Showing posts with label Lifestyle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lifestyle. Show all posts

Redflex execs out as scandal grows in red light camera firm









The president, chief financial officer and top lawyer for Chicago's red light camera company resigned this week amid an escalating corruption scandal that has cost Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. its lucrative, decadelong relationship with the city.


The resignations came as Redflex said it was winding down a company-funded probe into allegations of an improper relationship between the company and the former city transportation manager who oversaw its contract until 2011, a relationship first disclosed by the Tribune in October. A longtime friend of that city manager was hired by Redflex for a high-paid consulting deal.


The company recently acknowledged it improperly paid for thousands of dollars in trips for the former city official, the latest in a series of controversial revelations that have shaken Redflex from its Phoenix headquarters to Australia, the home of parent company Redflex Holdings Ltd.








Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration banned the company from competing for the upcoming speed camera contract and went further last month by announcing that Redflex would lose its red light contract when it expires in June. The Chicago program, with more than 380 cameras, has been the company's largest in North America and is worth about 13 percent of worldwide revenue for Redflex Holdings. Since 2003 it has generated about $100 million for Redflex and more than $300 million in ticket revenue for the city.


In an email addressed to all company employees, Redflex Holdings CEO and President Robert T. DeVincenzi announced the resignations of three top executives in Phoenix: Karen Finley, the company's longtime president and chief executive officer; Andrejs Bunkse, the general counsel; and Sean Nolen, the chief financial officer. Their exits follow those of the chairman of the board of Redflex Holdings, another Australian board member and the company's top sales executive who Redflex has blamed for much of its Chicago problems.


"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," said DeVincenzi, who took over as CEO of the Phoenix company. "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 also held town hall meetings in Arizona to unveil reforms, including new requirements to put all company employees through anti-bribery and anti-corruption training, hiring a new director of compliance to ensure that employees adhere to company policies and establishing a 24-hour whistle-blower hotline.


The resignations and a second consecutive halt to public trading of the company's stock are the latest in a string of events that followed Tribune reports last year regarding 2-year-old internal allegations of corruption in the Chicago contract that the company previously said were investigated and discounted.


The scandal now enveloping the company centers on its relationship to former Chicago transportation official John Bills, who retired in 2011 after overseeing the company's contract since it began in 2003.


A whistle-blower letter obtained by the Tribune said Bills received lavish vacations directly on the expense report of a company executive and raised questions about improper ties between Bills and a Redflex consultant who received more than $570,000 in company commissions.


Bills and the consultant, a longtime friend, have denied wrongdoing.


The company told the Tribune in October that its investigation into the 2010 letter found only one instance of an inadvertent expenditure for Bills, a two-day hotel stay at the Arizona Biltmore expensed by the executive. Redflex lawyer Bunkse told the newspaper that the company responded by sending the executive to "anti-bribery" training and overhauling company expense procedures.


But after additional Tribune reports, the company hired a former Chicago inspector general, David Hoffman, to conduct another investigation. Hoffman made an interim report of his findings to company board members this month. That report prompted the company officials to acknowledge a much deeper involvement with Bills, including thousands of dollars for trips to the Super Bowl and White Sox spring training over many years.


The chairman of the company's Australian board of directors resigned, trading on company stock was temporarily suspended and the company acknowledged that it is sharing information with law enforcement.


Trading was halted again this week pending more details about the company's latest actions.


dkidwell@tribune.com





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Washington stares down start of sequester cuts









NEW YORK, March 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. government hurtled today toward making deep spending cuts that threaten to hinder the nation's economic recovery, after Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on an alternative deficit-reduction plan.


The $85 billion in across-the-board “sequestration” cuts were expected to cause airport delays, disrupt public services and result in lower pay or layoffs for millions of government workers.


Locked in during a bout of deficit-reduction fever in 2011, the time-released cuts can only be halted by agreement between Republican lawmakers and the White House.

That has proved elusive so far.

Both sides still hope the other will either be blamed by voters for the cuts or cave in before the worst effects - like air traffic chaos or furloughs for tens of thousands of federal employees - start to bite in the coming weeks.

Barring any breakthroughs in the next few hours, the cuts will begin to come into force at some time before midnight on Friday night. The full brunt of the belt tightening, known in Washington as “sequestration,” will take effect over seven months so it is not clear if there will be an immediate disruption to public services.

President Barack Obama meets top leaders of Congress at the White House at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) to explore ways to avoid the unprecedented, across-the-board cuts totaling $85 billion.

But expectations were low for a deal when the Democratic president huddles with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats insist tax increases be part of a solution to ending the automatic cuts, an idea Republicans reject.

“We should work together to reduce our deficit in a balanced way - by making smart spending cuts and closing special interest tax loopholes,” Obama said on Thursday.

Congress can stop the cuts at any time after they start on Friday if the parties agree to that. In the absence of any deal at all, the Pentagon will be forced to slice 13 percent of its budget between now and Sept. 30. Most non-defense programs, from NASA space exploration to federally backed education and law enforcement, face a 9 percent reduction.

The International Monetary Fund warns that the cutbacks could knock at least 0.5 percentage point off U.S. economic growth this year and slow the global economy.

The prospect of weaker growth and a jump in unemployment caused by the cuts was being seen by some in the markets as making it more likely the U.S. Federal Reserve will need to maintain its ultra lose monetary policy for longer.

“The market is of the view that if there's a fiscal tightening which causes a significant negative impact on economic prospects and the labor market, then the Fed will have to respond,” said Ian Stannard, head of European FX strategy at Morgan Stanley.

Financial markets have also had a long time to assess the potential impact of the cuts on growth and believe it is not tantamount to a recession trigger.

“There is no immediate and visible impact to the economy so markets are not seeing it as a tail risk,” said Ayako Sera, a market economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank in Tokyo.








DISEASE RESEARCH, WEAPONS HIT


If the cuts were to stay in place through September, the administration predicts significant air travel delays due to layoffs of airport security workers and air traffic controllers.


Some Pentagon weapons production could grind to a halt and the budget cuts would ripple through the sprawling defense contracting industry.


Meat inspections could get hung up, medical research projects on cancer and Alzheimer's disease canceled or curtailed and thousands of teachers laid off.


Instead of these indiscriminate cuts, Obama and Democrats in Congress urge a mix of targeted spending cuts and tax increases on the rich to help tame the growth of a $16.6 trillion national debt.


Republicans instead want to cut the cost of huge social safety nets, including Social Security and Medicare, that are becoming more expensive in a country with an aging population.


Meantime, Obama is edging closer to having to enforce the meat-axe approach.


By midnight, he is required to issue an order to federal agencies to reduce their budgets and the White House budget office must send a report to Congress detailing the spending cuts. In coming days, federal agencies are likely to issue 30-day notices to workers who will be laid off.



STILL TIME ON THE CLOCK

The question now appears to be how long the budget cuts will be allowed to happen. If budget cuts last only a few weeks, it is plausible they could have a marginal impact on growth and on employment. This is because some budget cuts won't translate into immediate spending cuts.

The Defense Department, for example, will probably not begin furloughing some 800,000 civilian workers until late April, after which these workers will work one day less per week. Budget cuts for capital spending could also be delayed.

The CBO estimates that only about half of the $85 billion in budget cuts planned from March through September would translate into lower spending during that period.

Once the furloughs and other spending cuts take hold, though, workers will feel the pinch, especially the 2.8 million people employed by the federal government.





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Chicago archdiocese to close 5 schools in cost-cutting move









Budget cuts announced Wednesday by the Archdiocese of Chicago signal that the area's Roman Catholics are entering a period of austerity when there will be less money for their parishes and schools.


The cuts, which were officially announced as Cardinal Francis George and other leaders of the church gathered at the Vatican to select a new pope, include closing five schools, eliminating 75 positions at the archdiocese's headquarters and placing a moratorium on loans to parishes from the archdiocese bank for three years. Other changes include creating stricter guidelines for local parishes applying for subsidies and reducing the number of the agencies in the archdiocese.


George, who spoke publicly about the cuts when asked by reporters in Rome, said they are needed to address the archdiocese's chronic financial problems. The archdiocese has run deficits of more than $30 million annually over the last four years, including being $40 million in the red for the fiscal year ending in June 2012.








All told, the measures will save tens of millions of dollars over the next few years, officials said.


“The expenses have gone up, and the income is pretty well flat,” George said after a news conference in Rome about Pope Benedict XVI's last audience Wednesday in St. Peter's Square. “We tried to ride out the recession without making any changes — and we can't do that. We're giving more grants to parishes and schools that need more money. The budget is not balanced. Not just layoffs, but a lot of other things being done, other ways to use the resources we have.”

The archdiocese sold $150 million in bonds in 2012 that helped it get through a cash-flow problem, but ultimately that wasn't enough, George said. He hopes the cuts will enable the archdiocese to balance its budget in two years.

Although the cardinal's announcement made headlines, the archdiocese's financial situation has been no secret to its priests. Several clergymen said they knew the archdiocese had planned to scale back loans to parishes.

“We have already made adjustments,” said the Rev. Dennis Ziomek of St. Barbara Parish in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. “We have to be responsible stewards with the money.”

In a letter posted on the archdiocese website, the cardinal thanked parishioners for their generosity and asked them to pray for the employees now out of a paycheck.

At the archdiocese's Pastoral Center headquarters on Wednesday, people funneled in and out of the building during their lunch breaks but declined comment on the layoffs. Before the announcement, staffers received memos asking them to report to their desks early Wednesday.

Of the 75 positions, 55 were full-time jobs. Sixty people were let go, while the remaining posts had been vacant. Those cuts are expected to save $11 million to $13 million annually by fiscal 2015, George wrote in his letter.

Employees who received pink slips will get job counseling, extended health benefits and generous severance packages.

“We're keeping up counseling for helping people find jobs, looking for places where they might look for jobs,” George said.

Along with the layoffs, the archdiocese will reduce the number of capital loans and grants it gives parishes, while creating “stricter criteria” for them to qualify for the financial assistance.

A Parish Transformation initiative in the works for at least two years will also try to save money by laying out measures to provide more financial stability, though the letter did not give details.

Those cuts are expected to save an additional $13 million to $15 million annually by fiscal 2015, the letter states.

By next year, the archdiocese will reduce its aid to Catholic schools by $10 million. It plans to give scholarships to children affected by the five school closings so they can attend nearby Catholic schools. Officials said low enrollment was a key factor for closing the schools: St. Gregory the Great High, St. Paul-Our Lady of Vilna Elementary and St. Helena of the Cross Elementary in Chicago, plus St. Bernardine in Forest Park and St. Kieran in Chicago Heights.

Now, Catholic schools will start relying on scholarships for student financial aid instead of grants from the archdiocese to make tuition affordable, Superintendent Sister Mary Paul McCaughey said.

She pointed to a new partnership with the Big Shoulders Fund, a charity supporting urban Catholic schools, that will help families pay for school with scholarships.

McCaughey did not expect tuition at other Catholic schools to immediately rise because grants from the archdiocese have been reduced. About two-thirds of schools already have posted their tuition rates for the upcoming school year, she added.

“Although things are challenged, I think (Chicago) is a Catholic community that's always supported its schools,” McCaughey said. “I think the support will be there.”

Outside of St. Bernardine Elementary in west suburban Forest Park, one of the schools that will close this summer, Maria Maxham said she was devastated when she heard last month that she'd have to send her children, one in second grade and the other in fourth grade, to a different school.

Maxham, who lives in Forest Park, said she is not sure the two will attend another local Catholic school because some lack what she thought was St. Bernardine's strength.

“There is so much diversity at St. Bernardine, and that's part of what makes it so fantastic,” Maxham said. “It was a special place and a second family for us.”

The school, which has been open since 1915, has about 100 students currently enrolled in its preschool-through-eighth-grade classrooms.

Administrators, teachers and parents were notified of the closing in January, when McCaughey led a meeting at the school and explained the large amount of money that the archdiocese needed to reduce from the schools budget, Principal Veronica Skelton Cash said.

One family left the school shortly after hearing the news, she added.

Cash, who joined the school in the fall, said there was much frustration among staff members afterward. Many believed they would have at least a few years to turn things around.

“I could see a lot of things changing for the better at this school,” Cash said. “The culture of the community is changing, and we were getting more and more inquiries about the school. There was momentum going forward.”

Current employees were given guidance on severance and benefits by the archdiocese's human resources officials, Cash said. Teachers without jobs will also be placed on a priority list for future employment with the archdiocese, she said.

“I'm incredibly disheartened,” said Daniel Kwarcinski, who hopes to find a job at another private school after teaching art for seven years at St. Bernardine. “There's a need for a school like this where we are at.”

In Rome, George said the decisions to let people go and reduce aid were not easy. But he reiterated that the archdiocese's financial situation drove the decision.

“We have to balance the budget, especially if it's precarious,” he said. “The growth being very slow means we can no longer ignore the kinds of deficit situations that have been imposed on us. We have to take action.”


Tribune reporter Manya A. Brachear reported from Rome, with Tribune reporters Bridget Doyle and Jennifer Delgado in Chicago.


mbrachear@tribune.com


bdoyle@tribune.com


jmdelgado@tribune.com



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Kelly rolls in Democratic primary, takes aim at NRA









Former state Rep. Robin Kelly easily won the special Democratic primary Tuesday night in the race to replace the disgraced Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress, helped by millions of dollars in pro-gun control ads from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's political fund.


A snowstorm and lack of voter interest kept turnout low as Kelly had 52 percent to 25 percent for former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and 11 percent for Chicago 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale with 99 percent of precincts counted.


Kelly will formally take on the winner of the Republican primary in an April 9 special general election in the heavily Democratic district. In the GOP contest, less than 25 votes separated convicted felon Paul McKinley and businessman Eric Wallace.








Kelly framed her win as a victory for gun control forces.


"You sent a message that was heard around our state and across the nation," Kelly told supporters in a Matteson hotel ballroom. "A message that tells the NRA that their days of holding our country hostage are coming to an end.


"To every leader in the fight for gun control ready to work with President (Barack) Obama and Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel to stop this senseless violence, thank you for your leadership and thank you for your courage," she said.


Halvorson told supporters to rally around Kelly as the Democratic nominee. But Halvorson also made it clear she believed her biggest opponent was the mayor of New York, whose anti-gun super political action committee spent more than $2.2 million attacking her previous support from the National Rifle Association while backing Kelly.


"We all know how rough it was for me to have to run an election against someone who spent ($2.2) million against me," Halvorson said at Homewood restaurant. "Every 71/2 minutes there was a commercial."


Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC was the largest campaign interest in the race and dominated the Chicago broadcast TV airwaves compared to a marginal buy by one minor candidate.


Beale also called Bloomberg's influence "the biggest disservice in this race."


"If this is the future of the Democratic Party, then we are all in big trouble," Beale said.


Bloomberg, an Emanuel ally in the fight for tougher gun restrictions, called Kelly's win "an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence" as well as sign that voters "are demanding change" in a Congress that has refused to enact tougher gun restrictions, fearing the influence of the NRA.


But as much as Bloomberg sought to portray the Kelly win as a victory over the influential NRA, the national organization stayed out of the contest completely while the state rifle association sent out one late mailer for Halvorson.


Be it the TV ads or a late consolidation toward Kelly in the campaign, the former Matteson lawmaker made an impressive showing with Democratic voters in suburban Cook County, where the bulk of the district's vote was located, as well as on the South Side.


Despite the size of the field, Kelly got more than half of the votes cast in the two most populated areas of the district. Halvorson won by large percentages over Kelly in Kankakee County and the district's portion of Will County, but those two areas have very few votes.


The special primary election, by its nature, already had been expected to be a low-turnout affair — an expedited contest with little time for contenders to raise money or mount a traditional campaign.


Adding to the lack of interest was the fact that there were no other contests on the ballot in Chicago and most of the suburban Cook County portion of the district. Few contests were being held in Kankakee County and the portion of Will County within the 2nd District.


Turnout was reported to be around 15 percent in the city and suburban Cook. More than 98 percent of the primary votes cast in Chicago were Democratic, as were 97 percent of those cast in suburban Cook.


On the Republican side, the unofficial vote leader was McKinley, 54, who was arrested 11 times from 2003 to 2007, mostly for protesting, with almost all of the charges dropped. In the 1970s and '80s, McKinley was convicted of six felony counts, serving nearly 20 years in prison for burglaries, armed robberies and aggravated battery. He previously declined to discuss the circumstances of those crimes but has dubbed himself the "ex-offender preventing the next offender" in his campaign.


Records show McKinley also owes $14,147 in federal taxes, which might explain his answer at a forum when asked if he would cut any federal programs. "Certainly," he said. "The IRS."





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Porch collapses on 2 firefighters battling extra-alarm blaze
















Deputy Fire Commissioner John McNicholas addresses reporters.


Deputy Fire Commissioner John McNicholas addresses reporters.
(February 26, 2013)


























































Two firefighters were hurt in an extra-alarm fire in the South Side's Gresham neighborhood early this morning, fire officials said.


The 2-11 alarm fire broke out about 3:40 a.m. in vacant home in the 8800 block of South Parnell Avenue,  spreading to an adjacent home shortly after.


A porch roof in the first home collapsed as two firefighters were leaving the building, pushing both firefighters through the porch into the basement, Chicago Fire Department Deputy Fire Commissioner John McNicholas said.





The collapse injured and trapped both firefighters, prompting officials to call a mayday. Other firefighters managed to rescue their injured colleagues, and both were taken to Little Company of Mary Hospital.


The firefighters, who are veterans of the department, sustained relatively minor injuries, but the situation could have been much worse, McNicholas said.


"It could have been a lot worse," the deputy commissioner said. "Had we had fire in the basement of that building, things could have been a different story."


The building where the fire started is not currently occupied, fire officials said. A family of five escaped the second home uninjured.


Check back for more information.


asege@tribune.com


Twitter: @AdamSege






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Oscars analysis: 'Argo,' Ang Lee are night's big winners








Blowing past the distant Civil War history of “Lincoln” and the more controversial recent history of “Zero Dark Thirty,” director and star Ben Affleck’s rousing, reassuringly apolitical thriller “Argo” won Sunday’s Academy Award for best picture.


This was a rebuke to the very academy bestowing the prize: Affleck failed to receive a directing nomination for “Argo,” joining “Zero Dark Thirty” director Kathryn Bigelow as the evening’s most conspicuous snubs.


MORE OSCARS: Red carpet pics | Winners | Backstage






In their place, Ang Lee scored his second directing Oscar (following “Brokeback Mountain”) for the formidable technical achievement that was “Life of Pi,” which won four Oscars in all. Widely considered an unfilmable novel, Lee’s supple handling of the story of a boy, a tiger, a lifeboat and a slew of digital visual wonders has led to a picture grossing nearly $600 million in worldwide. box office receipts.


This has happened with Lee before. His “Brokeback Mountain” directing Oscar didn’t come attached to a best picture win for the same movie; the big prize that year went to “Crash” instead.


Sunday night’s "Life of Pi" win for Lee marked the second time the director went up against industry lion Steven Spielberg, nominated for "Lincoln," and won.


Spielberg's film won just two Oscars, for Daniel Day-Lewis's towering lead performance and production design. It was instead the night of "Argo," which won three Oscars, and "Life of Pi."


A couple of months ago the best picture Oscar seemed like "Lincoln's" to lose. But after receiving top prizes from the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America, as well as the Screen Actors Guild ensemble award, "Argo" officially became the front-runner. No movie has ever won the Globes, the DGA, the PGA and the SAG without eventually picking up the Oscar.


In the academy’s 85-year awards history, "Argo" is only the fourth to secure best picture without an accompanying directorial nomination. The other three: "Wings" (1927, the first best picture winner), “Grand Hotel” (1932) and "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989).


“Lincoln” seemed to lose its Oscar mojo the second the nominations were announced Jan. 10, even though Spielberg’s superb slice of historical fiction (scripted by the dramatist Tony Kushner, who lost the adapted screenwriting Oscar to “Argo’s” Chris Terrio) pulled down 12 nominations in all, the most of any film.


The best actress race was widely considered one of the evening’s tough calls. Emmanuelle Riva, at 86 the oldest-ever leading actress Oscar nominee (for “Amour”), made the trip all the way from Paris to attend the academy’s prom night Sunday. Quvenzhane Wallis, 9, was the youngest-ever best actress nominee, cited for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”


But it went to Jennifer Lawrence, queen of several news cycles’ worth of magazine covers. This was her first Oscar (she was nominated previously for “Winter’s Bone “), recognizing her performance as a young widow dancing her way to a better place in “Silver Linings Playbook.”


When Affleck got squeezed out of a directing nomination (owing, perhaps, to the heartening inclusion of Michael Haneke for “Amour”) invisible waves of “not fair!” sympathy starting rolling Affleck’s way last month. People like “Argo”; it’s a good time, triumphantly rousing in its depiction of a CIA success story free of nagging elements such as waterboarding or other forms of enhanced interrogation techniques depicted in “Zero Dark Thirty.”


A vote for “Argo” was a vote for Hollywood, and for America. Inspired by a real-life CIA mission, “Argo” told a gripping story of Americans in hiding and their savior, CIA “exfiltration” expert Tony Mendez, posing as a Hollywood film crew scouting locations in Tehran for a “Star Wars”-type adventure movie, the “Argo” of the title.


Affleck, who plays Mendez in the picture, cast the beloved character actors Alan Arkin (nominated in the supporting actor category) and John Goodman as the mission’s Hollywood connections. Their deceptions help save the day. “Argo” is a bigger valentine to the film industry than even last year’s big Oscar winner, “The Artist."


People just plain like Affleck’s movie. Its confident, propulsive craftsmanship plays well no matter how little sleep you had the night before (can’t say the same about “Amour” or “Lincoln,” excellent films both). Oscar voters relished Affleck’s evocation of such 1970s thrillers as “Three Days of the Condor” or “All the President’s Men."


The movie is a throwback, but it feels vital. And it’s a good time —triumphantly rousing in its depiction of a CIA success story free of nagging elements such as waterboarding or other forms of enhanced interrogation techniques, the ones depicted in “Zero Dark Thirty.”


In the feature documentary category “Searching For Sugar Man,” an irresistible portrait of a nearly forgotten singer-songwriter, aced its weightier competition, chiefly the superb Israeli doc “The Gatekeepers.”


The “In Memoriam” segment of Sunday’s Academy Awards paid tribute to film industry talents who died last year. We lost beloved character actors: Charles Durning, Jack Klugman, Ernest Borgnine. Even avant-garde filmmaker Chris Marker got his (fleeting) due, along with film critic Andrew Sarris. And Barbra Streisand sang “The Way We Were” in honor of that infernally durable song’s late composer, Marvin Hamlisch.


I always like the looking-back part of the Oscars best, but Sunday’s show looked back in something like adoration adoringly at the old days throughout. Like “Family Guy,” the animated snarkfest on which host Seth MacFarlane made his fortune, the Oscar bash worked on alternating currents of ethnic, misogynist and/or “Star Trek” wisecracks and Ggolden Aage movie and Broadway standards. Strange mixture. But “Family Guy’s” is still running.


The evening’s first surprise: Christoph Waltz. Over such contenders as Robert De Niro (for “Silver Linings Playbook”) and Tommy Lee Jones (for “Lincoln”), the droll character actor scored his second Oscar in four years, both times for bringing a voluble Quentin Tarantino character to life. First time, a Nazi, in “Inglourious Basterds”; this time, a dashing bounty hunter riding through Tarantino’s spaghetti-Western version of the Civil War era.


The evening’s least surprising win, next to Day-Lewis: Anne Hathaway, winning the supporting actress statuette for singing her dying guts out as Fantine in “Les Miserables.” Even those who detest “Les Miserables” and its overbearing attack on the audience’s tear ducts have to concede: Hathaway's the best thing in it. As widely predicted, given her various wins in recent weeks leading up to the Oscars, Hathaway’s fervent portrayal scored the actress her first win Sunday. Her big number, “I Dream a Dream,” was filmed by director Tom Hooper in a single-take, full-bore close-up, thereby enshrining the performance and the performer for academy sanctification.


After which New York magazine’s Frank Rich tweeted: “God is dead.”


mjphillips@tribune.com






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28 fans hurt in fiery Daytona pile-up









A fiery pile-up at the Daytona speedway on Saturday injured at least 28 fans and a driver after the 10-car crash sent car debris, including a tire, flying into the crowd in the final lap of the Nationwide NASCAR race.

Race officials said 14 fans were sent to nearby hospitals and another 14 were treated at the Florida track, which will host the prestigious Daytona 500 race on Sunday.






"Stuff was flying everywhere," spectator Terry Huckaby, whose brother was sent to the hospital with a leg injury, told the ESPN sports network. "Tires were flying by and smoke and everything else."

Among the injured were a 14-year-old boy in critical but stable condition, and a man who was in surgery for a life-threatening head injury, according to ESPN.com.

Driver Michael Annett of the Richard Petty Motorsports team was being treated at the Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach for bruises to his chest and sternum. He was given a CT scan and was being kept for observation, the team said in a statement.

Joie Chitwood, president of the Daytona International Speedway, said Sunday's main race would go ahead despite the incident as crews were repairing the track and the grandstand.

"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans," Chitwood said. "Following the incident, we responded appropriately according to our safety protocols and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately."

Tony Stewart won the race at Saturday's event, which is the curtain-raiser for American stock car racing's biggest event on Sunday, which will feature Danica Patrick as the first woman to start on the pole position.

CAR SENT AIRBORNE

Saturday's wreck happened after driver Regan Smith, who was leading the race, attempted to block another driver as they were nearing the checkered flag and hit the other car, a report on NASCAR.com said.

"My fault," Smith, who finished 14th, told NASCAR.com. "I threw a block. I'll take the blame for it. But when you see the checkered flag at Daytona, you're going to block, and you're going to do everything you can to be the first car back to the stripe. It just didn't work out today. Just hoping everything is OK, everyone who was in the wreck and all the fans."

The crash sent driver Kyle Larson's car airborne and ripped out its engine, although he climbed out of the wreckage afterward unhurt.

"I was getting pushed from behind, it felt like," Larson told ESPN after the crash.

"By the time my spotter said, 'Lift,' or to go low, I believe, it was too late and I was in the wreck. Then I felt like it was slowing down, and it looked like I could see the ground, and had some flames in the cockpit. Luckily, I was all right and could get out of the car quick," he added.

The injured were carried away on stretchers from the chaotic scene in the stands. They were taken to Halifax Health Medical Center and Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach.

NASCAR's vice president of race operations, Steve O'Donnell, said that the fencing, which was ripped through by the flying debris, was being replaced and the incident would be reviewed.

"We're very confident that we'll be ready for tomorrow's event with the 55th running of the Daytona, but as with any of these incidents, we'll conduct a thorough review, we'll work closely with the tracks as we do for all our events, learn what we can and see what we can apply in the future," he said.

It is rare that spectators get hurt in American racing, but it has happened before. As recently as 2009, Carl Edwards' car slammed into the catch fencing at Talladega and injured nine fans. Three were killed in Charlotte, North Carolina, a decade earlier in the IndyCar Series, and three others were killed in 1998 in Michigan during CART's U.S. 500.

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Orlando, Florida, and Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Peter Cooney)



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Drew Peterson: 'I don't do well in incarceration'









With a 38-year sentence at age 59, Drew Peterson most likely will spend the rest of his life in prison.

The former Bolingbrook police officer acknowledged as much in a tearful, rage-filled monologue before his sentencing Thursday. Barring a successful appeal, Peterson will not be eligible for release until he's 93. But he estimated he would not make it that long because he has developed high cholesterol and has been twice diagnosed with skin cancer since his incarceration at the Will County Jail.

"I'm not looking for any sympathy, but anything you sentence me to, you're sentencing me to the Department of Corrections to die," Peterson told the court in a raised voice choked with emotion.








Peterson's new life will stand in stark contrast to the one he knew as a police sergeant, when he busied himself by riding motorcycles, flying airplanes and chasing younger women. But it won't be that different from the nearly four years he has spent in jail after being charged with killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Peterson was transferred to the Stateville Correctional Center on Friday morning, less than 24 hours after receiving his sentence. He stayed there only a few hours before being sent to his new home at the Pontiac prison. He is in the maximum-security facility, which has a protective custody unit. The assignment was based on factors such as his conviction, length of sentence, program needs, and medical and mental health requirements, per Illinois Department of Correction protocol.

Officials have not said whether he has a cellmate or if he will be in solitary confinement as he had been during his jail stay.

As part of his daily routine there, he will remain in his cell for most of the day, though he will be allowed out for meals and showers. Most inmates also get about five hours of recreation time outside per week, Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano said.

Peterson already seemed to be envisioning a dreary existence.

"I don't do well in incarceration," he said during his 40-minute courtroom soliloquy. "Due to the bad food and lack of exercise (in jail), I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, borderline diabetes, a variety of skin issues, and I've had two bouts with skin cancer."

Prisoners can earn work privileges and be assigned menial jobs in the kitchen, laundry room or other areas of the detention center. The shifts, which are not daily, are at least four hours long, Solano said.

Though the Will County Jail has a similar jobs program, Peterson did not participate in it because he was kept separate from the rest of the jail population. The sheriff's department, which oversees the facility, kept him segregated there amid concerns that his high-profile case and law-enforcement background could make him a target of inmates looking to build tough-guy reputations.

As such, Peterson had been kept in the jail's medical unit since his May 2009 arrest. He spent most of his time in his cell, which was 8 feet wide by 5 feet deep. He was given an hour or two in an adjacent day room each day, but that's about it.

His attorney Joseph Lopez, however, said he does not believe such measures need to be taken in state prison. Though high-profile inmates often attract unwanted attention — Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, was slain in 1994 while serving multiple life terms — Lopez thinks Peterson can protect himself.

"He's got a black belt in karate. He knows how to defend himself," Lopez said. "He's a gregarious type of guy. I'm sure the inmates will love him once they get to know him."

Peterson did not seem as convinced on Thursday.

"Originally, I had some cute and funny things to end with," he said, "but in closing now it's time to sentence an innocent man to a life of hardship and abuse (in) prison, and I don't deserve this."

Illinois Department of Corrections officials would not say what safety precautions would be taken in their facilities, but Solano said such issues are considered during an inmate's initial evaluation.

"IDOC will continue to ensure proper placement of all offenders as the health, safety and security of inmates and staff remain the department's top priority," she said.

Peterson will be allowed visits in prison, with some facilities allowing up to five per month. He had similar privileges in jail, but few people had actually come to see him. A visitor's list released shortly before his murder trial included his brother, sister and a small number of friends. Only two of his six children — his sons Thomas and Kris with Savio — went to see him in jail.

His older son, Stephen, who is raising his father's two youngest children, had not visited in the three years leading up to the trial. However, the two communicate frequently via collect phone calls from the jail. Illinois prisoners also have regular telephone contact — as long as it's collect — with people on their approved contacts list, Solano said.

Peterson's attorneys informed him after court Thursday that he could be transferred to Stateville as early as Friday. Despite his rage-filled monologue in court, he seemed to take the prison transfer in stride.

"He's ready for it," Lopez said. "He says he wants a change of scenery."

And that's just fine with Savio's family.

"I think he should have gotten 60 (years) myself," her brother Henry Savio Jr. said. "But he is going to spend the rest of his life in jail so I'm OK with it. He deserves to die there."

sstclair@tribune.com





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Overnight snow hampering Chicago-area commute









About three inches of snow fell across the Chicago region, though the snow is expected to turn to freezing drizzle this morning, coating the area with ice.


The 2.7 inches at O'Hare International Airport tied the highest total for this year, according to the National Weather Service. Some flurries are still fallign so the total could tick upward by a tenth of an inch or two, said Ben Deubelbeiss, a NWS meteorologist.


Some of the snow in southern suburbs has already started turning to rain and might create a "light glaze" on the roadways, he said.








Dozens of schools closed or are delaying start times because of the storm.


The accumulation was more or less consistent across the area, from Rockford in north central Illinois east to Portage, Ind.


The weather caused between 20 and 30 spinouts on highways across the city and suburbs, according to state police, who described the conditions as "horrible." 


State Police are in a "snow plan" and aren't responding to accidents without injuries - those are supposed to be reported later.


"It will be tapering off from the south in the next couple hours, possibly some freezing drizzle across whole area," said Mark Ratzer, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. "We may end up coming in a little less."


The city of Chicago has sent 284 plows to work clearing main thoroughfares, according to the streets and sanitation department.


Temperatures today should peak around 34 degrees with winds gusting out of the east around 20 or 25 miles an hour.


"The wind should be diminishing today to around 10 miles an hour," Deubelbeiss said.


Flurries could linger into the weekend with a chance for light snow on Saturday. Deubelbeiss said he didn't expect any significant weather Sunday. High temperatures both days should be around 30, with lows in the low 20s and high teens both mornings.


Check back for more information.


Midwest storm hits Kansas hardest


A major winter storm blanketed states from Minnesota to Ohio with a mix of blinding snow, sleet and freezing rain Thursday and into Friday morning.


The same storm dumped more than a foot of snow in Kansas, stranded motorists on highways and forced airports to cancel hundreds of flights.


The storm is expected to eventually reach the East Coast this weekend, delivering heavy snow to parts of New England for a third straight weekend, from northern Connecticut to southern Maine.


Kansas bore the brunt of the storm, with up to 15 inches of snow in some parts of the state, according to the National Weather Service. A 200-mile stretch of Interstate 70 in central Kansas was closed and strewn with cars stuck in snow.


National Guard troops riding in Humvees were dispatched to look for stranded motorists along the interstate and other highways, said Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for Kansas emergency management services.


The fierce storm triggered severe thunderstorms from eastern Texas to Georgia.





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Are you getting the fish you paid for?

Dirk Fucik, owner of Dirk's Fish Gourmet Shop on February 19, 2013 says fish substitution in the restaurant industry is a common phenomena driven by profits. (Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune)









Chicago diners who think they are eating red snapper may actually be munching on goldbanded jobfish.


Those who order Alaskan cod may really be tucking into a threadfin slickhead. And fans of yellowtail could just be getting a fish tale.


These are some of the findings of a Chicago fish fraud investigation to be released Thursday by conservancy group Oceana.








After its troubling seafood fraud investigations in East and West Coast cities over the last two years, the group expanded its testing to other cities, including Chicago. Thirty of 93 fish samples taken from Chicago restaurants, retail chains and sushi bars were mislabeled, mirroring percentages found in other cities.


Eight of nine Chicago red snapper samples tested by Oceana turned out to be different fish, the report said. And none of the three yellowtail samples tested was actually yellowtail. Single samples sold as corvina, jack, mackerel and even perch did not match those descriptions, according to Oceana's DNA tests.


The ocean conservancy organization does not list the names of the restaurants or stores where it bought the fish because "we didn't know where, along the supply chain, the mislabeling first occurred," said Beth Lowell Oceana's seafood fraud campaign director."So we didn't want to call out businesses that may not have known their fish was mislabeled."


Improperly labeled fish can cost consumers financially, but these substitutions also can have health consequences. As in many cities, Chicago purveyors were found marketing white tuna that was actually escolar, which is cheaper and can cause severe digestive problems.


On a reassuring note for local fish fans, every one of the 22 salmon samples Oceana tested in the area checked out just fine. Ditto for the seven halibut and seven grouper samples — a surprise, Oceana noted, because grouper has frequently been found mislabeled elsewhere.


Among the places where testers bought the samples, sushi bars fared the worst, with 64 percent (or 14 out of 22) of the samples coming back as erroneously labeled. In contrast, 20 percent of fish sold at other types of restaurants and 24 percent of the seafood sold at grocery stores was mislabeled. Oceana said it focused mainly on large grocery chains.


Lowell says consumers can minimize their risk by patronizing businesses that make an effort to source sustainable fish, are willing to answer lots of questions about the product, and can show you the whole fish even if you are only going to buy a fillet.


Dirk Fucik, owner of Dirk's Fish and Gourmet Shop in Lincoln Park, says he does all that, but he's not surprised that others don't.


"It's unfortunate, but this has been going on in the seafood business for a long time," said Fucik, a veteran fishmonger and a former co-owner of Burhop's. "The U.S. imports about 25 million pounds of a Vietnamese catfish called basa (also called pangasius) every year. When's the last time you saw that on a menu?"


Americans may be particularly vulnerable to fish fraud because of their preference for white-fleshed fish with little taste variation.


"Most other countries show a preference for oiler, more flavorful fish, but Americans like their fish on the milder side," said Christopher Martinez, a manager at Dirk's. "And with a lot of those mild varieties, if you remove the fillet from the fish and take off the skin, you can call it just about anything."


Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, a trade group, says he's always glad to see "people shining a light on fish fraud."


But, he said, he thinks reports like Oceana's "can negatively impact the whole community, and disproportionately those who are not engaging" in fraud.


It would be more helpful to go deeper, he said, and find where the fraud originates: at the dock, the distributor, the retailer or some point in between. "We feel like these investigations leave the loop unclosed," he said.


A 2011 investigative series by the Boston Globe reported that at least some of the fraud started at the distribution level. It said suppliers had been labeling escolar, for example, interchangeably with white/albacore tuna. The Globe noted that the less expensive escolar is not even in the tuna family.


The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act is enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and prohibits the mislabeling of food. In October, after another Oceana report, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and scores of seafood advocates sent letters to the FDA urging it to combat fraud with stepped-up inspections.


Boxer noted in her letter that fraud isn't just "deceptive marketing, but it can also pose serious health concerns, particularly for pregnant women seeking to limit exposure to heavy metals or individuals with serious allergies to certain types of fish."





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Jesse Jackson Jr., Sandi Jackson expected to plead guilty today









WASHINGTON — Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and his wife, former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, are expected to plead guilty to federal charges today, when more details may emerge about an alleged crime spree in which he is accused of spending more than $750,000 in campaign cash to buy luxury items, memorabilia and other goods.

Attorneys familiar with public corruption investigations said the amount of campaign cash allegedly converted to personal use in this case is the largest of any that they can remember.






Jackson Jr., who has been largely out of the public eye for eight months, is to appear in court at 9:30 a.m. Chicago time. His wife is to appear at 1:30 p.m. Chicago time. Both Jacksons will stand before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins.

Sentencing is not expected for several weeks. Jackson Jr. faces up to five years in prison, while she faces up to three years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Jackson Jr., 47, was in the House of Representatives for 17 years until he resigned last November. Sandi Jackson, 49, was a Chicago alderman from 2007 until she stepped down in January.

He is charged with conspiracy in a case involving a $43,350 men’s Rolex watch, nearly $9,600 in children’s furniture and $5,150 in cashmere clothing and furs, court papers show. She is charged with filing false tax returns for six years, most recently calendar year 2011.

When separate felony charges were filed against them Friday, their attorneys said the two would plead guilty.

Prosecutors also are seeking a $750,000 judgment against Jackson Jr. and the forfeiture of thousands of dollars of goods he purchased, including cashmere clothing, furs and an array of memorabilia from celebrities including Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Jackson Jr. began a mysterious medical leave of absence last June for what was eventually described as bipolar disorder. Though he did not campaign for re-election, he won another term last Nov. 6 while being treated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He left office two weeks later, saying he was cooperating with federal investigators.

Married for more than 20 years, the Jacksons have a 12-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. The family has homes in Washington and on Chicago’s South Side.

Washington defense attorney Stan Brand, the former general counsel of the House of Representatives, said Tuesday that Jackson Jr.’s case involved the largest sum of money he’s seen in a case involving personal use of campaign money. “Historically, there have been members of Congress who either inadvertently or maybe purposefully, but not to this magnitude, used campaign funds inappropriately,” he said.

Brand said that when the dollar figure involved is low, a lawmaker may be fined and ordered to reimburse the money. “This is so large, the Department of Justice decided to make his case criminal,” he said.

Other attorneys said they could not remember a bigger case of its kind. Washington attorney Ken Gross, a former lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, said: “Directly dipping into your campaign coffers, and spending money on personal items, I can’t recall a case where it involved this much money.”

Brand once represented another disgraced Illinois Democratic congressman, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, who in 1996 pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud. Rostenkowski was later represented by attorney Dan Webb, who is Sandi Jackson’s counsel.

Rostenkowski, who died in 2010, entered his pleas and received his punishment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — the same venue on the Jacksons’ calendars on Wednesday.

kskiba@tribune.com

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Prosecution details 'horrific' murder case against Pistorius









PRETORIA -- "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius put on his artificial legs and walked across his bedroom before firing four handgun rounds into the locked bathroom door, killing his cowering girlfriend in cold blood, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Reeva Steenkamp, a law graduate and model, died after being hit by three rounds, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said.






Pistorius wept uncontrollably in court as Nel outlined details of a shooting that has gripped South Africa and the millions around the world who saw the double amputee's track glory as the ultimate tale of triumph over adversity.

Scores of mourners gathered in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth for Steenkamp's funeral, where the mood was one of grief tinged with anger at the loss of "an angel".

In Pretoria central magistrate's court, defense lawyer Barry Roux disputed the murder charge, saying the facts surrounding the shooting in the early hours of Thursday were unclear.

"All we really know is she locked herself behind the toilet door and she was shot," he told the packed courtroom.

However, the prosecution painted a picture of premeditated killing - a crime that carries a life sentence in South Africa.

"If I arm myself, walk a distance and murder a person, that is premeditated," he said. "The door is closed. There is no doubt. I walk seven meters and I kill."

"The motive is 'I want to kill'. That's it," he added. "This deceased was in a 1.4 by 1.14 meter little room. She could go nowhere. It must have been horrific."

The arrest of Pistorius, 26, stunned the millions who had watched in awe last year as the Olympic and Paralympic sprinter reached the semi-final of the 400 meters in the London Olympics, running on high-technology carbon fiber 'blades'.

Initial reports suggested he might have mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder - a possibility in crime-ridden South Africa and a version Pistorius told his sister immediately after the shooting, Nel said.

The prosecution countered this theory by saying Steenkamp's overnight bag had been found in the bedroom of the plush two-storey home in a gated compound north of Pretoria.

"ROT IN JAIL"

Dressed in a dark suit, Pistorius arrived at the court in a police car shortly before 7 a.m. (0500 GMT). Proceedings were delayed as more than 100 journalists from around the world jostled to get into the dimly lit, brick-face courtroom.

The case has drawn further attention to endemic violence against women in South Africa after the gang-rape, mutilation and murder of a 17-year-old near Cape Town this month.

Members of the Women's League of the ruling African National Congress protested outside the building, waving placards saying: "No Bail for Pistorius" and "Rot in jail".

At Steenkamp's cremation in the windswept Victoria Park Crematorium in Port Elizabeth, sorrow mingled with outrage.

"She was an angel. She was so soft, so innocent. Such a lovely person. It's just sad that this could happen to somebody so good," said Gavin Venter, an ex-jockey who worked for Steenkamp's father.

"I'm disgusted with what he did. He must be dealt with harshly," he added. "Without a doubt he's a danger to the public. He'll be a danger to witnesses. He must stay in jail."

After the hour-long private ceremony in the cream-colored hill-top church, Steenkamp's brother Adam and uncle Mike, fighting back tears, spoke briefly to reporters.

"There's a space missing inside all the people that she knew that can't be filled again," Adam Steenkamp said. "We are going to keep all the positive things that we remember and know about my sister. We will miss her."

The case has gripped sports-mad South Africa, where Pistorius was seen as a rare hero who had transcended the racial divides that persist 19 years after the end of apartheid.

Pistorius' endorsements and sponsorships, which include sportswear giant Nike, British telecoms firm BT, sunglasses maker Oakley and French designer Thierry Mugler, are thought to be worth as much as $2 million a year.

Nike said on Monday it had dropped Pistorius from any future advertising campaigns. Other sponsors have said they will make no decisions until the legal process has run its course.

Pistorius has cancelled scheduled track appearances in Australia, Brazil and Britain in the coming months to focus on his attempt to clear his name.

Born without a fibula in either leg, Pistorius had his lower legs amputated as an 11-month-old baby but became the highest-profile athlete in the history of the Paralympic Games.

In last year's Paralympics he suffered his first loss over 200 meters in nine years. After the race he questioned the legitimacy of Brazilian winner Alan Oliveira's prosthetic blades, but was quick to express regret for the comments.

Reuters

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2 questioned in fatal shooting of Chicago teen

Janay McFarlane, 18, was shot on the way to a store, the same day Obama spoke on gun violence.









Two people are being questioned in connection with the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old Chicago woman who was killed Friday, the same day her sister attended President Barack Obama's speech on gun violence, officials said Sunday.


An 18-year-old man and a 20-year-old man are considered persons of interest in the homicide investigation and are being questioned by North Chicago police and officials from the Lake County State's Attorney's Office in connection with the death of Janay McFarlane, according to a statement released this afternoon by North Chicago police.


The men were arrested after McFarlane was shot at about 11:30 p.m. Friday on the  1300 block of Jackson Avenue in the northern suburb.








Angela Blakely, McFarlane’s mother, said she knew few details about the investigation but was encouraged by the news of the arrests.


“I’m just hoping that they do find out who did this to my baby, so they can pay for the crime they committed,” she said.


Blakely urged anyone with information about the killing to talk with police.


McFarlane, 18, of the 8900 block of South Lowe Avenue, was in North Chicago visiting family and friends and was walking with friends when she was shot, according Blakely. McFarlane was walking with friends, one of whom may have been the intended target, Blakely said.


When police responded to a call of shots being fired in the area they found McFarlane fatally shot, police said. They canvassed the area and were tipped off to the men who were taken in for questioning, according to police.


McFarlane was killed just hours after her sister, Destini Warren, 14, had attended President Barack Obama's speech against gun violence Friday.


Blakely, the mother of both girls, said that the family had been anticipating the President's visit to the school where Destini is a freshman.


Leading up to the visit, McFarlane frequently mentioned the recent death of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, whose own shooting death a mile from the Obama's home spurred the President's visit.


"It's terrible, it's terrible the only thing I can remember is my daughter telling me, 'Mommy, it's so sad about Hadiya. That makes no sense,' " Blakely said. "She always asked me a lot of questions about death."


The speech resonated even more when her family got the call from McFarlane's father in North Chicago, who told Destini that her sister was dead, she said.


"It was like real painful," said Destini, her voice choking back tears.


North Chicago officials said McFarlane's killing is the first in the northern suburb since October. The October slaying was the only homicide for the town last year.


chicagobreaking@tribune.com


Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking





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Woman shot, killed hours after sibling attends Obama speech









Hours after Destini Warren, 14, attended President Barack Obama’s speech against gun violence Friday, her family learned of a terrible irony.

Destini’s sister, Janay McFarlane, 18, was the victim of the very thing that the President was condemning at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago.

McFarlane, of the 8900 block of South Lowe Avenue, was visiting friends and family in North Chicago when she was shot on her way to a store in the northern suburb, her family said.

She was pronounced dead at 11:30 p.m., shortly after sustaining a single gunshot wound to her head, according to the Lake County Coroner’s office.

North Chicago Police officials did not return calls for comment Saturday.

Angela Blakely, the mother of both girls, said that the family had been anticipating the President's visit to the school where Destini is a freshman.

Leading up to the visit, McFarlane frequently mentioned the recent death of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, whose own shooting death a mile from the Obama's home spurred the President's visit.

“It's terrible, it's terrible the only thing I can remember is my daughter telling me, 'Mommy, it's so sad about Hadiya. That makes no sense,'“ Blakely said. “She always asked me a lot of questions about death.”

Blakely said that McFarlane was still trying to make sense of the violence that claimed Pendleton’s life. She kept questioning why someone so innocent could die from violence.

McFarlane, who attended Hyde Park Academy before she became pregnant with her son Jayden — 3-months-old — and dropped out, was excited that her younger sister was able to attend Obama’s speech.

Destini said that during the days before the President arrived to Chicago, her sister would come by and talk to her about the visit. Destini said she last spoke to her sister on Thursday night before the younger girl went to sleep.

“She was like 'Just tell me how it's going to be.' She was excited for me,” said Destini. “ (The violence) was really wracking her because she was talking to my momma about Hadiya.”

Destini said she was sitting on a bench about two rows behind the President on stage listening as he spoke about gun violence.

“I could relate to it because that's been happening to a lot of people,” said Destini.

The speech resonated even more when her family got the call from McFarlane's father in North Chicago, who told Destini that her sister was dead, she said.

“It was like real painful,” said Destini, her voice choking back tears.

Since President Obama's speech on Friday, two people have been killed and six injured by guns in Chicago.

csadovi@tribune.com

Freelance reporter Ruth Fuller contributed



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1 dead, 3 wounded in 90 minutes Friday night









Chicago police were flagged down by a man on the street as they responded to the sound of gunfire Friday night and found a woman lying on the ground, bleeding from gunshot wounds to her upper body.


She and three others were wounded between about 5:55 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. on the South and West sides, according to Chicago police, among a total of six people shot Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. 

The woman, whose age wasn't available, was shot in the 1100 block of North Pulaski Road, just a bit south of Division Street in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood about 7:05 p.m. Officers in the area heard the gunfire and headed toward it - that's when they were flagged down. 


The woman was talking when taken away in an ambulance but suffered a wound to her back and a second below her armpit and was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital. She may have been stepped on as people fled the scene, police said. 





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Four others survived shootings Friday night and Saturday morning. 


Before 3 a.m. a 27-year-old man was shot in the arm at a party in the 1100 block of South St. Louis Avenue in the Homan Square neighborhood. 


About 7:20 p.m., two men were shot in the 7800 block of South Merrill Avenue in the South Shore neighborhood. One was shot in the knee and the other in the ankle. The pair, 19 and 20, were at a party when someone crept up a gangway and opened fire, police said.


The older was shot in the knee and the younger in the ankle, police said.  Both were taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County. 


About 5:55 p.m., a man sitting in his car near his home was shot in the leg by one of three guys who approached him on foot, police said. The 29-year-old was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where his condition had stabilized.

Earlier Friday, a 17-year-old was shot in the hand in the 7800 block of South Morgan Street in the Gresham neighborhood. He was wounded about noon.

Check back for more information.

pnickeas@tribune.com
Twitter: @peternickeas

lford@tribune.com
Twitter: @ltaford





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500 hurt when 10-ton meteorite explodes over Russia








CHELYABINSK, Russia -- More than 500 people were injured when a meteorite shot across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday, sending fireballs crashing to Earth, shattering windows and damaging buildings.


Russia's Academy of Sciences estimates size of Urals meteor at 10 tons, according to the Associated Press.


People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 950 mileseast of Moscow.

A fireball blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake which could be seen as far as 125 miles away in Yekaterinburg. Car alarms went off, windows shattered and mobile phone networks were interrupted.

"I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," said Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains.

"I felt like I was blinded by headlights," he said.

No fatalities were reported but President Vladimir Putin, who was due to host Finance Ministry officials from the Group of 20 nations in Moscow, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were informed.

A local ministry official said such incidents were extremely rare and Friday's events might have been linked to an asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool due to pass Earth at a distance of 17,100 miles but this was not confirmed.

Russia's space agency Roscosmos said the meteorite was travelling at a speed of 19 miles per second and that such events were hard to predict. The Interior Ministry said the meteorite explosion had caused a sonic boom.

Russia's Emergencies Ministry said 514 people had sought medical help, mainly for light injuries caused by flying glass, and that 112 of those were kept in hospital. Search groups were set up to look for the remains of the meteorite.

"There have never been any cases of meteorites breaking up at such a low level over Russia before," said Yuri Burenko, head of the Chelyabinsk branch of the Emergencies Ministry.

WINDOWS BREAK, FRAMES BUCKLE

Windows were shattered on Chelyabinsk's central Lenin Street and some of the frames of shop fronts buckled.

A loud noise, resembling an explosion, rang out at around 12:20 a.m. EST. The shockwave could be felt in apartment buildings in the industrial city's center.

"I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend," said Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name. "Then there was a flash and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shockwave that smashed windows."

A wall was damaged at the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but a spokeswoman said there was no environmental threat.

Although such events are rare, a meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 1,250 miles in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 125 miles from the point of impact.

The Emergencies Ministry described Friday's events as a "meteor shower in the form of fireballs" and said background radiation levels were normal. It urged residents not to panic.

Chelyabinsk city authorities urged people to stay indoors unless they needed to pick up their children from schools and kindergartens. They said what sounded like a blast had been heard at an altitude of 32,800 feet.

The U.S. space agency NASA has said an asteroid known as 2012 DA14, about 46 meters in diameter, would have an encounter with Earth closer than any asteroid since scientists began routinely monitoring them about 15 years ago.

Television, weather and communications satellites fly about 500 miles higher. The moon is 14 times farther away.

Reuters



Russia's Academy of Sciences estimates size of Urals meteor at 10 tons.







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