News & Current Affairs

September 19, 2008

LA train crash prompts phone ban

LA train crash prompts phone ban

File photo of Robert Sanchez

Train operator Robert Sanchez died in the crash along with 24 others

Train drivers in California are to be banned from using mobile phones on duty after a crash in Los Angeles last week that killed 25 people.

The state’s rail regulators said the emergency ruling was a first step to improving railroad safety.

The move comes a day after it emerged the driver of the Metrolink train had used his phone on the day of the crash.

Many rail firms – including Metrolink – prohibit staff from using mobiles on duty, but the rules are often ignored.

There is currently no federal law banning train drivers from using mobile phones at work.

Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, said the action would “protect the public”.

“What we’re doing… is just a modest first step in a much larger effort to improve railroad safety.”

The use of mobile phones by train drivers is thought to have been a factor in two rail accidents earlier in the year, the commission said.

Anyone found guilty of violating the new order could now be fined up to $20,000 (£11,000).

Phone records

The Metrolink passenger train was carrying 222 passengers between Los Angeles and Moorpark, north-west of the city, when the crash happened a week ago.

Investigators assess train crash in Los Angeles on 16/09/08

Investigators are trying to find out the exact cause of the crash

Rail investigators have concluded that driver Robert Sanchez failed to apply the brakes before a red light – and ploughed into an oncoming freight train.

The force of the impact drove the passenger train’s engine back inside the first carriage.

Mr Sanchez was among 25 people killed and more than 130 injured – the deadliest train accident in the US in 15 years.

The US National Transport Safety Board (NTSB), investigating the crash, has confirmed Mr Sanchez sent and received text messages on his mobile phone at work, but are still determining whether he was doing so at the time of the crash.

They have requested mobile phone records after two teenage train enthusiasts who befriended the driver told a local TV station they received a text message from Mr Sanchez just before the crash.

Investigators have warned it is too early to conclude exactly what caused the crash.

Other causes being studied include possible equipment failure or the chance that the driver was suddenly incapacitated.

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September 14, 2008

Human error suspected in LA crash

Human error suspected in LA crash

Human error is being blamed for a train collision on the outskirts of Los Angeles, California, which has claimed the lives of at least 24 people.

The driver of a train with 222 passengers aboard apparently ignored a red signal, causing it to hit a freight train head on, the rail company says.

The passenger train hit the freight train with such force, its engine was shoved back inside the first carriage.

Officials say the chances of finding any further survivors are very remote.

Firefighters have cut through the roof of the train, which is a double-decker, removing chunks of metal piece by piece.

Sniffer dogs have been brought in to try to detect any signs of life.

A spokeswoman for the rail company Metrolink, Denise Tyrrell, told reporters:

“At this moment we must acknowledge that it was a Metrolink engineer that made the error that caused yesterday’s accident.”

It was not immediately clear whether the driver had survived.

The death toll is expected to rise as more bodies are uncovered. More than 80 people are in hospital.

Commuter train

The worst rail crash in the US for 15 years happened at 1632 local time (2332 GMT) on Friday, at a time when the passenger train was carrying 222 people, most of them commuters.

I heard a loud crash and I saw black smoke… some people were mangled pretty bad
Phil Thiele, Metrolink passenger

The passenger train was travelling from Los Angeles to Moorpark, north-west of the city.

It collided with a Union Pacific freight train on a curving stretch of track in Chatsworth, in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles county.

The front coach of the Metrolink passenger train derailed and was crushed by the engine after the collision. Two other coaches of the train remained upright.

Aerial images of the crash scene showed teams of rescuers using ladders to reach injured people inside the mangled front coach.

The Union Pacific freight train was badly damaged in the accident. Officials say two people – the driver and the conductor – were on board the train.

“I heard a loud crash and I saw black smoke… some people were mangled pretty bad,” Phil Thiele, one of the passengers in the front coach, told the Los Angeles Times.

He said he tried to help one man who was pinned between seats: “I tried my damnedest to get him out but I just couldn’t.”


Were you affected by the crash? You can share your experience

September 13, 2008

Deadly train crash in Los Angeles

Deadly train crash in Los Angeles

At least two people have died and more than 20 are feared hurt in a collision between a passenger train and a freight train in California, officials say.

Several coaches were derailed, and rescuers are scouring the scene in the Chatsworth area, north of Los Angeles.

“I’m sure there are a lot of injuries,” Ron Haralson from the Los Angeles County Fire Department was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

Dozens of firefighters rushed to the scene of the accident, which happened at 1632 local time on Friday (2332 GMT), US officials said.

They battled a fire raging under one of the derailed carriages.

The Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department told AP at least two people had died.

More than 20 people are feared to have been injured, 10 of them seriously, officials say.

Aerial images of the crash scene showed several teams of rescuers using ladders to reach inside the Metrolink passenger train to pull the injured people.

A number of injured people were treated near the scene, while some were airlifted to hospital, and there are fears that the death toll will rise further.

The passenger train was traveling from Los Angeles to Moorpark, north-west of the city, a Metrolink spokeswoman said.

Up to 350 people could have been on the train, she said.

September 12, 2008

West arrested after airport row

West arrested after airport row

US rap star Kanye West has been arrested on suspicion of vandalism after a row with a photographer at Los Angeles International Airport.

News agency Associated Press said the incident happened before he cleared a security screening at the airport.

An airport spokesman told BBC 1Xtra police also arrested the rapper’s bodyguard, who has not been identified.

A camera valued at $10,000 (£5,709) had been broken, he said, adding police were talking to witnesses.

Kanye West

Kanye West played at the MTV Video Music Awards this week

Mr West had been due to board an American Airlines flight when the incident occurred. Video of the incident was made public by US celebrity website TMZ.com.

Airport spokesman Albert Rodriguez said: “West and the other man are currently in custody with airport police.

“They’re expected to be transported to Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific division where they will be booked.”

Earlier this week, he performed at the MTV Music Video Awards in Los Angeles, a year after complaining about failing to win a single prize at the event.

He has also been nominated for best international act at the UK’s Mobo awards.

September 8, 2008

Silent movie star Page dies at 98

Silent movie star Page dies at 98

Anita Page

Anita Page was a key figure as the silent movie era ended

Veteran actress Anita Page, whose career dated back to the silent movie era, has died aged 98 in Los Angeles.

Page counted Buster Keaton, Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford among her co-stars during an 84-year career which saw her start out as an extra in 1924.

Her big break came in 1928 when she starred alongside Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters.

More recently, she had completed a cameo role in forthcoming horror movie Frankenstein Rising.

Page died in her sleep at home on Saturday morning, friend Randal Malone told the Associated Press news agency.

Her daughter, Linda Sterne, said her mother had been good friends with Marion Davies and Jean Harlow, and for a period in the 1930s had lived as a guest in a California castle owned by newspaper magnate William Hearst.

“She was the best mother I could have,” Sterne said. “She was wonderful.”

Page starred alongside Chaney in 1928’s While The City Sleeps, while the following years she co-starred in musical The Broadway Melody, the first talkie to win a best picture Oscar.

Her other work included two of Keaton’s sound films: Free and Easy in 1930, and the following year’s Sidewalks of New York.

She also starred alongside Walter Huston in 1932’s Night Court, and The Easiest Way, in which Clark Gable had a small role.

But Page stopped acting when she fell in love with US Navy aviator Herschel House. The couple married in 1936, six weeks after they met, and she settled down to life as an officer’s wife, hosting many parties at their home in San Diego Bay.

After House died in 1991, Page returned to acting, starring in suspense thriller Sunset After Dark in 1994.

Spears dominates MTV awards show

Spears dominates MTV awards show

Britney Spears

Spears had been nominated 16 times before but had never won

Singer Britney Spears has swept the board at the MTV Video Music Awards show in Los Angeles, collecting three prizes for her track Piece of Me.

The 26-year-old, whose performance at last year’s ceremony was widely panned, thanked “God first and foremost for just blessing me like this”.

The other winners at the show in Hollywood included the Pussycat Dolls, Linkin Park, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown.

And there were performances from Kanye West, Rihanna and Christina Aguilera.

West left the ceremony – hosted by British comic Russell Brand – empty-handed.

He fell out with MTV after last year’s show when he failed to win any prizes and had vowed never to perform at the awards again.

MTV MUSIC VIDEO AWARDS
Pussycat Dolls
Best video: Britney Spears, Piece of Me
Best pop video: Britney Spears, Piece of Me
Best female video: Britney Spears, Piece of Me
Best male video: Chris Brown, With You
Best rock video: Linkin Park, Shadow of the Day
Best hip-hop video: Lil Wayne, Lollipop
Best dancing: Pussycat Dolls (pictured), When I Grow Up
Best new artist: Tokio Hotel

And in 2006 he publicly complained about not winning best video at the MTV Europe awards.

Spears has suffered a year of health problems and legal difficulties which saw her lose custody of her children, while her father James has taken legal control of her affairs.

Her video for Piece of Me won the main prize – video of the year.

It beat Chris Brown’s Forever, Burnin’ Up by the Jonas Brothers, When I Grow Up by the Pussycat Dolls and the Ting Tings’ Shut Up and Let Me Go to the coveted prize.

The same promo also earned Spears the awards for best video by a female artist and top pop video.

She had been nominated for MTV video awards 16 times before but had never won.

“Wow, thank you, I’m in shock right now,” she said as she collected her third and final trophy.

“I was not expecting this. This is such an honor to have this award right now. I want to thank my fans. This is dedicated to you.”

Presidential race

Brand said the night marked the “launch of a very new Britney Spears era”.

“Consider this the resurrection of Britney Spears,” he said. “If there was a female Christ, it’s Britney.”

During his innuendo-laden opening monologue, Brand discussed the upcoming US presidential election, publicly backing presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

“Some people, I think they’re called racists, say America is not ready for a black president,” he said.

“But I know America to be a forward-thinking country because otherwise why would you have let that retarded cowboy fella be president for eight years.

“We were very impressed. We thought it was nice of you to let him have a go, because, in England, he wouldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors.”

Last year’s big winners were Justin Timberlake with four awards, including top male artist, and R&B star Rihanna, who won video of the year for Umbrella.

The 2008 ceremony is being broadcast by MTV in the UK on Monday at 2100 BST.

September 6, 2008

Popular comic strip ignites controversy

Popular comic strip ignites controversy

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — For most of our lives cartoonist Lynn Johnston has had us hanging on every plot twist and complication she could pack into 29 years of “For Better or For Worse.”

Lynn Johnston ended the original run of "For Better or For Worse" Sunday, but is now returning to the past.

Lynn Johnston ended the original run of “For Better or For Worse” Sunday, but is now returning to the past.

Take one of the biggest, longest-running ones: Would Elizabeth, seriously challenged in picking men, finally dump that silly helicopter flyboy boyfriend of hers and just marry Anthony, for God’s sake? He’d been her sweetheart off and on since their grade-school days and had rescued her from the crazy would-be rapist she once worked with. So forget that the mustache Anthony grew in recent years made him look so much like a dork that even other comic strips began making fun of it. Life is, as Johnston would say, for better or for worse.

But then the cartoonist pulled the rug completely out from under us Sunday with a plot twist that made even the heartbreaking death of the Patterson family dog Farley (as he saved little April from drowning) seem pale in comparison. Even the comic strip that outraged readers by the thousands in 1993 when Lawrence acknowledged he was gay couldn’t top this.

There it was in full color in the big Sunday strip: As Elizabeth’s parents are dancing at her wedding (to Anthony, thank God) Johnston herself enters the strip in cartoon form and tells us that starting the next day “For Better or For Worse” will rocket back almost 30 years in time to soon after it began.

Elizabeth, now 27, would be a baby again. Michael, who loved to taunt his sister, calling her “Lizard Breath” when they were growing up, would be about grade-school age. On the positive side, family patriarch John Patterson would shed that pot belly he’d been growing in recent years and his wife, Elly, could finally put away all those anti-wrinkle products she’d been obsessing over for about the last decade.

And readers of some 2,000 newspaper comic sections would be left to scratch their heads and mutter, “What the … ”

“Interesting idea and it may very well work with the fan base that she’s got,” says Dave Strickler, a comic-strip fanatic who runs the Web site comicsaccess.com and has compiled a list of every comic strip syndicated in the United States from 1924 to 1995.

Strickler, like other fans of the strip, complains that it has gotten a little too sentimental in recent years, with Johnston concentrating too much on the philosophical musings she is famous for saving until the final panel and not enough on the story line.

At the same time, he says, the strip has grown to include so many characters that it was getting hard to tell them apart. He would sometimes mistake Elizabeth for her younger sister, April, or even her mother, Elly. (Those anti-wrinkle products must really be working!)

“If she goes back to the original art and carries on with the wit she’s capable of, there’s no reason to believe current fans won’t be loyal and new fans won’t enjoy it as well,” he said of the change.

For the time being, fans are left to try to figure out what would have happened to the gang had they kept on aging.

Johnston did tie up some loose ends in that last strip, explaining that Michael, who nearly died a few years ago when he ran into a burning apartment to save the manuscript of his Great Canadian Novel (the comic strip is set in Johnston’s native Canada) has gone on to publish four books and sign a movie deal.

Ailing Grandpa Jim, she said, would live long enough to hold Elizabeth’s first baby before dying at age 89.

Barely able to speak after suffering a stroke, Jim still managed to think one of the strip’s better quips last month when, after seeing the bride and groom rush into his hospital room straight from their wedding, he declared their act “a classic case of hitch and run.”

Whether editors will embrace the strip or cut and run remains to be seen.

About 2 percent of the 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada that carry “For Better or For Worse,” canceled when Johnston changed things from a real-time serial to a daily comic set in a fixed time, Universal Press Syndicate spokeswoman Kathie Kerr said Wednesday.

For some of the newspapers that did, reaction was swift.

Kathy Lu, features editor at The Roanoke (Virginia) Times said about 100 people e-mailed or phoned over the next two days, most of them unhappy.

“It felt like we were just going to be doing the same thing over again, even though she said she was going to be drawing some new stories,” Lu said of deciding not to continue the strip.

It was an argument die-hard fans weren’t buying.

Although Johnston has said that from this point the strips will be about a 50-50 mix of “classic” repeats and what she calls “new-runs” that will be drawn in the old style and set in the previous time but involve new stories, one man told Lu he wouldn’t care if every strip was old.

“He said, ‘It’s like watching ‘(The) Andy Griffith (Show),’ ” she said of the 1960s sitcom still in reruns. “He said, ‘I watch that show over and over again.’ ”

In an interview she recently posted on YouTube, Johnston said she was aware of fans’ concerns and hoped they would “hang in there with me and see what I do because it’s never been done before.”

In recent years, she has talked of simply ending the strip when the time came or of handing it off to someone else. She indicated in the YouTube interview that splitting with her husband of more than 30 years last year prompted her to abandon those plans.

“I never thought I’d be single at this time in my life,” the 61-year-old artist said. “And with that in mind, I still want to work. I still want to keep my hand in it.”

August 20, 2008

Dave Matthews Band founder dies

Dave Matthews Band founder dies

LeRoi Moore

LeRoi Moore was a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band

LeRoi Moore, a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band, has died aged 46, his publicist has said.

The versatile saxophonist died after suffering complications from injuries sustained in a vehicle accident in June on his Virginia farm.

Publicist Ambrosia Healy said he died on Tuesday at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, in Los Angeles.

A statement announcing the star’s unexpected death on the band’s website said: “We are deeply saddened”.

Classically trained

Moore initially went to hospital in June after crashing an all-terrain vehicle on his farm outside Charlottesville, Virginia.

He was later discharged and had returned to his Los Angeles home to begin a physical rehabilitation program when complications forced him back to the hospital in July.

It’s always easier to leave than be left
Dave Matthews

The musician was best known for donning dark sunglasses at live concerts.

He was classically trained but said jazz was his main musical influence, according to a biography on the band’s web site.

The group formed in 1991 in Charlottesville, Virginia, when lead singer Dave Matthews was working as a bartender.

He handed a demo tape of his songs to Moore, who liked what he heard and recruited his friend and fellow jazzman Carter Beauford to play drums.

The group broke out of the local music scene with the album Under the Table and Dreaming.

They went on to win a Grammy award in 1997 for the hit song So Much to Say, from their second album Crash.

Other hits include What Would You Say, Crash Into Me and Satellite.

The band went on with its show Tuesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where lead singer Dave Matthews dedicated the entire show to Moore.

“It’s always easier to leave than be left,” Matthews told the crowd, according to Ambrosia Healy, the band’s publicist.

“We appreciate you all being here.”

Saxophonist Jeff Coffin had been sitting in for Moore during the band’s summer tour.


Did you ever meet LeRoi Moore? Tell us about your memories of him. You can send your comments

August 18, 2008

Grand Canyon rescue as dam bursts

Grand Canyon rescue as dam bursts

A stranded rafter is lowered to shore by a National Park Service employee after being hauled across the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, 17 August 2008

Dozens of campers and rafters have been airlifted out of the area

US rescue crews have airlifted some 170 people to safety from a remote village in the Grand Canyon after a dam burst following days of heavy rain.

Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said water from the Redlands Dam was causing flooding in Supai, at the bottom of Supai canyon.

The remote area, accessible only by foot, on horseback or by air, is home to 400 members of the Havasupai tribe.

Most people have been accounted for but searches will resume later on Monday.

Uprooted

The Redlands dam is on Havasu Creek. The creek feeds the Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon.

After the dam burst, people were flown out of the Supai area and then taken on buses to Peach Springs, about 60 miles (96km) south-west of Supai.

About 16 people in a private boating party were among those who had to be rescued after becoming stranded on a ledge on the Colorado river when their rafts were swept away by flood water.

Some hiking trails and footbridges have been washed away and trees uprooted, although no damage or injuries were reported in Supai itself.

A flash flood warning remained in effect with more rain threatened.

The BBC’s Rajesh Mirchandani in Los Angeles says although more than four million visitors go to the Grand Canyon each year access to the lower areas is well regulated.


Are you in the area? Were you affected by the evacuation of the Grand Canyon? Send us your comments

August 17, 2008

Spector retrial set for October

Spector retrial set for October

Phil Spector

Phil Spector has worked with some of the biggest names in music

A murder retrial for music producer Phil Spector can go ahead in October despite defence attempts to stop it, an appeals court in California has ruled.

The court rejected a call for a stay of the trial so the defense could appeal on the grounds of double jeopardy.

Also dismissed was an assurance that prosecutors would not ask jurors to convict Spector of lesser offences.

Mr Spector is charged with killing actress Lana Clarkson. The jury in the first trial failed to reach a verdict.

The trial collapsed at the end of September 2007 after 12 days of deliberation.

A decision on a second trial has taken until now due to the commitments of the last member of his legal team.

Christopher Plourd has been involved in two death penalty cases.

Most of Mr Spector’s legal team resigned or were dispensed with after the mistrial was declared, with only Mr Plourd remaining in place.

The music producer, 68, denies murdering actress Lana Clarkson at his Los Angeles mansion.

The actress was found with a gunshot wound in her mouth after a night out. During the four-month trial, defense lawyers argued it was suicide.

Mr Spector, 68, was charged with second degree murder. It falls between first degree murder – which requires proof of pre-meditation – and manslaughter.

Forensic evidence

Ms Clarkson, 40, had been working as a hostess at the House of Blues venue in Los Angeles, where she met Mr Spector on the night of her death.

The actress accompanied the producer to his mansion in the early hours of the morning but was later found in his foyer.

Lana Clarkson

Lana Clarkson was said to have been depressed about her career

A holster matching the snub-nosed Colt Cobra revolver that killed Ms Clarkson was found in a drawer in the foyer.

Ms Clarkson had been working at the nightclub after struggling to find acting roles, and the trial had heard how she was despondent about her career in the months before her death.

One of the crucial questions was whether the forensic evidence proved Mr Spector was close enough to the victim to have been able to shoot her in the mouth.

Mr Spector’s lawyer Linda Kenney-Baden told jurors the absence of gunshot residue and blood from his sleeves showed he had not fired the fatal shot.

The producer never took to the stand but told Esquire magazine in 2003 that Ms Clarkson had committed suicide and he had “no idea why”.

Mr Spector has worked with some of the biggest names in the music business, including The Beatles, and is famous for pioneering the “Wall of Sound” recording technique in the 1960s.

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