RIDGELAND, S.C. March 29 2011
As Interstate 95 sweeps past this small town along South Carolina’s coastal plain, motorists encounter cameras that catch speeding cars, the only such devices on the open interstate for almost 2,000 miles from Canada to Miami.
The cameras have nabbed thousands of motorists, won accolades from highway safety advocates, attracted heated opposition from state lawmakers and sparked a federal court challenge.
Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges said the cameras in his town about 20 miles north of the Georgia line do what they are designed to do: slow people down, reduce accidents and, most importantly, save lives.
But lawmakers who want to unplug them argue the system is just a money-maker and amounts to unconstitutional selective law enforcement.
“We’re absolutely shutting it down,” said state Sen. Larry Grooms, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Earlier this month, Ridgeland Police Officer David Swinehamer sat in a van beneath an overpass as a radar gun in a thicket of electronic equipment outside clocked passing vehicles: 60, 72, 73, 67.
Then a Mercedes with South Carolina tags sped by going 83 – 13 mph over the speed limit. A camera fired and pictures of the tag and driver appeared on a monitor in the van. The unaware motorist continued north, but could expect a $133 ticket in the mail in a couple of weeks.
“I just don’t think it’s right,” said James Gain of Kissimmee, Fla., one of the lawsuit plaintiffs who got a ticket last year while driving between his home and Greensboro, N.C. “If you get a ticket you should be stopped by an officer, know you have been stopped and have an opportunity to state your case.”
Gain paid the fine, saying it was less expensive than driving six hours back to Ridgeland for court.
Motorists do get a warning. As they enter town, a blue and white sign says they are entering an area with “Photo-Radar Assisted Speed Enforcement.”
Speed cameras are used in 14 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The only other place with a camera on I-95 is in a Maryland work zone.
The cameras have sparked controversy in other places around the nation as well.
Last year, Arizona ended a two-year program with cameras on Phoenix-area expressways and other roads, in part because of perceptions they were being used to raise revenue.
But Cedar Rapids, Iowa, began using cameras last summer on busy I-380. Police there said during the first month of operation, violations dropped 62 percent.
Hodges said since Ridgeland, working with iTraffic Safety, became the first community in South Carolina to deploy cameras in August, motorists are also driving slower along the 7 miles of I-95 passing through the town limits.
From January to July of 2010, there were 55 crashes and four fatalities. From August through the end of last month, there were 38 crashes and no deaths. And since the cameras started operating until last month, there has been almost a 50 percent drop in the number of motorists driving 81 or more.
“You can’t argue with the results and the only reason you would be upset is because you are speeding,” said Tom Crosby, a spokesman for AAA Carolinas. “All it’s doing is enforcing the law and even then you have to be doing over 80 to get a ticket.”
Police use driver’s license photos or physical descriptions from licenses such as a driver’s hair, eye color and weight to identify the motorist. No ticket is issued if there is any question about the driver’s identity.
Grooms, the legislator, said since not all speeders are ticketed, it’s selective enforcement. He added that while the system may issue a ticket, it doesn’t get violators off the road.
“You are driving down the road at 100 mph or you are driving down the road drunk. The camera takes your picture and three weeks later you get a ticket in the mail. There is no element of public safety,” he said.
Grooms said the cameras are only a money-maker for the town. Hodges discounts that, saying the town just wants to recover the cost of police and ambulance service for millions of motorists passing through. Two-thirds of ticket money goes to the state, he said.
The town has about $20,000 invested in the van. The contractor, iTraffic Safety, pays the other costs in return for a share of ticket revenue.
While state law prohibits issuing tickets solely on photographic evidence, the mayor said that doesn’t apply in Ridgeland because an officer is also there to see the speeder from the van.
But the state Senate, in a 40-0 vote, recently gave approval to changing that and banning speeding tickets from photographs whether the camera is attended or not. The law would also require tickets to be handed directly to a motorist.
The federal lawsuit contends it’s unconstitutional to send motorists tickets by mail and to addresses outside town limits.
Ridgeland is one of almost 90 jurisdictions nationwide using cameras to nab speeders and “to our knowledge, every single one of them mails the tickets,” Hodges said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls speed cameras “a very effective countermeasure” to crashes but said they should supplement, not replace, officers patrolling. Ridgeland still uses officers on the interstate.
Hodges is not surprised by opposition to the cameras, particularly with South Carolina’s history of motorists’ rights. South Carolina was one of the last states to enact a .08 blood-alcohol level for drunken driving and took a long time to pass a primary seatbelt law.
“We went through similar things when breathalyzers came out. We went through similar things when radar guns came out,” Hodges said. “It’s the same type of mentality.
PISCATAWAY NJ March 29 2011 — As a commander of the Piscataway police SWAT team, Sgt. David Powell knew when to move in to save hostages and designed drills to teach other officers how to as well.
On Sunday, Powell, 46, was on the opposite side, barricading himself inside his house and declaring he had taken hostages.
Around 5 p.m., police cordoned off several blocks around 130 Parkside Ave., and the SWAT team Powell had once trained surrounded his house. While neighbors waited anxiously behind locked doors, members of the Middlesex County Special Operations and Rescue Team tried to negotiate with Powell, but he refused to surrender.
At 6:48 p.m. Powell, a 22-year veteran of the police force, stepped onto the front porch and sprayed shots from a 9mm submachine gun. Police, “concerned for the safety of the public and the safety of the possible hostages,” fired back, said Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan in a statement.
At 1:41 a.m. Monday Powell was declared dead inside the home, ending the seven-hour stand-off. Powell, a father of two, died of a gunshot wound, said Kaplan, who indicated ballistic tests will be done to determine which shot killed the former Piscataway policeman.
Police Chief Richard Ivone called Powell a decorated officer who was respected in the department and was most recently assigned as a road sergeant in the patrol division. However, Ivone said, “there was a domestic situation that led to tragedy.”
The incident began about 3:30 p.m. Sunday when police called and sent Powell text messages regarding a report that he had violated a restraining order, Kaplan said, although police did not disclose who reported the violation.
After nearly an hour, Powell, who was off-duty, refused requests to come to headquarters and said he was holding hostages, according to the prosecutor.
As officers continued to try and talk with Powell, investigators determined he was alone and there were no hostages, said Kaplan. A State Police Bomb squad robotic device was sent up to the front porch, helping officers decide if was safe to enter the home.
Powell, who had been a member of the Middlesex County SWAT team and a commander of the Piscataway SWAT team, lived in the house on Parkside Avenue for a nearly 20-year period, a time marked by disputes according to neighbors.
Wendy Richards, who lives two doors away from Powell, said she knew he had problems for several years, and he should have been given help.
“I’m extremely angry. This incident doesn’t surprise me. I really thought this would have blown up sooner. Imagine having to live two doors down from this,” said Richards, whose husband is a retired Piscataway police officer.
Representatives from the Cop2Cop counseling service for law enforcement were at the police department Monday, Ivone said. He said all township officers, including Powell were aware of the program, but it’s uncertain if Powell had called the counselors.
Powell’s son from his first marriage grew up in the house until his parents divorced more than 10 years ago, neighbors said. Powell had joint custody of the son, who graduated from high school last year, and a nine-year-old daughter with his second wife, according to neighbors.
Powell’s mother, when asked about her son, who grew up in Dunellen, said he had just gone through a difficult divorce. Her voice breaking with emotion, Diane Powell said he was “a loving father and a good son.” She ended a telephone call, saying she couldn’t talk any longer.
Kaplan said the state Attorney General’s Office was notified of the shooting, as required by state guidelines and that police were investigating the weapon used by Powell, and how he had obtained it.
Trooper Kevin P. Dobson
New York State Police
End of Watch: Saturday, March 26, 2011
Tour of Duty: 14 years
Badge Number: 196
Cause of Death: Struck by vehicle
Date of Incident: Saturday, March 26, 2011
Weapon Used: Not available
Suspect Info: Not available
Trooper Kevin Dobson was struck and killed by a vehicle while making a traffic stop on I-290 in Erie County at approximately 7:30 am.
He was transported to Kenmore Mercy Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries a short time later.
Trooper Dobson had served with the New York State Police for 14 years. He is survived by his three children and girlfriend.
Agency Contact Information
New York State Police
Public Information Office
1220 Washington Ave Bldg 22
Albany, NY 12226
Phone: (518) 783-3211
Please contact the New York State Police for funeral arrangements or for survivor benefit fund information.
Deputy Sheriff Robert Britton
Smith County Sheriff’s Office
End of Watch: Monday, March 28, 2011
Tour of Duty: 19 years
Badge Number: Not available
Cause of Death: Animal related
Date of Incident: Thursday, March 24, 2011
Weapon Used: Not available
Suspect Info: Not available
Deputy Sheriff Robert Britton succumbed to injuries sustained four days earlier when he was attacked by an injured cow while directing traffic around the animal.
He had responded to the scene after a vehicle struck and injured the cow on Farm Road 344. As he directed traffic around the animal it charged him and knocked him into the air. He landed on his head and suffered severe head injuries. The cow continued attacking him until other deputies were able to pull him to safety.
Deputy Britton was transported to East Texas Medical Center where he remained until succumbing to his injuries.
Deputy Britton had served with the Smith County Sheriff’s Office for 19 years. He is survived by his two children.
Agency Contact Information
Smith County Sheriff’s Office
106 East Elm Street
Tyler, TX 75702
Phone: (903) 590-2600
Please contact the Smith County Sheriff’s Office for funeral arrangements or for survivor benefit fund information.
Waterford CT March 29 2011 – A former cashier at Target was charged Wednesday with first-degree larceny for allegedly defrauding the store out of $24,894 in a coupon-manipulation scheme.
According to an affidavit, Richie R. Hanson, 21, of Uncasville, allegedly used an override function on a store cash register to obtain multiple discounts on merchandise.
In an interview with police, Hanson said that every Wednesday between Oct. 17, 2010, and Dec. 5, 2010, three men would come to the store with coupons for $10 and $20 off items such as a television stand and a Star Wars All-Terrain Armored Transport Vehicle.
The three men would then purchase cellphones and other items, according to the affidavit. Hanson allegedly would punch a key on the register bringing the total to less than $100.
The affidavit said the three men would then pay Hanson $50 and take him out to dinner.
Security workers at Target began to suspect Hanson when a gift card with a balance of $437 was found on the floor near the checkout aisles.
A check of the gift card’s transaction history revealed that it was linked to Hanson’s register log-in.
Target said it fired Hanson on Dec. 8, 2010, after he signed a statement admitting to the total amount of money associated with the coupon fraud.
Hanson is due to appear in New London Superior Court on April 7.
Waterford police did not comment on whether the case is still open.
The hospital said it already terminated 49-year-old Nancy Jo Abel after discovering about $200,000 missing from its coffers.
According to a police report, an auditing firm came in, connected Abel to the missing money and told Shands the funds were funneled into an account for a company called St. Jude.
“A detailed internal audit revealed financial discrepancies and those results were given to JSO and the State Attorney’s office last Friday,” a statement from the hospital read.
Abel is scheduled for a court appearance Thursday morning.
HARTSELLE, Alabama March 29 2011 — Authorities say thousands of dollars were stolen from a north Alabama Walmart when thieves opened registers and drained them of cash in a matter of minutes.
WHNT-TV obtained security tapes showing two females and one male opening two registers in a Walmart in Hartselle. Police say the suspects walked out with more than $4,500 within 7 minutes.
Authorities say it appears they used a key to access the registers.
Hartselle Police Lt. Justin Barley says a lot of registers were open and the suspects just slid around and nobody noticed.
Investigators are trying to determine whether the March 5 crime is linked to similar thefts. Barley said police have some indication that this might be an ongoing problem in Alabama and possibly in Georgia as well.
Cleveland OH March 29 2011 Sunday around 7 p.m. at the Aldi’s grocery store located at E. 79th and Euclid, six males tried to enter the store armed with two handguns.
The six males, two with guns, were only able to enter the store’s foyer before store security noticed them and drew a weapon of his own.
The group of males fled on foot.
Third District Cleveland Police officers toured the area for the suspects ending with negative results.
CHICO CA March 29 2011 — Police arrested a man Thursday night on suspicion of robbing the Chico Walmart store, and said they recovered a knife from his car that he may have carried during the crime.
The suspect, James George Harris, 38, is also charged with assaulting a peace officer with a deadly weapon — specifically, his automobile.
The incident began around 4:30 p.m. when Harris reportedly entered Walmart wearing slippers. Police said he left the slippers behind, and walked out of the store wearing new shoes and carrying belts and at least one watch, all allegedly stolen.
He was confronted outside the store by security personnel, and Harris reportedly told them to keep back, because he had a weapon.
Witnesses said they didn’t see one, but Harris was able to keep moving and escaped in a white Ford Festiva.
As police swarmed the area, officer Frank Deshler spotted the Festiva in the parking lot near Toys R Us. He approached it on foot, believing it was unoccupied, but Harris suddenly appeared in the driver’s seat.
Harris reportedly started the vehicle as Deshler drew his firearm and ordered him to stop.
Harris reportedly backed up quickly, turning the vehicle wide and striking Deshler with the fender. As the officer fell to the ground, he hit the driver’s side window with his revolver, shattering the glass.
Harris got away and eluded capture until about 11:30 p.m. Thursday, when he was arrested without incident by the Chico police Street Crimes Unit at
the Budget Inn on Park Avenue.
Police Sgt. Scott Franssen said the car Harris drove is registered to the suspect’s girlfriend. Police said she had recently purchased it from the family of a deceased woman.
Franssen said the girlfriend cooperated with the investigation and is not a suspect in the incidents Thursday.
Harris was found to be a parolee at large. He is a local transient known casually to police, but doesn’t have a criminal history in Butte County. He has a minor criminal history in Glenn County. Authorities didn’t know Friday what he had done in order to be placed on parole.
Franssen said Harris allegedly entered the store to shoplift, but under the circumstances it will likely be charged as robbery since he intended to steal and used intimidation to complete the crime.
If convicted for assaulting a police officer, Harris could face a state prison sentence of three, four or five years. Second-degree robbery carries a penalty of up to five years. Chico police Detective Jose Lara said the mention of a weapon to create force or fear, and Harris’s statement that he always carried a knife, led to a recommendation that he be charged with armed robbery.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said he would expect conviction on both counts to draw a total sentence of about seven years.
Franssen said the suspect’s parole will likely be revoked.
Harris was booked into the Butte County Jail in Oroville on armed robbery and assault charges, as well as charges of resisting arrest and possession of a controlled substance. Due to his parole status, no bail has been set.
Deshler, named officer of the year recently, suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene. A police spokesman said he will be able to return to his normal duties.
TACOMA, Wash. March 29 2011– Five elderly peace activists who broke into Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in 2009 to protest nuclear weapons were sentenced Monday in Tacoma federal court.
The sentences for the activists, who range in age from 61 to 84 years, varied from two to 15 months each:
•61-year-old Jesuit priest Stephen Kelly of Oakland, Calif., was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
•67-year-old retired teacher Susan Crane of Baltimore was sentenced to 15 months.
•82-year-old Jesuit priest Bill Bichsel of Tacoma was sentened to 3 months.
•84-year-old Sister Anne Montgomery of Redwood City, Calif., was sentenced to 2 months.
•61-year-old social worker Lynne Greenwald of Tacoma was sentenced to 6 months.
Court documents said the group, referred to by some as the “Bangor Five,” cut through fences on November 2, 2009, to reach an area near where nuclear warheads are stored in bunkers. The weapons facility in Puget Sound assembles and maintains nuclear-tipped Trident missiles and other weapons.
The protesters put up banners, scattered sunflower seeds and prayed until they were arrested.
A jury found them guilty for a number of crimes including conspiracy, trespass and destruction of government property. Each activist had faced a possible ten year sentence.
Montgomery said in a sentencing document filed last week that she and others have taken responsibility for their actions.
“I have the solace of my conscience,” said Kelly. “I think this is just one little step against nuclear weapons. And someday we’ll be free. Maybe not in my lifetime, but I have hope.”
“I felt grateful for the opportunity to stand up,” said Greenwald. “And whether or not I got o prison isn’t the issue. It’s that we do everything we can to stop nuclear weapons from being used.”
The five defendants said nuclear warheads stored and on submarines at the base are illegal under international, national and humanitarian law, but a judge prohibited them from using international law and the lethality of nuclear weapons as a defense. The trial hinged on straightforward charges relating to trespassing and property damage.
Charlottesville VA March 29 2011 The University of Virginia has confirmed, Thomas (Tom) W. Gilliam IV, 19, fell from the roof of the Physics Building late Sunday night and later died from injuries suffered in the fall. Gilliam was a first year student in the College of Arts & Sciences.
University President Teresa Sullivan released a statement stating, “Today is a day of great sadness for the family and friends of Tom Gilliam and for the entire University community. By all accounts, Tom was a bright light. Those who knew him thought him destined to lead an interesting life that would include his deep faith, his interest in caring for those less fortunate, and world politics. As a member of First Year Council, he opened himself to a wide network of friends, and I am told he was hopeful of becoming a resident advisor next year. We mourn the loss of Tom, the promises unfilled, and offer prayers for his family and friends as they begin to deal with their unbearable loss.”
Thomas Gilliam Jr., the student’s grandfather said Tom, or inside the family “Tommy Four,” went to Meriweather Lewis Elementary in Albemarle County from 1st-5th grades. The family then moved to Ireland where they have been ever since.
According to Gilliam, the family was with Tom all of Sunday afternoon, having eaten together, seen Celtic Women at the JPJ, then dropped him off at 10:05 p.m. so he could work on a paper.
Carolyn Wood, a spokesperson for the university wrote in a statement, “His death is a cause for great sadness in the University community.”
Wood added, “At this time, we do not believe that either foul play or alcohol were involved. Nor do we believe that this was a suicide. Investigators believe it was a tragic accident … We do not yet know how the student entered the Physics Building and reached the roof.”
“As with any student death, our first priority is the student’s family and closest friends. While the student’s father is here, we are awaiting the mother’s arrival in Charlottesville, which should be within 24 hours,” continued Wood’s statement.
Lt. Melissa Fielding of the University of Virginia Police Department confirms, on March 27, 2011 before 11:30 p.m., the UVA Police Department responded to the Physics Building to investigate an incident in which a student fell from the roof.
The Police Department stated in a press release, “The student was transported to the University of Virginia Emergency Department where he died from his injuries. This incident is being investigated by the University Police.”
“The Office of the Dean of Students is working closely with the family and friends of the student. Any student in the community in need of support as a result of this incident should call the Dean of Students Office at 434-924-7133.”
The Dean of Students Office has not released the name of the student.
Stafford County VA March 29 2011 Local authorities are trying to identify a woman who sucker-punched a loss prevention officer who caught her stealing clothes from a North Stafford store.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bill Kennedy said deputies went to Kohl’s in Stafford Marketplace about 4:06 p.m. Friday in response to a reported theft in progress.
A loss prevention officer had seen a woman stuffing clothes into a large black purse.
The store employee confronted the woman in the parking lot and the suspect punched her in the mouth, Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the suspect, who was carrying a little boy who appeared to be about 2, then kicked off her shoes and ran off with the child.
The purse with the stolen items was recovered a short time later behind a trash can, but there was no information in the purse that identified the suspect.
She was described as a white woman in her early 20s, 5 feet 1 to 5 feet 5 inches tall and 120 pounds. She had blonde hair in the front and black hair in the back, police said, and was wearing a purple shirt and jeans.
Anyone with information about the woman is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 658-4400 or Crime Solvers at 659-2020.
Det. Sgt. Kevin Delaney responded to a call from mall security who said they had seen Ernestine Ingram, 52, who had allegedly committed several thefts at the mall, reports said. Delaney went to the mall, where he saw a suspicious vehicle parked in front of Lord & Taylor, reports said.
He then saw Ingram run out of the store carrying several pocketbooks, worth $2,100, before she was caught by mall security, reports said. Delaney arrested Ingram and the driver of the vehicle, Charma Fulwood, 39, reports said.
Police said they had committed at least four other thefts in the same way, netting $8,000 in total.
Ingram was charged with four counts of theft and one count of shoplifting. She was sent to Bergen County Jail in lieu of $20,000 bail.
Fulwood, of Easton, Pa., was charged with three counts of conspiracy and sent to Bergen County Jail in lieu of $5,000 bail.
Labor Department officials say in a news release that the agreement was reached after an investigation showed the company had failed to pay employees the required prevailing wage rates and fringe benefits for all hours worked.
ISMG, based in Atlanta, was awarded a contract in 2008 to provide armed security guards at the U.S. Government Printing Office at Stennis.
The Labor Department says several security guard trainees were under-compensated. It also says the company failed pay workers the health and welfare benefits, holiday pay and vacation pay required by the contract.
Scottsdale AZ March 29 2011 Rural/Metro Corp. announced today that it has agreed to be acquired by private equity firm Warburg Pincus in a cash deal valued at about $438 million.
The Scottsdale-based ambulance and fire protection company’ board approved a cash deal to sell to New York-based Warburg Pincus for $17.25 per share. The purchase price represents a 37 percent increase over Rural/Metro’s Friday closing price of $12.55.
Shares of Rural/Metro this morning surged $4.59, or nearly 37 percent, to $17.14.
If shareholders approve the deal, Rural/Metro said it anticipates the deal will close by the end of June.
Rural/Metro Chief Executive Michael DiMino said in a statement that the merger will allow the ambulance and fire protection company the “resources and flexibility to fuel our organic and strategic growth initiatives.”
Rural/Metro provides ambulance and fire protection services for about 440 communities in 20 states. Through its Southwest Ambulance unit, Rural/Metro provides ambulance service to more than one dozen Maricopa County communities. It also contracts for fire protection service in many Arizona communities.
PISCATAWAY, N.J.March 29 2011 – Authorities are trying to determine whether a New Jersey police officer shot and killed himself during a standoff at his home or was hit by fellow officers who responded.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan says Piscataway Police Sgt. David Powell had threatened to kill any officer who approached the house in a standoff beginning Sunday afternoon and ending early Monday.
Kaplan says the standoff began after the 46-year-old Powell refused to go to police headquarters on a report that he had violated a restraining order. The prosecutor says Powell claimed he had a hostage.
Members of the Piscataway and Middlesex County SWAT teams responded. Kaplan says that at one point, Powell stepped on his porch and fired a 9 mm submachine gun. Police returned fire.
A robotic device was eventually sent in. Officers determined no one else was in the home.