Auburn: A development project being planned would highlight the history of the city’s Black community, the Opelika-Auburn News reported. Auburn Parks and Recreation is working on plans for the Boykin-Donahue Campus, which would bring a cultural center, library, recreation center and splash pad to the area behind its Boykin Community Center. The Boykin-Donahue Cultural Center would act as a museum to provide an overview of the history of Auburn’s Black community, said department director Becky Richardson. She said the project was still in the “concept phase.” but officials hope to begin work in 2022. City Manager Megan Crouch told council members it would cost about $40 million.
Juneau: Marines on snowmobiles helped Santa this month while delivering toys to boys and girls in Alaska’s Arctic. Marines flew to Kotzebue, which is 549 miles northwest of Anchorage and 26 miles above the Arctic Circle, on a KC-130 operated by the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 based in Okinawa, Japan. From there, they rode commercial flights and snowmobiles to get toys to 2,500 children in 11 villages, the Juneau Empire reported. Cpl. Brendan Mullin, who took pictures of the event, could hear children gasp when a Marine Santa entered a prekindergarten classroom. “When you can see the smile through the mask, you know it’s a big, genuine smile,” Mullin said. Their joyful job was part of the Toys for Tots program run by the Marine Corps and a nonprofit foundation. Started in 1947, the program now delivers 18 million toys to 7 million less fortunate children each year. The half-dozen Marines who participated were primarily from Delta Company of the 4th Law Enforcement Battalion, a Reserve unit.
Tucson: A mall desert owl known for nesting in Arizona’s saguaro cactus might get some federal protection restored, according to a proposal from federal wildlife officials. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week formally registered a proposal to list the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as a threatened species, the Arizona Daily Star reported. Being classified as threatened instead of endangered signals officials’ belief the owl faces potential harm. Factors that could put the owl in danger include climate change, loss of habitat and the presence of invasive species. The service’s proposal is the culmination of years of petitions and lawsuits filed by environmental groups. In 2017, a federal judge ruled the wildlife service failed to accurately interpret the Endangered Species Act. Fish and Wildlife officials later agreed to partner with other groups and conduct a new “species status assessment” of the owl. An approved listing would mean some restrictions on development around Pima County and elsewhere. The owl lives in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the neighboring Mexican state of Sonora and southern Texas. The brown-and-white bird measures about 6.7 inches. The pygmy owl was protected as an endangered species from 1997 to 2006, but lost that status following a developer’s lawsuit that resulted in the protection’s removal. The Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, which was the plaintiff in that lawsuit, has not weighed in on this development. The Fish and Wildlife proposal still needs to go through a 60-day public comment period.
Little Rock: President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Arkansas, making federal relief funding available in five north eastern counties hit by tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest and South this month. The Friday declaration opens grants for temporary housing, home repairs and other assistance to people affected by the swarm of twisters that left dozens dead across multiple states on Dec. 10 and 11. The White House said in a statement that federal funding would be available to people in the counties of Craighead, Jackson, Mississippi, Poinsett, and Woodruff, and for hazard mitigation measures statewide. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, thanked Biden for the “quick response” in a statement on Twitter on Friday morning. The weekend storms killed about 90 people in five states, including two in Arkansas. The National Weather Service recorded at least 41 tornadoes, with 16 in Tennessee and eight in Kentucky.
Morro Bay: A surfer was killed in an apparent shark attack on Christmas Eve off the central coast of California, authorities said. The male surfer was pulled from the water north of Morro Rock about 10:45 a.m., Morro Bay police said on Twitter on Friday. He was not responsive after being brought to land. The surfer’s identity was not immediately released and officials ordered people to stay out of the water for 24 hours. Morro Bay Harbor Director Eric Endersby told The San Luis Obispo Tribune that a female surfer nearby saw the male surfer facedown and got him out of the water. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Endersby said the attack appeared to have been recent based on the condition of the surfer’s body. Crews will patrol the area to look for the shark. “Obviously, it’s tragic and we’re all sad, especially given the time this occurred,” Endersby told the newspaper. “It’s tragic this happened. We’re all sad and our condolences go out to the families.” Morro Bay is about 200 miles north of Los Angeles.
Denver: Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber,” has been transferred to a federal prison medical facility in North Carolina after spending the past two decades in a federal Supermax prison in Colorado for a series of bombings targeting scientists. Kaczynski, 79, was moved to the U.S. Bureau of Prison’s FMC Butner medical center in eastern North Carolina on Dec. 14, according to bureau spokesperson Donald Murphy. Murphy declined to disclose any details of Kaczynski’s medical condition or the reason for his transfer. Kaczynski is serving life without the possibility of parole following his 1996 arrest at the primitive cabin where he was living in western Montana. He pleaded guilty to setting 16 explosions that killed three people and injured 23 others in various parts of the country between 1978 and 1995. The Federal Medical Center Butner, in North Carolina’s Granville County just northeast of Durham, offers medical services for prisoners including oncology, surgery, neurodiagnostics and dialysis, according to the Bureau of Prisons. It opened an advanced care unit and a hospice unit in 2010. Butner has 771 inmates, according to the prison bureau, and has been home to notable offenders including John Hinckley Jr., who was evaluated there after shooting President Ronald Reagan, and Bernard Madoff, the infamous architect of a massive Ponzi scheme who died at the facility earlier this year.
Hartford: A small number of attendees at a recent holiday party hosted by Gov. Ned Lamont and his wife at their Greenwich home have tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokesperson for the Democratic governor said. Both Lamont and his wife Annie, however, have regularly tested negative for the virus since the Dec. 11 private event, where guests were required to provide proof of being fully vaccinated and present a negative test, according to Max Reiss, Lamont’s director of communications. Reiss said the couple were told a week after the party that a “small number of attendees” had tested positive, Fox 61-TV reported. He noted that Lamont has regularly been attending two or three public events daily, including large indoor events. He did not say how many people were on hand the party or whether Lamont and others wore masks, according to Hearst. Unlike in 2020, there are no limits during this holiday season on the number of people who can attend indoor events, although unvaccinated people are still required to wear masks in such settings. Masks are required to be worn by everyone in certain places such as health care facilities, schools and public transit. Also, businesses and local government offices have the option to require masks for everyone.
Dover: Delaware State University will delay the return of students to campus by two weeks because of a surge in coronavirus cases that is being driven by the omicron variant. The Delaware State News reported classes will begin as planned on Jan. 10. But they will be held virtually for those two weeks. The school is also requiring all students to get a COVID-19 booster shot before coming back to campus. Dr. Michelle Fisher, associate vice president of Campus Health, added that the booster shot does not provide maximum effectiveness until two weeks after it’s given. “The University wants its students as fully protected as possible before they arrive on campus at the beginning of the semester,” she said.
Washington:Eight libraries are among the 36 sites in D.C. where people can pick up and drop off at-home PCR tests, WUSA-TV reported. The libraries received deliveries of rapid at-home testing kits Wednesday morning. Rapid tests have been hot items at pharmacies in the area during the holiday season because of trael. DC Health has also ordered 1,050,000 rapid antigen tests, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office said in a press release.. . DC Health will supply the library branches with 1,000 rapid test kits each, per day. Residents will be able to obtain two kits, or four tests, per day, at those locations. Proof of residency is also required to get the kits. After using a rapid at-home test, residents should report their results to DC Health at coronavirus.dc.gov/overthecounter. You can check the availability of test kits here.
Orlando: If you’re planning to rent a home in central Florida over New Year’s Eve, you might be out of luck. Airbnb said potential guests without a history of positive reviews will be unable to make one-night reservations in Orlando and Kissimmee over New Year’s Eve to crack down on disruptive parties. Some people also will be unable to make last-minute, two- or three-night reservations over the New Year’s holiday in central Florida if they don’t have any positive reviews, as determined by the company’s algorithms. Users with a history of positive reviews don’t have to worry about those restrictions. The New Year’s Eve restrictions in central Florida are part of a larger worldwide effort by Airbnb to crack down on disruptive parties held at the short-term rental homes. Last New Year’s Eve was the first time the company tried the initiative. It blocked 1,200 rentals in Orlando and 750 rentals in Kissimmee. Around the world, 243,000 rentals were blocked.
Atlanta: A nonprofit organization has raised more than $50,000 after thousands of dollars worth of gifts for needy children were stolen from its Atlanta warehouse. A fundraiser by the Empty Stocking Fund following the burglary was up to $54,000, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. “We have worked so hard and done so much,” Manda Hunt, the nonprofit organization’s executive director, told the newspaper. “We’ve already successfully distributed gifts to 20,000 kids. I’m determined to end on a high note.” Volunteers arrived at the organization’s 24,000-square-foot warehouse in southwest Atlanta on Wednesday to find a huge hole in a cinderblock wall and the gifts gone. Hunt said her team still does not know exactly how much was taken, but the burglary will prevent the organization from distributing as many gifts as it had hoped to give away. “We just can’t even have people in the building right now,” Hunt said.
Honolulu: Rescuers trekked through heavy snow and sleet to find a hiker lost in one of the most dangerous places in Hawaii. Rangers said the hiker registered at the the visitor’s center for Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest peak, before he set off Tuesday morning. But the Center of Maunakea Stewardship said he gave rangers the wrong number. Rangers tried to contact him after it got dark, but couldn’t reach him. They used the hiker’s 911 calls to connect with him and narrow the search area. Rescuers hiked about a mile and found him Tuesday night in a small cave in “thick white-out conditions” at 13,000 feet above sea level, the center’s news release said. He was able to walk out on his own but was taken to a hospital. The mountain’s summit is dangerous because of “extreme altitude and weather conditions, and emergency services may be two hours away because of its remote location,” the release said.
Boise: Republican Gov. Brad Little appointed Bellevue Mayor Ned Burns to a House seat representing central Idaho in the state Legislature. Burns, a Democrat, will fill out the remainder of the term for legislative district House seat 26 vacated by Democrat Muffy Davis. The term ends at the end of 2022. Burns was one of three recommendations put forward by Democrats to replace Davis, who was serving her second term in the Legislature. Little earlier this month appointed Davis to the Blaine County Commission, and she resigned her seat in the Legislature. “I’m thrilled Gov. Little chose Ned as my successor,” Davis said in a statement. “Ned is well prepared to jump into the role and hit the ground running to best represent the constituents of District 26.” The Legislature convenes on Jan. 10.
Mapleton:A contractor working at a Caterpillar Inc. foundry in central Illinois fell to his death when he apparently stepped off a ladder at the plant, authorities said. The Peoria County coroner said Scott M. Adams, 50, of East Peoria was pronounced dead about 11 a.m. Thursday after his fall at the foundry in Mapleton. Autopsy findings are pending, the (Peoria) Journal Star reported. Adams was working as a contractor at the foundry from Shaefer Electric in Peoria, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is investigating his death along with the county sheriff’s office. OSHA’s preliminary investigation leads the agency to believe Adams stepped off a ladder before falling 20 feet to his death through a hole in the floor. Caterpillar released a statement Thursday saying that it is “deeply saddened” by Adams’ death but cannot provide additional information on the incident because it remains under investigation.
Martinsville:A new section of the Interstate 69 extension project in central Indiana has fully opened for traffic. Crews opened the highway’s southbound lanes through Martinsville on Thursday, three days after traffic was allowed on the northbound lanes, the Indiana Department of Transportation said. Drivers can now take the main route between Bloomington and Indianapolis that had been cut off since January as a 5-mile stretch of what was Indiana 37 through Martinsville was shut down to upgrade the roadway and build interchanges. Some construction work such as final paving, installation of signs and completion of drainage fixtures will continue into the new year, highway officials said. The I-69 project’s focus now turns to upgrading the Indiana 37 corridor between Martinsville and I-465 on the southwest side of Indianapolis. No full closures are planned on that section as construction is expected to continue into 2024. The I-69 extension has been under construction through southwestern Indiana since 2008 and runs from Evansville to Martinsville.
Merrill: Construction has begun on a 16-mile hiking and biking trail connecting the towns of Sioux City and Le Mars. The Sioux City Journal reported ground was broken Tuesday on the PlyWood Trail. The PlyWood Trail Foundation has raised more than $4 million from public and private sources, and is seeking state and federal grants. Foundation chairman Ryan Meyer said “quality of life” amenities are important in attracting workforce and young families to the area. Mike Wells, president of Le Mars-based Wells Enterprises, said the new trail along with the mountain bike trail at Cone Park will create a “bicycle destination in Northwest Iowa.” The company is a major donor.
Topeka:State officials are seeking relief for residents impacted by wildfires which torched more than 100,000 acres in four counties two weeks ago, killing two and burning houses, livestock and cropland. The fires were a result of historically high winds, some topping 100 mph, which slammed Kansas, leaving behind a wake of property damage and thousands of residents across the state without power. Twenty-four counties issued local disaster declarations as a result of the high wind. But the fires were most intense in Ellis, Osborne, Rooks and Russell counties. Fire damages likely to stretch in to the millions of dollars. State officials already have determined at least a dozen homes were lost to the fires, as well as 700 head of cattle, although Maj. Gen. David Weishaar, adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard, told legislators those numbers would likely rise. A damage assessment is being conducted, which will be submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the first step in seeking federal relief. Weishaar said he believes the state will exceed the threshold needed to receive assistance.
Winchester: Former Winchester Sun publisher Betty Berryman, the first female president of the Kentucky Press Association, died Saturday morning, the newspaper reported. Berryman, who served as publisher of the newspaper between 1988 and 2006, was 92. Her career at the Sun began in 1954 when she was hired as assistant to publisher James Tatman. She became general manager in 1974 and publisher in 1988. “Newspapering is exciting business,” Berryman said in an interview published by the Sun in 2018. “No two days are alike ever. There’s something new everyday.” Berryman became the first female president of the KPA in 1986 and was one of the first female press association presidents in the nation. She was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 1996. “Betty was the kind of individual who commanded respect from newspaper folk, publishers, owners, editors – all granted her the respect she deserved. Everyone thought so much of Betty,” longtime KPA Executive Director David Thompson said.
Baton Rouge: A Louisiana State University museum official has received a unique retirement gift – researchers in Alabama and South Carolina named a prehistoric shark species after her. Suyin Ting has been collections manager for vertebrate paleontology at the LSU Museum of Natural Science for 26 years. Her new namesake is Carcharhinus tingae, which lived 40 million years ago and was identified from fossilized teeth in the museum’s collection. “I am very honored to be recognized by my peers for my work,” Ting, who studied mammal paleontology, said in a news release Thursday, the day she retired. But, she added, the fact that David Cicimurri of the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, and Jun Ebersole of the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama, also identified many other specimens for the museum is much more important. Their contribution to the vertebrate paleontology collection is huge, she said. Because shark skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone, their teeth are often the only fossils available. The two scientists realized that some hand-sized teeth were from a previously unrecognized species. Their paper identifying and describing it was published last week in the journal Cainozoic Research.
Portland: State parks had a record number of visitors this year for a second year in a row. The Portland Press Herald reported Maine’s 42 state parks and historic sites had more than 3.2 million visitors through November, according to Jim Britt, spokesman for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. Last year the attendance was 3.1 million visitors. The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry also reported that state park campgrounds set a record this year with 315,000 campers, an increase of 12% from 2020. Britt said by email the parks and historic sites that saw the largest increases in visitors this year were Birch Point Beach State Park in Owls Head; Eagle Island State Historic Site off the coast of Harpswell; and Owls Head State Park, the newspaper reported. The parks that had the most visitors were the usual favorites, including Camden Hills State Park with 180,835, Popham Beach State Park with 185,669, Sebago Lake State Park with 189,959, and Reid State Park with 183,224.
Annapolis: State health officials are advising health care providers to conserve a certain type of lifesaving antibody treatment for COVID-19 patients. The Baltimore Sun reported there are three types of monoclonal antibody treatments that have been approved by the federal government. But only one appears to be effective against the omicron variant of the coronavirus. The effective medication is now in limited supply across the nation. And it’s being reserved for patients who are 65 and older or for people who are immunocompromised. The scarcity of the one effective omicron treatment will have an impact on the state’s response to the latest surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Gov. Larry Hogan and the state’s health department made monoclonal antibodies a cornerstone of fighting the virus, especially among residents in congregate care settings such as nursing homes.The treatments were once widely available in Maryland and are said to reduce the risk of serious COVID-19 illness by as much as 70% to 80% in some patients. Maryland Department of Health spokesman Andy Owen said additional therapies approved by the federal government will be incorporated in the state’s response. He added that monoclonal antibody therapies will continue to be made available to nursing home residents.
Concord: A drawing purchased at an estate sale for $30 is believed to be a rare work by a Renaissance artist worth tens of millions of dollars. International art experts said the previously unknown drawing by Albrecht Dürer could be one of the most significant art discoveries in recent memory, The Boston Globe reported. The pen-and-ink drawing is about the size of a children’s book and depicts a seated Mary holding the newborn Jesus. Titled “The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a grassy Bench,” it was last sold about 2016 in Concord. The newspaper reported international art experts recently gathered at the British Museum in London to discuss the work. Christof Metzger, chief curator at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, which houses a trove of Dürer’s works, told the Globe he has “absolutely no doubt” it is an original work from the German master dating to the early 1500s. But Fritz Koreny, a former Albertina curator, suggested it likely is the work of the artist’s star pupil, Hans Baldung Grien. Dürer, who died in 1528, and was famed for his engravings and woodcuts. The Globe reported the drawing is currently being offered for sale by Agnews Gallery in London.
Wyoming: A western Michigan city plans to install a dozen cameras that will record license plate numbers. The effort in Wyoming is aimed at solving and reducing violent crime, MLive.com reported. The 12 automatic license plate recognition cameras will be installed within the next two months at six intersections. They will capture video as well as every license plate and the make, model and colors of vehicles that pass by them. The locations of the cameras can be changed. “Right now, we have about six or seven police officers on the street, and it’s difficult for us to be everywhere at every time,” Wyoming Police Chief Kim Koster told the newspaper. “We need assistance. We need some technology to help us in that regard, and the license plate readers are something that we started to see utilized by other agencies.” License plate numbers or descriptions about vehicles involved in crimes can be entered into a system which will notify officers if and when vehicles matching the plates or descriptions are detected passing through intersections equipped with the cameras, Koster said. The system will primarily be used for investigations into major crimes, including crimes against people, as well as aid in the search for stolen vehicles. The system won’t be used for traffic enforcement.
Mankato: Federal official are investigating whether people with disabilities can access Minnesota State University-Mankato’s new anti-COVID-19 study pods. The university installed 100 pods using $1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds. The pods resemble pay telephone booths and are designed to provide students with individual study spaces so they can avoid catching the disease. Minnesota Public Radio reported Tuesday that Nancy Fitzsimmons, a social work professor at the university, believes people with disabilities can’t access the pods because they have to climb a step to enter them. She filed a federal complaint in September alleging the pods violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating. University officials declined to comment but added four handicapped accessible pods around campus. These pods are essentially transparent rooms. Fitzsimmons said that’s not enough. The pods were placed in out-of-the-way places, including the basement of a computer center and in an administration building, she said.
Tupelo: A board of supervisors in north Mississippi is requesting the Legislature dedicate stretches of highway to a former sheriff and Korean and Vietnam war veterans. Under the proposal, the intersection of Auburn Road and Interstate 22 would memorialize late Lee County sheriff Harold Ray Presley. The proposed designation is the “Harold Ray Presley Memorial Interchange,” The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported. Presley was shot and killed on July 6, 2001 during a search for a suspected kidnapper, Billy Ray Stone. A tip led Presley and a deputy to a home, where authorities said he was shot multiple times by Stone. Stone was also killed, and two deputies faced federal civil rights charges accusing them of stomping and beating Stone while he was handcuffed. The deputies were acquitted. Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said the highway designation would be a fitting honor for his uncle, Harold Ray Presley. The portion of Interstate 22 between exits 81 and 87 would be designated as “Korean Veterans Highway,” and the section between exits 87 and 94 would be named “Vietnam Veterans Way.” The memorials require approval from the state Legislature.
Springfield:At least three members of a crowded Republican primary field for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat are set to appear on stage together in February. Springfield’s U.S. Rep. Billy Long will join U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey for the Missouri Republicans’ annual State Lincoln Days event in St. Charles, the party announced Thursday. Attorney General Eric Schmitt, former Gov. Eric Greitens and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz have not yet confirmed they will attend the forum. The event will mark one of the first public appearances of multiple Republican candidates thus far in the race to replace Sen. Roy Blunt, who is not seeking re-election. It will be a “chance to hear from the … candidates on the national issues and how they would represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate,” the party said. Democrats seeking their party’s nomination appeared in a November forum in Hillsboro.
Billings: Montana’s Public Service Commission districts, which have not been reapportioned in two decades, are likely unconstitutional, a federal judge has concluded. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said in his order voters challenging the constitutionality of the districts were “likely – though not certain” to succeed in their lawsuit to have the districts redrawn before the 2022 election, the Billings Gazette reported. At issue is whether those districts violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which requires that political districts balance under the “one-person, one-vote rule” that allows a deviation of no more than 10% from the ideal population. The voters challenging the districts are former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown of Flathead County, and Hailey Sinoff and Donald Seifert of Gallatin County. They have asked for a three-judge panel to do the redistricting that Montana’s Legislature has repeatedly tried and failed to do. Until the districts are brought into balance, the plaintiffs asked that Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen be stopped from certifying candidates for PSC elections in 2022.
Papillion: A Nebraska man is recovering after falling through ice while saving his dog at a lake. The Omaha World-Herald reported the Papillion fire and police departments were called at 11:30 a.m. Friday after a 47-year-old man fell through the ice at Walnut Creek Lake. He was on the ice trying to rescue his dog, about 30 to 40 feet from shore. The man was able to rescue the dog, which walked back to shore, but in the process, the man fell through the ice. A Sarpy County deputy was in the area and arrived to assist the man using search-and-rescue equipment. Papillion Police Lt. Ray Higgins said bystanders estimated the man was in the water between 5 to 10 minutes before the deputy’s arrival. Higgins said the man was treated at the scene but opted not to go to a hospital.
Reno: As invasive plants encroach on the pristine waters of Lake Tahoe, officials are weighing whether to use aquatic herbicides for the first time to contain their growth and prevent them from clouding the water. Plants succh as curlyleaf pondweed and eurasian watermilfoil have long thrived in the Tahoe Keys, a boating community located on a lagoon off the southern end of the lake. The local property owners’ association said the methods it has historically used to contain weeds – including taking them out manually – are no longer sufficient. Along with some scientists and lake protection groups, they’re lobbying the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board to permit herbicide use in the Keys. The League and the Tahoe Keys Property Owners’ Association are among a longer list of supporters of using herbicides to contain the invasive plants from spreading that also includes scientists at the Tahoe Environmental Research Center; University of California, Davis; the University of Nevada, Reno; and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District. They argued the weeds could harm lake clarity, inhibit boating and affect the rest of the lake’s ecosystem. They’re advocating for a trial program that would use UV light, manual weed extraction and herbicides to remove up to 75% of the invasive plants over a three-year period. Groups such as the Sierra Club, Friends of West Shore and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance oppose herbicides, which have never been used in federally-protected Lake Tahoe or the Keys. A similar effort to introduce herbicides in 2015 was scuttled. Instead, they are pushing to wall off the Keys to contain the invasive plants and returning parts of the lagoon to the native marshland – an idea that property owners’ oppose.
Manchester: Two brothers have their holiday regifting skills down to an art – they have been passing the same hard candy back and forth for more than 30 years. It started in 1987, when Ryan Wasson gave a 10-roll Frankford “Santa’s Candy Book” with assorted fruit flavors to his brother, Eric, as a joke for Christmas, knowing that Eric wouldn’t like it. “I didn’t eat them,” Eric told WMUR-TV. “And so the next year I thought, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to give it back to him. He’ll never remember.’ ” But Ryan immediately recognized it. They have been taking turns ever since, keeping a log of their exchanges. Ryan told the station the candy has been frozen in a block of ice and put in Jell-O, adding, “He one time sewed it into a teddy bear.” The tradition has also involved family members, co-workers and even a sheriff’s department. Last year, it was presented to Ryan on a silver platter at a restaurant. This year, Ryan turned to a group on social media for ideas. Suggestions included having it arrive via a pizza delivery or Christmas carolers, hiding it in a book or cake, or holding a scavenger hunt with clues.
Trenton:Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has agreed to pay $53 million to the families of 119 seniors, most of whom died of COVID-19 at state-run veterans homes where questionable practices and poor decisions led to one of the nation’s highest nursing home death tolls during the pandemic, attorneys for the families said. The settlement would pay an average of $445,000 to each family. They had argued their loved ones became sick because of “gross departures” from nursing home standards and infection control at the homes in Paramus, Menlo Park and Vineland. “No amount of money can ever obviously replace the lives of the lost veterans, but my clients and I are satisfied that this settlement provides a good measure of civil justice,” said Paul da Costa, an attorney who represented 72 of the residents’ families. In all, 205 residents and two nursing aides died from COVID-19 at the three homes – the vast majority during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Menlo Park had 103 resident deaths followed by Paramus with 89 and Vineland with 13.
Albuquerque: Two servers at an Albuquerque restaurant recently got a big surprise when a group of business owners left a $5,555 tip. It was the idea of Battle Tested Business, a local entrepreneurship, business and leadership organization. Founder Ramon Casaus told Albuquerque television station KOB-TV that he and his colleagues are always looking for creative and meaningful ways to invest back into businesses and the people who keep them going. “We said, well, what if we all went to dinner and tip out $505 each?” Casaus said. They called it “The 505 Dinner” in reference to Albuquerque’s area code. Battle Tested Business said on its Facebook page that local restaurants and their staff were devastated during the pandemic and the group believes in the mission of helping in its backyard.
New York City: The Metropolitan Opera is requiring audience and employees to receive COVID-19 booster shots for entry starting Jan. 17. “With the news of the rapid spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant,” the Met said in an email to the company, “it is clear that we must now take additional steps to protect our community.” The company said anyone not yet eligible to receive a booster shot will be allowed a two-week grace period after they become eligible. The Met was closed from March 2020 until September because of the pandemic, canceling 276 performances plus an international tour. It has drawn approximately 160,000 for its first 59 performances this season, which runs until June. Average capacity has been 73%; ticket distribution has been limited to 3,700, down from 4,000, with the first few rows and standing room not sold. Up to 3,000 people are employed by the Met on performance days. “Our population is far larger than any other not-for-profit performing arts organization in the country, which is why we have to be in the vanguard of health and safety,” Met general manager Peter Gelb said in a statement. The company mandated vaccinations for employees last summer and has required proof of vaccination for the audience since the season began.
Oakboro: A police chief has been placed on unpaid leave because he reportedly told officers about a “clinic” where they could get COVID-19 vaccination cards without being vaccinated. WBTV in Charlotte reported Oakboro Police Chief TJ Smith was put on leave for a two-week period that started Tuesday. The town is west of Charlotte in Stanly County Oakboro Town Administrator Doug Burgess wrote Smith a letter that informed him of the punishment. Burgess said the chief violated the town’s personnel policy, which bars acts of fraud, endangering the property of others and serving a conflicting interest. The town manager said anymore violations would lead to discipline, which could include dismissal. Smith said in a statement that he made a mistake. “I didn’t profit from it,” the chief said. “I couldn’t possibly profit from it, and I didn’t do it from a place of malice. I care deeply about others, and I sincerely appreciate that I have a job that allows me to serve them and to see things improve in my community.”
Bismarck: Three Republican lawmakers representing the southwestern part of the state have announced their reelection campaigns. Reps. Jim Schmidt of Huff, Karen Rohr of Mandan and Sen. David Schaible of Mott will all run for a fourth time to return to the Capitol, the Bismarck Tribune reported. The lawmakers’ districts include part of Morton County and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. All three were first elected in 2010. Schaible is a farmer, chair of the Senate Education Committee and sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Schmidt, also a farmer, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Rohr, a nurse practitioner, is a member of the House Human Services Committee and the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee. Because of redistricting – the process in which state legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years using census data – 99 seats will be up for grabs in next year’s election, which is more than usual. Political parties are expected to hold their endorsing conventions for candidates early next year. Primaries are slated for June 14 with the general election set for Nov. 8.
Cincinnati:Stuart Scheller, a former officer in the Marine Corps with ties to the Cincinnati area who received national attention after criticizing leaders over the pullout from Afghanistan, announced he has been discharged from the Marine Corps. Scheller stated he was let go from the Marine Corps on Thursday in a Facebook post. In August, Scheller, who went to Anderson High School and the University of Cincinnati, posted a video demanding accountability from senior leaders after an attack killed 13 U.S. service members in Kabul, Afghanistan. Soon after, he was relieved of his command. What followed was a series of videos and social media posts from Scheller violating a gag order. Scheller was then held in pretrial confinement at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonnville, North Carolina. Scheller ended his Facebook post by saying he is going on a media blitz, starting as a guest on the Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Jan. 4.
Oklahoma City:The local police union has filed a grievance against the police department over its alleged implementation of new body-worn camera technology before agreeing upon procedure changes in the collective bargaining agreement. The Oklahoma City Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123 were unable to agree on procedural changes brought on by the new cameras, as well as a proposal to stop showing body-cam footage to officers involved in a shooting before they are interviewed about the incident. The limit on viewing footage is one of 39 recommendations for the police department from the city-hired consultant 21CP Solutions. Police Chief Wade Gourley said the city and the union were close to an agreement on how the new technology – which includes upgrades to camera battery life and storage, new livestreaming and automatic activation capabilities and the addition of in-car cameras – would change the camera procedure until the 21CP-recommended change was brought into the negotiations.
Salem:Efforts to fully assess a landslide blocking River Road South in Salem will have to wait. The road is expected to remain closed between Owens Street SE and Minto Island Road SE, the entrance to Minto-Brown Island Park, for several days, according to city officials. Officials said it’s not yet safe enough for teams to begin clearing debris that led to the closure or further assess the stability of the hillside. With snow and freezing temperatures expected early next week, the road could remain closed for seven to 10 days, the Statesman Journal reported. The city will prioritize clearing of detour routes in the area while the closure is in place. An early estimate put the amount of material that slid down at about 150 cubic yards, which is blocking the shoulder, northbound lane and spilling into the southbound lane, according to Courtney Knox Busch, a City of Salem spokesperson. No injuries were reported following the slide, which was first reported at about 2:30 a.m. Thursday. Croisan Creek Road S is the designated detour route.
Washington Crossing: Hundreds gathered on both sides of the Delaware River to watch an annual Christmas Day reenactment of George Washington’s 1776 crossing, a year after pandemic restrictions forced viewers to watch it online. Reenactors in three boats completed the crossing in about an hour Saturday afternoon under overcast skies but in fairly mild temperatures, a spokesperson for Washington Crossing Historic Park said. Earlier in the month, about 5,000 people attended a dress rehearsal of the Revolutionary War reenactment amid good weather and good water conditions, volunteer Tom Maddock of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park said, calling it “a great day.” In 2020, after crowd-size restrictions barred holding the traditional in-person event, park officials posted a video of a reenactment filmed earlier in the month providing what they called a “close-up view.” This year, people entering the visitor center were asked to wear masks, and workers were also masked, officials said. In the original crossing, boats ferried 2,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 18 cannons across the river. Washington’s troops marched 8 miles downriver before battling Hessian mercenaries in the streets of Trenton, New Jersey. Thirty Hessians were killed, and two Continental soldiers froze to death on the march.
Providence: A top public heath official is concerned that fewer than half of all eligible K-12 public school students in Rhode Island have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. According to the most recent available data on the state Department of Health’s website showing vaccination rates among all eligible public school students 5 years and older, 48% are partially vaccinated and 42% are fully vaccinated, WPRI-TV reported. As of Wednesday, about 74% of the state’s total population had been fully vaccinated, according to department data. “I’m concerned about, certainly, younger folks,” Dr. Philip Chan, consulting medical director for the department, told the station. He said although parents being concerned about the health of their children is “normal and reasonable,” the coronavirus vaccines “have been out for well over a year, we know that they’re safe and effective.” The lowest vaccination rates tend to be at elementary schools – where many students only recently became eligible. Chan also noted a disparity of higher vaccination rates at more affluent suburban schools and lower rates at schools in poorer urban areas. Younger people are less likely to become severely ill or die after contracting the virus, medical experts said, but the latest surge of infections in Rhode Island is hitting younger people the hardest.
Hilton Head Island: An environmental group has decided on the historical names Harriet and Mitch for two eagles that have become internet stars watching over their eggs in a nest on Hilton Head Island. A web camera was set up this fall after someone spotted the nest and called the Hilton Head Island Land Trust and state wildlife officials. California company HD on Tap set up the camera, which caught Harriet laying an egg on Nov. 19. She has since laid another and scientists expect the eggs to hatch in the next week or two, the land trust said. The trust isn’t releasing the location of the nest to protect the eagles from being bothered by humans. The eagles are named for two key figures in emancipating slaves in South Carolina and were picked by the trust from hundreds of suggestions. Harriet is named for Harriet Tubman, who helped slaves escape to the North before the Civil War on the Underground Railroad and served as a nurse and spy for the Union army in Beaufort County. Mitch is named for Union Army Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel, who founded the town of Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island during the Civil War. Freed slaves ran the town and provided education for its children decades before public schools were provided for all children. Harriet is larger than Mitch and spends most of her time sitting on her eggs. Mitch helps to protect the eggs from the weather and other predators.
Flandreau: A bakery has shut its doors after 91 years in business. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported the owners of Flandreau Bakery closed up shop for the last time Friday. Mel Duncan opened the bakery in 1930 and worked there until he turned 90. His sons, Ed and Don, took over the business in 1981. Don is 71; Ed is 69. The brothers said they want to retire and relax. They had planned to close the bakery on New Year’s Eve but stepped up their timetable after Ed slipped on ice and broke his wrist following a Dec. 15 storm. Jeannie Manzer, 69, of Brookings went to school with the Duncans and always got her birthday cakes at the bakery. Mel Duncan also baked wedding cakes for her and her sisters. She had her husband stop by the bakery a few weeks ago to pick up what she described as “the world’s best peanut brittle.” The bakery’s mocha cake was so popular it was featured on the Food Network. Flandreau lies on the South Dakota-Minnesota border. It’s home to about 2,340 people.
Memphis:Last Thursday, Memphis police reported 333 homicides, meaning the city has passed the grim record set in 2020 of 332 homicides. Of those 333 homicides this year – 292 are classified as murders. The remainder of the deaths fell into categories such as justified homicides or instances of negligent manslaughter. Within the record number included a subset of at least 29 peoople under 18 killed intentionally and through negligence. Shelby County’s top prosecutor, Amy Weirich and the city’s recently appointed Police Chief C.J. Davis have held community forums where they have explained the limitations of their roles and pleaded for more community involvement. New initiatives meant to relocate witnesses to a safe location away from any offender they report to police have been established. Within communities hardest hit by gun violence, pastors have encouraged their communities to stop protecting those that would take a life. And, grassroots organizations, such as Memphis Artists for Change, have started holding trauma-and-race informed de-escalation workshops.
Dallas: The wife of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was arrested Christmas Eve on a domestic violence charge the right-wing provocateur said stems from a “medication imbalance.” Sheriff’s deputies took Erika Wulff Jones into custody and booked her into an Austin jail around 8:45 p.m. Friday. Jail records showed the 43-year-old faces misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily injury to a family member and resisting arrest, search or transport. She had not received a bond as of Saturday afternoon. Alex Jones, an Austin resident and founder of the media group Infowars, declined Saturday to say whether he had been injured or elaborate on what happened beyond that he believes it was related to his wife’s recent change of medication. “It’s a private family matter that happened on Christmas Eve,” Jones told the Associated Press in a brief interview. “I love my wife and care about her and it appears to be some kind of medication imbalance.” The Travis County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request Christmas Day for the report on Wulff Jones’ arrest and a spokeswoman said she could not provide more information. An attorney for Wulff Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Salt Lake City:A Utah school district is removing two books from libraries after a complaint from a parent. The Washington County School District in southern Utah will pull the award-winning books “Out of Darkness” and “The Hate U Give,” communications director Steven Dunham told KTVX. The first book will come off secondary school shelves and the second will be removed from elementary and intermediate schools. “Out of Darkness” follows a romantic relationship between two teenagers, a Mexican American girl and an African-American boy, in Texas in the 1930s. “The Hate U Give” follows a 16-year-old’s life after the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer amid the Black Lives Matter movement. The decision came after committees reviewed the books and found profanity and sexually explicit content, Dunham said. He said the school recognizes parents’ rights, but hopes parents also recognize there are valuable lessons to be taken from the literature. Another Utah school district, the Canyons, removed several books to review them last month after an email complaint. Libraries across the country have seen increased calls to review or remove books from school libraries, part of a renewed conservative interest in public education as a political issue.
Charlotte: The state is helping ensure the town of Charlotte can keep its roads clear this winter after a fire destroyed most of the community’s snowplows. The Vermont Agency of Transportation is loaning the community three plows until the plows that were destroyed by the fire can be replaced. Charlotte, which has 60 miles of town roads, leases its plows through Lewis Excavating, the business operated by Charlotte’s elected road commissioner, Junior Lewis. Fire destroyed Lewis’ 70-year-old wooden storage facility on Church Hill Road on Wednesday, leaving four plow trucks along with other vehicles and gear unusable. Only one plow was saved. “This is the time you need that equipment,” said Charlotte Select Board Chair Jim Faulkner. The cause of the fire is uknown but not thought to be suspicious. There were no injuries. Gov. Phil Scott heard about the fire through news reports and asked the Agency of Transportation to help, said Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said.
Richmond: The spot where a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee once stood over Richmond’s tree-lined Monument Avenue is now just a pile of boulders, rubble and sand. But for the next few weeks, workers will continue their search for a famed 1887 time capsule that was said to be buried under the massive monument, long viewed as a symbol of racial injustice. “We know what to be on the lookout for,” said Devon Henry, the contractor who took down the statue and its pedestal. “It will be a very decorative piece of granite that will look nothing like what’s already there.” Henry spoke the day after one of the more anti-climactic moments in historic preservation: State conservators spent 5 hours gingerly prying open a corroded lead box that some believed – or at least hoped – was the 1887 time capsule. But they didn’t find the expected trove of objects related to the Confederacy, including a picture of a deceased President Abraham Lincoln. Instead, conservators pulled out a few waterlogged books, a silver coin and an envelope with some papers. The prevailing theory among some Thursday was that the lead box was left by a person – or persons – who oversaw the monument’s construction.
Seattle:Snow blanketed parts of the Pacific Northwest on Sunday because of unusually cold temperatures in the region. Between 3 and 5 inches of snow fell in Seattle overnight. Observers in Port Angeles, across the Puget Sound on the Olympic Peninsula, reported about 11 inches of snow. Another 2 to 5 inches of snow were expected to fall in parts of northwest and west-central Washington during the day, the National Weather Service said. “It’s cold enough for snow and there’s enough moisture around, so we have enough snow to see snowfall across the area,” National Weather Service Seattle meteorologist Jacob DeFlitch told The Seattle Times. Frigid temperatures in the region could tie or break records in the coming days. The Seattle area is expected to dip as low as 18 degrees F, the lowest in several years.
Parkersburg: Construction is expected to begin Monday on a FedEx Ground distribution center in south Parkersburg, according to a published report. A 250,000-square-foot facility is planned to be operational at the site in 2022, The Parkersburg News and Sentinel reported. It will employ a mix of full- and part-time workers and also will contract for package pickup and delivery services, FedEx Ground spokesman David Westrick told the newspaper. The company is working to optimize its capacity to meet increasing demand as e-commerce grows, Westrick said. “The site was chosen because of its ease of access to major highways, proximity to customers’ distribution centers and a strong local community workforce for recruiting employees,” he said.
Waukesha: Officials plan to take down a temporary memorial honoring people killed and injured after a man drove an SUV through the city’s Christmas parade last month. The city plans to remove the memorial at Waukesha’s Veterans Park on Wednesday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The memorial includes six crosses, flowers, candles, teddy bears and baseballs to honor 8-year-old Jackson Sparks, who was killed as he marched with his youth baseball team in the parade. City staff and the Waukesha County Historical Society will collect the items and preserve them. The Waukesha Common Council plans to consider a request on Jan. 18 to create a permanent memorial planning commission. Six people were killed and more than 60 hurt as the driver swerved the SUV through the parade in downtown Waukesha on Nov. 21. Prosecutors said Darrell Brooks was behind the wheel. His motives remain a mystery. He faces six counts of homicide and is being held on $5 million bail. Brooks was released from the Milwaukee County jail on $1,000 bail just days before the parade. He had been arrested for allegedly running over the mother of his child with the same SUV.
Jackson: Researchers are investigating whether limiting the number of bighorn sheep – and, consequently, limiting the amount the herd’s members can compete with one another for food – would prevent another pneumonia-driven die-off that killed 40% of the Jackson herd in 2012. To do that, they’re considering asking if the public would support a ewe hunt. “The hypothesis is, if we can reduce numbers through hunting, we should see those sheep respond with better body conditions,” Courtemanch said. “That’ll be one of the first times, if not the first time, that’s ever been done.” But it’s unknown what such a hunt would look like. Although cow elk are hunted every fall to manage herd numbers, bighorn sheep management is different. The sheep exist in far fewer numbers than elk across the Mountain West and hunting tags are usually limited to rams – and generally scarce. There were only 12 tags issued in 2021 for male bighorns in the Gros Ventre-dwelling Jackson Herd. And Courtemanch said a ewe hunt has been authorized only once in Wyoming and rarely in other parts of the West. So it’s a relatively new tool. Game and Fish plans to make a more detailed proposal, including how many tags might be offered, in March. An open house and chance for public comment would precede sending a proposal to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission for approval in April.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort