Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts

Officials: Florida sinkhole still growing; man missing

A central Florida man was still missing and feared dead early today after a sinkhole opened under his home Thursday night, swallowing him in his bed.

As hours passed overnight and rescuers and family lost hope of seeing 36-year-old Jeff Bush pulled from the ground alive, the sinkhole continued to grow, officials said.

“The hole has gotten deeper,” geotechnical engineer Larry Madrid said at a news conference Friday evening. “We can’t get into the building because of the potential for sudden collapse.”

The continued instability of the ground slowed engineers and kept evacuees in the Tampa-area neighborhood from returning to their homes.

“We’re really handicapped and paralyzed, and we really can’t do a whole lot more than wait,” Madrid said.

“I know in my heart he's dead,” Bush’s brother Jeremy told reporters Friday.

Authorities condemned the concrete-block home, determining the ground was unstable. Surrounding homes were evacuated, but the hole is isolated to the house, authorities said.

Hillsborough Fire Rescue officials lowered a camera and listening device into the 20-foot-deep hole to try to find Jeffrey Bush. But the ground kept moving and they lost the equipment.

"He's down there, but we can't hear here anything and we can't see anything," said Ronnie Rivera, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman. "We just can't do anything."

Structural engineers brought in equipment to determine if rescuers can enter the house. But with each hour that passed, the hope for rescue faded and despair set in.

Late Thursday night, Jeremy Bush heard something that sounded like a car crash, then heard a scream. He ran to his brother’s room, but all he could see was a mattress. He tried to save him and ended up getting stuck himself.

When Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy Douglas Duvall arrived at the home, he yanked Jeremy Bush from the hole and the two were able to escape.

At the news conference Friday evening, Duvall said he couldn’t sleep Thursday night, thinking about the what he’d seen and about Bush's family.

The risk of sinkholes is common in Florida due to the state's porous geological bedrock, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. As rainwater filters down into the ground, it dissolves the rock causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns, which cause sinkholes when they collapse.

Florida suffered one of its worst sinkhole accidents in 1994 when a 15-story-deep chasm opened up east of Tampa at a phosphate mine. It created a hole 185 feet deep and as much as 160 feet wide. Locals dubbed it Disney World's newest attraction - 'Journey to the Center of the Earth.'

In 1981 in Winter Park near Orlando, a sinkhole was measured as 320 feet wide and 90 feet deep, swallowing a two-story house, part of a Porsche dealership, and an Olympic-size swimming pool. The site is now an artificial lake in the city.

From the Los Angeles Times, Reuters and the Orlando Sentinel

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Chicago State board meets to decide: Who's in charge?

Chicago State University's board of trustees is meeting this morning to settle the question of who is president at the South Side campus, capping a tumultuous week.

On Monday, the board announced that Wayne Watson, president since 2009, would take a yearlong sabbatical and then was expected to retire. It also said that provost Sandra Westbrooks would be the acting president.

But Watson stayed in his office this week and has maintained that he is still the president. Watson’s attorney said he viewed the sabbatical as equivalent to a vacation, not an end to his presidency. Watson’s contract goes until 2014.

The sabbatical arrangement, which Watson requested, was intended to allow him to exit without drama after the trustees decided they wanted new leadership. He was to be paid his $250,000 salary during the sabbatical, during which time he said he planned to care for his elderly father and conduct research on effective leadership at minority-serving institutions.

The board called the meeting to order shortly after 8 a.m. this morning and then recessed into a closed executive session to discuss what was described on the published agenda as employment matters, legal matters and approval of legal and consultant services. It is then expected to reconvene in an open session.

Before the meeting began, Chicago leaders well known in the African-American community crowded into the library waiting area, including former Sen. Emil Jones and Jonathan Jackson from Rainbow Push Coalition.

Jones, who walked the room with Watson, said: “He should be president, no question about that, because of his interest in the education of the students who go here.”

The mood among the crowd was pleasant despite the differences in opinion on how the university should be lead.

"We're on the good side," said Victor P. Henderson, Watson's attorney.

Watson said: "I'm standing for the right thing."

Board Chairman Gary Rozier told the Tribune earlier this week that trustees had decided it was “time to look for new leadership.” They were disappointed with the decline in enrollment and the faculty’s no-confidence vote on Watson.

Henderson has defended Watson’s tenure.

“I have not seen one iota of information which would justify changing the president’s status at the university,” Henderson said earlier this week.

As the board met in private, members of the audience milled around the room, some complaining out loud about the credentials of the board members and saying that they lacked qualifications to select a leader for the institution. Some whispered about rumors and gossip that has spread across the campus and distracted the faculty, staff and students.

Martin L. King, chairman of the Rainbow Push Coalition board, said he and Rev. Jesse Jackson tried to mediate an agreement between Watson and the board but failed.

"That agreement would have ended the need to have this meeting," he said.

Chicago State has long been an source of pride in the middle-class African-American community it sits in. The student body is made up mainly of local black students, who otherwise might not have a chance to earn a college degree.

Friday's meeting drew residents who had graduated from the institution and many that work there.

"Chicago State University is an anchor for Chatham, Auburn Gresham and the Southland," King said. "It's an economic anchor, the home of historic documents. This university is a place where we all come together."

King said he believes it is in the best interest of the students and community that Watson be retained and the board work with him.

"The president has been very instrumental in making sure the university moved forward," King said. "Our (PUSH) ultimate goal is fairness."

On campus, the drama between Watson and the board has seeped into the classroom, said adjunct professor of political science Gideon Charles.

"We're demoralized. We don't know who is the President and who to report to," he said.

Charles said he believes it's time for Watson to be replaced.

"The school has declined under his leadership and enrollment is down," he said. "The faculty don't hold him in high regard. When he was brought in in 2009, the students didn't take a liking to him — and they still don't."

History professor Bob Bionaz also said he believes Watson should be replaced.  "He is a failure" he said, citing a decline in student enrollment and other factors.

Earlier this week, Watson sent a letter to trustees alleging that some board members are retaliating against him because he won’t accede to their pressures to hire and reward their friends.

In a four-page letter dated Feb. 26 and obtained by the Tribune, Watson told trustees that the “real motivation” behind the board’s efforts to replace him was his refusal “to capitulate to the incessant requests” from Rozier and Vice Chairman Z. Scott to “either hire, promote or give salary increases to their friends and associates.”

Langdon Neal, the board’s attorney, replied: “We are going to rise above this and deal with the matters that affect the students of the university and the university itself. We are not going to comment on the personal accusations.”

In the letter to trustees, Watson also wrote that there are now no financial improprieties at an institution that was plagued by fiscal mismanagement for years.

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Journalist Woodward said he received White House warning


A prominent Washington journalist said in interviews on Wednesday a senior White House official warned him he would "regret" publishing a story challenging the White House's account of how the idea for automatic spending cuts originated.

Bob Woodward said in interviews with Politico and CNN that when he informed the White House he was writing a story critical of the White House's handling of a debate over the origin of the cuts, known as sequestration, the official reacted angrily.

The aide "yelled at me for about a half hour," Woodward told Politico, and then followed up the tirade with an email.

"I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today," the official wrote Woodward. "You're focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. ... I think you will regret staking out that claim."

Politico reported that Woodward saw the statement as a veiled threat.

"I've tangled with lots of these people," said the journalist, who established his reputation by breaking the story of the Watergate break-in under President Richard Nixon and has written a series of best selling books about Washington politics.

"But suppose there's a young reporter who's only had a couple of years — or 10 years' — experience and the White House is sending him an email saying, ‘You're going to regret this,'" Woodward said. "You know, tremble, tremble. I don't think it's the way to operate."

Some $85 billion in spending cuts are due to go into effect Friday unless Congress acts, and with the deadline approaching there is practically no movement toward preventing them. President Barack Obama has scheduled a meeting with congressional leaders on Friday, but little is expected of the encounter.

The president has crisscrossed the country in recent weeks to draw attention to the inconveniences and problems from the cuts, which economists say could shave 0.6 percentage points off of already anemic U.S. growth.

While the president has been conducting that campaign, the spat over what Woodward calls the "paternity" of the sequester has proven a distracting sideshow to the fiscal battle.

The administration has sought to counter charges by Republicans that the sequestration cuts were proposed by Obama administration officials.

Woodward's book "The Price of Politics" is a fly-on-the-wall account of the negotiations in 2011 that ended with a deal to raise the nation's debt limit. As part of the deal, both sides agreed to make additional efforts to reduce the national budget deficit, and proposed the sequester as an alternative so unappealing that it would force the administration and congressional Republicans to find common ground.

That deal proved elusive and both sides are currently trading blame for the sequestration cuts.


Woodward said in an article in the Washington Post on Friday that the president and his chief of staff at the time, current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, were wrong in initially claiming last year that the sequester was the Republicans' idea.

"Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and (Rob)Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid," Woodward said. "They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved." Nabors was then the White House's chief liaison to Congress and is now deputy chief of staff.

The administration has argued that both sides agreed to the terms of the sequester and has pointed to comments at the time from House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, that he was for the most part satisfied with the deal that spawned the arrangement.

Woodward's account of his recent testy exchange with the White House points to continued sensitivity over the issue of whose idea the sequester was.

A White House official said in an emailed response to Reuters that no threat was intended by the comment.

"The email from the aide was sent to apologize for voices being raised in their previous conversation," the aide said. "The note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more."

The BuzzFeed news website identified the official who tangled with Woodward as Gene Sperling, head of the National Economic Council. The White House did not respond to a request to confirm the identity of the official.

News of the exchange drew instant reaction from Washington insiders on Twitter, much of poking fun at the war of words.

"My amateur advice: stop cooperating with Woodward in the first place," wrote Neera Tanden, the president of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress think tank and a former Obama campaign advisor.

"Hey, guess what? All of you will talk to Woodward for his next book, too," wrote Tony Fratto of Hamilton Place Strategies and a former White House official under President George W. Bush.

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Obama to meet with congressional leaders to discuss budget cuts

Speaker of the House John Boehner tells Scott Pelley in a "CBS Evening News" interview that a budget deal is now out of his hands.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will meet with top congressional leaders on Friday to discuss the deep, automatic government spending cuts slated to go into effect that day, congressional aides said

Known as the sequester or sequestration, the cuts amount indiscriminate across-the-board reductions in federal spending totalling $85 billion.

Obama is set to meet with Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.

"The meeting Friday is an opportunity for us to visit with the president about how we can all keep our commitment to reduce Washington spending," McConnell said in a statement.

"We can either secure those reductions more intelligently, or we can do it the president's way with across-the board cuts. But one thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to," he said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill immediately questioned Obama's intent.

"If the president is serious about stopping the sequester, why did he schedule a meeting on Tuesday for Friday when the sequester hits at midnight on Thursday?” asked a Republican congressional aide who was not authorized to talk about the private meeting. "Either someone needs to buy the White House a calendar, or this is just a belated farce.  They ought to at least pretend to try."

Reuters and Lisa Mascaro, the Los Angeles Times

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Polls open to find likely successor to ex-Rep. Jackson Jr.

Election Day in Cicero and 2nd District. Polls open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Voters are headed to the polls today to pick the likely successor to disgraced former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in a congressional district covering the South Side and south suburbs.

There are primaries for both political parties, but the 2nd District is so heavily Democratic that whoever emerges from the crowded Democratic field is expected to easily win the April 9 special general election. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Today's voting follows weeks of candidate forums, an accelerated campaign schedule and a flurry of TV ads from the mayor of New York. While the top-tier candidates among the 14 Democrats vying for the primary nomination are known — former state Rep. Robin Kelly, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and Chicago 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale — there also are some big unknowns. Voter turnout, already anticipated to be very low, could be exacerbated by nasty weather.

Kelly voted early. Beale and Halvorson planned to vote today. All three candidates have a slew of campaign stops scheduled before gearing up for evening parties where they'll watch the results come in.

The results of early voting held between Feb. 11 and Saturday demonstrated a lack of interest in the contest, despite its ramifications in deciding who will represent voters and their disparate interests in the vast district.

A majority of the district's Democratic voters live in suburban Cook County, with an additional one-third from the South Side. The district also includes parts of eastern Will County and all of Kankakee County, and together the two regions make up slightly less than 10 percent of the Democratic vote.

In suburban Cook, 4,459 early votes were cast, with 98 percent of those voters taking Democratic ballots. Of the 11 suburban early voting locations, Matteson Village Hall, in Kelly's hometown, had the most with 1,601 voters.

In Chicago, 98 percent of the 2,768 early voters cast Democratic ballots. Only 63 early votes were cast for Republicans.

In Will, 246 voters cast early ballots, all but 40 of them Democratic votes. Kankakee County officials reported 699 early ballots, with 533 voting Democrat and 166 Republican.

"I just think if it was a regular race, then they'd look a little bit different," Kelly said of the low early voting totals. "I also think because (the special primary) came so close to the November election that there's some (voter) fatigue."

But in a large field of candidates and questionable turnout, a nomination for Congress could be decided by mere hundreds of votes. Even as forecasters sounded warnings of a Tuesday smorgasbord of wintry weather, candidates sought to energize core supporters to help get out the vote.

In an email to supporters, Kelly's campaign pleaded for volunteers to help get voters to the polls and asked for money for its get-out-the-vote field operation.

Halvorson acknowledged the early voting numbers were "paltry" and that voter turnout would be a "huge" factor Tuesday. Halvorson said she believed turnout could be driven by the district's history of scandals — including last week's guilty plea by Jackson on federal charges of illegally converting about $750,000 in campaign cash to personal use.

"I think this race has gotten so much attention and people are so angry about what the 2nd Congressional District has had to deal with over the years that they're going to take a special interest to make sure they are going to vote for someone who is completely different than what they've seen," said Halvorson, of Crete.

Halvorson also has been the target of the most extensive advertising in the contest, more than $2.2 million worth of TV and mail attacks by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super political action committee, centered on her past National Rifle Association support. Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC is backing Kelly.

Beale said the low number of early ballots puts all the more importance on Election Day field efforts. He said that well-established organizations in the six city wards in the district could serve as an advantage for his campaign.

"It's just slow across the board, and that just goes to show it is going to be a very low turnout," Beale said of the early votes. "We're just making sure we're targeting our core, solid voters, and we're going to get them out to the polls and be victorious Tuesday night."

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Boy, 16, charged with Bucktown home invasion, assault

Chicago Tribune reporter Adam Sege with Sunday's Chicago overnight crime report, including details on a sexual assault in Bucktown.

A 16-year-old boy is accused of breaking into a Bucktown home, sexually assaulting a woman at gunpoint, then forcing her into her own car and driving off, authorities said.

Marcos Cervantes eventually dropped off the 43-year-old woman and was later arrested when police traced a cell phone he had stolen from the victim, authorities said. The woman was treated at a hospital.

Cervantes has been charged as an adult with home invasion by armed force, aggravated criminal sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated vehicular hijacking, according to police and prosecutors. He was expected to appear in bond court today, prosecutors said.

The attack occurred shortly after noon Sunday in the 2100 block of West Moffat Street, Police News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines said.

The boy was arrested about 2:30 p.m. at West Roosevelt Road and South Western Avenue in the Douglas Park neighborhood.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Daytona 500 still a go despite accident that injured fans


NASCAR, despite Saturday's crash, will go racing today at Daytona International Speedway, weather permitting, More than two dozen people were injured at Daytona International Speedway Saturday afternoon in the wake of a multicar accident.

“We met with NASCAR officials at 8 a.m. and worked late into evening and are prepared to go racing today,”  Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood III said Sunday morning.

The accident, which happened on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300, sent  wreckage past a safety fence and into the grandstand.

Chitwood reiterated that 14 people were taken from raceway by ambulance, and 14 were treated at the track. Some reports listed that there could be as many as 33 accident victims, but Chitwood noted that some fans may have transported themselves to local hospitals.

Some fans also  were treated for illnesses unrelated to the crash, such as being overcome by the heat.

Chitwood said that the track’s guest services department helped all of those fans released to get re-connected with their family and friends, and in some cases, provided transportation back to Orlando.

The incident happened on the last lap, when Kyle Larson's car broke apart and Others spun out of control.

"Stuff was flying everywhere," spectator Terry Huckaby, whose brother was sent to the hospital with a leg injury, told the ESPN sports network. "Tires were flying by and smoke and everything else."

Among the injured were a 14-year-old boy in critical but stable condition, and a man who was in surgery for a head injury, according to

Tony Stewart won the race at Saturday's event, which is the curtain-raiser for American stock car racing's biggest event on Sunday which will feature Danica Patrick as the first woman to start on pole position.


Saturday's wreck happened after driver Regan Smith, who was leading the race, attempted to block another driver as they were nearing the checkered flag and hit the other car, a report on said.

"My fault," Smith, who finished 14th, told "I threw a block. I'll take the blame for it. But when you see the checkered flag at Daytona, you're going to block, and you're going to do everything you can to be the first car back to the stripe. It just didn't work out today. Just hoping everything is okay, everyone who was in the wreck and all the fans."

The crash sent driver Kyle Larson's car airborne and ripped out its engine, although he climbed out of the wreckage afterward unhurt.

"I was getting pushed from behind, it felt like," Larson told ESPN after the crash.

"By the time my spotter said, 'Lift,' or to go low, I believe, it was too late and I was in the wreck. Then I felt like it was slowing down, and it looked like I could see the ground, and had some flames in the cockpit. Luckily, I was all right and could get out of the car quick," he added.

The injured were carried away on stretchers from the chaotic scene in the stands. They were taken to Halifax Health Medical Center and Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach.

NASCAR's vice president of race operations, Steve O'Donnell, said that the fencing, which was ripped through by the flying debris, was being replaced and the incident would be reviewed.

"We're very confident that we'll be ready for tomorrow's event with the 55th running of the Daytona, but as with any of these incidents, we'll conduct a thorough review, we'll work closely with the tracks as we do for all our events, learn what we can and see what we can apply in the future," he said.

It is rare that spectators get hurt in American racing, but it has happened before. In 2009, Carl Edwards's car slammed into the catch fencing at Talladega and injured nine fans. Three were killed in Charlotte, North Carolina, a decade earlier in the IndyCar Series, and three others were killed in 1998 in Michigan during CART's U.S. 500.

Driver Michael Annett of the Richard Petty Motorsports team was treated at the Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach for bruises to his chest and sternum received in a crash on the 116th lap of the 120-lap race. He was given a CT scan and was being kept in for observation, the team said in a statement.

The Orlando Sentinel and Reuters contributed to this report.

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Charges filed in slaying of Clemente High School student

Authorities filed charges against a 34-year-old man in connection with the shooting death of an 18-year-old Clemente High School student killed on the West Side last week.

Larry Luellen Jr., 34, was charged with first degree murder in the death of Frances Colon. Luellen is due in court today.

Luellen lives in the 3900 block of West Division Street in West Humboldt Park, around the corner from where Colon was shot. Police don't believe she was the target.

Colon is the third student at Roberto Clemente to be killed this school year, according to the school's principal Marcey Sorensen.

Rey Dorantes, 14, of the 2400 block of West Augusta Boulevard, was shot and killed on Jan. 11. His death came about a month after another Clemente student, 16-year-old Jeffrey Stewart, of the 5200 block of West Race Avenue, was shot and killed on Dec. 9.

Colon was a senior who was preparing to attend college. Hours before the shooting, she had watched President Barack Obama speak at Hyde Park Academy on the South Side about gun violence, according to her father.

Check back for more information.
Twitter: @peternickeas

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Drew Peterson: 'All aspects of my life have been destroyed'

Moments after screaming in court, "I did not kill Kathleen," Drew Peterson was sentenced to 38 years in prison for the 2004 murder of his third wife Kathleen Savio.

Peterson had faced as much as 60 years, but Judge Edward Burmila said he gave Peterson some consideration for his years as a police officer and his service in the military. Peterson is 59.

The sentence was handed down after Peterson, who did not testify at his trial, made an emotional appeal to the judge, at times appearing to choke up as he argued that he was convicted by "rumors, gossip, outrageous lies and, most importantly, unreliable hearsay."

"I don't deserve this," he told Burmila. "I don't deserve this."

Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, was convicted last fall of drowning Savio in her bathtub. Prosecutors have said they believe Peterson also killed his missing fourth wife Stacy and could seek charges in that case.

Peterson began his appeal to the judge today by telling him, "Good day, my name is Drew Peterson. I hope I don't aggravate the situation here, but I have a lot of things to be said." Then he screamed, "I did not kill Kathleen!"

"Yes, you did," a woman said.

"Ma'am, I'd like you to leave the courtroom," Burmila said. "And Mr. Peterson, don't make any outbursts that are designed to aggravate people."

"I'm sorry, your honor. I must have been woozy," Peterson said.

After the sentencing, State's Atty. James Glasgow dismissed the outburst as a "shrill, kind of feminine screech."

Peterson insisted to the judge he is the victim of an unjust and invasive police investigation that ignored or lost evidence that could have shown his innocence. He accused the state police of falsifying reports.

"What they did uncover was rumors, gossip, outrageous lies, and most importantly, unreliable hearsay. Hearsay that pierced three privileges that have stood for centuries," Peterson said.

Peterson bitterly complained that the Rev. Neil Schori betrayed his promise never to repeat anything that was said by Peterson or Stacy. Schori testified at trial that Stacy confided to him that she lied to state police about Peterson's alleged slaying of Savio.

"Out of the privileged information from Neil Schori, the state police was able to create" a case, he said. "I find it hard to believe that the state was able to take information that they obtained illegally and turn it to their benefit."

Kathleen Savio’s divorce attorney Harry Smith, who also testified at trial about a conversation he had with Stacy before she disappeared, "gave up privileged information from both Kathy and Stacy, like it was yesterday's garbage," Peterson said. "Ultimately, it led to my conviction.

"Hearsay is a scary thing. There's no proof. Anything can be said and nobody's accountable for the truth.

"In my experience, in divorce situations everybody lies, and everybody lies under the instruction of their attorneys.

"There was an incident where Kathleen exited the house ... and punched Stacy in the face. They went to trial, my 9- and 10-year-old sons were called to testify, and under oath they lied," Peterson said.

"On their next visit, I questioned them, 'Why’d you guys lie?' They said Harry Smith told them to. They didn’t want their mom to go to jail,” Peterson said, growing emotional as he spoke. “I couldn't be mad at them.”

"Stacy provided me an alibi for Kathleen's death. Then she later said she was lying about that. Seems like Stacy was lying all the time about everything. But the state's attorney picked and chose what they wanted to believe.

"Stacy clearly had a crush on the Rev. Schori, which I think was a factor in this.

"There was a constant and consistently illegal activity by the state’s attorneys, including the state’s attorney himself.

"So what did the state’s attorney do? They hire a skinny ... spokesperson (Stacy Peterson family spokeswoman Pam Bosco) to go out and say anything she wants. It buffered the state’s attorney’s office from anything the court might bring.

"And when it came time for a vote from the grand jury, only a handful of people were selected. Not the entire grand jury was brought in to do the vote. Pretty much guaranteed ... that I was indicted, which I was.

"There was a first investigation on this case, in which probably one of the most experienced investigators was the first one on the scene in this case, and he determined Kathleen's death was an accident.

"Dr. (Bryan) Mitchell looked at Kathy's body when it was in its freshest state. He determined her death was an accident."

So did the coroner's jury, Peterson said. "All this was done when the evidence was freshest."

Peterson then paused and asked for some water. He resumed by talking about his service in the military and lengthy law enforcement career.

"I was probably one of the highest-decorated officers in the Bolingbrook Police Department," he said.

"I always took my job seriously, I never violated the public trust," he said, his voice husky with emotions. "And I never beared false witness against anyone.

"I loved having a job that helped people," he said. "In my private life, I ran up to six companies at one time. I employed nearly 100 people.

"Until this happened, I thought I was a great guy," he said. "And in moments, the media turned me into a monster.

"As soon as I get a chance, I'm going to get a tattoo on my back, from shoulder to shoulder, that says, 'No good deed goes unpunished.' "

He said he loved Savio and called her a good wife and mother who did not deserve to die, but insited it was an accident. He then talked about Savio’s upbringing, calling it difficult and abusive.

"The most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen in my life was the night after our wedding, when I held Kathy and she cried because her father failed to show up and give her away on her wedding.

"At Kathy's wake, friends and family put money in cards and envelopes to help cover the cost of the funeral.

“I paid for the funeral."

"That's a lie right there," a man in court shouted.

"I paid for Kathy’s funeral at the request of her sister, who's sitting right there," Peterson said.

He then attacked State's Atty. James Glasgow.

"Mr. Glasgow, all aspects of my life have been destroyed. Everything from my personal life to my professional life to my social life -- all aspects have been destroyed. And I tell you this to give you greater cause for celebration, when you celebrate the fact that you perpetrated the largest railroad job in the history of this country.

"Since I've been incarcerated, I've had nine family members who have died, six of which were cousins," Peterson said. None of them made it past the age of 60, he said.

“And in telling you this, I'm not looking for any sympathy, but anything you sentence me to, you're sentencing me to the Department of Corrections to die!" Peterson said.

Peterson said he believes his constitutional rights have been violated.

"And I think the only thing left to make this case run true to form would be a cruel and unusual punishment. And I don't think anybody would care because nobody cares. I can't believe I spent 32 years defending a constitution that allowed this to happen to me. I can't believe people fought and died in wars protecting a constitution that allowed this to happen to me.”

America should be outraged, but nobody cares, he said.

"I take full responsibility for my relationship with the media," Peterson continued. "I just wanted them away from my home because they were scaring my kids. They hounded me. I agreed to go on TV and tell my story and ask for legal help.

"Everybody from busy bodies like Nancy Grace ... to that ridiculous movie that played repeatedly before and during my trial.

"It pretty much guaranteed that I would not get a fair trial. It's pretty clear that the state took part in that movie because things I remember saying only to the state police appeared in that movie," Peterson said, apparently referring to a Lifetime TV movie starring Rob Lowe as Peterson.

"I'm an obnoxious man by nature, truly. And after 30 years as a police officer, as is normal with a police officer, my defense mechanism is comedy. The media took that and capitalized on that, and my obnoxious nature showed through. But I want to ensure the court that at no time did I want to portray any insensitivity about Kathy's death. That was not my intention.

“I hope Mr. Glasgow looks me in the eye right now. Never forget my face! Never forget what you’ve done. 

“Originally I had some cute and funny things to say. But now in closing, it's time to be sentenced to a life of hardship and abuse in prison. I don't deserve this, I don't deserve this.

“Thank you.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Savio’s sister Anna Marie Savio-Doman told the judge that "my loss of my baby sister is beyond words. There will be no more birthday parties, backyard gatherings, holiday celebrations or other family activities to share. The laughter, hugs, guidance, advice, sense of security and those opportunities to say ‘I love you’ are forever gone.

“One of the hardest things for me is knowing the pain and fear that Kathleen must have suffered at the time of her murder. The horror and betrayal she must have felt when she realized that someone she had trusted and loved more than anything was actually killing her. I wonder if she could feel her heart breaking when she thought about leaving her two boys forever. The helplessness she must have felt knowing she was going to die.

“I have to say it hurts a lot. I hope it gets better, but I am not confident it will get better. I still talk to her. I hope she can hear me.”

Susan Doman described her sister as a “rock” and told the court she looked up to Savio, even though Savio was younger. She also expressed her anger toward Peterson.

“He showed no remorse,” she said. “For years I watched Peterson parade on TV, radio, photo shoots, and (that) radio promotion to win a date with him. That was a big joke to him. And he loved all the attention.

“Your honor, the defendant shows no remorse to this day for the horrible crime that he did to my sister Kathleen. This senseless action is inexcusable. I am placing my trust that you will give Kathleen justice once and for all.”

The judge also read a statement from Savio’s father, but not aloud.

In arguing for a maximum sentence, Glasgow reminded the judge about the damage done to his young children with Stacy. Prosecutors have said they believe Peterson killed Stacy and could seek charges in that case.

"Not only is their mother gone, but also their father is gone, as he sits before you," Glasgow said.

Glasgow said Peterson also should not get a break for living a law- abiding life because of his attacks on his second wife, when he threatened to kill her.

"There's a recurring them here with Mr. Peterson. He’s a police officer, and there's a number of occurrences with the victims here being afraid to call the police department.

"These are obviously very dangerous situation, and in this case, led to the demise of two young women."

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Storm walloping Plains could dump half-foot here

A winter storm that is already walloping the Plains states will hit the Chicago area tonight and linger through the morning commute on Friday, possibly dumping up to half a foot of snow here.

A winter weather advisory has been issued for the Chicago area from 9 p.m. Thursday until 6 p.m. Friday, with snow falling at a rate of an inch per hour overnight and winds blowing at 25 to 30 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

The snow will change over to freezing drizzle Friday morning, the weather service said.

Anywhere from 3 to 7 inches could fall here, but up to 16 inches are expected in Kansas and Nebraska, states expected to bear the brunt of the storm. Warnings have been issued from Colorado through Illinois, and many school districts have called off classes.

The storm could be the worst to hit the Midwest since a storm dumped 1 to 2 feet of snow from central Oklahoma to the lower Great Lakes and central New England between Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 2011. The storm spawned the infamous Groundhog Day Blizzard that buried Chicago in 20.2 inches of snow.

The storm moving over the Plains now was first picked up by computer models as it left the Japanese coast more than a week ago.  Forecasts at the time suggested a potentially significant winter storm would develop from it across the nation’s mid-section.

Up to a foot and a half of heavy snow is expected over portions of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. Snowfall of 5 to 8 inches will fall over Iowa and northern Missouri. A mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain is expected from southern Missouri east-northeast up the Ohio River Valley into southern and central Illinois, Indiana, Ohio into West Virginia. Severe thunderstorms are forecast in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

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Jesse Jackson Jr., Sandi Jackson expected to plead guilty today

Jesse Jr. and Sandi Jackson have arrived to court in Washington where they are expected to plead guilty to federal charges

WASHINGTON — Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, arrived at federal court in Washington, D.C. this morning, where they are expected to plead guilty to federal charges connected to the spending of more than $750,000 in campaign cash to buy luxury items, memorabilia and other goods.

Neither responded to shouted questions from reporters as the two stepped out of a black SUV and entered the U.S. District Court building. Sandi Jackson walked ahead of her husband, carrying a satchel. Jackson Jr. looked up when reporters yelled questions but said nothing and looked down as he went into the building.

Minutes later, his father the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and other family members walked through the front entrance of the courthouse, their arms linked together.

Attorneys familiar with public corruption investigations said the amount of campaign cash allegedly converted to personal use in this case is the largest of any that they can remember.

Jackson Jr., who has been largely out of the public eye for eight months, is to appear in court at 9:30 a.m. Chicago time. His wife is to appear at 1:30 p.m. Chicago time. Both Jacksons will stand before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins.

Sentencing is not expected for several weeks. Jackson Jr. faces up to five years in prison, while she faces up to three years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Jackson Jr., 47, was in the House of Representatives for 17 years until he resigned last November. Sandi Jackson, 49, was a Chicago alderman from 2007 until she stepped down in January.

He is charged with conspiracy in a case involving a $43,350 men’s Rolex watch, nearly $9,600 in children’s furniture and $5,150 in cashmere clothing and furs, court papers show. She is charged with filing false tax returns for six years, most recently calendar year 2011.

When separate felony charges were filed against them Friday, their attorneys said the two would plead guilty.

Prosecutors also are seeking a $750,000 judgment against Jackson Jr. and the forfeiture of thousands of dollars of goods he purchased, including cashmere clothing, furs and an array of memorabilia from celebrities including Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Jackson Jr. began a mysterious medical leave of absence last June for what was eventually described as bipolar disorder. Though he did not campaign for re-election, he won another term last Nov. 6 while being treated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He left office two weeks later, saying he was cooperating with federal investigators.

Married for more than 20 years, the Jacksons have a 12-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. The family has homes in Washington and on Chicago’s South Side.

Washington defense attorney Stan Brand, the former general counsel of the House of Representatives, said Tuesday that Jackson Jr.’s case involved the largest sum of money he’s seen in a case involving personal use of campaign money. “Historically, there have been members of Congress who either inadvertently or maybe purposefully, but not to this magnitude, used campaign funds inappropriately,” he said.

Brand said that when the dollar figure involved is low, a lawmaker may be fined and ordered to reimburse the money. “This is so large, the Department of Justice decided to make his case criminal,” he said.

Other attorneys said they could not remember a bigger case of its kind. Washington attorney Ken Gross, a former lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, said: “Directly dipping into your campaign coffers, and spending money on personal items, I can’t recall a case where it involved this much money.”

Brand once represented another disgraced Illinois Democratic congressman, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, who in 1996 pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud. Rostenkowski was later represented by attorney Dan Webb, who is Sandi Jackson’s counsel.

Rostenkowski, who died in 2010, entered his pleas and received his punishment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — the same venue on the Jacksons’ calendars on Wednesday.

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2 teens die in Antioch crash: 'I just saw headlights spin'

Two teenagers were killed when their SUV crashed into a tree in Antioch in heavy rain, authorities said.

Joel Wittkamp, 16, and Ashley Seay, 17, were traveling west when their Chevrolet Trailblazer left the road in the 27000 block of Wilmot Road around 7 p.m. Monday, according to the Lake County sheriff's office. The SUV went through a yard before hitting the tree, the office said.

Both teens died on the scene. Joel, who was driving, was from Antioch and Ashley was from Lindenhurst, according to the Lake County coroner's office.

Authorities said they believe weather contributed to the crash. A man who lives where the crash occurred said it was raining hard when the accident occurred.

"It was pouring," said Tim Staples.

Staples said he was home when "I just saw the headlights spin ... We ran out and you could see the car was in the tree, the tree was on the car ... a mangled car I couldn't recognize."

"We checked the scene," he said. "We had flashlights and we looked inside. It didn't look promising, it looked really bad."

He said firefighters reached the scene in 7 or 8 minutes. "It took them an hour to get them out. They had to take the top of the car off."

Staples said the car hit a tree he had planted on his property 30 years ago.

Joel attended Antioch High School, officials said.

"We have counselors who are available," said Principal John Whitehurst. "Someone is following the young man’s schedule. If there were kids close to him, we are identifying who they are."

Whitehurst noted an earlier tragedy last November, when freshman Nicole Parfitt, 14, and her father were killed in a plane crash. "I know this is going to bring back some really unfortunate memories with kids intimately familiar with the incident," he said.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Country singer Mindy McCready dead in apparent suicide: officials

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas -- Troubled country music star Mindy McCready, whose platinum singing career was shadowed by substance abuse and suicide attempts, was found dead on Sunday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, an Arkansas sheriff said. She was 37.

McCready's body was found on the porch of a house in Heber Springs, Arkansas, on Sunday afternoon. She was pronounced dead at the scene "from what appears to be a single self-inflicted gunshot wound," the Cleburne County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

Deputies had been dispatched to the area following reports of "shots fired," the sheriff's office said.

McCready, whose albums include "Ten Thousand Angels" and "If I Don't Stay the Night," had a complicated personal life, marked by a history of substance abuse, suicide attempts, family disputes and tragedy

In January, the singer’s boyfriend, David Wilson, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. But questions surrounding the circumstances of the shooting led authorities to keep his death under investigation.  

In an interview with "Dateline" in late January, McCready denied any involvement in her live-in boyfriend's death after Canning asked her whether she had shot him.

"Oh my God, no. Oh my God, no," she responded. "He was my life. We were each other's life. There's no way to tell where one of us began and the other ended. We slept together every night holding hands."

Some fellow musicians paid tribute to McCready on Twitter as news of her death spread.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to Mindy McCready and her family today," country singer Tracy Lawrence tweeted.

Country star Carrie Underwood wrote, "I grew up listening to Mindy McCready... so sad for her family tonight. Many prayers are going out to them."

Born in Fort Myers, Florida, McCready learned to sing as a child at her local Pentecostal church. She moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to break into the country music business at the age of 18, according to

She achieved early success with her 1996 debut album, "Ten Thousands Angels," which sold 2 million copies. Four other studio albums followed.

While successful in her career, McCready's personal life had begun to unravel in recent years.

In 2004 she was convicted of prescription drug fraud and placed on parole. Three years later she spent time in jail for violating her parole terms.

She had two young sons. Her first, Zander, was born in 2006. As her personal problems deepened, she became embroiled in a legal dispute over custody.

In November 2011, she left Florida with Zander and fled to Arkansas. McCready's mother, who had custody of the child, filed a missing person report against her daughter, and regained custody.

Her son with Wilson, Zayne, was born last year.

McCready appeared on the television show "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew."

According to the biography posted on VH1's website as part of her appearance on the show, McCready said that she believed her only true addiction was to violent relationships.

In 2011 McCready appeared on HBO's show "Celebrity Close Calls" about life and death situations. That same year she also appeared on the network's "Celebrity Ghost Stories."

Her fifth album, "I'm Still Here," was released to acclaim in 2010.

The sheriff's office said McCready's body would be taken to the Arkansas State Crime Lab for an autopsy, adding that "the matter will be fully investigated."

Reuters and the Los Angeles Times contributed
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Hutchinson expected to drop out, endorse Kelly

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson dropped out of the 2nd District special Democratic primary today and endorsed former state Rep. Robin Kelly in the contest to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress.

The move, announced in a morning news release, shakes up the Democratic field just nine days before the Feb. 26 primary election.

"Robin is a friend, and has captured momentum in pulling our community together. I am simply unwilling to risk playing a role going forward that could result in dividing our community at time when we need unity more than ever," Hutchinson said in the statement.

Hutchinson recently experienced a pair of setbacks during the short campaign. A super political action committee run by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg started airing a TV attack ad backing Kelly and attacking Hutchinson and another candidate, former one-term U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson of Crete, for past support from the National Rifle Association.

Gun control has loomed as a big issue in the contest and that's what Hutchinson indicated her departure from the contest was about.

"In the wake of horrendous gun related crimes all across our country, I agree with Robin that we need to stand together to fight gun violence, but Debbie Halvorson has been wrong headed in her refusal to moderate her views on banning dangerous assault weapons. President Obama needs a strong voice and a partner in Congress to win these important fights and I do not believe Debbie Halvorson would be that voice or partner," Hutchinson said in a statement.

Besides the gun control attack ad, Hutchinson had to deal with a recent news report detailing how she paid her mother as a campaign consultant. Hutchinson also was not listed as a participant in upcoming WTTW-Ch. 11 candidate forums.

Hutchinson's camp began contacting supporters Saturday night telling them of her intention to drop out of the contest, said two sources with knowledge of the decision. There are now three major Democratic candidates left in a 15-candidate field: Kelly, Halvorson and 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale of Chicago.

Hutchinson got an early boost in the contest when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsed her instead of Kelly, who served as a top aide to Preckwinkle. But Preckwinkle jumped to Kelly's camp today, according to the Hutchinson campaign news release.

As of Feb. 6, Kelly trailed Hutchinson in cash available to spend. Kelly reported $88,820 available while Hutchinson had more than double at $199,901. Hutchinson’s campaign has engaged in a significant direct-mail campaign since that time. For the entire campaign, through Feb. 6, Hutchinson reported raising $281,106. Hutchinson has been endorsed by Preckwinkle, who gave her $1,000.

Overall, campaign disclosure reports showed Kelly has raised more than $303,725 since the start of the short campaign through Feb. 6. Campaign aides to Kelly said she has raised $417,727 for the campaign cycle through Wednesday.

Tribune reporter Bill Ruthhart contributed to this report.

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Off-duty Chicago police officer dies in SUV rollover on Skyway


(Tribune illustration)

A 31-year-old off-duty Chicago police officer died when the SUV she was driving rolled over on the Chicago Skyway late Friday, according to authorities.

The officer's older sister works in the section of the Chicago Police Department that investigates fatal accidents and answered the phone when officers on the Skyway called to notify them of the wreck, police said.

Shaunda Bond, 31, was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m. at the Cook County medical examiner's office. She lived in the 4100 block of South Michigan Avenue in the Bronzeville neighborhood.

The crash happened about 10:40 p.m. near 81st Street on the Skyway when the 2003 Land Rover SUV Bond was driving flipped over.

Bond was the lone occupant in the SUV, which was the only vehicle involved in the crash.

Bond joined the police department in December 2009 and was assigned to the South Chicago District, which covers the area from 75th Street south to 138th, between roughly Woodlawn Avenue and the state line.

According to a witness interviewed by police, her SUV was seen traveling at a high rate of speed before it hit a concrete barrier and rolled.
Twitter: @peternickeas

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Hundreds hurt when 10-ton meteor explodes over Russia

CHELYABINSK, Russia -- More than 500 people were injured when a meteor shot across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday, sending fireballs crashing to Earth, shattering windows and damaging buildings.

Russia's Academy of Sciences estimates size of Urals meteor at 10 tons, according to the Associated Press.

People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 950 miles east of Moscow.

A fireball blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake which could be seen as far as 125 miles away in Yekaterinburg. Car alarms went off, windows shattered and mobile phone networks were interrupted.

"I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," said Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains.

"I felt like I was blinded by headlights," he said.

No fatalities were reported but President Vladimir Putin, who was due to host Finance Ministry officials from the Group of 20 nations in Moscow, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were informed.

A local ministry official said such incidents were extremely rare and Friday's events might have been linked to an asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool due to pass Earth at a distance of 17,100 miles but this was not confirmed.

Russia's space agency Roscosmos said the meteor was travelling at a speed of 19 miles per second and that such events were hard to predict. The Interior Ministry said the meteor explosion had caused a sonic boom.

Russia's Emergencies Ministry said 514 people had sought medical help, mainly for light injuries caused by flying glass, and that 112 of those were kept in hospital. Search groups were set up to look for the remains of the meteor.

"There have never been any cases of meteorites breaking up at such a low level over Russia before," said Yuri Burenko, head of the Chelyabinsk branch of the Emergencies Ministry.


Windows were shattered on Chelyabinsk's central Lenin Street and some of the frames of shop fronts buckled.

A loud noise, resembling an explosion, rang out at around 12:20 a.m. ET. The shockwave could be felt in apartment buildings in the industrial city's center.

"I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend," said Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name. "Then there was a flash and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shockwave that smashed windows."

A wall was damaged at the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but a spokeswoman said there was no environmental threat.

Although such events are rare, a meteor is thought to have devastated an area of more than 1,250 miles in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 125 miles from the point of impact.

The Emergencies Ministry described Friday's events as a "meteor shower in the form of fireballs" and said background radiation levels were normal. It urged residents not to panic.

Chelyabinsk city authorities urged people to stay indoors unless they needed to pick up their children from schools and kindergartens. They said what sounded like a blast had been heard at an altitude of 32,800 feet.

The U.S. space agency NASA has said an asteroid known as 2012 DA14, about 46 meters in diameter, would have an encounter with Earth closer than any asteroid since scientists began routinely monitoring them about 15 years ago.

Television, weather and communications satellites fly about 500 miles higher. The moon is 14 times farther away.


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'Blade Runner' Olympian Oscar Pistorius charged with murder

Double-amputee Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius was arrested on Thursday, after a woman was shot dead in his home in Pretoria, South Africa. (Feb. 14)

JOHANNESBURG -- South African "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who became one of the biggest names in world athletics, was charged on Thursday with shooting dead his girlfriend at his home in Pretoria.

Police said they had opened a murder case after a 30-year-old woman was found dead at the track star's house after an incident in the upmarket Silverlakes gated complex on the outskirts of the capital.

"At this stage he is on his way to a district surgeon for medical examination," police brigadier Denise Beukes told reporters outside the heavily guarded residential complex.

Pistorius and his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, had been the only people in the house at the time of the shooting, Beukes, said, and witnesses had been interviewed about the incident, which happened in the early hours of the morning.

"We are talking about neighbors and people that heard things earlier in the evening and when the shooting took place," she said. Earlier, police said a 9mm pistol had been found at the scene.

"When a person has been accused of a crime like murder they look at things like testing under the figure nails, taking a blood alcohol sample and all kinds of other test that are done. They are standard medical tests," Beukes said.

Pistorius is due to appear in a Pretoria court after 1200 GMT.

Before the murder charge was announced, Johannesburg's Talk Radio 702 said the 26-year-old may have mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar.

South Africa has some of the world's highest rates of violent crime, and many home owners have weapons to defend themselves against intruders, although Pistorius' complex is surrounded by a three meter high wall and electric fence.

In 2004, Springbok rugby player Rudi Visagie shot dead his 19-year-old daughter after he mistakenly thought she was a robber trying to steal his car in the middle of the night.


Steenkamp, a model and regular on the South African party circuit, was reported to have been dating Pistorius for a year, and there had been little to suggest their relationship was in trouble.

In the social pages of last weekend's Sunday Independent she described him as having "impeccable" taste.

"His gifts are always thoughtful," she was quoted as saying.

Some of her last Twitter postings indicated she was looking forward to celebrating Valentine's Day on Thursday with him.

"What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow???" she posted.

However, Beukes said the police were aware of previous incidents at the house of a "domestic nature", and recent media interviews with Pistorius revealed he kept an assortment of weapons in his home.

"Cricket and baseball bats lay behind the door, a pistol by his bed and a machine gun by a window," Britain's Daily Mail wrote in a profile published last year.

He was arrested in 2009 for assault after slamming a door on a woman and spent a night in police custody. Family and friends said it was just an accident and the charges were later dropped.

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Obama challenges GOP to do more than just cut deficit

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to try to push past the fiscal battles that plagued his first term - and still threaten his second - as he laid out an agenda he hopes will shape his legacy.

Obama's overarching message was that other things matter beside the Republicans' seemingly all-consuming drive for deficit cutting, embodied in a looming showdown just three weeks away over automatic across-the-board spending cuts.

Those other things, he told Congress, include some traditionally liberal causes, like raising the federal minimum wage and pursuing climate initiatives, and some that have gained bipartisan support, such as immigration reform and curbing gun violence.

"Most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda," Obama said. "But let's be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan."

But with Washington so deeply divided, Obama's speech appeared unlikely to go far in helping the Democratic president and his Republican opponents find common ground to ease the ideological gridlock. He offered no tangible new concessions of his own.

Still, Obama's sense of urgency and frustration was almost palpable. He alternately scolded and cajoled lawmakers while expanding on his vision for a more activist government so loathed by conservatives, the same theme he struck in his second inauguration address on January 21.

"The American people don't expect government to solve every problem. They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party," he said, pressing Republicans to resolve budget and fiscal differences without drama.

Obama - whose first-term promise to become a transformational, post-partisan president failed to materialize in part because of struggles over the deficit - knows the clock is ticking.

The consensus among Washington insiders is that he has a limited window, possibly as little as a year and a half, to take advantage of the Republicans' post-election disarray and push through his congressional priorities before being reduced to lame-duck status.


Just three weeks after staking out a decidedly liberal philosophy at his inauguration, Obama used his State of the Union address to start fleshing out and prioritizing his goals for the rest of his presidency.

He made clear that job creation and bolstering the middle class would top the list, but he also gave due attention to immigration reform and gun control, which have moved to the forefront at the start of his second term.

Obama's renewed emphasis on pocketbook issues that dominated the 2012 campaign appears to reflect the view that advancing other legacy-shaping initiatives could hinge on how he fares with unfinished economic business from his first four years.

Many of the economic plans he presented in his State of the Union address were familiar to listeners as proposals that Republicans have blocked before, including new investment in modernizing infrastructure, boosting manufacturing, creating construction jobs and helping to ease homeowners' mortgage woes.

There is ample reason to doubt that these ideas - even in repackaged form - will gain much traction in a still-divided Congress where Republicans control the House of Representatives and will oppose almost any new spending Obama proposes.

But the biggest red flags for Republicans may be Obama's call for a hike in the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, a traditional liberal idea, and his demand that Congress pursue a "market-based solution" to climate change - with a warning that if lawmakers do not act soon, "I will."

Obama's call for a nationwide program to expand pre-school education for the low-income families - another progressive cause - is also expected to run into Republican opposition.

There is little doubt the president is aware that many of these proposals, especially those with spending attached, may be dead-on-arrival in Congress.

But he may be counting on being able to accuse Republicans of obstructionism in the 2014 midterm elections - as he did with some success in the 2012 campaign - as his Democrats seek to win back the House.

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Bears terminate contract of wide receiver Johnny Knox

The Chicago Bears have terminated the contract of  wide receiver Johnny Knox, the team said Tuesday.

Knox suffered a severe back injury in a game against the Seattle Seahawks late in the 2011 season and hasn't played since. He underwent spinal fusion surgery and was placed on the physically unable to perform list last July.

In three seasons (2009-11) with the Bears, Knox had 133 receptions for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Details to come.

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Pope Benedict to resign at month's end, cites deteriorating 'strength'

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict shocked the world on Monday by saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength to cope with his ministry, in an announcement that left his aides "incredulous" and will make him the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages.

The German-born Pope, 85, admired as a hero by conservative Roman Catholics and viewed with suspicion by liberals, told cardinals in Latin that his strength had deteriorated recently. He will step down on Feb. 28 and the Vatican expects a new Pope to be chosen by the end of March.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Pope had not decided to resign because of "difficulties in the papacy" and the move had been a surprise, indicating that even his inner circle was unaware that he was about to quit.

The Pope does not fear schism in the Church after his resignation, the spokesman said.

Cardinal Francis George returned to Chicago from a committee meeting in Rome Sunday, spokeswoman Colleen Dolan said. She said he was just as surprised as she was and would release a statement later today.

The Pope's leadership of 1.2 billion Catholics has been beset by child sexual abuse crises that tarnished the Church, one address in which he upset Muslims and a scandal over the leaking of his private papers by his personal butler.

The pope told the cardinals that in order to govern "...both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.

"For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter."

He also referred to "today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith."

The last Pope to resign willingly was Celestine V in 1294 after reigning for only five months, his resignation was known as "the great refusal" and was condemned by the poet Dante in the "Divine Comedy". Gregory XII reluctantly abdicated in 1415 to end a dispute with a rival claimant to the papacy.


Before he was elected Pope, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was known by such critical epithets as "God's rottweiler" because of his stern stand on theological issues.

But after several years into his new job Benedict showed that he not only did not bite but barely even barked.

In recent months, the pope has looked increasingly frail in public, sometimes being helped to walk by those around him.

Lombardi ruled out depression or uncertainty as being behind the resignation, saying the move was not due to any specific illness, just advancing age.

The Pope had shown "great courage, determination" aware of the "great problems the church faces today", he said, adding the timing may have reflected the Pope's desire to avoid the exhausting rush of Easter engagements.

There was no outside pressure and Benedict took his "personal decision" in the last few months, he added.

Israel's Chief Rabbi praised Benedict's inter-faith outreach and wished him good health. The Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church, said he had learned of the Pope's decision with a heavy heart but complete understanding.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Pope's decision must be respected if he feels he is too weak to carry out his duties. British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "He will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions."

The pontiff would step down from 1900 GMT on Feb. 28, leaving the office vacant until a successor was chosen to Benedict who succeeded John Paul, one of history's most popular pontiffs, the spokesman said.

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