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NW today: NIC mulls free speech policy

Wed., April 27, 2011, 12:24 p.m.

What’s news in the Northwest today:

COEUR D’ALENE — Members of North Idaho College’s board of trustees are considering creating a “free speech zone” at the school’s campus, limiting potentially disruptive picketing, leafleting and other free speech activities to the designated zone. NIC Vice President for Student Services Sheldon Nord says that if approved, the policy would place limits on the time, place and manner of free speech activities. He says similar restrictions have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Nord told the Coeur d’Alene Press that the intent is to ensure that the campus maintains a safe and productive learning environment while allowing for the free exchange of ideas. The proposed policy is a response to a protest held on NIC grounds last fall by members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Police: Vancouver man set fire that killed 5 kids

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Police say a Vancouver man apparently set fire to his own home, killing himself and five of his children. Police said today they believe those killed in Sunday’s fire are 37-year-old Tuan Dao, 12-year-old Nolan, 9-year-olds Noah and Jacob, 8-year-old Samantha and 6-year-old Nathan. Police spokeswoman Kim Kapp says names may be officially confirmed in a few days by the Clark County medical examiner’s office, which is using dental records. Kapp says the fire was intentionally set with a liquid fuel that exploded. Tuan Dao is the only suspect. The investigation is continuing. The Oregonian reported Dao’s wife Lori and a 13-year-old daughter were away at the time of the fire. The Columbian reports the Daos filed for bankruptcy last year.

New UW president introduced on Seattle campus

SEATTLE — New University of Washington President Michael Young says he’d be willing to take less money than his predecessor, Mark Emmert. Young told a news conference today on campus that his compensation is still being negotiated. If Emmert had stayed at UW, he would have made more than $900,000 this year. Young’s total compensation as University of Utah president was nearly $724,000. Regents named Young Monday to succeed Emmert who left Seattle in September to take a job as president of the NCAA. Young calls the UW job complex — like being mayor of a small city, CEO of a large medical system and in charge of more coaches and athletes than the Mariners.

Test megaload near Montana border

BOISE — The Idaho Department of Transportation says an Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil oversized test load traveled more than 100 miles on U.S. Highway 2, stopping at a chain-up area about 5 miles from the Montana border. IDT says the 500,000-pound shipment left the Kooskia area at about 10 p.m. Tuesday. It traveled about 30 miles further than expected and arrived at the base of Lolo Pass at 4 a.m. today. The test shipment was scheduled to resume travel at midnight today to proceed into Montana. The oil company is conducting a test trip from the Port of Lewiston, through northwestern Montana to an oil sands project in southern Alberta. The test load left the Port of Lewiston on April 11, but was delayed for two weeks after causing a power outage near Kooskia.

Oregon crab season improves after delayed start

ASTORIA, Ore. — The Oregon crab fishing season has improved a lot since it got off to a delayed start followed by stormy weather early in the season. John Corbin of the Astoria Crab Marketing Association told The Daily Astorian the outlook for the Dungeness crab season wasn’t very bright at the beginning. Corbin says crab fishermen got pummeled by 65 miles per hour winds and were plagued by rain in the season’s first few days. His own first picks - the initial pots pulled up by North Coast crabbers - were disappointingly light, and others were having similar experiences. But things have improved, and Oregon crabbers have already landed more than 20 million pounds of the state crustacean, quickly approaching last season’s record total of just over 23 million pounds.

Washington parents plead not guilty to caging 2 boys

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A Washington state couple accused of keeping two autistic boys in a caged room have pleaded not guilty to criminal mistreatment and unlawful imprisonment charges. Thirty-year-old John Eckhart and his 26-year-old girlfriend, Alayna Higdon, were arrested after the boys — ages 5 and 7 — were found April 12 in a Vancouver apartment room with a cage-like door. Eckhart and Higdon both entered not guilty pleas this morning at an arraignment hearing in Clark County Superior Court in Vancouver. The boys are in state foster care, pending a custody hearing. The biological mother, Jona Bronson, of Tillamook, Ore., is seeking long-term placement.

Oregon health advisory issued for Cannon Beach water

CANNON BEACH, Ore. — A public health advisory has been issued for Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast due to higher-than-normal levels of bacteria in the ocean. State health officials said the elevated bacteria level was found at the mouth of Ecola Creek. Officials say increased bacteria levels in ocean waters can come from sources on the shore and inland, such as storm water runoff and animal waste from birds such as sea gulls and even pets. Water samples indicate higher-than-normal levels of fecal bacteria, which can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes and other illnesses. Direct contact with the water at Cannon Beach should be avoided until the advisories are lifted.

Fatal police shooting in Kelso ruled justified

KELSO, Wash. — The Cowlitz County prosecutor’s office says a Longview police officer was justified in shooting an armed man during a March 8 SWAT standoff in Kelso. The office said Tuesday that 31-year-old William Wayne Rowton was suicidal and threatening to shoot at police so they would be forced to fire on him. The Daily News reports an officer fired from about 200 feet away after Rowton pointed a revolver out a sliding glass door. Police had responded because Rowton’s girlfriend had called 911, saying he was sending her suicidal text messages.

Crater Lake snow pushes past 600 inches

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — The total snowfall at Crater Lake National Park has pushed past 600 inches, with more expected before the end of the season. The Herald and News reports that 9 inches of fresh snow measured Tuesday increased the total snowfall to 615 inches, well above the 492 inches normally measured by April 26. The total is already well above the park’s average snowfall through May of 524 inches. The last time the park measured more than 600 inches of snow was the winter of 1998-99, when the total was 674 inches. As of Tuesday, the snowpack at park headquarters stood at 144 inches — an even 12 feet — good news for Klamath Basin irrigators and wetlands when it starts to melt.

Montana lawmakers pass medical marijuana overhaul

HELENA, Mont. — Montana’s state House and Senate have passed a bill aimed at slashing the number of medical marijuana users and eliminating large pot businesses in the state. The measure cleared both chambers today. It next heads to Gov. Brian Schweitzer for his signature, veto or amendment recommendations. Schweitzer has already vetoed an outright repeal of the state’s medical marijuana law. Senate Bill 423 would put into place a limited, not-for-profit system meant to do away with the state’s profitable marijuana industry. The bill would require applicants to provide stricter proof that they have an illness that qualifies them to be on the medical marijuana registry. Providers would not be able to charge patients for the marijuana. The bill also would give authorities the ability to monitor and inspect growing operations.

Oregon House votes to make kicker check a credit

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon House has voted to replace “kicker” refund checks with a tax credit. The one-of-a-kind tax refund that has come to be known as the “kicker” started in 1980 when Oregon voters approved a law requiring any surplus state revenue be returned to taxpayers when revenue exceeds projections by 2 percent or more. But that refund was made as a tax credit until 1995, when the law was changed to require the state to mail out a check to taxpayers when it was time for a kicker refund. The Oregonian reports that by returning to the tax credit system, the state can save about $1 million — the cost of sending all those checks. The House sent the bill to the Senate after approving it 38 to 21 Tuesday.

Army special agent accused of sexual assault

OLYMPIA – A woman has accused a special agent with the Army Criminal Investigation Command of sexually assaulting her while he was conducting a narcotics investigation at her home on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, court papers state. The Army agent has not been arrested or charged with a crime. But when asked about the case, Chris Grey, chief of public affairs for the Army Criminal Investigation Command, confirmed that an agent has been suspended from all investigative duties “based on an open and ongoing investigation into allegations.” He also stated that the command has alerted the FBI. “We take these allegations very seriously and are committed to conducting a thorough investigation,” he said. The allegations came to light after the Army recently obtained a search warrant for a Lacey home where the agent under investigation resides. Lacey police executed the search warrant on the Army’s behalf at the home April 13. Lacey police seized clothing belonging to the agent, according to the search warrant affidavit. The agent is under investigation in connection with a potential charge of third-degree rape, the affidavit states.

Seattle police seek possible torture victims

SEATTLE — Seattle police are looking for other possible torture victims of a man accused of assaulting a woman in a sound-proof bondage room at his Tacoma home. Police released a photo Tuesday of 66-year-old John Joseph Hauff along with photos of his car and property and said they would not ask other victims if they were involved in prostitution or drug crimes. Hauff is charged in Seattle with kidnapping, rape and assault. He’s accused of picking up a prostitute April 2 for a sexual role involving bondage. The woman says she was tied up and tortured with instruments and electricity for hours. She was released after she disclosed she had texted Hauff’s car license number to her boyfriend.

State Senate hearing considering Oregon gun laws

EUGENE, Ore. — The Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee will hear public testimony Thursday on proposed changes to the state’s gun laws. The hearing was scheduled before Friday’s fatal shooting of a Eugene police officer, but Chairman Floyd Prozanski of Eugene changed the agenda to consider banning gun ownership for some people with psychological problems. The Register Guard reports the woman accused of shooting Officer Chris Kilcullen, Cheryl Kidd, reportedly has a developmental disability but was able to pass the state background check and buy a .38-caliber handgun from a sporting goods store.

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