The Daily Press The Saline Courier | AP iAtom feed Copyright The Daily Press 2014-07-23T13:30:56-04:00 NEWS: Little Rock Air Force Base on lockdown2014-07-23T13:30:56-04:002014-07-23T13:27:44-04:00The Saline CourierAn official statement was released by the base:Benton, ARSaline Courier StaffBREAKING NEWS: Little Rock Air Force Base on lockdownNo source cites progress in Gaza cease-fire talks2014-07-23T13:05:35-04:002014-07-23T13:05:35-04:00The Saline Courier"We certainly have made steps forward," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Jerusalem, where he met for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon. "There's still work to be done."He did not offer any specifics about the progress he cited in his third day of talks with Mideast leaders. He was in Jerusalem shortly after landing in Tel Aviv on an Air Force jet — one day after the FAA banned commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of a Hamas rocket attack nearby.White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said there must be a way forward that does not involve Hamas having the ability to "rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.""One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn't continue, doesn't repeat itself," Blinken said in an interview with NPR. "That needs to be the end result."Asked about Blinken's remarks, Kerry said, "All of the issues of Gaza would be on the table."The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization. But the U.N. does not, and Ban said he and Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible."We don't have much time to wait and lose," Ban told reporters before the meeting with Kerry.Kerry also offered "profound gratitude" to what he described as 30,000 Israelis who lined Jerusalem streets on Wednesday for the funeral procession of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old American from the San Fernando Valley of Southern California who was killed in the fighting. "That's a remarkable statement — we're very grateful," Kerry said.In Ramallah, following a meeting of just over an hour with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry said the limited progress was gained in the last 24 hours and pledged to continue working on the cease-fire when he returns to Cairo late Wednesday night."We're doing this for one simple reason: the people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence," Kerry told reporters outside Abbas' office. "And this needs to end, for everybody. We need to find a way forward that works. And it's not violence."Abbas made no public statements during Kerry's visit to Ramallah.Kerry also planned to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on what appeared to be a crucial day in the talks. U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza.Meanwhile, the FAA was reassessing its ban on Ben-Gurion — which the State Department said does not apply to military aircraft — by midday Wednesday in Washington. The European Aviation Safety Agency also issued an advisory saying it "strongly recommends" airlines avoid the airport. Israeli officials said the precautionary U.S. step was unnecessary and "gave terror a prize" by reacting to Hamas' threats.State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "The FAA is in close touch with Israel (and) continues to monitor and evaluate the situation."Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel, and expanded it last week to a ground war aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. More than 630 Palestinians and about 30 Israelis have been killed in the violence. Israel says its troops have killed hundreds of Hamas gunmen, while Gaza officials say the vast majority have been civilians, many of them children.Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire proposal that has been offered by Egypt, which would be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.But Hamas has rejected repeated Egyptian truce proposals. The militant group, with backing from its allies Qatar and Turkey, says it wants guarantees on lifting the blockade before halting its fire. In addition to discussions with Egypt officials, including President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Kerry spoke several times Tuesday from Cairo with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiya.Earlier this week, Netanyahu said the international community must hold Hamas accountable for the latest round of violence, saying its refusal to agree to a cease-fire had prevented an earlier end to the fighting. He has long accused Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, of not wanting a two-state solution.Egypt has also been negotiating with some Hamas officials, but relations between the two sides have been strained since Egypt outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, which has ties to Hamas, after last year's overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi.Benton, ARAssociated PressKerry cites progress in Gaza cease-fire talksNo source men charged in western Arkansas shooting death2014-07-23T13:03:39-04:002014-07-23T13:03:39-04:00The Saline CourierJonathan Bridgewater, 27, and Nicholas Barrows, 19, half-brothers from Rudy, are accused of fatally shooting Jamison Lee Plum, 19, the Southwest Times Record reported. Barrows also faces a charge of criminal use of a prohibited weapon, after police said they found pipe bombs during a search of his home.Plum's body was discovered last month with multiple gunshot wounds in a shallow grave on property owned by the suspects' grandmother. Both men lived on the property in separate homes.Online court records do not show an attorney for the men, who are being held on no bond at the Crawford County jail. They were charged with capital murder Monday.Police found the victim's body after Bridgewater's then-girlfriend reported he had shown her Plum's corpse underneath a tarp in the woods.Capital murder is punishable by life in prison or the death penalty. The prohibited weapon charge is punishable by five to 20 years in prison."A decision on the death penalty will be decided later on, after a complete and thorough investigation by the sheriff's office," Prosecuting Attorney Marc McCune said.Benton, ARAssociated Press2 men charged in western Arkansas shooting deathNo source probing switch of flags on Brooklyn Bridge2014-07-23T13:02:38-04:002014-07-23T13:02:38-04:00The Saline CourierThe security breach at one of the city's most secured landmarks didn't appear to be the work of terrorists or even a political statement, said the police department's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism and intelligence, but was likely done by people familiar with climbing or bridgework who may even have scaled the bridge before."We don't take these things lightly, or as a joke, or as art or within the realm of speech," John Miller said. "These are issues of trespass — they put themselves in danger, they put others in danger — and that's why we investigate it."Video footage of the security breach shows the unidentified people walking on the bridge's footpath at about 3:10 a.m., and 20 minutes later the light on the bridge's Brooklyn tower flickers and goes dark, Miller said. The same thing happens about 12 minutes later on the Manhattan tower, he said.Locked gates midway up the main cables leading to the tops of the towers didn't appear to have been tampered with, suggesting the climbers scaled them to reach the top, Miller said.Two police cars sit at either end of the bridge, which stretches the East River connecting lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and are fed real-time security camera footage trained on areas affecting the structural integrity of the bridge, Miller said, but those cameras didn't capture the flag bandits.At about 5:30 a.m., construction workers noticed the white flags, apparently American flags about 20 feet by 11 feet and perhaps commercial grade, with faded stars and stripes, police said. Police removed the white flags just before noon.The flags fly from above the pillars year-round and are replaced by transportation workers when they become frayed about every two months, police said. They are lit from the bottom by a lamp at the base of each tower at night — lights that were covered by aluminum foil cooking sheets secured with zip ties, Miller said.More than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge every day, said the city's Department of Transportation, which maintains it.Tourist Johan Lund, from Stockholm, Sweden, crossed the bridge Tuesday and did a double take when he noticed the white flags flapping in the wind."Wasn't there an American flag there yesterday?" he said to himself.High-profile breaches have been made before.Benton, ARAssociated PressPolice probing switch of flags on Brooklyn BridgeNo source of Bauxite face possible hike in current rates2014-07-23T13:00:58-04:002014-07-23T13:00:58-04:00The Saline CourierBased on information obtained in a rate study Freeman conducted on Bauxite rates, his recommendation to the council is that an increase in water and sewer rates is necessary in order to maintain the systems in the city and to prepare for unexpected emergencies.If the council should decide not to raise the rate per gallon, Freeman recommends that an additional monthly fee of $10 be imposed on each household.Bauxite has approximately 230 households and the $10 fee would help provide funds to repair sewer grinders that connect each house to the city sewer system, he said.In his remarks, he noted that so-called brown water from each house is processed through a grinder and pump before entering the city sewer system.Maintenance of each pump currently is the sole responsibility of the city. However, Freeman noted that in other towns of similar size where the sewer grinder type of sewer system is used, the homeowner is responsible for keeping the grinder in proper condition. Additionally, the city system requires a system of pumps to move waste through the sewer system. A series of lift pumps located at different locations around the city work to move the brown water once it leaves the sewer grinders at each house. The pumps are set in pairs. One pump works while the other is inactive, he explained.The pumps are set to alternate between online and offline in order to reduce the wear and tear on each pump. McMahan told the council that currently one of the pumps behind City Hall is down for repairs. Id the other pump should fail, the possibility of sewer overflow exists, he said.Repairs to the pump are in process, but the cost will exceed the amount collected in one month from the $10 per household fee charge to residents.In his report Freeman made the following recommendations."The rate study results represent the minimum rate amount that should be charged to break even in the accounts," Freeman wrote. This report includes proposed rate increases for water and three increased sewer rate options. "The recommended rate increases are: Water Department — $11.25 debt service charge per costumer, $17 for the first 2,000 gallons water, $ 8.50 per 1,000 gallons thereafter," according to the report. For the first option, the water department would charge a $7.30 debt service charge per costumer, then $12 for the first 2,000 gallons of sewage service and $ 5.15 per 1,000 thereafter. For option 2, residents would have a $6 debt service charge per costumer and pay $12 for the first 2,000 gallons of sewage service and $5.75 per 1,000 gallons thereafter.The final option, which would allow the city to hire a full-time employee, would include a $12 debt service charge per costumer and a charge of $14.30 for the first 2,000 gallons of sewage used and $7.15 per 1,000 gallons thereafter."The third option was viewed as one the city could not afford due to the impact the increase of a full-time position would have on the residents of the city.Alderman Karen Brooks noted that as much as she didn't like the prospect of putting additional strain on the budgets of residents, the city needs to make a change.A town hall meeting will be set in coming months to present information to residents and to gather input from individuals and businesses in the city. The council and mayor plan to draft an ordinance outlining any new rates and will vote on the rates prior to the end of 2014.Benton, ARBrent DavisResidents of Bauxite face possible hike in current ratesNo source group to mark anniversary with Thornton Wilder classic2014-07-23T12:57:40-04:002014-07-23T12:57:40-04:00The Saline CourierThose founders — Gayla McCoy, Ray Baxter, the late Bob Carson and the late Fred Wingfield —believed that such an organization was needed in Benton and that with the right leadership, it could succeed.Previous efforts to form such a group had not been successful, but Carson especially was certain that the timing was right to form the group.The founding members' determination paid off and in August 1994 the first meeting of the Central Arkansas Community Players took place.As part of the organizational effort, the group met with Robert Deaton, a friend of Carson, who had directed numerous theatrical productions.Deaton recommended that the organization choose a play, cast it and present it to get the organization off the ground. The play selected was Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" and Deaton was chosen to direct the show. It was presented the following October at Benton High School's Butler Auditorium.Numerous residents responded to the invitation to attend the first meeting and became charter members of the group, which later became the Royal Players. The debut play was partially cast in that initial meeting.The name change for the group came about in 2000 when Jerry Van Dyke, then-owner of the Royal Theatre, passed on ownership of the theater to the local theater group. The Royal Players was the group's name from that point forward.As a tribute to its original start with the 1994 production of "Our Town," that play is being reprised to commemorate the group's 20th anniversary.The production, to be directed by Lisa Goodrich, is scheduled Oct. 9-12 and Oct. 16-19.Auditions were recently conducted and the play has been cast, Goodrich said."It's going to be a wonderful show," she said. "We've got a great cast and we're really excited."The cast includes the following:•Stage Manager-Donna Johnston •George Gibbs - Michael Bartholmey•Emily Webb - Hillary Bell•Dr. Gibbs - Jeff Miller•Mrs. Gibbs - Melanie Allen•Mr. Webb - Jim Troillett•Mrs. Webb - Daphne Shoppach•Mrs. Soames - Courtney Fose•Simon Stimson - Randall Earnest•Rebecca Gibbs - Sarah Guinee•Wally Webb - Matthew McCallister•Howie Newsome - Ryan Lynch•Joe Crowell Jr. - Dakota Leslie•Si Crowell - Zack Glover•Professor Willard - Tom Windham•Constable Warren - Paul Johnston•Sam Craig - Brian Roberson•Joe Stoddard -Tom Windham•Ensemble -Tye Davis, Jeana Hutson, Ryan Lynch and Cassie Lovell.Benton, ARLynda HollenbeckTheater group to mark anniversary with Thornton Wilder classicNo source'No confidence' in McMahan; Bauxite Council vote ends 3-1 against mayor2014-07-22T13:50:10-04:002014-07-22T13:50:10-04:00The Saline CourierDuring the comments section at the end of the meeting, Alderman Mona Struble called for the no-confidence stance against McMahan and his ability to lead the city.Voting for Struble's motion were Struble, Karen Brooks and Paula Matthews; Alderman Brenda Haney voted against the action.McMahan said the vote was out of order because he had already declared the meeting adjourned. However, a motion to adjourn the meeting had not been made or seconded by any of the council members.McMahan stood as the council finished the vote 3-1 against him. Following the tally, McMahan pounded the gavel and declared the meeting adjourned for a second time.The meeting began with difficulty assigning a council member to take minutes for the meeting. The city does not have a recorder/treasurer at present.The council and mayor have not reached agreements on previous candidates. When none of the council members volunteered to take minutes, McMahan asked city attorney Pam Perry to serve as recorder.Separate ordinances to lower the pay of the mayor and city council members failed to pass following discussion.McMahan had proposed cutting the monthly salaries of the elected officials in order to create revenue that could then be used to address water and sewer department issues.McMahan also noted that pay for comparable positions in neighboring cities of similar sizes and population is less than what is paid to Bauxite officials.Matthews stated that her concern regarding the two ordinances was the disparity of reduction between the council members' pay and the mayor's. McMahan had recommended that the pay for council members be reduced from $175 to $50 per month and that the mayor's pay be reduced from $865 to $740.The pay reductions would have been in effect beginning Jan. 1, 2015, according to language in the proposed ordinances."My concern is that this is an 80 percent reduction for council members and only a 12 percent drop for the mayor," said Matthews. McMahan countered by saying these two rates were his suggestions, but the council members could use their judgment and lower his pay to whatever rate they deemed appropriate.Struble suggested the council postpone action on the proposed ordinances until the results of a recent legislative audit are available.McMahan stated he expects the audit results to be presented to the city within the next month.After considerable discussion, the council decided to postpone action until audit results are finalized.Brooks asked the council to remove her name from the list of officials required to sign checks for the city."I suspect illegal activity and I don't want my name on it. It's that simple," Brooks said.McMahan told the council that "we have to have a motion to take her off, but need somebody to sign the checks. Two signatures are required." Struble presented a motion to remove Brooks from signature authority and the council passed the measure by a vote of 4-0. McMahan then requested that the council name a replacement for Brooks."We need someone to sign the checks," the mayor said. "We pay bills almost every day. We need someone that's available. Which one of you will take her place?" Haney said she holds two jobs and doesn't have time to do this. Struble said she has three jobs and wouldn't be able to sign the checks in a timely manner.Matthews said, "I don't work, but I'm not doing it."With none of the council members being willing to accept responsibility, McMahan said, "If no one wants to sign checks, I guess we won't pay our employees."Brooks responded by saying, "I don't want to go to jail." "One of the council members needs to step forward. I do my part. I sign the checks," said McMahan.Brooks agreed to resume the responsibility under the condition that an ad be placed to hire a recorder/treasurer and that she would no longer sign checks after the position is filled.The council voted 4-0 to place Brooks back on the signature list on city accounts.Brooks did not elaborate on her allegation of illegal activity.The council went into executive session to discuss compensation for the city attorney. Following a 25-minute closed session, the council announced that no action was taken.Any decisions made in an executive session must be voted on in open session.The purpose for the session had been reported in the July 21 edition of The Saline Courier to be regarding the residency status of Struble, but this was incorrect.In other business, the council heard reports from the Arkansas Rural Water Association regarding the current condition of city accounts for water and sewer. Recommendations from the ARWA included an increase in rates to offset anticipated operation and maintenance costs at current and future levels.During the comments section of the meeting, McMahan noted that the filing period for municipal candidates begins on July 25. Every council position as well as the mayor's post are up for election in November.Benton, ARBrent Davis'No confidence' in McMahan; Bauxite Council vote ends 3-1 against mayorNo source approves leasing space for state prisoners 2014-07-22T13:40:02-04:002014-07-22T13:40:02-04:00The Saline CourierThe state Board of Corrections approved the agreement with Pulaski County to lease the 250-bed facility in Little Rock for $1 over the next year to house some of the inmates that have been backing up in county jails. The department planned to begin moving about 50 inmates into the facility Monday afternoon, with a goal of putting about 200 inmates there in the coming weeks."We'll start moving them in slowly and gradually build up to 200 and see how the operations go with that number," state Department of Correction spokeswoman Shea Wilson said. "We'll determine at that time whether we need to bump it up to the full 250."The $3.1 million the state will spend over the next year to staff and operate the Pulaski County facility is part of about $6.3 million in funding lawmakers approved earlier this month during a special legislative session to ease overcrowding. The rest of the money is earmarked to open beds at other state-run prisons around Arkansas.The state's inmate population stands at more than 17,370 inmates, with 2,330 of them being housed at county jails, prison officials told lawmakers last week. In Pulaski County, about 450 of the jail's 1,176 inmates are awaiting state beds, department spokesman Lt. Carl Minden said. The county facility has been closed to admitting some nonviolent offenders since July 1 because of the backlog of state inmates.Under the plan approved Monday, half of the inmates at the facility being leased will come from Pulaski County. The others will come from Washington, Sebastian, Crittenden, Benton and Jefferson Counties, Wilson said. The facility will only take non-violent offenders and no sex offenders, accepting inmates eligible for release in six months or less, Wilson said.The panel approved the deal as prison officials are preparing to ask lawmakers for a major boost in funding to ease overcrowding. The chairman of the board told lawmakers last week he's asking the Legislature for between $75 million and $100 million to build a new 1,000-bed prison, along with $25 million in additional annual funding to run it.Wilson said the new beds in Pulaski County will ease some of the backlog, but the crowding issues still persist.Benton, ARAssociated PressPanel approves leasing space for state prisoners No source vet who fought wounded gets Medal of Honor 2014-07-22T13:38:58-04:002014-07-22T13:38:58-04:00The Saline CourierPitts, a 28-year-old former Army staff sergeant from Nashua, New Hampshire, is the ninth living veteran of America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to receive the nation's highest decoration for battlefield valor. In a somber White House ceremony, Obama praised Pitts for holding the line as his comrades fell in one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghan war."It is remarkable that we have young men and women serving in our military who, day in and day out, perform with so much integrity, so much humility and so much courage," the president said. "Ryan represents the very best of that tradition."Pitts' mission that day in June 2008 was supposed to be his last before returning home from his second tour of Afghanistan. After all, Pitts and his team had been in the country for 14 months, the Army said, battling frequently with enemy forces in northeastern Afghanistan's mountainous Waygal Valley.The goal was to move troops and equipment out of Combat Outpost Bella, a remote post roughly 10 miles from the nearest base, to a new site nearby. Accessible only by helicopter for supplies and reinforcements, Outpost Bella was slated to be closed.At 4 a.m., Pitts was manning his observation post. On the horizon, could see the blue-roofed buildings and protective stone walls of the town of Wanat: A one-story mosque, a hotel and cafe, some homes and a local bazaar.What Pitts couldn't know was that all of those buildings were concealing enemy fighters. Some 200 of them soon launched a full-scale assault on the outpost, their machine-gun fire puncturing the early morning silence.A cascade of rocket-fired grenades, gunfire and hand grenades fell on the troops, quickly killing two paratroopers. Shrapnel from grenades struck Pitts in both legs and his left arm. Unable to walk, he crawled to a comrade, who put a tourniquet on his leg.For more than an hour, Pitts fought to protect the remaining troops and defend the post, the Army said. Propping himself up on his knees, he blindly fired a machine gun over a wall of sandbags, loading more bullets into his weapon despite his loss of blood.He radioed back that he was alone, his teammates having all relocated or been killed. Enemy forces were so close to Pitts that those listening on the other end of the radio could hear them.That's when Pitts accepted he was going to die, Obama said. But he decided to keep fighting anyway."That little post was on the verge of falling, giving the enemy a perch to devastate the base below," Obama said. "Against that onslaught, one American held the line."More than an hour after the attack started, Pitts was evacuated, and eventually made a full recovery. The Army said but for his determination to fight while wounded, the enemy would have gained ground and killed more American troops.Pitts stood stoically and humbly in the East Room of the White House, silent as Obama recalled his valor at a ceremony attended by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and New Hampshire's two senators. But in brief remarks later outside the West Wing, Pitts read the names of his fallen comrades, one by one, an uneasy silence hanging in the air in between each name.Benton, ARAssociated PressAfghan vet who fought wounded gets Medal of Honor No source AG rejects medical pot measure wording 2014-07-22T13:37:49-04:002014-07-22T13:37:49-04:00The Saline CourierMcDaniel's office on Monday rejected the wording of the proposal by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which had tried unsuccessfully to get medical marijuana legalization on this year's ballot. The group had been unable to gather the 62,507 signatures from registered voters needed by the July 7 deadline to submit petitions to qualify for the November ballot.The group is now trying to put the legalization measure on the 2016 ballot. McDaniel cited ambiguities in the text of the latest measure in rejecting its wording.Benton, ARAssociated PressArkansas AG rejects medical pot measure wording No source