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

Red light camera firm admits it likely bribed Chicago official

Chicago's embattled red light camera firm went to City Hall on Friday in its latest effort to come clean, acknowledging for the first time that its entire program here was likely built on a $2 million bribery scheme.

By its sheer size, the alleged plot would rank among the largest in the annals of Chicago corruption.

An internal probe of Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. and a parallel investigation by the city's inspector general — prompted by reports in the Chicago Tribune — have cost the company its largest North American contract and all of its top executives.

On Friday the company announced the resignations of its president, its chief financial officer and its top lawyer. The head of Redflex's Australian parent company conducted town hall meetings at the headquarters of its Phoenix-based subsidiary to tell employees there was wrongdoing in the Chicago contract and that sweeping reforms were being instituted to win back the company's reputation.

In separate, private briefings with the city inspector general and with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's top lawyer, Redflex attorneys acknowledged it's likely true that company officials intended to bribe a Chicago city official and that they also plied him with expenses-paid vacations.

The company's outside investigator, former city Inspector General David Hoffman, found that Redflex paid $2.03 million to a Chicago consultant in a highly suspicious arrangement likely intended to funnel some of the money to the former city transportation official who oversaw the company contract, according to sources familiar with the investigation and the Friday briefings to city officials.

The arrangement between the city official, the consultant and Redflex — first disclosed by a company whistle-blower — will likely be considered bribery by law enforcement authorities, Hoffman found.

Without subpoena power, it was not possible to check personal financial records of the city official or the consultant, who refused to cooperate, according to the sources familiar with Hoffman's findings. But Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, said that under applicable law, authorities could consider the arrangement to be bribery even if the payments were not made, the sources said.

The bulk of the consultant's fees — $1.57 million — were paid during a four-year period beginning in 2007, the years the program really expanded in Chicago, Hoffman found.

In addition, the city transportation official was treated to 17 trips, including airfare, hotels, rental cars, golf outings and meals, the sources said. Most of those expenses were paid by the company's former executive vice president, Hoffman found. That official was fired late last month and blamed by the company for much of the Chicago problem.

But Hoffman found that Redflex's president also had knowledge of the arrangement that would have made any reasonable person highly suspicious that it was a bribery scheme, the sources said.

Hoffman also found that Redflex did not disclose its knowledge about the improper arrangement to City Hall until confronted by the Tribune in October. Even then, Hoffman found, company officials lied to Emanuel's administration about the extent of the wrongdoing.

Redflex's Australian parent company was expected to post a summation of Hoffman's findings in a Monday filing with the Australian Securities Exchange that will include the resignations announced to employees Friday.

"Today's announcement of executive changes follows the conclusion of our investigation in Chicago and marks the dividing line between the past and where this company is headed," Robert DeVincenzi, president and CEO of Redflex Holdings Ltd. said in a statement to the newspaper. "This day, and each day going forward, we intend to be a constructive force in our industry, promoting high ethical standards and serving the public interest."

The company will also announce reforms including installing new requirements to put all company employees through anti-bribery and anti-corruption training, hiring a new director of compliance to ensure employees adhere to company policies, and establishing a 24-hour whistle-blower hotline.

The actions mark the latest changes in the company's evolving accounts of the scandal.

Officials at the firm had repeatedly dismissed allegations of bribery in the Chicago contract since they were made in a 2010 internal complaint obtained last year by the Tribune. In October the Tribune disclosed the whistle-blower letter by a company executive and first brought to light the questionable relationship between former city official John Bills and the Redflex consultant, Marty O'Malley, who are longtime friends from the South Side.

Bills and O'Malley have acknowledged their friendship but denied anything improper about their handling of the Redflex contract.

"Totally false, but I appreciate you calling me," Bills told the Tribune on Friday when informed of the Hoffman findings. O'Malley did not return calls.

In the four-month investigation, Hoffman and his team conducted 58 interviews and reviewed more than 37,000 company documents including email traffic among company officials, sources said. Hoffman concluded that company officials used poor judgment and a serious lack of diligence in investigating the allegations contained in the whistle-blower memo.

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New budget crisis begins after Washington fiscal talks fail

The U.S. government stumbled headlong on Friday toward wide-ranging spending cuts that threaten to hinder the economic recovery, after President Barack Obama and congressional leaders failed to find an alternative budget plan.

Put in place during a bout of deficit-reduction fever in 2011, the automatic cuts can only be halted by agreement between Congress and the White House

"This is not going to be an apocalypse,” Obama told reporters at the White House  Friday. "It's just dumb. And it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt individual people, and it's going to hurt the economy overall."

A deal proved elusive in talks at the White House on Friday as expected, meaning that government agencies will now begin to hack a total of $85 billion from their budgets between Saturday and October 1. Financial markets in New York shrugged off the stalemate in Washington.

Democrats predict the cuts, known as "sequestration," could soon cause air traffic delays, furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal employees and disruption to education.

While the International Monetary Fund warned that the belt tightening could slow U.S. economic growth by at least 0.5 of a percentage point this year, that is not a huge drag on an economy that is picking up steam.

Obama was resigned to government budgets shrinking.

"Even with these cuts in place, folks all across this country will work hard to make sure that we keep the recovery going, but Washington sure isn't making it easy," he said after meeting Republican and Democratic congressional leaders.

At the heart of Washington's persistent fiscal crises is disagreement over how to slash the budget deficit and the $16 trillion national debt, bloated over the years by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and government stimulus for the ailing economy.

Obama wants to close the fiscal gap with spending cuts and tax hikes, but Republicans don't want to concede again on taxes after doing so in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" at the New Year.

"The discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It's about taking on the spending problem," House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said on leaving the meeting.

The billions of dollars in cuts that go into effect on Saturday will probably be phased in over the coming weeks and months. Agencies from the Pentagon to the Department of Education have begun making plans to notify employees who will have to take unpaid days off.

Administration officials say the cutbacks in staffing will affect everything from air-traffic control to border security, preventive health screenings and prosecution of criminal cases. The automatic cuts were harsh by design, meant to force Republicans and Democrats into a bigger budget deal that reduces deficit spending.

No matter how Obama and Congress resolve the 2013 battle, this round of automatic spending cuts is only one of a decade's worth of annual cuts totaling $1.2 trillion mandated by the sequestration law.

Given the current absence of a deal, Obama is required to issue an order to federal agencies by midnight to reduce their budgets. The White House budget office must send a report to Congress detailing the spending cuts.

The Justice Department has already sent notices of furloughs that will begin April 21 at the earliest to some 115,000 workers, including at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Unlike previous fiscal dramas, the sequestration fight is not rattling Wall Street.

U.S. stocks rose moderately on Friday, with the Dow Industrials closing up 35 points, as data showed manufacturing expanded at its fastest pace in 20 months in February. Despite being up more than 7 percent this year, and near a record high, the discord in Washington has not prompted traders to cash in gains.

"Most of us believe that sequestration is not something that will make us fall off the cliff, since the cuts will be worked in relatively slowly," said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Wealth Management in Philadelphia.

Poll shows GOP beraing blame

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Groupon founder Andrew Mason fired; shares jump

Groupon on Thursday ousted its CEO, company co-founder Andrew Mason, replacing him with two current directors amid increasing heat about the deal site's disappointing financial performance.

In a letter to employees, Mason said he was fired, with a playful and self-deprecating addition: "If you're wondering why ... you haven't been paying attention."

"From controversial metrics in our (initial public offering) to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that's hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves," Mason continued. "As CEO, I am accountable."

As far back as November, Groupon and Mason were forced to respond publicly to a report that he would lose his job. Reports surfaced at the time that Groupon's board was considering replacing Mason with a more experienced CEO to lead the Chicago-based daily deal company's turnaround.  

The board said it's searching for a permanent replacement. For now, Executive Chairman Eric Lefkofsky -- an original investor -- and Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis will share the task.

The company said its earnings expectations for the first quarter and full year outlined on Wednesday remain unchanged.

Investors appear to applaud Mason's departure, driving shares up in after-hours trading after a brutal regular session in which the stock lost a quarter of its value. Shares had plummeted in continuing fallout from a weaker than expected earnings report and forecast on Wednesday. The stock jumped 8 percent after hours on the news and was at $4.70, up nearly 4 percent, at 5:26 p.m.

Mason, a 32-year-old Northwestern University graduate, has come under fire for a series of missteps including controversy during its IPO and not finding a quick enough solution for its financial struggles.

Arvind Bhatia, a senior research analyst at Sterne Agee who recently upgraded Groupon to a "buy" with a $9 price target, said he expected Mason to have a few more quarters to prove himself, but the plummeting stock price likely forced the board to make a move.

"I think the reaction to the stock pushed them over the edge," Bhatia said. "It was basically saying that the market is not giving Andrew a vote of confidence, and I think the board took that message seriously."

Groupon, which was founded in 2008, was once a red-hot company that sparked a number of deal site competitors by marketing discounts on local services such as spas and restaurants to millions of online subscribers.

It turned down a nearly $6 billion buyout offer by Google in 2010 that at the time was thought to undervalue the company. A year later, it ended its first day as a public company worth $16 billion.

But it has lost about three-quarters of its value since it went public. On Thursday, its market capitalization was less than $3 billion, according to Capital IQ.

The scrutiny of Groupon was tremendous, given the "high-flying" nature of the company and the culture created and fostered by Mason, observers said.

That culture turned from a lovable quirk to a major liability as the company ran into controversy over its poorly received Super Bowl ads two years ago and a series of missteps before its IPO. Then, within months of its public debut, it disclosed an accounting flaw that forced it to restate financial results.

The larger question surrounding Groupon -- the long-term viability of its basic business model -- remains. The company has been expanding offerings beyond its core daily deals, where growth has slumped.

On Wednesday, the company posted a fourth-quarter net loss of $81.1 million, or 12 cents a share, missing Wall Street's expectations for a profit. Revenue for the quarter was up 30 percent, in line with analysts' views.

Groupon also warned Wednesday that its turnaround would take time, suggesting it will likely cut employees and overall expenses.

Tribune reporter Robert Channick contributed.

GRPN Chart

GRPN data by YCharts

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White House, Republicans dig in ahead of budget talks

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.


Positions hardened on Wednesday between President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders over the budget crisis even as they arranged to hold last-ditch talks to prevent harsh automatic spending cuts beginning this week.

Looking resigned to the $85-billion in "sequestration" cuts starting on Friday, government agencies began reducing costs and spelling out to employees how furloughs will work.

Expectations were low that a White House meeting on Friday between Obama and congressional leaders, including Republican foes, would produce any deal to avoid the cuts.

Public services across the country - from air traffic control to food safety inspections and education - might be disrupted if the cuts go ahead.

Put into law in 2011 as part of an earlier fiscal crisis, sequestration is unloved by both parties because of the economic pain it will cause, but the politicians cannot agree how to stop it.

A deal in Congress on less drastic spending cuts, perhaps with tax increases too, is needed by Friday to halt the sequestration reductions which are split between social programs cherished by Democrats and defense spending championed by Republicans.

Obama stuck by his demand that Republicans accept tax increases in the form of eliminating tax loopholes enjoyed mostly by the wealthy as part of a balanced approach to avoiding sequestration.

"There is no alternative in the president's mind to balance," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Obama wants to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies and the lower "carried interest" tax rate enjoyed by hedge funds.

But Republicans who reluctantly agreed to raise income tax rates on the rich to avert the "fiscal cliff" crisis in December are in no mood for that.

"One thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

In one of the first concrete effects of the cuts, the administration took the unusual step of freeing several hundred detained illegal immigrants because of the cost of holding them.

Republicans described that move by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a political stunt aimed at scaring them into agreeing to end the sequestration on Obama's terms.

Carney denied the White House had ordered the release.

Friday's White House meeting will include McConnell and the other key congressional leaders: Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and House Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican.


But the chances of success were not high.

One congressional Republican aide criticized the White House for calling the meeting for the day the cuts were coming into effect. "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."

Unlike during other fiscal fights in Congress, the stock market is taking the sequestration impasse calmly.

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Winter storm: Lake, McHenry could see 10 inches of snow

Chicago's midday full weather forecast. (WGN - Chicago)

A winter storm warning for up 6 to 10 inches of snow was issued for Lake and McHenry Counties, and a winter weather advisory for other Chicago-area counties has been extended into Wednesday as a strong storm made travel hazardous and grounding hundreds of flights.

The National Weather Service expected the heaviest snow to fall this afternoon, but some heavy snow is expected to fall into the early evening, with accumulations of up to 10 inches in north suburbs by daybreak, according to the winter storm warning for Lake and McHenry counties. An advisory issued late this afternoon for Cook, DuPage, Kane and other northern Illinois counties called for up to 7 inches by late evening. Winds gusting at 35 to 40 mph will reduce visibility and glaze roads, the weather service warned in the advisory.

"Snowfall rates in excess of an inch per hour could occur at times, along with wind whipped snow resulting in temporary white out conditions with near zero visibility at times in open areas," according to the advisory. "This will likely be a heavy wet snow sometimes referred to as heart attack snow."

By a little before 5:30 p.m., the weather service was reporting these snowfall accumulations: 6.4 inches in Northbrook; 5.2 inches in Streamwrood; and 4.5 inches in Winnetka.

Earlier, about 4:30 p.m., the weather service had reported these snowfall accumulations: 5.5 inches in northwest suburban Bull Valley, 5 inches in north suburban Lake Bluff, 4.9 inches in northwest suburban Elk Grove Village, 4 inches in northwest suburban South Elgin and Schaumburg, 3.3 inches in west suburban Winfield, 1.8 inches in north suburban Morton Grove, and 1.5 inches at Midway International Airport and southwest suburban Romeoville.

About 600 flights have been canceled at O'Hare International Airport and about 170 at Midway, according to FlightStats, which gathers data from airports and airlines. There were about 734 flights delayed at O'Hare and 118 at Midway.

On the roads, spinouts have been reported on interstates 90, 94 and 55, according to the Illinois State Police.

The Illinois State Police Chicago District has instituted its emergency snow plan. In an accident where there are no injuries and the cars are driveable, the drivers should exchange information at a safe place and file accident reports with the state police within 10 days.

Chicago's Streets and Sanitation Department has deployed its entire fleet of 284 plows. Drivers will plow the main roads, such as Lake Shore Drive, through the evening rush hour. As the snow begins to taper off, the plows will clear residential roads, said department spokeswoman Anne Sheahan.

Extra plows are being deployed to the 2ndCongressional District to help residents get to their polling places for today's primary election, Sheahan said.

Road conditions were treacherous throughout the southwest suburbs, especially along Interstates 55 and 80 in Will County, police and fire officials said.

Several vehicles have slipped into ditches along I-55 near Plainfield, especially near U.S. Route 30, said Jon Stratton, a deputy chief with the Plainfield Fire Protection District.  "On I-55, there are vehicles everywhere in the ditch," Stratton said. "Visibility is going down and roads are getting all snow covered, so it's going to be an interesting day."

The most serious accident in the area so far today occurred when an SUV slid under a semi's trailer on the Route 30 overpass over I-55, Stratton said.

Firefighters extricated the woman who was driving the SUV, and she was taken by ambulance to Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Stratton said. The woman was conscious and stable when removed from the SUV, he said.

A school bus carrying about 35 elementary students collided with a plow truck in Plainfield around 4 p.m., but no injuries were reported, officials said.

In fact, the students from Plainfield's Central Elementary School seemed to be more excited by the firefighters and police officers who responded than startled by the crash, said Stratton.

"They were all happy to see us, waving out the windows," he said.

The crash occurred near the intersection of Mill Street and Plainfield Naperville Road, Stratton said. The bus suffered minor damage to its front-end but appeared to be drivable, Stratton said. The plow truck, a pickup, was operated by a private company or contractor, he said.

A school official came to the scene after the collision to help check on the students, Stratton said.

Stratton also said road conditions have gradually improved in the Plainfield area as the afternoon has gone on. Most primary roads are in good shape, he said, but many secondary roads are still snow-covered.

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Woman freed after conviction in son's death tossed

Nicole Harris, who has been locked up since the 2005 death of her son, walked out of an Illinois prison today after an appeals court threw out her murder conviction.

Harris emerged from Dwight Correctional Center in front of a gathering of news crews after being reunited with her other son.

"I'm just overwhelmed and I'm thankful that's it's going to be over and I just want to be home with my son," Harris told the assembled media.

"I'm just ready to get on with my life and hold my son."

The Chicago woman was 23 when a jury found her guilty of killing her 4-year-old son Jaquari in their Northwest Side apartment following her confession to authorities. But Harris has long maintained that her confession was false and the result of threats and manipulation by police.

She said today that she was able to make it through the past seven years knowing that "I'm innocent and the truth will come out."

"It was like at some point I just knew this isn't it, that this was not my final destination."

In a 90-page ruling last October that vacated her conviction, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said there were "many reasons" to question her confession.

The appeal judges also ruled that Diante, then 5, should have been allowed to testify.

Now 14, Diante was the first person to meet Harris when she was released into an outer room of the prison at about 11:30 a.m. today.  Diante walked in bearing a balloon that read, "It's your Day" and a teddy bear. Harris threw her arms around him, wept softly and kissed him.

When asked later what it was like to see her son at that time, she said, "There are no words."

At exactly noon, a prison official told Harris she was "free to go." She clutched hands with a close friend and walked out of the prison. She had been told to get her things together around 8:30 a.m. this morning, she told the media, and said that, at that time, "I was beyond anxious."

Jaquari had been found dead with an elastic bedsheet cord wrapped around his neck. Diante had told authorities that he was alone with Jaquari when he saw him wrap the cord around his neck while playing.

Prosecutors, who argued that Diante also said he was asleep when Jaquari died, accused Harris of strangling Jaquari with the cord because she was angry he would not stop crying.

Harris' release, which the state argued against, is not the end of legal battle. The state has appealed the October ruling, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. In addition, Cook County prosecutors could still move to retry her. A representative from the state's attorney's office said no decision on a retrial has been made.

For now, Harris said, "I just want to enjoy life."

"I'm just glad to be free. I'm just glad to be free."

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Oscars 2013 live: Rolling out the red carpet

LOS ANGELES -- The Oscars rolled out the red carpet on Sunday for the movie industry's biggest night, with Iran hostage drama "Argo" and presidential drama "Lincoln" in a tight race for Best Picture.

With several contests too close to call, a slate of big box office hits to celebrate and an unpredictable first-time host in Seth MacFarlane, movie fans could be in for surprises when the curtain rises on the 85th annual Academy Awards.

Before the festivities begin, nominees including Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Sally Field, Jessica Chastain, British singer Adele and "Argo" producer George Clooney, along with performers Barbra Streisand and Jennifer Hudson will parade along the 500-ft long (152 meter) red carpet before dozens of photographers and camera crews.

MORE OSCARS: Red carpet pics | Live stream | Oscars trivia quiz

Inside Hollywood's Dolby Theatre, Academy Awards history could be re-written.

Daniel Day-Lewis as U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is considered an unstoppable force to become the first man to win three Best Actor Oscars.

Buzz is building over a possible late upset by France's Emmanuelle Riva, 86, in the Best Actress contest that would make the star of harrowing Austrian entry "Amour" the oldest person ever to win an acting Oscar.

"Lincoln" goes into Sunday's three-hour plus ceremony with a leading 12 nominations, including a directing nod for double Oscar winner Steven Spielberg.

But its front-runner Best Picture status has been dented by the six-week victory streak enjoyed at other Hollywood awards by Ben Affleck's "Argo."

"It's been an interesting year," said Matt Atchity, editor in chief of movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.

"I think 'Argo' probably has the best shot. It's certainly got the momentum. It has won so many top awards, and I think it's probably the movie to beat," Atchity told Reuters.

If "Argo" does prevail for the top prize, it will be the first movie to win Best Picture without its director even getting a nomination since "Driving Miss Daisy" in 1990.


Musical "Les Miserables," comedy "Silver Linings Playbook," shipwreck tale "Life of Pi," Osama bin laden thriller "Zero Dark Thirty," slavery Western "Django Unchained," indie film "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and "Amour" round out the contenders for the best film of 2012.

In other categories, only Anne Hathaway is considered a sure bet to take home a golden statuette after starving herself and chopping off her long brown locks for her supporting turn as tragic heroine Fantine in "Les Miserables."

Awards pundits says Spielberg could lose out in the director's race to Taiwan's Ang Lee for his technical and imaginative feat in filming fantastical adventure "Life of Pi" with a cast of exotic animals.

And the supporting actor Oscar could go to any of the five nominees - Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Alan Arkin ("Argo"), Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained"), Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") and Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master").

The Oscar winners are chosen in secret ballots by some 5,800 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and handed out before an audience of 3,300 guests and tens of millions more watching around the world on television.

After several years of nominating little-seen movies, this year's nine Best Picture contenders have pulled in more than $2 billion in tickets worldwide.

"We are so fortunate to inherit this great group of films that are also popular at the box office ... We just lucked out and had this fantastic year in film," Academy Awards telecast co-producer Neil Meron told Reuters.

Producers are promising a fast-paced show packed with music and big performances. But the man getting the early attention will be MacFarlane, the provocative comedian behind animated TV series "Family Guy" and an unknown quantity as Oscar host.

"We are not going to know what works until we put it out there and see what plays in front of an audience," co-producer Craig Zadan said.

"It's a live show and that is always unpredictable. Once the train has left the station, whatever happens, happens."

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Multi-car wreck injures spectators of NASCAR race

YouTube video posted by user tyler4dx that shows fans being injured by debris coming into the grandstand area at Daytona International Speedway.

DAYTONA BEACH – At least 15 people in the stands were reportedly injured at Daytona International Speedway when a multi-car accident sent wreckage into the safety fence in front of the grandstand Saturday afternoon.

The accident came on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300.

Initial reports say at least 15 fans were injured, including four who were strapped to backboards.

Volusia County emergency responders transported eight race fans, six of which were trauma level patients with serious injuries, said Volusia County government spokesman Dave Byron.

Six of those patients were sent to Halifax Health Medical Center, one was taken to Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach and one at Halifax Medical Center in Port Orange.

Florida Hospital spokeswoman Lindsay Rew confirmed they currently have one patient but are expecting four more.

Halifax Health Medical Center officials have not confirmed the number of patients at their facility but sources say there are about 10.

"The important thing is what's going on the front stretch right now," race winner Tony Stewart said."We've always known since racing was started this is a dangerous sport. But it's hard. We assume that risk. It's hard when the fans get caught up in it.

"As much as we want to celebrate right now, as much as this is a big deal to us, I'm more worried about the drivers and fans in the stands right now. I could see it all in the mirror and it didn't look good from where I was either."

As drivers jockeyed for position on the final lap, a number of cars made contact. Kyle Larson's' car was essentially sheared in half as cars spun out of control..

His engine ending up in front of fans along the front stretch after the car tore through the catch fence _ designed to protect fans in case of accidents. The debris splattered all over, going as far as to hit a spectator 45 rows up in the stands at Daytona International Speedway. Other car parts -- included a tire -- also flew into the stands.

"I know I took a couple of big hit there and saw my engine was gone," Larson said.

Although no driver was seriously hurt, NASCAR officials were still trying to assess if any fans had been seriously hurt.

"You've been able to see and explain," said Mike Helton, NASCAR President on the ESPN broadcast following the race. "There was some intrusion into the fence and there were plenty of emergency worker ready to go and jumped right into it quickly."

"They are moving folks into the care center and Halifax Medical Center."

Driver Michael Annett was transported to Halifax Medical Center after his car slammed into the SAFER barrier head on during an earlier incident during the race.

NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said the damage to the stands in time for the running of the 55th Daytona 500 Sunday afternoon.

Sentinel staff writer Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report. Read George Diaz's blog at or e-mail him at


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Jail officers ordered inmate beating, prosecutors say

Two Cook County Jail officers overseeing a high-security psychiatric ward ordered two inmates to beat up another inmate who had angered them, and then tried to cover it up by claiming the victim had attempted suicide, prosecutors said today in court.

“This is what happens to you (expletive) when you step out of line. You disrespect us, we disrespect you,” prosecutors said the women officers announced to the entire tier after the beating last February. 

Delphia Sawyer, 31, and Pamela Bruce, 30, both six-year veterans with the sheriff’s office, were charged with official misconduct, obstructing justice, perjury and mob action.

Judge Edward Harmening set bond at $50,000 each and ordered them to turn over any firearms and passports. The two were stripped of police powers by the sheriff’s department.

“They are supposed to maintain order in the jail in a professional and conscientious manner,” Assistant State’s Attorney Nicholas Trutenko said in court. “Instead, they used these two inmates (who administered the beating) in the same way you would a gun or a knife.”

On the night of Feb. 9, 2012, Sawyer and Bruce were monitoring the psychiatric tier in Division 10 – a maximum-security area of the jail – when some of the inmates tried to light a makeshift cigarette in an electrical outlet, sparking a small fire and cutting power to part of the tier, Trutenko said.

The officers believed an 18-year-old inmate was partly responsible and confronted him in the shower. Both sides cursed at one another, the prosecutor said. As they led him to his cell,  the exchange grew more heated, he said.

“The officers told him that he would see who the (expletive) was,” Trutenko said.

Sawyer and Bruce then summoned “two of the larger inmates from the tier and instructed them to go in to his cell and beat him,” the prosecutor said.

Sawyer and Bruce unlocked the victim’s cell and stood watch while the two inmates beat the victim in the face, head and body for nearly five minutes, the charges alleged. At one point the officers warned the inmates to administer only “body shots” so the damage to his face would be less visible, Trutenko said.

The officers then joined in the beating, striking the victim with their radios and kicking him in the side, according to the prosecutor.

Sawyer and Bruce told their supervisor that the inmate’s injuries were self-inflicted and that they had seen the victim “attempting suicide in the shower by banging his head against the wall,” according to the charges.

The sheriff’s Office of Professional Review began an inquiry into the incident almost immediately and turned the case over to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office last year.

Bruce and Sawyer later signed false statements and lied repeatedly to a grand jury investigating the beating, Trutenko said.

Trutenko showed the judge a large color photo taken the day after the beating that showed the victim with two black eyes and severe swelling to his face. The victim still has hearing problems in one ear but did not suffer any other permanent physical injuries, the prosecutor said.
Bruce, of Chicago, and Sawyer, of Justice, both are married mothers of two and have no previous criminal records or disciplinary history with the sheriff’s department, according to their attorneys.

Peter Hickey, who represented Sawyer at the bond hearing, noted she was in charge of a very volatile tier of “psychiatrically disturbed patients.”

“These aren’t choir boys from St. Patrick’s parish,” Hickey told the judge.

Court records show the victim, Kyle Pillischafske of Mount Prospect, was in jail on an aggravated battery charge at the time of the beating. He later pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 2 years of probation and released from custody.

He filed a federal civil suit against the officers, the county and Sheriff Tom Dart still pending in federal court, records show.

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Mom, daughter stabbed to death on South Side

Brittany Pullum describes the scene at a fire in the East Chatham neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon. (Posted on: Feb. 21, 2013)

Curtria Duncan had gone back to school to become a medical technician. Her mother Cherie Adams doted on her grandchildren.

Wednesday afternoon, the two were found stabbed in the bathroom of their apartment in the East Chatham neighborhood as firefighters put out a suspicious blaze.

Duncan, 24, was lying inside a bathtub and Adams, 43, was lying on the floor nearby in their apartment in the 8100 block of South Maryland Avenue, officials said.

Duncan died from "homicidal asphyxia," with multiple sharp force injuries a contributing factor in her death and Adams died from multiple sharp force and blunt force injuries, the Cook County medical examiner's office determined following autopsies. Both deaths were ruled homicides.

The apartment may have been set on fire to conceal the homicides, sources said. A large kitchen knife was found in the bathroom. No arrests have been reported.

"It hurts so bad," said Duncan’s sister Rochelle Pinex, 28, of Harvey. "Who could have done this and what for?"

Duncan had a 3-year-old son, Michael, but the boy was not home because he was visiting his father, Pinex said.

She said Duncan was studying to become a medical technician at Kennedy-King College, where she’d met a man who works at the school.

Pinex said Adams was her stepmother who had eight grandchildren who called her “Nana.’’

"She was changing her life around," Pinex said of Adams. "She was going to church three times a week and trying to spend more time with her grandchildren."

She described her sister and stepmother as people who “stayed to themselves’’ mostly.  “They don’t bother anybody,'' she said, sobbing.

Pinex said the women lived at the Maryland address for just under a year and rarely socialized, except for going to church and classes. “She’s a quiet girl,’’Pinex said of her sister.

Pinex, who has three children, said her 8-year-old daughter was looking forward to seeing Adams. “My kids, they loved their Nana to death,’’ she said. Her daughter was “begging” to go there for a weekend visit.

“She tugs at her (Adams’) heart and made her feel good,’’ Pinex said. “My daughter was her heart.’

“I’m trying to be strong,’’ Pinex said. “I can’t believe this tragedy.’’

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Drew Peterson: Ex-attorney Brodsky meets with Stacy's sister

During a courtroom break this afternoon, Drew Peterson’s former lead attorney Joel Brodsky chatted in the hallway with the sister of Peterson’s missing fourth wife, Stacy.

Stacy’s sister Cassandra Cales wouldn’t discuss the content of the roughly five-minute conversation, but Brodsky said, "We were just discussing how to make sure that her sister Stacy isn't forgotten after Drew goes away."

Peterson is the sole suspect in Stacy’s 2007 disappearance, but he has not been charged. Prosecutors have said they believe Peterson killed Stacy and plan to review the case and whether to bring charges.

Attorneys this afternoon argued about whether Peterson should get a new trial after his murder conviction last fall in the drowning of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Judge Edward Burmila said he would deliver his ruling when court resumes at 1 p.m. Thursday.

If the judge does not grant a new trial, sentencing would come next for Peterson. Attorneys indicated that the sentencing hearing, if it happens, likely would be Thursday. Peterson, 59, faces 20-60 years in prison.
In arguing for a new trial, the defense said hearsay evidence and certain witnesses should never have been allowed at trial. Attorneys then turned to their argument that Brodsky's decision to call divorce attorney Harry Smith to testify scuttled Peterson's chance at a fair trial.
Smith testified at the murder trial last year that he had a phone conversation with  Stacy about whether she could use knowledge about Savio’s death in a potential divorce proceeding against Peterson. Some jurors have said Smith’s testimony convinced them Peterson was guilty.

"It was an awful decision,” defense attorney Steve Greenberg said in court. “It ruined the case -- we brought out the worst possible evidence, and the best evidence for the state."

Greenberg said Judge Edward Burmila has the opportunity to undo the problems caused by Brodsky's insistence on calling Smith to the stand.

“We have to give the courts a chance to correct errors that were made during a trial, and that’s what we’re doing here today," Greenberg told Burmila. "Ultimately, if you boil it down, Harry Smith's testimony was probably the most incriminating piece of evidence against Mr. Peterson, and it was brought out by the defense. There could be no reasonable trial strategy."

"Whatever kernel of impeachment Mr. Brodsky thought he was going to get out of it paled in comparison to the mountain of damage that it brought out," Greenberg said. "It was awful strategy,  and that strategy alone means Mr. Peterson should get a new trial from this court.”

Burmila asked if Peterson didn't bear some responsibility for listening to Brodsky over the objections of his other attorneys.

But Greenberg said a client doesn't get a say in trial strategy, and said that while Brodsky was wise to bring in experienced criminal attorneys, he never listened to them.

“It was a dictatorship," Greenberg said.

In the overflow room across the hall where media members and other court observers were listening to the proceedings in the courtroom, Brodsky groaned at every accusation.

"I'm a dictator," he said, shaking his head. "Unbelievable."

Earlier this afternoon, Peterson’s attorneys asked Burmila to throw out the jury’s guilty verdict and acquit their client of murder.

"Nothing the state has done, ignoring all the other glaring privilege issues, the record as a whole does nothing more than raise suspicion about what happened in the [Kathleen] Savio home,”  Peterson attorney John Heiderscheidt said in court. “My heart breaks for the Savio family and the [Stacy] Cales family. I don't know what it's like to lose a loved one and I hope I never have to. But the courts don't exist to mend broken hearts alone."

“There will come a time when we all turn to ashes and dust, and all that will be left here is the court record," Heiderscheidt said. "And I'm certain that when we remove ourselves from the passions and prejudices aroused by various people throughout this trial, we will see that this verdict is unsupported by the facts. No rational trier of the facts could believe it."

"So you're asking me to enter a judgment of acquittal, not withstanding the jury verdict?" Burmila asked.

Heiderscheidt said yes, and said that the court has the authority to overrule a verdict that is so unsupported by the evidence.

Assistant State's Attorney Marie Czech argued that the evidence clearly showed Peterson murdered his third wife, something he had threatened to do on multiple occasions.

"He told Kathy Savio, 'I'm going to kill you and make it look like an accident,'” Czech said. "He said this with a knife to her throat."

The threats, the multiple injuries on her body that could not have been the result of a fall, all point to the fact that the jury's verdict was correct, she said.

Peterson’s attorneys have tried to show that ethical lapses and trial errors by former lead defense attorney Joel Brodsky are reason to give Peterson a new murder trial.

In a final twist to their unorthodox legal strategy, the defense attempted this afternoon to call Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow to the witness stand.

They wanted to ask about a comment made by Glasgow outside court during Peterson’s murder trial where Glasgow said the defense team’s decision to call Smith to the testify was a “gift from God.”

Defense attorneys said Glasgow’s comment shows that he understood that Brodsky's decision to call Smith was terrible.

But Burmila barred the defense from asking about that statement, and he said that if that's all the defense wanted to ask him about, he would not make Glasgow testify after all.

The hearing on a new trial began Tuesday and resumed this morning with retired Cook County Judge Daniel Locallo taking the witness stand.

Locallo was critical of media licensing contracts made by Brodsky and also of Brodsky’s strategy at Peterson’s murder trial last year.

Locallo testified that he believes Brodsky's contracts with media – which included a book and movie deal -- were in violation of rules of attorney conduct in Illinois because they could create a conflict of interest at the expense of his client.

"The conflict that is raised is who does Mr. Brodsky owe his loyalty to -- his pocket book or Mr. Peterson?,” Locallo said. “Because when that individual is represented by an attorney, you want that attorney to be focused to representing their client to the full extent. You do not want to have a situation where his attention may be diverted and he makes decisions more in line with the contract than in line with the best interests of Mr. Peterson.”

Locallo said that there was the possibility that Brodsky could make more money if the case dragged on through appeal, and he might not be motivated to aggressively fight the charges prior to and during the trial.

“There might be more interest in the case if there are subsequent proceedings," Locallo said. "If he’s successful on Mr. Peterson's behalf, the spigot might be turned off. Media interest would wane, and therefore his ability to receive compensation would end.”

Locallo also blasted Brodsky for calling Smith to testify.

“Up to that point there had not been any direct evidence about Mr. Peterson causing the demise of Ms. Savio. Brodsky puts on Mr. Smith, and now the jury is able to hear evidence about Stacy Peterson having a conversation with Mr. Smith about how it might be used (as) leverage against Mr. Peterson, the fact that he may have killed Kathleen Savio, how she was killed, how it might be used,” Locallo testified.

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Chicago Marathon registration suspended after web woes

Bank of America Chicago Marathon officials suspended online registration for the Oct. 13 race after four hours of problems Tuesday.

Registration began at noon.  For the next 90 minutes, however, almost everyone trying to register was greeted with this:

"This site is currently unavailable.

"Please check back later. 

"We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you."

Continuing problems forced suspension of registration about 4 p.m.  Many people who got several steps into the process were not certain the registration had gone through.

Via Twitter (@chimarathon), marathon officials said people who were inadvertently charged twice will get a refund.  They should email

"Our registration provider is still working to resolve the technical issues that have caused the temporary suspension of registration," race spokesperson Lauren Fimbres Wood said in an email. "We will provide another registration update at 6 p.m.

"Please note that the 2013 Chicago Marathon has not yet sold out. ... Additional updates for participants will continue to be posted to our Facebook page."

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Father recalls poignant final moment with slain daughter

The father of a Roberto Clemente Community Academy High School student killed Friday spent Monday morning putting up a memorial to his daughter at the North Side school. Later that morning, he remembered one of the last things he did with his daughter.

It was Friday afternoon, Jose Colon Jr. recalled, and he and his daughter Frances were watching President Barack Obama speak at Hyde Park Academy on the city's South Side. The topic of that speech: The same kind of gun violence that would end his daughter's life later that night.

"She said, 'About time they do something with the gun thing,' " he said, adding that Obama and other elected officials need to "make these people more afraid" to shoot each other by making tougher penalties.

The 46-year-old man wasn't optimistic the president's proposals would come to fruition soon enough.

"It's not over," he said. "This is just the beginning. Wait until summer comes along."

Frances Colon, of the 2900 block of West Armitage Avenue, was shot about 7:05 p.m. Friday in the 1100 block of North Pulaski Road, according to police. She was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 8:16 p.m.

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

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

"I'm sick of it," said Sorensen. "How many more kids have to die before we do something?"

The school has mobilized a crisis team to support students and staff. Despite the deaths, Sorensen said the students have been coping well.

"Our kids live in fear and because of that, they are incredibly resilient," she said.

Colon was a senior who was preparing to attend college, said Sorensen. She was previously selected as the student of the month, a recognition for students who display good behavior, Sorensen said.

Clemente sophomore Noel Roman said this morning he's not surprised his high school has had to deal with the recent string of fatal shootings.

"Considering the neighborhood, no," he said. "It's barely getting better."

Roman said he didn't know Colon personally, but they shared some friends.

"It's like, 'I was walking with her one day and now she's gone,' " he recalled one of his buddies telling him.

Colon, who refers to the president by his first name, repeated that he doesn't want Obama to forget about the victims of gun violence like his daughter who don't always grab national headlines.

On Monday afternoon, from the porch of his Humboldt Park residence, he pulled out a holiday card from the Obama campaign.

"I want you to let them know," he told this reporter, pointing to the first lady's signature. "She knows me."
Twitter: @Patrick Svitek
Twitter: @nsnix87

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Blackhawks keep rolling with 3-2 win over Kings

The Chicago Blackhawks keep streaking.

With their 3-2 victory over the Kings on Sunday at the United Center, the Hawks extended their points streak to start the season to 15 games.

Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews each had a goal and an assist and Patrick Sharp also scored for the Hawks as they improved to 12-0-3 on the season and moved to within one of the NHL record of 16 consecutive contests to start a season without a regulation loss set by the Ducks in 2006. Duncan Keith added two assists for the Hawks.

Ray Emery earned the victory in goal for the Hawks while Jonathan Quick was the loser for the Kings. Mike Richards had two power-play scores for Los Angeles.

Healthy scratches for the Hawks were Michal Rozsival and Jamal Mayers. Sitting for the Kings were Brad Richardson, Colin Fraser and Andrew Campbell.

One-timer: Quenneville said starting goalie Corey Crawford is "progressing" from his upper-body injury and is still day-to-day.

Twitter @ChrisKuc

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Bob Brenly: 'It was unbelievably tough to leave'

Former Chicago Cubs TV analyst Bob Brenly talks about how he was set to return to the Cubs until a last-minute snag in negotiations.

MESA, Ariz. – Former Chicago Cubs TV analyst Bob Brenly said he was planning to return to the team’s broadcast booth last year until a snag in negotiations led to his new job with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The D’backs quickly signed Brenly to a five-year deal after the Cubs’ deal fell through.  

“It was unbelievably tough to leave,” Brenly said Saturday during a visit to Cubs camp, where his son, Michael is a non-roster invitee. “Long story short, we thought we had a deal done, and actually went out and celebrated with my family and ran up a pretty good tab at Joe’s (Stone Crabs).

“Woke up the next morning and there were some issues with the contract. One thing led to another and that kind of opened up negotiations with the Diamondbacks and it rolled downhill quickly. The Diamondbacks were willing to give me the years and the money that WGN and Comcast (Sports Net) could just not guarantee. Not a bad Plan B.”

The Cubs could not guarantee Brenly more than two years because they plan to open up bidding rights to games next year. The contract with their longtime home, WGN-TV expires after 2014, and the Cubs figure to cash in after the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly reached an agreement with Time Warner Cable on a deal expected to be worth $7 billion to $8 billion over 25 years.

“There were some last-minute technical issues, a lot of financial maneuvering going on with the Tribune Co. and WGN," he said. “And their contract expires after next season with the Cubs. And with the money that’s there for the TV rights now, there was no guarantee who was going to get the contract.

“I certainly understand their position. They certainly did not want to guarantee me a contract when they might not even be carrying the games. It was just one of those things that happen in the game of baseball. It happens in broadcasting. It happens in just about every livelihood. But, like I said, a real good plan B.”

Brenly, who managed the D’backs to then 2001 championship, said he’s no longer thinking about the possibility of getting back in the manager’s seat down the road. He took himself out of consideration for the job that eventually went to Mike Quade in 2011.  

“I think that boat has sailed,” Brenly said. “There’s always a chance that some of the older people in the game may recall what we did back here in ’01 in Arizona, but I’m content. I like my job. Working with Len (Kasper) for eight years was as good as it gets. Going to Wrigley and traveling with the club… I’m breaking in a new partner this year in Steve Berthiaume, who just has a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm for the game.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to get back in the booth. I think the Diamondbacks are going to have a really good team this year, so I’m looking forward to it.”

The Cubs later signed Astros analyst Jim Deshaies to a four-year deal to replace Brenly in the booth.

Twitter @PWSullivan

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Lawyers: Jackson Jr., wife intend to plead guilty to charges

Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi intend to plead guilty to federal charges alleging the former congressman misused $750,000 in campaign funds while she understated their income on  tax returns for six years, their lawyers say.

Jackson Jr., 47, a Democrat from Chicago, was charged in a criminal information today with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements. He faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties.

Sandi Jackson was charged with one count of filing false tax returns. She faces up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties.

Jackson Jr. is accused of diverting $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use.

Federal authorities allege that Jackson Jr. used campaign funds to purchase a $43,350 men’s gold-plated Rolex watch, $5,150 worth of fur capes and parkas, and $9,588 in children’s furniture. The purchases were made between 2007 and 2009, according to the criminal information, which authorities noted is not evidence of guilt.

Other expenditures listed by prosecutors include $10,105 on Bruce Lee memorabilia, $11,130 on Martin Luther King memorabilia and $22,700 on Michael Jackson items, including $4,600 for a "Michael Jackson fedora."

The government also alleged that Jackson Jr. made false statements to the House of Representatives because he did not report approximately $28,500 in loans and gifts he received.

"He has accepted responsibility for his actions and I can confirm that he intends to plead guilty to the charge in the information," Jackson Jr.'s attorney Brian Heberlig said.

Sandi Jackson is accused of filing incorrect joint tax returns with her husband for calendar years 2006 through 2011, reporting income “substantially less than the amount of income she and her husband received in each of the calendar years,” with a substantial additional tax due.

Her attorneys released a statement saying she has "reached an agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office to plead guilty to one count of tax fraud."

Jackson Jr. stepped down from the House of Representatives on Nov. 21, citing both his poor health and an ongoing federal probe of his activities. In a statement then, he said he was doing his best to cooperate with federal investigators and to accept responsibility for his “mistakes.”

In a statement today, Jackson Jr. said:

“Over the course of my life I have come to realize that none of us are immune from our share of shortcomings and human frailties. Still I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made. To that end I want to offer my sincerest apologies to my family, my friends and all of my supporters for my errors in judgment and while my journey is not yet complete, it is my hope that I am remembered for the things that I did right.”

Sandi Jackson's attorneys released a statement saying she "has accepted responsibility for her conduct, is deeply sorry for her actions, and looks forward to putting this matter behind her and her family. She is thankful for the support of her family and friends during this very difficult time."

Jackson's father, the Rev.  Jesse Jackson Sr., said he wanted to attend President Barack Obama's speech Friday at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago but traveled to Washington, D.C., instead, to be with family members while they waited for the federal charges to come down.
"This has been a difficult and painful ordeal for our family," the civil rights leader said.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he would "leave it up to the courts system" to determine his son's fate.

"We express our love for him as a family," he said.

Jackson Jr.’s political fortunes sank beginning late in 2008, when he sought unsuccessfully to have Gov. Rod Blagojevich appoint him to the Senate seat that came open with the election of then-Sen. Barack Obama to the White House.

Jackson Jr. or an emissary reportedly offered to raise up to $6 million in campaign cash for Blagojevich, who now is in federal prison for crimes including trying to sell the Senate seat. Jackson Jr. was never charged in the case, which became the subject of an ethics probe in the House.

Last June, Jackson Jr. began a mysterious leave of absence for what originally was called “exhaustion” but later emerged as bipolar disorder. He spent months in treatment and won re-election Nov. 6 despite never returning to service in the House or staging a single campaign appearance.

A campaign to replace him is being conducted now in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of the South Side and south suburbs.

Jackson Jr. was first elected to Congress in 1995. Sandi Jackson was a Chicago alderman until she resigned her post last month. They have two children.

Sandi Jackson’s firm, J. Donatella & Associates, has been paid at least $452,500 from her husband’s campaign committee since 2002, Federal Election Commission reports show.

The former congressman’s campaign committee reported $105,703 in cash on hand on last Nov. 26, FEC reports show. Leading up to the last election, it reported $1 million in contributions and $1.06 million in operating expenditures, reports show.

Once considered a potential candidate for mayor of Chicago, Jesse Jackson Jr.’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years because of the Blagojevich scandal and also because of news reports in 2010 that a suburban Chicago businessman told federal investigators he twice paid to fly a woman — a hostess from a Washington, D.C. bar — to Chicago at Jackson’s request.

In the wake of the reports, Jackson Jr. issued a statement calling the woman a “social acquaintance” and describing the matter as a  “private and personal matter between me and my wife that was handled some time ago.”

Jackson Jr. subsequently told the Tribune editorial board he had apologized to "my absolute best friend, my wife."

Still, he also acknowledged he asked longtime supporter Raghuveer Nayak to pay to fly the woman from Washington to Chicago. House ethics rules prohibit members from soliciting gifts of personal benefit. Jackson said Nayak’s purchase was "a friendly gesture" by "a close and dear friend of mine, one who knows members of my family, has worked with members of my family, has been a friend of our family's for a number of years."

The woman's travel was "not a personal benefit to me, I don’t believe, under the House rules. A benefit to the person for whom he bought the ticket. He didn't buy tickets for me. Did I direct him? I did."

Tribune reporters Kim Geiger, Rick Pearson and Patrick Svitek contributed.

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Stricken cruise ship reported awash in raw sewage nears port

MOBILE, Alabama—

Reeking of rotting food and sewage from overflowing toilets, a crippled cruise ship carrying more than 4,200 people was limping into Mobile, Alabama, on Thursday as passengers awaited the end of a vacation voyage some described as hellish.

The Carnival Triumph was being towed into port by tugboats as the drama played out live on U.S. cable news stations, creating another public relations nightmare for cruise giant Carnival Corp. Last year, its Costa Concordia luxury ship grounded off the coast of Italy, with 32 people killed.

Passengers described an overpowering stench on board the ship four days after an engine room fire knocked out power and plumbing across most of the 893-foot vessel and left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.

After the mishap, toilets overflowed, soaking many cabins and interior passages in raw sewage.

"Let's just say that I had a pair of shoes that I will not be bringing home with me," Julie Morgan told CNN.

"It is revolting," Morgan added, referring to the smell aboard the ship. "It's a mixture of sewage and rotting food."

But Terry Thornton, a senior Carnival Cruise Lines vice president, told reporters in Mobile that additional provisions were laid in on Wednesday and the ship was now "in excellent shape."

Passenger Donna Gutzman said those aboard the ship were treated to steak and lobster for lunch on Thursday afternoon.

"Our basic needs are being met. For the most part, they are making us happy," Gutzman told CNN.

The ship was expected to arrive in port around midnight CST (1.00 a.m. ET on Friday), Carnival said. A senior Carnival official said it could take up to five hours to remove all the passengers from the ship, which has only one functioning elevator.

Carnival Corp spokesman Vance Gulliksen said a tow line on one of four tugboats helping the Triumph get into port snapped on Thursday. But the tug was later reattached to the vessel.

Operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, the flagship brand of Carnival Corp, the ship left Galveston, Texas, a week ago carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew. It was supposed to return there on Monday.

A Coast Guard cutter has been escorting the Triumph on its long voyage into port since Monday, and a Coast Guard helicopter ferried about 3,000 pounds of equipment including a generator to the stricken ship late on Wednesday.

Earlier in the week, some passengers reported on the poor conditions on the Triumph when they contacted relatives and media before their cell phone batteries died. They said people were getting sick and passengers had been told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.


Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill said in a statement late on Wednesday that the company had decided to add further payment of $500 a person to help compensate passengers for "very challenging circumstances" aboard the ship.

"We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure," Cahill said.

Mary Poret, who spoke to her 12-year-old daughter aboard the Triumph on Monday, rejected Cahill's apology in comments to CNN on Thursday, as she waited anxiously in Mobile with a friend for the Triumph's arrival.

"Seeing urine and feces sloshing in the halls, sleeping on the floor, nothing to eat, people fighting over food, $500? What's the emotional cost? You can't put money on that," Poret said.

Carnival Corp Chairman and CEO Micky Arison faced criticism in January 2012 for failing to travel to Italy and take personal charge of the Costa Concordia crisis after the luxury cruise shop operated by Carnival's Costa Cruises brand grounded on rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio. The tragedy unleashed numerous lawsuits against his company.

The cruise ship mogul has taken a low-key approach to the Triumph situation as well, even as it grabbed a growing share of the U.S. media spotlight. His only known public appearance since Sunday was courtside on Tuesday at a game played by his Miami Heat championship professional basketball team.

"I think they really are trying to do the right thing, but I don't think they have been able to communicate it effectively," said Marcia Horowitz, an executive who handles crisis management at Rubenstein Associates, a New York-based public relations firm.

"Most of all, you really need a face for Carnival," she added. "You can do all the right things. But unless you communicate it effectively, it will not see the light of day."

Carnival Corp shares closed down $0.11 at $37.35 in trading on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares closed down 4 percent at $37.46 on Wednesday after the company said voyage disruptions and repair costs related to Carnival Triumph could shave up to 10 cents a share off its second-half earnings.

The Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel and the Bahamas Maritime Authority will be the primary agency investigating the cause of its engine room fire.

For all the passengers' grievances, they will likely find it difficult to sue the cruise operator for any damages, legal sources said. Over the years, the cruise industry has put in place a legal structure that ring-fences operators from big-money lawsuits.

Rules for seeking redress are spelled out in complex, multi-page ticket contracts that have been the subject of decades of court battles. Victims are often required to proceed with any litigation in remote jurisdictions.

(Writing and additional reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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129 on new Chicago schools closing list

Chicago Public Schools has narrowed the number of schools it will consider for closing to 129.

The preliminary list will be culled further before a final list is released by March 31.

Schools will be removed from the list as the district continues to gather information from parents, teachers and community groups during a new round of hearings that begin Wednesday night.

The district in December said 330 schools are underutilized, the chief consideration for closing, so the list released Wednesday offers a far better picture of what schools are still on the block.

Most of the targeted schools are on the South, West and Southwest Sides, many in impoverished neighborhoods that saw significant population loss over the last decade.

CPS last month removed high schools and high performing schools from consideratio. On Wednesday, the district told schools with student populations over 600 or utilization rates of at least 70 percent that they also were safe.

“We are going to take these 129 and continue to sift through these schools,” said CPS schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Over the next month, CPS will look at schools on the preliminary list in an effort to determine what led to the declines in enrollment, and whether the schools have academic plans in place to drive improvement.

Safety issues connected with moving students to different neighborhoods will also be considered. CPS is working with the Chicago Police Department and using its own data to determine if closing specific schools could jeopardize the safety of students.

CPS says it needs to close a significant number of under-utilized schools to “right-size” the district and address a $1 billion deficit expected next year.

District officials say closings this year will be based primarily on under-enrollment but have begun looking at academic performance as they whittle down their list.

The district has been holding school closing meetings across the city since December. The initial round of meetings were overseen by the Commission on School Utilization, whose recommendations included removing high schools and the best performing schools.

Most of the additional criteria announced Wednesday came out of suggestions made by the commission and gathered during community meetings the district began holding in late January. Byrd-Bennett had asked for more time to study the commission’s recommendations and define parameters like which improving schools should be taken off the list.

Schools in the middle tier of performance, or Level 2, that have seen increased enrollment over the last three years will be removed from consideration. There are 33 Level 2 schools still on the preliminary list.

District officials have also decided to no longer target Level 3 or the worst-performing schools that have shown gains on state assessment tests while serving 300 or more students. Schools that were designated by CPS to take in students from school closings over the past three years or were forced to share their building with another school this year have also been taken off the chopping block.
In addition, CPS added a few parameters: Schools separated from another neighborhood school by more than a mile, and schools that are surrounded by neighborhood schools that are at capacity or overcrowded, are no longer targeted for a shut down.

Tribune reporter John Chase contributed to this story.

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Ex-cop shootout: 'Hundreds of rounds' fired in gun battle

Christopher Dorner was engaged in a shootout with federal authorities in the Big Bear area Tuesday, a law enforcement source told The Times.

One of the deputies involved in a gun battle Tuesday afternoon with fugitive former police officer Christopher Dorner has died of his wounds, law enforcement sources told The Times.

The San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy was airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, according to the sources. 

Another deputy was also wounded in the shootout near a cabin where Dorner was believed to be holed up in the snow-covered mountains near Big Bear. His condition was not immediately known.

The afternoon gun battle in which hundreds of rounds were exchanged was part of a quickly changing situation that began after Dorner allegedly broke into a home, tied up a couple and held them hostage before fleeing with their white pickup truck, authorities said. 

Then Dorner was allegedly spotted by state Fish and Wildlife officers in the pickup truck, sources said. A vehicle-to-vehicle shootout ensued. The officer's vehicle was peppered with multiple rounds, according to authorities.

Dorner crashed his vehicle and took refuge in a nearby cabin, sources said. One deputy was hit as Dorner fired out of the cabin and a second deputy was injured when Dorner exited the back of the cabin, deployed a smoke bomb and opened fire again in an apparent attempt to flee. Dorner was driven back inside the cabin, the source said.

He remained inside the cabin Tuesday afternoon as officers swarmed the site.

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Cardinal George praises pope's 'courage' in resigning

Cardinal Francis George said he was as surprised as everyone else when Pope Benedict XVI announced he was stepping down, saying he saw the pontiff briefly last week in Rome and “there was not the slightest indication in my mind.”

But George added during a news conference that Benedict "looks like a man who’s feeling the weight of his years.”

The cardinal, who will return to Rome to elect a new pope, said Benedict's public role was a particular burden.

"It the public role that the most effort for him and takes the most energy from him," George said, calling Benedict an introvert. "He gets tired in big crowds. . .The teaching, the decision-making [is] relatively easy in comparison to the public role."

Earlier, in a statement, George said Benedict "placed the will of God for the good of the church before every other consideration" when he decided to resign.

"He has taught with clarity and charity what God has revealed to the world in Christ, he has handed on the apostolic faith, he has loved all of God’s people with all his heart," George said in a statement. "He has now shown great courage in deciding, after prayer and soul-searching, to resign his office at the end of this month.
"With the gratitude of sons and daughters in our hearts, we ask the Lord to bless him and give him strength, as we begin to pray now for the one who will succeed him as Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ."

Joliet Bishop Daniel Conlon said the pope's decision "is consistent with the humble disposition that I have come to recognize in him, both in my brief personal encounters with him and in his deportment generally as earthly shepherd of the church.

"He recognized that he no longer had the physical gifts necessary to carry out an office that becomes increasingly demanding," Conlon said. "He has been a steady and calm presence in the face of tumult in the world.  He has persevered in Blessed John Paul II’s determination to confront the scandal of child abuse in the church."

Benedict shocked the world 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.

A priest at St. Peter's Church in the Loop said the news is "surprising but not terrifying," saying it will allow the church to continue to renew itself.

“It’s a new beginning and a chance for new energy in the church,” said the Rev. Ed Shea. "This is good news.”

The selection of a new pope will offer the church the chance to continue its emergence into the “the modern light, the modern world,” Shea said. 

It will also provide a chance to choose a pope from Africa or South America, he said, to reflect the growth of the church on those continents.

“I was shocked, like everybody else,” Father Ed Shea said.  “It kind of surprised me that we didn’t know about it ahead of time.”

As worshipers left a morning mass at St. Peter’s this morning, several said the pope’s announcement had caught them completely by surprise.

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