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June 3, 2008
Tonight: A partial WaterFire -- and political fireworks
There's a partial WaterFire tonight in Providence.
It will happen in the Waterplace Park basin in the city's downtown. Two dozen or so braziers will be used for this lighting, customarily at sunset, which will arrive at 8:16 p.m. The event goes to about midnight.
But if that isn't enough fireworks for you -- you may want to tune into the outcome of today's presidential primaries in Montana and South Dakota.
The Associated Press is already reporting that Sen. Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination in his quest to become the nation's first black president.
Get the latest from the AP, your TV or your favorite political site. Just like voting -- it's your choice.
Posted by Mike McKinney at 7:10 PM
R.I. Senate passes bill requiring renewable-energy buy
PROVIDENCE -- Senate lawmakers have approved a bill requiring the state's largest power company to buy renewable energy for at least a decade at a time.
Supporters say the Senate proposal will spur the construction of renewable energy projects in a state with just a single wind turbine. The House is still debating a similar bill.
The proposals would require National Grid to sign enough contracts by 2013 so that it could meet 9 percent of the state's average electricity needs using wind turbines, solar panels or other systems. The contracts would have to extend at least 10 years.
Bill supporters say renewable energy developers won't build here until a large customer is forced to buy renewable energy. House Republicans warn the plan could cause electricity prices to rise.
-- The Associated Press
Posted by Mike McKinney at 6:35 PM
Motorists: 95N's Exit 20 closing Wednesday AM / Map
Do you drive into Providence? Then you need to know: Wednesday's the day.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation says that Wednesday morning it will permanently close Exit 20 on Route 95 north, which has for decades carried traffic from the south to Route 195 east, toward Cape Cod.
Two lanes were closed Tuesday on Route 6 westbound between Tobey Street and Hartford Avenue. The lanes will remain closed while crews work on bridge repair. Lanes should reopen by 2:30 p.m.
And Tuesday night, the two right lanes will be closed on Route 195 westbound between Exits 2/S. Main Street and Route 95. The Wickenden Street on-ramp to Route 195 westbound will also be closed tonight from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. to fix a hole in the deck of the bridge.
Don't know where to go if you can't take Exit 20? Read a Journal story for tips and see a map of the area and alternate routes.
To keep up with all of the detours, delays and lane closures, check the Transportation Management Center.
Posted by Brandie M. Jefferson at 6:32 PM
Ethics panel called on to close 'loophole' on conflicts
PROVIDENCE -- Government reform groups, Governor Carcieri and some legislators today demanded that the state Ethics Commission close a "loophole" in the state’s ethics laws that they said is discrediting state government by allowing corruption to flourish.
The provision they want changed is an obscure but pivotal section of the law that forgives some otherwise-illegal conflicts of interest, cases where public officials, their relatives or business associates benefit from their official actions. The commission held a workshop today to accept proposals and hear testimony on whether to change it.
Although the debate focused on the state legislature, the issue also comes up regularly in local government and may also have affected the outcome of the recent, unsuccessful federal prosecution of two former CVS executives accused of bribing former state Sen. John Celona.
Calling Rhode Island "the most corrupt state in New England," Robert Benson, a board member of the group Operation Clean Government, said the ethics code must be tightened up "to restore the public’s trust."
In the last half dozen years, at least seven state legislators prosecuted for an assortment of ethical and criminal violations have suffered penalties ranging from fines to, in the case of Celona and former House Majority Leader Gerard M. Martineau, jail. There is also a continuing federal investigation of influence peddling at the State House.
-- Journal staff writer Bruce Landis
The existing rule, a letter from the governor’s office said, "shields activity that would otherwise be considered unethical," and lets state legislators introduce and vote on legislation "that would directly benefit the financial interests of themselves and their private employers."
Common Cause of Rhode Island urged replacement of the present exemption with a much tighter rule that would bar officials, like legislators, from voting on an issue if they, their relatives or business associates would benefit any more than the general public or businesses in general.
The provision in question, referred to as the "class exception," forgives a conflict of interest if the public official involved, his relatives or business partners, benefit no more from his actions than other members of "a significant and definable class" affected by the law.
For example, the commission in January dropped five charges against state Sen. Frank Ciccone, D-Providence. Ciccone, a union official, was accused of breaking the ethics law by voting for legislation benefiting the unions he works for.
His bill, which died in the House, would have saved public employee unions money by shifting some of the cost of mediation from the unions to the state. It would have affected union locals that Ciccone represented, but the commission ruled that because it would also have affected more than 100 other locals no differently, his votes qualified for the exception.
Today, organized labor and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union opposed a change, saying it would interfere improperly with the General Assembly’s role.
Lawyer Robert Mann, representing a coalition of labor organizations, said there is a solid body of law protecting legislators from interference.
"You cannot regulate how these legislators participate in the legislative process," he said.
The ACLU said in a letter that eliminating the exemption could undermine legislative government by unfairly disenfranchising both elected officials and their constituents.
State Rep. Joseph Trillo, R-Warwick, on the other hand, said that union legislators have so distorted the law in the unions’ favor that state and local government can barely function.
The legislative immunity issue has already come up during the commission’s ongoing prosecution of former state Senate President William Irons, with the commission arguing, successfully so far, that the state Constitution gives the commission special authority to do so.
Commission Chairman James Lynch Sr. has said repeatedly that he wants a change in the "class exception," and some other commission members today indicated interest.
"Many of us think that something needs to be done," said commission member Ross E. Cheit.
He called the Common Cause suggestion "a great start," but he and other commission members also pointed to complications.
For example, Cheit wondered how a town council member who was elderly could legally vote on anything affecting elderly residents, like property tax exemptions, because it would affect that council member more than "the general public."
Posted by Mike McKinney at 6:23 PM
Child hit by pickup truck in Providence this afternoon
PROVIDENCE -- A 9-year-old boy was struck by a small pickup truck on Leah Street this afternoon.
Assistant Fire Chief Michael Dillon said the boy had shoulder injuries, abrasions to the forehead, severe road rash to a knee, and internal injuries, including to a lung. The boy had apparently been dragged some distance by the truck.
The accident happened in the 180 block of Leah Street .
Jim Gomes, a neighbor, said he called 911 after hearing someone exclaim outside his house. He saw a boy leaning against a tree who appeared to be bleeding from the head and had an injury to a leg.
-- With reports from Journal staff writer Richard Dujardin
Posted by Mike McKinney at 6:02 PM
Update: 'Survivor' Hatch takes tax case to highest court
Journal file photo
Richard Hatch outside the courthouse during his 2006 trial.
Richard Hatch couldn’t survive a jury trial or an appeals court when defending himself against federal tax evasion charges.
Now, the winner of the reality TV show Survivor, infamous for baring all by wearing no bottoms, is taking his case all the way to the top -- the U.S. Supreme Court.
At a 2006 trial in U.S. District Court, Providence, a jury found Hatch, 47, of Newport, guilty of not paying taxes on his Survivor winnings, including the $1 million jackpot the show paid him.
Hatch maintains that when he confronted producers about cheating on the show, he was promised that in exchange for his silence, the show would pay his taxes if he won. His Texas lawyer, Michael Minns, an author renowned for challenging the Internal Revenue Service, asserts that trial Judge Ernest C. Torres improperly prevented him from exploring this defense.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals, in Boston, rejected that argument in a decision handed down in February. It concluded that Minns had plenty of opportunity to delve into how the alleged cheating, denied by CBS, related to his failure to pay the taxes he owed.
In a brief filed on May 23 with the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., Minns makes the same argument.
Minns also argued the judge unfairly limited his cross-examination of the tax accountant who prepared Hatch’s tax returns and who was a key witness for the government.
"He’s extremely optimistic about his appeal," Minns said of Hatch, who is now in federal prison in West Morgantown, W. Va. "He still believes the system should work."
-- Journal staff writer Richard Salit
The U.S. Department of Justice has until June 30 to respond to Hatch’s appeal. A spokesman declined comment while the case is pending. The U.S. Supreme Court takes up only a small number of the appeals it receives.
Hatch is serving a 51-month sentence, the maximum sentence Torres was permitted to hand down after he concluded that Hatch perjured himself. Hatch is scheduled to be released a year from October.
Minns said Hatch was writing a book about "his experiences with the legal system and his disappointment not just with the problems that he suffered but with the problems other people have suffered that he has met."
Posted by Mike McKinney at 5:21 PM
About 1,500 rally at State House for employee benefits
PROVIDENCE -- An estimated 1,500 union members and their supporters, according to the Capital Police, are rallying outside the State House at this hour.
Working Rhode Island, a coalition of labor unions, organized the rally to argue for preserving benefits for state employeees and teachers.
"All we're trying to do is keep what we have," said Frank Montanaro, president of the AFL-CIO in Rhode Island, in addressing the crowd.
-- projo.com staff writer Michael P. McKinney, with reports from Steve Peoples of the Journal State House Bureau
Posted by Mike McKinney at 4:54 PM
Update: 911 call punctuates Gianquitti's bail hearing
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
Nicholas Gianquitti, center, cries as he listens to the tape of his wife calling 911, followed by him getting on the line to explain what happened in the shooting of his neighbor. He's flanked by his lawyers, Mark Dana, at left, and William Devine.
WARWICK -- The tape of a 911 call from the wife of the Cranston man accused of killing his neighbor was played today as part of his bail hearing in District Court.
At first, Jennifer Gianquitti, the wife of suspect Nicholas Gianquitti, was heard screaming incoherently. Then, she reported that a neighbor had intruded and said her husband was a former Providence police officer with a permit to carry a gun.
Then Nicholas Gianquitti got on the phone.
He said a man charged at him in his house and that he was in the right in having shot the man. Gianquitti also said he was a former police officer with a permit to carry a gun.
The tape was played during the testimony of a record manager for the state's 911 emergency system.
The record manager was one of two persons called by the Attorney General's Office to testify today at Gianquitti's bail hearing, which will continue tomorrow for a third afternoon in District Court before Judge Elaine Bucci.
Gianquitti is accused of shooting and killing his neighbor, Cranston firefighter Lt. James A. Pagano. The hearing is being held to determine whether Gianquitti, who had served briefly as a Providence police officer, will be held without bail pending an arraignment and possible trial.
-- With reports from Journal staff writer David Scharfenberg and Journal archival reports
Cranston detective Peter J. Souza also testified today, saying that there were two shots fired, not three. Other witnesses have reported hearing three. The detective attributed that to being a ricochet or an echo.
Souza based his finding on a search of properties in the area, which turned up only two shell casings.
An official with the state Office of Medical Examiners, who was due to testify today, could not be there and is the only one slated to testify tomorrow afternoon in District Court. The defense at this time has no plans to call anyone to testify but reserves the right to do so.
The hearing began yesterday afternoon, with James Pagano’s 12-year-old nephew, 72-year-old father Anthony Pagano, and other relatives saying they were at a birthday party for Pagano’s son when James Pagano got into a fight with Gianquitti.
Pagano’s nephew, Benjamin Shola, 12, said Gianquitti got mad when a tennis ball hit his car. From there, other witnesses said, there were harsh words, punches and, ultimately, three shots.
Pagano, a Cranston firefighter, died from a single gunshot wound, according to the state medical examiners office.
Extra: Continuing coverage on the Cranston shooting.
Posted by Mike McKinney at 4:43 PM
Police report early morning bear sightings in Westerly
WESTERLY — A black bear had been spotted around the state in the past few weeks, and it seemed particularly fond of South County. But there hadn't been a sighting since last week.
The police received two calls before dawn today about a bear sighting. A Department of Environmental Management officer searched a wooded, swampy area not far from Route 1 but found no sign of a bear, according to spokeswoman Gail Mastrati.
Westerly police dispatcher Donald Cornell said two calls came in on the overnight shift. When he began his day shift, he was told to advise any other callers to stay away from the bear and let the DEM authorities handle it.
The DEM has some tips on how to handle a bear, should you come across one.
-- Journal staff writer Donita Naylor
Posted by Brandie M. Jefferson at 3:07 PM
Everest climber due back in R.I. tomorrow evening
He did it.
Warwick chiropractor Tim Warren has reached the top of the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest, after an unsuccessful attempt last year.
And tomorrow, Warren, believed to be the only Rhode Islander to reach the top –– about 29,000 feet above sea level –– will return to the Ocean State to tell his story.
Warren has referred to his attempts at climbing Everest as his “Klimb for Kids.” He’s been raising money for the A Wish Come True group, a local foundation that supports children with life threatening illnesses.
In 2007, Warren climbed to 24,000 feet, but had to turn back when he became sick with a throat in infection.
But on May 23, he reached the summit, writing on his Web site later: “I have been where humans are just not supposed to be and the corpses are in plain sight as a reminder.”
He’s set to return to Rhode Island tomorrow at 7:45 p.m. at T. F. Green Airport.
-- projo.com staff writer Brandie M. Jefferson
Posted by Brandie M. Jefferson at 2:32 PM
Update: State releases survey on risky youth behavior
State officials today have released youth "risk behavior" survey findings expected to show improvement in several areas but "disturbing worsening trends" in some others -- particularly with regard to dating and sexual violence and nutrition.
Find the full release on the Department of Health's Web site.
Dr. David R. Gifford, the state health director, and Peter McWalters, the elementary and secondary education commissioner, released 2007 findings -- the School Youth Risk Behavior Survey. It marks the first information collected from middle schoolers as well.
According to the news release, the middle school information showed certain behaviors begin at a young age and "that prevention efforts must target pre-teens as much as teenagers."
Survey aims included identifying "risk behaviors" and determining "public health successes in improving outcomes for youth," the release says.
"Sustained improvements in adolescent health require coordinated investments in neighborhoods and schools. There is a role for the state, schools, communities and parents."
-- projo.com staff writer Michael P. McKinney
Posted by Mike McKinney at 2:00 PM
Photo: Hanging out at Hanging Rock
Journal photo/ Bob Thayer
Tourists enjoy the views off Hanging Rock Road in Middletown. With mostly sunny skies and a high temperature of 78 degrees, today is a good day to check out the sights around Rhode Island, but showers are in the forecast for tomorrow.
Posted by Jack Perry at 1:52 PM
R.I. home sales, prices continue to fall
The Warren Group, a Boston-based real estate tracking firm, this morning said the median price of a single-family home in Rhode Island fell 11.3 percent in April, from last year’s price of $270,000 to $239,500.
The year-to-date price fell 10.3 percent from $267,500 to $240,000.
The number of home sales in April decreased to 538 in April from 659 in April 2007. Year-to-date sales fell 20.2 percent from 2,336 to 1,864.
Although condominium sales continue to fall – dropping by 37.6 percent from April 2007 to April 2008 – their median price remained steady. Sales fell from 210 last year to 131 this year, and the median price rose 1.6 percent from $223,500 to $227,000.
Year-to-date sales of condos fell 37.3 percent from 710 last year to 445 this year. The year-to-date median price declined 0.8 percent from $221,750 to $220,000.
-- Journal Business Editor John Kostrzewa
Posted by Jack Perry at 11:50 AM
Sen. Kennedy is walking hospital halls after surgery
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sen. Edward Kennedy had ``a restful night's sleep'' after brain surgery and is recovering with no complications.
In a statement issued to The Associated Press today, aides to the Massachusetts Democrat said, ``He is experiencing no complications, and has been walking the hallways, spending time with family and actively keeping up with the news of the day.''
Kennedy is expected to leave Duke University Medical Center in Durham next week.
The 76-year-old Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe of his brain after suffering a seizure on May 17 at his home in Hyannisport, Mass. He underwent 3 1/2 hours of surgery on yesterday, during which doctors sliced away at the tumor.
-- The Associated Press
Posted by Mike McKinney at 11:41 AM
Photo: Car sideswipes building
Journal photo/ Mary Murphy
A young man, who declined to give his full name, talks on a cell phone after the car he was driving went over the curb and struck a building at Putnam and Amherst streets, off Atwells Avenue, in Providence. The driver says he swerved to avoid another car. It happened at about 8 a.m.
Posted by Jack Perry at 10:27 AM
Motorcyclist dies in Cumberland crash
CUMBERLAND -- A 19-year-old Cumberland man died last night when he lost control of the motorcycle he was driving and crashed on West Wrentham Road, according to the Cumberland police.
Patrick R. Holmes, of Abbott Run Valley Road, was riding north with a group of riders shortly before 10 p.m. when he went off the road at a curve near Old West Wrentham Road, said Sgt. Paul Brown.
Holmes was taken to Rhode Island Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to Brown.
The police believe excessive speed was a factor in the accident. A helmet was found at the scene, but it's unclear whether Holmes was wearing it.
Posted by Jack Perry at 9:38 AM
Teenager shot in Pawtucket; possible drive-by
The Pawtucket police are investigating what they believe was a drive-by shooting.
The police say the victim, a 19-year-old male whose name is not being released, was walking along Payne Park at about 8:30 p.m. in the city with friends when they heard shots.
One of the victim’s friends ducked behind a car, Lt. Daniel Mullen said.
The victim tried to run, according to Mullen.
“As he’s running,” Mullen said, “he’s shot.” The victim was taken to Rhode Island Hospital with one gunshot to the upper back.
As of last night, Mullen said, the victim was in stable condition, and he’s expected to survive.
Neither the victim nor his friends saw the shooters or a car, Mullen said, they just heard the shots. The police do not have any identification on a vehicle. The case is under investigation.
-- projo.com staff writer Brandie M. Jefferson
Posted by Brandie M. Jefferson at 9:15 AM
Hearing continues for ex-officer accused in killing
The bail hearing for an ex-police officer accused of shooting and killing his neighbor is set to continue today after testimony yesterday from the victim’s family.
In court yesterday, James Pagano’s 12-year-old nephew, 72-year-old father, and other relatives were at a birthday party for Pagano’s son when, they say, Pagano got into a fight with his neighbor, Nicholas Gianquitti.
Gianquitti, an ex-Providence police officer who was receiving disability payments, is accused of shooting and killing Pagano.
Pagano’s nephew Benjamin Shola, 12, said Gianquitti got mad when a tennis ball hit his car. From there, other witnesses said, there were harsh words, punches and ultimately, three shots.
Pagano, a Cranston firefighter, died from a single gunshot wound, according to the state Medical Examiners office.
Testimony will continue today at 2 p.m. to determine whether Gianquitti will be held without bail pending an arraignment and possible trial for murder.
Posted by Brandie M. Jefferson at 8:48 AM
Traffic Alert: Route 95, downtown
A single car accident has Route 95 blocked in downtown Providence this morning.
The accident is on the southbound side of the roadway, at Exit 21/Atwells Ave. The left and center lanes are blocked, slowing down traffic to a crawl.
To keep an eye on the roads, see the Transportation Management Center's Web cameras.
Posted by Brandie M. Jefferson at 7:58 AM
Next up for Sen. Kennedy: Chemo, radiation treatments
DURHAM, N.C. — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is recovering today at Duke University Medical Center, a day after undergoing risky surgery that experts said was designed to reduce his brain tumor and give chemotherapy and radiation treatments a chance to work.
The 76-year-old senator was expected to stay at the North Carolina facility for about a week before returning home to Massachusetts for further treatment.
In the following days, Kennedy will probably be given drugs to prevent brain swelling and seizures, which are possible complications of the surgery. The senator will also be closely watched for bleeding and blood clots, because strokes are also a risk, though they are uncommon.
“After a brief recuperation, he will begin targeted radiation at Massachusetts General Hospital and chemotherapy treatment,” his doctor, Dr. Allan Friedman, said in a statement following Monday’s procedure.
“I hope that everyone will join us in praying for Sen. Kennedy to have an uneventful and robust recovery.”
-- The Associated Press
Doctors gave few details about the surgery, and did not say how much was removed. The procedure lasted about 31/2 hours, and when he emerged, a family spokeswoman said he told his wife, Vicki, that he felt “like a million bucks.”
The sole surviving son of America’s most glamorous and tragic political family was diagnosed last month with a malignant glioma, an often lethal type of brain tumor discovered in about 9,000 Americans a year.
Details about Kennedy’s exact type of tumor have not been disclosed, but some cancer specialists have said it is a glioblastoma multiforme — an especially deadly and tough-to-remove type — because other kinds are more common in younger people.
Cutting a tumor down to size — or “debulking” it — is extremely delicate because of the risk of harming healthy brain tissue that governs movement and speech. But Friedman, who is the top neurosurgeon at Duke and an internationally known tumor surgeon, said Kennedy should not experience any permanent neurological effects.
Median survival for glioblastomas is 12 to 15 months, but the range is wide, said Dr. Mark Gilbert, a brain tumor expert at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
The outlook for patients with malignant gliomas is poor, and depends on what type of glioma a patient has. Median survival for patients with moderately severe ones is three to five years, and less than a year for those with the most severe type.
Doctors have not revealed Kennedy’s treatment plan, but typical radiation treatment is five days a week for a month, using 3D imaging techniques that narrowly deliver the beams to the tumor, affecting as little surrounding tissue as possible.
Kennedy also likely will receive the chemotherapy drug Temodar during and after radiation. It can cause typical chemo side effects — nausea, vomiting and fatigue — but treatments are much better for these than even a few years ago, doctors stressed.
He also may be treated with Avastin, a newer targeted drug to deprive the tumor of its blood supply, though this is still experimental as initial treatment, rather than after patients have relapsed.
Monday’s operation “spells nothing but hope,” Dr. John Sampson, associate deputy director of Duke’s brain tumor center, said from Chicago, where he was attending a conference of 30,000 cancer specialists.
“What we’re seeing with the surgery and this conference is that there’s hope for patients with this kind of cancer.”
Posted by Brandie M. Jefferson at 7:13 AM
Today in history
On this day in 1965, astronaut Edward White became the first American to walk in space, during the flight of Gemini 4.
Read more about today in history.
Posted by Jack Perry at 7:02 AM
Sunny and muggy ... ah, June
It's already mild outside and it's already a bit more humid than it's been. And that's how it will stay.
The National Weather Service is forecasting a high temperature near 82 degrees and humidity is already at 77-percent. Winds from the south should be between 13 and 16 mph.
Late tonight and early tomorrow morning we may see rain showers with increasing clouds and a low temperature near 57 degrees. We'll also have mild winds from the southwest.
Tomorrow is a different story. Expect rain most of the day with high temperatures just shy of 70 degrees and calm south winds.
For a peek at the rest of the week's forecast, see projo.com's weather page.
Posted by Brandie M. Jefferson at 7:01 AM
Today's front page
Today's front page features coverage of the bail hearing for Nicholas Gianquitti, the Cranston man accused of shooting Cranston firefighter James Pagano to death in a neighborhood dispute.
Download a copy of today's front page in .pdf format.
Posted by Jack Perry at 7:00 AM