Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts

Closing of Wells Street Bridge creates uncertainty for CTA riders

The shutdown of the Wells Street Bridge has the impact of a blocked artery, straining the circulation of much of the CTA rail system.

The lower tier of the 91-year-old bridge was closed to vehicles and pedestrians in November for repairs, and now it's CTA riders' turn.

Even though only Brown Line and Purple Line/Evanston Express trains normally travel across the Wells bridge connecting the Loop elevated structure to tracks north of the Chicago River, service on six of the eight CTA rail lines is being affected by bridge and track work continuing through the week, transit officials said.

Weekday rush hours are expected to pose the biggest challenge to the transit agency and its customers. Brown Line trains will operate much less frequently during most of the day — running every 10 to 12 minutes, officials said. And Evanston Express service is canceled until March 11. Purple Line local service will continue to operate between Howard Street in Chicago and Linden Avenue in Wilmette.

On weekends, Green, Pink and Orange Line trains will terminate their runs at certain stations in the downtown area, officials said. A weekend free shuttle bus will operate to link the Chicago/Franklin, Merchandise Mart, Clark/Lake, Washington/Wells and Clinton/Lake stations, officials said.

Riders are being told to plan for longer, slower commutes starting Monday on trains that will be more crowded than usual. The frequency of trains on the Brown Line is being reduced because of the need to operate more trains than usual on the Red Line tracks, including in the State Street subway, officials said.

"Experience has taught me to become a little nervous any time the CTA changes service," Rick Gordon, 41, a Brown Line rider who commutes between the Western station and the Washington/Wells stop in the Loop, said Friday morning after getting off the train downtown.

Gordon, an investment counselor, said he still plans to ride the Brown Line on Monday. But because he won't be able to ride across the Wells bridge to his normal stop, he will instead take advantage of the free CTA shuttle bus that will operate between the Chicago Avenue station and the Loop "L," stopping at the Merchandise Mart, the Clark/Lake and Washington/Wells stations.

During rush hours, two of every three southbound Brown Line trains will travel through the Red Line subway tunnel, making all stops to the Roosevelt station, officials said. They will then head north through the subway and up to Fullerton Avenue, then will continue making all Brown Line stops to the Kimball Avenue terminal, officials said.

One of every three Brown Line trains will remain on the regular Brown Line route south of Fullerton but will make the last stop at the Merchandise Mart station, near the north end of the Wells bridge.

Extra service will be provided on the Red Line, in part to accommodate heavier passenger loading caused by the suspension of all Purple Line service south of Howard through the week, officials said. Commuters who normally ride the Purple Line/Evanston Express service might consider budgeting up to an extra hour travel time if they will ride the all-stop Red Line to downtown.

Also, the transit agency will introduce free shuttle trains that circle the Loop and alternative bus service to provide options for the thousands of riders affected over the roughly nine-day bridge closing, which began Friday night.

CTA officials predicted that the commutes of many rail customers will be only several minutes to 15 minutes longer than normal travel times during the service interruptions. But in light of the unpredictability of CTA service even under normal cases, allowing extra time would help commuters ensure they arrive at their destinations on time.

"We urge customers to think about their options because this will not be a typical commute for most Brown and Purple Line commuters," CTA spokesman Brian Steele said, adding that delays are likely on other lines too because of expected ridership shifts.

With some commuters taking Monday off for the Casimir Pulaski Day holiday, the first full test of the CTA's alternative service plan will likely be on Tuesday.

The service disruptions will last until completion of the Wells bridge replacement project, upgrades to the busy downtown rail junction at Lake and Wells streets, and track replacement around the curves at Hubbard and Kinzie streets. Regular CTA service resumes in time for the morning rush period on March 11, following the first phase of bridge reconstruction, officials said.

A second closing of the Wells bridge will occur April 26 through May 5, when the $41.2 million overhaul project is scheduled to be completed, the Chicago Department of Transportation said.

The Wells bridge's trusses, steel framing, railings, bridge houses, major structural parts and mechanical and electrical parts are being replaced, but the original 1920s-era appearance of the double-deck bridge will be maintained, CDOT officials said.

Full details on the CTA service changes are available at Twitter @jhilkevitch

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Still no signs of life after sinkhole swallows Florida man


A Florida man was missing and feared dead on Friday after a large sinkhole suddenly swallowed the bedroom of his suburban Tampa home, police and fire officials said.

Jeff Bush, 36, was in his room sleeping and the other five members of the household were getting ready for bed on Thursday night when they heard a loud crash and Jeff screaming.

Jeff's brother, 35-year-old Jeremy Bush, jumped into the hole and furiously kept digging to find his brother.

"I feel in my heart he didn't make it," Jeremy told Tampa TV station WFTS. "There were six of us in the house; five got out."

Jeremy himself had to be rescued from the sinkhole by the first responder to the emergency call, Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. When Duvall entered Jeff Bush's bedroom, all he saw was a widening chasm but no sign of Jeff.

"The hole took the entire bedroom," said Duvall. "You could see the bedframe, the dresser, everything was sinking," he said.

Norman Wicker, 48, the father of Jeremy's fiancée who also lived in the house, ran to get a flashlight and shovel.

"It sounded like a car ran into the back of the house," Wicker said.

Authorities had not detected any signs of life after lowering listening devices and cameras into the hole and rescue efforts were suspended after the site was deemed too unsafe for emergency personnel to enter.

"There is a very large, very fluid mass underneath this house rendering the entire house and the entire lot dangerous and unsafe," Bill Bracken, the head of an engineering company assisting fire and rescue officials, told the news conference late on Friday.

"We are still trying to determine the extent and nature of what's down there so we can best determine how to approach it and how to extricate," Bracken said.

Several nearby homes were evacuated in case the 30-foot wide sinkhole got larger but officials said it only appeared to be getting deeper.

The Bush brothers worked together as landscapers, according to Leland Wicker, 48, one of the other residents of the house.

The risk of sinkholes is common in Florida due to the state's porous geological bedrock, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. As rainwater filters down into the ground, it dissolves the rock causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns, which cause sinkholes when they collapse.

Florida suffered one of its worst sinkhole accidents in 1994 when a 15-story-deep chasm opened up east of Tampa at a phosphate mine. It created a hole 185 feet deep and as much as 160 feet wide. Locals dubbed it Disney World's newest attraction - 'Journey to the Center of the Earth.'

In 1981 in Winter Park near Orlando, a sinkhole was measured as 320 feet wide and 90 feet deep, swallowing a two-story house, part of a Porsche dealership, and an Olympic-size swimming pool. The site is now an artificial lake in the city.

"Mortgage companies are more and more requiring Florida home buyers to have sinkhole coverage on their homeowners insurance policy," said K.C. Williams, a Tampa sinkhole and property damage claims lawyer who lives 2 miles away from the damaged home.


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Collins believes Bulls taking right approach with Rose

Even Doug Collins got swept up in the Derrick Rose hysteria on Thursday.

"I thought for sure he was going to play (Thursday night)," the 76ers' coach said. "Got hurt against Philadelphia, come back against Philadelphia, game on TNT. I could just see him running out with the Adidas commercial."

Instead, Rose's participation got limited to another lengthy, sweaty pregame workout featuring several dunks that drew oohs and aahs from the early-arriving fans. Collins battled serious knee injuries in his playing career and thinks the conservative approach is the right one.

"The Bulls have a tremendous investment in Derrick," Collins said. "You want to make sure this young guy is ready to go. We take a guy like Adrian Peterson and we see him rehab and play football and you sort of expect everybody to have the same timetable. Knees are different. Every player is different. Everybody's game is different.

"Derrick is an explosive player. He plays in the lane. He's landing in a lot of congestion. He's going to have to be very confident when he plays about being able to explode off that leg and come down in a crowd.

"(Chairman) Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls organization aren't short-sighted people. They have a franchise they feel has a chance to be good for a long, long time. And Derrick is the guy who's going to make that special. So I totally understand."

All aboard: All signs point to the Bulls winning a four-team race and signing Lou Amundson to a 10-day contract on Saturday, bringing their roster to the maximum 15 players. Amundson, who was waived by the Timberwolves on Feb. 8, would be big-man insurance while Taj Gibson remains sidelined with a sprained MCL in his left knee. The Heat, Celtics and Knicks also are in the mix for Amundson.

The Bulls have just enough below the hard salary cap of $74.307 million to sign Amundson for the remainder of the season if they choose. He then would be eligible for the playoffs.

Over seven seasons with six teams, the 6-foot-9 forward has averaged 3.8 points and 3.6 rebounds.

Layups: Marquis Teague turned 20 Thursday. … Collins, on the widespread reaction to his heart-on-his-sleeve postgame news conference after the 76ers' sixth straight loss on Tuesday: "Yeah, I guess I was trending."

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Chicago archdiocese to close or consolidate five schools

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago is laying off about 10 percent of its work force and is planning to close five schools to reverse "unsustainable" deficits.

The downsizing, which apparently has been in the works for months, coincides with the arrival of Cardinal Francis George in Rome this week to participate in the conclave to choose a new pope.

In a lengthy letter to parishioners posted on the archdiocese website, George outlines cost-cutting measures for the archdiocese, which has been running operating deficits of more than $30 million every year for the past four years.

"Since this trend is unsustainable, I want to set out the measures we are taking to ensure prudent stewardship of our resources for years to come," George says in the letter.

At the Pastoral Center, 75 positions have been cut, including 55 full-time roles. That reduction is estimated to save $11 million to $13 million annually by fiscal year 2015, according to George.

“Our employees are faith-filled men and women who have worked tirelessly for the good of the Church.  Please keep them in your prayers,” he wrote.

George wrote in his Cardinal’s Column that other cost-cutting measures would also include closing or consolidating “a few schools that are no longer sustainable.”

Five schools will be closed, some of which have seen demographic changes or other challenges, according to the letter. The archdiocese plans to give out scholarships to children affected by the change so they can attend nearby Catholic schools.

The archdiocese will also reduce its annual aid to schools by $10 million next year. “We hope to return to a sustainable level of aid for those schools that will always be facing financial difficulties,” George wrote.

The archdiocese will also scale back on handing out capital loans and grants to parishes, while also creating  “stricter criteria” for them to qualify for the financial assistance. The Pastoral Center will work with those church communities to help them handle financial needs in the future, according to the letter.

“Going forward, we will need to approach this source of aid differently, to be sure it is always available when necessary,” the cardinal wrote in the letter. “We need to be more careful about the types of projects we can fund; we need to rely on parishes to pursue their own funding when possible; we need to adhere to stricter underwriting guidelines and to adhere more closely to budget.

“There will likely be needs that are simply not fundable, and we will have to work with those parishes on alternative plans,” he wrote.

A Parish Transformation initiative in the works for at least two years will also save funds by laying out measures to provide more financial stability, though the letter did not give details.

All together, those reductions are expected to save $13 million to $15 million annual by fiscal year 2015, the letter states.

The cardinal said the deficits incurred over the years are not related to misconduct payments. The archdiocese uses the proceeds from “sales of undeveloped property to pay misconduct expenses,” he wrote.

Saying the cuts are “necessary but difficult,” George goes on to thank Chicago Catholics for their generosity. He also acknowledges that the reduction in services and funding will be hard for the parishes and people directly affected.

“These actions are being taken now because the financial situation imposes them,” George wrote. “We are also taking them, however, so that the archdiocese will have the resources she needs for her mission, picking up the challenge of the New Evangelization and re-proposing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to future generations.”

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Top foes concede defeat to Kelly in bid for Jackson seat

The two top opponents have conceded defeat tonight to Robin Kelly in the special Democratic primary election to replace disgraced former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress.

With two-thirds percent of precincts reporting, Kelly had 55 percent to 23 percent for former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and 10 percent for 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale.

Halvorson called Kelly to concede and gave a concession speech.

"This is a big night for Robin, she did a great job," Halvorson said, before acknowledging the large role money played in the race. "We all know how rough it was for me to have to run an election against someone who spent $2.3 million against me," Halvorson said. "Every seven and a half minutes there was a commercial..."

Beale did the same shortly afterward, saying he couldn't get through to Kelly so he texted her congratulations.

“The biggest disservice in this race was the dumping of millions of dollars to support one candidate," Beale told supporters on the South Side. “If this is the future of the Democratic Party, then we are all in big trouble.”

At the Kelly campaign party in Matteson, supporters waited for the candidate to declare victory.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose super PAC poured more than $2.2 million into the contest, offered congratulations to Kelly.

"This is an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence, a problem that plagues the whole nation. And it's the latest sign that voters across the country are demanding change from their representatives in Washington -- not business as usual. As Congress considers the President's gun package, voters in Illinois have sent a clear message: we need common sense gun legislation now. Now it's up to Washington to act," Bloomberg said in a statement.

The total number of votes isn’t expected to be large, however, as a storm that brought a wintry mix of snow and slush depressed turnout in the 2nd Congressional District contest.

Chicago election officials reported that as of 1:45 p.m., turnout was about 11 percent among sampled city precincts. The figures included ballots cast today and early and absentee voting.

"This puts us on course for turnout in the mid-teens," said Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, in an e-mail. "This is to be expected with a special primary and special election. It is shaping up to be among the lowest turnouts in recent decades."

There are primaries for both political parties in the South Side and south suburban district, but the territory is so heavily Democratic that whoever emerges from the crowded Democratic field is expected to easily win the April 9 special general election.

Today's voting follows weeks of candidate forums, an accelerated campaign schedule and a flurry of TV ads from the mayor of New York. While the top-tier candidates among the 14 Democrats vying for the primary nomination are known, there also are some big unknowns. Voter turnout, already anticipated to be very low, could be exacerbated by nasty weather.

The results of early voting held between Feb. 11 and Saturday demonstrated a lack of interest in the contest, despite its ramifications in deciding who will represent voters and their disparate interests in the vast district.

A majority of the district's Democratic voters live in suburban Cook County, with an additional one-third from the South Side. The district also includes parts of eastern Will County and all of Kankakee County, and together the two regions make up slightly less than 10 percent of the Democratic vote.

In suburban Cook, 4,459 early votes were cast, with 98 percent of those voters taking Democratic ballots. Of the 11 suburban early voting locations, Matteson Village Hall, in Kelly's hometown, had the most with 1,601 voters.

In Chicago, 98 percent of the 2,768 early voters cast Democratic ballots. Only 63 early votes were cast for Republicans.

In Will, 246 voters cast early ballots, all but 40 of them Democratic votes. Kankakee County officials reported 699 early ballots, with 533 voting Democrat and 166 Republican.

"I just think if it was a regular race, then they'd look a little bit different," Kelly said of the low early voting totals. "I also think because (the special primary) came so close to the November election that there's some (voter) fatigue."

But in a large field of candidates and questionable turnout, a nomination for Congress could be decided by mere hundreds of votes. Even as forecasters sounded warnings of a Tuesday smorgasbord of wintry weather, candidates sought to energize core supporters to help get out the vote.

In an email to supporters, Kelly's campaign pleaded for volunteers to help get voters to the polls and asked for money for its get-out-the-vote field operation.

Halvorson acknowledged the early voting numbers were "paltry" and that voter turnout would be a "huge" factor Tuesday. Halvorson said she believed turnout could be driven by the district's history of scandals — including last week's guilty plea by Jackson on federal charges of illegally converting about $750,000 in campaign cash to personal use.

"I think this race has gotten so much attention and people are so angry about what the 2nd Congressional District has had to deal with over the years that they're going to take a special interest to make sure they are going to vote for someone who is completely different than what they've seen," said Halvorson, of Crete.

Halvorson also has been the target of the most extensive advertising in the contest, more than $2.2 million worth of TV and mail attacks by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super political action committee, centered on her past National Rifle Association support. Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC is backing Kelly.

Beale said the low number of early ballots puts all the more importance on Election Day field efforts. He said that well-established organizations in the six city wards in the district could serve as an advantage for his campaign.

"It's just slow across the board, and that just goes to show it is going to be a very low turnout," Beale said of the early votes. "We're just making sure we're targeting our core, solid voters, and we're going to get them out to the polls and be victorious Tuesday night."

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Chicago could see 6 inches of snow in Tuesday storm

Abundant sunshine and temperatures close to 50 degrees in the past few days teased sober Midwestern sensibilities.

Encouraged perhaps by spring training photos, some people deliberately ventured outside. Some even hopped on bicycles for spins. Maybe they dared to think that spring could break a little early this year.

But on Tuesday morning, for the second time in less than a week, a blustery mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow is forecast to hit the Chicago area. Accumulations could reach 6 inches.

Sure, weather predictions being what they are around here, many will shrug off the warnings and be brazenly optimistic. But it might be best to recall the adage that those who ignore history are sure to be victimized by it.

Chicago has plenty of late-season snow history and, regardless of what materializes, the prudent will keep their salt dry, snow shovels handy and snowblowers primed for the next couple of months.

National Weather Service records from 2011 show that 54 of the previous 139 years — nearly 40 percent — experienced at least one day with an inch or more of snowfall on or after March 25. A total of 17 of those years brought multiple days with more than an inch of snow to Chicago.

One year, 1926, included six days when more than an inch of snow fell after March 25.

And, like some cruel trick, the later in the season the snow falls, the heavier and deadlier it tends to be. On the other hand, it also generally melts faster.

Among the grimmest of those late snowfalls was the deadly storm of April 15-17,1961, when a rainy low-pressure system stalled and kept looping over the Chicago region. It transformed cold rain into nearly 7 inches of snow. Six people died from the storm's effects; four were victims of snow-shoveling heart attacks.

That storm remains the latest major snowfall of 6 inches or more in the Chicago area.

More recently, the area was hit with nearly 2 inches of snow on March 27, 2008. On March 29, 2009, 1.2 inches accumulated. A week later, more than 2 inches of snow fell.

Tuesday's forecast, which calls for heavier snow north of Interstate 80 and winds whipping up to 35 mph, weighed on Jason Marker's mind while he stood at the Downers Grove Metra station Monday.

"I have a job interview tomorrow," said Marker, 30, of Downers Grove. "It's going to be tough getting there because I have to ride my bike."

Still, he said the winter has been a moderate one so far, "but maybe it will catch up with us tomorrow."

Ashley Feuillan and Bernard Thomas, also of Downers Grove, will be commuting in opposite directions Tuesday morning. Thomas commutes to a job in Aurora, which he starts at 7 a.m. Feuillan hops the train to Columbia College Chicago three times a week.

Both said they plan to leave earlier Tuesday.

"I actually like the snow," said Feuillan, 24, "but it can be a hassle when you're trying to get someplace."

Rather than focusing on what could be a nasty storm, Thomas, 40, kept an upbeat perspective.

"It hasn't been a bad winter," he said. "We haven't really had any big snowstorms."

If the forecast is accurate, Jake Weimer could receive a little relief.

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Oscars live: Christoph Waltz best supporting actor

8:58 p.m.: John Travolta presents a montage to movie musicals, featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson, who gets a standing ovation for singing "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," from "Dreamgirls."

8:51 p.m.: Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain present the best foreign language film to "Amour."

8:43 p.m.: "Argo" director and star Ben Afflek gives the award for best documentary feature to "Searching For Sugar Man."

8:35 p.m.: Shawn Christensen wins best live action short film for "Curfew." The award for best documentary short subject goes to "Inocente."

MORE OSCARS: Red carpet pics | Live stream | Oscars trivia quiz

8:25 p.m.: Halle Berry, a Bond girl herself in "Golden Eye," presents a montage celebrating the music of James Bond films. Shirley Bassey sings "Goldfinger" live.

8:19 p.m.: Jennifer Aniston and Channing Tatum give the award for best costume design to Jacqueline Durran for "Anna Karenina." The award for best makeup goes to Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell for "Les Miserables."

8:10 p.m.: Claudio Miranda wins best cinemtography for "Life of Pi." The movie also wins for best visual effects.

7:59 p.m.: Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy present the best animated feature film award, which goes to "Brave." Director Mark Andrews accepts the award wearing a kilt. John Kahrs wins best animated short film for "Paperman."

7:50 p.m.: Christoph Waltz wins the first award of the night, as best supporting actor for his role in "Django Unchained." The award is given by Octavia Spencer.

7:35 p.m.: The 85th Academy Awards are under way, with Seth MacFarlane as host. He announces that this year's Oscars will have a musical theme.

The show's first surprise is William Shatner as Captain Kirk from "Star Trek," telling MacFarlane he is doing a terrible job as host.

The first song of the night is MacFarlane singing a song called "We Saw Your Boobs."

MacFarlane then sings a rendition of the Frank Sinatra hit "The Way You Look Tonight" with Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron dancing.

He then sings "High Hopes" with Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.


Here's a recap of the early winners from Nina Metz:

Any uncertainty that surrounded Seth MacFarlane's ability to host movie's biggest night was put to bed quickly when he took the stage Sunday at the 85th Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Showing more poise than previous hosts, MacFarlane, a man best known as the creative force behind the Fox animated series “Family Guy,” opened with a series of jokes that were bona fide winners, landing on just the right tone.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Oscars,” he began. “And the quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh begins now.” To MacFarlane's credit, even the taciturn Jones couldn't resist a laugh at that.

Unlike the almost manic energy of past emcees, including Billy Crystal and Hugh Jackman, MacFarlane was impressively relaxed on the ABC broadcast.

“I honestly cannot believe I'm here,” he said. “It's an honor that everyone else said no, it really is, from Whoopi (Goldberg) on down to Ron Jeremy.”

The sharp witticisms just kept coming. “Argo,” which failed to generate a nomination for director Ben Affleck, was deemed a great movie about a story “so top secret that the film's director is unknown to the Academy.” He then added in a nod to Affleck, “They know they screwed up.”

Hollywood box-office profits were through the roof this year, MacFarlane noted, so much so that “studio accountants have never had to work harder to prove nothing made a profit.” And Oscar recognition makes you popular, he said, pointing to last year's best actor winner — Frenchman Jean Dujardin, who won for the silent film “The Artist” — and deadpanning, “Now he's everywhere.” And then a great follow-up: “It's actually an age-old Hollywood tragedy: He couldn't make it in the talkies.”

Early in the broadcast, MacFarlane stayed true to his stated predilection for American standards, allowing tradition-minded audiences to relax with non-ironic musical numbers that included “The Way You Look Tonight” and “High Hopes,” which helped balance out his requisite boundary-pushing sense of humor. It bears noting he was smart enough to shape his comedic bits with a good-natured, self-deprecating spirit that imbued the first 15 minutes of the broadcast with a genuine sense of fun.

William Shatner was beamed in by video to school MacFarlane — “Don't mock the movies” — prompting comedic bits that did just that. A self-explanatory number about Hollywood actresses called “We Saw Your Boobs” (probably the most “Family Guy” moment of the broadcast) was followed by a very droll sock-puppet re-enactment of “Flight.”

As for the winners, a visibly shaken Christoph Waltz picked up the best supporting acting award for his performance as the bounty hunter in “Django Unchained.” It is the second Oscar for Waltz, who has won both times for roles in Quentin Tarantino films (the first being “Inglourious Basterds”). The animated short “Paperman” took home an award, and 3-D feature “Life of Pi,” which included a computer-animated tiger lost at sea, won for cinematography and for best visual effects. (Hilariously, the winners in the latter category walked off the stage to the theme from “Jaws.”)

The Pixar 3-D adventure “Brave,” about a young Scottish archer who becomes a heroine, won for animated feature. Director Mark Andrews accepted the award, appropriately, in a kilt.

Early winners
Supporting actor: Christoph Waltz
Animated feature film:
Claudio Miranda, “Life of Pi”
Visual effects:
“Life of Pi”
Makeup and hairstyling:
“Les Miserables”

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At least 28 hurt in crash at Daytona Speedway

Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood and NASCAR's Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell discuss the crash during the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday. Twenty-eight fans were injured in the race.

DAYTONA BEACH – More than two dozen people in the stands were injured at Daytona International Speedway when a multicar accident sent wreckage into the safety fence in front of the grandstand Saturday afternoon, authorities said.

The accident came on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300.

Fourteen people were taken to hospitals. Another 14 were treated at the track, officials said.

Volusia County emergency responders transported eight race fans, six of which were trauma level patients with serious injuries, said Volusia County government spokesman Dave Byron.

Six were sent to Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, one was taken to Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach and one to Halifax Health Medical Center of Port Orange. It's not clear where the other six were taken, nor were their conditions released.

As drivers jockeyed for position on the final lap, a number of cars made contact. Kyle Larson's' car was sheared in half as cars spun out of control.

"We saw a tire and debris go into the crowd," said race fan Bryon Gifford of Orlando, who had seats along the front stretch. "There was chaos everywhere."

As drivers jockeyed for position on the final lap, a number of cars made contact. Kyle Larson's' car was sheared in half as cars spun out of control..

His engine caught fire and ended up in front of fans along the front stretch after the car tore through the catch fence that's designed to protect fans in case of accidents. The debris splattered, hitting a spectator 45 rows up in the stands at Daytona International Speedway. Other car parts, included a tire, also flew into the stands.

"I know I took a couple of big hits there and saw my engine was gone," Larson said.

Tony Stewart raced through the carnage to win the race.

"The important thing is what's going on the front stretch right now," he said."We've always known since racing was started this is a dangerous sport. But it's hard. We assume that risk. It's hard when the fans get caught up in it.

"As much as we want to celebrate right now, as much as this is a big deal to us, I'm more worried about the drivers and fans in the stands right now. I could see it all in the mirror and it didn't look good from where I was, either."

Although no driver was seriously hurt, the condition of the fans was still being assessed.

"You've been able to see and explain," said Mike Helton, NASCAR President on the ESPN broadcast following the race. "There was some intrusion into the fence, and there were plenty of emergency workers ready to go and jumped right into it quickly."

"They are moving folks into the care center and Halifax Medical Center."

Driver Michael Annett was transported to Halifax Medical Center after his car slammed into the SAFER barrier head on during an earlier incident during the race.

NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said the damage to the stands will be reviewed in time for the running of the 55th Daytona 500 Sunday afternoon.

Sentinel staff writers Susan Jacobson and Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report. Read George Diaz's blog at or e-mail him at

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Drew Peterson transferred to Pontiac prison

Drew Peterson’s new life as an Illinois Department of Corrections inmate has begun.

Peterson was transferred this morning to the Stateville Correctional Center near Crest Hill, where he was evaluated for placement based upon factors such as his conviction, length of sentence, program needs and medical and mental health requirements.

Peterson stayed at Stateville only a few hours before being sent to his new home at Pontiac prison northeast of Bloomington, a maximum security facility that has a protective custody unit.  The assignment was based upon factors such as his conviction, length of sentence, program needs and medical and mental health requirements, per Illinois Department of Correction protocol.

Officials have not said whether he has a cellmate or if he will be in solitary confinement like he had been during his jail stay.

As part of his daily routine there, he will remain in his cell for most of the day, though he will be allowed out for meals and showers. Most inmates also get about five hours of recreation time outside per week, Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Stacey Solano said.

The Will County jail – which had held Peterson in solitary confinement since his May 2009 arrest for his own safety – had the paperwork prepared for his transfer by the time he returned from his sentencing hearing Thursday, officials said.

The sheriff’s department, which oversees the jail, kept the former Bolingbrook police sergeant segregated from the general population there amid concerns that his high-profile case and law-enforcement background would make him a target of inmates looking to build tough-guy reputations.

Jail supervisors began preparing Peterson at 8:30 a.m. and he left without incident by 9:22 a.m., officials said.

Drew Peterson wanted to make sure he was heard when he was given one last chance to speak Thursday, shortly before being sentenced to 38 years in prison for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Declining to speak from the defense table, where there was no microphone, the former Bolingbrook police sergeant shuffled to the witness stand in his jail-issued blue scrubs and orange shoes and began quietly.

"I hope I don't aggravate the situation," he turned and told the judge. Then Peterson screamed into the microphone, "I did not kill Kathleen!" startling almost everyone in the courtroom.

"Yes, you did!" Savio's sister Sue Doman yelled back from the gallery, prompting Will County Circuit Judge Edward Burmila to order her out of the courtroom.

It was an odd end to a case replete with oddities and circuslike sideshows. For the next 40 minutes, Peterson cried, raged and whispered, challenged the state's attorney to look him in the eye and indulged in self-pity as he unleashed his multitudinous thoughts like a character in a Dostoevsky novel.

The 59-year-old said he expects to die in prison. Barring any successful appeal, he won't be eligible for release until he's 93.

Peterson claimed that lies and mistakes by witnesses, prosecutors and police led to his conviction, and made disparaging remarks about Savio's family, attorneys and others involved in the case. His defense attorneys called the monologue an impassioned plea for leniency, but prosecutors said it was proof that Peterson is a psychopath.

"When he got up on the stand and (in) that shrill, kinda-feminine screech that he didn't kill Kathy — that's the guy that killed Kathy," Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said. "You got a glimpse into his soul."

But in describing himself on the stand Thursday, Peterson said he was maligned and misunderstood.

"Until this happened, I thought I was viewed as a great guy," Peterson said, giving a litany of public and private good deeds before announcing he planned to tattoo the phrase "No good deed goes unpunished" across his shoulders.

"The state took an accident and staged a homicide," Peterson said, before turning to the judge. "Can I get some water?"

Once refreshed, Peterson said he had upheld the oath he swore when he became a police officer.

"I always took my job seriously, I never violated the public trust," he said, his voice husky with emotion before quoting one of the Ten Commandments. "And I never beared false witness against anyone."

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Chicago could see 6 inches of snow

A winter storm that is walloping the Great Plains will hit the Chicago area tonight and linger through the morning commute on Friday, possibly dumping up to half a foot of snow here.

A winter weather advisory has been issued for the Chicago area from 9 p.m. Thursday until 6 p.m. Friday,  with snow falling at a rate of an inch per hour overnight in some places and winds blowing at 25 to 30 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

The snow will change over to freezing drizzle Friday morning, the weather service said.

As of about 8 p.m. the radar on the Chicago weather center showed clouds moving over the area in advance of the storm.

Anywhere from 3 to 7 inches could fall here, but up to 16 inches are expected in Kansas and Nebraska, states expected to bear the brunt of the storm that has already closed schools, scuttled air travel and cut off power to some communities.

The storm could be the worst to hit the Midwest since a storm dumped 1 to 2 feet of snow from central Oklahoma to the lower Great Lakes and central New England between Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 2011. The storm spawned the infamous Groundhog Day Blizzard that buried Chicago in 20.2 inches of snow.

Winter storm warnings and advisories are in place for much of the central and southern Plains and into the upper Midwest and Mississippi River Valley as the storm moves east, packing snow, sleet and freezing rain, the National Weather Service said.

Ice storm warnings were in effect for parts of northern Arkansas. The massive storm was expected to unleash thunderstorms and rain on its southern edge from eastern Texas to Georgia, the forecaster said.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency because of hazardous travel and possible power outages. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback ordered state offices closed because of the storm.

Kansas City encountered an unusual mixture of snow, thunder and lightning, with 2 to 3 inches of snow falling per hour.

"When there is thunder and lightning, it's a pretty screaming clue that you are going to have massive snowfall," said Andy Bailey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Mo. A foot of snow is likely there by Thursday afternoon, he said.

In Nebraska, a woman was killed in a two-car Interstate 80 accident Wednesday afternoon near Giltner. The victim was identified as Kristina Leigh Allen, 19, of Calloway, Neb. The Nebraska State Patrol said weather was a factor.

More than 90 percent of flights out of Kansas City International Airport were canceled Thursday morning, according the airport website.

Some 55 commuter flights were canceled out of Denver International Airport overnight, mostly due to adverse conditions in Midwestern destinations in Kansas and Nebraska, said spokeswoman Laura Coale.

About 30 flights in and out of Omaha's Eppley Airfield were canceled by mid-morning Thursday.

The brunt of the snowstorm churned through Kansas, causing scores of accidents and vehicles sliding off roads, but no fatalities, according to the state highway patrol. Two semi-trucks got stuck on Interstate 35 near Emporia, Kansas, closing the southbound lane Thursday morning, according to transportation officials.

"Most of the issues we are dealing with are people getting stuck in the snow on ramps when they go to exit," said Gary Warner of the Kansas Highway Patrol office in Wichita. Snow on Wednesday resulted in about 50 crashes with no injuries and 11 with injuries on Wichita area highways, he said.

More than 90 miles of Interstate 70 in north-central Kansas were closed on Thursday afternoon because of the storm.

Some parts of southeast Kansas reported power outages because warmer temperatures created sleet and ice on power lines, said Sharon Watson, spokesperson for Kansas emergency management services.

The snowstorm had been predicted well in advance, prompting schools and offices to close and keeping a lot of people off the roads, said Watson.

In Oklahoma, up to 12.5 inches of snow fell in northern parts of the state while schools were closed throughout the Oklahoma City area because of treacherous driving conditions.

Areas of southwest and central Nebraska received 8 inches of snow overnight, according to the National Weather Service. Snowfall of 3 to 4 inches was widespread in central Nebraska.

Omaha and Lincoln in eastern Nebraska were bracing for about 8 or more inches of snow.

Even as students were making their way to school this morning in Iowa, administrators in dozens of districts announced early dismissals.

Few of the 150 members of the Iowa General Assembly were in the state capitol in Des Moines this morning, deciding not to brave the weather.

Snow from the powerful storm fell as far south as Tucson, Ariz. on Wednesday. The rare snowfall halted play at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play tournament near Tucson.

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Homicide probe under way after 2 women found dead in blaze

Firefighters found the bodies of two women at a South Side residence this afternoon while putting out a fire at the home, according to authorities, and police confirmed foul play is suspected.

The bodies were found about 4 p.m. as firefighters were extinguishing a fire in the 8100 block of South Maryland Avenue, according to Larry Langford, a Chicago Fire Department spokesman.

The victims are a 24-year-old woman and a 43-year-old woman, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Both women were pronounced dead on the scene at 5:35 p.m., according to the medical examiner’s office. Their names and home addresses were not being released immediately pending notification of next of kin.

An arson and homicide investigation is under way, said Police News Affairs Sgt. Antoinette Ursitti.

No one is in custody Wednesday night, she said.

Preliminary reports indicate that at least one of the victims was found stabbed to death, and the residence may have been set ablaze to conceal their deaths, sources said.

The bodies, believed to be a mother and daughter, were found in a bathroom, according to a source.

A large kitchen knife was found in the bathroom, near where one body was found in a bathtub and the other on the floor, according to a source, citing initial information.

Chicago police officers sealed off the three-story multi-unit building near the southwest corner of East 81st Street and South Maryland Avenue with yellow and red crime tape. Several onlookers gazed at the building in the fire's aftermath.

Investigators could be seen inside the first-floor apartment unit where the fire erupted, its rear window broken and covered by a tarp. Several men working for two different board-up companies also stood in the alley while police conducted their investigation.

Brittany Pullum was inside her apartment across the alley when she saw black smoke coming from the first-floor unit. She said she then ran outside and saw about 15 to 20 people who evacuated from the fire building.

Pullum said a lady who evacuated told her she called 911.

"It's crazy. It's crazy," Pullum said, still appearing somewhat shocked at the news of the two deaths. "It's scary. Very scary."

One of the fire building's tenants, Alexander Brown, said his wife was home during the fire, but their unit wasn't damaged.

He said their unit, where he's lived for about five years, is next-door to the burned apartment. Brown was outside of the building after the blaze and said he was eager to find shelter because of the frigid temperatures.

Brown didn't know the occupants of the burned unit too well, but he said he's seen two women coming and going from there, periodically.

Police said the two victims were females. Although an autopsy Thursday will determine the official cause of their deaths, police said at least one of the deaths might be a domestic-related homicide.

Police said the fire was confined to the one unit, which appeared badly damaged.

Langford said the investigation has been turned over to the Chicago Police.

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Jacksons set for plea hearings in D.C. on Wednesday

WASHINGTON — Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and his wife, former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, are expected to plead guilty to federal charges Wednesday, when more details may emerge about an alleged crime spree in which he is accused of spending more than $750,000 in campaign cash to buy luxury items, memorabilia and other goods.

Attorneys familiar with public corruption investigations said the amount of campaign cash allegedly converted to personal use in this case is the largest of any that they can remember.

Jackson Jr., who has been largely out of the public eye for eight months, is to appear in court at 9:30 a.m. Chicago time. His wife is to appear at 1:30 p.m. Chicago time. Both Jacksons will stand before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins.

Sentencing is not expected for several weeks. Jackson Jr. faces up to five years in prison, while she faces up to three years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Jackson Jr., 47, was in the House of Representatives for 17 years until he resigned last November. Sandi Jackson, 49, was a Chicago alderman from 2007 until she stepped down in January.

He is charged with conspiracy in a case involving a $43,350 men’s Rolex watch, nearly $9,600 in children’s furniture and $5,150 in cashmere clothing and furs, court papers show. She is charged with filing false tax returns for six years, most recently calendar year 2011.

When separate felony charges were filed against them Friday, their attorneys said the two would plead guilty.

Prosecutors also are seeking a $750,000 judgment against Jackson Jr. and the forfeiture of thousands of dollars of goods he purchased, including cashmere clothing, furs and an array of memorabilia from celebrities including Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Jackson Jr. began a mysterious medical leave of absence last June for what was eventually described as bipolar disorder. Though he did not campaign for re-election, he won another term last Nov. 6 while being treated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He left office two weeks later, saying he was cooperating with federal investigators.

Married for more than 20 years, the Jacksons have a 12-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. The family has homes in Washington and on Chicago’s South Side.

Washington defense attorney Stan Brand, the former general counsel of the House of Representatives, said Tuesday that Jackson Jr.’s case involved the largest sum of money he’s seen in a case involving personal use of campaign money. “Historically, there have been members of Congress who either inadvertently or maybe purposefully, but not to this magnitude, used campaign funds inappropriately,” he said.

Brand said that when the dollar figure involved is low, a lawmaker may be fined and ordered to reimburse the money. “This is so large, the Department of Justice decided to make his case criminal,” he said.

Other attorneys said they could not remember a bigger case of its kind. Washington attorney Ken Gross, a former lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, said: “Directly dipping into your campaign coffers, and spending money on personal items, I can’t recall a case where it involved this much money.”

Brand once represented another disgraced Illinois Democratic congressman, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, who in 1996 pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud. Rostenkowski was later represented by attorney Dan Webb, who is Sandi Jackson’s counsel.

Rostenkowski, who died in 2010, entered his pleas and received his punishment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — the same venue on the Jacksons’ calendars on Wednesday.

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Quinn stands by prison closures, despite inmate crowding

Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday stood by his decision to close two prisons and several halfway homes, even as overcrowding at remaining facilities has forced the Illinois Department of Corrections to convert gym space into housing for inmates.

The state agency said it plans to use gymnasiums at six more prisons to bunk inmates, a practice already in use in at least one prison. Only minimum-security inmates will be housed in the "temporary dorm settings," according to spokeswoman Stacey Solano.

About 100 inmates live in temporary housing, Solano said, and it is unclear how many more will be added. She said the department expects to phase out the temporary housing in the "coming months," though the agency's own projections estimate the overall prison population will increase by the end of the year.

The state's largest public employee union contends that the move puts workers at direct risk because the gymnasiums are not equipped with the necessary safety features to properly house inmates.

"What this means is that prisons that were already overcrowded and dangerous are going to become even more overcrowded and dangerous," said Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. "It's unbelievable."

Bayer said the situation is a direct result of Quinn's decision to close several corrections facilities, including the only "supermax" prison in Tamms in far southern Illinois. That prison shut down in January along with a juvenile justice center in Murphysboro in southern Illinois.

The Dwight Correctional Center for women in central Illinois and a juvenile justice center in Joliet are also in the process of being closed. And three transitional centers for inmates, including one on Chicago's West Side, closed at the beginning of the year.

Quinn defended the closings Monday, particularly the shutdown of Tamms, saying the prison had "many, many problems."

"I made the decision to close it," Quinn said. "And I think Illinois is better off because we did."

The Democratic governor said he hoped overcrowding would be eased by a revamped good-behavior credit program the administration plans to implement in the coming months. But that's likely to be tricky, as the governor learned when he suspended good-behavior credit after a botched program saw some prisoners released after just a few weeks behind bars. Quinn was hammered on the issue during the 2010 campaign and could tread lightly as the 2014 governor's race begins to heat up.

Quinn will have a little more political cover this time, however, as lawmakers approved the broad outline of the early-release program, including requiring inmates to spend at least 60 days in prison before they could be released for good-behavior credit for completing things like drug treatment and job training.

But even if more inmates start to get out early, overcrowding likely will persist. The agency estimates that even with the additional credit, the inmate population will rise from 48,821 this month to an estimated 49,253 in December.

A watchdog group contends the state's prison system was built to handle about 34,000 inmates and argues that Quinn should keep the Dwight women's prison open to ease some of the burden.

"The (state) just does not have adequate bed space right now," said John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association of Illinois. "The math will catch up to you."

The prisons slated for temporary housing include those in Centralia, Vandalia and Danville, as well as Graham in Hillsboro, Shawnee in Vienna and the Illinois River prison in Canton. Stateville in Joliet has operated with temporary housing for about a year.

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Hockey arrives at Soldier Field

Tailgating was all systems go under the sun and in the frigid air by the lake hours before the action began inside.

Which, technically, also was outside.

A thin layer of snow covered the grass and square gray slats set down on the Soldier Field surface Sunday, with the exception of the routes cleared to a rink dropped in the middle of a football field. For the first time since the building opened 89 years earlier, it hosted the sport of hockey, a landmark moment indeed.

"We have season tickets here as a family," said Wisconsin left wing and Park Ridge native Michael Mersch, "but it was a surreal experience to share this with my teammates and get the win."

Four college teams skated here — first Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio), then venerable rivals Wisconsin and Minnesota — in the inaugural Hockey City Classic witnessed by an announced 52,051 souls. The Irish and Badgers emerged as winners, and while it took some getting used to, everyone figured they could get used to this.

"I don't think we ever fully adjusted, to be honest with you," said Notre Dame forward Jeff Costello, who had the game-winning tally in Game 1.

"The sun kept moving. It was tough. Especially when you're skating fast, the wind gets in your eyes and your eyes start watering, it makes it even harder to see. But once you got going and got used to the shadows and sun beating down on your face, it was just like playing when you were growing up, and making simple plays to get the job done."

At the time the puck dropped for the Irish-RedHawks opener at noon, the crowd on hand probably would have been standing-room only or overflow at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Ind. In Soldier Field, it looked like the time-lapse photo of five minutes after someone issued a bubonic plague warning at a Bears game.

Wisconsin and Minnesota die-hards helped fill things in for the second game, the concourses teeming as the day wore on. Everyone seemed happy enough to be there, and teams engaged in some event-inspired wardrobe changes, most notably with Notre Dame debuting gold helmets that made them look like C-3P0s on skates. Eye-black, too, was as common for centers as it is for center fielders.

They hadn't played seven minutes of Game 1 before the sport of hockey had its first sun field, with the announcement coming that the teams would alternate directions in the third period — 10 minutes going one way, 10 minutes going the other — due to the glare.

Notre Dame ultimately exercised its option to nix the end-switching plan — but then Wisconsin and Minnesota did their own third-period shuffle thanks to ice quality, a bit of improvisation in everything.

"The shadows were tough on the other end," Irish goalie Steven Summerhays said. "It was more just keeping the flow of the game the same. We didn't want to change anything."

Ice crews were on early and often, apparently using something that shot fire into the ice in order to keep it from cracking, the most ironic repair method in history. Sun was a non-factor for Game 2, which started around 3:30 p.m., but ice conditions became the concern by twilight.

"When we first came out for the first period, the ice was pretty good," Minnesota defenseman Nate Schmidt said. "It was quick, it was fast, our guys got into it right away. Obviously by the third period, when we split, it was getting choppy in one half."

But if the NHL wants an administrative, bottom-line opinion on how Soldier Field held up as a possible future Winter Classic host, count Jack Swarbrick as a yea vote.

"I can't imagine a better venue to put this in, because of the intimacy of the stadium," the Notre Dame athletic director said. "When I walked in, that was the first thing that struck me — you don't feel like you're watching this game from the moon."

As for the hockey, Mario Lucia and then Costello scored to provide a two-goal Notre Dame bulge. Miami's Kevin Morris cut the deficit in half midway through the final frame, but the RedHawks couldn't equalize with the goalie pulled in the final minute or so.

In the second game, Wisconsin broke the game open with three second-period goals in a span of three minutes and change, tallies by Kevin Schulze, John Ramage and Sean Little to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Minnesota answered with a Seth Ambroz goal early in the third period and a Zach Budish goal late, but could not find the equalizer as time ran out.

Predictably, the results tended to color thoughts about the experience.

"It was an incredible experience, obviously," said Miami's Cody Murphy, a Highwood native. "Losing took a lot away from it, but being from Chicago, being able to play in front of family, it's something I'll always remember."

Said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves: "I was asked several times this week if we regret giving up a home game, and the answer is still no. The experience we had is a lifetime experience. That's the tradeoff we get."

Everyone got something from it. Swarbrick said he'd take hockey to Notre Dame Stadium sometime in the distant future. Minnesota coach Don Lucia gave "two thumbs up" to the Italian restaurant the team ate at Saturday.

And channeling the late Bob Johnson, Irish coach Jeff Jackson began his postgame remarks with a fitting final word on the matter.

"It was a great day for hockey," he said.

Twitter @ChiTribHamilton

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Woman killed same day sister hears Obama speak of gun violence

Hours after Destini Warren, 14, attended President Barack Obama’s speech against gun violence Friday, her family learned of a terrible irony.

Destini’s sister, Janay McFarlane, 18, was the victim of the very thing that the President was condemning at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago.

McFarlane, of the 8900 block of South Lowe Avenue, was visiting friends and family in North Chicago when she was shot on her way to a store in the northern suburb, her family said.

She was pronounced dead at 11:30 p.m., shortly after sustaining a single gunshot wound to her head, according to the Lake County Coroner’s office.

North Chicago Police officials did not return calls for comment Saturday.

Angela Blakely, the mother of both girls, said that the family had been anticipating the President's visit to the school where Destini is a freshman.

Leading up to the visit, McFarlane frequently mentioned the recent death of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, whose own shooting death a mile from the Obama's home spurred the President's visit.

“It's terrible, it's terrible the only thing I can remember is my daughter telling me, 'Mommy, it's so sad about Hadiya. That makes no sense,'“ Blakely said. “She always asked me a lot of questions about death.”

Blakely said that McFarlane was still trying to make sense of the violence that claimed Pendleton’s life. She kept questioning why someone so innocent could die from violence.

McFarlane, who attended Hyde Park Academy before she became pregnant with her son Jayden — 3-months-old — and dropped out, was excited that her younger sister was able to attend Obama’s speech.

Destini said that during the days before the President arrived to Chicago, her sister would come by and talk to her about the visit. Destini said she last spoke to her sister on Thursday night before the younger girl went to sleep.

“She was like 'Just tell me how it's going to be.' She was excited for me,” said Destini. “ (The violence) was really wracking her because she was talking to my momma about Hadiya.”

Destini said she was sitting on a bench about two rows behind the President on stage listening as he spoke about gun violence.

“I could relate to it because that's been happening to a lot of people,” said Destini.

The speech resonated even more when her family got the call from McFarlane's father in North Chicago, who told Destini that her sister was dead, she said.

“It was like real painful,” said Destini, her voice choking back tears.

Freelance reporter Ruth Fuller contributed

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Lawyers: Jackson Jr., wife intend to plead guilty to charges

Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi intend to plead guilty to federal charges alleging the former congressman misused $750,000 in campaign funds while she understated their income on  tax returns for six years, their lawyers say.

Jackson Jr., 47, a Democrat from Chicago, was charged in a criminal information today with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements. He faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties.

Sandi Jackson was charged with one count of filing false tax returns. She faces up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties.

Jackson Jr. is accused of diverting $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use.

Federal authorities allege that Jackson Jr. used campaign funds to purchase a $43,350 men’s gold-plated Rolex watch, $5,150 worth of fur capes and parkas, and $9,588 in children’s furniture. The purchases were made between 2007 and 2009, according to the criminal information, which authorities noted is not evidence of guilt.

Other expenditures listed by prosecutors include $10,105 on Bruce Lee memorabilia, $11,130 on Martin Luther King memorabilia and $22,700 on Michael Jackson items, including $4,600 for a "Michael Jackson fedora."

The government also alleged that Jackson Jr. made false statements to the House of Representatives because he did not report approximately $28,500 in loans and gifts he received.

"He has accepted responsibility for his actions and I can confirm that he intends to plead guilty to the charge in the information," Jackson Jr.'s attorney Brian Heberlig said.

Sandi Jackson is accused of filing incorrect joint tax returns with her husband for calendar years 2006 through 2011, reporting income “substantially less than the amount of income she and her husband received in each of the calendar years,” with a substantial additional tax due.

Her attorneys released a statement saying she has "reached an agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office to plead guilty to one count of tax fraud."

Jackson Jr. stepped down from the House of Representatives on Nov. 21, citing both his poor health and an ongoing federal probe of his activities. In a statement then, he said he was doing his best to cooperate with federal investigators and to accept responsibility for his “mistakes.”

In a statement today, Jackson Jr. said:

“Over the course of my life I have come to realize that none of us are immune from our share of shortcomings and human frailties. Still I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made. To that end I want to offer my sincerest apologies to my family, my friends and all of my supporters for my errors in judgment and while my journey is not yet complete, it is my hope that I am remembered for the things that I did right.”

Sandi Jackson's attorneys released a statement saying she "has accepted responsibility for her conduct, is deeply sorry for her actions, and looks forward to putting this matter behind her and her family. She is thankful for the support of her family and friends during this very difficult time."

Jackson's father, the Rev.  Jesse Jackson Sr., said he wanted to attend President Barack Obama's speech Friday at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago but traveled to Washington, D.C., instead, to be with family members while they waited for the federal charges to come down.
"This has been a difficult and painful ordeal for our family," the civil rights leader said.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he would "leave it up to the courts system" to determine his son's fate.

"We express our love for him as a family," he said.

Jackson Jr.’s political fortunes sank beginning late in 2008, when he sought unsuccessfully to have Gov. Rod Blagojevich appoint him to the Senate seat that came open with the election of then-Sen. Barack Obama to the White House.

Jackson Jr. or an emissary reportedly offered to raise up to $6 million in campaign cash for Blagojevich, who now is in federal prison for crimes including trying to sell the Senate seat. Jackson Jr. was never charged in the case, which became the subject of an ethics probe in the House.

Last June, Jackson Jr. began a mysterious leave of absence for what originally was called “exhaustion” but later emerged as bipolar disorder. He spent months in treatment and won re-election Nov. 6 despite never returning to service in the House or staging a single campaign appearance.

A campaign to replace him is being conducted now in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of the South Side and south suburbs.

Jackson Jr. was first elected to Congress in 1995. Sandi Jackson was a Chicago alderman until she resigned her post last month. They have two children.

Sandi Jackson’s firm, J. Donatella & Associates, has been paid at least $452,500 from her husband’s campaign committee since 2002, Federal Election Commission reports show.

The former congressman’s campaign committee reported $105,703 in cash on hand on last Nov. 26, FEC reports show. Leading up to the last election, it reported $1 million in contributions and $1.06 million in operating expenditures, reports show.

Once considered a potential candidate for mayor of Chicago, Jesse Jackson Jr.’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years because of the Blagojevich scandal and also because of news reports in 2010 that a suburban Chicago businessman told federal investigators he twice paid to fly a woman — a hostess from a Washington, D.C. bar — to Chicago at Jackson’s request.

In the wake of the reports, Jackson Jr. issued a statement calling the woman a “social acquaintance” and describing the matter as a  “private and personal matter between me and my wife that was handled some time ago.”

Jackson Jr. subsequently told the Tribune editorial board he had apologized to "my absolute best friend, my wife."

Still, he also acknowledged he asked longtime supporter Raghuveer Nayak to pay to fly the woman from Washington to Chicago. House ethics rules prohibit members from soliciting gifts of personal benefit. Jackson said Nayak’s purchase was "a friendly gesture" by "a close and dear friend of mine, one who knows members of my family, has worked with members of my family, has been a friend of our family's for a number of years."

The woman's travel was "not a personal benefit to me, I don’t believe, under the House rules. A benefit to the person for whom he bought the ticket. He didn't buy tickets for me. Did I direct him? I did."

Tribune reporters Kim Geiger, Rick Pearson and Patrick Svitek contributed.

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Cruise executive: 'Sorry for what guests had to endure'

MOBILE, Alabama—

Reeking of raw sewage, a crippled cruise ship carrying more than 4,200 people was limping into Mobile, Alabama, on Thursday as passengers awaited the end of a vacation voyage some described as hellish.

The Carnival Triumph was being towed into port by tugboats as the drama played out live on U.S. cable news stations, creating another public relations nightmare for cruise giant Carnival Corp. Last year, its Costa Concordia luxury ship grounded off the coast of Italy, with 32 people killed.

Passengers described an overpowering stench on board the ship four days after an engine room fire knocked out power and plumbing across most of the 893-foot vessel and left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship, which went into service in 1999, was on a four-day cruise and on its way back from a stop in Cozumel, Mexico.

After the mishap, toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking many cabins and interior passages in sewage and turning the vessel into what some have described as a giant Petri dish.

"The thing I'm looking forward to most is having a working toilet and not having to breathe in the smell of fecal matter," said Jacob Combs, an Austin, Texas-based sales executive with a healthcare and hospice company.

Combs, 30, who said he had been traveling with friends and family on the Triumph, had nothing but praise for its crew members, saying they had gone through "hell" cleaning up after some of the passengers on the sea cruise.

"Just imagine the filth," Combs told Reuters. "People were doing crazy things and going to the bathroom in sinks and showers. It was inhuman. The stewards would go in and clean it all up. They were constantly cleaning," he said.

Terry Thornton, a Carnival Cruise Lines senior vice president, told reporters in Mobile that additional provisions were laid in on Wednesday and the ship was now "in excellent shape."

Passenger Donna Gutzman said those aboard the ship were treated to steak and lobster for lunch on Thursday afternoon.

"Our basic needs are being met. For the most part, they are making us happy," Gutzman told CNN.

The ship was expected to arrive in port around midnight CST, Carnival said. A senior Carnival official said it could take up to five hours to remove all the passengers from the ship, which has only one functioning elevator.

Operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, the flagship brand of Carnival Corp, the ship left Galveston, Texas, a week ago carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew. It was supposed to return there on Monday.

A Coast Guard cutter has been escorting the Triumph on its long voyage into port since Monday, and a Coast Guard helicopter ferried about 3,000 pounds of equipment including a generator to the stricken ship late on Wednesday.

Earlier in the week, some passengers reported on the poor conditions on the Triumph when they contacted relatives and media before their cell phone batteries died. They said people were getting sick and passengers had been told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.


Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill said in a statement late on Wednesday that the company had decided to add further payment of $500 a person to help compensate passengers for "very challenging circumstances" aboard the ship.

"We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure," Cahill said.

Mary Poret, who spoke to her 12-year-old daughter aboard the Triumph on Monday, rejected Cahill's apology in comments to CNN on Thursday, as she waited anxiously in Mobile with a friend for the Triumph's arrival.

"Seeing urine and feces sloshing in the halls, sleeping on the floor, nothing to eat, people fighting over food, $500? What's the emotional cost? You can't put money on that," Porte said.

Carnival Corp Chairman and CEO Micky Arison faced criticism in January 2012 for failing to travel to Italy and take personal charge of the Costa Concordia crisis after the luxury cruise shop operated by Carnival's Costa Cruises brand grounded on rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio. The tragedy unleashed numerous lawsuits against his company.

The cruise ship mogul has taken a low-key approach to the Triumph situation as well, even as it grabbed a growing share of the U.S. media spotlight. His only known public appearance since Sunday was courtside on Tuesday at a game played by his Miami Heat championship professional basketball team.

"I think they really are trying to do the right thing, but I don't think they have been able to communicate it effectively," said Marcia Horowitz, an executive who handles crisis management at Rubenstein Associates, a New York-based public relations firm.

"Most of all, you really need a face for Carnival," she added. "You can do all the right things. But unless you communicate it effectively, it will not see the light of day."

Carnival Corp shares closed down $0.11 at $37.35 in trading on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares closed down 4 percent at $37.46 on Wednesday after the company said voyage disruptions and repair costs related to Carnival Triumph could shave up to 10 cents a share off its second-half earnings.

The Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel and the Bahamas Maritime Authority will be the primary agency investigating the cause of its engine room fire.

For all the passengers' grievances, they will likely find it difficult to sue the cruise operator for any damages, legal sources said. Over the years, the cruise industry has put in place a legal structure that ring-fences operators from big-money lawsuits.

Rules for seeking redress are spelled out in complex, multi-page ticket contracts that have been the subject of decades of court battles. Victims are often required to proceed with any litigation in remote jurisdictions.

(Reporting by Tom Brown, Kevin Gray and David Adams; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Sources: American, US Airways boards approve merger

The boards of AMR Corp and US Airways Group Inc each met on Wednesday to approve a merger that would create the world's largest airline with an expected market value of around $11 billion, people familiar with the matter said.

The all-stock merger, which is set to be announced early on Thursday, would finalize the consolidation of legacy U.S. air carriers that helped put the industry on a more solid financial footing.

AMR's bankruptcy creditors will own 72 percent of the combined airline, which will do business under the American Airlines brand and be based in Fort Worth, Texas, the people said. US Airways shareholders will own the rest.

The board approval came after AMR's unsecured creditors committee, which includes all three of AMR's major unions, met earlier on Wednesday to approve a proposed merger agreement, the people said.

The merged company will have a board of 12 members: four from US Airways including its chief executive Doug Parker, three from AMR including chief executive Tom Horton and five to be designated by the AMR creditors, two of the people said.

That will shrink to 11 members in 2014 after Horton steps down following the combined company's first annual meeting, the person added. Parker becomes chief executive of the new airline.

AMR's unsecured creditors are expected to be made whole on their claims in the form of stock in the merged company and also get accrued interest, the people said. AMR's shareholders will get a small equity stake as well, they added.

All the sources asked not to be named because the matter was not public. US Airways declined to comment while AMR representatives could not be immediately reached for comment.

The deal comes more than 14 months after the bankrupt parent of American Airlines filed for bankruptcy in November 2011, and would mark the last combination of legacy U.S. carriers, following the Delta-Northwest and United-Continental mergers.

A tie-up with US Airways would create the world's top airline by passenger traffic and help American and US Air better compete with United Continental Holdings and Delta Air Lines.

Some $11 billion valuation of the combined American-US Airways compares to the roughly $12.4 billion market capitalization for Delta, and $8.7 billion for United Continental.

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Attorney convicted in slaying of Eddy Curry's ex-girlfriend, child

A Chicago attorney was found guilty Tuesday night of fatally shooting a former girlfriend of ex-Chicago Bulls player Eddy Curry and their infant daughter.

Frederick Goings, 40, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder by a Cook County jury that deliberated a little more than four hours.

The victims, Nova Henry, 24, and her 10-month-old daughter, Ava, were found shot to death inside their South Loop town house in January 2009. Henry's 3-year-old son Noah, who also was Curry’s child, was found in the town house unharmed.

“We're very pleased with the verdict,” said Lisa Newman, Nova Henry's godmother. “We never doubted for a minute that it would be anything other than guilty.”

Goings' attorneys argued during the trial  that there was no physical evidence linking him to the double murder. They also accused Chicago police investigators of failing to seriously weigh other possible suspects.

Prosecutor Jim McKay, however, told the jury during closing arguments that “A mountain of evidence became an avalanche, and now [Goings is) buried.”

Goings expressed no emotion as the verdict was read. During McKay’s animated closing argument, Goings leaned on the left arm of his chair and hardly flinched.
At one point, McKay flung his arms in Goings' direction after counting off on his fingers several pieces of evidence. “Reasonable doubt? There is no reasonable doubt in this case,” McKay said. “None.”

Prosecutors said earlier in the trial that Goings, a family attorney, had “dollar signs in his eyes” when he took Nova Henry on as a client in a child-support case against Curry, who was then playing for the New York Knicks. Curry did not testify in the trial.

Goings and Nova Henry developed a romantic relationship that prosecutors said stretched over two years. But their relationship took a tumultuous turn when Nova Henry hired a new lawyer and made plans to contest $24,000 in legal fees charged by Goings.

In 2007, Nova Henry took out an order of protection against Goings after she said he threatened her and her son, but she let it expire, McKay said.

On Jan. 24, 2009, Goings opened fire on Nova Henry as she stood at the bottom of the stairs in her South Loop town home, according to prosecutors. Earlier this month, Noah’s grandmother Yolan Henry testified that she and her boyfriend found the bodies a few hours later. They also discovered Noah and asked him what happen.

“He turned around and looked at me and said, ‘Frederick,’” Yolan Henry testified. “He repeated, ‘Frederick did it.’”

McKay described Goings as a “true coward” for fleeing on that day to a hotel in LaPorte County, Ind.. Prosecutors alleged he tried to erase any trace of the double murder by jumping naked into a swimming pool, wandering in a nearby forest and washing his fingernails to try to get rid of gunshot residue. A bullet matching linked to the murder weapon was later found in Goings’ car, they said.

“How do I get out of this one?” McKay said Goings thought in the hours after the crime.

As he wrapped up his closing argument, McKay had one final plea for the jurors. “You stop Frederick Goings now,” McKay told the jury. “You stop him. You do justice.”

Family members declined to comment as they left the courtroom. They plan to speak at a news conference Wednesday morning.

A post-trial hearing is set for March 11.

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Slain teen's dad: 'The healing can start' after 2 charged with murder

Announcing charges in a case that has drawn national attention, police say 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot to death by two reputed gang members who were bent on retaliation for a shooting last summer and mistook the group of teens she was with for rivals.

Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, are charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm in the attack that also left two other teens wounded in Harsh Park late last month, about a mile from President Barack Obama's Kenwood home.

Ward, of the 3900 block of South Lake Park Avenue, told police the shooting was in retaliation for Williams getting wounded last July on the South Side, according to Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

Williams, of the 300 block of West 59th Street, had been shot July 12 near Pershing Road and Lake Park Avenue, police said. But he refused to sign a complaint against those suspected in the attack, McCarthy said.

Williams and Ward targeted Hadiya and other teens in the park Jan. 29 because they believed, mistakenly, they were members of the gang responsible for the shooting, he said. Ward fired the gun, police said.

Hours after Hadiya's funeral, attended by first lady Michelle Obama, police stopped Ward and Williams as they were on their way in separate cars to a strip club in Harvey Saturday night, McCarthy said at a news conference at Area Central police headquarters this evening.

Hearing news of the charges, Hadiya's father Nathaniel Pendleton said this is the first time since the shooting he's had a "legitimate" smile on his face.

"I'm ecstatic that they found the two guys," he told the Tribune by phone from a Washington, D.C. restaurant, where he was with his wife, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, and other relatives. "(I'm) thanking God that these two guys are off the streets, so that this doesn't happen to another innocent person."

Pendleton and his family were in the nation's capital to be guests of Obama during the State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Still, Pendleton said true closure won't come until the men are convicted. "Right now, I can say to you that the healing can start," he said.

Hadiya was shot in Vivian Gordon Harsh Park, about a mile north of President Barack Obama's Kenwood neighborhood home on the South Side. Her slaying took place a little more than a week after the honor student performed with the King College Prep band in Washington during inauguration festivities.

The shooting in the 4400 block of South Oakenwald Avenue happened after classes were dismissed for the day during finals week at King. Hadiya, a sophomore at King, was at the park with a group of teens, primarily other students from the school, when a gunman climbed over a fence, ran to the group and started firing, police have said.

The shooter escaped in what has been described as a white Nissan vehicle, possibly driven by a getaway driver.

While police and neighbors have generally described Harsh Park and its immediate surroundings as safe, there has been an internal gang conflict brewing in the area between factions of the Gangster Disciples, police said.

The playground where Hadiya was shot was the setting for an amateur rap video posted to YouTube. The video, which also highlights the intersection at South Oakenwald and East 44th Place, uses the moniker of a local gang in an opening credit and features a rapper shown leaving the Cook County Jail, then threatening to shoot down his foes.

The video ends at a house party with a smiling teenage girl flashing gang signs at the camera.

Ward and Williams are members of the Gangster Disciples, sources said.

Ward pleaded guilty early last year in a 2011 aggravated unlawful use of a weapon case and was given two years probation, according to court records. After an arrest on criminal trespass to a vehicle last summer, he was held without bond for a few weeks, but was released after a Sept. 9, 2012, hearing.

Williams was arrested on a misdemeanor retail theft charge in October 2011, but the charge was dismissed.

Tribune reporter Carlos Sadovi contributed to this story.

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