Police in Oregon break door in suicide kit scare

September 21, 2011

When the FBI notified police in Oregon that a Springfield man had purchased a mail-order suicide kit, officers went to his home and kicked down his door to make sure he was OK.

He is.

The Register Guard reports ( http://bit.ly/prULE1) the helium hood kit was ordered in February by a newspaper employee for a reporter working on a story about suicide kits. The story was published in March.

Sgt. Richard Jones says there was nothing in the information received Tuesday from the FBI that the kit was purchased months ago. The FBI is asking police to conduct welfare checks as part of its investigation of a California company that was raided in May.

A bill outlawing the sale of suicide kits in Oregon was signed into law in July.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Crash victim says Reno air race should go on

By CRISTINA SILVA Associated Press

September 21, 2011

Dave Desmon felt the racing fighter plane swoosh past him and slam into his group of friends, killing a husband and wife, cracking open a friend’s skull and breaking his girlfriend’s leg.

But Desmon, a longtime pilot and Boeing engineer, said the carnage he witnessed standing near the finish line at the annual National Championship Air Races in Reno Friday did not turn him off from his favorite event.

“I will get my ticket and I will be standing in that same spot next year,” Desmon said.

The crash was the nation’s deadliest air racing disaster, with 11 confirmed dead and 14 others still being treated at Reno hospitals late Tuesday. In all, more than 70 people were admitted for injuries after the exploding plane sprayed shrapnel into the crowd of spectators, cutting limbs and other body parts.

Among the dead were Desmon’s friends, George Hewitt, 60, and Wendy Hewitt, 56, of Fort Mohave, Ariz.

Desmon, 51, said he was standing with the Hewitts at the front of the grandstands when pilot James Leeward suddenly veered off course as he took second place and entered the third lap of the race. A mere three second later, the plane was on the ground in pieces and the Hewitts were nowhere to be seen, Desmon said.

“The plane pretty much landed right on them,” said Desmon, who estimates he was standing just three feet away from the couple at the time.

Desmon joined the wailing crowd of survivors who combed through the wreckage, searching for maimed friends and relatives or body parts. One friend had an open skull and a missing arm. Desmon assumed the man was dead and turned to search for survivors. A nurse who was with them ripped a piece of curtain from the spectator stand and used it to patch the wounded man up.

Desmon sustained minor injuries that could leave lasting scars.

“I basically look like I took a shotgun full of rock salt,” he said.

His wounded friend remains in intensive care and can’t afford a medical airlift home, Desmon’s girlfriend is still having trouble walking on her injured leg and the Hewitt’s four adult children had begun planning a memorial service. Still, Desmon said, they all agreed the races should continue.

“This was a wonderful event and we would really hate to see something happen to this event as a result of their tragic deaths,” he said. “The family is 100 percent for the races carrying on.”

A spokesman for the medical examiner’s office said investigators have been trying to identify body parts since the gruesome accident. The names of all the known fatal victims had been confirmed by police or family by late Tuesday.

Among the newly-identified victims named Tuesday were a Kanas woman previously reported missing, a father who took his 12-year-old son to see the racing pilots, a man who loved airplanes and a volunteer firefighter.

Relatives of the Kansas woman, 71-year-old Cheryl Elvin of Lenexa, had said she was likely dead because the relatives who attended the show with her were all taken to area hospitals for critical leg injuries.

John Craik, 45, of Gardnerville, Nev., died after taking his son to watch the race. Virginia Craik told The Associated Press that her grandson was not seriously injured and is back in school.

“It’s been tough,” she said.

James McMichael, 47, of Graham, Wash., was at the show because he “loved planes,” his mother, Darlene McMichael, said. “That’s why most people go to those things.”

She said her son was survived by his wife and an extensive extended family.

“Our family has a great faith,” she said. “And we feel like things happen for a reason. It doesn’t make it easier.”

Craig Salerno, 50, was a dispatcher for Continental Airlines and a lieutenant for a volunteer fire department. Salerno was also an amateur pilot who volunteered with the annual Wings Over Houston Airshow, where he served as a liaison between the main act and the show.

“He was just one of those kind of people that many people know,” said Tony Buzbee, a Houston lawyer serving as a spokesman for the Friendswood, Texas family. “He made the community work.”

Salerno was given his VIP ticket by a friend, Buzbee said. He was survived by his wife and two young children.

The others killed who had previously been identified were Sharon Stewart, 47, of Reno; Greg Morcom, 47, of Stanwood, Wash.; Michael Wogan, 22, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Regina Bynum, 53, of San Angelo, Texas.

Leeward was a veteran air racer from Ocala, Fla., who flew in Hollywood films. He loved speeding, on the ground or in the air, and had recently taken up racing cars.

During the annual Reno competition, planes flew wingtip-to-wingtip as low as 50 feet from the ground. Pilots reached speeds of up to 500 mph.

George Hewitt, a recently retired pilot, “just couldn’t shut up about how excited he was about coming to the races and having these great seats on the start and finish line,” Desmon said. “The first couple of laps of that race were a heck of race.”

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Cristina Silva can be reached at http://twitter.com/cristymsilva.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Ohio lawyer drops $10M lawsuit in convert case

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS AP Legal Affairs Writer

September 21, 2011

A former lawyer for the Muslim parents of a runaway Ohio Christian convert and a blogger often critical of Islam have settled a defamation lawsuit filed by the attorney.

Columbus lawyer Omar Tarazi had argued that New York-based blogger Pamela Geller defamed him by alleging he has terrorist ties.

Under the settlement agreed to late Wednesday Geller will remove five posts about Tarazi from her “Atlas Shrugs” blog.

Both sides are claiming victory, with Tarazi telling The Associated Press that Geller caved in by agreeing to drop the posts, and Geller calling the settlement a First Amendment victory.

Tarazi represented the parents of Rifqa Bary (RIHF’-kuh BAYR’-ee), who fled to Florida, saying she feared they would harm her.

Bary didn’t reconcile with her family before turning 18 last year.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Victims in Nev. air crash shared love of aviation

By MARTIN GRIFFITH and KEN RITTER Associated Press

September 20, 2011

Sharon Stewart needed money to visit her four sons in California so she took a minimum-wage job picking up trash at the National Championship Air Races in Reno. She was almost done with her 11-hour shift when a WWII-era fighter plane veered off course and crashed into the VIP seating section.

Her friend found her dead body on the tarmac moments later, covered by a sheet of tarp.

Stewart was among 10 people killed after The Galloping Ghost Mustang fighter plane disintegrated into a cloud of dust and debris during Friday’s race. The 74-year-old stunt pilot also died in the nation’s deadliest air racing disaster.

Among the victims were a wheelchair-bound businessman who loved to travel, a former airline pilot who owned a vintage airplane and a construction worker attending his first race. Most of the victims were there for leisure, but Stewart, 47, died while trying to make a few extra bucks.

“She was so happy she was going to make some extra money, we were going to pay the rent and save some money to go see the kids,” said Jose Cacheux-Ojeda, 59, the father of her children and her longtime boyfriend.

At least three of the victims have not been identified and more than 70 people were treated for injuries, some of them life threatening. The dramatic injury toll was stroking fears across the nation, as relatives and friends flooded Reno officials with inquiries about the whereabouts of spectators.

“You’re responding to someone who was with a loved one at one moment and the loved one is not there the next moment,” said Kathy Jacobs, executive director of the Crisis Call Center in Reno. “They’re looking for answers, and the reality is we can’t answer their questions right away.”

Cherie Elvin, the matriarch of a Kansas family, is among those missing. Her husband, Chuck Elvin, their two sons, Bill and Brian Elvin, and Brian Elvin’s wife, Linda, were all taken to a Reno hospital with serious injuries Friday. Each had lost some part of a leg, according to a website used by the family.

Gary Umscheid, whose daughter, Rachel, is married to Bill Elvin, described Cherie and Chuck Elvin as “very typical Midwestern folks who love family.”

“The family has a distinct love of aviation,” he said.

The National Championship Air Races drew thousands of people to Reno every September to watch various military and civilian planes race. Local schools often held field trips there, and a local sports book took wagers on the outcomes.

During the races, planes flew wingtip-to-wingtip as low as 50 feet (15 meters) off the ground. The competitors follow an oval path around pylons, with distances and speeds depending on the class of aircraft. Pilots reached speeds of up to 500 mph.

The pilot, James Leeward, was the 20th pilot to die at the races since it began 47 years ago, but Friday’s crash was the first where spectators were killed. Some of the injured described being coated in aviation fuel that burned.

Leeward and his team had modified the plane beyond recognition, taking a full 10 feet off the wingspan and cutting the ailerons _ the back edges of the wings used to turn the aircraft _ by roughly 28 inches.

Leeward was a veteran air racer from Ocala, Fla., who flew in Hollywood films. His father worked in aviation and taught him the trade. He was married with two adult sons. Leeward loved speeding, on the ground or in the air, and had recently taken up racing cars.

Dan Martin, of San Jose, Calif., flew with Leeward on the set of the “The Tuskegee Airmen” in the early 1990s. Martin competed in one of the Reno competition’s slower races last week, and was watching at the time of the crash.

“He could fly just about anything, and he always took a very professional approach to everything he did in aviation,” Martin said.

Among the others killed were Greg Morcom, 47, of Marysville, Wash.; George Hewitt, 60, and Wendy Hewitt, 57, both of Fort Mohave, Ariz.; Michael Wogan, 22, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Regina Bynum, 53, of San Angelo, Texas.

Friends and family members who survived the crash grappled with the unexpected deaths.

Dave Haskin, 50, was working with Stewart cleaning trash at the race grounds when he saw the plane explode.

“There were arms and legs and this guy whose torso got cut in half,” Haskin said.

Morcom was visiting the air races for the first time with his father and brother, who had attended many times. He was killed instantly when he was struck by multiple pieces of debris, said his older brother, Ron Morcum.

“Everyone in our section got hit except for me,” Ron Morcum said, adding his wife and father were released after treatment for minor injuries the night of the crash.

Greg Morcom never married or had children. He worked for a private fish hatchery for 10 years, then switched to construction. He lived with his elderly parents and took care of them.

“It was fate as far as where the pieces ended up dispersing when the aircraft crashed,” Ron Morcum said. “Mostly it’s just chance. I happened to duck down, and a lot of pieces went over the top of us. It looks like standing up you were more in harm’s way. I happened to be in the correct place and Greg wasn’t.”

Bynum’s husband, Jerry Bynum, said the couple were enjoying the race from box seats with five friends when the plane crashed about 300 feet away. She was struck in the face and arm by the debris. Everyone else in their group was untouched.

“It’s God’s will and we don’t know why it happens,” her husband, a pilot, said during a telephone interview.

Regina Bynum was a branch office assistant for an investment company. She had three children from a previous marriage and four grandchildren. She raised goats and Yorkshire terriers on the family’s ranch.

Her mother-in-law, Jo Bynum, said she regarded Regina Bynum as her own daughter.

“It (her death) just doesn’t seem true, it’s such a shock,” said Jo Bynum.

The Hewitts attended the show with a Washington-based group of vintage airplane owners. George Hewitt flew as a pilot with Air Canada for more than 40 years. The Seattle Times reported that Hewitt owned a small post-World War II plane originally built by the same company that made the model Leeward crashed in Reno.

Wogan was sitting in an area for wheelchairs with his father when the plane hit the ground. He, like two of his brothers, was diagnosed at an early age with muscular dystrophy and was wheelchair-bound his entire life. He had no way of protecting himself from the flying debris.

“He was about moving past that (disability) and always driven toward independence,” said his brother, James Wogan, in a statement.

Michael Wogan studied finance, graduated with honors in May from Arizona State University and didn’t consider himself disabled, said Cindy Simonsen, a family friend who sat with Wogan on the board of a nonprofit organization that helps low-income families. He ran his own business and was gearing up to start a new one, she said.

Wogan’s mother had turned to her faith, Simonsen said.

“Her comment was that, `Michael is running around now on legs never before used,'” Simonsen recalled.

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Associated Press writers Michelle Rindels and Cristina Silva in Las Vegas, Scott Sonner in Reno and Brian Skoloff in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

NOAA to issue report on deadly Joplin tornado

By MARIA SUDEKUM FISHER Associated Press

September 20, 2011

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is preparing to release a report about its communication efforts before the deadly May tornado that hit Joplin.

Top administrators from the agency on Tuesday afternoon will discuss a report from assessment teams sent to Joplin to look over the damage. The twister killed more than 160 people and injured hundreds more.

The National Weather Service team examined warning and forecast services before the EF-5 tornado hit and also reviewed the public’s response to warning communications. NOAA says the team’s goal was to identify what was done correctly and areas that could be improved.

Keith Stammer, Jasper County emergency manager, and NOAA’s deputy administrator Kathryn Sullivan are expected to discuss findings from that report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Hearing on SeaWorld trainer’s death will resume

By KYLE HIGHTOWER Associated Press

September 20, 2011

A hearing to determine whether SeaWorld Orlando should pay fines levied by a federal job safety agency after the death of a trainer at its park resumes with government attorneys possibly introducing video of the incident.

An administrative law judge is expected to hear more witnesses Tuesday as SeaWorld appeals three citations and $75,000 fines it received from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau (bran-CHOH’) last year. She was pulled underwater by an orca whale and drowned.

OSHA attorneys say their citations should apply to performances, but SeaWorld officials say there’s little difference in how trainers interact with the whales in the shows and behind the scenes.

A ruling against SeaWorld could force park officials to change how trainers interact with the whales.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Ga. fire officials probe ‘rookie prank’ video

September 20, 2011

Fire officials in central Georgia say they’ve begun an investigation after a video posted online shows a purported prank in which a masked man bursts into a fire station and threatens firefighters with a gun.

The Telegraph of Macon reports (http://bit.ly/omeUff) that the video, posted Sunday on YouTube, is titled “Rookie prank.”

Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said he’s “deeply saddened” by the video, which shows scared firefighters face-down on the ground as a man with a yellow bandana over his face waves a gun.

At one point, the gunman leads a firefighter away from his spot on the ground. Moments later, the sound of a gunshot is heard.

Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards says the video comes at a time when local leaders have been trying to find solutions to recent gun violence.

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Information from: The Macon Telegraph, http://www.macontelegraph.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

2 Marines killed in helicopter crash at Calif base

September 20, 2011

An investigation was under way into the cause of a helicopter crash that killed two Marines during a training exercise at Southern California’s Camp Pendleton.

The crash sparked a brush fire that burned 120 acres, a base statement said. It was 80 percent contained.

The twin-engine, two-seat AH-1W Cobra attack helicopter belonging to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing crashed in the southeast corner of the base Monday near the community of Fallbrook.

The Marines died at the scene. Their names won’t be released until their families have been notified, officials said.

The fire grew quickly after the crash, burning 50 acres within three hours after the helicopter went down. It initially was moving near the base’s border with the town of De Luz, but was confined to the base late Monday, a base statement said.

Several accidents have happened in recent months involving Marine Corps training in Southern California, including a fatal accident in July.

In August, two Marines were ejected from their F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet as it plunged toward the Pacific Ocean. The two Marines spent four hours in the dark, chilly ocean before they were rescued. Both suffered broken bones and are undergoing rehabilitation at a San Diego hospital.

In July, a decorated Marine from western New York was killed during a training exercise when his UH-1Y helicopter went down in a remote section of Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.

Another Hornet sustained at least $1 million damage when its engine caught fire on March 30 aboard the USS John C. Stennis during a training exercise about 100 miles off the San Diego coast. Eight sailors, a Marine and two civilians were injured.

The Navy has said debris in the engine is the suspected cause of that fire.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Oil rig explodes in Okla.; no reports of injuries

September 20, 2011

Authorities in Blaine County say an oil rig that exploded near Watonga and forced the evacuation of several homes caused no injuries.

Blaine County Sheriff’s dispatcher C.J. Woulard said Tuesday morning that the fire was still burning _ but no injuries were reported.

County Sheriff Ricky Ainsworth told reporters that homes within a two mile radius were evacuated following the Monday night explosion about 80 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. Ainsworth did not immediately return a phone call for further comment early Tuesday.

Assistant Watonga Fire Chief Verlen Bills told The Oklahoman (http://bit.ly/pZ3f6A) that the cause of the explosion was not known.

Witness Maria Slay told The Oklahoman that she heard four or five explosions and said workers are at the drilling rig around the clock.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Real-time tracking of diseases improves diagnosis

By LAURAN NEERGAARD AP Medical Writer

September 20, 2011

The doctor doesn’t think your sore throat is bad enough yet to order a strep test _ unaware that a dozen people across town were diagnosed with strep throat just last week.

Doctors rarely know what bugs are brewing in the neighborhood until their own waiting rooms start to fill. Harvard University researchers reported Monday that getting them real-time information on nearby infections could improve patient care _ for strep throat alone, potentially helping tens of thousands avoid either a delayed diagnosis or getting antibiotics they didn’t need.

“The risk you have is based on where you live and what the people around you have,” explains Dr. Kenneth Mandl of Children’s Hospital Boston, affiliated with Harvard. His analysis of 82,000 patient visits found that knowing how much strep throat is circulating can help improve the accuracy of the next patient’s diagnosis.

Today, hundreds of hospitals, clinics and health departments automatically report certain symptoms and diagnoses to the government. That practice has a wonky name _ biosurveillance _ but it’s how officials track the spread of flu, detect the latest whooping cough outbreak, and watch for weird symptoms that might signal a brand-new disease or even bioterrorism.

But until there’s an outbreak, that information is a one-way street. There’s no easy way for doctors to learn what their colleagues nearby diagnosing. Instead, doctors often call the health department to ask if anyone’s heard of a case of this or that disease as they puzzle over a patient’s symptoms, says Dr. Alfred DeMaria of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Giving doctors a fast, ongoing snapshot of disease “would be very helpful,” says DeMaria, who wasn’t involved in Mandl’s research but praises the approach. “The key is to make the system entirely automated and real-time.”

Work is beginning on technology to do just that, trying to link local biosurveillance to electronic health records, maybe even mobile apps.

First, the question is whether such tracking could make a real difference. So Mandl and his colleague Dr. Andrew Fine, an emergency medicine physician, examined strep throat, an infection frequently misdiagnosed in adults.

Because strep throat is more common in young children, those with red, sore throats are given either a while-you-wait rapid test or, because that test sometimes misses the bug, a throat culture that can take a day or two for results.

For anyone 15 or older, guidelines say doctors shouldn’t order a test or prescribe antibiotics unless sore-throat sufferers rise to a certain level of suspicion because of other symptoms: fever, enlarged lymph nodes, tonsils with swelling or pus, and a lack of coughing. People with none or just one of those symptoms probably have a virus and are supposed to be sent home. A patient with a lot of those symptoms often are given antibiotics automatically, and those in between get tested.

Mandl and Fine turned to records from CVS MinuteClinics in six states where all sore-throat patients are tested and symptoms are recorded. What the government-funded study found: Knowing how prevalent strep is in a particular area is a strong enough predictor to count as an extra symptom in the test-or-treat decision.

In other words, if little strep throat is circulating, the chances that someone with several strep symptoms really has it drops enough that it’s worth testing them before prescribing antibiotics. Considering there are 10.5 million annual health-care visits for suspected strep throat, that change could prevent unnecessary antibiotics for more than 166,000 patients, the researchers reported.

On the flip side, someone with just a sore throat and fever usually wouldn’t get tested but if the strep germ is prevalent in their community, testing could spot 62,000 previously missed patients nationally, the researchers calculated. Their study appears Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Strep isn’t the only example. In smaller studies, Mandl and Fine have found that knowing how much whooping cough and bacterial meningitis are spreading locally can improve diagnosis of those diseases, too.

The challenge is how to disseminate such information fast enough for doctors to use. MinuteClinic, for example, says it doesn’t record test results in real time yet but may be able to share that kind of data in the future.

Broadening the concept, federal health officials are working to create an easy-to-use Web tool that would let doctors search for local surveillance information. They also are testing how to automatically send alerts about disease outbreaks to the electronic health records of patients with similar symptoms.

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EDITOR’S NOTE _ Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.