- Created on 08 May 2013
Although many networks continue to pretend that people on both sides of the political aisle are equally nasty toward each other in the name of
patronization balance, leave it to the National Rifle Association to blow such silly folklore to smithereens. This week, the Rev. Al Sharpton (pictured) took shots at what he dubbed “The Right-Wing Horror P
- Created on 07 May 2013
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — As smoke thickened and a fire grew in the back of a limousine, Nelia Arellano desperately tried to squeeze through a 3 foot by 1 ½-foot partition.
Stuck for a moment, Arellano made her way into the front seat. Three of her friends quickly followed. Five others didn't make it. Their bodies were later found pressed against the partition.
Arellano said in an interview Monday with KGO-TV that she believes the driver, Oliver Brown, could have done more to help during the fire, which took place Saturday night on one of the busiest bridges on San Francisco Bay.
"When he stop the car, he get out from the car, he just get out from the car," she said.
Arellano and other women had started the night celebrating the recent wedding of Neriza Fojas and were headed across the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge to a hotel in Foster City.
Brown — a San Jose man who worked for the limo company the past two months — has said in interviews that one of the passengers tapped on the partition behind him, saying something about smoke as music blared from the back. No smoking was allowed, he told them.
Then the taps turned to urgent knocks, and someone screamed "Pull over!"
Brown said he stopped on the bridge as soon as he could. Then he helped pull the women out through the partition, he said.
One of the women who made it through the partition ran to the back and yanked open a door, but Brown said that provided oxygen to the fire and the rear of the limo became engulfed in flames.
Brown said he believed it was an electrical fire.
"It could have been smoldering for days," he told KGO on Monday, noting there was no explosive boom.
Authorities searched for answers Monday, hoping to learn what sparked the blaze and why five of the victims killed Saturday night couldn't escape.
The position of the bodies at the partition suggested they were trying to get away from the fire, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said.
Fojas, 31, a registered nurse from Fresno was planning to travel to her native Philippines to hold another wedding ceremony with relatives. Her friends in the limousine were fellow nurses.
Fojas was among the five who died. Her mother, Sonya, broke into tears during an interview in the Philippines with local TV network GMA News.
"How painful, how painful what happened," she said.
The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, Harry Thomas Jr., on Tuesday expressed condolences to the Fojas family.
"Mystery surrounds deadly limo fire," he said in a Twitter message. "Condolences to the Fojas family in the Philippines and the U.S. and other nurses."
Fojas and another woman who died, Michelle Estrera, were nurses at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. The remaining three victims haven't been identified.
The medical center's CEO, Jack Chubb, said in a statement Monday that Fojas and Estrera were outstanding nurses, loved by their patients, colleagues and staff.
"Both were good friends, stellar nurses and excellent mentors who served as preceptors to new nurses," he said.
A relative of Fojas said the young nurse was preparing to get her master's degree.
Christina Kitts said Monday that Fojas lived in Hawaii while she reviewed for her nursing exam, then took a job in Oakland for two years before moving to Fresno about a year ago.
Three survivors hospitalized were identified as Jasmine Desguia, 34, of San Jose; Mary Guardiano, 42, of Alameda; and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro. Arellano, 36, of Oakland, was treated and released.
California Highway Patrol Commander Mike Maskarich said the state Public Utilities Commission had authorized the vehicle to carry eight or fewer passengers, but it had nine on the night of the deadly fire. Maskarich said it was too early in the investigation to say whether overcrowding may have been a factor.
State PUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said Monday that the commission is looking into whether the operator of the limo, Limo Stop, willfully misrepresented the seating capacity to the agency. If so, Limo Stop could be penalized $7,500 for each day it was in violation.
Limo Stop is licensed and has shown evidence of liability insurance, Prosper said. The company has seven vehicles with a seating capacity of up to eight passengers listed with the commission, and it has not been the target of any previous enforcement action.
The CPUC requires that all carriers have a preventive maintenance program and maintain a daily vehicle inspection report, Prosper said. Carriers also certify that they are have or are enrolled in a safety education and training program, she said.
Prosper said requirements for emergency exits only apply to buses, and limousines are not required to have fire extinguishers.
Joan Claybrook, the top federal auto-safety regulator under President Jimmy Carter, said the stretch limousine industry is poorly regulated because the main agency that oversees car safety doesn't have enough money to prioritize investigating the small businesses that modify limos after they leave the assembly line.
"I think the oversight is pretty lousy, because the modifications are so individualistic, and there are not that many companies out there that do this. Mostly, they are mom-and-pop operations," said Claybrook, a former administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who previously led consumer group Public Citizen.
Instead, the agency tends to focus more on problems with new cars and major recalls, she said.
U.S. Department of Transportation data shows five people died in three separate stretch limo accidents in 2010, and 21 people died in another three stretch limo accidents in 2011.
Stretch limos are typically built in two ways.
In the first process, one carmaker builds the limousine's body, then another company customizes or stretches the vehicle.
The second company has to issue a certification that the car meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety standards for new vehicles, and that all safety equipment is working as required before it can be sold to the public, said Henry Jasny, an attorney with the Washington-based nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
In the second process, a customer buys the limousine directly from the carmaker, then takes it to be customized. But modifying the car after it has been sold is considered a retrofit, so is not something NHTSA would regulate, Jasny said.
Many older models such as the 1999 Lincoln Town Car that caught fire Saturday were modified after they left the factory, said Jerry Jacobs, who owns a boutique limousine company in in San Rafael with a fleet that includes two stretch limos.
"There is nothing wrong with having these older models on the road. Many have low mileage and immaculate interiors because we take care of them. But when these cars start getting older and the rubber boots wear out, they start running hot," Jacobs said. "The key is you have to keep doing all the right maintenance to make sure they're running smoothly."
Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Gosia Wozniacka in Fresno contributed to this report.
- Created on 06 May 2013
HOUSTON — A man appeared intent on suicide, or what's known as suicide by cop, when he opened fire with a pistol inside a busy terminal at Houston's largest airport and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said Friday.
Carnell Marcus Moore, 29, of Beaumont shot himself in the temple with a 40-caliber semi-automatic pistol Thursday afternoon after shooting twice into the ceiling at a ticketing area at Bush Intercontinental Airport.
A Department of Homeland Security special agent who confronted him in the terminal also shot and wounded him in the shoulder when Moore refused to drop his weapon. Homicide Sgt. Brian Harris said Moore's head wound was the fatal gunshot.
"At this point we know what this was and what it wasn't," Harris' partner, investigator Fil Waters, said. "And what it was, was a desperate act committed by a confused young man who has apparently lost all hope."
Harris said Moore had a bag containing an AR-15 rifle with ammunition. That gun was not fired and not removed from the bag, which also contained a Gideon Bible and a suicide note that indicated Moore had no plans to hurt others, Harris said.
"'Here in the last hour, I yield to mercy when this could have turned bad,'" Harris said, reading some of the contents of the note signed by Moore.
Police said events leading up to the airport shooting began Tuesday in Beaumont when Moore abducted the female manager of the apartment complex where he worked as a maintenance man and insisted at gunpoint she accompany him to Houston, about 85 miles to the west.
Moore, who had no criminal record, apparently had become infatuated with her but Waters said she is engaged to another man and did not return his affections. She somehow convinced him to release her.
Authorities said she filed a report with Beaumont police Wednesday but they had not been able to confirm that.
Moore checked into a Houston hotel Tuesday. He called a brother who told police Moore had said about a month ago that he wanted to confront an armed officer. The brother told detectives he asked Moore if he had a gun with him but Moore said he had disposed of his weapons.
Surveillance video shows Moore arriving at the airport's Terminal B just after noon, dragging a bag he took from his pickup truck and taking a seat. The gunfire erupted about 90 minutes later. People in the terminal began screaming and running for cover but no one else was hurt.
Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland said it is not illegal for people to carry firearms in public areas and that Moore had not breeched secure areas of the airport.
- Created on 07 May 2013
CLEVELAND — The woman's voice was frantic and breathless, and she was choking back tears. "Help me. I'm Amanda Berry," she told a 911 dispatcher. "I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."
Those words led police to a house near downtown Cleveland where Berry and two other women who vanished a decade ago were found Monday, elating family members and friends who had longed to see them again.
Authorities later arrested three brothers. They released no names and gave no information about them or what charges they might face.
City officials have scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning.
Police Chief Michael McGrath said he thinks Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were tied up at the house and held there since they were in their teens or early 20s.
A 6-year-old also was found in the home, but police didn't disclose the child's identity or relationship to anyone in the home. The women appeared to be in good health and were taken to a hospital to be evaluated and be reunited with relatives.
The women's escape and rescue began with a frenzied cry for help.
A neighbor, Charles Ramsey, told WEWS-TV he heard screaming Monday and saw Berry, whom he didn't recognize, at a door that would open only enough to fit a hand through. He said she was trying desperately to get outside and pleaded for help to reach police.
"I heard screaming," he said. "I'm eating my McDonald's. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house."
Neighbor Anna Tejeda was sitting on her porch with friends when they heard someone across the street kicking a door and yelling.
Tejeda, 50, said one of her friends went over and told Berry how to kick the screen out of the bottom of the door, which allowed her to get out.
Speaking Spanish, which was translated by one of her friends, Tejeda said Berry was nervous and crying. She was dressed in pajamas and old sandals.
At first Tejeda said she didn't want to believe who the young woman was. "You're not Amanda Berry," she insisted. "Amanda Berry is dead."
But when Berry told her she'd been kidnapped and held captive, Tejeda said she gave her the telephone to call police, who arrived within minutes and then took the other women from the house.
On a recorded 911 call Monday, Berry declared, "I'm Amanda Berry. I've been on the news for the last 10 years."
She said she had been taken by someone and begged for police officers to come to the home on Cleveland's west side before the man returned.
"I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years," she told the dispatcher. "And I'm here. I'm free now."
Berry disappeared at age 16 on April 21, 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. About a year later, DeJesus vanished at age 14 on her way home from school. Police said Knight disappeared in 2002 and is 32 now.
Berry is now 27, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Authorities didn't provide a current age DeJesus.
Police said one of the brothers who was arrested, a 52-year-old, lived at the home, and the others, ages 50 and 54, lived elsewhere.
Ramsey, the neighbor, said he'd barbecued with the home's owner and never suspected anything was amiss.
"There was nothing exciting about him — well, until today," he said.
Julio Castro, who runs a grocery store half a block from where the women were found, said the homeowner arrested is his nephew, Ariel Castro.
Berry also identified Ariel Castro by name in her 911 call.
Attempts to reach Ariel Castro in jail were unsuccessful Monday. Messages to the sheriff's office and a jail spokesman went unanswered, and there was no public phone listing for the home, which was being searched by dozens of police officers and sheriff's deputies.
The uncle said Ariel Castro had worked as a school bus driver. The Cleveland school district confirmed he was a former employee but wouldn't release details.
The women's loved ones said they hadn't given up hope of seeing them again.
A childhood friend of DeJesus, Kayla Rogers, said she couldn't wait to hug her.
"I've been praying, never forgot about her, ever," Rogers told The Plain Dealer newspaper.
Berry's cousin Tasheena Mitchell told the newspaper she couldn't wait to have Berry in her arms.
"I'm going to hold her, and I'm going to squeeze her and I probably won't let her go," she said.
Berry's mother, Louwana Miller, who had been hospitalized for months with pancreatitis and other ailments, died in March 2006. She had spent the previous three years looking for her daughter, whose disappearance took a toll as her health steadily deteriorated, family and friends said.
Councilwoman Dona Brady said she had spent many hours with Miller, who never gave up hope that her daughter was alive.
"She literally died of a broken heart," Brady said.
Mayor Frank Jackson expressed gratitude that the three women were found alive. He said there are many unanswered questions in the ongoing investigation.
At Metro Health Medical Center, Dr. Gerald Maloney wouldn't discuss the women's conditions in detail but said they were being evaluated by appropriate specialists.
"This is really good, because this isn't the ending we usually hear in these stories," he said. "So, we're very happy."
In January, a prison inmate was sentenced to 4 1/2 years after admitting he provided a false burial tip in the disappearance of Berry. A judge in Cleveland sentenced Robert Wolford on his guilty plea to obstruction of justice, making a false report and making a false alarm.
Last summer, Wolford tipped authorities to look for Berry's remains in a Cleveland lot. He was taken to the location, which was dug up with backhoes.
Two men arrested for questioning in the disappearance of DeJesus in 2004 were released from the city jail in 2006 after officers didn't find her body during a search of the men's house.
In September 2006, police acting on a tip tore up the concrete floor of the garage and used a cadaver dog to search unsuccessfully for DeJesus' body. Investigators confiscated 19 pieces of evidence during their search but declined to comment on the significance of the items then.
Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.
- Created on 06 May 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — When one of the nine women in his limousine complained about smoke, Orville Brown pulled to the side of a San Francisco Bay bridge to check. As he got out, the back of the vehicle became engulfed in flames.
A newlywed bride and eight of her friends were still inside, but passersby quickly pulled three from the burning Lincoln Town Car late Saturday night. And one woman managed to reach safety by squeezing through the partition from the passenger section to the driver's compartment, Brown told authorities.
But five others, including the bride whose marriage they were celebrating on a girls' night out, became trapped.
The five were found dead as firefighters doused the vehicle — all huddled near the partition, apparently unable to squeeze through.
"My guess would be they were trying to get away from the fire and use that window opening as an escape route," said San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault, who also relayed some of the comments the driver made to investigators.
The San Mateo Fire Department was looking into the cause of the fire, while the coroner's office was working with the California Highway Patrol to determine if anything criminal occurred.
"We don't believe there" was, Foucrault said.
Relatives told the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News that one of the dead was Neriza Fojas, 31, a registered nurse from Fresno who recently wed and was planning to travel to her native Philippines to hold another ceremony before family. Her friends in the limousine were fellow nurses.
Brown, 46, of San Jose, told investigators he picked the women up in Oakland and was taking them across the bridge to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City. Fojas' sister, Rosalyn Bersamin, told the Chronicle that after a night out on the town, Fojas and her friends were heading to the hotel to party with her husband.
"She was a hard worker, a loving sister," a sobbing Bersamin said.
Aerial video shot after the incident showed about one-third of the back half of the limousine had been scorched by the fire. Its taillights and bumper were gone and it appeared to be resting on its rims, but the remainder of the vehicle didn't appear to be damaged.
A photo taken by a witness and broadcast on KTVU-TV showed flames shooting from the back of the limo.
Brown's brother told the Chronicle the flames spread before he could help all the women escape.
"He told me, 'Man, it was so fast.' He said, 'I've never seen anything like it in my life.'"
"He kept saying, 'I should have done more, I should have done more," he added.
The brother said that Brown is an experienced commercial driver who has operated big rigs and moving trucks and has a clean record.
Medical examiners will identify the victims by using dental records. Foucrault said the autopsies will include toxicology tests, as well as examinations into whether any accelerant such as alcohol or gasoline was found on the bodies.
The four other women who escaped the fire, Mary G. Guardiano, 42, of Alameda; Jasmine Desguia, 34, of San Jose; Nelia Arrellano, 36, of Oakland; and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro, were being treated at nearby hospitals for burns and smoke inhalation, the CHP said.
Desguia and Loyola were listed in critical condition, said Joy Alexiou, a spokeswoman for Valley Medical Center. The condition of Arrellano, who was taken to another hospital, was not known.
A spokeswoman for Community Medical Center in Fresno said one or more of its employees were in the limo.
The company that operated the limo was identified as Limo Stop, which offers service through limousines, vans and SUVS.
The company issued a statement saying it "will do everything possible to investigate and assist authorities in determining the cause of this fire in order to bring forth answers and provide closure to (the) victims and their families."
According to records from the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates limousine companies, Limo Stop is licensed and insured.