Friday, March 19, 2010

Notes From All Over - Friday Expanded Edition

Cornhusker Kickback Removed From Health Bill

Democrats unveiling revisions Thursday to their health care overhaul bill decided to kill the extra $100 million in Medicaid funds for Nebraska that has become a symbol of backdoor deal making.

But the 153 pages of changes to the massive health care package include extra money for hospitals in Tennessee that serve large numbers of low-income patients. And though the bill would revamp the nation's student loan system to make the government the only lender, one bank -- the state-owned Bank of North Dakota -- would be allowed to continue making student loans.

Crash-And-Dash Robbers Steal Empty ATM

Police said robbers crashed a van into a Hayward food mart and stole the mart's ATM - but that ATM was empty, KTVU-TV in San Jose reported.

Hayward police released video footage of the crash-and-dash heist late Wednesday and announced that they had found the van used in the robbery. Authorities said the robbery took place at around 6 a.m. at the closed food mart. Officers who arrived at the scene found a gaping hole in the front of the store where the robbers had driven the van through the front doors.

Surveillance footage showed one of the robbers jumping out of the van wearing a white baseball cap with an "H" on it and hooking up a rope to the ATM. The van then pulled out, ripping the ATM from its stand, and drove away dragging the machine outside.

Police said that the ATM was empty; the money is kept in a vault located under the machine and below the floor.

Teacher Hangs Effigy Of Obama In Classroom

A teacher at a failing school where he and all his colleagues are being fired hung an effigy of President Obama in his classroom, apparently in reaction to Obama's support of extreme measures to ensure accountability in schools.

The teachers union on Thursday condemned the effigy, discovered Monday in the teacher's third-floor classroom at Central Falls High School, saying it was wrong and cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

The effigy was found in the teacher's classroom by Superintendent Frances Gallo, Rhode Island Department of Education spokeswoman Nicole Shaffer told The Associated Press. Shaffer said the department would not have any further comment.

Gallo told the AP on Thursday evening that the foot-tall Obama doll that she saw Monday was hung from its feet from a white board and was holding a sign that said, "Fire Central Falls teachers."

Authorities: Body On Beach Is Missing Boy

A child's body found Thursday on an island beach in Puget Sound is that of an 8-year-old boy who vanished last weekend with his mother, a Pierce County sheriff's spokesman said. Positive identification was based on Azriel Carver's clothing, mohawk haircut and "looking at pictures of him," spokesman Ed Troyer said.

The Pierce County medical examiner's office plans an autopsy Friday to determine cause of death. The body was found on Fox Island, southwest of Tacoma. No sign was found Thursday of the boy's mother, Shantina "Kat" Smiley, 29, of Silverdale, who disappeared with him on Saturday night. Troyer said the beach was searched about 500 yards in each direction from the boy's body. Divers on a boat searched as well and a Coast Guard helicopter and sheriff's office plane flew overhead.

The search is continuing today.

Smiley's abandoned minivan, partially submerged with its doors open, was found Sunday on a remote Olympia-area beach about 12 miles south of Fox Island. A wallet containing her driver's license, some cash and credit cards was found in the van, but neither she nor her son was anywhere in sight. Jay Carver, Azriel's father who flew here from Buffalo, N.Y., this week, went to the beach where the boy was found. Troyer said the father was not involved in identifying the body.

"You really don't know what you have in your life until they're gone," Carver told KING-TV. "It's a sad turn of events."

Two mismatched shoes, a partially full and corked wine bottle, an inhaler and an orange ball have washed ashore since the van was found. Thurston County sheriff's Lt. Chris Mealy said the items apparently belonged to the boy or his mother. Smiley was heading from her home in Silverdale to her stepfather's house in southwest Washington when she and her son disappeared Saturday night. Silverdale is about 16 miles west of Seattle, across Puget Sound.

Besides searching the area, investigators looked at phone records and talked to people who know Smiley and her son or may have met her Saturday night as she drove through the back roads of Washington state. Her fiance, Robb Simmons, told authorities she was a recovering alcoholic who had relapsed last week.

"We are grieving the loss of Azriel, and praying for Shantina. We are all severely hurting. We are getting the family together so we can grieve together, and so we can have some sort of peace right now," Simmons told the television station late Thursday.

Mealy said there was no indication that a crime took place inside Smiley's 2005 Dodge Caravan.

Data Suggests NY Prius Crash Was Driver Error

Computer data from a Toyota Prius that crashed in suburban New York City show that at the time of the accident the throttle was open and the driver was not applying the brakes, U.S. safety officials said Thursday. The disclosure prompted an angry response from the police captain investigating the cause of the accident. He said his probe was not over and driver error had not been established.

"For any agency to release data and to draw conclusions without consulting with the law enforcement agency that brought this to light could be self-serving," said Capt. Anthony Marraccini of the Harrison, N.Y., force.

A housekeeper driving the car on March 9 told police that it sped up on its own down a driveway, despite her braking, and crashed into a stone wall across the street. She was not seriously hurt. The accident set off an intense investigation because Toyota has recalled more than 8 million cars since last fall over gas pedals that could become stuck or be held down by floor mats.

Continental Asks For Delays Rule Exemption

Continental Airlines has asked regulators for an exemption from new rules to punish airlines for long tarmac delays, saying construction at New York's Kennedy Airport will slow operations at two other nearby airports.

If Continental doesn't get its wish, look for the nation's fourth-largest carrier to be quicker to cancel flights that might run up against the 3-hour limit. Continental joined a growing list of carriers asking not to be punished if they violate a new government rule limiting how long passengers can be delayed on the tarmac.

JetBlue and Delta asked for exemptions from the rule last week, and American joined them on Tuesday. Those are the three biggest operators at Kennedy Airport, where the Federal Aviation Administration predicts delays will average up to 50 minutes during runway construction this spring.

Rogue Rooster Irks Neighbors With Wake-Up Calls

Roosters on the loose in South Florida have been giving some residents what they call grating, early morning wake-up calls, WPLG-TV reported.

"Our kids are in college now. We're empty-nesters. Little did we know we'd have a rooster that happened to be nesting in a tree outside our bedroom window," said Chuck Paros about a rooster that crows every day before the crack of dawn.

Area residents said a family that lived in the area bought it as a chick. They flew the coop, but left the rooster behind. WPLG-TV reporter Andrea Brody, who is also Paros' neighbor, teamed up with a trapper famous for catching 12-foot alligators to see if they could catch the fowl.

On the first day, the trapper caught a possum. On the second, he caught a raccoon. On the third day, he quit. Brody then embarked on a new chicken roundup with an expert who used to head Chicken Busters, a city-run program that is credited with rounding up 14,000 chickens. Last October, the program was cut and the problem multiplied.

Experts estimate there are tens of thousands of chickens and roosters in Miami. Last week, Brody was nearly hit by a van with the words "Duck and Chicken Removal Service" written on it. She saw it as a sign and flagged it down so it could take care of the rogue rooster. Now, for Brody and her neighbors, the pre-dawn hours are finally quiet.

AP; KTVU-TV, San Jose; Reuters; KING-TV, Seattle.

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