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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

California town’s wildfire evacuation plan raises questions

MAGALIA, Calif. (AP) — Ten years ago, as two wildfires advanced on Paradise, residents jumped into their vehicles to flee and got stuck in gridlock. That led authorities to devise a staggered evacuation plan — one that they used when fire came again last week.

But Paradise’s carefully laid plans quickly devolved into a panicked exodus on Nov. 8. Some survivors said that by the time they got warnings, the flames were already extremely close, and they barely escaped with their lives. Others said they received no warnings at all.

Now, with at least 63 people dead and more than 630 perhaps unaccounted for in the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century, authorities are facing questions of whether they took the right approach.

It’s also a lesson for other communities across the West that could be threatened as climate change and overgrown forests contribute to longer, more destructive fire seasons .

Reeny Victoria Breevaart, who lives in Magalia, a forested community of 11,000 people north of Paradise, said she couldn’t receive warnings because cellphones weren’t working. She also lost electrical power.

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Bitter battle for Florida Senate seat goes to hand recount

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s acrimonious battle for the U.S. Senate headed Thursday to a legally required hand recount after an initial review by ballot-counting machines showed Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson separated by less than 13,000 votes.

But the highly watched contest for governor between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum appeared to be over, with a machine recount showing DeSantis with a large enough advantage over Gillum to avoid a hand recount in that race.

Gillum, who conceded the contest on Election Night only to retract his concession later, said in a statement that “it is not over until every legally casted vote is counted.”

The recount so far has been fraught with problems. One large Democratic stronghold in South Florida was unable to finish its machine recount by the Thursday deadline due to machines breaking down. A federal judge rejected a request to extend the recount deadline.

“We gave a heroic effort,” said Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher. If the county had three or four more hours, it would have made the deadline to recount ballots in the Senate race, she said.

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AP source: Whitaker told Graham that Mueller probe to go on

WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker told Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in a meeting on Thursday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will proceed, according to a person familiar with the meeting.

The meeting with Graham and Whitaker comes as a bipartisan group of senators is pushing legislation to protect Mueller’s job. The senators are concerned about Whitaker’s past criticism of the Mueller probe, which is looking at Russian interference in the 2016 election and ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign. Trump appointed Whitaker as acting attorney general last week.

Whitaker told Graham the investigation would be allowed to proceed, the person said. The person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the meeting and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats have called for Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said earlier this week that Whitaker will follow Justice Department protocols and consult with senior ethics officials “on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal.”

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Homeless Samaritan tale raised $400K. Police say it’s a lie

MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. (AP) — A feel-good tale of a homeless man using his last $20 to help a stranded New Jersey woman buy gas was actually a complete lie, manufactured to get strangers to donate more than $400,000 to help the down-and-out good Samaritan, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Burlington County prosecutor Scott Coffina announced criminal charges against the couple who told the story to newspapers and television stations along with the homeless man who conspired with them to tell the story.

Coffina said the money, donated to homeless Marine veteran Johnny Bobbitt, will be refunded to people who saw the story and contributed to him through a GoFundMe page set up by the couple, Mark D’Amico and Katelyn McClure.

“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Coffina said. “It was fictitious and illegal and there are consequences.”

Coffina said almost no part of the tale was true. McClure didn’t run out of gas. Bobbitt didn’t spot her in trouble and give her money.

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Snowstorm slows evening commute in New York City

NEW YORK (AP) — The first snowstorm of the season to hit the New York City area brought several inches of snow, slowing Thursday’s evening commute to a crawl, after contributing to at least seven deaths as it swept across the country.

From St. Louis to the South and into the Northeast, snow, freezing rain, and in some parts, sleet, made driving tricky and closed schools Thursday.

In New York City, the wet snowfall and wind gusts Thursday downed numerous tree branches. Police advised people to stay indoors and avoid the roads. Commuters also were advised to avoid the Port Authority Bus Terminal – which is also used by some to travel to New Jersey – due to overcrowding.

By 5:30 p.m., the terminal had become an immovable block of wall-to-wall commuters all gazing up at the schedule board. Lines of people waited to get into the terminal as officials urged them to take trains or ferries.

The poor weather made it difficult for buses to reach the terminal, officials said. And a multi-vehicle accident on the George Washington Bridge and the closure of the Bayonne Bridge connecting Staten Island to New Jersey added to the traffic nightmare.

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North Korea says it has tested ‘ultramodern tactical weapon’

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the successful test of an unspecified “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon,” state media reported Friday, in an apparent bid to apply pressures on the United States and South Korea amid a stalemated nuclear diplomacy.

It didn’t appear to be a nuclear device or a long-range missiles targeting the mainland U.S., a string of which last year had many fearing war before the North turned to engagement and diplomacy early this year. Still, any mention of weapons testing could influence the direction of currently stalled diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang that’s meant to rid the North of its nuclear weapons.

The North hasn’t publicly tested any weapons since November of last year, but in recent days Pyongyang reportedly expressed anger at U.S.-led international sanctions and ongoing small-scale military drills between South Korea and the United States. Earlier this month, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned it could bring back its policy of bolstering its nuclear arsenal if it doesn’t receive sanctions relief.

“It’s a North Korea-style coercive diplomacy. North Korea is saying ‘if you don’t listen to us, you will face political burdens,” said analyst Shin Beomchul of Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Shin said the weapon North Korea tested could be a missile, artillery, an anti-air gun, a drone or other high-tech conventional weapons systems. Yang Wook, a Seoul-based military expert, said a “tactical weapon” in North Korea refers to “a weapon aimed at striking South Korea including U.S. military bases” in the South so that the North may have tested a short-range missile or a multiple rocket launch system.

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Tribunal to decide genocide, other verdicts over Khmer Rouge

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The international tribunal to judge the criminal responsibility of former Khmer Rouge leaders for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians opened its session Friday to deliver its verdicts on charges of genocide and other crimes.

Facing judgment are Nuon Chea, 92, and Khieu Samphan, 87, the last surviving senior leaders of the communist group that brutally ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s. They are already serving life sentences after being convicted in a previous 2011-2014 trial of crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers and disappearances of masses of people.

The Khmer Rouge sought to achieve an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities to establish vast rural communes. Instead their radical policies led to what has been termed ‘auto-genocide’ through starvation, overwork and execution.

Nuon Chea was brought by ambulance and Khieu Samphan by van from the nearby prison where they are held. The prison and the courthouse were custom built for the use of the tribunal, which is officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC.

Both defendants were present as Judge Nil Nonn opened the proceedings, but Nuon Chea suffers heart problems, so was granted permission to later move from the hearing room to a separate holding room.

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FDA to crack down on menthol cigarettes, flavored vapes

NEW YORK (AP) — In a major new effort to curb smoking, a top U.S. health official pledged Thursday to try to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars and tighten rules governing the sale of most flavored versions of electronic cigarettes.

The proposed restrictions were aimed mainly at reducing smoking in kids: About half of teens who smoke cigarettes choose menthols, and flavored e-cigarettes have been blamed for a recent increase in teen vaping rates.

“I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes,” Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said in a statement.

Health advocates say a menthol ban would have greater impact on the health of Americans, but it would probably take years to put in place. The changes for e-cigarettes could kick in within a few months.

Battery-powered e-cigarettes are more popular among teens than regular smokes and are considered safer. But many versions contain potentially addictive nicotine, and health officials believe they set kids who try them on a path toward regular cigarettes.

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Facebook says it’s better at detecting rule violations

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook said it’s making progress on detecting hate speech, graphic violence and other violations of its rules, even before users see and report them.

Facebook said that during the April-to-September period, it doubled the amount of hate speech it detected proactively, compared with the previous six months.

The findings were spelled out Thursday in Facebook’s second semiannual report on enforcing community standards. The reports come as Facebook grapples with challenge after challenge, ranging from fake news to Facebook’s role in elections interference, hate speech and incitement to violence in the U.S., Myanmar, India and elsewhere.

The company also said it disabled more than 1.5 billion fake accounts in the latest six-month period, compared with 1.3 billion during the previous six months. Facebook said most of the fake accounts it found were financially motivated, rather than aimed at misinformation. The company has nearly 2.3 billion users.

Facebook’s report comes a day after The New York Times published an extensive report on how Facebook deals with crisis after crisis over the past two years. The Times described Facebook’s strategy as “delay, deny and deflect.”

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Boston’s Betts, Milwaukee’s Yelich win MVP Awards

NEW YORK (AP) — Mookie Betts is ready to become an ambassador for baseball, now that he’s won a batting title, World Series and Most Valuable Player award with Boston.

“I enjoy being kind of a face around the game. I’ve kind of used this pedestal or whatever you want to say to spread knowledge that the game is fun,” he said Thursday after his runaway victory for the AL MVP award.

Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich was close to a unanimous pick for the NL honor. A 26-year-old outfielder just like Betts, Yelich also won a batting championship and led his team to a division title. But while Betts has been with the Red Sox since he signed after the 2011 amateur draft, Yelich didn’t join the Brewers until he was dealt to Milwaukee last January by the payroll-paring Miami Marlins.

“I’m thankful it all worked out because being traded, you never know how it’s going to be,” Yelich said. “Luckily for myself, it all went amazing.”

Yelich is signed through 2021 and his deal includes a team option for the following season. Betts didn’t want to speculate whether he would be a Red Sox lifer, like former Boston MVPs Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice. Betts can become a free agent after the 2020 season.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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