Wikinews:Briefs/July 30, 2010

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Today on Wikinews : Raging Southern California wildfires force mandatory evacuation orders; 3 fatal air crashes occur in the United States; a French woman admits to killing her eight infants and, in history, Jimmy Hoffa disappears without a trace.

Today is Friday, July 30, 2010. I'm Dan Harlow and this is Wikinews.



A huge wildfire that has been burning in the High Desert of Southern California since 2pm yesterday continues to threaten residents in the city of Palmdale in the Antelope Valley region of the Los Angeles County this afternoon. Mandatory evacuation orders have been set in place, affecting 2,000 homes.

Over 800 firefighters are now tackling the fire on the ground in coordination with aircraft dropping the red powdery fire retardent known as Phos-Chek slurry. However, weather conditions and topography have hindered their efforts, as temperatures rose to 98deg Farenheit today, with wind speeds at 25mph. Tonight, the National Weather Service predicts winds will reach as high as 50mph.

Residents of Leona Valley, Lake Elizabeth, Ritter Ranch, Rancho Vista, Ana Verde and Palmdale received Reverse 911 telephone calls last night alerting them of mandatory evacuations.

Many of the evacuation orders were then lifted this morning as the spread of the fire decreased. However, as winds picked up in the afternoon, fire embers were carried across California Aqueduct which had been acting as a barrier to the fire, and the fire is now heading towards a highly-populated area of Palmdale. Residents who were allowed back into their homes were re-evacuated to Red Cross shelters set up in local schools and parks. The fire is also threatening five high-voltage power lines that supply electricity to much of Southern California.

At 5:00 pm, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, police and fire officials held a press conference. The governor said that the fire was 20% contained and had burned 13,000 acres. It is thought that the fire began when workers in Agua Dulce created sparks from the hammering of bolts when they were removing a tire from a rim.

In the neighboring state of Arizona,

a medical helicopter crashed into a fence just outside a house in the city of Tucson on Wednesday afternoon, killing all three crew members on board. The crash occurred at 1:42 p.m. Arizona time at the intersection of Glenn Street and Park Avenue. Eyewitness Ricardo Carrasco said that he saw the rotors stop working and the helicopter start plummeting towards the ground, with the pilot attempting to steer it away from the house.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the helicopter was a Eurocopter AS350B3 flown in the LifeNet Arizona fleet. It was operated by the Colorado-based Air Methods Corporation, which specializes in flying emergency medical helicopters.

"This is a sad day for all of us at Air Methods and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the family and friends of our employees who perished while on duty," Air Methods Corporation CEO Aaron Todd said after the crash.

Two other fatal aviation accidents were reported in the United States on Wednesday.

In Alaska,

a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, operated by the United States Air Force, crashed near Elmendorf Air Force Base at about 6:15 pm, killing all four crew members. Three were members of the U.S. National Guard, one was active duty. Names are being withheld pending the notification of family members.

The crash's resulting fireball and plume, which occurred as the plane had been practicing for the 2010 Arctic Thunder air show, was visible from downtown Anchorage, located near the base. According to Anchorage Fire Dept. Captain Bryan Grella in an interview with the Associated Press "It was a big, gray plume of smoke and I saw a fireball go up in it,"

Finally, in Delaware, Ohio city councilman and airport commissioner James Moore died when his rented light plane crashed and caught fire close to the city's airport.

Tragedy also occurred in Africa where

as many as 140 people are feared dead after a boat sank on the Kasai River, a tributary of the Congo River, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The central African country, of equivalent size to western Europe, has very poor road infrastructure, meaning that many people travel on boats, which are often overloaded. The boat involved in the accident was traveling to the capital city, Kinshasa, from the town of Mushie. The accident occurred in the province of Bandundu, approximately 30 km (20 miles) from the provincial capital, where officials reportedly held a crisis meeting to deal with the incident.

The boat is believed to have been overweight, carrying at least 180 passengers as well as goods. As it is the dry season in the Congo, the river is shallow and the sinking was reportedly the result of hitting a mud bank, causing the vessel to capsize.

Lambert Mende, the Congolese information minister, said in a statement that at least 80 people had been confirmed dead while 76 were thought to have survived. However, the local police later announced a provisional death toll of 138, and possibly more.

Safety standards are poor in the Democratic Republic, with overcrowding common on boats, which often do not carry life jackets and are forced to navigate poorly marked waterways, meaning that fatal accidents are not uncommon in the country.

Shirley Sherrod, an African-American employee of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) who was ousted last week, has said that she will "definitely sue" conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart over a video clip posted online at, operated by Breitbart, that made her appear racist.

Formerly the director of rural development in Georgia, Sherrod was referred to on Breitbart's site as a "racist govt employee," and the video had been edited to make her appear to have discriminated against Caucasians.

The clip of Sherrod, who spoke in March of this year at an NAACP meeting, was edited from the original video footage of this meeting and misrepresents Sherrod as deliberately failing to support a white farmer because of his race. In reality, the full video revealed that Sherrod was speaking about racial reconciliation and the lessons she learned after the episode. However, the USDA asked Sherrod to resign before the full video was released. The farmer mentioned in the video and his wife later stated that Sherrod had actually helped to save their farm, and after the full video was made public, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and US President Barack Obama apologized and Vilsack offered Sherrod a new job with the USDA. However, Sherrod said that she has not decided whether to accept the new position.

Breitbart said that he posted the edited clip to prove that the NAACP has racist elements, and has not apologized to Sherrod. Shortly before the video clip was posted, the NAACP had demanded that the Tea Party, a conservative activist group that Breitbart is active in, remove racism from parts of that group.

However, Sherrod says that she no longer wants an apology. "He had to know that he was targeting me," the 62-year-old said at a convention of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Disturbing news has come to light in France where

French prosecutors confirmed on Thursday that nursing assistant Dominique Cottrez killed her eight newborn infants and buried their remains. Prosecutors called the case "non-standard... given the large number of newborns."

According to prosecutors, Cottrez, in her 40s, is heavy-set and she was able to hide her eight pregnancies. Cottrez did not want to visit a doctor for contraceptives nor did she want more children.

Cottrez admitted to strangling eight infants and hiding the remains in garbage bags. The killings occurred over a time span of several years, from 1989 to 2006 or 2007. Prosecutors charged her with "deliberate homicides of minors under the age of 15," which could cause Cottrez to serve a life sentence in prison.

New homeowners of the Cottrez's former house discovered bags with the remains of two infants. Investigators then discovered an additional six children in the Cottrez's current residence.

Cottrez's husband, Pierre-Marie Cottrez, was unaware of the killings.

Three US troops died in two separate blasts yesterday, and three more died today, increasing the American death toll in Afghanistan for July to 66, and making this month the deadliest month for American involvement in the nine-year war.

A NATO statement released on Friday stated that three troops had been killed by two blasts, and US officials said those killed were Americans. Another NATO statement released today confirmed the deaths of three more troops.

Though this month has been deadliest for the US, June was the most deadly month for NATO as a whole, with 104 troops, including 60 Americans, killed. In this month, 86 troops have been killed, including the 66 aforementioned Americans. The death totals for Taliban fighters and Afghan civilians have been harder to count, although in recent months, civilian casualties have been on the rise.

As US President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 extra reinforcements to beat back a rising Taliban, casualties have increased as well, as US and NATO commanders had warned. There are currently over 150,000 NATO and US troops in the Asian country. However, President Obama has promised to begin withdrawing troops in about a year's time.

On this day in history (10:28)


Born February 14, 1913, James Riddle Hoffa, better known simple as Jimmy Hoffa, disappeared on this day in 1975.

Hoffa was born in Brazil, Indiana; his father, a coal miner, died in 1920 when Hoffa was seven years old and so the family moved to Detroit in 1924, where Hoffa was raised and lived the rest of his life. Hoffa left school when he was still a teenager at 14, and began working as a full-time manual laborer to help support his family.

While working at a grocery chain he and his fellow employees were displeased with working conditions as the chain paid substandard wages and offered minimal job security and so they tried to organize a union to better their lot. Although Hoffa was young, his bravery and approachability in this role impressed his fellow workers, and he rose to a leadership position. By 1932, after being dismissed from the grocery chain—in part because of his union activities—Hoffa joined and became involved with Local 299 of the truck driving and warehouseman Union, known as the Teamsters, in Detroit.

Although he never actually worked as a truck driver, he became president of Local 299 in December 1946. Through his tactic of using "quickie strikes", secondary boycotts, and other means of leveraging union strength at one company, to then move to organize workers, he could win contract demands at other companies.

He then rose to lead the combined group of Detroit-area locals shortly afterwords, and advanced to become head of the Michigan Teamsters groups sometime later. During this time, Hoffa obtained a deferment from military service in World War II, by successfully making a case for his union leadership skills being of more value to the nation, by keeping freight running smoothly to assist the war effort.

The Teamsters union, founded in 1899, had only 75,000 members in 1933. As a result of Hoffa's work with other union leaders to consolidate local union trucker groups into regional sections and then into one gigantic national body — work that Hoffa ultimately completed over a period of two decades — membership grew to 170,000 members by 1936. Three years later, there were 420,000; and the number grew steadily during World War II and through the post-war boom to top a million members by 1951.

By 1952, Hoffa rose to national vice-president of the Teamsters' IBT union, which was on its way to becoming the largest and most powerful single union in the United States. To gain this position, Hoffa quelled an internal revolt against incoming president Dave Beck, by securing the Midwest's support for Beck during an IBT convention in Los Angeles.

In 1955, the IBT moved its headquarters from Indianapolis to Washington, DC, taking over a large office building in the US capital and with an increased staff with many lawyers hired to assist with contract negotiations.

During 1957 when he had taken over the presidency of the Teamsters, his predecessor, former president Dave Beck was under indictment on fraud charges and appeared before the US Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor or Management Field in March. Beck took the Fifth Amendment, which protects a defendant from being a witness against himself, 140 times in response to questions.

Following Hoffa's re-election as president in 1961, he worked to expand the union. In 1964, he succeeded in bringing virtually all over-the-road truck drivers in North America under a single national master-freight agreement. He then tried to bring the airline workers and other transport employees into the union, but with limited success. During this period, Hoffa was facing immense personal strain as he was under investigation, on trial, launching appeals of convictions, or imprisoned for virtually all of the 1960s.

In 1964, Hoffa was convicted in Chattanooga, Tennessee, of attempted bribery of a grand juror, and was sentenced to eight years. Hoffa was also convicted of fraud later that same year for improper use of the Teamsters' pension fund, in a trial held in Chicago. He received a five-year sentence to run consecutively to his bribery sentence.

Hoffa began serving his sentences in March 1967 at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. Just before he entered prison, Hoffa appointed Frank Fitzsimmons as acting Teamsters president. Fitzsimmons was a Hoffa loyalist, fellow Detroit resident, and a longtime member of Teamsters Local 299 in Detroit, and owed his high position in large part to Hoffa's influence. Despite this, Fitzsimmons distanced himself from Hoffa's influence and control after 1967, much to Hoffa's displeasure. Fitzsimmons also decentralized power somewhat within the Teamsters' union administration structure. During the Hoffa era, Hoffa had kept most power in his own hands.

But then on December 23, 1971, less than five years into his 13-year sentence, Hoffa was released from the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania prison, when President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence to time served. The IBT had endorsed Richard Nixon, the Republican Party's candidate, in his presidential re-election bid in 1972; in prior elections, the IBT union had supported Democratic Party nominees. Suspicions were soon raised of a deal for Hoffa's release being connected with the IBT's support of Nixon in 1972.

While glad to regain his freedom, Hoffa was displeased with the condition imposed on his release by President Nixon that restricted Hoffa from participating in union activities until 1980. Hoffa was planning to sue to invalidate the non-participation restriction, in order to reassert his power over the Teamsters; but he faced immense resistance to this course of action from many quarters, and had lost much of his earlier support, even in the Detroit area. As a result, he intended to begin his comeback at the local level, with Local 299 in Detroit, where he retained some influence.

Then at, or sometime after, 2:45 pm on July 30, 1975, from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township, a suburb of Detroit, Hoffa disappeared. It was believed that he was to have been meeting with two Mafia leaders — Anthony Giacolone from Detroit, and Anthony Provenzano from New Jersey, but during the ensuing FBI investigation, Giacolone and Provenzano were each found not to have been in the vicinity of the restaurant that afternoon, and each of them denied that they had scheduled any meeting with Hoffa.

Although not claiming to conclusively establish the specifics of his disappearance, a 56-page report the FBI prepared indicates that law enforcement's belief is that Hoffa was murdered at the behest of organized crime figures who deemed his efforts to regain power within the Teamsters to be a threat to their control of the union's pension fund.

Following Nixon's resignation as president in disgrace over the Watergate scandal in August, 1974, Nixon avoided public life for over a year; his first public event was a charity fund raising golf tournament in California on October 9, 1975, at the La Costa Resort and Spa, which was heavily attended by Teamsters' leaders and associates, including IBT President Frank Fitzsimmons and mobster and IBT leading official Allen Dorfman; Hoffa had disappeared only ten weeks earlier.



And those are the top headlines for Friday, July 30, 2010

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