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London attack victims took part in program with prisoners
By GREGORY KATZ | Sun, December 1, 2019 01:13 EST
LONDON (AP) — Three of the five people who were killed or wounded in the London stabbing attack were former Cambridge University students or staff members who had gathered for an event designed to connect graduate students with prisoners, police and the university said Sunday.
The two dead were identified as Saskia Jones, 23, and Jack Merritt, 25, who had already been named by his family as having perished in the attack Friday near London Bridge.
“Both were graduates of the University of Cambridge and were involved in the Learning Together program — Jack as a coordinator and Saskia as a volunteer,” police said.
Started five years ago, the program was designed to bring graduate students together with prisoners to study criminology in an effort to reduce stigma and marginalization experienced by many inmates.
Jones’ family described her as having “a great passion for providing invaluable support to victims of criminal injustice, which led her to the point of recently applying for the police graduate recruitment program.”
The family said she wanted to specialize in victim support.
Merritt’s family said he “lived his principles” and “believed in redemption and rehabilitation, not revenge, and he always took the side of the underdog.”
The attacker, Usman Khan, was apparently attending the event and had returned for the afternoon session when he started stabbing people. Police believe he acted alone.
Khan was a convicted terrorist who had secured early release from prison. He was shot dead by police after he was restrained by civilians. Officers opened fire after he flashed what looked like a suicide vest, but it was a fake device.
One of those who was wounded was a university staff member. The three survivors were not named. Officials said one was released from a hospital Sunday, and the others were in stable condition.
The gathering had been meant to celebrate the fifth year of the program, university Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope said.
“What should have been a joyous opportunity to celebrate the achievements of this unique and socially transformative program, hosted by our Institute of Criminology, was instead disrupted by an unspeakable criminal act,” Toope said.
Some people at the event, including prison staff and former prisoners, put their lives in danger to restrain the attacker until police arrived, officials said.
Loraine Gelsthorpe, director of the university’s Institute of Criminology, said “they worked together selflessly to bring an end to this tragedy and to save further lives.”
British media reports indicate that the group included a convicted murderer who was on a day-release program at the time. Police and university officials have not confirmed the account.
Doctors are dealing with the survivors’ physical injuries, but it may be weeks before mental trauma can be assessed, said Dr. Vin Diwakar, medical director for the NHS in London.
“The psychological impact of such events sometimes only comes to light in the days and weeks afterwards,” he said.
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Michigan, Illinois set to usher in recreational pot sales
By DAVID EGGERT and KATHLEEN FOODY | Sat, November 30, 2019 09:11 EST
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — James Daly is eager to make marijuana history on Sunday, when he plans to open the doors to Arbors Wellness, beckon the lengthy line outside and legally start selling recreational pot for the first time in the Midwest.
“We’ve worked very hard to be prepared,” said Daly, who owns the medical dispensary that, for now, is among just six shops in Michigan — mostly in Ann Arbor — also approved to start selling for adult use in December. The business is doubling staff and has fielded calls from potential customers across the state along with neighboring Ohio and Indiana.
“The end of prohibition is historic,” he said. “We wanted to rip the Band-Aid off.”
Both Michigan and Illinois, which allows sales starting on Jan. 1, are officially joining nine other states that broadly allow marijuana sales. Companies are rushing to complete renovations at dispensaries, expand their growing facilities, and get staff hired and trained.
The Midwestern states’ launch into the potentially lucrative recreational market comes at a turbulent time for the industry, which has been rocked by layoffs, the vaping health scare and investor disappointment with Canada’s marijuana program.
In both states, a limited number of businesses have received state licenses letting them sell recreational products initially. But those same retailers must keep enough product on hand to supply people certified as patients under medical marijuana laws.
The conditions are “almost a guarantee” that Illinois and Michigan customers will experience long lines, product shortages and potentially high prices in the early stages, said Adam Orens, co-founder of the Marijuana Policy Group.
“They’ve got to get through the growing pains to get a system implemented,” he said.
Taking marijuana from a small cutting to dried flower ready to be sold or transformed into edible gummies or oils takes months.
In Michigan, where voters legalized recreational pot just over a year ago, regulators who began accepting license applications Nov. 1 are aiding the transition by letting medical growers, processors and dispensaries transfer up to half their products to the recreational side under certain conditions.
But marijuana is unlikely to be more broadly available until more businesses become licensed and additional communities authorize sales.
More than 1,400 of Michigan’s nearly 1,800 cities, townships and villages are not allowing recreational businesses. Even Detroit, home to the most medical dispensaries in the state, has delayed recreational sales until at least Jan. 31.
“This is brand new for a lot of municipalities. I think it’s important that they are doing their due diligence and taking an approach that honors the will of their people,” said Andrew Brisbo, executive director of the Marijuana Regulatory Agency, which has awarded 18 licenses and approved 78 pre-qualification applications.
He said he expects adult sales to occur in “some consistent form” at a greater number of Michigan locations by the end of March.
In Illinois, seven months will have separated Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signing of legislation permitting people 21 and older to buy and possess marijuana and the start of sales in January.
The first round of applications is limited to existing medical marijuana retailers, and about 30 are newly licensed to sell recreational products. More could be approved before January.
Most of the state’s licensed cultivation companies are expanding their space to meet higher demand for marijuana products. But that work takes time, too.
Mark de Souza, CEO of the state’s largest marijuana producer Revolution Enterprises, said he has heard from dispensary operators “panicked” that they could have empty shelves within months of adult sales beginning.
But he believes the overall structure Illinois’ law created will become the industry’s “gold standard.”
“You’re going to ensure everything from compliance to truth in labeling to taxes to consumer safety,” he said. “We don’t think any short-term supply issues are going to be harmful.”
Still, retailers are considering appointment-based systems rather than lining up customers in winter weather. Others have retrofitted their dispensaries to let medical patients in one door and recreational customers in another, hoping to limit confusion if their product supplies run low.
Amy Manganelli, chief operating officer at Mapleglen Care Center in the western Illinois city of Rockford, said she is anticipating long lines and taking steps to prepare employees.
“We can’t open January 1 and have somebody futzing with the scanner,” she said. “That won’t make the people in line, standing outside in winter, very happy.”
State law lets local governments bar recreational dispensaries, and at least two of Illinois’ existing medical dispensaries are in communities that decided to prevent expanded sales. Chicago set up seven districts with a limited number of dispensaries allowed in each, and business owners only learned at a lottery event in mid-November where they could operate within the city.
Illinois lawmakers said they expected a slow start. Their long-term goals, though, hinge on parts of the law intended to ensure people of color can open and work for marijuana businesses despite historic inequities in enforcement of state and federal drug laws.
The law includes a scoring bonus during the license-award process for social equity applicants — people living in communities most affected by enforcement of marijuana laws, or individuals arrested for or convicted of marijuana offenses that would be legal under the new law. A low-interest loan program for these applicants also was created as part of the law.
Michigan has cut marijuana licensing fees for prospective business owners living in 41 cities whose residents were disproportionately impacted by drug enforcement.
Toi Hutchinson, a former Illinois state senator who oversees the work of all seven state agencies that interact with cannabis businesses, said she is confident that regulators are hitting their deadlines. And she said they will be prepared for other significant milestones in 2020, including the first round of applicants seeking 75 additional licenses to sell recreational products.
January will bring “hiccups,” Hutchison acknowledged. But she said Illinois must stay focused on broader goals including making sure people of color get opportunities in the marijuana industry.
“If we’re really serious about equity, this is a long game,” said Hutchinson, who co-sponsored the marijuana legalization proposal. “This isn’t just about January 1.”
Foody reported from Chicago.
Follow the AP’s complete marijuana coverage: https://apnews.com/Marijuana
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Maltese prosecutors charge businessman in reporter’s killing
Sat, November 30, 2019 10:00 EST
VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Maltese prosecutors on Saturday charged a prominent local businessman as being an accomplice to the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a 2017 car bombing on Malta.
Yorgen Fenech, a Maltese hotelier and former director of the Maltese power company, was also charged in the evening courtroom hearing with being an accomplice to causing the explosion that killed the 53-year-old reporter as she drove near her home.
He was also arraigned on a further charge: promoting, organizing or financing a group with the intention of committing a crime.
Three men early in the case were charged with carrying out the actual bombing. But it wasn’t immediately clear if ‘’the group,’’ referred to them or perhaps to others.
Magistrate Audrey Demicoli asked Fenech to enter pleas. He replied that he was pleading innocent, didn’t request bail and was remanded in custody.
Ten days earlier, Malta police stopped Fenech as he was sailing away from Malta on his yacht.
The reporter’s family has alleged that Fenech has ties to close associates of the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, including his recently resigned chief of staff.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Muscat might resign amid increasing calls by citizens on the island, including Caruana Galizia’s family, for him to step down. Muscat, in power since 2013, has said he will speak after the investigative case is complete.
“What we now expect is the prime minister to leave office and to leave Parliament,” Corinne Vella, one of the slain reporter’s sisters, told The Malta Independent after the arraignment of Fenech.
Vella also called for Muscat as well as his former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, to be “properly investigated” for their “possible involvement in Daphne’s assassination.”
Schembri quit his government post a few days earlier. He had been taken into custody for questioning but later released. Police said there weren’t grounds to hold him.
Two of Muscat’s ministers also have stepped down, including one who was questioned.
The two, along with Schembri, have said they are innocent of wrongdoing.
Caruana Galizia wrote shortly before her death that corruption was everywhere in political and business circles in the tiny EU island nation.
An alleged go-between in the bombing has received immunity from prosecution for alerting authorities to Fenech’s purported involvement.
No trial date has been set for the three men who were jailed as the alleged bombers.
Fenech’s name appeared in the leak of the millions of documents, known as the Panama Papers, three years ago.
Caruana Galizia had alleged in her blog eight months before her death that a company called 17 Black Ltd. that was listed in the documents was connected to Maltese politicians.
She never discovered who owned the company.
Later, 17 Black, a company owned by Fenech, was identified in a leaked email as a source of income for the Panama companies set up by Schembri, and one of the recently resigned ministers.
Schembri has said that 17 Black had been a potential client for his business group.
Caruana Galizia’s reporting was continued by the Daphne Project, determined to root out wrongdoing in Malta, which is a financial haven for many business figures from abroad.
The project reported last year that Malta’s anti-laundering watchdog identified Fenech as 17 Black’s owner.
Fenech has declined any comment about the alleged ownership.
Earlier in the week, senior European Union lawmakers announced an urgent mission to Malta to look into the state of the rule of law there amid questions about the independence of the island nation’s justice system.
EU lawmaker Sven Giegold said the mission’s priority “must be to investigate all potential links to the prime minister who has protected and defended these ministers for so long.”
A previous EU parliamentary mission from a year ago criticized “lack of police action” following the killing and described developments in Malta as “a source of concern for the whole of the EU.”
One of the island’s media, Malta Today, in its online edition on Saturday, published a photo of Schembri apparently posing with an alleged go-between in the bombing case, Melvin Theuma, a taxi driver who received immunity from prosecutor in exchange for providing details about the case.
It was unclear when the photo was taken.
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In ride-hail boom, livery cabs feel squeezed and forgotten
By CLAUDIA TORRENS | Sat, November 30, 2019 08:02 EST
NEW YORK (AP) — As a livery cab driver in the Bronx for more than a decade, Orlando Lantigua knows some of his customers well. If they don’t have money to pay today, they can pay him later. He often gets dispatched by his base station to pick up children and take them to school, without their parents in the car.
“That’s how much parents trust the base. We are part of the community,” says Lantigua, a 58-year-old Dominican immigrant who lives in the Bronx.
In the outer boroughs and low-income New York neighborhoods — where yellow cabs rarely go and public transportation is sometimes sparse — residents who lack smart phones or credit cards have relied on livery cabs for generations.
But the businesses, many times owned by Latino immigrants, are dwindling rapidly: There were nearly 22,000 livery cabs in New York in 2015, and there are approximately 9,600 now, according to the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.
More than 100 livery cab bases have closed their doors since 2015, when ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft began to provide a large number of trips, cutting into their business. This year alone, 46 have shut down. By law, livery cabs, which are also often used for airport trips, cannot be hailed in the street but are authorized to pick up paying passengers when booked by phone.
“We are in a serious crisis,” says Cira Angeles, spokeswoman for the Livery Base Owners Association.
Lantigua says he earns less each year and spends more on complying with fees and rules.
In 2018, the City Council agreed to cap the number of vehicle licenses for ride-hailing services to reduce traffic congestion and increase drivers’ salary in the wake of the explosive growth of for-hire vehicles.
But that measure, aimed at giants like Uber, has inadvertently pummeled livery cab companies, which are now asking to be exempt from the cap and be given their own specialized license, claiming that the city needs to look at them individually instead of coming up with a one-size-fits-all solution that is putting them on the path to extinction.
Because of the cap, they say, they can’t replace drivers who retire or who can’t renew their licenses due to pending tickets. Super Class Radio Dispatch, which Lantigua drives for, had more than 250 drivers about five years ago, according to Fidel Farrell, one of the base’s owners. Now it has about 175.
“Our communities are suffering, we are losing our livelihoods because of blanket approach policies,” said Angeles. Some residents in places like Washington Heights, a heavily Latino neighborhood in upper Manhattan, prefer to be transported by “the guy in the corner they have known for years,” she said.
Customers of livery cabs are also used to calling a number and speaking with a dispatcher — often a multilingual one.
“For me, they are important,” said Silvia Mat, a 71-year-old Dominican immigrant and Bronx resident while walking her dog recently. “It would be a sad thing to see them go and a sad thing to see drivers without jobs.”
Allan Fromberg, the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s deputy commissioner for public affairs, said discussion of a new livery license class “has only just begun”.
William Heinzen, TLC’s acting commissioner, acknowledged recently during a hearing in City Hall that livery cabs are in a tight spot but explained that they are exempt from some of the new regulations that affect ride-hailing apps, like a cap on how long they can cruise without a fare in Manhattan’s congested areas and requirements for collecting data on their rides. Heinzen said he supports the concept of a Livery Task Force, which would analyze the issue, and said the TLC has reduced many penalties for drivers.
Ydanis Rodríguez, chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee and a former livery cab driver, is asking the city, among other things, to eliminate driver’s debt associated with penalties.
“We have to treat this industry with respect and dignity because it is key for the immigrants who live here,” he said.
Alix Anfang, a spokeswoman for Uber, said the company does not favor a special license for community cabs.
“While we agree that Mayor (Bill) de Blasio’s regulations are hurting drivers across the city, this proposal would limit drivers’ choice by ending their ability to partner with various bases and companies,” she said. Many livery cab drivers also work for ride-hailing apps.
Antonio Rosario, who has been driving livery cabs for more than 20 years, wishes the city would allow drivers like him to offer rides to people who hail them on the street because calls to livery bases are dwindling.
“There is too much competition,” he said.
But the TLC says street hails pose a public safety problem. Right now, only yellow taxis can be hailed in Manhattan. A special class of green taxis can take street hails in the city’s other boroughs — and they are often affiliated with livery cab bases so do not cut into their business.
Despite their struggles, livery cabs remain an integral part of Latino neighborhoods, said Angeles, of the Livery Base Owners Association.
“This is how the Latino community works. We go to the bodega store, we go to the restaurant in the neighborhood, and we also go to the livery base because it is open 24 hours,” she said. “It protects the community.”
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Rescuers search for girl, 6, missing after truck swept away
Sun, December 1, 2019 10:32 EST
TONTO BASIN, Ariz. (AP) — Nine members of an Arizona family, together for the Thanksgiving holiday, were in an oversized military-style truck when they got stuck in a raging creek swollen by intense runoff from a powerful storm.
Four children and two adults got out and were rescued by helicopter, but three children stayed in the truck and it was later swept away.
Rescuers with helicopters, drones, boats, dogs and an army of volunteers searched frantically Sunday for a 6-year-old girl missing since Friday. Her brother and cousin, both 5, were found dead on Saturday.
“We want to bring her home safely to her family,” said Lt. Virgil Dodd of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. “She needs to come home today, and we’re going to do that today.”
At dusk Sunday, rescuers said they found a shoe that might belong to the girl. The shoe was about 200 yards from where the family’s vehicle got stuck in the creek.
“There was a shoe in the area where there was some interest in that debris,” Lt. Virgil Dodd of Gila County Sheriff’s Office told the Arizona Republic. “At this time, we believe that it may belong to the little girl that we’re searching for.”
More than 100 volunteers gathered near Tonto Basin, a small community northeast of Phoenix, early Sunday to help search for the missing girl, Willa Rawlings, the Republic reported.
“I cannot thank you enough,” the girl’s uncle, Nathan Sherwood, told the crowd of people ready to help, according to the newspaper. “This is about the only light in this dark situation.”
Volunteers trudged in small groups through the muddy brush, toward the creek, to search for the missing girl, who was last seen wearing jeans and a purple jacket.
Willa’s parents, Daniel and Lacey Rawlings, both escaped from the truck but their son, Colby Rawlings, and niece, Austin Rawlings, were not in the vehicle when it was pulled from the creek the next day. Their bodies were found about 600 to 1,000 yards (meters) from the failed crossing.
The creek crossing was marked as closed with barricades and signs, authorities said.
A National Weather Service meteorologist said the agency issued a flood warning for the region that includes the Tonto Basin area at 8:53 a.m. Friday based on data from an upstream flooding gauge.
Meteorologist Sean Benedict in Phoenix estimated that up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain fell in the area, with some of the runoff coming from snow that fell on nearby peaks.
The region got up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain about a week before, Benedict said. “So the grounds were already pretty wet and that probably helped with the runoff.”
Adverse conditions included heavy brush and slippery mud along the creek and frigid water from snowmelt, but officials said they remained hopeful.
Volunteers trudged in small groups through the muddy brush to search for the missing girl, who was last seen wearing jeans and a purple jacket.
“The Rawlings family are a fixture,” said David Merrill, one of the volunteers, told The Republic. “They’re the salt of the earth and they have done so much. Little League, school … volunteers for football … whatever it took, they’ve been in the middle of it.”
Merrill came with a group from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pinetop, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) east of the search area.
“The whole community’s rallied around them to show their love and support during this tragedy,” he said.
Dodd, of the sheriff’s office, confirmed Sunday that the number of people rescued Friday night was six after conflicting reports on Saturday.