Curses, Foiled Again
Police had little trouble identifying the masked woman who robbed a drug store in Manchester, N.H. A witness reported seeing the suspect flee the store and get into a car with vanity plates that read “B-USHER.” Police arrested Bonnie Usher, 43, at her home with stolen money. (Boston’s WCVB-TV) New York City police investigating a murder at a Chelsea diner identified Earle Barranco, 24, as their suspect after witnesses reported the gunman wore a diamond-encrusted moneybag hanging from a gold chain — Barranco’s signature bling. A week after police issued a nationwide arrest warrant, Barranco was spotted in Charlotte, N.C., on the JumboTron video screen at a Bobcats basketball game wearing the same telltale pendant. Charlotte authorities and FBI agents arrested Barranco two nights later, when he returned for another Bobcats game. (New York’s Daily News) Nathan Alan Bramlage, 23, walked into a police station in Eugene, Ore., and asked to make a call. The desk officer recognized Bramlage from surveillance video of a bank robbery the day before and notified detectives. “I just assume that he didn’t believe we’d recognize him,” Detective Ralph Burks said after Bramlage’s arrest. (Eugene’s The Register-Guard)
The Dating Game
A 30-year-old woman told police in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., that she arranged a date with Jason Anthony Brown, 28, but when she met him at the parking lot of an Olive Garden restaurant, he got into her vehicle, brandished a gun and demanded money. The woman said she gave Brown about $90, and he fled on foot. Officers said that when they located Brown coming out of a nearby condominium, he admitted he had “obtained” $50 from the woman, then spent it on food at the Olive Garden. (Northwest Florida Daily News)
New York City authorities credit a post- Christmas blizzard with saving the life of Vangelis “Angelos” Kapatos, 26, who tried to commit suicide on Jan. 2 by jumping from his ninth-floor apartment window. Police said he landed on top of a mountain of trash bags that had been piling up since nearly 2.5 feet of snow fell on Dec. 26. (New York Post)
From O.P.E.C. to O.L.E.C.
The U.S. strategy to end dependence on foreign oil by promoting hybrid and all-electric motor vehicles could create dependence on foreign lithium, which powers costly, bulky batteries for those vehicles. Chile and Argentina produce more than half the world’s lithium, found mostly in salt beds high in the Andes Mountains. Worldwide demand has spurred a mining boom there, but geologist Horacio Dias declared, “We think there is enough here to last many years.” (The Washington Post)
Former Treasury secretary Henry M. Paulson, who led the Bush regime’s battle against the still-raging housing downturn, paid $4.3 million in August 2006 for a villa-style home in northwest Washington, D.C. He put it on the market last April for $4.6 million but later lowered the asking price to $4.15 million. The house sold in December for $3.25 million — a 24.4 percent drop in value. (Reuters)
Marvin Chase, 32, a volunteer firefighter in LaFayette, Ga., admitted starting as many as 15 arson fires, then responding to help put them out. “He stated that he just liked fighting fires,” police Detective Stacey Meeks said. “He’d start these fires, then leave himself enough time to go home and get dressed in his fire gear.” Investigators indicated the suspect’s motive was also financial; every fire he fought paid him $22. (Atlanta’s WXIA-TV) British firefighter Julian Lawford, 49, admitted causing the death of a farmer while driving to a fire in Somerset. Exeter Crown Court heard that Harold Lee, 75, was moving 100 or so dairy cows along a country road when the siren on Lawford’s fire engine startled the herd, which trampled Lee to death. (Reuters) Police officers arrived at a house in Hertfordshire, England, where two drug dealers had taken a hostage, only to find it empty and a pizza deliveryman standing outside. The suspects had ordered two pizzas, but before they arrived the hostage escaped, so they fled. “Because the pizza deliveryman could not deliver the pizzas, the police who were at the scene did not realize the significant potential of this evidence, so they offered to buy the pizzas at a reduced rate for themselves and ate them,” prosecutor Sally Meaking-McLeod said at the trial of Anthony Costello, 42, and Darren Barker, 35. “It was only subsequently that the pizza boxes were found in the back of a police car and a phone number was found on them and it came to light that the officers had eaten the evidence.” (Britain’s Daily Mail)
Chronicle of Lower Education
The Oregon Department of Education said students at middle and high schools may use their computers’ spell-check feature to correct their work before submitting answers to state writing tests. “We are not letting a student’s keyboarding skills get in the way of being able to judge their writing ability,” Superintendent Susan Castillo said. (Portland’s The Oregonian)
The End of Regifting
Amazon has devised a system that lets people return unwanted gifts before receiving them.
The online retailer’s patent, which is 12 pages long and involves diagrams and complicated algorithms to address various gift situations, includes an option that lets users flag gifts from designated senders “because the user believes that this potential sender has different tastes than the user.” Once alerted, the system converts any gift from specified senders to a gift certificate and automatically sends “a thank you note for the original gift, even though the original gift is converted.” (The Washington Post)
Fire investigators in St. Joseph, Missouri, concluded that a blaze which destroyed a home and sent the homeowner to the hospital was sparked by the man’s smoking a cigarette while repairing a lawnmower in his bedroom. (KQTV-TV)
Cash and Carry
A German company installed an ATM at an upscale mall in Boca Raton, Fla., that dispenses 24-carat gold bars and coins. Shoppers insert cash or credit cards, paying a 5 percent service charge, then use a computer touchscreen to choose the weight and style they want. The gold-leaf-covered machine, which is attended by an armed guard and can hold up to $150,000 in gold and cash, delivers the order in a black box with a tamperproof seal. Thomas Geissler, CEO of Ex Oriente Lux and inventor of the Gold To Go machines, said the company already has gold ATMs in the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Spain and Italy and plans to install a few hundred more worldwide in 2011. Its Abu Dhabi machine is so popular, Geissler said, that it needs restocking every two days. (Associated Press)
Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction changed its rules to shorten the last words of condemned prisoners after Michael Beuke, 48, took 17 minutes to make his final statement before he was executed. He spent the time reciting the rosary, apologizing and saying prayers. “The warden may impose reasonable restrictions on the content and length of the statement,” the new rules state. “The warden may also terminate a statement that he or she believes is intentionally offensive to the witness.” Dale Baich, Beuke’s public defender and a witness at the execution, insisted his client “did not filibuster.” Ohio had allowed unlimited statements after a 1999 lawsuit challenged the existing policy, which permitted only a written statement to be read after an inmate’s death. Kentucky and Washington both impose a twominute limit. Virginia allows statements but begins the execution a few seconds later, even if the inmate hasn’t finished. (Columbus Dispatch)
After Raymond Hartley Jr., 28, was caught using a fake penis-and-bladder device during a court-ordered drug test, he told a judge in Northampton County, Pa., he strapped on the Whizzinator only because probation officers kept making fun of the size of his real penis. Judge Michael Koury Jr. rejected Hartley’s explanation and sentenced him to prison for violating probation. (Allentown’s The Morning Call)
Mark Moody, 40, was taking a cigarette break on the window ledge of his secondfloor apartment and talking on his cell phone when two New York City police officers stopped and asked if he intended to commit suicide. He explained the ledge was his regular smoking spot and pointed out that he was only 12 feet off the ground and would probably just sprain his ankle if he jumped. The officers insisted he come down anyway. When he refused, they summoned three ambulances and four other patrol cars, broke down Moody’s door and took him to a hospital psychiatric ward for observation. The onduty psychiatrist interviewed him briefly, concluded he was sane, apologized and released him. Moody, who happens to be a lawyer, filed a $400,000 lawsuit against the city and the officers. (New York Post) New Zealand’s Gambling Commission ruled that a suburban Wellington pub could operate video poker machines in an outdoor area where smoking is allowed. The Department of Internal Affairs had tried to ban the machines, citing a link between smoking and problem gambling. The Gambling Commission said that the ban would have interfered “with the enjoyment of customers carrying out lawful activities” — smoking and gambling. (New Zealand’s TV 3)
News and Blues is compiled from the nation’s press. To contribute, submit original clippings, citing date and source, to Roland Sweet in care of The New Times.