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NW today: Police probe report of signature fraud

Fri., July 22, 2011, 11:46 a.m.

What’s news in the Northwest today:

OLYMPIA — The Washington State Patrol is investigating a report that some signatures for an initiative seeking to require training and background checks for long-term care workers appear to be fraudulent. reports that the secretary of state’s office requested the criminal probe. Officials said the company paid to gather the signatures, PCI Consultants, realized they were bogus and brought them to the attention of authorities, and none of the hundreds of questionable signatures was among the estimated 340,000 submitted in favor of Initiative 1163. The initiative is backed by the Service Employees International Union. Campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik said the campaign did not pay for or even receive the fake signature, and that it takes seriously the integrity of the signature-gathering process.

Endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits breeding

SPOKANE — For the first time in a decade, the endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit appears to have successfully bred in its historic range. A litter of kits has been confirmed in a 6-acre enclosure at the Sagebrush Flat Wildlife Area in central Washington, where conservationists are slowly reintroducing the tiny rabbits to the wild. So far, 93 pygmy rabbits have been reintroduced to the Sagebrush Flat area this spring and summer, and they appear to be breeding. Until this release, there were no Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits known to be left in the wild.

No suspects in Yakima shooting that injured girl

YAKIMA, Wash — Yakima Police say they have no suspects in the shooting earlier this week that critically injured a 6-year-old girl. Neighbors have identified the girl as Sitlaly Calva-Acevedo and say they had been told she was hit twice in the chest or abdomen when a gunman opened fire on a group of adults and children in the front yard of her Yakima home. The Yakima Herald reports no arrests have been made in the Wednesday night shooting, which happened across the street from Barge-Lincoln Elementary School. It’s the latest in a string of Yakima shootings that have claimed innocent victims. Yakima Detective Sgt. Mike Pollard confirmed the girl was shot twice, although he did not specify where. She was listed in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center.

Pharmacy student’s double life exposed in arrest

CORVALLIS, Ore. — An Oregon State University pharmacy student who was nominated to take part in a police drug-disposal program has been convicted of selling heroin. The Corvallis Gazette-Times reports 23-year-old Christopher Ploghoft pleaded no contest to a charge of delivery of heroin. He was sentenced to 20 days in jail and two years of probation. A police informant identified Ploghoft as a dealer in early April. On April 4, the informant arranged to buy less than a gram of heroin from Ploghoft, and Ploghoft was arrested. Ploghoft lawyer says the pharmacy student was a senior with good grades who was so well regarded by the school that he was scheduled to take part in an annual prescription drug disposal event with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. He was arrested before the event.

Exxon cleans up 4 sites in Yellowstone oil spill

BILLINGS, Mont. — ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. crews have finished initial cleanup work on four sites contaminated when a pipeline carrying crude oil broke underneath the Yellowstone River three weeks ago. The Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Quality will assess whether the cleanup is adequate. DEQ Deputy Director Tom Livers tells The Billings Gazette that state standards require the cleanup to continue until the effort would be more harmful than beneficial to the environment. So far, 46 sites have been identified for cleanup after an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil leaked into the river, starting on July 1. International Bird Rescue of California was brought in by Exxon to clean wildlife affected by the spill. Jay Holcomb with the rescue group says they’ve only had to treat three birds.

Most Chinook fishing to end soon on 2 rivers

LEWISTON — Fishing for Chinook salmon will close on most of the lower Salmon River in Idaho and on the Imnaha River in Oregon in the next few days. A section of the Salmon River between Cottonwood and Riggins will close starting Monday morning, along with the section from Shorts Creek to the boat ramp at Vinegar Creek. The Imnaha River in the northeastern corner of Oregon will close to Chinook fishing at sundown Saturday. The Lewiston Tribune reports that Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil More signed the closure order Thursday in part to help protect migrating endangered sockeye salmon. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is closing the Imnaha because anglers are expected to soon reach the harvest quota there.

Officials confirm hantavirus killed Yakima man

YAKIMA — State and federal health officials have confirmed that hantavirus killed a Yakima man earlier this month. The death of the man in his 50s is the first hantavirus death in Washington state since 2009 and the first case of the illness in the state this year. Hantavirus is fatal in about one of every three cases, so Yakima health officials are encouraging residents to take precautions. In Washington, the most common carriers of the illness are deer mice. Health officials advise people to ventilate shed and similar areas before cleaning, use a bleach solution to soak the area before cleaning or mopping and double bag all cleaning materials. Early signs of hantavirus arrive one to six weeks after exposure and resemble the flu.

Since 1993, 41 cases have been reported in Washington State, resulting in 13 deaths.

Idaho inmate wins new trial on lewd conduct charge

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — A man found guilty of lewd conduct with a child two years go will again stand trial in Bonneville County after the Idaho Supreme Court threw out his conviction, ruling he should have been able to cross examine his 5-year-old accuser. The Post Register reports prosecutors have filed a motion seeking to transport 43-year-old Jonathan Earl Folk from a prison in Kuna to Bonneville County, where he represented himself during his trial two years ago on charges that he had oral-to-genital contact with a small boy. Folk was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He appealed and argued, among other things, that his right to confront his accuser had been violated. On June 30, the Idaho Supreme Court agreed and also found the jury instructions flawed.

Lewis County deputy rescues baby owl

TOLEDO, Wash. — A Lewis County sheriff’s deputy has rescued a baby owl that was caught in a barbed wire fence near Toledo. The Longview Daily News reports a passerby alerted the sheriff’s office on Thursday morning after seeing the owl struggling to free itself. The deputy was able to get the owl — which he has named Orville — off the fence with some help from a neighbor. Orville has been taken to a Chehalis non-profit wildlife rehabilitation group. The rehabilitator at We Are One says the owl will need skin grafts and will be transported to Washington State University for treatment.

Financing allows completion of Libby welding plant

LIBBY, Mont. — The Montana Community Development Corporation has announced $17 million in financing to allow Stinger Welding to complete a fabrication plant that will bring at least 100 more jobs to Libby. Stinger Welding, a fabricator of steel bridge components, has 43 employees in Libby. It began work on a 105,000-square-foot fabrication plant in 2009, but the project was put on hold because of financial challenges. Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group qualified for federal tax credits to loan money to the project under a program aimed at increasing investment in low-income communities. Libby has struggled with losses in the logging industry and asbestos contamination from a vermiculite mine. Stinger Welding says construction is expected to be complete in late August or early September. The plant is scheduled to begin production in the fall.

Kids from Iraq on a really long field trip to WSU

PULLMAN — A group of kids from Iraq are on a really long field trip this month, visiting Washington State University. The fourth and fifth-grade students from Knowledge Private School in Duhok, Iraq, start their official visit today. During the next five days, they will make stops at the WSU Pullman and Spokane campuses. They’ll check out a medical lab, participate in a DNA lab exercise, and on Monday will visit school children their own age in summer school at Lincoln Heights Elementary.

Judge appoints special master in prison lawsuit

BOISE — A federal judge has appointed a special master to see if the state is complying with court orders in a decades-old lawsuit over conditions at the Idaho State Correctional Institution. Marc Stern, a doctor and correctional health care consultant from Tumwater, Wash., was hired by the court to investigate one of the rulings in the Walter Balla case. The class-action lawsuit was named after the inmate who first brought the federal court case, contending that overcrowding, poor access to medical care and other problems at the prison south of Boise were creating cruel and inhumane conditions for prisoners. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has ordered Stern to determine if the state is in compliance with the Balla ruling designed to improve medical and mental health care for inmates.

Tulalips, Microsoft settle name issue

TULALIP, Wash. — The Tulalip Tribes and Microsoft Corp. have amicably settled the issue over whether the software company was using the tribe’s name for a prototype of a social media design project. Tribal leadership sent an e-mail to The Daily Herald on Thursday evening saying they accept the company’s explanation that Tulalip was being used as an internal code name and was never intended to be use publicly. They say they consider the matter resolved. A few minutes later, Microsoft sent the newspaper a statement of its own, saying company officials had spoken with tribal representatives and have apologized to the tribe. The company says it respects the sensitivities the Tulalip Tribes have around the use of their name. Microsoft will no longer be used for the research project.

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