State Briefs 1/22/08

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Naked man arrested, police say

WEST FRANKFORT -- According to Chief of Police Jeff Tharp, West Frankfort residents, “in particular the town’s wives, daughters, mothers and other female relations and acquaintances, can rest more easily today.”

Monday afternoon West Frankfort police arrested Justin K. Flora, 34, of Marion. Flora is charged with two counts of public indecency.

Police allege that Flora has made a habit recently of driving through town in the buff.

“For two consecutive days at about the same time of day we had female complainants that reported a male subject driving around West Frankfort in a gray, 2005 Hyundai four-door with no clothes on,” Tharp told The Daily American on Tuesday morning.

“Both reported that he made it obvious that he wanted them to see him nude. It was obvious to them that he wasn’t startled that he was being observed — he made no attempt to flee the scenes. He stared at them while he sat in his vehicle in the nude.”

According to Tharp, Flora admitted to police that he lives in Marion and works at General Tire in Mt. Vernon.

“He elected to get off the Interstate (on the way home from work) in our town and drive around nude looking at women,” related the chief. “These actions are very disturbing, and we immediately began to investigate (the reports) when the first complaint came in. Flora was arrested, charged accordingly, and taken to Franklin County Jail.”

The Daily American

Toy company argues about lead content

WESTMONT -- Westmont-based Ty Warner toy company is clashing with the Illinois State Attorney General’s office over the removal of a doll with illegally high amounts of lead.

Ty Warner reportedly agreed to rid retail shelves of its Jammin’ Jenna dolls last year — a Chicago daily newspaper investigation revealed it contained high lead levels — but the toy continues to surface at area stores.

According to the state, the toy company now says it will discontinue new versions of the doll, but it is refusing to recall the dolls already on shelves.

Illinois authorities are reportedly considering a lawsuit to forcibly remove the Jammin’ Jennas from retail stores.

Chicago Suburban

Feds may examine zoo’s giraffe death

BROOKFIELD -- Brookfield Zoo is waiting to hear from federal officials on whether they will conduct an investigation into the third death of a zoo animal in less than six months.

Zoo officials have contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the federal agency that oversees zoo operations — about an 11-year-old giraffe found dead of a broken neck Saturday. The giraffe, named Dusti, was killed after becoming tangled in a rope. The rope is part of a pulley system used to hoist food for the giraffes into the air.

Kim Smith, vice president of Animal Care for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, said the pulley system has been removed and zoo staff are trying to figure out how Dusti got caught in the rope.

“We still don’t understand how he was physically able to do this,” Smith said.

Smith said Dusti, who was 17 feet tall, reached his neck over his enclosure door, around a 90-degree corner and across 6 1/2 feet into a keeper corridor where the rope was fastened flat against the wall with safety clips.

Smith said broken pieces of those clips were found on the ground of the corridor.

“I would say this is one of those things you deal with in the home with children and pets. We felt we had taken precautions to keep a giraffe safe and he went into an area we didn’t think he could,” Smith said. “I think animals, just like children, teach us every day more and more about what they could do that we didn’t expect.”

Smith said the zoo has nightkeepers and “basically operates on a 24-hour shift.” At 4:30 a.m. Saturday, a keeper checked on Dusti, who was doing fine inside his nighttime enclosure.

At 7 a.m. one of the Dusti’s zookeepers found him unresponsive in Habitat Africa! The Savannah.

Chicago Suburban

Paperboy killed pleads for parole

SPRINGFIELD -- Robert Lower, the man who kidnapped, raped and murdered Rockford newspaper boy Joey Didier in 1975, proclaimed himself a changed man today, prepared for parole.

“I truly regret that I took his life,” Lower told Milton Maxwell, a member of the state Prisoner Review Board. “I was an individual who was messed up, screwed up, whatever you want to call it.”

Lower was calm and composed during his hearing at the Big Muddy Correctional Center, answering all of Maxwell’s questions with brief and deliberate responses.

A Register Star reporter joined Maxwell and Lower for the meeting, which occurred in a cinderblock room inside the prison. Lower attempted to block the reporter from attending the meeting, but Maxwell allowed the reporter to attend after the reporter asserted it was his right to be there.

Lower appeared confused about some of the points of his own life — saying, for instance, that he could not remember the name of the woman he was married to for three months.

Moreover, Lower did little to explore or support the psychological transformation he claimed to have completed, despite Maxwell’s repeated probing. Lower said he has been in sex-offender counseling for 14 years, but that he had not recently been psychologically evaluated.

“I’m not that same person anymore,” Lower said. “Back then, I was a cold-hearted, no-good person.”

He added, “I didn’t have any regard for anybody — anybody’s well-being.”

Lower abducted Didier on the morning of March 4, 1975. He later told police he couldn’t sleep, so he got dressed and went “driving around looking for a paperboy.”

He found Didier delivering newspapers on Fulton Avenue in Rockford. He coaxed the boy into his car, drove him to a remote cabin in Jo Daviess County and sexually assaulted him. He then put a noose around the boy’s neck, tossed the rope over a rafter, and as the boy pleaded for his life, hanged him.

“At the beginning, I didn’t plan on killing him,” Lower said today. “I planned on having sex with him.”

Maxwell asked Lower why he opted to kill the boy.

“If I got rid of him, there wouldn’t be nobody to testify,” Lower responded, adding that his thinking at the time was “screwed up.”

This is Lower’s 17th shot at parole. On Jan. 31, Maxwell will recommend to the full Prisoner Review Board whether to parole Lower. The board then will vote on that recommendation.

Rockford Register Star

Quebecor seeks bankruptcy protection in U.S., Canada

ROCKFORD -- After being caught in the squeeze of tightening credit markets and a highly competitive business environment, commercial printer Quebecor World Inc. is asking courts in Canada and the U.S. to give it bankruptcy protection, the Canadian Press reported Monday.

The Montreal-based Quebecor has 28,000 employees at more than 125 printing plants, including a 750-square-foot plant in Mount Morris that employs about 700 people.

Quebecor is filing under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in Canada and Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code, to give Quebecor World time to get its finances in order, the Canadian Press reported.

The company said it has arranged commitments from Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley for $1 billion, subject to court approval, to cover operating expenses including wages and benefits.

The company has been struggling through a three-year retooling effort costing $1 billion; 21 plants have been closed and 5,000 positions eliminated since 2005.

Rockford Register Star

Private managers to review convention center operation

SPRINGFIELD -- A private company that manages public arenas and convention centers is going to review operations at the Prairie Capital Convention Center - a step that could lead to an outside firm being brought in to run the facility in downtown Springfield.

SMG, based in Philadelphia, manages more than 200 facilities, among them Soldier Field in Chicago and the Peoria Convention Center.

Mike Coffey Jr., chairman of the board that oversees the PCCC, said he was contacted by the head of the Peoria center, which led to the offer of the free review in Springfield.

“This is not making any commitments to anybody for anything,” Coffey said. “They are interested, and I can't see in good conscience how you can tell them ‘no' since they want to come in and do it for free.”

By voice vote, the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition & Auditorium Authority approved the review Tuesday.

By a separate voice vote, the board approved advertising for a company to study possible expansion of the PCCC.

Coffey characterized the management review and the expansion study as separate ideas that happened to surface at the same time.

He said SMG's management fees are based on each facility. The firm often brings in its systems, but keeps the local workforce. The head of Peoria's civic center, for example, was there before SMG took over operations, he said.

State Journal-Register

Q5 claims credit for 1,500 local jobs

SPRINGFIELD -- A local economic-development campaign today claimed nearly 1,500 jobs were either created or retained in 2007 toward a five-year goal of 4,500.

As part of the Quantum Growth Partnership (Q5) campaign, $5.2 million in pledges have been raised to increase spending on local job creation and business recruitment initiatives.

“There were doubts in the beginning. But we were stepping out and trying something different,” campaign co-chairman Jim Roth told a meeting of business and community leaders held in the Public Affairs Center at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

The UIS campus also was the backdrop for the October 2006 kickoff of a campaign that has pledged to fundamentally transform the local economy, so that there is less reliance on declining state-government employment. The primary focus has been on creating and keeping jobs in health care, distribution and warehouse operations and back office/customer service centers.

“We are off to a great start, but there's a lot of heavy lifting yet to do,” said co-chairman Sergio “Satch” Pecori, who said the campaign did not try to take credit for every new project announced or completed in 2007.

He cited two projects - the expansion of Springfield Clinic and a new headquarters for the Illinois Primary Health Care Association - expected to create or retain a total of 340 jobs that did not involve Q5.

State Journal-Register

Altona couple killed in crash

CAMBRIDGE -- An Altona couple was killed in an automobile accident in southern Henry County on Monday afternoon.

Henry County Coroner David Johnson said 61-year-old Burton Empson was driving north on Illinois 82 near Illinois 17 when he lost control of the car he was driving on the slick road. The car slid into a ditch and slammed into a tree.

Empson and his wife, Rosemary, 57, were pronounced dead at the scene at 4:41 p.m. The couple’s 10-year-old grandson was also in the car. He was taken to OSF St. Mary Medical Center. Johnson said the boy was not seriously injured in the crash.

Johnson said the couple was driving to Geneseo. The Henry County Sheriff’s department is investigating the accident.

The Register-Mail

1 killed in crash near Carlock

BLOOMINGTON -- The McLean County Coroner’s office has confirmed that one person was killed this morning in a two-vehicle accident on Interstate 74 near Carlock.

The accident involving a pick-up truck and a flat bed truck happened about 6 a.m. in the westbound lane. Upon their arrival, rescue personnel found the driver of the pickup showed no signs of life.The coroner’s office pronounced him dead at 6:52 a.m. The driver of the flat bed was taken to BroMenn Regional Medical Center.

The identities of the two have not been released.

Preliminary information indicates the driver of the pick-up was eastbound when he lost control, crossed the median and struck the westbound flat bed truck.

An autopsy is scheduled for later today. The accident remains under investigation

Peoria Journal Star