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Associated Press

Posted on December 4, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Attorney: Before deadly NY train derailment, engineer experienced hypnotic-like 'daze'

YONKERS, N.Y. (AP) — An engineer whose speeding commuter train ran off the rails along a curve, killing four people, experienced a hypnotic-like "daze" and nodded at the controls before suddenly realizing something was wrong and hitting the brakes, a lawyer said.

Attorney Jeffrey Chartier accompanied engineer William Rockefeller to his interview with National Transportation Safety Board investigators Tuesday and described the account Rockefeller gave. Chartier said the engineer experienced a nod or "a daze," almost like road fatigue or the phenomenon sometimes called highway hypnosis. He couldn't say how long it lasted.

What Rockefeller remembers is "operating the train, coming to a section where the track was still clear — then, all of a sudden, feeling something was wrong and hitting the brakes," Chartier said. "... He felt something was not right, and he hit the brakes."

He called Rockefeller "a guy with a stellar record who, I believe, did nothing wrong."

"You've got a good guy and an accident," he said. "... A terrible accident is what it is."

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At US embassy in Beijing, Biden urges Chinese youth to challenge authority

BEIJING (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden opened a two-day visit to China Wednesday by urging young Chinese students to challenge their government, teachers and religious leaders.

Arriving midday in Beijing, Biden paid a visit to the U.S. embassy, where he surprised Chinese citizens waiting to get visitor visas processed in the embassy's consular section. Thanking a group of mostly young people for wanting to visit the U.S., Biden said he hoped they would learn during their visit that "innovation can only occur where you can breathe free."

"Children in America are rewarded — not punished — for challenging the status quo," Biden said. "The only way you make something totally new is to break the mold of what was old."

The vice president seemed to be alluding to the authoritarian rule of China's government as he described a liberal and permissive intellectual culture in the United States.

"I hope you observe it when you're there," said Biden, flanked by U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke. "From the beginning of our country, it's a constant stream of new immigrants, new cultures, new ideas, new religions, brand new people continuing to reinvigorate the spirit of America."

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Senior Hezbollah commander gunned down outside his home in Lebanon; Israel denies involvement

BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen shot dead a senior Hezbollah commander outside his home Wednesday in southern Beirut, an attack that the Iranian-backed group quickly blamed on arch-enemy Israel. Israeli officials denied any involvement.

Hezbollah ceremoniously announced the death of Hassan al-Laqis and described him as one of the founding members of the group, suggesting he was a high-level commander close to the Shiite party's leadership.

An official close to Hezbollah said al-Laqis held some of the group's most sensitive portfolios and was close to the group's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

His shooting death comes as Lebanon faces increasing sectarian violence pouring over from the civil war in neighboring Syria, where Hezbollah forces fight alongside President Bashar Assad's troops, angering the mainly Sunni rebels seeking to oust him. Hezbollah strongholds have been the target of car bomb attacks and suicide bombers attacked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut last month, killing 23 people.

Sunni militant groups have claimed responsibility for those attacks, calling it retaliation for Hezbollah's involvement in Syria.

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Recordings of 911 calls from Conn. elementary school shooting to be released Wednesday

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Recordings of 911 calls from the Newtown school shooting are being released, days after a state prosecutor dropped his fight to continue withholding them despite an order to provide them to The Associated Press.

For nearly a year, the AP has been asking for an opportunity to review the tapes, which will now be released Wednesday to the news cooperative in addition to other media organizations. The AP will review the tapes' content and determine what might meet its standards before releasing material to subscribers.

"We all understand why some people have strong feelings about the release of these tapes. This was a horrible crime," said Kathleen Carroll, AP executive editor and senior vice president. "It's important to remember, though, that 911 tapes, like other police documents, are public records. Reviewing them is a part of normal newsgathering in a responsible news organization."

A total of seven landline calls from inside the school to Newtown police are expected to be released.

Calls that were made from cellphones and routed to state police dispatchers are not among the tapes to be released. Those include calls from a woman who was injured in the foot and a parent who called from inside a conference room during the shooting, according to documents released last week by prosecutors. The calls are the subject of a separate, pending freedom of information request by the AP.

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Roads close, crops threatened as arctic blast causes temperatures to plummet in West, Midwest

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A wintry storm pushing through the western half of the country is bringing bitterly cold temperatures that prompted safety warnings for residents in the Rockies and threatened crops as far south as California.

The jet stream is much farther south than normal, allowing the cold air to push in from the Arctic and drop temperatures by 20 to 40 degrees below normal levels, AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines said Tuesday.

Areas of Montana and the Dakotas were forecast to reach lows in the minus-20s, while parts of California could see the thermometer drop to the 20s. The icy arctic blast was expected to be followed by another one later in the week, creating an extended period of cold weather that hasn't been seen since the late 1990s, meteorologists said.

Officials warned residents to protect themselves against frostbite if they are going to be outside for any length of time.

"When it gets this cold, you don't need 30, 40 mile-per-hour winds to get that wind chill down to dangerous levels. All it takes is a little breeze," Kines said.

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Public art invites passers-by to share life goals; answers range from profound to profane

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — It is public art made of private wishes.

In a phenomenon spreading across the globe, oversize blackboards, painted on buildings and freestanding displays, invite passers-by to complete the sentence: "Before I die I want to..."

Answers, some profound, some profane, are written on stenciled lines with pieces of sidewalk chalk picked from the ground below.

"...make my dad proud."

"...find the yin to my yang."

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Kiev protests continue, but with president away and government unyielding, resolution elusive

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Thousands of people are gathered in Kiev's Independence Square, where Orthodox priests chanted prayers at dawn and demonstrators are vowing to keep up their protests.

President Viktor Yanukovych is out of the country on an official trip to China and the government is showing no signs of yielding, suggesting that the tensions that have gripped the country for two weeks are far from resolution.

Demonstrators have set up scores of tents on the square, the epicenter of protests against the Ukrainian government, and blocked several streets leading to it with tall barricades of wooden pallets and random material. Large piles of wood dot the square, fuel for fires that keep the demonstrators warm in the freezing temperatures.

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Retirees stunned by possible pension cuts as judge clears way for Detroit bankruptcy

DETROIT (AP) — A judge has given Detroit the green light to cut pensions as a way out of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, a decision that puts the case in the laps of thousands of retirees who had hoped that the Michigan Constitution would protect them from getting smaller checks in their golden years.

Judge Steven Rhodes said the city is eligible to stay in bankruptcy court and scrub $18 billion in debt, about half of that amount linked to underfunded pensions and health care obligations. But he also warned officials that they'll need to justify any deep reductions.

The case now turns to crunching numbers and trying to strike deals, although unions are pursuing an appeal.

Some retirees said they felt socked by the outcome Tuesday.

"We'll be thrown out of our homes and starving if they seriously slash our pensions. Then they'll tell us to go to the soup lines," said David Sole, 65, who retired from the public works department in January after 22 years and whose wife also is a city retiree.

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Construction starts on Las Vegas mall modeled after Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas, where the only design rule seems to be that everything must mirror something else, is getting a new mall modeled on Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.

Construction began this week on the Grand Bazaar Shops outside of Bally's Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. The 2-acre outdoor mall is expected to open next fall on the corner of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, in the heart of the Strip.

Developer Larry Siegel describes the project as a sanitized, glitzed-out version of a traditional Middle Eastern market.

"They're really interesting places where people can gather, and it's a real experience in terms of sights and sounds and smells. That's what we're trying to create here in a more sophisticated, modern way," he said.

The walking mall will feature a spice market, a butcher shop, and the first Swarovski store that will allow customers to haggle over crystals.

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Person familiar with negotiations: Yankees, Ellsbury agree to $153 million, 7-year contract

NEW YORK (AP) — Free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, fresh off winning the World Series with Boston, reached agreement with the rival New York Yankees on a seven-year contract worth about $153 million, a person familiar with the negotiations said Tuesday night.

Ellsbury is the second major free-agent addition in the Yankees' offseason rebuilding after missing the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years. The center fielder was to take a physical in New York on Wednesday that he must pass before the deal can be finalized, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

The Yankees also had been negotiating with outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who like Ellsbury is represented by agent Scott Boras.

Earlier Tuesday, New York finalized an $85 million, five-year contract with All-Star catcher Brian McCann.

There is a long history of stars moving from Beantown to the Big Apple during their careers. Babe Ruth was the most famous, and Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs and Johnny Damon followed.

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