 people died in traffic crashes last year, up from 38,824 in 2020. Final figures will be released in the fall.

Americans drove about 325 billion miles last year, 11.2% higher than in 2020, which contributed to the increase.

Nearly 118 people died in U.S. traffic crashes every day last year, according to the agency’s figures. The Governors Highway Safety Association, a group of state traffic safety officials, blamed the increase on dangerous behavior such as speeding, driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs, and distracted driving, as well as “roads designed for speed instead of safety.”

The combination, the group said, “has wiped out a decade and a half of progress in reducing traffic crashes, injuries and deaths.”

Deaths last year increased in almost all types of crashes, NHTSA reported. Fatalities in urban areas and deaths in multi-vehicle crashes each rose 16%. Pedestrian deaths were up 13%, while fatalities among drivers 65 and older rose 14%.

Fatalities involving at least one big truck were up 13%, while motorcycle deaths were up 9% and deaths of bicyclists rose 5%. Fatalities involving speeding drivers and deaths in alcohol-related crashes each were up 5%.

Government estimates show the rate of road deaths declined slightly from 2020. Last year there were 1.33 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, compared with 1.34 in 2020. The fatality rate rose in the first quarter of last year, but declined the rest of the year, NHTSA said.

Traffic deaths began to spike in 2019. NHTSA has blamed reckless driving behavior for increases during the pandemic, citing behavioral research showing that speeding and traveling without a seat belt have been higher. Before 2019, the number of fatalities had fallen for three straight years.

Deputy NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff, the Biden administration’s nominee to run the agency, said the roadway crisis is urgent and preventable. “We will redouble our safety efforts, and we need everyone — state and local governments, safety advocates, automakers and drivers, to join us,” Cliff said in a statement. “All of our lives depend on it.”

Buttigieg pointed to a national strategy unveiled earlier this year aimed at reversing the trend. He said earlier that over the next two years his department will provide federal guidance as well as billions in grants under President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure law to spur states and localities to lower speed limits and embrace safer road design such as dedicated bike and bus lanes, better lighting and crosswalks. The strategy also urges the use of speed cameras, which the department says could provide more equitable enforcement than police traffic stops.

In Tuesday’s statement, the department said it opened up its first round of applications for the program, which will spend $6 billion over five years on local efforts to cut crashes and deaths.

The Transportation Department is moving in the right direction to stem the increase in deaths, but it will take years for many of the steps to work, said Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.

NHTSA, for instance, has regulations pending to require electronic automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection systems on all new light vehicles, and to require automatic emergency braking on heavy trucks, he said. Automatic emergency braking can slow or stop a vehicle if there’s an object in its path.

The agency also is requiring automakers to install systems that alert rear-seat passengers if their safety belts aren’t buckled.

“Responding to this is difficult,” Brooks said. “It takes a lot of work on a lot of different strategies to address these issues. They’ve got a lot of work on their hands.”

K-9 named Zorro captures Florida man after high-speed chase

From the Associated Press

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — A 20-year-old man drove a stolen Mercedes SUV as fast as 178 mph (286 kph) during a chase Monday night through six counties along Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 95, authorities said.

Deputies deployed stop sticks to flatten the vehicle’s tires and a K-9 named Zorro then helped secure the fleeing suspect, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post. The chase began near Orlando and ended some 150 miles (241 kilometers) later near Hobe Sound.

“The danger to innocent lives related to this crime cannot be overstated,” the release said.

Deputies in Martin County, which is north of West Palm Beach, were alerted to the chase through an alert from the Florida Highway Patrol. Video footage from a sheriff’s office aircraft showed the car speeding along without headlights after deputies attempted to stop it.

The sheriff’s office said the ground pursuit was terminated because of the dangerous speeds, but the aircraft continued to track the stolen SUV. Deputies were able to deploy the stop sticks to deflate the vehicle’s tires.

The driver ran from the vehicle and into a wooded area.

“Multiple deputies followed along with K-9 Zorro,” the release said. After he ignored multiple commands to surrender, deputies unleashed the dog “into the woods ending this dangerous criminal joyride.”

The South Florida suspect faces multiple charges including grand theft of a motor vehicle, fleeing with a disregard for safety, and obstruction. His 28-year-old passenger was also arrested.

The sheriff’s office commended “every agency and every person on-shift” for ending the pursuit with no injuries or loss of life.”

Bus video gives more info about Pittsburgh bridge collapse

By MARK SCOLFORO for the Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Video footage from a bus of the bridge collapse in Pittsburgh this year shows one end of the structure had already fallen when an expansion joint at the other end was pulling apart, federal investigators said Thursday.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says this image is from the forward-facing camera on the bus that was involved in the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh and shows the bridge deck separating at the east expansion joint (the red oval highlights the expansion joint). The image is from video provided by NTSB in a report issued, Thursday, May 5, 2022, pertaining to the Jan. 28 2022, collapse of the bridge. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

The National Transportation Safety Board issued an update on the Fern Hollow bridge collapse, saying the video is giving them more information about the sequence of events.

So far there’s no evidence of “widespread deficiencies” in the “rigid K-frame superstructure types” that form the bridge’s basic structure, the report said.

The investigative update said that all aspects of the disaster are still being looked at and that the cause has yet to be determined. Investigators plan mechanical and chemical testing on material samples and will examine plate dimensions and weld quality.

preliminary report issued less than two weeks after the Jan. 28 collapse had found the collapse began at the structure’s west end and noted there had been no primary fractures in sections of welded steel girders considered “fracture critical.” A fracture critical area in a beam is the part most likely to show damage if the bridge has suddenly given way.

When the Forbes Avenue bridge gave way, it sent a city bus and four passenger cars down some 100 feet (30 meters) to a ravine carved by Fern Hollow Creek. Another vehicle drove off the east bridge abutment and landed on its roof.

Although the preliminary report had said a total of 10 vehicle occupants had been injured, the agency has now concluded that there were nine people in six vehicles. Two were injured seriously, two had minor injuries, four were not hurt, and the injury status of one person is uncertain, the agency said Thursday. No one was killed.

Natural gas lines ruptured and required the evacuation of nearby homes.

The 447-foot-long (136-meter) bridge, about 50 years old, showed some deterioration during an inspection in September, but not enough to require its closure. The bridge has had a 26-ton (24,000 kilogram) weight limit since 2014.

The future of the bridge is the topic of a virtual meeting Thursday night in which city officials and neighbors are expected to participate.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has said up to $25.3 million in National Highway Performance Program funds is being used to rebuild the structure. The contractor began gearing up for construction last month, and early foundation work is about to begin, PennDOT spokesperson Alexis Campbell said Thursday.

The state agency has posted images of the replacement bridge’s “overall design concept.”

Defenders inside Ukrainian steel mill refuse to surrender

By JON GAMBRELL and CARA ANNA from the Associated Press

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian fighters battling Russian forces in the tunnels beneath Mariupol’s immense steel plant refused to surrender in the face of relentless attacks, with the wife of one commander saying they had vowed to “stand till the end.”

The gutted remains of an Antonov An-225, the world’s biggest cargo aircraft, destroyed during recent fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces, at the Antonov airport in Hostomel, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, May 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

The fight in the last Ukrainian stronghold of the strategic port city reduced to ruins by the Russian onslaught appeared increasingly desperate amid growing speculation that President Vladimir Putin wants to present the Russian people with a battlefield triumph — or announce an escalation of the war — in time for Victory Day on Monday.

“They won’t surrender,” Kateryna Prokopenko said Thursday after speaking by phone to her husband, a leader of the steel plant defenders. “They only hope for a miracle.”

She said her husband, Azov Regiment commander Denys Prokopenko, told her he would love her forever. “I am going mad from this. It seemed like words of goodbye,” she said.

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff said Friday that “the blockade of units of the defense forces in the Azovstal area continues” and that the Russians, with aviation support, had resumed assault operations to take control of the sprawling plant.

Monday’s Victory Day is the biggest patriotic holiday on the Russian calendar, marking the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany. But as long as Ukrainians resist the takeover of the plant, “Russian losses will continue to build and frustrate their operational plans in southern Donbas,” the British Defense Ministry said in an assessment.

Some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters, by Russia’s most recent estimate, were holed up in a maze of tunnels and bunkers beneath Azovstal steelworks. A few hundred civilians were also believed trapped there.

“There are many wounded (fighters), but they are not surrendering,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “They are holding their positions.”

“Just imagine this hell! And there are children there,” he said. “More than two months of constant shelling, bombing, constant death.”

The Russians managed to get inside the plant Wednesday with the help of an electrician who knew the layout, said Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Ministry.

“He showed them the underground tunnels which are leading to the factory,” Gerashchenko said in a video.

Zelenskyy said the attack was preventing evacuation of the remaining civilians, even as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said another attempt was underway. “We must continue to do all we can to get people out of these hellscapes,” Guterres said.

The Kremlin denied its troops were storming the plant and has demanded the Ukrainians surrender. They have refused. Russia has also accused the fighters of preventing the civilians from leaving.

The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that the Kremlin says is now its chief objective.

Capt. Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, pleaded on Ukrainian TV for the evacuation of civilians and wounded fighters from the steelworks, saying soldiers were “dying in agony due to the lack of proper treatment.”

More than 100 civilians were rescued from the steelworks over the weekend. But many previous attempts to open safe corridors from Mariupol have fallen through, with Ukraine blaming shelling and firing by the Russians.

Meanwhile, 10 weeks into the devastating war, Ukraine’s military claimed it recaptured some areas in the south and repelled other attacks in the east, further frustrating Putin’s ambitions after his abortive attempt to seize Kyiv. Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting village by village.

The General Staff in Kyiv said Russian forces were conducting surveillance flights, and in the hard-hit areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukrainian forces repulsed 11 attacks and destroyed tanks and armored vehicles. Russia gave no immediate acknowledgement of those losses.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Russian forces are making only “plodding” progress in the Donbas.

There are growing suggestions that Ukraine might try to widen its push to seize more territory from Russia outside of Kharkiv, its second-largest city.

Ukrainian chief of defense, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said Thursday that a counteroffensive could begin to push Russian forces away from Kharkiv and Izyum, which has been a key node in Russia’s control of the eastern cauldron. Ukraine in recent days has driven Russian troops some 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Kharkiv, which has been repeatedly struck by Russian shelling.

Additional Ukrainian advances may spare the city from artillery strikes, as well as force Moscow to divert troops from other areas of the front line.

On Thursday, an American official said the U.S. shared intelligence with Ukraine about the location of a Russian flagship before the mid-April strike that sank it, one of Moscow’s highest-profile failures in the war.

The U.S. has provided “a range of intelligence” that includes locations of warships, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said the decision to target the missile cruiser Moskva was purely a Ukrainian decision.

Fearful of new attacks surrounding Victory Day, the mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk urged residents to leave for the countryside over the long weekend and warned them not to gather in public places.

And the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, a key transit point for evacuees from Mariupol, announced a curfew from Sunday evening through Tuesday morning.

Mariupol, which had a prewar population of over 400,000, has come to symbolize the misery inflicted by the war. The siege of the city has trapped perhaps 100,000 civilians with little food, water, medicine or heat.

As the battle raged there, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian bombardment Thursday hit dozens of Ukrainian military targets, including troop concentrations in the east, an artillery battery near the eastern settlement of Zarozhne and rocket launchers near the southern city of Mykolaiv.

The war has devastated Ukraine’s medical infrastructure, Zelenskyy said in a video link to a charity event in the U.K. Nearly 400 health care facilities have been damaged or destroyed, he said.

“There is simply a catastrophic situation regarding access to medical services and medicines,” in areas occupied by Russian forces, he said. “Even the simplest drugs are lacking.”

With the challenge of mine-clearing and rebuilding after the war in mind, Zelenskyy announced the launch of a global fundraising platform called United24.

At the same time, Poland hosted an international donor conference that raised $6.5 billion in humanitarian aid. The gathering was attended by prime ministers and ambassadors from many European countries, as well as representatives of other nations and some businesses.

In addition, a Ukrainian cabinet body began to develop proposals for a comprehensive postwar reconstruction plan, while Zelenskyy also urged Western allies to put forward a program similar to the post-World War II Marshall Plan plan to help Ukraine rebuild.

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Anna reported from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Yesica Fisch in Zaporizhzhia, Inna Varenytsia and David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.

St. Paul mayor names interim police chief

From the Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The mayor of St. Paul has picked a new interim police chief.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Mayor Melvin Carter announced Wednesday that Deputy Chief Jeremy Ellison will take over as interim chief after Todd Axtell steps down on June 1.

Former Mayor Chris Coleman appointed Axtell, who has clashed with Carter over department budgets and officer salaries. Axtell announced in October he wouldn’t seek reappointment to another six-year term.

Carter said he hopes to name a new chief by late summer or early fall.

Ellison has worked for the police department since 2000, including stints on patrol and traffic safety as well as narcotics and special investigations.

Ukraine repels some attacks but combat rages at steel mill

By JON GAMBRELL and CARA ANNA from the Associated Press

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces said Thursday they repelled Russian attacks in the east and recaptured some territory, even as Moscow moved to obstruct the flow of Western weapons to Ukraine by bombarding rail stations and other supply-line targets across the country.

FILE – Debris covers the inside of the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theatre following a March 16, 2022, bombing in Mariupol, Ukraine, in an area now controlled by Russian forces, Monday, April 4, 2022. The bombing of the theater that was used as a shelter stands out as the single deadliest known attack against civilians to date in the war. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov, File)

Heavy fighting also raged at the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol that represented the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the ruined southern port city, the Ukrainian military reported. A Russian official earlier denied that troops were storming the plant, but the commander of the main Ukrainian unit inside said Russian soldiers had pushed into the mill’s territory.

“With the support of aircraft, the enemy resumed the offensive in order to take control of the plant,” the General Staff in Kyiv said, adding that the Russians were “trying to destroy Ukrainian units.”

To the west of Mariupol, Ukrainian forces made some gains on the border of the southern regions of Kherson and Mykolaiv, where Russian troops were reportedly trying to launch a counteroffensive, and repelled 11 Russian attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the military said.

Five people were killed and at least 25 more wounded in shelling of several eastern cities over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said.

The Russian military said it used sea- and air-launched missiles to destroy electric power facilities at five railway stations across Ukraine on Wednesday. Artillery and aircraft also struck troop strongholds and fuel and ammunition depots. Videos on social media suggested a bridge there was attacked.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of “resorting to the missile terrorism tactics in order to spread fear across Ukraine.”

Responding to the strikes in his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “All of these crimes will be answered, legally and quite practically – on the battlefield.”

The flurry of attacks comes as Russia prepares to celebrate Victory Day on May 9, marking the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. The world is watching for whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the occasion to declare a victory in Ukraine or expand what he calls the “special military operation.”

A declaration of all-out war would allow Putin to introduce martial law and mobilize reservists to make up for significant troop losses.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the speculation as “nonsense.”

Meanwhile, Belarus, which Russia used as a staging ground for its invasion, announced the start of military exercises Wednesday. A top Ukrainian official said the country will be ready to act if Belarus joins the fighting.

The British Defense Ministry said it does not anticipate that the drills currently posed a threat to Ukraine, but that Moscow will likely use them “to fix Ukrainian forces in the north, preventing them from being committed to the battle for the Donbas,” the eastern industrial heartland that is Russia’s stated war objective.

The attacks on rail infrastructure were meant to disrupt the delivery of Western weapons, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu complained that the West is “stuffing Ukraine with weapons.”

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said that while the Russians have tried to hit critical infrastructure around the western city of Lviv, specifically targeting railroads, there has been “no appreciable impact” on Ukraine’s effort to resupply its forces. Lviv, close to the Polish border, has been a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.

Weaponry pouring into Ukraine helped its forces thwart Russia’s initial drive to seize Kyiv and seems certain to play a central role in the growing battle for the Donbas.

Ukraine has urged the West to ramp up the supply of weapons ahead of that potentially decisive clash.

In addition to supplying weapons to Ukraine, Europe and the U.S. have sought to punish Moscow with sanctions. The EU’s top official called on the 27-nation bloc on Wednesday to ban Russian oil imports, a crucial source of revenue.

“We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

The proposal needs unanimous approval from EU countries and is likely to be debated fiercely. Hungary and Slovakia have already said they won’t take part in any oil sanctions. They could be granted an exemption.

The EU is also talking about a possible embargo on Russian natural gas. The bloc has already approved a cutoff of coal imports.

Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas exports.

In Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said that Russian forces were targeting the already shattered Azovstal plant with heavy artillery, tanks, aircraft, warships and “heavy bombs that pierce concrete 3 to 5 meters thick.”

“Our brave guys are defending this fortress, but it is very difficult,” he said.

Ukrainian fighters said Tuesday that Russian forces had begun storming the plant. But the Kremlin denied it. “There is no assault,” Peskov said.

Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment that’s defending the plant, said in a video that the incursions continued “and there are heavy, bloody battles.”

“The situation is extremely difficult, but in spite of everything, we continue to carry out the order to hold the defense,” he added.

His wife, Kateryna Prokopenko, told The Associated Press: “We don’t want them to die. They won’t surrender. They are waiting for the bravest countries to evacuate them.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations announced that more than 300 civilians were evacuated Wednesday from Mariupol and other nearby communities. The evacuees arrived in Zaporizhzhia, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) to the northwest, where they were receiving humanitarian assistance.

Over the weekend, more than 100 people — including women, the elderly and 17 children — were evacuated from the plant during a cease-fire in an operation overseen by the U.N. and the Red Cross. But the attacks on the plant soon resumed.

The Russian government said on the Telegram messaging app that it would open another evacuation corridor from the plant during certain hours on Thursday through Saturday. But there was no immediate confirmation of those arrangements from other parties, and many previous such assurances from the Kremlin have fallen through, with the Ukrainians blaming continued fighting by the Russians.

It was unclear how many Ukrainian fighters were still inside, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000 in recent weeks, and 500 were reported to be wounded. A few hundred civilians also remained there, the Ukrainian side said.

Mariupol, and the plant in particular, have come to symbolize the misery inflicted by the war. The Russians have pulverized most of the city in a two-month siege that has trapped civilians with little food, water, medicine or heat.

The city’s fall would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas.

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Anna reported from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Yesica Fisch in Zaporizhzhia, Inna Varenytsia and David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.

Survivor found almost 6 days after China building collapse

From the Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Rescuers in central China have pulled a woman alive from the rubble of a building that partially collapsed almost six days earlier, state media reported Thursday.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, rescue workers evacuate the 10th survivor pulled alive after being trapped 132 hours from the debris of a self-built residential structure that collapsed in Changsha in central China’s Hunan Province on Thursday May 5, 2022. Rescuers in central China have pulled the woman alive from the rubble of a building that partially collapsed almost six days earlier, state media reported Thursday. (Shen Hong/Xinhua via AP)

The unidentified woman is the 10th survivor of the disaster in the city of Changsha, in which at least five people have died and an unknown number, possibly dozens, are still missing.

She was rescued shortly after midnight on Thursday, about 132 hours after the rear of the six-story building suddenly caved in on April 29, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The woman was conscious and advised rescuers on how to pull her out without causing further injury, Xinhua said. Teams had used dogs and hand tools as well as drones and electronic life detectors in the search.

All the survivors were reportedly in good condition after having been treated in a hospital. Intermittent rain showers in recent days may have increased their chances of survival without food or water.

At least nine people have been arrested in relation to the collapse of what Xinhua has described as a “self-built building,” including its owner, on suspicion of ignoring building codes or committing other violations.

Also held were three people in charge of design and construction and five others who allegedly gave a false safety assessment for a guest house on the building’s fourth to sixth floors.

The building also held a residence, a cafe and shops.

An increase in the number of collapses of self-built buildings in recent years prompted Chinese President Xi Jinping to call last month for additional checks to uncover structural weaknesses.

Poor adherence to safety standards, including the illegal addition of extra floors and failure to use reinforcing iron bars, is often blamed for such disasters. China also suffers from decaying infrastructure such as gas pipes that has led to explosions and collapses.

Police: Florida woman threatened to bomb hungry son’s school

From the Associated Press

COCOA, Fla. (AP) — A woman has been arrested months after threatening to blow up her son’s high school unless cafeteria workers started giving him more food, officials said.

The threat was left Feb. 3 in a voicemail to Cocoa High School on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, according to police and court records. The 41-year-old woman was arrested on Wednesday and charged with making a false bomb threat and disruption of a school.

She did not leave her name on the voicemail, but the school’s caller ID recorded the number, an arrest report said.

Staff members at the school listened to the message the next morning and contacted Cocoa police.

The school was evacuated, but no weapons or explosive devices were found.

Investigators located the woman’s phone number in school records and a resource officer confirmed that her child had gotten into an argument Feb. 3 with a cafeteria worker because he wanted more food.

The state attorney’s office filed paperwork ordering the woman’s arrest on April 7. Officials arrested her Wednesday.

Biden pardons former Secret Service agent and 2 others

By AAMER MADHANI for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has granted the first three pardons of his term, providing clemency to a Kennedy-era Secret Service agent convicted of federal bribery charges that he tried to sell a copy of an agency file and to two people who were convicted on drug-related charges but went on to become pillars in their communities.

President Joe Biden speaks Friday, April 22, 2022, at Green River College in Auburn, Wash., south of Seattle. President Joe Biden is announcing that he has granted the first three pardons of his term. In one case he is providing clemency to a Kennedy-era Secret Service agent convicted of trying to sell a copy of an agency file. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The Democratic president also commuted the sentences of 75 others for nonviolent, drug-related convictions. The White House announced the clemencies Tuesday as it launched a series of job training and reentry programs for those in prison or recently released.

Many of those who received commutations have been serving their sentences on home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several were serving lengthy sentences and would have received lesser terms had they been convicted today for the same offenses as a result of the 2018 bipartisan sentencing reform ushered into law by the Trump administration.

“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden said in a statement announcing the clemencies. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities.”

Those granted pardons are:

— Abraham Bolden Sr., 86, the first Black Secret Service agent to serve on a presidential detail. In 1964, Bolden, who served on President John F. Kennedy’s detail, faced federal bribery charges that he attempted to sell a copy of a Secret Service file. His first trial ended in a hung jury.

Following his conviction in a second trial, key witnesses admitted lying at the prosecutor’s request. Bolden, of Chicago, was denied a retrial and served several years in federal prison. Bolden has maintained his innocence and wrote a book in which he argued he was targeted for speaking out against racist and unprofessional behavior in the Secret Service.

— Betty Jo Bogans, 51, was convicted in 1998 of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in Texas after attempting to transport drugs for her boyfriend and his accomplice. Bogans, a single mother with no prior record, received a seven-year sentence. In the years since her release from prison, Bogans has held consistent employment, even while undergoing cancer treatment, and has raised a son.

— Dexter Jackson , 52, of Athens, Georgia, was convicted in 2002 for using his pool hall to facilitate the trafficking of marijuana. Jackson pleaded guilty and acknowledged he allowed his business to be used by marijuana dealers.

After Jackson was released from prison, he converted his business into a cellphone repair service that employs local high school students through a program that provides young adults with work experience. Jackson has built and renovated homes in his community, which has a shortage of affordable housing.

Civil rights and criminal justice reform groups have pushed the White House to commute sentences and work harder to reduce disparities in the criminal justice system. Biden’s grants of clemency also come as the administration has faced congressional scrutiny over misconduct and the treatment of inmates in the beleaguered federal Bureau of Prisons, which is responsible for inmates serving sentences of home confinement.

Biden, as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helped shepherd through the 1994 crime bill that many criminal justice experts say contributed to harsh sentences and mass incarceration of Black people.

During his 2020 White House run, Biden vowed to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. and called for nonviolent drug offenders to be diverted to drug courts and treatment.

He also has pushed for better training for law enforcement and called for criminal justice system changes to address disparities that have led to minorities and the poor making up a disproportionate share of the nation’s incarcerated population.

Inimai Chettiar, federal director of the criminal justice reform advocacy group Justice Action Network, called Biden’s first pardons and commutations “just modest steps” and urged Biden “to meet the urgency of the moment.”

“President Biden ran on a promise to help end mass incarceration, and he has broad public support for that promise,” Chettiar added.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, granted 143 pardons and clemency to 237 during his four years in office.

Trump sought the advice of prison reform advocate Alice Johnson, a Black woman whose life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense he commuted in 2018. He was also lobbied by celebrity Kim Kardashian as well as advisers inside the White House, including daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as he weighed applications for clemency.

The Republican used his pardon authority to help several political friends and allies, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Republican operative Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father-in-law of Ivanka Trump.

Among Trump’s final acts as president was pardoning his former chief strategist Steve Bannon and Al Pirro, the husband of Fox News host and Trump ally Jeanine Pirro.

Prosecutors alleged that Bannon, who had yet to stand trial when he was pardoned, had duped thousands of donors who believed their money would be used to fulfill Trump’s chief campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border. Instead, Bannon allegedly diverted more than $1 million, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself. Pirro was convicted in 2000 on tax charges.

With the slate of pardons and commutations announced Tuesday, Biden has issued more grants of clemency than any of the previous five presidents at this point in their terms, according to the White House.

In addition to the grants of clemency, Biden announced several new initiatives that are meant to help formerly incarcerated people gain employment — an issue that his administration is driving home as key to lowering crime rates and preventing recidivism.

The Labor Department is directing $140 million toward programs that offer job training, pre-apprenticeship programs, digital literacy training and pre-release and post-release career counseling and more for youth and incarcerated adults.

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year includes a trio of grant programs that the administration says promote hiring of formerly incarcerated individuals. And the Labor and Justice Departments announced on Tuesday a collaborative plan to provide $145 million over the next year on job skills training as well as individualized employment and reentry plans for people serving time in the Bureau of Prisons.

Biden said the new initiatives are vital to helping the more than 600,000 people released from prison each year get on stable ground.

“Helping those who served their time return to their families and become contributing members of their communities is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and decrease crime,” Biden said.

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Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

Wildfires tear across several states, driven by high winds

By MARGERY A. BECK and SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN for the Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Firefighters across the country are battling multiple wildfires as tinder-dry conditions and high winds whip up flames from Arizona to Florida — including a prairie fire in rural southwestern Nebraska that has killed one person, injured at least 15 firefighters and destroyed at least six homes.

This image provided by the Nebraska State Patrol shows smoke from a wildfire, Saturday, April 23, 2022 near Cambridge, Neb. Several small towns, including Cambridge, Bartley, Indianola and Wilsonville, in Nebraska’s southwest and Macy in its northeast, were forced to temporarily evacuate because of the wind-driven wildfires. (Nebraska State Patrol via AP)

A break in the weather in parts of the Midwest and West allowed crews to make progress Monday on some of the nearly dozen new large fires that were reported in recent days across the nation — four in New Mexico, three in Colorado and one each in Florida, Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas.

With more than 1,350 square miles (3,496 square kilometers) burned so far this year, officials at the National Interagency Fire Center said the amount of land singed to date is outpacing the 10-year average by about 30%.

Hotter, drier weather has combined with a persistent drought to worsen fire danger across many parts of the West, where decades of fire suppression have resulted in overgrown and unhealthy forests and increasing development have put more communities at risk.

In northern New Mexico, evacuations remained in place for several communities Monday and conditions were still too volatile for authorities to assess the damage caused Friday and Saturday. The blaze has has grown into the largest wildfire burning in the U.S., charring more than 88 square miles (228 square kilometers).

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation joined Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on a call Monday with officials from the White House and federal agencies to appeal for more federal ground resources ahead of another blast of strong fire-fueling winds expected later in the week.

Thanks to lighter winds in the Midwest on Monday, firefighters made significant progress on the fire that’s burned about 70 square miles (181 square km) of mostly grasslands and farmland near the Nebraska-Kansas state line. It’s now estimated to be about 47% contained.

They made the most of the opportunity Monday to dump water in dry creeks and draws filled with cottonwoods where dense fuels and brush has built up ahead of the return of more dangerous conditions expected on Tuesday, said Jonathan Ashford, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Complex Incident Management Team.

“It’s supposed to be about 20 degrees warmer tomorrow, lower humidity and increased wind,” he said Monday night.

In Arizona, firefighters also took advantage of lighter winds to boost containment of a more than 33-square-mile (85 square-kilometer) blaze that has been burning outside of Flagstaff for more than a week. Strong winds that had fueled the fire are expected to return later this week. Meanwhile, hundreds of evacuated residents were given the go-ahead on Sunday to return home.

About 160 firefighters, emergency management personnel and others — twice as many as the day before — were helping fight the fire in Nebraska by Monday evening.

Known as the Road 702 Fire, it has destroyed at least six homes and threatened 660 others, along with 50 commercial or farm buildings, Ashford said.

A retired Cambridge, Nebraska, fire chief who was helping as a fire spotter in Red Willow County died Friday night after his truck went off the road in a blinding haze of smoke and dust. The body of John Trumble, 66, of Arapahoe, was recovered around early Saturday.

Trumble was the second person in a month to die while fighting a wildfire in southwest Nebraska. Elwood Volunteer Fire Chief Darren Krull, 54, was killed in a collision with a water tanker on April 7 in Furnas County as smoke cut visibility to zero.

Nebraska remains critically dry, said Ashford, who urged residents to use caution when doing anything that could spark a fire.

“The last thing we need is to have another fire started that we have to then fight,” he said.

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Susan Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Associated Press writer Scott Sonner contributed to this report from Reno, Nevada.

Czechs provide free shooting training for local Ukrainians

By KAREL JANICEK for the Associated Press

BRNO, Czech Republic (AP) — Of the first four shots Olha Dembitska fired from an AK-47 assault rifle in her life, one hit the target.

“It’s pretty difficult the first time,” the 22-year-old Ukrainian woman acknowledged.

Instructors train Ukrainian national at a shooting range in Brno, Czech Republic, Sunday April 10, 2022. Since Russia launched its brutal attack against Ukraine, Ukrainians living across Czech Republic have been arriving in the second largest Czech city of Brno. They have come for courses designed to teach them skills to safely handle lethal rifles while being able to inflict damage on their enemy. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

On this occasion, the target was the shape of a human body at a shooting range in the Czech Republic. Next time, it might be for real, in Ukraine, and the target could be one of the Russian troops who have invaded her homeland.

Dembitska is one of at least 130 men and women who have so far undergone free-of-charge training for Ukrainians living in the Czech Republic who want to learn how to fight the aggressor.

“I might return to Ukraine if they need me,” she said.

Almost none of the participants had any experience with weapons before war struck their homeland.

Since Russia launched its brutal attack, Ukrainians from all parts of the country and elsewhere have been arriving in the Czech Republic’s second-largest city, Brno, attracted by courses designed to teach them essentials and skills to safely handle lethal rifles while being able to inflict damage on their enemy.

Beside learning to shoot, the courses give them the basics about guns, movement around the battlefield and a lesson in providing first aid, something that can save lives if they‘re mobilized by their embattled country or decide to return home as volunteers to join the Ukrainian army.

They are all motivated.

“It’s horrible,” Dembitska said about the situation in her homeland. She gets her news from social media and from phone calls with a friend based in the southern city of Kherson, seized by Russian troops in the early stages of the invasion.

“She tells me everything. They haven’t received humanitarian aid. It’s a horror what the Russian soldiers are doing, I’m sick of it.”

Michal Ratajsky, the owner of CS Solutions, a security company that offers the training program at its base on the outskirts of Brno, located some 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Prague, called it “our contribution to the help for Ukrainians.”

“We view it as a morale boost we’re giving them in this situation, an effort to show we’re supporting them and that we will do for them what we can at the given moment,” Ratajsky said. “That was our motivation and goal.”

A crowdfunding campaign helped secure enough money for the ammunition, while his company provides the rest, including experienced instructors, weapons and the shooting range.

Ratajsky said the brief, three-hour training can’t do miracles but should be enough to introduce the Ukrainians to new, unfamiliar skills.

“We know that we don’t make soldiers of them in those three hours,” he said. “We try to do the maximum for them in the time, with the focus on their safety.”

Some of the participants have returned for repeated lessons. Some have come from as far away as Vienna. in neighboring Austria. Some took the course on their way back to Ukraine from Western Europe, Ratajsky said.

He said the Ukrainians are united by anger about the Russian aggression, and determined to end it.

“They take it seriously and want to do something about it.”

He said that because some 80% percent of troop losses in a war like the one in Ukraine are caused by artillery and missiles, a sense of self-preservation and knowledge of first aid might be more useful for survival than shooting.

“We’re aware of the limits of what we can get them ready for and make no secret of it,” Ratajsky said.

Yehor Nechyporenko, 38, who had traveled some 260 kilometers (160 miles) from the town of Mlada Boleslav to Brno for the second time said he is helping Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in the Czech Republic but wants to be ready to go back home to fight.

“It’s very useful for me,” he said of the training. “I really like it. I need to learn those things because I didn’t do military service.”

Nechyporenko said he was sure the Russians have no chance of taking the entire country.

“I think the war will be over in a couple of months,” he said. “And if we see we’re losing, we’ll all travel home.”

Activists stand by fired suburban Denver police chief

By COLLEEN SLEVIN for the Associated Press

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Community leaders and activists on Monday rallied around a suburban Denver police chief who was fired last week despite her community work, including efforts to rebuild trust with residents following the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.

Vanessa Wilson, who was just dismissed as the chief of police in Aurora, Colo., last week, speaks at a rally in support of her efforts to insure police reforms on the steps of the municipal building Monday, April 11, 2022, in the east Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Pastor Topazz McBride said the firing of Vanessa Wilson by the city of Aurora sent a message that supporting justice, communities of color, victims, families and those without homes can result in you losing your job.

“She has showed up when others wouldn’t,” McBride said of Wilson, standing among other supporters, including some city council members, outside the Aurora Municipal Center, near police headquarters.

City Manager Jim Twombly has said Wilson was fired because of concerns about her leadership and management, although he credited her for her outreach work.

Wilson said her firing was part of a “political agenda.” She did not elaborate but after she was fired her lawyers said members of the city council’s new conservative majority had engaged in a campaign to smear her reputation and did not support her efforts to reform the department and eradicate systemic racism f ound by the state attorney general’s office last year.

The attorney general’s office is also prosecuting three police officers and two paramedics indicted in McClain’s death. He got into a struggle with police officers who confronted him as he was walked down the street and was then injected with ketamine, a powerful sedative. He later died at the hospital.

“It’s not about me. It’s about making sure that we have leaders in police departments in this city, in this state and across the country that are willing to stand up to the unions, that are willing to stand up to people that are doing it wrong, and are willing to fire officers that are doing it wrong,” said Wilson, who did not rule out filing a lawsuit over her firing.

Wilson was quick to fire officers accused of misconduct, posting the results of investigations online for the public to read. Some were fired for using excessive force but some lost their jobs for lying about the hours they worked or wrongly claiming overtime.

Then in February, Wilson fired the president of one of police department’s two police unions for an email he sent to over 200 department employees criticizing diversity provisions the city had agreed to under a consent decree with the state attorney general’s office and disparaging the city’s residents.

“To match the ‘diversity’ of ‘the community’ we could make sure to hire 10% illegal aliens, 50% weed smokers, 10% crackheads, and a few child molesters and murderers to round it out. You know, so we can make the department look like the ‘community,’” Doug Wilkinson wrote in the email.

Last fall, Wilson received an overwhelming vote of no confidence from members of both unions after she called for an investigation of officers previously cleared of wrongdoing in a controversial traffic stop of a Black man, Sentinel Colorado reported.

Aurora Sgt. Paul Poole said it appears that Wilson’s “transparent disciplinary decisions” drew the wrath of police unions and some politicians. Poole, who is Black, said he believes that there are people in the department’s unions that agree with Wilkinson’s email but said he wanted to speak out against Wilson’s firing despite fears he could be retaliated against.

Dustin Zvonek, one of the new conservative council members who was endorsed by the police union during last year’s campaign, said he deplored Wilkinson’s email.

Zvonek blamed Wilson for poor morale in the department, calling her an insecure and insular leader more focused on community relations than in managing the police department. He blames her for an increase in retirements and resignations, which he said were even worse than other departments have been experiencing, leaving the department without enough staff to respond to less-violent crimes.

He said he did not object to Wilson’s firings of police officers over misconduct and did not think they contributed to the poor morale in the department. Instead, they were concerned that her efforts to heal the rift with the community might prevent her from standing by them even if they acted correctly but it looked bad to the public.

“I would also expect the new chief to be willing to stand unapologetically with any officer who does everything right even if the optics draw concern because we owe it to officers,” he said.

Gunman opens fire on Brooklyn subway; at least 10 shot

By KAREN MATTHEWS, JIM MUSTIAN and MICHAEL R. SISAK for the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — There are no life-threatening injuries among the 10 people shot in Tuesday morning’s Brooklyn subway attack, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said. At least six more people were injured.

New York City Police Department personnel gather at the entrance to a subway stop in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Multiple people were shot and injured Tuesday at a subway station in New York City during a morning rush hour attack that left wounded commuters bleeding on a train platform. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

There was no known link to terrorism, the commissioner said, adding that there were no known explosive devices. Five people were in critical condition, but stable, according to the New York Fire Department commissioner.

The gunman sought in the attack “is still on the loose” and dangerous, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a press conference shortly after noon.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

NEW YORK (AP) — A gunman filled a rush-hour subway train with smoke and shot multiple people Tuesday, leaving wounded commuters bleeding on a Brooklyn platform as others ran screaming, authorities said. Police were still searching for the shooter.

Officials said the gunfire wounded at least eight people, and at least 16 in all were injured in some way in the attack at the 36th Street station in the borough’s Sunset Park neighborhood.

A train rider’s video shows smoke and people pouring out of a subway car. Wails erupt as passengers run for an exit as a few others limp off the train. One falls to the platform, and a person hollers, “Someone call 911!” In other video and photos from the scene, people tend to bloodied passengers lying on the platform, some amid what appear to be small puddles of blood, and another person is on the floor of a subway car.

“My subway door opened into calamity. It was smoke and blood and people screaming,” eyewitness Sam Carcamo told radio station 1010 WINS, saying he saw a gigantic billow of smoke pouring out of the N train once the door opened.

According to multiple law enforcement sources briefed on the investigation, preliminary information indicated that the gunman who fled was wearing a construction vest and a gas mask.

Investigators believe the gunman deployed a smoke device before opening fire, one of the law enforcement officials said. Investigators are examining whether he may have used that device in an effort to distract people before shooting, the official said.

Fire and police officials were investigating reports that there had been an explosion, but the police department tweeted that there were “no active explosive devices at this time.” Multiple smoke devices were found on the scene, said mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy, who confirmed the initial shooting injury count.

At least 11 people were being treated at two local hospitals. No MTA workers were physically hurt, according to a statement from the Transport Workers Union Local 100.

Juliana Fonda, a broadcast engineer at WNYC-FM, told its news site Gothamist she was riding the train when passengers from the car behind hers started banging on the door between them.

“There was a lot of loud pops, and there was smoke in the other car,” she said. “And people were trying to get in and they couldn’t, they were pounding on the door to get into our car.”

President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the incident, as was Gov. Kathy Hochul. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who is isolating following a positive COVID-19 test on Sunday, was briefed at the mayor’s residence.

The incident happened on a subway line that runs through south Brooklyn in a neighborhood — predominantly home to Hispanic and Asian communities — about a 15-minute train ride to Manhattan. Local schools, including Sunset Park High School across the street, were locked down.

Danny Mastrogiorgio of Brooklyn had just dropped his son off at school when he saw a crush of passengers, some of them wounded, running up the subway stairway at the nearby 25th Street station in panic. At least two had visible leg injuries, he said.

“It was insane,” he told The Associated Press. “No one knew exactly what was going on.”

Allan Lee was running his business, Cafe Nube, when a half-dozen police cars and fire vehicles suddenly converged on the block that contains the 36th Street station.

“Then they started ushering people that were on the block to the adjacent block and then closed off the subway entrance” near the cafe’s door, he told the AP. When he noticed bomb squad officers and dogs, he was certain it was no everyday subway problem.

A sea of emergency lights was visible from at least a dozen blocks away, where a police cordon was set up.

New York City has faced a spate a shootings and high-profile incidents in recent months, including on the city’s subways. One of the most shocking was in January when a woman was pushed to her death in front of a train by a stranger.

Adams, a Democrat a little over 100 days into his term, has made cracking down on crime — especially on the subways — a focus of his early administration, pledging to send more police officers into stations and platforms for regular patrols. It wasn’t immediately clear whether officers had already been inside the station when the shootings occurred.

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Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo in Washington and Michelle L. Price and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

Biden to nominate new ATF director, release ghost gun rule

By MICHAEL BALSAMO for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is nominating an Obama-era U.S. attorney to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as his administration unveils its formal rule to rein in ghost guns, privately made firearms without serial numbers that are increasingly cropping up at crime scenes, six people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

FILE – This Nov. 27, 2019, file photo shows “ghost guns” on display at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department in San Francisco. The Biden administration is expected to come out within days with its long-awaited ghost gun rule. The aim is to rein in privately made firearms without serial numbers. They’re increasingly cropping up at crime scenes across the U.S. Three people familiar with the matter tell The Associated Press the rule could be released as soon as Monday, April 11,2022. They could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)

Biden is expected to make the announcement nominating Steve Dettlebach, who served as a U.S. attorney in Ohio from 2009 to 2016, at the White House on Monday, the people said. They were not authorized to discuss the nomination publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The administration will also release the finalized version of its ghost gun rule, which comes as the White House and the Justice Department have been under growing pressure to crack down on gun deaths and violent crime in the U.S.

Dettlebach’s confirmation is likely to be an uphill battle for the Biden administration. Biden had to withdraw the nomination of his first ATF nominee, gun-control advocate David Chipman, after the nomination stalled for months because of opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate.

Both Republican and Democratic administrations have failed to get nominees for the ATF position through the politically fraught process since the director’s position was made confirmable in 2006. Since then, only one nominee, former U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, has been confirmed. Jones made it through the Senate in 2013 but only after a six-month struggle. Jones was acting director when President Barack Obama nominated him in January 2013.

The Biden administration’s plan was first reported by Politico.

For nearly a year, the ghost gun rule has been making its way through the federal regulation process. Gun safety groups and Democrats in Congress have been pushing for the Justice Department to finish the rule for months. It will probably be met with heavy resistance from gun groups and draw litigation in the coming weeks.

On Sunday, the Senate’s top Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, implored the administration to move faster.

“It’s high time for a ghost gun exorcism before the proliferation peaks, and before more people get hurt — or worse,” Schumer said in a statement. “My message is a simple one: No more waiting on these proposed federal rules.” Ghost guns are “too easy to build, too hard to trace and too dangerous to ignore.”

Justice Department statistics show that nearly 24,000 ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement at crime scenes and reported to the government from 2016 to 2020. It is hard to say how many are circulating on the streets, in part because in many cases police departments don’t contact the government about the guns because they can’t be traced.

The rule is expected to change the current definition of a firearm under federal law to include unfinished parts, like the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun.

In its proposed rule released last May, the ATF said it was also seeking to require manufacturers and dealers who sell ghost gun parts to be licensed by the federal government and require federally licensed firearms dealers to add a serial number to any unserialized guns they plan to sell.

The rule would also require firearms dealers to run background checks before they sell ghost gun kits that contain parts needed to assemble a firearm.

For years, federal officials have been sounding the alarm about an increasing black market for homemade, military-style semi-automatic rifles and handguns. As well as turning up more frequently at crime scenes, ghost guns have been increasingly encountered when federal agents buy guns in undercover operations from gang members and other criminals.

Some states, like California, have enacted laws in recent years to require serial numbers to be stamped on ghost guns.

The critical component in building an untraceable gun is what is known as the lower receiver, a part typically made of metal or polymer. An unfinished receiver — sometimes referred to as an “80-percent receiver” — can be legally bought online with no serial numbers or other markings on it, no license required.

Police across the country have been reporting spikes in ghost guns being recovered by officers. The New York Police Department, for example, said officers found 131 unserialized firearms since January.

A gunman who killed his wife and four others in Northern California in 2017 had been prohibited from owning firearms, but he built his own to skirt the court order before his rampage. And in 2019, a teenager used a homemade handgun to fatally shoot two classmates and wound three others at a school in suburban Los Angeles.

US Navy intends to decommission some of its newest warships

By DAVID SHARP for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The Navy that once wanted smaller, speedy warships to chase down pirates has made a speedy pivot to Russia and China — and many of those recently built ships could be retired.

FILE – The USS Detroit, a Freedom-class of littoral combat ship, arrives Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, in Detroit. The Navy that once wanted smaller, speedy warships to chase down pirates has made a speedy pivot to Russia and China and many of those ships, like the USS Detroit, could be retired. The Navy wants to decommission nine ships in the Freedom-class, warships that cost about $4.5 billion to build. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

The U.S. Navy wants to decommission nine ships in the Freedom-class of littoral combat ships — warships that cost about $4.5 billion altogether to build.

The Navy contends in its budget proposal that the move would free up $50 million per ship annually for other priorities. But it would also reduce the size of the fleet that’s already surpassed by China in sheer numbers, something that could cause members of Congress to balk.

Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, defended the proposal that emphasizes long-range weapons and modern warships, while shedding other ships ill equipped to face current threats.

“We need a ready, capable, lethal force more than we need a bigger force that’s less ready, less lethal, and less capable,” he said Monday at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space symposium in Maryland.

All told, the Navy wants to scrap 24 ships, including five cruisers and a pair of Los Angeles-class submarines, as part of its cost-cutting needed to maintain the existing fleet and build modern warships. Those cuts surpass the proposed nine ships to be built.

Most of them are older vessels. However, the littoral combat ships that are targeted are young. The oldest of them is 10 years old.

The Navy envisioned fast, highly maneuverable warships capable of operating in near-shore, littoral waters when it announced the program a few months after Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The ships topped 50 mph (80 kph) — fast enough to chase down pirates — and utilized steerable waterjets instead of conventional propellers.

The ships were supposed to be made versatile through plug-and-play mission modules for surface combat, mine-sweeping operations or anti-submarine warfare. But those mission modules were beset by problems, and the anti-submarine capability was canceled in the new budget.

And what about that speed? The fastest ship can’t outrun missiles, and firing up those marine turbines for an extra burst of speed turned the ships into gas guzzlers, analysts said. Early versions also were criticized as too lightly armed and armored to survive combat.

The speedy Freedom-class ships proposed for decommissioning feature a traditional steel hull. That entire class of ships suffers from a propulsion defect that will be costly repair. The Navy proposes keeping a second variant, the aluminum Independence class.

Jim Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, said the program was plagued by troubles from the start, and that “moving forward the Navy must avoid similar acquisition disasters.”

U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia, was more blunt, tweeting that it “sucks” to be decommissioning so many ships, especially newer ones.

“The Navy owes a public apology to American taxpayers for wasting tens of billions of dollars on ships they now say serve no purpose,” she said.

Some detractors proclaimed littoral combat ships to be the Navy’s “Little Crappy Ship,” but that’s not fair, said defense analyst Loren Thompson.

“It’s not a little crappy ship. It does what it was supposed to do. What it was supposed to do isn’t enough for the kind of threats that we face today,” said Thompson, from the Lexington Institute.

In the Navy’s defense, threats shifted swiftly from the Cold War to the war on terror to the current Great Power Competition in which Russia and China are asserting themselves, he said.

In the end, the Navy may be content with smaller numbers of Freedom-class ships for maritime security and small surface combatant operations, said Bryan Clark, defense analyst at the Hudson Institute.

Congress must sign off on the Navy’s proposal to decommission ships ahead of their projected service life.

The House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday grilled Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the proposal.

U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Virginia, suggested the ship cuts were “grossly irresponsible” when the U.S. Navy has dipped from 318 ships to 297, while the Chinese fleet has grown from 210 to 360 ships over the past two decades.

Milley said it’s important to focus on the Navy’s capabilities rather than the size of its fleet.

“I would bias towards capability rather than just sheer numbers,” he said.

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This story has been corrected to show that Jim Inhofe is the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, not the chairman.

Michigan police investigate theft of sasquatch lawn ornament

From the Associated Press

PARK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Police are investigating the theft of a 7-foot-tall (2.13 meter-tall) metal sasquatch lawn ornament from a home in southern Michigan.

The item crafted from sheet metal was stolen from a home in St. Joseph County’s Park Township on or after March 22, Michigan State Police said.

It has a rusty brown color with various sharp edges to resemble the fur of the mythical, ape-like bigfoot.

It appeared the sasquatch was cut away from a steel post with a pair of bolt cutters or a similar instrument, police said.

A white panel van with dark driver- and passenger-side windows was observed parked in the area on March 22, police said.

Firefighters in south Mississippi get new equipment

From the Associated Press

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — Biloxi firefighters are getting new gear aimed at making their jobs safer.

Firefighters are being fitted the new equipment this week, WLOX-TV reported.

The Biloxi Fire Department purchased 82 new air packs with 183 masks. The equipment cost more than $600,000 and was purchased through a federal grant awarded to the agency last fall, the station reported.

The new compression system will convert outside air into the tanks on firefighters’ backs, WLOX reported. The new masks are also equipped with a display indicating several things like how much air is left in the tank.

The new equipment also features a voice amplifier, which makes it easier for fire crews to communicate during a fire.

Fox bites man, putting Capitol Hill on high alert

By KEVIN FREKING from the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Capitol Hill has a fox problem. And that’s not the lead-in to a joke.

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., learned firsthand Monday evening while walking to the Capitol for votes. Now he’s undergoing a series of four rabies shots out of an abundance of caution.

In his image provided by U.S. Capitol Police, a fox looks out from a cage after being captured on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Washington. (U.S. Capitol Police via AP)

Bera said he felt something lunge at him from behind as he walked near one of the Senate office buildings. He turned and used his umbrella to fend off what he thought would be a small dog, but he soon realized he was tangling with a fox.

Bera said the encounter lasted about 15 seconds. A bystander yelled to alert others and the fox fled as U.S. Capitol Police officers ran up on the scene. A medical doctor, Bera looked for puncture wounds. He didn’t see evidence of any, but there was some abrasion, so he consulted the Capitol physician, who told him not to take any chances and to get treated.

He said he went to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after votes for the first of a series of four shots.

“I would say it’s the most unusual day on the Hill in 10 years,” Bera said of his experience.

Of course, there were many joking references to Fox News at the Capitol on Tuesday. But the House Sergeant at Arms was serious when telling lawmakers and their staffs Tuesday afternoon that there had been multiple recent fox encounters and that the animals should not be approached.

The warning noted that there are possibly several fox dens on the Capitol grounds and that animal control personnel would be seeking to trap and locate any that they find.

In at least one case, they were successful. Capitol Police tweeted pictures of one fox safely captured in a cage.

Bera harbored no ill will toward the culprit.

“Hopefully, the animal can be relocated,” he said.

Man arrested in Sacramento shooting had recently left prison

By ADAM BEAM from the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A wounded man arrested in connection with a Sacramento shooting that killed six people and injured a dozen more had been released from prison weeks earlier and was rejected for even earlier release after prosecutors argued he “clearly has little regard for human life,” documents show.

Smiley Martin, 27, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and possession of a machine gun. Hours before Sunday’s attack, Martin had posted a live Facebook video of himself brandishing a handgun, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

Dandrae Martin makes his first court appearance in Sacramento County Superior Court, in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Martin is facing charges connected to the shooting that killed and injured multiple people in Sacramento days earlier. He was arrested as a “related suspect,” on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and being a convict carrying a loaded gun. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Police were trying to determine if a stolen handgun found at the crime scene was used in the massacre. It had been converted to a weapon capable of automatic gunfire. They also were trying to determine whether the gun Martin brandished in his video was used, the official told the AP. He was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to publicly discuss details and spoke on condition of anonymity.A

Martin and his brother were among those wounded when gunfire erupted near the state Capitol at about 2 a.m. Sunday as bars were closing and patrons filled the streets. More than 100 shots were unleashed in rapid-fire succession as hundreds of people scrambled to find safety. Authorities were trying to determine if a street fight outside a nightclub may have sparked the shooting.

The Sacramento County coroner identified the women killed as Johntaya Alexander, 21; Melinda Davis, 57; and Yamile Martinez-Andrade, 21. The three men killed were Sergio Harris, 38; Joshua Hoye-Lucchesi, 32; and De’vazia Turner, 29.

Martin remained hospitalized and will be booked on the charges when his condition improves enough for him to be jailed, a police statement said.

His brother, Dandrae Martin, 26, was arrested Monday as a “related suspect” on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and being a convict carrying a loaded gun. He was not seriously wounded and made a brief appearance on the gun possession charge Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court wearing orange jail scrubs.

Investigators believe both brothers had stolen guns and are trying to determine how they got them, the law enforcement official told the AP.

A 31-year-old man who was seen carrying a handgun immediately after the shooting was arrested Tuesday on a weapons charge, though police said his gun was not believed to be used in the crime.

Smiley Martin has a criminal history dating back to 2013. He was released from state prison in February on probation after serving two years of a 10-year sentence for punching a girlfriend, dragging her from her home by her hair and whipping her with a belt, prosecutors said.A

Martin might have been released sooner, but a Parole Board rejected his bid for early release in May after prosecutors said the 2017 felony assault along with convictions for possessing an assault weapon and thefts posed “a significant, unreasonable risk of safety to the community.”

Martin “clearly has little regard for human life and the law,” and has displayed a pattern of criminal behavior from the time he was 18, a Sacramento County deputy district attorney wrote in a letter last year to the Board of Parole Hearings.

It wasn’t clear if Smiley Martin had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Dandrae Martin, who was held without bail, was freed from an Arizona prison in 2020 after serving just over 1 1/2 years for violating probation in separate cases involving marijuana and aggravated assault.

Defense lawyer Linda Parisi said she doesn’t know enough about the California case yet and whether she will seek his Martin’s release will depend on whether prosecutors bring stiffer charges.

“If it turns out that the evidence demonstrates that this was mere presence at a scene that certainly argues more for a release,” Parisi said. “If it shows some more aggressive conduct then it would argue against it. But we don’t know that yet.”

___

Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio, Brian Melley and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Don Thompson in Sacramento, Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix and News Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this story.

Cops corral slippery seal on jaunt through Long Island town

From the Associated Press

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) — A wayward seal has been captured after an early morning foray through a Long Island, New York, town.

Police in Southampton said they received a call at approximately 6:30 a.m. Sunday from a person who saw the roving mammal, later identified as a phocid, or earless seal, in the parking lot of a beverage store about 500 feet (150 meters) from the Peconic River in Riverhead.

When officers arrived, the seal fled southwest toward a motel but eventually was corralled and taken into custody.

The seal was handed over to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation for evaluation, according to police.

California may empower citizens to sue over illegal firearms

By DON THOMPSON for the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — For all California’s nation-leading attempts to regulate firearms, the state has not found a way to deter those happy to skirt the laws with stolen or homemade and increasingly prevalent “ghost” guns.

A person passes a memorial near the location of a mass shooting in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, April 4, 2022. Multiple people were killed and injured in the shooting a day earlier. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In just two recent examples, police say the first weapon recovered after gunmen killed six people and wounded 12 in downtown Sacramento early Sunday had been stolen. The homemade assault weapon a father used a month ago and a few miles away to kill his three daughters, their chaperone and then himself was unregistered.

“People argue that we’ve got the toughest gun laws in the nation. But they’re clearly not tough enough,” Democratic state Sen. Robert Hertzberg said Monday.

The latest mass shooting in a nightclub area blocks from the state Capitol renewed calls for tougher firearms laws from President Joe Biden. Biden called for Congress to take many of the steps nationwide that California already has in place — imposing background checks, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and outlawing ghost guns.

The most populous state will consider an innovative new approach Tuesday when Hertzberg, at the urging of Gov. Gavin Newsom, expects to take the first step to advance a bill allowing private citizens to sue anyone who distributes illegal assault weapons, parts that can be used to build weapons, guns without serial numbers, or .50 caliber rifles.

The penalty: at least $10,000 in civil damages for each weapon, plus attorneys fees.

But the bill would not bar anyone from possessing or using the weapons, though they’re illegal under other laws. And it would not include stolen weapons unless they are otherwise made illegal, for instance by filing off the serial number.

“It’s going to have hopefully a chilling effect on folks with ghost guns or assault weapons,” Hertzberg said. “You’ve got to have millions of eyeballs looking for these guns. If someone flashes one, talks about it, all of a sudden there’s an incentive among the public in a way that there’s never been before to try to pull them off the street.”

Yet, Hertzberg’s bill is patterned after a similar Texas law allowing citizens to go after those who provide or assist in providing abortions. And even if it becomes law, Hertzberg’s bill will automatically be invalidated if the Texas law is eventually ruled unconstitutional.

“This is tit for tat political gamesmanship, which is the worst reason to be passing some kind of a bill,” said Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association and an attorney who wrote a book about California’s complicated gun laws. “You’re going to deputize a bunch of amateurs — non-lawyers, non-cops — to judge a neighbor’s actions and then give them the right to drag them into court over it.”

Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which generally favors firearms restrictions, hasn’t taken a position on the bill.

The center’s state policy director, attorney Ari Freilich, said it “would essentially bring more enforcement oversight to some specific criminal laws in California.”

“It’s not something that’s really been tried before,” Freilich said.

He wouldn’t predict if it would be effective, but said the proposal has some “potential challenges.” Among them is encouraging civil actions to punish crimes, and establishing “a bounty” to be collected by those who haven’t been directly harmed.

His organization is backing other bills, including one that would make it easier for people to sue gun companies for liability in shootings that cause injuries or death. Two other bills also target firearm parts and guns without serial numbers, and those made with 3D printers.

Legislative analysts also raised concerns, including that California’s bill might be seen as legitimizing Texas’ approach.

Much like the Texas law, the analysts said Hertzberg’s legislation is written so broadly that it might ensnare, for instance, “a taxi driver that takes a person to a gun shop,” though Hertzberg said that is not the intent.

Parts use to make weapons are not themselves illegal, but a California law taking effect July 1 will require that they be sold only through licensed firearms dealers.

Sen. Tom Umberg, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Democrat like Hertzberg and Newsom, said he expects Hertzberg’s bill to clear his committee “in order to continue the conversation about the absurdity of the Texas law.”

Umberg said he supports Hertzberg’s goal, though he recognizes that “the enforcement mechanism is susceptible to challenge.”

The bill would then have to clear two other committees before getting a full Senate vote. It would also have to pass the Assembly before going to Newsom.

Hertzberg said he thinks his bill could also help root out dangerous domestic abusers like David Mora. Investigators said Mora used a homemade semiautomatic rifle-style weapon with an illegal 30-round ammunition magazine to kill his daughters at a Sacramento church Feb. 28 despite a restraining order barring him from possessing weapons.

“I think this will have bigger teeth, sharper teeth than a court order,” Hertzberg said. “This goes to somebody’s bank account. You win this case, you seize their bank account. Their world changes.”

Democrats deny police-aid plan answers anti-crime criticism

By JOHN O’CONNOR for the Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Democrats in the General Assembly, under pressure from a law enforcement community that feels unappreciated in a time of rising crime, introduced a package of legislation Monday to bolster support, from pinning badges on top candidates to allowing retirees to keep their service revolvers.

Rep. Dave Vella, D-Rockford, speaks at a news conference about an anti-crime package from Illinois Democrats, Monday, April 4, 2022, in Springfield, Ill. The plans are aimed at supporting law enforcement with money for recruiting and training, body cameras, mental health resources and more. (AP Photo/John O’Connor)

The plan would provide unspecified funding for local police departments to recruit and train candidates; to buy body cameras and storage capacity for video; to create off-hours daycare for single parents to advance careers despite the job’s unusual hours; and to expand mental health resources for first responders to deal with the trauma that can lead to an early exit from the field.

“We are all experiencing across the nation an uptick in violence,” said the mental health program’s sponsor, Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, a Chicago Democrat, adding that survivors and first responders “are carrying the biggest burden of this crisis.”

With four days left in the spring session, this is the second crime-reduction package to come from Democrats in four days. The first focused on support services for victims. Monday’s measures aim to support police communities that complained they were demonized 15 months ago when the Black Caucus-led policing overhaul was signed into law. Known as the -T Act, the overhaul came amid a spate of police-involved shootings in Chicago and nationwide.

SAFE-T set standards for police use of force, set a schedule to require all police to wear body cameras, eliminated cash bail for criminal suspects and more.

Presenters at the Democrats’ state Capitol news conference Monday were overwhelmingly white. Rockford Democratic Rep. Dave Vella said members of the Black Caucus were meeting on other issues but had worked on and endorsed the package. He rebuffed a question about whether the the plan is an “antidote” to ease the discomfort police feel about SAFE-T.

“This isn’t an antidote to anything,” Vella said. “This is us trying to make the streets safer and get more police on the street. That’s it.”

Some Republicans have gone so far as to blame rising crime on the SAFE-T Act, despite virtually none of it having taken effect. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, a Western Springs Republican, continued the campaign Monday.

“Democrats in Illinois have repeatedly attacked our police and justice system,” Durkin said in a statement. “Today, they are trying to rewrite history. Until they wake up and repeal their pro-criminal SAFE-T Act, there will be no safe communities in Illinois.”

Portland expands unarmed emergency response program

From the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — People across Portland, Oregon, looking to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis have a new option: They can call 911 and ask for the Portland Street Response.

The unarmed emergency response program began serving people citywide on Monday, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

“The expansion is an integral part of modernizing our public safety system into a community safety system that works for all,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said on Twitter Monday.

The program, housed within the city’s fire bureau, dispatches a firefighter paramedic, a mental health crisis therapist and two community health workers to calls in which a person is potentially experiencing a mental health crisis or is intoxicated and doesn’t have a visible weapon.

It was designed to provide better outcomes for people and reduce the call load for the city’s public safety bureaus. The program started a Southeast Portland neighborhood a year ago and has been expanding since. Portland Street Response took over 1,000 calls in its first year.

UK police issue 20 fines over ‘partygate’ virus scandal

By JILL LAWLESS for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — British police have issued 20 fines over illegal parties held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff during coronavirus lockdowns — though the recipients don’t yet include Johnson, whose hold on power has been threatened by the illicit gatherings.

FILE – An anti-Conservative Party protester holds a placard with an image of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson including the words “Now Partygate” backdropped by the Houses of Parliament, in London, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. British police are getting ready to issue a first batch of fines on over parties held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s staff during coronavirus lockdowns. The Metropolitan Police declined to confirm reports multiple U.K. media outlets that fines would come as soon as Tuesday, March 29, 2022, saying it would not give “a running commentary” on its probe. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

The Metropolitan Police force said Tuesday it wouldn’t identify the recipients of the fixed penalty notices, but Johnson’s office said it would reveal if he gets one. It wasn’t clear whether 20 people received fines or whether some individuals got more than one.

Opponents, and some members of the governing Conservative Party, have said that Johnson should resign if he is issued a fine for breaking rules he imposed on the rest of the country during the pandemic.

The “partygate” scandal had left Johnson’s tenure on a knife-edge before Russia launched a war in Ukraine more than a month ago that gave Britain’s politicians more urgent priorities and pushed the scandal from the headlines.

But the police have continued their investigation of dozens of politicians and officials over allegations that the government flouted its own pandemic restrictions. Officers sent questionnaires to more than 100 people, including the prime minister, and interviewed witnesses as part of the investigation.

Confirming that it had authorized 20 fines, the police force said officers were working through a “significant amount of investigative material” and more people could face penalties later.

Johnson’s government was shaken by public anger over revelations that his staff held “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays” in 2020 and 2021 while millions in Britain were barred from meeting with friends and family because of his government’s COVID-19 restrictions. Thousands of people were fined between 60 pounds ($79) and 10,000 pounds ($13,200) by police for rule-breaking social gatherings.

Johnson has denied any wrongdoing, but he is alleged to have been at several of the dozen events in his 10 Downing St. office and other government buildings that are being investigated by the police. He has acknowledged attending a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 during the first lockdown, but insisted he believed it would be a work event.

In January, civil servant Sue Gray published a report into some of the gatherings, the ones not under criminal investigation. She said “failures of leadership and judgment” in Johnson’s government allowed events to occur that should not have happened.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the party revelations were “a slap in the face” to millions who had followed the national coronavirus restrictions.

“The culture is set from the very top,” she said. “The buck stops with the prime minister, who spent months lying to the British public, which is why he has got to go.”

Hannah Brady, a spokeswoman for the group COVID-1919 Bereaved Families for Justice, said Johnson “should have resigned months ago over this.”

“By dragging it out longer, all he is doing is pouring more salt on the wounds of those who have already suffered so much,” she said.

Johnson spokesman Max Blain declined to say whether the prime minister would quit if he is fined.

“It’s a hypothetical situation,” he said.

___

Russia says it will scale back near Kyiv as talks progress

By NEBI QENA and YURAS KARMANAU for the Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia announced Tuesday it will “fundamentally” scale back military operations near Ukraine’s capital and a northern city, as talks to end the grinding war brought the outlines of a possible deal into view.

Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, top military commander in charge of the defense of the Ukrainian capital, walks in a trench at a position north of the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. The first face-to-face talks in two weeks between Russia and Ukraine began Tuesday in Turkey, raising flickering hopes there could be progress toward ending a war that has ground into a bloody campaign of attrition. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said the change on the battlefield was meant to increase trust at the talks after several rounds of negotiations failed to halt what has devolved into a bloody campaign of attrition.

The announcement was met with skepticism from the U.S. and others.

While Moscow portrayed it as a goodwill gesture, its ground troops have become bogged down and taken heavy losses in their bid to seize Kyiv and other cities. Last week and again on Tuesday, the Kremlin seemed to lower its war aims, saying its “main goal” now is gaining control of the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had not seen anything indicating talks were progressing in a “constructive way,” and he suggested Russian indications of a pullback could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and deflect attention.”

“There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does, and we’re focused on the latter,” Blinken said in Morocco. “And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine.”

He added, “If they somehow believe that an effort to subjugate only the eastern part of Ukraine or the southern part of Ukraine … can succeed, then once again they are profoundly fooling themselves.”

Western officials say Moscow is reinforcing troops in the Donbas in an attempt to encircle Ukraine’s best-trained and best-equipped forces, which are concentrated in the east.

Even as negotiators from the two sides assembled in Istanbul, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces hit an oil depot in western Ukraine late Monday and blasted a gaping hole Tuesday morning in a nine-story government administration building in the southern port city of Mykolaiv. At least seven people were killed in that attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

“It’s terrible. They waited for people to go to work” before striking the building, said regional governor Vitaliy Kim. “I overslept. I’m lucky.”

Fomin said Moscow has decided to “fundamentally … cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.” He did not immediately spell out what that would mean in practical terms.

Ukraine’s military said it has noted withdrawals of some forces around Kyiv and Chernihiv. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CNN “we haven’t seen anything to corroborate” reports of Russia pulling back significant forces from around Kyiv. “But what we have seen over the last couple of days is they have stopped trying to advance on Kyiv.”

Rob Lee, a military expert at the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, tweeted: “This sounds like more of an acknowledgment of the situation around Kyiv where Russia’s advance has been stalled for weeks and Ukrainian forces have had recent successes. Russia doesn’t have the forces to encircle the city.”

The meeting in Istanbul was the first time negotiators from Russia and Ukraine talked face-to-face in two weeks. Earlier talks, held in person in Belarus or by video, made no progress toward ending the more than month-long war that has killed thousands and driven over 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, including almost 4 million who have fled the country.

Ukraine’s delegation set out a detailed framework for a peace deal under which the nation would remain neutral but its security would be guaranteed by a group of third countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, China and Poland, in an arrangement similar to NATO’s “an attack on one is an attack on all” principle.

Ukraine said it would also be willing to hold talks over a 15-year period on the future of the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014.

The Kremlin has demanded among other things that Ukraine drop any hope of joining NATO.

Vladimir Medinskiy, the head of the Russian delegation, said on Russian TV that the Ukrainian proposals are a “step to meet us halfway, a clearly positive fact.” He cautioned that the parties are still far from reaching an agreement, but said: “We know now how to move further toward compromise. We aren’t just marking time in talks.”

Fomin likewise suggested there had been progress, saying “negotiations on preparing an agreement on Ukraine’s neutrality and non-nuclear status, as well as on giving Ukraine security guarantees, are turning to practical matters.”

In other developments:

— In what appeared to be a coordinated action to tackle Russian espionage, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland and North Macedonia expelled scores of Russian diplomats.

— The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency arrived in Ukraine to try to ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities. Russian forces have taken control of the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, site in 1986 of the world’s worst nuclear accident, and of the active Zaporizhzhia plant, where a building was damaged in fighting.

— Russia has destroyed more than 60 religious buildings across the country in just over a month of war, with most of the damage concentrated near Kyiv and in the east, Ukraine’s military said.

— In the room at the Istanbul talks was Roman Abramovich, a longtime Putin ally who has been sanctioned by Britain and the European Union. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Chelsea soccer team owner has been serving as an unofficial mediator approved by both countries. But mystery about his role has been deepened by news reports that he may have been poisoned during an earlier round of talks.

Over the past several days, Ukrainian forces have mounted counterattacks and reclaimed ground on the outskirts of Kyiv and other areas. They retook Irpin, a key suburb northwest of the capital, Zelenskyy said Monday. But he warned that Russian troops were regrouping to take the area back.

Ukrainian soldiers gathered in a trench for photos with Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, who said that Ukraine controls a vast majority of Irpin.

“We defend our motherland because we have very high morale,” said Syrskyi, the top military commander in charge of defense of Kyiv. “And because we want to win.”

Ukrainian forces also seized back Trostyanets, south of Sumy in the northeast, after weeks of Russian occupation that left a devastated landscape.

Arriving in the town Monday shortly afterward, The Associated Press saw the bodies of two Russian soldiers in the woods, and Russian tanks sat burned and twisted. A red “Z” marked a Russian truck, its windshield fractured, near stacked boxes of ammunition. Ukrainian forces on top of a tank flashed victory signs. Dazed residents lined up amid charred buildings, seeking aid.

Putin’s ground forces have been thwarted not just by stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, but by what Western officials say are Russian tactical missteps, poor morale, shortages of food, fuel and cold weather gear, and other problems.

Reinforcing what the military said last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that “liberating Donbas” is now Moscow’s chief objective.

While that presents a possible face-saving exit strategy for Putin, it has also raised Ukrainian fears the Kremlin aims to split the country and force it to surrender a swath of its territory.

___

Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

Residents return home after fleeing latest Colorado wildfire

From the Associated Press

Nearly 20,000 people who were forced to flee a wildfire in northern Colorado were back home Monday after firefighters were able to stop the spread of the fire at 190 acres (77 hectares).

The fire that broke out Saturday in the rolling hills near Boulder burned to within 1,000 yards (914 meters) of homes on the west end of the college town, near the area where more than 1,000 homes were destroyed by a wildfire pushed by strong winds in late December. This time, winds did not prevent aircraft from being used and they were able to lay down lines of fire retardant near homes.

Firefighters’ vehicles sit as a wildfire burns near the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. The fire, which started Saturday, is 35 percent contained and most evacuation orders have been lifted for the residents of nearby housing developments in the south end of Boulder. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Containment lines surrounded 35% of the fire Monday. Those lines were expected to hold despite winds caused by a shift in the weather that is forecast to bring rain Tuesday, incident commander Brian Oliver said.

Firefighters were trying to extinguish embers in the burned area, working them into the soil which is moist from recent snowfall, he said. The grass which burned, however, was still dormant and dry. Pockets of smoke hung over some trees in the burn area, which would likely continue for some weeks and be monitored, Oliver said.

Previously a summer staple, wildfires are becoming a year-round occurrence in the West, as drier weather and extreme temperatures grow across much of the region.

Winter precipitation helped ease the severity of the dry fall that preceded December’s destructive fire in Colorado. However, a heat wave engulfed Western states in recent days. In Boulder County, the temperature hit 78 degrees Fahrenheit (26 Celsius), more than 20 degrees above average highs. Meanwhile, temperatures in southern Arizona and across Texas shot into the 90s.

In Texas, firefighters were battling several wildfires, the largest of which has burned 85 square miles (220 square kilometers) and was 90% contained.

Another fire, burning near the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood base in Texas, prompted evacuations of about 200 homes Sunday, but residents were allowed to return home later in the day. That fire has burned about 27 square miles (70 square kilometers).

Many areas of Texas were under red flag warnings Monday because of the dry, windy conditions.

Feds: Man smuggled 1,700 reptiles from Mexico, Hong Kong

By STEFANIE DAZIO from the Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Southern California man is accused of smuggling more than 1,700 reptiles — including baby crocodiles and Mexican beaded lizards — into the U.S. since 2016, authorities said Thursday.

FILE – This February 2022 photo provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows snakes in bags found hidden under and in a man’s clothes by CBP officers at the San Ysidro, Calif., port of entry. A Southern California man is accused of smuggling more than 1,700 reptiles, including baby crocodiles and Mexican beaded lizards, into the U.S. since 2016, authorities said Thursday, March 24, 2022. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP, File)

Jose Manuel Perez, also known as “Julio Rodriguez,” was taken into custody on Feb. 25 at the San Ysidro border crossing with Mexico.

Border patrol agents found about 60 lizards and snakes tied up in small bags, “which were concealed in the man’s jacket, pants pockets, and groin area,” authorities said last month. Perez allegedly told the agents that the animals were his pets.

Perez, 30, of Oxnard, has been in federal custody since then and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles on Thursday announced additional charges on a superseding indictment that also includes Perez’s sister as a defendant.

Perez is scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles on Monday. His federal attorney in San Diego declined to comment Thursday. Some of the smuggled reptiles were protected and endangered species, authorities said.

Beginning January 2016, Perez and his sister, as well as others, are accused of using social media to buy and sell wildlife in the U.S. The animals, including Yucatan and Mexican box turtles, were allegedly imported from Mexico and Hong Kong without permits.

The reptiles were initially taken to Perez’s home in Missouri but later shipped to Oxnard when he moved to California, authorities said. His sister assisted him in the smuggling business, prosecutors alleged, especially during times when Perez was incarcerated in the U.S.

FBI sees growing Russian hacker interest in US energy firms

By ERIC TUCKER and JAKE BLEIBERG for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is warning that it has seen increased interest by Russian hackers in energy companies since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, though it is offering no indication that a specific cyberattack is planned.

Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, speaks alongside White House press secretary Jen Psaki during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, March 21, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

An FBI advisory obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday says Russian hackers have scanned at least five energy companies for vulnerabilities and at least 18 other companies in sectors including the defense industrial base and financial services. The advisory does not identify any of the companies.

Scanning a network for flaws or vulnerabilities is common and does not indicate that an attack is forthcoming, though the activity can sometimes be a precursor of one. Still, the warning by the FBI, dated Friday, underscores the Biden administration’s heightened cybersecurity concerns due to Russia’s war with Ukraine.

On Monday, the White House said there was “evolving intelligence” indicating that Russia was considering launching cyberattacks against critical infrastructure in the U.S. Anne Neuberger, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, expressed frustration at a White House press briefing that some critical infrastructure entities have failed to fix known software flaws that could be exploited by Russian hackers.

Meanwhile, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency convened a call Tuesday with more than 13,000 industry stakeholders to warn about the potential for future cyberattacks and to reinforce the need to act now to protect themselves.

The FBI advisory shares 140 internet protocol, or IP, addresses that it says have been previously associated with the scanning of critical infrastructure in the U.S. since at least March 2021. That scanning has increased since the start of the war last month, the alert says, “leading to a greater possibility of future intrusions.”

The advisory says that though the FBI recognizes that scanning activity is common, the IP addresses are associated with cyber actors who have previously “conducted destructive cyber activity against foreign critical infrastructure.” In this instance, the advisory said, the scanning activity “likely indicates early stages of reconnaisance.”

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Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

Dialing up pressure, North Korea tests long-range missile

By KIM TONG-HYUNG and MARI YAMAGUCHI for the Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea test-fired possibly its biggest intercontinental ballistic missile toward the sea Thursday, according to its neighbors, raising the ante in a pressure campaign aimed at forcing the United States and other rivals to accept it as a nuclear power and remove crippling sanctions.

A woman walks along a sidewalk past a TV displaying a news program on North Korea’s missile launch Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Tokyo. North Korea has fired a suspected long-range missile toward the sea in what would be its first such test since 2017, raising the ante in a pressure campaign aimed at forcing the United States and other rivals to accept it as a nuclear power and remove crippling sanctions. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

The launch, which extended North Korea’s barrage of weapons tests this year, came after the U.S. and South Korean militaries said the country was preparing a flight of a new large ICBM first unveiled in October 2020.

South Korea’s military responded with live-fire drills of its own missiles launched from land, a fighter jet and a ship, underscoring a revival of tensions as nuclear negotiations remain frozen. It said it confirmed readiness to execute precision strikes against North Korea’s missile launch points as well as command and support facilities.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North’s ICBM fired from the Sunan area near capital Pyongyang traveled 1,080 kilometers (670 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of over 6,200 kilometers (3,850 miles). The missile was apparently fired on high angle to avoid reaching the territorial waters of Japan.

Japan’s Deputy Defense Minister Makoto Oniki said flight details suggested a new type of ICBM.

“It’s an unforgivable recklessness. We resolutely condemn the act,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said after arriving in Belgium for the Group of Seven meetings.

The missile flew 71 minutes before possibly landing near Japanese territorial waters off the island of Hokkaido, said Tokyo’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno. Japan may search for debris inside its exclusive economic zone to analyze the North’s technology, he said.

Japan’s coast guard issued a warning to vessels in nearby waters, but there were no immediate reports of damage to boats or aircraft. A Japanese fisheries organizations released a statement denouncing the launch as a “barbaric act” that puts fishermen’s lives and livelihoods at risk.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in during an emergency National Security Council meeting criticized North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for breaking a self-imposed moratorium on ICBM tests and posing a “serious threat” to the region and the broader international community.

The United States strongly condemns the North’s launch, said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, calling it a “brazen violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions that risks destabilizing the region’s security.

“The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions. The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and Republic of Korea and Japanese allies,” she said, referring to South Korea’s formal name.

In Brussels, Kishida and President Joe Biden discussed the North’s launch on the sidelines of the G-7 summit, stressed the need for diplomacy and agreed to continue working together to hold Pyongyang responsible, the White House said.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said flight details suggest the missile could reach targets 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles) away when fired on normal trajectory with a warhead weighing less than a ton. That would place the entire U.S. mainland within striking distance.

Following a highly provocative streak in nuclear explosive and ICBM tests in 2017, Kim Jong Un suspended such testing in 2018 ahead of his first meeting with then-U.S. President Donald Trump.

North Korea’s resumption of nuclear brinkmanship reflects a determination to cement its status as a nuclear power and wrest badly needed economic concessions from Washington and others from a position of strength, analysts say.

Kim may also feel a need to trumpet his military accomplishments to his domestic audience as he grapples with a broken economy worsened by pandemic border closures.

“Despite economic challenges and technical setbacks, the Kim regime is determined to advance its missile capabilities,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University. “It would be a mistake for international policymakers to think the North Korean missile threat can be put on the back burner while the world deals with the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

The Biden administration’s passive handling of North Korea so far, while it focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and an intensifying rivalry with China, is allowing more room for the North to dial up its testing activity, some experts say. The administration’s actions on North Korea have so far been limited to largely symbolic sanctions imposed over its recent tests and offers of open-ended talks that were rejected by Pyongyang.

It was North Korea’s 12th round of weapons launches this year and came after it fired suspected artillery pieces into the sea on Sunday.

The North has also tested a variety of new missiles, including a purported hypersonic weapon and its first launch since 2017 of an intermediate range missile with a potential of reaching Guam, a key U.S. military hub in the Pacific.

It also conducted two medium-range tests in recent weeks from Sunan, home to the country’s main airport, that the U.S. and South Korean militaries assessed to have involved components of the North’s largest ICBM. The allies had said the missile, which the North calls Hwasong-17, could be tested at full range soon.

Those tests were followed by another launch from Sunan last week. But South Korea’s military said the missile likely exploded shortly after liftoff.

North Korea’s official media insisted that the two successful tests were aimed at developing cameras and other systems for a spy satellite. Analysts say the North is attempting to simultaneously advance its ICBMs and acquire some level of space-based reconnaissance capability under the pretense of a space launch to reduce international backlash to those moves.

That launch may possibly come around a major political anniversary in April, the birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim.

The North’s previous ICBMs demonstrated potential range to reach the American homeland during three flight tests in 2017. The development of the larger Hwasong-17, which was first revealed in a military parade in October 2020, possibly indicates an aim to arm it with multiple warheads to overwhelm missile defenses.

In North Korea’s last test of an ICBM in November 2017, the Hwasong-15 flew about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) for about 50 minutes at a maximum altitude of 4,000 kilometers (2,400 miles). It wasn’t immediately clear whether the missile from the latest test was the Hwasong-17.

Denuclearization talks with the U.S. have been stalled since 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim presided over a ruling Workers’ Party meeting on Jan. 19, where Politburo members issued a veiled threat to end his moratorium on ICBM and nuclear tests, citing U.S. hostility.

South Korea’s military has also detected signs that North Korea was possibly restoring some of the tunnels at its nuclear testing ground that were detonated in May 2018, weeks ahead of Kim’s first meeting with Trump.

___ Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

US states seek to ease inflation burden with direct payments

By PATRICK WHITTLE from the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — With inflation raging and state coffers flush with cash, governors and lawmakers across the U.S. are considering a relatively simple solution to help ease the pain people are feeling at the gas pump and grocery store — sending money.

Wayne Holly, the owner of Rio Rancho T-Shirts, poses for a portrait at the family-owned shop in Rio Rancho, N.M., Monday, March 21, 2022. Holly said the small business he and his wife have operated for more than 20 years is feeling the pinch of inflation and that tax rebates offered by state governments won’t be enough to combat rising prices or ongoing economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

At least a dozen states have proposed giving rebate checks of several hundred dollars directly to taxpayers, among them California, Kansas and Minnesota. Critics, including many Republican lawmakers, say those checks won’t go far enough given the pace of inflation and are pushing instead for permanent tax cuts.

A proposal from Maine Gov. Janet Mills is among the most generous in a state where the cost of food and fuel has skyrocketed in recent months. The Democratic governor wants to send $850 to most residents as part of the state’s budget bill.

The rebate “will help Maine people grapple with these increased costs by putting money directly back into their pockets,” Mills said.

But Wendell Cressey, a clamdigger in Harpswell, said the soaring cost of fuel for people in his business means the check will provide just temporary relief.

“It might help a little, but it would have to be a lot more because we’re paying for gas. Most of us have V-8 trucks,” Cressey said. “I just don’t think it’s going to help as much as they think it is.”

In addition to the direct rebates, lawmakers and governors across the country are considering cuts to sales taxes, property tax relief and reducing or suspending state gas taxes.

The proposals come at a time when many states actually have too much money on their hands because of billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid and ballooning tax revenue. It’s also happening as the war in Ukraine has compounded soaring prices for fuel and other essentials.

It’s also no coincidence that the relief is being floated during an election year, said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine. Maine’s governor’s race is one of many closely watched contests at the state level this year.

“There’s some real policy reason to do this,” Brewer said. “But at the same time, it’s also clear that this is an election year, and in an election year there are few things as popular as giving voters what voters see as free money from the state.”

The states are moving toward sending people money as consumer inflation has jumped nearly 8% over the past year. That was the sharpest spike since 1982.

Inflation boosted the typical family’s food expenses by nearly $590 last year, according to the Penn Wharton Budget Model, a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. Overall, the average family had to spend $3,500 more last year to buy the same amount of goods and services as they purchased in previous years.

In New Mexico, some have questioned whether Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan for a $250 rebate goes far enough given how much consumer prices have risen.

Wayne Holly and his wife, Penny, were among the small business owners in the state who were forced to shut their doors early in the COVID-19 pandemic because of the governor’s public health orders.

Their T-shirt and screen-printing business narrowly weathered that storm but is now feeling the pinch again as the cost of materials skyrockets and customers look to keep their own bank accounts from being drained.

“Do we get customers who are angry and irate because things have changed? Yes, we sure do,” Wayne Holly said. “Do we get customers who say ‘I never used to pay that before?’ I say ‘Yeah, I’ve never paid $4.50 for a gallon of gas.’”

The rebate plan in New Mexico, and concerns about how much it will help, reflects a growing trend among states as they try to find some relief for their residents amid criticism that they could do more.

Many states are awash with record amounts of cash, due partly to federal COVID-19 relief funding. Measures enacted by presidents Donald Trump in 2020 and Joe Biden last year allotted a combined total of more than $500 billion to state and local governments. Some of that is still sitting in state coffers waiting to be spent.

Those federal pandemic relief laws also provided stimulus checks to U.S. taxpayers, which helped boost consumer spending on goods subject to state and local sales taxes. From April 2021 to January 2022, total state tax revenues, adjusted for inflation, increased more than 19% compared to the same period a year earlier, according to a recent Urban Institute report.

“Overall, the fiscal condition of states is strong, and much better than where we thought states would be at the start of the pandemic,” said Erica MacKellar, a fiscal policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

That’s given state officials greater confidence to consider tax rebates or direct payments to residents. But some financial experts are urging caution, noting that inflation also could drive up state expenses and wages.

“State legislatures should not rush into enacting permanent tax cuts based on what very well might be temporary growth in real revenues,” Lucy Dadayan, senior research associate at the Urban Institute, wrote in a recent analysis.

The relief plans vary by state. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, released a plan for spending the state’s budget surplus that included a proposal for income tax rebate checks of $1,000 per couple. In California, Democratic lawmakers have released separate proposals to send rebates of $200 to $400 to each taxpayer, while Gov. Gavin Newsom said he wants to distribute fuel debit cards of up to $800 to help ease the burden on residents paying the highest gas prices in the nation.

Democratic governors in other states have proposed other approaches. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is seeking a one-time property tax subsidy for lower-income homeowners and renters. In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed halting a 2.2-cent increase in the motor fuel tax, suspending a 1% grocery sales tax for a year and providing a property tax rebate of up to $300.

New Jersey got out front early. Gov. Phil Murphy and the Democrat-led Legislature included cash checks of up to $500 to about 1 million families as part of a budget deal last year, when the governor and lawmakers were up for election.

The state’s rosy financial picture, fueled by healthy tax receipts and federal funds — as well as higher taxes on people making $1 million — has continued this year. But Murphy’s fiscal year 2023 budget doesn’t call for additional cash rebates.

Proposals for relief haven’t gone so smoothly in other states. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has proposed returning half of a $90 million surplus in the state Education Fund to the state’s property taxpayers with a check of between $250 and $275, but the Democrat-controlled Legislature has shown little interest.

“Typically, when you overpay for something, you get some of that money back,” Scott said when he made the proposal earlier this month.

___

Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Mike Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey; David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri; Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont; and Business Writer Christopher Rugaber in Washington contributed to this report.

29 hospitalized after London Olympic pool chlorine gas leak 

From the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Authorities said 29 people were taken to the hospital with breathing difficulties on Wednesday after a “high quantity of chlorine gas” leaked in a swimming pool at the London sports complex that hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Emergency services near the Aquatics Centre, at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, following a gas-related incident causing the area to be evacuated and cordoned off, in London, Wednesday March 23, 2022. A swimming pool in London’s Olympic park has been evacuated and several people were treated by ambulance workers after an incident involving a “release of gas.” The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London was built for the 2012 Games in London. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

The London Fire Brigade said around 200 people were evacuated after the chlorine gas was discharged inside the Aquatics Center at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London due to a “chemical reaction.”

The brigade said it took 29 people to the hospital and assessed another 48 people at the scene. Most of those affected reported minor breathing difficulties, it said.

The fire service declared a “major incident” and sent a large team of emergency workers including 13 ambulance crews and members of its hazardous area response team. Surrounding roads were cordoned off and members of the public were denied access to the park.

Local residents were asked to close their doors and windows while workers ventilated the affected area.

While the chlorine that is added to swimming pools to kill bacteria is safe, chlorine in gas form is highly toxic.

The Aquatics Center’s management said the chlorine gas release occurred “when the facilities management company that operates the plant room took delivery of pool chemicals.”

It added that it was waiting for guidance on when the pool building can safely reopen.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which was built for and hosted the 2012 Olympic Games, first opened to the public in 2014.

Western Nebraska police officer accused of stealing guns

From the Associated Press

GERING, Neb. (AP) — A western Nebraska police officer has been arrested and accused of stealing and pawning guns from his department.

Bryan Martinez, 32, of Gering, was arrested at his home Tuesday by Nebraska State Patrol investigators, the Scottsbluff Star-Herald reported. He’s charged in Scotts Bluff County with three counts of theft and one count of passing a bad check.

The investigation into Martinez began in January when a local store reported that he had written a bad check, the patrol said. Investigators then learned that several guns were missing from the Minatare Police Department.

Investigators believe that Martinez stole the guns and sold three of them to a local pawn shop.

The patrol said Martinez has served with other law enforcement agencies in the area and is also employed by the Sioux County Sheriff’s Office.

No attorney was listed for Martinez on Wednesday in online court records.

Louisiana digging out after tornadoes plow through homes

By GERALD HERBERT and REBECCA SANTANA for the Associated Press

ARABI, La. (AP) — Residents in the New Orleans area were digging out and assessing damage Wednesday after tornadoes lashed the region, flipping vehicles, ripping off rooftops and depositing a house with a family inside in the middle of their street.

In this aerial photo, people walk amidst destruction from a tornado that struck Tuesday night in Arabi, La., Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Other tornadoes spawned by the same system caused so much damage in Texas that the governor declared a disaster in 16 counties. Buildings were shredded in Alabama, where torrential rainfall was recorded.

Two people were killed and multiple others were injured as the storm front blew across the South. The dead included a woman north of Dallas and a person in St. Bernard Parish, next to New Orleans. Authorities didn’t immediately describe how they were killed.

Planning to fly over damaged areas later Wednesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared an emergency in St. Bernard, Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes.

There were “no injuries, casualties or significant damage reported in Orleans Parish,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Wednesday, but tornadoes touched down in Arabi, just east of the city, and further east in Lacombe, across Lake Pontchartrain.

In Arabi, debris hung from electrical wires and trees amid destroyed houses. Power poles were down, forcing emergency workers to walk slowly through darkened neighborhoods checking for damage early Wednesday.

“I wasn’t mentally prepared to see what I was seeing,” said Amy Sims, who jumped into her car when the tornado warning sounded and drove to the Arabi Heights area to check on relatives. She said emergency medics, some crying, were dodging live wires as they went door-to-door through shattered homes.

“A bomb looked like it had gone off,” she said, adding that her cousin’s home and family were OK, but houses all around them were flattened.

The National Weather Service said the Arabi damage had been caused by a tornado of at least EF-3 strength, meaning it had winds of 158-206 mph (254-332 km/h), while the Lacombe-area twister was an EF-1, with winds as strong as 90 mph (145 km/h).

Television stations broadcast live images as the storm damaged an area about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) long and a half-mile (0.8 kilometer) wide in St. Bernard Parish, where Ochsner Health said eight patients were treated in an emergency department.

Collin Arnold, director of homeland security and emergency preparedness in neighboring New Orleans, described “incredible devastation” in Arabi, where he said a state team including fire, EMS and police officers from across Louisiana was doing searches and damage assessments.

Louisiana activated 300 National Guard personnel to clear roads and provide support. They joined firefighters and others searching door-to-door to make sure no one had been left behind, said John Rahaim Jr., the parish’s homeland security director.

Residents of severely damaged or destroyed homes in Arabi swept up broken glass and tried to salvage their belongings. The community next to the city’s Lower 9th Ward was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and hit hard again when Hurricane Ida swept through last year.

Stacey Mancuso’s family had just finished repairing the damage from Ida, which ripped off the roof and caused extensive water damage. Huddling in the laundry room with her husband, two children and dogs, they all survived as the tornado blew away part of their new roof.

“We’re alive. That’s what I can say at this point,” said Mancuso. Still, the twister was the third time they’ve had major weather damage since Katrina.

Entergy reported that about 3,700 of its customers remained without electricity Wednesday. A strong smell of natural gas was in the air, and downed power lines forced emergency workers to walk slowly through the wreckage.

Michelle Malasovich was texting relatives from her home in Arabi when “all of a sudden the lights started flickering.” Her husband saw the twister approaching.

“It just kept getting louder and louder,” Malasovich said. After it passed, they saw some columns were blown off their porch, and her Jeep’s windows were blown out. Others fared worse: “Our neighbor’s house is in the middle of the street right now.”

The couple inside that home emerged from the wreckage seeking help to rescue their daughter, who was on a breathing machine and trapped inside, neighbors and authorities said.

“A young girl was on a ventilator, her father was looking for firefighters to come help,” St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said. “And they were already in there taking care of the young lady and she’s doing fine.”

Gene Katz said he, his wife and their two children hid in a closet as the tornado pushed their home off its slab and caved in the part where they took shelter.

“By the time we closed the door, the roof came off, and that was it,” he said.

As the storm front moved eastward, an apparent twister shredded a metal building and shattered windows east of Mobile Bay. The weather service reported more than 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rainfall in the central Alabama city of Sylacauga overnight. The roofs of several homes were damaged in Toxey, Alabama, where tornado warnings were issued.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said a dozen counties had damage to homes and two injuries were reported.

The vicious weather hit Texas on Monday, with several tornadoes reported along the Interstate 35 corridor. In Elgin, broken trees lined the rural roads and pieces of metal hung from the branches as residents stepped gingerly through the mess.

J.D. Harkins, 59, said he saw two tornadoes pass by his Elgin home.

“There used to be a barn there,” Harkins said, pointing to an empty plot on his uncle’s property, covered with debris.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said 10 people were injured by storms in the Crockett area, while more than a dozen were reportedly hurt elsewhere. The Grayson County Emergency Management Office said a 73-year-old woman was killed in Sherwood Shores, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Dallas, but provided no details.

___

Associated Press journalists Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Kimberly Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Terry Wallace in Dallas; Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; and Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

Leaders respond after police sickout in Mississippi city

From the Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — Police officers in a northeast Mississippi city tell a newspaper that that they blame the police chief for low morale attributable that led to a sickout earlier this month when an entire five-officer shift called in sick.

Four Columbus officers and a supervisor didn’t appear for work on the morning of March 11, all calling in sick. Police Chief Fred Shelton and other officers covered the shifts.

Officers speaking anonymously to The Commercial Dispatch of Columbus say that Chief Fred Shelton and other city officials are to blame for unhappiness. Shelton said he may be able to address some officer concerns, but said others are “sour grapes.”

A longtime officer, Shelton said the complaints did not surprise him.

“I’ve been through eight chiefs, and some of the stuff they’re complaining about is stuff I complained about,” he said.

The department has had a history of officer unrest, dating back at least to the 2015 shooting of Ricky Ball, a Black man, by white officer Canyon Boykin. The officer was indicted for manslaughter in Ball’s death, but Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch dropped the charges after taking office in 2020.

Complaints allege a culture of favoritism and retaliation, which along with low pay drives officers to leave. They also say Mayor Keith Gaskin has allowed the problems to persist.

Officers also complain about selective discipline, lack of equal access to training and promotion, commanders and poor equipment.

The department if budgeted for 64 officers but has fewer than 50 now. Officers say even then, there aren’t enough patrol cars to go around.

Gaskin said he and Shelton had talked about “probably every issue that has been brought up.”

“Officers tell me it’s not so much pay but morale,” the mayor said. “It’s a young staff and they’re having to deal with a lot of pressures, and the city doesn’t have a plan of training them or a clear path to higher salaries or promotion.”

Gaskin said the city is trying to buy more cars, but said improving equipment is hard because of limited money.

Shelton said training decisions are made by supervisors, but said he doesn’t want officers to load up on training only to seek work elsewhere.

“You bring that training back to benefit the police department,” Shelton said. “If someone wants to be a firearms instructor, I’m not going to send him to 40-hour training if he’s going to leave.

Shelton said if officers feel they are being retaliated against or discipline is improper, they can file a grievance. However, he said no officers have filed grievances. Shelton said he’s also trying to accelerate promotional exams.

Gaskin and Shelton agreed that a recent anonymous survey of police officers would help provide a road map for bettering the department.

“(Shelton) and I have to bring morale up,” Gaskin said. “That’s the main thing. We know we can’t give pay raises right now.”

“I wish I could write a check and cover it all, but I can’t,” Shelton said. “We’ve got to be able to sustain it.”

Weighty case: Alabama man charged in theft of 70-ton crane

From the Associated Press

CHILTON, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama man who called a wrecker service asking to have a 70-ton crane pulled out of the woods is now charged with stealing the heavy machinery, sheriff’s officials said.

This photo provided by the Chilton County Sheriff’s Office in Clanton, Ala., shows a 70-ton crane that was allegedly stolen on Monday, March 14, 2022. A man was arrested after calling a towing service asking to have it removed from woods, authorities said. (Chilton County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

The owner of a towing service contacted the Chilton County Sheriff’s Office on Monday, saying the man had called claiming someone gave him the crane, and he wanted it removed so he could sell it for scrap, the agency said in a statement.

The wrecker service owner recalled moving the same crane a few years before and contacted its owner, who denied having given it away. The towing operator then called law enforcement. The man who wanted the crane moved fled before officers arrived, driving the rig into a ditch where it became stuck.

The 26-year-old Clanton man was arrested Tuesday on a probation violation and first-degree theft charges. Court records didn’t include the name of a defense attorney who could speak on Mims’ behalf.

“We have worked a lot of theft cases over the years, but this one definitely takes first place in the heavyweight category,” Sheriff John Shearon’s office said in a statement, thanking the wrecker service.

Chinese airliner crashes with 132 aboard in country’s south

By KEN MORITSUGU for the Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in a remote mountainous area of southern China on Monday, officials said, setting off a forest fire visible from space in the country’s worst air disaster in nearly a decade.

In this photo taken by mobile phone released by Xinhua News Agency, a piece of wreckage of the China Eastern’s flight MU5735 are seen after it crashed on the mountain in Tengxian County, south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on Monday, March 21, 2022. A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in a remote mountainous area of southern China on Monday, officials said, setting off a forest fire visible from space in the country’s worst air disaster in nearly a decade. (Xinhua via AP)

More than seven hours after communication was lost with the plane, there was still no word of survivors.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement that the crash occurred near the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region. The flight was traveling from Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan to the industrial center of Guangzhou along the east coast, it added.

China Eastern flight 5735 had been traveling 455 knots (523 mph, 842 kph) at around 30,000 feet when it entered a steep dive around 2:20 p.m. local time, according to data from flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com. The plane stopped transmitting data 96 seconds later.

Local villagers were first to arrive at the forested area where the plane went down and sparked a blaze big enough to be seen on NASA satellite images. Hundreds of rescue workers were swiftly dispatched from Guangxi and neighboring Guangdong province.

The plane was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members, the CAAC said, correcting earlier reports that 133 people had been on board.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for an “all-out effort” by the rescue operation, as well as for an investigation into the crash and to ensure complete civil aviation safety.

State media reported all 737-800s in China Eastern’s fleet were ordered grounded. Aviation experts said it is unusual to ground an entire fleet of planes unless there is evidence of a problem with the model.

Boeing 737-800s have been flying since 1998, and Boeing has sold more than 5,100 of them. They have been involved in 22 accidents that totaled the planes and killed 612 people, according to data compiled by the Aviation Safety Network, an arm of the Flight Safety Foundation.

“There are thousands of them around the world. It’s certainly had an excellent safety record,” the foundation’s president, Hassan Shahidi, said of the 737-800.

China’s air-safety record has improved since the 1990s as air travel has grown dramatically with the rise of a burgeoning middle class. Before Monday, the last fatal crash of a Chinese airliner occurred in August 2010, when an Embraer ERJ 190-100 operated by Henan Airlines hit the ground short of the runway in the northeastern city of Yichun and caught fire. All 44 people on board were killed. Investigators blamed pilot error.

Aviation experts said they expect that China will ask the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board for help, although a safety board spokesman said Monday that had not happened yet. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which certified the 737-800 in the 1990s, said it was ready to help in the investigation if asked.

Crash investigations are usually led by officials in the country where the crash occurred, but they typically include the airplane’s manufacturer and the investigator or regulator in the manufacturer’s home country.

Shahidi said he expects investigators to comb through the maintenance history of the plane and its engines, the training and records of the pilots, air traffic control discussions and other topics.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. said it was aware of reports of the crash and was trying to gather more information. Boeing shares fell more than 4% in afternoon trading in New York.

Headquartered in Shanghai, China Eastern is one of the country’s top three airlines, operating scores of domestic and international routes serving 248 destinations.

The aircraft was delivered to the airliner from Boeing in June 2015 and had been flying for more than six years. China Eastern Airlines uses the Boeing 737-800 as a workhorse of its fleet — the airline has more than 600 planes, and 109 are Boeing 737-800s.

Chinese broadcaster CCTV said China Eastern set up nine teams to deal with aircraft disposal, accident investigation, family assistance and other pressing matters.

The CAAC and China Eastern both said they had sent officials to the crash site in accordance with emergency measures.

China Eastern online made its website have a black-and-white homepage after the crash.

The accident quickly became a leading topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, with 1.34 billion views and 690,000 discussions. Many posts expressed condolences to the families of victims, while others questioned the planes’ safety.

The twin-engine, single-aisle Boeing 737 in various versions has been flying for more than 50 years and is one of the world’s most popular planes for short and medium-haul flights.

The 737 Max, a later version, was grounded worldwide for nearly two years after two crashes in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 people. China’s aviation regulator cleared the Max to return to service late last year, making the country the last major market to do so.

The deadliest crash involving a Boeing 737-800 came in January 2020, when Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard accidentally shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight, killing all 176 people on board.

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Associated Press researcher Yu Bing and news assistant Caroline Chen in Beijing, researcher Si Chen in Shanghai, writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, video producer Penny Wang and writer Adam Schreck in Bangkok and airlines writer David Koenig in Dallas also contributed.

Senate approves bill to make daylight saving time permanent

By FARNOUSH AMIRI for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate unanimously approved a measure Tuesday that would make daylight saving time permanent across the United States next year.

Sunlight shines on the U.S. Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The bipartisan bill, named the Sunshine Protection Act, would ensure Americans would no longer have to change their clocks twice a year. But the bill still needs approval from the House, and the signature of President Joe Biden, to become law.

“No more switching clocks, more daylight hours to spend outside after school and after work, and more smiles — that is what we get with permanent Daylight Saving Time,” Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the original cosponsor of the legislation, said in a statement.

Markey was joined on the chamber floor by senators from both parties as they made the case for how making daylight saving time permanent would have positive effects on public health and the economy and even cut energy consumption.

“Changing the clock twice a year is outdated and unnecessary,” Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Americans want more sunshine and less depression — people in this country, all the way from Seattle to Miami, want the Sunshine Protection Act,” Sen. Patty Murray of Washington added.

Nearly a dozen states across the U.S. have already standardized daylight saving time.

Daylight saving time is defined as a period between spring and fall when clocks in most parts of the country are set one hour ahead of standard time. Americans last changed their clocks on Sunday. Standard time lasts for roughly four months in most of the country.

Members of Congress have long been interested in the potential benefits and costs of daylight saving time since it was first adopted as a wartime measure in 1942. The proposal will now go to the House, where the Energy and Commerce Committee had a hearing to discuss possible legislation last week.

Rep. Frank Pallone, the chairman of the committee, agreed in his opening statement at the hearing that it is “time we stop changing our clocks.” But he said he was undecided about whether daylight saving time or standard time is the way to go.

Markey said Tuesday, “Now, I call on my colleagues in the House of Representatives to lighten up and swiftly pass the Sunshine Protection Act.”

9 dead in Texas crash involving U. of Southwest golf teams

By JILL BLEED for the Associated Press

Nine people died in a fiery, head-on collision in West Texas, including six students and a coach from a New Mexico university who were returning home from a golf tournament, authorities said.

Emergency responders work the scene of a fatal crash late Tuesday, March 15, 2022 in Andrews County, Texas. A vehicle carrying members of the University of the Southwest’s golf teams collided head-on with a pickup truck in West Texas, killing multiple people, authorities said. (NewsWest 9 KWES-TV via AP)

A pickup truck crossed the center line of a two-lane road in Andrews County, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of the New Mexico state line on Tuesday evening and crashed into a van carrying members of the University of the Southwest men’s and women’s golf teams, said Sgt. Steven Blanco of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Six students and a faculty member were killed in the crash along with the driver and a passenger in the pickup truck, Blanco said. Two students were taken in critical condition by helicopter to a hospital in Lubbock, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) to the northeast.

Family members confirmed freshman Laci Stone was among those who died in the crash. Stone graduated from Nocona High School in Texas in 2021, where she played golf, volleyball and softball.

“She has been an absolute ray of sunshine during this short time on earth,” her mother, Chelsi Stone, said on Facebook. “… We will never be the same after this and we just don’t understand how this happened to our amazing, beautiful, smart, joyful girl.”

Laci Stone was majoring in global business management, according to her biography on the golf team’s website.

The National Transportation Safety Board will send a 12-member “go team” to the crash site, including experts in human performance, vehicle and motor carrier factors and accident reconstruction, agency spokesman Eric Weiss said. The team is expected to arrive later Wednesday, he said.

“We’ll try to find out not only what happened, but why it happened, so we can possibly prevent things like this from happening in the future,” he said.

The golf team was traveling in a 2017 Ford Transit