What’s news in the Northwest today:
VANCOUVER, Wash. – Call it a Valentine’s Day tradition on a monumental scale. A 4.3-magnitude earthquake occurred 6 miles north of Mount St. Helens on Monday morning – exactly 30 years to the day after an even bigger earthquake occurred at nearly the exact same spot. Monday’s quake was followed by more than a half-dozen much smaller aftershocks, all in the same general area. Scientists said the seismic activity does not indicate magma rising at Mount St. Helens. They’ve detected none of the shallow quakes or gas typically associated with an imminent volcanic eruption. But they said Monday’s quake – just like the one 30 years ago – is at least indirectly related to the volcano. Felt as far away as south Puget Sound and Astoria, Ore., Monday’s first temblor was the biggest in the Pacific Northwest in two years. Scientists suspect the quake, at 10:35 a.m., may have occurred in a bit of post-eruption settling in the landscape surrounding Mount St. Helens, which last erupted between 2004 and 2008. The quake generated a specific kind of shear wave felt over a wide area, said Bill Steele, seismology lab coordinator at the University of Washington in Seattle. In a curious twist of timing and fate, this type of surface wave is named for the scientist who discovered it: early 20th-century British geophysicist Augustus Love. “It was very rich in Love waves,” Steele said, with scant trace of irony. “Those Love waves coming out were probably what people were feeling.”
Amanda Knox’s parents indicted in Italy
PERUGIA, Italy — A lawyer says the parents of Amanda Knox, the University of Washington student convicted of murder in Italy, have been ordered to stand trial for alleging that Italian police abused their daughter. The Italian news agency ANSA said Curt Knox and Edda Mellas were indicted today in Perugia for libel. Lawyer Luciano Ghirga confirmed the indictment and said trial was set for July 4. He said the couple did not attend the hearing. The charge stems from an interview they gave Britain’s Sunday Times years ago in which the father alleged police had physically and verbally abused his daughter during questioning after Meredith Kercher’s 2007 slaying, before Knox was arrested. Police have denied harming Knox. A family representative said there was no comment.
Idaho education chief’s truck vandalized
BOISE — Vandals targeted the truck of Idaho’s public schools chief, slashing its tires and spray painting it as the furor over his proposed education reforms appears to be growing uglier. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna woke at 4:30 a.m. today to find two of his tires slashed and the word “Luna” painted on its body with a slash through the letters. House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke attributed the vandalism to those who are upset about Luna’s school reforms, which include introducing merit pay, expanding online and computer classes, increasing class sizes and reducing teachers. Luna has become the target of personal attacks recently. A teacher went to his mother’s house last weekend, and he was heckled this morning after a live newscast in a downtown Boise coffee shop.
Bill to expand human rights law rejected — again
BOISE — Since 2007, state lawmakers have rejected legislation to ban discrimination in Idaho against people who are gay, lesbian or transgender. And Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie says this year will be no different. McKenzie chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee and says he doesn’t plan to schedule a hearing on a bill introduced in the 2011 session to ban workplace and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Idaho’s Human Rights Act now forbids discrimination based on race, sex, religion, color, national origin and mental or physical disabilities. Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, introduced a measure to include people who are gay, lesbian and transgender and feel they are victims of discrimination. But McKenzie told the Idaho Press Tribune there’s not enough support among Idaho’s conservative lawmakers to move the bill forward.
Bill would allow school districts to sell bus ads
BOISE — As Idaho’s cash-strapped school districts scour for creative ways to make ends meet, state lawmakers are looking to help them out. Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, introduced a bill this week that would allow districts to sell advertising space on school buses. Winder’s bill would direct the state Board of Education to draft rules with “reasonable restrictions” on the content of the bus ads. About half a dozen states already allow bus advertising and the idea can be traced back more than a decade, though budget woes have led to a resurgence in recent years. While supporters of the idea say it’s practically free money, opponents argue the tactic isn’t much different than dressing teachers in sponsor-emblazoned uniforms.
Portland council considering fragrance-free policy
PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland City Council is expected to approve a new policy Wednesday for city employees to create a fragrance-free workplace. All employees would be asked to refrain from wearing perfume, cologne and after shave and to avoid strongly scented deodorant. The Oregonian reports it wouldn’t be an outright ban, but fragrant employees could face disciplinary action. The idea is to protect workers with asthma or health issues triggered by fragrances. If approved, the fragrance-free policy would take effect in March.
Amtrak train evacuated after threat
HELENA, Mont. — Amtrak officials say an unruly passenger who was removed from a train made a threat while he was being detained that led to the train’s evacuation. No threat was found and passengers endured an 11-hour delay in northwestern Montana, arriving in Whitefish just before 7:30 a.m. today. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says a passenger was removed from the train in Browning shortly before 8:30 p.m. Monday. While being interviewed by local authorities, the man “somehow threatened the safety of the train.” The train was stopped between Browning and East Glacier and its 150 passengers were evacuated to a middle school. Magliari says a canine detection unit helped search the train. Glacier County officials say the man is in custody in Cut Bank. No charges have been filed.
Former officer guilty in accidental shooting
BOISE — A former Emmett police officer has pleaded guilty to felony injury to a child after her police-issued gun went off while a 3-year-old was handling it, injuring three people. Ada County deputy prosecutor Shelley Armstrong says Kim Judy pleaded guilty Monday in Emmett in an agreement that calls for a two-year probationary sentence, during which she would not be allowed to possess a firearm. Sentencing is set for March 14. Prosecutors say Judy left her gun on a night stand on Aug. 5. The next morning her roommate’s 3-year-old son was handling the weapon when it fired, hitting the boy in the leg, another child in the hand and his mother, Whysper Rowden, in the arm. Rowden faces trial in March on two counts of felony injury to a child.
Drug role in Portland bank robberies
PORTLAND — A robber who hit five banks in a three-week crime spree in the fall of 2009 was sentenced Monday in Portland to nearly 11 years in prison. The Oregonian reports federal Judge Anna J. Brown called the 32-year-old, Aphixay Vilalay, a menace to society. Court records say he and his brother hit banks to support heroin habits. The 21-year-old brother, Tony DeClue, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison. Drugs played a role in another bank robbery spree. A 32-year-old man, Travis Oles, pleaded guilty Monday to helping plan 11 bank holdups in Oregon and Washington called the River Rat robberies. He said he and his partner were on cocaine. He faces an 18-year-term when he’s sentenced in May in federal court.
2 teens arrested in Gresham arson spree
GRESHAM, Ore. — Police say two teens went on an arson spree in Gresham, throwing Molotov cocktails at a school, home and chiropractic office. The burning bottles caused only minor damage at the school and business office Monday night and no damage at the house. Officers saw a suspicious car drop off two young men. They were found hiding in the attic of a nearby house. Officers also found a backyard stash of gas, bottles and wick material. A 17-year-old is held in juvenile detention and a 19-year-old is jailed on arson charges. The driver of the suspicious car was contacted and denied involvement in the arson spree but said the other two bragged about what they were doing.
Idaho Fish and Game chief to retire next month
BOISE — The head of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game says he plans to retire next month and spend more time hunting and fishing in Idaho’s backcountry. Cal Groen is expected to officially announce his retirement today. The Lewiston Tribune reports the 64-year-old fish and game chief intends to move back to Lewiston and is excited about starting the next phase of his life there. Groen was named director of the state agency in 2007 and promised the state Fish and Game Commission to serve in that post for four years. Groen says he is proud of efforts to make the department more efficient during an era of tough budgets, overseeing the state’s first public wolf hunt in decades and helping restore wildlife habitat statewide. He worked for the department for 21 years.
Killing stalls religious programs at Monroe prison
MONROE, Wash. — Religious programs at the Monroe Correctional Complex have been halted since Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl was strangled Jan. 29 in the prison chapel. A convicted rapist serving a life sentence, 52-year-old Byron Scherf, is being investigated in the killing. The Daily Herald of Everett reports about 70 religious organizations provide services at the Reformatory. Prison officials have met twice with religious volunteers, but there’s no word yet when the lockdown will end and normal services resume.
Richland, Wash., man killed in Honduras crash
KENNEWICK, Wash. — One of the 14 people killed Monday in a plane crash in Honduras was a Richland businessman working as a Jehovah’s Witnesses missionary. The Tri-City Herald reports 47-year-old Flynn Tomchuk was a co-owner of the Richland landscaping firm Sunscapes Inc., but he had left that behind for the time being to become a full-time minister. His father, Robert Tomchuk, said his son was “out proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom.” Flynn Tomchuk’s wife, daughter and daughter’s husband were with him in Honduras but not on the fatal flight.
School closed for day due to mercury spill
MOUNTAIN HOME, Idaho — Officials in Mountain Home say they have closed down the high school for the day after a custodian discovered a small mercury spill in a lab room. School administrators said today the mercury most likely leaked from a broken thermometer or some other piece of lab equipment. County hazardous materials crews are on site cleaning up the chemical. School administrators say they closed doors to the school this morning to keep students from getting inside and risking exposure. The plan is to resume classes Wednesday.
Bill would require partisan elections for judges
HELENA, Mont. — A legislative panel is considering a proposal to require judges in Montana to run in partisan elections. That means district judges and Supreme Court justices would be affiliated with political parties and be nominated and elected like any other candidate. Judicial elections are now nonpartisan and candidates cannot identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats. Rep. Michael More of Gallatin Gateway presented House Bill 521 to House State Administration Committee today. He says making judicial elections partisan would allow voters to understand candidates’ biases. The issue came into the spotlight last fall when District Judge Nels Swandal touted his conservative credentials in a losing campaign for a state Supreme Court seat. The winner, attorney Beth Baker, had campaigned on her nonpartisan background and lamented that partisan politics had entered the race.
Obama budget plan would boost JBLM construction
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Construction at Joint Base Lewis-McChord would increase further if Congress adopts President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal. The News Tribune reports that the spending plan released Monday would set aside more than $300 million for construction at the base south of Tacoma, up from about $172 million in the 2011 budget proposal Congress has yet to approve. The newspaper says the 2012 plan would increase total military construction in Washington state to $519 million, about $220 million more than what the Defense Department plans to spend this year. That would rank Washington seventh for military construction money in the country, up from 14th in 2011.
Feds issue final study on uranium enrichment plant
BOISE — Federal regulators say a multi-billion dollar uranium enrichment plant the French nuclear energy company Areva Inc. wants to build in eastern Idaho poses no significant risks to the environment. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is also recommending a license be granted for the proposed Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility. The agency today issued its final environmental impact study on the project, planned outside of Idaho Falls. The Post-Register reports that the agency has concluded the environmental impacts from the plant on land, air quality, water resources and other criteria would be small. Last fall, the NRC also concluded that operation of the plant would not pose a significant risk to worker and public health and safety. Agency officials say they intend to hold a hearing in the environmental study this summer.
Moeller bill would legalize gay marriage
VANCOUVER – In honor of Valentine’s Day, state Rep. Jim Moeller is introducing legislation in the House today that would give same-sex couples in Washington the right to marry. Moeller, D-Vancouver, and state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, took advantage of the holiday dedicated to celebrating love to call for full marriage equality. Murray introduced a companion bill in the Senate Monday. Moeller and Murray are among a small group of openly gay members of the Legislature. Moeller noted the passage of civil rights legislation in 2006 that protects gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing and financial transactions. Over the next three years, the Legislature passed a series of bills securing broad rights for same-sex couples, culminating in a law that established state-recognized domestic partners. In 2009, voters upheld the domestic partnership law, rejecting a referendum that sought to overturn it.
Rescued cow, Molly B, arrives at new home
STEVENSVILLE, Mont. — A cow that avoided slaughter five years ago by famously jumping a slaughterhouse gate and leading officials on a chase through Great Falls was recently rescued from an overcrowded animal sanctuary in western Montana and finally has a new home. The cow, dubbed the “Unsinkable Molly B” because her 2006 escape included a swim in the Missouri River, is at home on the New Dawn Montana Farm Animal Sanctuary near Stevensville. Sanctuary officials thought they had her several weeks ago, before learning a similarly-marked bovine was actually “Big Mike,” a steer. Sue Eakins of New Dawn tells the Ravalli Republic it was a relief to have Molly B. delivered safely last week. She says she and her husband had been warned about Molly’s demeanor, but Eakins says Molly is a “sweetie pie.”