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

Man slain on way to dialysis treatment: police

WGN-TV: Man fatally shot while waiting for ride to dialysis treatment.

A 72-year-old man was shot and killed in his gangway on the Far South Side early Saturday morning as he left a home for dialysis treatment.

The man's grandson was inside and heard the shots that killed his grandfather, who was identified by family and the Cook County medical examiner's office as William Strickland, of the 400 block of East 95th Street.

The man was shot about 3:30 a.m. and pronounced dead about 4 a.m., according to authorities.

The motive appears to be robbery, police said, but detectives are still investigating.

Detectives remained at the scene, across from Chicago State University, into the morning.

Police taped off the northeast corner of 95th Street and Eberhart Avenue, surrounding the two houses between which the man was killed.

Neighbors said Strickland had lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. He was described as friendly and willing to lend a helping hand, neighbors and friends said.

"He was just there for us," said Theolene Shears, 84, who has lived in the area since 1965. "He was a very nice neighbor. We couldn't ask for a better neighbor."

Shears said she was inside her home when she heard the shots.

"All I heard was three shots. Bang, bang, bang," she said.

Strickland, who went to dialysis three times a week, had been undergoing treatment for about five years, Shears said.

"He seemed to be very happy about it. The way he talked it was like a little social club," Shears said, adding that he eased her own concerns about potentially having to receive treatment.

He preferred to go early on Saturdays to get it out of the way, she said.

Strickland leaves behind a daughter, three grandchildren and a pet Chihuahua, said Shears.

"He was a good man," said Joshua Miles, 14, a friend of the family "He would help you out if you needed help."

"He always kept you laughing," he said.
Twitter: @peternickeas

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Latest autopsy reveals no new details in lottery winner's death

The body of poisoned lottery winner, Urooj Khan, is exhumed at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. (John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune)

Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina said today that the exhumation and autopsy of Urooj Khan’s body revealed nothing new to help Chicago police in the investigation of the million-dollar lottery winner’s cyanide poisoning death last summer.

At a press conference at the medical examiner’s West Side office, Cina said the body was badly decomposed and the autopsy could not confirm how the cyanide entered his body.

Cina said no cyanide was detectable in Khan’s body tissues or in the “small amount” of contents in the stomach because of the advanced decomposition.

"Cyanide has a short half-life and may be lost over the postmortem period unless tissues are adequately preserved," he said. "In this case, due to advance putrefaction of the tissues, no cyanide was detectable in the tissues or small amounts of gastric content recovered following exhumation of the body."

The medical examiner said pathologists could not tell what Khan had last eaten, saying there was only “residue” left in the stomach.

"I can't say whether it (cyanide) was ingested or not," Cina said.

The autopsy did reveal 75 percent blockage in one of Khan’s coronary arteries, but the medical examiner still ruled that Khan died of cyanide toxicity -- with heart disease as a "contributing factor." The manner of death was homicide, he said.

"Since cyanide affects oxygen utilization in the tissues, it follows logically that a natural disease process that already limits blood flow to the heart could render an individual particularly susceptible to death due to this toxin," Cina said.

Cina said he was limited in what he could tell reporters because of the "ongoing police investigation."

When a reporter asked if Khan could have died of a heart attack, Cina said, "As a pathologist you have to look at the totality of the evidence. And I don't see how I can ignore a lethal level of cyanide in the blood."

Authorities hoped to shed light on the mystery after unearthing Khan’s body at a Far North Side cemetery on Jan. 18 and performing an autopsy on the remains that same day.

After the approximately two-hour autopsy, Cina said the body was in an advanced state of decomposition but that doctors were able to gather samples for toxicological testing. The body was reburied three days later at Rosehill Cemetery.

As the Tribune first revealed earlier in January, the medical examiner's office initially ruled that Khan, 46, died July 20 from hardening of the arteries after no signs of trauma were found on the body and a preliminary blood test didn't raise any questions. But the investigation was reopened about a week later after Khan’s brother, ImTiaz, raised concerns that Khan may have been poisoned.

In an interview last month with the Tribune, Imtiaz Khan said he was visiting his brother’s grave site about a week after his death with the medical examiner’s office returned his call.

"I said, 'No, my brother cannot die like this. He was so healthy. I have suspicions about this. It cannot be natural. Please go and look into more details about it,' " Khan said. "I'm looking at the grave. I said, 'He should not be here. Absolutely not. He cannot die like that.' "

Chicago police were notified in September after tests showed cyanide in Khan’s blood. By late November, more comprehensive tests showed lethal levels of the toxic chemical, leading the medical examiner's office to declare his death a homicide.

Khan had won the scratch-off lottery prize a few weeks before his death, but he didn't survive long enough to collect the winnings -- a lump-sum payment of about $425,000 after taxes.

At the time of the autopsy in January, Cina said Khan had been buried in a wood box with a plastic foam covering wrapped in a shroud. The box sat in a concrete vault.

Following Muslim tradition, Khan’s body was not embalmed, contributing to its decomposition, Cina said. Still, the medical examiner's team was able to take samples from major organs during the autopsy for toxicological analysis, he said.

"Generally, embalming preserves tissues better. It makes it easier to see things," Cina said. "However ... additives in the embalming fluid can confuse some of the toxicological analysis."

The team also recovered contents in Khan’s stomach, according to Cina. That could be helpful to determine whether cyanide had been in his food. Hair and fingernail samples also were gathered for testing, he said.

Authorities also collected a sample of the dirt surrounding the vault, because tiny organisms living in the soil can produce cyanide at low levels. Cina wanted to test it in case questions arose about whether the dirt could influence the laboratory findings on Khan’s body.

Cina's team did not smell cyanide during Friday's autopsy, but the medical examiner said that it likely wouldn't be possible to detect the bitter-almond scent of the chemical because of the decomposition.

In court papers, Cina said it was necessary to perform a full autopsy to "further confirm the results of the blood analysis as well as to rule out any other natural causes that might have contributed to or caused Mr. Khan’s death."

Khan’s widow, Shabana Ansari, who has hired a criminal defense lawyer, told the Tribune in January that she had been questioned for more than four hours by detectives and answered all their questions. She said the detectives had asked her about the ingredients she used to prepare the final meal that her husband ate.

The Tribune also has reported that Ansari's father, Fareedun, who also lives in the family home, had owed more than $120,000 in back taxes, leading the Internal Revenue Service to place liens on Khan’s West Rogers Park residence.

According to court records obtained by the Tribune, Imtiaz Khan has squabbled with Shabana Ansari over the lottery winnings in probate court. The brother raised concern that because Khan left no will, Khan’s daughter from a previous marriage, Jasmeen, 17, would not get "her fair share" of her father's estate. The couple did not have any children together.

An attorney for Ansari in the probate case said the money was all accounted for and the estate was in the process of being divided up by the court. Under state law, the estate typically would be split evenly between the spouse and Khan’s only child, he said.

Fareedun and Shabana Ansari have denied involvement in Khan’s death and neither has been accused of a crime.

But last month, Ansari’s lawyer contended that weeks before his death, Khan had inked a deal with a business partner to ensure that his share of several dry cleaning stores went to his wife in the event of his death.

The business contract means that Ansari owns half the dry cleaning operation and its real estate, valued at more than $1 million, instead of those assets being divided among heirs in probate court, according to Ansari's lawyer, Al-Haroon Husain. The lawyer acknowledged he expects the dispute over the assets to be fought in court.

"It's a bit unusual," Husain said of the contract. "I just think he wanted to make sure his wife had a business and had attachment to the commercial property if something happened to him." Although a motive has not been determined, police have not ruled out that Khan was killed because of his lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune. 

In addition, a real estate agreement Khan signed with his wife in 2007 entitles her to sole ownership of their West Rogers Park home, which is valued at almost half a million dollars, Husain said.

Kahn’s sister, Meraj Khan, told the Tribune her suspicions of Ansari's motives intensified after learning of the business agreement.

"Things are getting more clear about why my brother is gone," the sister said. "Out of nowhere she's the beneficiary for ... the business?"

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Pope leaves Vatican before abdication

Pope Benedict XVI gives final farewell at Vatican. (WGN - Chicago)

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict left the Vatican on Thursday after pledging unconditional obedience to whoever succeeds him to guide the Roman Catholic Church at one of the most crisis-ridden periods in its 2,000-year history.

The first pope in six centuries to step down, Benedict flew off in a white Italian air force helicopter for the papal summer villa south of the capital where he took up temporary residence.

Bells rang out from St Peter's Basilica and churches all over Rome as the helicopter circled Vatican City and flew over the Colosseum and other landmarks to give the pontiff one last view of the city where he is also bishop.

"As you know, today is different to previous ones," he told an emotional, cheering crowd in the small town of Castel Gandolfo in his last public remarks as pope.

"I will only be the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church until 8 p.m and then no longer. I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth."

He turned and went inside the villa, never to be seen again as pope.

In an emotional farewell to cardinals on Thursday morning in the Vatican's frescoed Sala Clementina, Benedict appeared to send a strong message to the top echelons of the Church as well as the faithful to remain united behind his successor, whoever he is.

"I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that you are fully accepting of the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new pope," he said. "May the Lord show you what he wants. Among you there is the future pope, to whom I today declare my unconditional reverence and obedience."

The pledge, made ahead of the closed-doors conclave where cardinals will elect his successor, was significant because for the first time in history, there will be a reigning pope and a former pope living side by side in the Vatican.

Some Church scholars worry that if the next pope undoes some of Benedict's policies while his predecessor is still alive, Benedict could act as a lightning rod for conservatives and polarize the 1.2 billion-member Church.

Before boarding the helicopter, Pope Benedict said goodbye to monsignors, nuns, Vatican staff and Swiss guards in the San Damaso courtyard of the Holy See's apostolic palace. Many of his staff had tears in their eyes as the helicopter left.

As the helicopter took off, he sent his last message on Twitter: "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives".

Benedict will spend the first few months of his retirement in the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, a complex of villas boasting lush gardens, a farm and stunning views over Lake Albano in the volcanic crater below the town.

At 8 p.m. (1900 GMT/2 p.m. ET) the papacy will be officially vacant and two Swiss Guards that ceremonially watch over the summer villa will march away and not return until the new pope takes possession of the hilltop residence.

Benedict will stay until April when renovations are completed on a convent in the Vatican that will be his new home.


With the election of the next pope taking place in the wake of sexual abuse scandals, leaks of his private papers by his butler, falling membership and demands for a greater role for women, many in the Church believe it would benefit from a fresh face from a non-European country.

A number of cardinals from the developing world, including Ghanaian Peter Turkson and Antonio Tagle of the Philippines are two names often mentioned as leading candidates from the developing world who listen more.

"At the past two conclaves, the cardinals elected the smartest man in the room. Now, it may be time to choose a man who will listen to all the other smart people in the Church," said Father Tom Resse, a historian and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

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Obama to meet with leaders over $85B in sequestration cuts

Speaker of the House John Boehner tells Scott Pelley in a "CBS Evening News" interview that a budget deal is now out of his hands.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will meet with top congressional leaders on Friday to discuss the deep, automatic government spending cuts slated to go into effect that day, congressional aides said.

Known as the sequester or sequestration, the cuts amount indiscriminate across-the-board reductions in federal spending totalling $85 billion. Some 750,000 jobs could be lost, and many government services disrupted.

Talks to avert the cuts have been all but non-existent between leaders and the White House. Mostly lawmakers are now focused on ways to rearrange the way the cuts will fall across defense and domestic accounts.

Obama is set to meet with Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.

"The meeting Friday is an opportunity for us to visit with the president about how we can all keep our commitment to reduce Washington spending," McConnell said in a statement.

"We can either secure those reductions more intelligently, or we can do it the president's way with across-the board cuts. But one thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to," he said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill immediately questioned Obama's intent.

"If the president is serious about stopping the sequester, why did he schedule a meeting on Tuesday for Friday when the sequester hits at midnight on Thursday?” asked a Republican congressional aide who was not authorized to talk about the private meeting. "Either someone needs to buy the White House a calendar, or this is just a belated farce.  They ought to at least pretend to try."

Transportation secretary Ray LaHood told White House reporters last week that proposed cuts to eht U.S. Federal Aviation Administration would lead to delayed flights, shuttered control towers, and irate travelers.

Reuters and Lisa Mascaro, the Los Angeles Times

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Snow, sleet beginning to hit

A winter weather advisory has been issued for the Chicago area as a powerful storm churning through the southern Plains is beginning to make its mark on Chicagoland with sleet, freezing rain and some snow.

The area will be hit with snow, sleet and rain in this storm and it will be all snow by late afternoon. The heaviest snow is expected to fall between 3  and 7 p.m.

North of I-80, snow accumulation could reach 3 to 6 inches by Wednesday morning. Some area could get 7 inches if the switch from rain to snow occurs sooner than expected, or if there is lake-enhanced snow.

South of I-80, including much of northwest Indiana, accumulation of less than 3 inches is possible because of an extended period of rain or a rain mixed with snow and sleet.

The storm bore down on the southern Plains on Monday, dumping more than a foot of snow and creating blizzard conditions in Oklahoma, Texas and parts of Kansas still digging out from a winter storm last week.

Highways in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and parts of Kansas were closed by the heavy and drifting snow that cut visibility and forced flight cancellations at airports across the region.

A man was killed Monday when his car slid off Interstate 70 in Sherman County, Kansas, near the western border, Governor Sam Brownback said. And in northern Oklahoma, one person died when the roof of a home partially collapsed in the city of Woodward, said Matt Lehenbauer, the city's emergency management director.

"We have roofs collapsing all over town," said Woodward Mayor Roscoe Hill Jr. "We really have a mess on our hands."

The storm was slowly moving out of Texas on Monday, while residents of Kansas City in turn were preparing for a foot or more of snow into Tuesday.

Tornado watches were in place Monday evening in parts of Mississippi and heavy rain was expected through the night in parts of Alabama and Georgia, according to the National Weather Service. The weather service Monday also issued flood watches for parts of the Carolinas and an ice storm warning for portions of West Virginia.

Some 17 inches of snow fell near Amarillo, Texas, according to the National Weather Service. Other areas in the Texas Panhandle reported more than a foot of snow and Texas Governor Rick Perry activated Texas military forces to be ready to respond to calls for assistance.

Amarillo could break the all-time record for the amount of snow in one day of just over 18 inches set in 1934, said Kristin Scotten of the National Weather Service.

Airports in Amarillo and in Lubbock, Texas, were closed and Interstate 27 between the cities was shut because of blowing snow, state officials said. Wind gusts of 75 miles per hour (121 km per hour) were clocked at the Amarillo airport.

Visibility was near zero on some roads around Amarillo, said Paul Braun, a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman.

"I am hearing that we have a lot of vehicles that are stalled in the main lanes of our roadways and they can't be seen because of the blowing snow," Braun said.

Texas State Trooper Gabriel Medrano said the snow was too deep to measure in Lubbock.

"We are having a lot of problems getting our troopers to these crash scenes," Medrano said. "Our troopers are getting stuck out there."

In Oklahoma, a state of emergency was declared for 56 of 77 counties, with northwest Oklahoma hit hardest in the storm. All highways in the Oklahoma panhandle were closed because of blizzard conditions.

Parts of northwestern Oklahoma could get 16 inches to 24 inches of snow, with high winds creating drifts up to 6 feet high, the National Weather Service said.

"It's the biggest in the last several years, really," said James Hand, emergency management director in the small town of Mooreland. "Last year, we didn't have anything to shovel."

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New storm to hit Chicago area on Tuesday: forecasts

For the second time in less than a week, the Chicago area is in line for a snowstorm that promises a mixture of freezing rain, sleet and snow with enough accumulation to bring out the snow shovels.

Early predictions from the National Weather Service pegged the potential snowfall at about 3-6 inches, about what the storm left the end of last week. But the weather service says it's still unclear which areas will be hit with what: If the temperature is above freezing, there will be less snow, and if it's below, there will be more.

The weather service has issued a winter storm watch from Tuesday morning through the evening.

The weather service said the snow will start sometime after midnight Tuesday morning, with freezing rain turning to sleet to wet snow by early afternoon. With winds gusting about 35 mph, some of that snow will drift and made Tuesday a bad day on the roads.

The track of the storm is over the Texas panhandle northeast and through Missouri and southern Illinois and central Indiana, the Lake Erie area early Wednesday. North of the low pressure path, winter storm watches are in effect from late Monday through Tuesday from Missouri through northern Illinois, the southeastern corner of Wisconsin, extreme northern Indiana and much of Lower Michigan.

In the Chicago area, there could be heavy snow of 6 inches or more Tuesday generally north of Interstate 80, with northeast winds at 25 to 35 mph whipping and blowing the snow, according to the Chicago Weather Center.

Rain, a period of freezing rain and sleet will spread north out of central Illinois early Tuesday, changing over to a heavy wet snow in the Chicago metro area and across the far west through north suburbs into southern Wisconsin.

A combination of freezing rain, sleet and snow will cause hazardous driving across northern Indiana Tuesday. The precipitation will be all snow across Illinois later Tuesday.

According to the Chicago Weather Center, February has been an unusually snowy month during a winter that has been unusually snowless. Through Saturday, there has been 10.1 inches of snow, about 136 percent of normal, while the winter's total has been 13.6 inches, way below normal.

Plains states hit again

A storm struck parts of the southern Plains today, creating blizzard conditions in Oklahoma and Texas and warnings in Kansas and Missouri that caught the brunt of a winter storm last week.

Snow fell at the rate of up to 2 inches per hour in the Amarillo, Texas, area, and the National Weather Service warned against travel, saying "most roads are impassable."

Airports in Amarillo and 120 miles to the south in Lubbock, Texas, were closed while Interstate 27 between the cities was shut down because of the blowing snow, state officials said.

Amarillo and parts north of Amarillo in the panhandle reported a foot of snow or more on Monday morning.

Parts of northwestern Oklahoma could get 16 inches to 24 inches of snow, with high winds that could create drifts up to 6 feet high, according to the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said it closed all highways in the Oklahoma panhandle because of blizzard conditions. Interstate 40 in the Texas panhandle was also closed, according to National Weather Service in Amarillo.

In Oklahoma City, some afternoon flights from Will Rogers World Airport were canceled in anticipation of the storm.

Kansas, hit by a foot or more of snow in spots last week, braced for possible worsening conditions on Monday and Tuesday.

Reuters contributed

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Daytona 500 still a go despite accident that injured fans


The Daytona 500 NASCAR race will go ahead on Sunday despite a crash on Saturday that injured more than 20 fans, questions over the safety of the famous speedway and the possibility of lawsuits.

Officials said they had repaired the fencing that was damaged after the pile-up which sent debris flying into the crowd and injuring fans on the final lap of Saturday's second-tier Nationwide race.

Halifax Health spokesman Byron Cogdell said that seven people were treated for injuries at their facility but two who had initially been listed as critical were now in a stable condition.

Another injured spectator was being treated at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach, but their condition was not available.

Fourteen other fans had been treated on site at the track before being released, said Daytona International Speedway president Joei Chitwood.

Chitwood said any fans in the affected area who were concerned about the safety of their seat position would be relocated.

"If fans are unhappy with...their seating location or if they have any incidents, we would relocate them. We will treat that area like we do every other of the grandstand.

"If a fan is not comfortable where they are sitting, we make every accommodation we can," he said.

NASCAR and the speedway could face millions of dollars' worth of claims from the injured, litigation that would likely center on the sturdiness of the safety fence that was supposed to keep fans from danger, according to several plaintiffs' lawyers.

"Maybe the fence should have been higher; maybe there should have been more spacing between the track and spectators," said Adam Levitt, a lawyer with Grant & Eisenhofer.

However, lawyers also said the auto-racing business would likely point to the disclaimers that it typically displays on tickets, which are designed to exempt NASCAR from any potential injury liability. They expected NASCAR would argue that fans knew what they were getting into when signing up for the race.


Both the speedway and NASCAR have said they will closely review the incident in search of any ways they could improve safety.

Chitwood said new, 22-feet-high fencing had been put in place three years ago following a review of a crash involving Colin Edwards at Talladega in 2009.

"If you look at our 55 years in the business, we have a pretty good safety track record. I think we are prepared today," said Chitwood.

However, three-times Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford said a change might be needed.

"Maybe a double fence, one behind the other with some space in between to stop something like this," he told reporters.

"But there are a lot of things and NASCAR and Indy Car racing are looking at everything they can to make it safer.

"What happened yesterday was a terrible thing because we expect (danger) that is part of it, we have to roll the dice and move on but you don't want to involve the fans," he said.

NASCAR's senior vice-president of racing operations Steve O'Donnell said he would tell any nervous fans that organisers were confident of their safety.

"I would tell them that the fans are our first priority. Obviously we want everyone to be safe at an event," he told reporters.

"We've talked to the speedway. We are confident in what's in place at today's event. Certainly still thinking about those affected but we are confident to move forward for this race," he added.

Fans streamed into the 167,000-capacity venue on Sunday and there was little indication of concern over safety.

"I feel safe. I think anywhere you go you run the risk of being injured but NASCAR does everything they can to protect the fans. They treat the fans like royalty here, it is amazing," said Vinny Nigro of New York City.

Another fan, Brad Stefka from Springfield, Missouri, said that while not particularly worried he would avoid the seating closest to the track.

"I just won't get down low. I would imagine that everyone who comes knows there is some element of danger if the cars are going that fast, if there is going to be a serious impact," he said.

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Charges filed in slaying of Clemente High School student

Authorities filed charges against a 34-year-old man in connection with the shooting death of an 18-year-old Clemente High School student killed on the West Side last week.

Larry Luellen Jr., 34, was charged with first degree murder in the death of Frances Colon. Luellen is due in court today.

Luellen lives in the 3900 block of West Division Street in West Humboldt Park, around the corner from where Colon was shot. Police don't believe she was the target.

Colon is the third student at Roberto Clemente to be killed this school year, according to the school's principal Marcey Sorensen.

Rey Dorantes, 14, of the 2400 block of West Augusta Boulevard, was shot and killed on Jan. 11. His death came about a month after another Clemente student, 16-year-old Jeffrey Stewart, of the 5200 block of West Race Avenue, was shot and killed on Dec. 9.

Colon was a senior who was preparing to attend college. Hours before the shooting, she had watched President Barack Obama speak at Hyde Park Academy on the South Side about gun violence, according to her father.

Check back for more information.
Twitter: @peternickeas

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Court to Madigan: No rehearing on concealed-carry guns ruling

SPRINGFIELD — A divided federal appeals court today rejected Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s request for a rehearing on the case where the state has been ordered to allow citizens to carry guns in public.

Madigan made the request following the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision in December that gave Illinois 180 days to put together a law that would allow concealed weapons in Illinois.

There has been no word yet from Madigan’s office on her next move. She could choose to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or decide to let the ruling stand.

The appeals court action officially rejected Madigan’s request for a rehearing by the full court, but the denial came with a stinging dissent from four of the nine members of the appeals court who reviewed the matter. The original order came down from a three-member panel that also had a split vote.

The arguments made in the dissent, written by Judge David Hamilton, could bolster Madigan’s cause if she appeals to the nation’s high court.

“The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether .. the individual right to keep and bear arms at home under the Second Amendment extends beyond the home,” Hamilton wrote.

Illinois is the only state in the nation that does not allow citizens to carry weapons in public in some form.

Hamilton’s dissent also noted the ruling that called for Illinois to allow concealed carry is the “first decision by a federal court of appeals striking down legislation restricting the carrying of arms in public.”

He wrote that three major points are worthy of consideration by the full appellate court rather than simply the three-member panel:

*Whether to extend the right to bear arms outside the home and into the public sphere, a matter that “presents issues very different from those involved in the home itself, which is all the Supreme Court decided” in a case currently viewed as the law of the land.

*How to handle what the panel did not decide. The three-member panel left Illinois a “good deal of constitutional room for reasonable public safety measures concerning public carrying of firearms.”

*How to proceed in future decisions about laws that are more narrowly tailored and any state interests that justify some restrictions on rights.

“Where the law is genuinely in doubt, as it is likely to remain for some time under the Second Amendment, a trial court can do a great service by ensuring the development of a thorough and complete record that provides a reliable, accurate factual foundation for constitutional adjudication,” Hamilton wrote. “The federal courts are likely to do a better job of constitutional adjudication if our considerations are based on reliable facts rather than hypothesized and assumed facts.”

You can read the opinion HERE.

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Major snowstorm bearing down on Chicago region

A winter storm that is already walloping the Plains states 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 and winds blowing at 25 to 30 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

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

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. Warnings have been issued from Colorado through Illinois, and many school districts have called off classes.

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.

The storm moving over the Plains now was first picked up by computer models as it left the Japanese coast more than a week ago.  Forecasts at the time suggested a potentially significant winter storm would develop from it across the nation’s mid-section.

Up to a foot and a half of heavy snow is expected over portions of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska.

Nearly a foot or more of snow fell across key areas in Oklahoma and Kansas in the last 24 hours, and more was coming.

Ten inches of snow were reported at the Wichita, Kansas, airport by 6 a.m. CST today, according to the Accuweather forecasting group. Roughly a foot was accumulating in the Kansas City area, leading city and state officials to declare a state of emergency.

Chicago Board of Trade wheat futures fell more than 2 percent to their lowest level in nearly eight months this morning due to beneficial nature of the storms for the wheat crop in the U.S. Plains.

Snowfall of 5 to 8 inches will fall over Iowa and northern Missouri. A mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain is expected from southern Missouri east-northeast up the Ohio River Valley into southern and central Illinois, Indiana, Ohio into West Virginia. Severe thunderstorms are forecast in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

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Jackson Jr. in court: 'I am guilty, your honor'

Jesse Jr. and Sandi Jackson arriving in federal court in Washington today.

Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.  pleaded guilty this morning to conspiring with his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson, to siphon about $750,000 in federal campaign funds for the couple’s personal use, and could face years in prison.

Sandi Jackson was scheduled to plead guilty this afternoon to a single charge of tax fraud tied to the same allegations that the couple repeatedly tapped the ex-congressman’s campaign fund, used the money for personal use and then made fraudulent campaign and tax disclosures to cover up the misconduct.

As part of the plea deal with Jackson Jr., the parties have agreed that sentencing guidelines in the case call for a term of between 46 and 57 months in prison, but the sides reserved the right to argue for a sentence above or below that range for him when he is sentenced June 28.

After his release from an expected prison term, he might face three additional years of supervised release, or probation.

Also under the guideline range agreed to by Jackson Jr. and lawyers on both sides, what had been a maximum fine of $250,000 drops to one in the range of $10,000 to $100,000. In addition, he remains subject to a forfeiture of $750,000.

After entering the courtroom this morning, Jackson Jr. gave his wife Sandi a peck on the cheek and took his seat. He spoke softly during the hearing and sometimes dabbed his eyes with a tissue.

When asked by Wilkins how he would plead, Jackson answered: “I am guilty, your honor.”

Asked to sum up his conduct, Jackson acknowledged misusing campaign funds. “I used money I shouldn’t have. . .for personal purposes, and I acknowledge that,” he told the judge.

Pressed by the judge on whether he was freely entering the plea, the former congressman acknowledged he had been under psychiatric care but said he had not been treated for addiction to alcohol or narcotics.

Asked whether he understood what was happening, he answered, "Sir, I've never been more clear in my life."

The judge said Jackson could be released before sentencing and ordered him to be processed by the U.S. Marshal's Service, surrender his passport and undergo drug testing while awaiting sentencing.

His attorney asked if Jackson Jr. could be allowed to travel back and forth from Chicago, saying he essentially lived in both places, and the judge agreed.

Before the 55-minute hearing began, Jackson Jr. stepped from the defense table and shook hands with a lead FBI agent in the case, Tim Thibault, who was seated with government prosecutors.

Leaving the courtroom, Jackson Jr. told a reporter, "Tell everybody back home I'm sorry I let 'em down, OK?"

At a press conference following the hearing, Jackson Jr. attorney Reid Weingarten said Jackson's health problems contributed to his crimes.

"It turns out that Jesse has serious health issues," he said. "Those health issues are directly related to his present predicament. That's not an excuse, that's just a fact."

Jackson entered the anticipated plea in Act One of a two-part drama playing out in federal court not far from the House chamber where he served. Act Two is on tap this afternoon, when his wife, former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, is expected to plead guilty to filing false tax returns.

Jackson Jr. entered a negotiated plea of guilty on one felony count of conspiracy to commit false statements, wire fraud and mail fraud. Prosecutors say he spent campaign contributions to buy luxury items, memorabilia and other goods.

As the Jacksons arrived at federal court in Washington, D.C. this morning, neither responded to questions from reporters. The two stepped out of a black SUV, and Sandi Jackson walked ahead of her husband, carrying a satchel. Jackson Jr. looked up when reporters shouted questions but said nothing and looked down as he went into the building.

Minutes later, his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., and other family members walked through the front entrance of the courthouse, their arms linked together.

Jackson Jr., who resigned three months ago after 17 years in Congress, entered the plea before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins. Jackson Jr. was represented by three Washington lawyers: Brian Heberlig, Reid Weingarten and William Drake.

The U.S. attorney’s office in D.C., which handled the case, plans to hold a news conference this afternoon after both hearings are over.

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

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. Both are Democrats.

Prosecutors accused Jackson Jr. of improper spending of campaign cash for a $43,350 men’s Rolex watch, nearly $9,600 in children’s furniture and $5,150 in cashmere clothing and furs. She is charged with filing false tax returns for six years, most recently calendar year 2011.

Prosecutors 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.

Earlier this morning, Judge Wilkins disclosed that he had a past link to Jackson Jr.’s father. But both prosecutors and the Jackson defense waived any attempt to transfer the case, the judge noted in a court memorandum.

Wilkins wrote that he has no interest or bias in the case, but disclosed the following:

“In 1988, while a law student, Judge Wilkins served as a co-chair of Harvard Law School students supporting the presidential campaign of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., and on October 24, 1988, Judge Wilkins introduced Rev. Jackson when he came to speak at a campus event supporting the presidential candidacy of Governor Michael Dukakis. On March 21, 1999, while an attorney, Judge Wilkins appeared as a guest on a show hosted by Rev. Jackson on the CNN network entitled ‘Both Sides with Jesse Jackson’ to discuss a civil rights lawsuit in which Judge Wilkins was a plaintiff. Judge Wilkins believes that he has spoken to Rev. Jackson only on these two occasions, and he does not believe that he has ever met or spoken to the two defendants in these cases.”

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2 teens die in Antioch crash: 'I just saw headlights spin'

Two teenagers were killed when their SUV crashed into a tree in Antioch in heavy rain, authorities said.

Joel Wittkamp, 16, and Ashley Seay, 17, were traveling west when their Chevrolet Trailblazer left the road in the 27000 block of Wilmot Road around 7 p.m. Monday, according to the Lake County sheriff's office. The SUV went through a yard before hitting the tree, the office said.

Both teens died on the scene. Joel, who was driving, was from Antioch and Ashley was from Lindenhurst, according to the Lake County coroner's office.

Authorities said they believe weather contributed to the crash. A man who lives where the crash occurred said it was raining hard when the accident occurred.

"It was pouring," said Tim Staples.

Staples said he was home when "I just saw the headlights spin ... We ran out and you could see the car was in the tree, the tree was on the car ... a mangled car I couldn't recognize."

"We checked the scene," he said. "We had flashlights and we looked inside. It didn't look promising, it looked really bad."

He said firefighters reached the scene in 7 or 8 minutes. "It took them an hour to get them out. They had to take the top of the car off."

Staples said the car hit a tree he had planted on his property 30 years ago.

Joel attended Antioch High School, officials said.

"We have counselors who are available," said Principal John Whitehurst. "Someone is following the young man’s schedule. If there were kids close to him, we are identifying who they are."

Whitehurst noted an earlier tragedy last November, when freshman Nicole Parfitt, 14, and her father were killed in a plane crash. "I know this is going to bring back some really unfortunate memories with kids intimately familiar with the incident," he said.

Ashley Seay came from a large family, with younger twin sisters and a few older siblings who have already graduated from Lakes Community High School, said Steve Plank, principal of the Lake Villa campus.

"There was a deep connection between the family, the school and community," he said.

Ashley was a cosmetology student who attended the high school until about noon, then spent her afternoons at the Lake County High Schools Technology Campus in Grayslake.

"That was a passion of hers," Plank said.

Counselors were available when classes began today, for students and staff.

"We have a number of faculty who are deeply affected by this, who have also needed support," he said. "It's kind of tough to come to school in the morning and realize there's a hole in your classroom."

At both high schools, an adult followed the schedule of Ashley and Joel, sitting in their seats for each class.

"We put an adult who is part of our human services team to sit in the seat," said Plank. "When kids show up to class and that seat is empty, it's a tough situation."

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Father recalls poignant final moment with slain daughter

The father of a Clemente High School student killed Friday spent Monday morning putting up a memorial to his daughter at the North Side school. Later that morning, he remembered one of the last things he did with his daughter.

It was Friday afternoon, Jose Colon Jr. recalled, and he and his daughter Frances were watching President Barack Obama speak at Hyde Park Academy on the city's South Side. The topic of that speech: The same kind of gun violence that would end his daughter's life later that night.

"She said, 'About time they do something with the gun thing,' " he said, adding that Obama and other elected officials need to "make these people more afraid" to shoot each other by making tougher penalties.

The 46-year-old man wasn't optimistic the president's proposals would come to fruition soon enough.

"It's not over," he said. "This is just the beginning. Wait until summer comes along."

Frances Colon, of the 2900 block of West Armitage Avenue, was shot about 7:05 p.m. Friday in the 1100 block of North Pulaski Road, according to police. She was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 8:16 p.m.

Colon is the third student at Roberto Clemente to be killed this school year, said Clemente's principal Marcey Sorensen.

Rey Dorantes, 14, of the 2400 block of West Augusta Boulevard, a freshman at the school, was shot and killed on Jan. 11. His death came about a month after another Clemente student, Jeffrey Stewart, 16, of the 5200 block of West Race Avenue, was shot and killed on Dec. 9.

"I'm sick of it," said Sorensen. "How many more kids have to die before we do something?"

The school has mobilized a crisis team to support students and staff. Despite the deaths, Sorensen said the students have been coping well.

"Our kids live in fear and because of that, they are incredibly resilient," she said.

Colon was a senior who was preparing to attend college, said Sorensen. She was previously selected as the student of the month, a recognition for students who display good behavior, Sorensen said.

Clemente sophomore Noel Roman said this morning he's not surprised his high school has had to deal with the recent string of fatal shootings.

"Considering the neighborhood, no," he said. "It's barely getting better."

Roman said he didn't know Colon personally, but they shared some friends.

"It's like, 'I was walking with her one day and now she's gone,' " he recalled one of his buddies telling him.
Twitter: @Patrick Svitek
Twitter: @nsnix87

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Hutchinson expected to drop out, endorse Kelly

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson dropped out of the 2nd District special Democratic primary today and endorsed former state Rep. Robin Kelly in the contest to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress.

The move, announced in a morning news release, shakes up the Democratic field just nine days before the Feb. 26 primary election.

"Robin is a friend, and has captured momentum in pulling our community together. I am simply unwilling to risk playing a role going forward that could result in dividing our community at time when we need unity more than ever," Hutchinson said in the statement.

Hutchinson recently experienced a pair of setbacks during the short campaign. A super political action committee run by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg started airing a TV attack ad backing Kelly and attacking Hutchinson and another candidate, former one-term U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson of Crete, for past support from the National Rifle Association.

Gun control has loomed as a big issue in the contest and that's what Hutchinson indicated her departure from the contest was about.

"In the wake of horrendous gun related crimes all across our country, I agree with Robin that we need to stand together to fight gun violence, but Debbie Halvorson has been wrong headed in her refusal to moderate her views on banning dangerous assault weapons. President Obama needs a strong voice and a partner in Congress to win these important fights and I do not believe Debbie Halvorson would be that voice or partner," Hutchinson said in a statement.

Besides the gun control attack ad, Hutchinson had to deal with a recent news report detailing how she paid her mother as a campaign consultant. Hutchinson also was not listed as a participant in upcoming WTTW-Ch. 11 candidate forums.

Hutchinson's camp began contacting supporters Saturday night telling them of her intention to drop out of the contest, said two sources with knowledge of the decision. There are now three major Democratic candidates left in a 15-candidate field: Kelly, Halvorson and 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale of Chicago.

Hutchinson got an early boost in the contest when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsed her instead of Kelly, who served as a top aide to Preckwinkle. But Preckwinkle jumped to Kelly's camp today, according to the Hutchinson campaign news release.

As of Feb. 6, Kelly trailed Hutchinson in cash available to spend. Kelly reported $88,820 available while Hutchinson had more than double at $199,901. Hutchinson’s campaign has engaged in a significant direct-mail campaign since that time. For the entire campaign, through Feb. 6, Hutchinson reported raising $281,106. Hutchinson has been endorsed by Preckwinkle, who gave her $1,000.

Overall, campaign disclosure reports showed Kelly has raised more than $303,725 since the start of the short campaign through Feb. 6. Campaign aides to Kelly said she has raised $417,727 for the campaign cycle through Wednesday.

Tribune reporter Bill Ruthhart contributed to this report.

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Off-duty Chicago police officer dies in SUV rollover on Skyway

Chicago Tribune reporter Peter Nickeas recaps Friday night's breaking news, involving two traffic accidents and one homicide. (Posted Feb. 16th, 2013).

A 31-year-old off-duty Chicago police officer died when the SUV she was driving rolled over on the Chicago Skyway late Friday, according to authorities.

The officer's older sister works in the section of the Chicago Police Department that investigates fatal accidents and answered the phone when officers on the Skyway called to notify them of the wreck, police said.

Shaunda Bond, 31, was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m. at the Cook County medical examiner's office. She lived in the 4100 block of South Michigan Avenue in the Bronzeville neighborhood.

The crash happened about 10:40 p.m. near 81st Street on the Skyway when the 2003 Land Rover SUV Bond was driving flipped over.

Bond was the lone occupant in the SUV, which was the only vehicle involved in the crash.

Bond joined the police department in December 2009 and was assigned to the South Chicago District, which covers the area from 75th Street south to 138th, between roughly Woodlawn Avenue and the state line.

According to a witness interviewed by police, her SUV was seen traveling at a high rate of speed before it hit a concrete barrier and rolled.
Twitter: @peternickeas

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Ship passengers describe 'filth,' 'stench,' 'freaking out'


Thousands of relieved passengers poured ashore from a stinking cruise ship on Friday after five days adrift in the Gulf of Mexico with overflowing toilets and stench filled cabins.

Exhausted passengers lined the ship's decks, waving towels and flashlights, cheering and singing "Sweet Home Alabama" as tug-boats pulled the stricken Carnival Triumph into the port of Mobile, Alabama.

Some travelers kissed the ground when they walked off, others disembarked wearing the ship's white bath robes, part souvenir and part protection against a chilly night.

With only one working elevator, it took several hours to get the more than 4,200 people off the ship, Carnival said. Passengers were greeted dockside with warm food, blankets and cell phones to call family and friends.

About 100 buses waited to carry passengers on a seven-hour bus ride to Galveston, Texas, while others buses departed for shorter rides to New Orleans, as well as hotels in Mobile, before eventually flying home.

The end of the saga, documented live on U.S. cable news stations, was another public relations disaster for cruise giant Carnival Corp. Last year, its Costa Concordia luxury liner grounded off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people.

Carnival officials said the Triumph, which entered service in 1999, would be towed to a Mobile repair facility for damage assessment.

The 893-foot vessel was returning to Galveston from Cozumel, Mexico on the third day of a four-day cruise when an engine-room fire knocked out power and plumbing across most of the ship on Sunday.

Passengers described a gut-wrenching stench on parts of the ship and complained to relatives and media by cellphone that toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking many cabins and interior passages in raw sewage.

"The stench was awful," said Robin Chandler, a 50-year-old from Dallas who spent her birthday on the ship. "A lot of people were crying and freaking out."

Jacob Combs, an Austin, Texas-based sales executive with a healthcare and hospice company, praised the ship's crew.

"Just imagine the filth," said Combs, 30. "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.

Debbie Moyes, 32, of Phoenix told the Los Angeles Times she was awakened Sunday by a fellow passenger banging on her door, warning people to escape.

"That was one of the only points in my life I thought I might die," the mother of four said as she stood in the parking lot.

Soon after, she said some passengers panicked.

"People were hoarding food -- boxes and boxes of cereal, grabbing cake with both hands," she said.


Facing criticism over the company's response, Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill boarded the ship to personally apologize to passengers.

"I know the conditions on board were very poor," he told reporters, sounding shaken in a brief media appearance before he boarded the ship. "I know it was difficult. I want to apologize for subjecting our guests to that," he said.

"We pride ourselves with providing our guests with a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case," Cahill added.

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

Some passengers said conditions deteriorated rapidly on the Triumph earlier in the week, saying people were getting sick and passengers had been told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.

"It wasn't a vacation anymore it was like survival mode. Eat what you can. Snack when you can. It was awful," said passenger Tammy Garcia.

Smoke from the engine fire was so thick that passengers on the lower decks in the rear of the ship had to be permanently evacuated and slept the rest of the voyage on the decks under sheets, passengers said.


Some passengers said they tried to pass the time playing cards and organizing Bible study groups and scavenger hunts for the children on board the ship.

Cahill has issued several apologies and Carnival, the world's largest cruise company, said passengers will be reimbursed in full plus transportation expenses, a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for this voyage, plus a payment of $500 a person to help compensate them.

Chandler, the passenger, scoffed at the compensation offer. "There are lost wages, I've got a baby sitter at home and I had to take off work," she said.

Some passengers said conditions improved on Thursday after a generator was delivered to the ship, providing power for a grill to cook hot food. Passengers said toilets began flushing again on Thursday and the ship served steaks and lobster - a relief after a steady diet of cold sandwiches of cucumber and cheese.

Carnival Corp Chairman and CEO Micky Arison was criticized in January last year for failing to travel to Italy and take personal charge of the Costa Concordia crisis. The tragedy unleashed numerous lawsuits against his company.

He has not publicly commented on the Triumph incident.

"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 PR firm.

Carnival Corp shares closed down 11 cents at $37.35 in trading on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.

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.

Earlier this month, Carnival repaired an electrical problem on one of the Triumph's alternators. The company said there was no evidence of any connection between the repair and the fire.

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

Reuters and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times

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'Blade Runner' Olympian charged with girlfriend's murder

JOHANNESBURG -- South African "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who became one of the biggest names in world athletics, was charged on Thursday with shooting dead his girlfriend at his upscale home in Pretoria.

Police said they opened a murder case after a 30-year-old woman was found dead at the Paralympic and Olympic star's house in the Silverlakes gated complex on the capital's outskirts.

Pistorius, 26, and his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, had been the only people in the house at the time of the shooting, police brigadier Denise Beukes told reporters, adding witnesses had been interviewed about the early morning incident.

"We are talking about neighbors and people that heard things earlier in the evening and when the shooting took place," Beukes said outside the heavily guarded residential complex.

Police said a 9mm pistol had been found at the scene.

Beukes said police were aware of previous incidents at the Pistorius house. "I can confirm that there has previously been incidents at the home of Mr Oscar Pistorious, of allegations of a domestic nature," she said.

Pistorius, who uses carbon fiber prosthetic blades to run, is due to appear in a Pretoria court on Friday.

"He is doing well but very emotional," his lawyer Kenny Oldwage told SABC TV, but gave no further comment.

A sports icon for triumphing over disability to compete with able-bodied athletes at the Olympics, his sponsorship deals, including one with sports apparel group Nike, are thought to be worth $2 million a year.

South Africa's M-Net cable TV channel said it was pulling adverts featuring Pistorius off air immediately after blanket coverage of the arrest in a country more used to honoring Pistorius as a national hero.


Steenkamp's colleagues in the modeling world were distraught. "We are all devastated. Her family is in shock," her agent, Sarita Tomlinson, tearfully told Reuters. "They did have a good relationship. Nobody actually knows what happened."

Pistorius, who was born without a fibula in both legs, was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics and reached the 400-metre semi-finals in London 2012.

In last year's Paralympics he suffered his first loss over 200 meters in nine years. After the race he questioned the legitimacy of Brazilian winner Alan Oliveira's prosthetic blades, though he was quick to express regret for the comments.

South Africa has some of the world's highest rates of violent crime, and many home owners have weapons to defend themselves against intruders, although Pistorius's complex is surrounded by a three-meter high wall and electric fence.

In 2004, Springbok rugby player Rudi Visagie shot dead his 19-year-old daughter after he mistakenly thought she was a robber trying to steal his car in the middle of the night.

Before the murder charge was announced, Johannesburg's Talk Radio 702 said the athlete may have mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar.

Pistorius was arrested in 2009 for assault after slamming a door on a woman and spent a night in police custody. Family and friends said it was just an accident and charges were dropped.


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Illinois Lt. Gov. Simon won't seek re-election

Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon announced today that she will not run again next year, leaving Gov. Pat Quinn searching for a running mate.

“Serving as lieutenant governor has given me an opportunity to advocate on important issues that affect our state but it is time for me to do even more,” Simon said in a statement. “I want to serve the people of Illinois in a role where I can have an even greater impact."

Simon, daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, said at a news conference that she plans to seek a different office, but didn't say what that might be. Simon said she made the decision in December not to run again for lieutenant governor.

"I spoke to the governor in December and told him that, after completing my term as lieutenant ggovernor, I look forward to serving Illinois in a role where I can be an even more effective advocate," she said. "In the coming months I will have an announcement about where I can be that best advocate for the state of Illinois."

Simon, an attorney, has long been interested in a bid for attorney general, should incumbent Lisa Madigan decide to make a run for governor. But Madigan has made no decision and faces a potential conflict due to her father, powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, who also chairs the state Democratic Party.

Simon’s decision leaves her options open for a run for other statewide offices. After serving in an office with few statutory duties and little publicity, her announcement allows her to seek some distance from Quinn, whom polls show is not popular with voters, while also allowing her to pursue a more independent agenda.

Quinn picked Simon in 2010 after Scott Lee Cohen won the Democratic primary and then withdrew following revelations about his past. That led lawmakers to change state law to require governor and lieutenant governor candidates to run as a team in the primary.

The governor now has to find a new running mate for next year's re-election campaign. Quinn is likely to face questions about Simon's decision during an afternoon news conference with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Simon has focused on community colleges during her three years in office.
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Woman dead after falling from SUV; driver arrested after chase

Police say woman's body found on expressway was pushed from SUV. (WGN - Chicago)

Police are investigating the death of a woman who fell from an SUV that kept on traveling down the Bishop Ford Expressway this morning, eluding officers for five miles until it crashed on an exit ramp at 127th Street in Alsip, authorities said.

The driver was taken into custody, and police said they were investigating whether Jennifer Mitchell, 27, was pushed from the SUV around 154th Street in Dolton shortly before 1 a.m., officials said.

Mitchell was struck by a semi as she lay on the road, according to Master Sgt. Jason LoCoco. The truck driver stopped and was not taken into custody. A second vehicle may have also struck the woman, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Minutes later, a state trooper spotted the SUV on the Tri-State Tollway near 159th Street, Master Sgt. Greg Minx said. The trooper signaled for the driver to pull over but he refused, according to police.  The trooper followed the SUV until it crashed on an exit ramp by 127th Street, some five miles away.

The driver, a 28-year-old man, was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn but his injuries were not believed to be life-threatening, LaCoco said. The driver was taken into police custody but has not been charged. Police said he has not been cooperative.

Mitchell's parents are pastors of the Greater Deliverance Church of God in Christ on the South Side.

Kina Curry, 27, said she was best friends with Mitchell since they were freshmen at Hyde Park High School.  "I know everything about her," Curry said. "She was a loving person, a church-going girl."

Mitchell was a nursing student at Chicago State University, Curry said. She used to work at an M&M factory, but recently quit the job to focus on school. Curry said she last saw Mitchell Saturday morning when the two went to view a Park Forest apartment. Curry is in the market for a new place.
Curry said she heard someone else was driving Mitchell's white SUV. "It's shocking because she never let nobody drive her car, never," Curry said. "That's why I know there's something with that."

Twitter: @AdamSege

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Cardinal George: Pope showing 'great courage' in stepping down

Cardinal Francis George said today that Pope Benedict XVI "placed the will of God for the good of the church before every other consideration" when he decided to step down.

"He has taught with clarity and charity what God has revealed to the world in Christ, he has handed on the apostolic faith, he has loved all of God’s people with all his heart," George said in a statement. "He has now shown great courage in deciding, after prayer and soul-searching, to resign his office at the end of this month.
"With the gratitude of sons and daughters in our hearts, we ask the Lord to bless him and give him strength, as we begin to pray now for the one who will succeed him as Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ."

Joliet Bishop Daniel Conlon said the pope's decision "is consistent with the humble disposition that I have come to recognize in him, both in my brief personal encounters with him and in his deportment generally as earthly shepherd of the church.

"He recognized that he no longer had the physical gifts necessary to carry out an office that becomes increasingly demanding," Conlon said. "He has been a steady and calm presence in the face of tumult in the world.  He has persevered in Blessed John Paul II’s determination to confront the scandal of child abuse in the church."

Pope Benedict shocked the world by saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength to cope with his ministry, in an announcement that left his aides "incredulous" and will make him the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages.

The German-born pope, 85, admired as a hero by conservative Roman Catholics and viewed with suspicion by liberals, told cardinals in Latin that his strength had deteriorated recently. He will step down on Feb. 28 and the Vatican expects a new Pope to be chosen by the end of March.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope had not decided to resign because of "difficulties in the papacy" and the move had been a surprise, indicating that even his inner circle was unaware that he was about to quit.

A priest at St. Peter's Church in the Loop said the news is "surprising but not terrifying," saying it will allow the church to continue to renew itself.

“It’s a new beginning and a chance for new energy in the church,” said the Rev. Ed Shea. "This is good news.”

The selection of a new pope will offer the church the chance to continue its emergence into the “the modern light, the modern world,” Shea said. 

It will also provide a chance to choose a pope from Africa or South America, he said, to reflect the growth of the church on those continents.

“I was shocked, like everybody else,” Father Ed Shea said.  “It kind of surprised me that we didn’t know about it ahead of time.”

As worshipers left a morning mass at St. Peter’s this morning, several said the pope’s announcement had caught them completely by surprise.

“I hadn’t read anything leading up to it about that he was failing in health or anything like that,” said Michael Muldoon of La Grange. “I knew he was in his mid-80s, but I didn’t know that it was coming.”

Asked about the selection of Benedict’s successor, Muldoon said he’d like to see a more youthful pope, “someone a little more forward thinking, someone a little more accepting.”

At St. Alphonsus Church, which still offers a Sunday mass in German, parishioners said they were stunned by the resignation.

Errol Kunz, a 65-year-old retiree who lives by the church in Lakeview, said the Rev. Michael O'Connell mentioned the news at the beginning of the 8:30 a.m. Mass.

"I was shocked," Kunz said. "I couldn't believe it."

Others had heard about the resignation when they woke up.

When a news alert flashed on her phone around 7 a.m., Kathleen Falk said she was confused. "I always thought the popes don't retire," said Falk, a 27-year-old nurse who has been attending St. Alphonsus for five years.

"If you can't fulfill the duties to guide the church, then you can't argue with that," Falk added.

Ian McBride, a 29-year-old social worker who has been going to St. Alphonsus for a few years, called it a "measure of humility" that the pope could recognize his health issues and step down.

For the pope's legacy, "time will tell," McBride said. "In the American church, dealing with the abuse and all that — he took that personally. . .He seemed to be very genuine and ashamed of how things happened."

Contributing: Reuters

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