Thursday, January 30, 2014

Duckworth, Giese among scouting department adds

NEW YORK -- The Yankees on Thursday announced five additions to their Major League and professional scouting department, a group that includes former big league pitchers Brandon Duckworth and Dan Giese.

Also joining the Yankees' scouting department are Kendall Carter, Joe Espada and Dennis Twombley.

Duckworth, 38, concluded a 16-year playing career last season. His playing career spanned eight big league seasons with the Phillies (2001-03), Astros (2004-05) and Royals (2006-08). Duckworth pitched the last two seasons for Japan's Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles as a teammate of right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, completing his career by celebrating the 2013 Japan Series title.

Giese, 36, played 12 professional seasons and made 35 big league appearances with the Giants (2007), Yanks ('08) and Athletics ('09). With New York in 2008, Giese was 1-3 with a 3.53 ERA in 17 relief appearances and three starts.

Carter, 53, has been a national cross-checker with the Yankees for the past seven seasons. Carter was the Mariners' west area scout from 1991-95, and he spent 11 years with the D-backs as a western region national supervisor (1996) and national scouting supervisor (1997-2006).

Espada, 38, spent the last eight years as a coach and coordinator in the Marlins' organization, most recently serving as Miami's third-base coach. A former second-round pick of the Athletics in 1996, Espada also served the Marlins as a Minor League hitting coach (2006-07) and Minor League infield coordinator (2008-09).

Twombley, 38, has been an amateur scout in the Yankees' organization for the last six years, and he previously served five years in the same role for the Astros. Twombley was selected by the Yanks in the 1996 First-Year Player Draft and played in 167 games for the organization as a Minor League catcher.

Feds want death penalty for Boston Marathon ‘bomber’

BOSTON — Federal prosecutors on Thursday announced they will seek the death penalty against 20-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing, instantly raising the stakes in what could be one of the most wrenching trials the city has ever seen.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to press for Tsarnaev’s execution was widely expected. The twin blasts killed three people and wounded more than 260 others, and 17 of the 30 federal charges against him — including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill — carry the possibility of the death penalty.

“The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Holder said in a statement.
Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty. A trial date has not been set.

Prosecutors allege that Tsarnaev, then 19, and his 26-year-old brother, ethnic Chechens from Russia who had lived in the Boston area for about a decade, built and planted two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the marathon in April to retaliate against the U.S. for its military action in Muslim countries. The brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died in a shootout with police during a getaway attempt days after the bombing.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was wounded but escaped on foot and was later found hiding in a boat parked in a yard in a Boston suburb. Authorities have said he wrote about his motivation for the bombing on the inside of the boat.

“The US Government is killing our innocent civilians,” ”I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished,” and
“We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all,” he allegedly wrote.

The bombings stunned the nation during one of Boston’s most celebrated events as runners crossed the finish line and friends, families and spectators were gathered to cheer them on.

Killed in the bombings were: Martin Richard, 8, of Boston; Krystle Campbell, 29, of Medford; and Lu Lingzi, 23, a Boston University graduate student from Shenyang, China. At least 16 others lost limbs.

Tsarnaev also is charged in the slaying of an MIT police officer and the carjacking of a motorist during the brothers’ getaway attempt.

Tsarnaev’s case has attracted a high-profile defense team, including Judy Clarke, a San Diego attorney who has negotiated plea agreements with prosecutors to spare her clients the death penalty, among them Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph.

The Tsarnaev brothers had roots in the turbulent Russian regions of Dagestan and Chechnya, areas that have become recruiting grounds for Islamic extremists. The indictment alleges the brothers downloaded bomb-making instructions from an al-Qaida magazine and gathered material online about Islamic jihad and martyrdom.

Massachusetts abolished its state death penalty in 1984, and repeated efforts to reinstate it have failed.

Tsarnaev is the third person in the state to be charged under the federal death penalty.

Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, 70 death penalty sentences have been imposed, but only three people have been executed, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001. Eight people have been taken off death row by a judicial or executive action, while 59 people remain on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The last federal execution was in 2003, when Louis Jones Jr. was put to death for the kidnapping and murder of 19-year-old Army Pvt. Tracie McBride.

Mets aren't ruling out Flores for shortstop job

NEW YORK -- Wilmer Flores has not played his natural position of shortstop professionally since 2011, when he was 19 years old. Despite the Mets' clear weakness at that position, Flores' name does not typically surface in discussions about it. And for good reason -- the Mets have no immediate plans to use him there, in part because of the lack of mobility that scouts have long predicted for him.

But the notion of trying Flores, the Mets' No. 4 prospect according to MLB.com, at shortstop is not permanently dead. General manager Sandy Alderson said this week that if Flores' winter conditioning program pays the type of dividends he expects, it's possible he could receive some reps at the position this spring.

"I don't think we'd rule it out," Alderson said in a telephone interview. "Why should we? I think we have to see how Spring Training plays out for him. Is there going to be a spot for him in the lineup? Is there not? Is he going to be a bench player for us? Is he going to go to Las Vegas?"

Alderson pointed several times to the team-supervised conditioning program Flores attended in Michigan this winter alongside Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada and several Mets prospects. This was the first winter of his career that Flores spent significant time focusing on his overall health, according to the GM.

"I don't want to place too much stock on four weeks of conditioning, but this is a guy who's never really had the opportunity to develop himself physically the way players here in the United States do, who have a season and then an offseason," Alderson said. "He's never had an offseason. He's always played. So this is a different type of offseason for him -- one in which he's been able to invest in his career. We'll see how it pays off for him.

"I wouldn't say [Flores to shortstop] is dead. I think that one of the things we want to see is how well he has done with his training regimen in Michigan. Before this offseason, I'm not sure he ever had any sort of structured, regimented conditioning program. The work that they have done on speed and agility and quickness, etc., may have an impact on his ability to play certain positions -- including second base and conceivably even shortstop. But right now, that's all speculation."

Flores, who signed with the Mets as a 16-year-old international free agent in 2007, played shortstop exclusively over the first four years of his Minor League career. In 2012, he shifted to third base, before playing mostly second last year -- partially an organizational response to third baseman David Wright signing an eight-year contract that runs through 2020.

Along the way, scouts have continually pegged Flores as a corner infielder, skeptical that his lack of mobility would allow him to play in the middle infield or corner outfield. But Flores held his own at second despite a nagging ankle injury, and Alderson is curious to see how he responds after two intensive fitness sessions near Ann Arbor, Mich.

"It became clear, if you watched him play last year and run the bases ... that [conditioning] was an area that needed to improve," Alderson said. "Since he'd never done any conditioning at all, you say to yourself, 'Gee, there may be substantial opportunity for improvement. Let's see what happens. Let's try it.' And that's what we've done. We won't know the benefits of that until we get down to Spring Training."

What the Mets do know is that they are thin at shortstop, with Tejada coming off a below-replacement-level season, free agent Stephen Drew a long shot to sign and no high-ceilinged prospects on the immediate horizon. Flores, by contrast, revived his own prospect status with a breakout offensive year in 2012, carrying that wave all the way to the Majors in 2013.

"Is he definitely not a shortstop? I try not to say anybody's definitely not something," Alderson said. "We tried Duda [a natural first baseman] in left field. There's no reason why we can't try other players at positions where at first blush you'd say, 'No, that's not possible.'"

Meet the gal with the longest legs in NYC

In the battle for the world’s longest stems, Britain and Russia don’t have a leg up on the Big Apple.

 Earlier this month, Russia sparked an international incident when it crowned Anastasia Strashevskaya, an 18-year-old law student, “Miss Longest Legs” in a beauty pageant. Her legs measure 42 inches (from hip to heel bone).

Days later, British student and model Alexandra Robertson emerged from obscurity to top Strashevskaya with a whopping 47 inches of leg. The 20-year-old Robertson, who is 6 feet 1, seemed to be the leggiest lady in all the land.

Until model Brooke Banker, a 26-year-old Brooklyn-born beauty, entered the picture.

The 5-foot-11, blue-eyed stunner with 47-inch legs was discovered by The New York Post, and while her stems are Amazonian, her life is more down-to-earth.

A former Penn State volleyball player who eschews heels for flats, Banker dreams of being a television host and says lanky legs are so common in her family that even her goldendoodle, Tuna, has uncommonly long ones.

“I’ve been around tall girls my whole life with volleyball, so I know my legs are long, but I never thought to enter a contest or get a title,” says Banker, lounging in a black leotard atop the 75 Wall St. condo, with its equally towering views of the Brooklyn Bridge and her native borough.

“It’s not necessarily what I’d like to be known for. It’s just how I was born. I didn’t do anything special for it,” she says.

Banker, now based in Manhattan, grew up in Marine Park, Brooklyn, then moved upstate to Orange County before starting high school. Despite always being told she should model, Banker focused on sports.

“I was never the fastest, I never jumped the highest, I was never the strongest, but my height definitely helped. And I always worked hard.”

Hard enough to earn a spot on the elite national championship Penn State volleyball team — where, she says, she was sometimes dwarfed by her teammates even though her legs were longer than theirs.

“I was definitely one of the shorter girls on the team,” admits Banker, who earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations. In 2009, she moved to Los Angeles County and pursued an additional degree in aviation science with the intention of becoming an air traffic controller. Instead, she caught the modeling bug.

“One of my best friends was taking up photography, so we started shooting,” says Banker, who was quickly cast by her friend’s classmates for projects. “I decided to move back to New York in 2010 and give modeling a shot.”

She began working with Monarch Agency about a year ago and has been doing fashion presentations, look books and a bit of runway.

“She definitely has the longest legs of any model that I’ve worked with,” says Monarch CEO Catherine Smith. “She’s the newest talent who we’re excited about. She’s super-sweet, professional, beautiful, and did I mention those amazing legs?”

Those genetically blessed limbs make it tough for the athletic blonde to shop: “I just can’t walk into Forever 21 or H&M and pick something up,” explains Banker. “I have to spend a bit more money.”

One thing she isn’t splurging on is heels.

“I’m big into boots, sneakers, sandals. I generally only wear heels if I’m getting paid,” laughs Banker.

And if you’re going to approach her just to say she’s tall — save it.

“Almost every day, someone feels compelled to tell me, as if I don’t know. [On modeling gigs] some people will take awhile and then say, ‘Wow, you’re all leg.’ Other models encourage me to get into leg modeling.”

When she’s not being stopped by strangers, she is cooking or reading food blogs.

“I eat mostly vegan, but I’m not strict,” says Banker, whose guilty pleasure is chocolate. “I didn’t like chocolate growing up, but I recently rediscovered it and eat it at least three times a day.”

She keeps her physique through hot yoga and spin classes. “With my height, I am lucky. I don’t gain weight too easily or noticeably, but I also don’t gain good weight easily. I know people will say, ‘Spare me,’ but if I try to get my legs a little thicker, it’s hard for me.”

As for the opposite sex, Banker is single. She grudgingly admits her friends tell her she’s intimidating to men.

“I try not to think about it too much. And I don’t want to sound creepy, but I get approached by a lot of really short guys or guys with fetishes.”

While fashion magazines may come calling, Banker says she’d love to get a national commercial campaign — and dreams of being a weather girl or a host on “Good Day New York,” which she watches religiously.

“I love watching Greg [Kelly] and Rosanna [Scotto]. I’d love to be on there. They always look like they’re having so much fun,” says Banker, adding that a friend of hers lives in Kelly’s building.

“The last time I was there, I saw him and I totally froze up,” she laughs.

And while Banker hasn’t always embraced her long, lean build, she knows it’s been a key to her success.

“When I was in high school, I would have preferred to be 4-11 rather than 5-11. But my height has helped me to play volleyball at a high level and to make a career out of modeling.”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rep. Grimm Apologizes to NY1 Reporter For On-Camera Threat


Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm has apologized to NY1 political reporter Michael Scotto a day after physically threatening him at the conclusion of an interview in the Capitol Rotunda following the president's State of the Union address.

Grimm called Scotto Wednesday morning and offered the verbal apology saying he "overreacted."

Scotto tells NY1 he accepted the apology and believes that it was sincere.

Grimm also released a written apology following the phone call.


It reads, "I was wrong. I shouldn’t have allowed my emotions to get the better of me and lose my cool. I have apologized to Michael Scotto, which he graciously accepted, and will be scheduling a lunch soon. In the weeks and months ahead I’ll be working hard for my constituents on issues like flood insurance that is so desperately needed in my district post Sandy."

Grimm's threats came at the end of a brief interview in which he discussed the president's speech Tuesday night, calling the address "divisive."
Scotto then tried to ask the congressman about the ongoing federal investigation into his 2010 campaign fundraising:

"And just finally before we let you go, we haven't had a chance to talk about some of the..." Scotto began before Grimm cut him off.

"I'm not speaking to you off-topic, this is only about the president," said Grimm, before walking off camera.

"So Congressman Michael Grimm does not want to talk about some of the allegations concerning his campaign finances," Scotto said before tossing back to the station. But as the camera continued to roll, Grimm walked back up to Scotto and began speaking to him in a low voice.

"What?" Scotto responded. "I just wanted to ask you..."

Grimm: "Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this f-----g balcony."

Scotto: "Why? I just wanted to ask you..."

[[cross talk]]

Grimm: "If you ever do that to me again..."

Scotto: "Why? Why? It’s a valid question."

[[cross talk]]

Grimm: "No, no, you're not man enough, you're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy."

Grimm released a statement immediately following the incident.

"I was extremely annoyed because I was doing NY1 a favor by rushing to do their interview first in lieu of several other requests. The reporter knew that I was in a hurry and was only there to comment on the State of the Union, but insisted on taking a disrespectful and cheap shot at the end of the interview, because I did not have time to speak off-topic. I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off, because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect, especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor. I doubt that I am the first Member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won’t be the last," read the statement.

NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt released a statement as well, saying, "It is extremely disturbing when anyone threatens one of our reporters – let alone a U.S. Congressman. The NY1 family is certainly alarmed and disappointed by the behavior of Representative Grimm and demands a full apology from him. This behavior is unacceptable."

The FBI earlier this month charged 47-year-old Diana Durand with using straw donors to exceed the maximum allowable contribution to Grimm's campaign committee. After contributing $4,800, the maximum amount allowed under federal law, Durand allegedly offered to reimburse four friends if they contributed to the campaign.

Grimm is not charged with any wrongdoing in connection with the probe.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Congressman Grimm's threats on Tuesday were absolutely inappropriate and urged Congress to sanction the Staten Island Republican for his behavior.

"A leader can't do that. It's just absolutely unacceptable. And if a leader does that those in power those in the leadership structure have to speak out. So I would hope that the house leadership says very strongly this is unacceptable behavior," de Blasio said.

Grimm is up for re-election and his bid for a third term in Congress was already getting national attention, even before Tuesday night's incident.

Former City Councilman Domenic Recchia, a Democrat, is running against him.

‘Mutant’ lavender king crab found in Russian haul

Is it a mutant or, as it has been stated, a case of a bad diet?

A shipment of Red king crabs, native to the Bering Sea, arrived at a port in Hokkaido, Japan, from Russia.

When wholesalers at Marusan Mikami opened up the haul, they found one was a rich lavender color all over.

Marusan Mikami President Kenetsu Mikami told Hokkaido Doshin: “I’ve been dealing with crabs for 25 years, but this is the first time to see that colour. It could be a good omen.”

That is perhaps an optimistic view, but experts at a research center in Hokkaido suggested the cause of the
crab’s color was “the effect of its diet or possibly a mutation causing a lack of pigment.”

The lavender colored crab has been kept alive – who would be game enough to eat it?- and put it on display at Marusan Mikami. It has a leg span of about three feet and weighs about 8 pounds.

The color has sparked debate on the internet with the effects of radiation stated as the likely source of the discoloration on more than one occasion.

This story originally appeared on News.com.au.

‘Last Kiss’ graffiti artist busted again

Cops busted five graffiti vandals early Wednesday including one whose ubiquitous tag – Cash4 – can be seen all over Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, law enforcement sources said.

Russell Murphy – who was once famously photographed kissing his gal pal while the pair were handcuffed following an earlier graffiti bust – was nabbed shortly after 1 a.m. in the East Village.

Murphy, 28, was charged with making graffiti, criminal trespassing and resisting arrest after he and four others were spotted on the roof of a building at 199 Avenue A vandalizing a wall.

The five took off but were collared by cops after a short chase in which two officers suffered minor injuries, sources said.

Murphy, they said, was flailing his arms trying to get away and avoid being handcuffed.

Murphy and his girlfriend Alexis Creque were photographed in a lip lock in August 2012 by Brooklyn photographer Mo Gelber after they were arrested for tagging a building.

Gelber hoped the shot – which he called “Last Kiss” – would win a prestigious contest run by the Canon camera company and famed Hollywood director Ron Howard.

He posted the photo on Facebook hoping to learn the couples identities so he could get their permission to use the image in the contest.

But the hipster vandal refused to let his photo be used after his lawyer said it could hurt his court case.
Asked for comment by The Post at the time, Creque and Murphy slipped a note under their apartment door bearing the words, “F–k Off.”

Gelber had vowed to share any money he made from the photo with the couple.

“I’ll just tell him don’t use it to buy spray paint,” he said at the time.

Murphy pleaded guilty in January 2013 to criminal mischief and possession of a graffiti instrument for tagging the side of a Lower East Side building where the eatery Milk and Honey was located. He was ordered to serve eight days of community service.

Also busted Wednesday were Akili Baez, 21, Carmen Lasala-Ayres, 26, and Robin Drysdale, 34, all of Brooklyn; and Luis Santana, 20, of Staten Island, cops said.

They were all charged with making graffiti, criminal trespassing and resisting arrest, and Santana was also charged with possession of marijuana.

Facebook’s teen problem hasn’t gone away

Facebook rattled nerves on Wall Street in October when the company pointed to signs of eroding teen interest in the social network, as well as the company’s plan not to ramp up on News Feed ads.

Those issues will still be in the spotlight when Facebook reports results after the market closes on Wednesday, though investors will likely also focus on the bright side, led by the expected gains from video ads and Instagram.

Analysts expect on average for Facebook to report a profit of 27 cents a share on revenue of $2.35 billion.

For the year-earlier period, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company reported a profit of 17 cents a share on revenue of $1.59 billion.

“Beyond [fourth-quarter] results, we’ll be focused on management’s commentary on ad load, teen engagement, 2014 opex growth, and the launches of Instagram ads and auto-play video ads on Facebook,” J.P. Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth told clients in a note.

“We believe advertiser demand and ads quality should more than offset slower increases in ad load, thereby driving higher relevancy and click-through rates, and ultimately greater ad quantity over time.”

Mobile platforms will once again be in focus, as they are a fast-growing segment of Facebook’s business, making up, 49% of total ad revenue in the last quarter and becoming a big bright spot for investors.

“We believe investors remain focused on this metric,” Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia told clients in a note. He expects Facebook to report that mobile now represents 52% of Facebook’s total ad revenue.

Facebook remains well-positioned in the online ad market, Topeka Capital’s Victor Anthony told clients in a note.

“Pricing increased materially in the fourth quarter on the strength of increased demand for Facebook’s inventory due to better ad ROI,” Anthony said.

Facebook’s comments on Instagram and video ads are also bound to drew attention as the next potential drivers of growth.

The company has taken a cautious approach to video ads, apparently due to worries that they turn off users.

But Bhatia wrote: “The launch of Video Ads on Facebook has been expected for some time, but management has delayed the introduction a few times to ensure user experience remains positive. Based on the recent introduction of the auto-play video feature on Facebook and a leaked presentation that speaks to the first-quarter introduction of new video insights for advertisers, it appears video ads on Facebook are imminent.”

This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com.

Deep South paralyzed by rare snowstorm

ATLANTA — Students spent the night on buses or at schools, commuters abandoned their cars or idled in them all night and the highways-turned-parking lots iced over when a winter storm slammed the city, creating a treacherous traffic jam that lasted into Wednesday.

It wasn’t clear exactly how many people were still stranded out on the roads nearly 24 hours after the storm slammed the Deep South on Tuesday. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said it was “a lot of people,” and officials were working to get them food, water, gas and eventually a way home.

The timing of when things would clear was also uncertain because temperatures were not expected to be above freezing for very long, meaning the roads may not have a chance to thaw.

“I’m not thinking about a grade right now,” Reed said when asked about the city’s response. “I’m thinking about getting people out of their cars.”

The rare snowstorm deposited mere inches of snow, and yet it was more than enough to paralyze Deep South cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham, and strand thousands of workers who tried to rush home early only to never make it home at all.

Overnight, the South saw fatal crashes and hundreds of fender-benders. Jackknifed 18-wheelers littered Interstate 65 in central Alabama. Ice shut down bridges on Florida’s panhandle and the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the world’s longest spans, in Louisiana. Some commuters pleaded for help via cellphones while still holed up in their cars, while others trudged miles home, abandoning their vehicles outright.

Linda Moore spent 12 hours stuck in her car on Interstate 65 south of Birmingham before a firefighter used a ladder to help her cross the median wall and a shuttle bus took her to a hotel where about 20 other stranded motorists spent the night in a conference room.

“I boohooed a lot,” she said. “It was traumatic. I’m just glad I didn’t have to stay on that Interstate all night, but there are still people out there.”

Some employers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield in Alabama had hundreds of people sleeping in offices overnight. Workers watched movies on their laptops, and office cafeterias gave away food.

Atlanta, hub to major corporations and the world’s busiest airport, once again found itself unprepared to deal with the chaos — despite assurances that city officials had learned their lessons from a 2011 ice storm that brought the city to its knees. Some residents expressed outrage that more precautions weren’t taken this time around and schools and other facilities weren’t closed ahead of time. But officials from schools and that state said weather forecasts indicated the area would not see more than a dusting of snow and that it didn’t become clear until late Tuesday morning that those were wrong.

Still, Georgia leaders seem aware of public angst and tried to mitigate it. Reed took the blame for schools, businesses and government all letting out at the same time, and he said they should have staggered their closings.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the National Guard was sending military Humvees onto Atlanta’s snarled freeways to try to move stranded school buses and get food and water to people. Georgia State Patrol troopers headed to schools where children were hunkered down early Wednesday after spending the night there, and transportation crews continued to treat roads and bring gas to motorists, Deal said.

Around Atlanta, nearly all public entities and most businesses were shut down early Wednesday. Officials encouraged would-be motorists not to drive. City buses were not running, and some commuters who opted for rail service met new frustrations as they stood on platforms awaiting trains into the city center.

If there was a bright spot in the epic gridlock, it was that the bitter cold brought warm, Southern-style graciousness to the fore, as strangers opened up their homes, volunteers served coffee and snacks to the traffic-bound, and schoolbound principals played bingo and other games with stranded students to while away the time.

Debbie Hartwig, a waitress at an Atlanta-area Waffle House, said she managed to keep her cool thanks in part to the kindness of strangers after 10 hours on the road.

“I’m calm,” she said. “That’s all you can be. People are helping each other out, people are moving cars that have spun out or had become disabled. It’s been really nice. I even saw people passing out hot coffee and granola bars.”

At the non-denominational Action Church in Canton, Ga., church members kept the lights on for stranded motorists. Tommy Simmons, a church member, said the church parking lot was filling overnight with cars of stranded motorists.

“I’ve got 12 to 18 people right now. They’re getting warmed up,” Simmons said. His guests included a family that got stuck in the Atlanta area en route to Texas, several motorists, and two homeless men.

“Everyone is sitting around chitchatting like they’ve known each other for years,” he said. And in true Southern style, the guests were served pork barbecue.

Heroes also had their day. Police in suburban Atlanta say one of their own helped assist the safe delivery of a baby girl on a gridlocked interstate Tuesday afternoon after snow and ice brought traffic to a crawl.

Sandy Springs Police Capt. Steve Rose said an officer arrived with only minutes to spare before the infant arrived.

“Fortunately he had his emergency lights on and people got out of his way,” Rose said. “The delivery was pretty flawless.”

Meanwhile, people took to social media such as Facebook to appeal for overnight shelter — or to offer guest rooms, fire stations, churches and park gymnasiums to those needing a warm place to stay after spending hours in their cars. People on one page, SnowedOutAtlanta, offered guest bedrooms, fire stations, shelters and just about any other warm building to stay. Even a supermarket offered lodging.

Reed said all of the students on buses in the city limits had been taken to safe places, such as fire stations.

Officials did not have an estimate on how many children spent the night on buses.

Outside of the city limits, there were also problems getting children home. DeKalb County schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond said early Wednesday that district employees and the county police chief managed to get all but a handful of students to their homes in the hours immediately following the storm, and about five kids stayed overnight at a middle school.

In Acworth, a suburb northwest of Atlanta, Barber Middle School Principal Lisa Williams said 972 pupils had made it home by late Tuesday but five still remained after their parents got stuck while trying to reach them.

“We are in the front office playing bingo and eating snacks,” Williams said, adding that 40 school workers also had decided to stay put instead of risking a dangerous drive home.

Exclusive: JCP hikes prices for bigger discounts later

JCPenney’s prices are on a climbing roller coaster, and the ride is about to get bumpier.

The cash-strapped retailer is quietly jacking up prices on everything from jeans to kitchen appliances — a risky move designed to make room for steeper, more eye-catching discounts this year, sources told The New York Post.

CEO Mike Ullman — scrambling to undo damage by his predecessor Ron Johnson, who sent sales tumbling two years ago when he banned coupons and sales events — hatched the stealthy strategy this month with especially lofty markups in the jewelry department, sources said.

The idea: to prop up margins for splashy Valentine’s Day discounts of 40 to 60 percent on engagement rings, pendants and ear studs — up dramatically from the 20 to 30 percent that was typical last year through the holidays.

“Ullman is trying to get back the old JCPenney customer, and that customer wants to see 50 and 60 percent off,” said Mark Cohen, a professor at Columbia Business School. “Taking off 20 or 30 percent doesn’t even get you noticed.”

Penney is pursuing the price hikes despite previous rants against “fake prices” by Johnson — a former Apple exec who was ousted last spring. The worry, insiders say, is that shoppers could get miffed if they begin to notice that the original prices have been raised.

JCPenney officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

According to one source, prices on key jewelry items are being hiked an average of 40 percent. In some cases, the increases are more dramatic.

A half-carat diamond ring set in white gold was listed on Penney’s Web site early Wednesday with a retail price of $1999.98.

That’s up 60 percent from mid-December, when an apparently identical ring with the same product number was advertised in circulars with a regular price of $1245, discounted to $996.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Penney likewise hawked an assortment of gold earrings at $160 a pair, down from a regular price of $200. Early Wednesday, apparently identical earrings were listed at a retail price of $449.98 — up a whopping 225 percent from last month.

“They had us up all night changing the prices on everything,” a jewelry-sales associate told The Post.

Price increases are hitting products throughout the stores, but they’re being rolled out gradually to make them less conspicuous, according to sources briefed on the plans.

National brands like Levi’s and Nike are still locked into pricing pacts cut by Johnson, but others such as Carters baby clothing were recently approved for increases, sources said.

Price hikes for some departments, including bedding and home decor, aren’t currently planned for a wide rollout as Penney looks instead to shore up margins through improved product sourcing, according to insiders.

Still, Penney already has raised the initial markups on some of its hottest-selling items.

In a holiday circular last month, a pair of Arizona boot-cut jeans had been advertised at $19.99, down from
a regular price of $34. On Penney’s site early Wednesday, however, the same pair was discounted to $24.99, with retail listed at $42.

Some shoppers might get annoyed by Penney’s new policy, but it’s likely to work in the near-term, says Kurt Jetta of TABS Group, a retail consulting firm.

“Consumers are looking at prices based on the discount, which is much more digestible than having to memorize the pricing on hundreds and thousands of products,” Jetta said.

Still, he warns that price hikes of more than 10 percent will get noticed and risk turning off shoppers in the longer term.

“If they’re raising prices into the 20-, 30-, and 40-percent range, you’ll see it start to corrode their sales,” Jetta said.

Alderson: Mets unlikely to sign shortstop Drew

NEW YORK -- With two and a half weeks before pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training, there's a reasonable chance the Mets are done handing out big league contracts.

In a telephone interview Tuesday evening, general manager Sandy Alderson reiterated that his team is "unlikely" to sign Stephen Drew, despite the shortstop's perceived lack of suitors on the free-agent market.

Alderson also said that in the wake of reliever Grant Balfour choosing the Rays over the Mets, he is considering limiting the team's bullpen additions to Minor League deals.

Given all that, it is conceivable the Mets will finish this winter having added only three players on guaranteed contracts -- outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, and starting pitcher Bartolo Colon.

"At some point, the available options diminish," Alderson said in explanation of his approach. "It's not a change in strategy so much as it's a recognition, a reality."

All winter long, Alderson has downplayed his club's interest in Drew despite near-constant speculation to the contrary. Such rumors made sense; not only have the Mets been publicly critical of incumbent shortstop Ruben Tejada, but Drew's list of obvious suitors -- the Red Sox, the Mets, maybe the Yankees -- was small enough that a bidding war seemed unlikely to erupt. Once Red Sox GM Ben Cherington publicly downplayed his own team's interest in re-signing Drew, rumors connecting him to Queens gained new traction.

But while Alderson recently checked in again with Drew's agent, Scott Boras, he described the talks as "sporadic."

"We haven't ruled it out, but I think doing anything is unlikely," Alderson said. "I think that Stephen will always have other opportunities. We continue to monitor his situation. We're looking at other free agents that are still available, and [we're] trying to judge their status and how they might fit with us. I know there's been a lot of speculation about Drew and the Mets, but at this point, that's what it remains -- speculation."

Similarly, the Mets are not close to adding any veteran help to the bullpen. Confirming that he extended a more lucrative offer to Balfour than the two-year, $12 million deal the right-hander ultimately accepted from the Rays, Alderson offered a tepid evaluation of the market's remaining options. Among those veterans still available: Fernando Rodney, Mitchell Boggs, Kevin Gregg and Michael Gonzalez.

Rather than sign one to a big league contract, Alderson indicated that he may rely more extensively on Vic Black, Jeurys Familia and the organization's other young relievers, and round out the Spring Training competition by signing a veteran or two to non-guaranteed Minor League deals.

"We've got a lot of good young arms that we like -- they just don't have much experience," Alderson said.

"Acquiring someone with some experience would give us some comfort going into Spring Training, but we don't want to preclude some of our younger pitchers from getting a solid opportunity either. So if there's somebody there that we like, we'll pursue them. Otherwise, one of the ways we've approached starting pitching, for example, is to bring in a couple of guys on Minor League contracts [John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka], and have them compete with some of our own internal candidates. We may do the same thing with the bullpen."

If that is the case, the Mets' largest free-agent spending spree in nearly a decade will be complete, leaving their payroll at roughly $86 million. Granderson, Young and Colon are slated to make a combined $29.25 million next season, and $87.25 million over the lives of their contracts. While that falls well short of what the Yankees, Mariners and others spent this winter, it represents the Mets' most significant free-agent expenditure since they signed Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez prior to the 2005 season.

Many of the Mets' largest splurges since that time have involved taking on salary via trade (Carlos Delgado, for example), extending the contracts of players already under team control (David Wright), or both (Johan Santana). The Mets also handed out $21.1 million in arbitration settlements this winter, and they paid significant raises to Wright and Jon Niese.

Hammer-wielding madman ‘kills gal pal & her daughter for being witches’

A hammer-wielding madman allegedly bludgeoned his girlfriend and her daughter to death in their Queens home because he believed they were “witches” who were performing voo-doo on him, police sources told The New York Post.

The brutally beaten bodies of Estrella Castaneda, 56, and her 25-year-old Lina Castaneda – herself the mother of a 7-year-old girl – were found about 12:15 a.m. in their home at 24-10 87th St. near LaGuardia Airport.

Carlos Amarillo, 44, of the same address, was taken into custody at the scene and charged with second-degree murder in an attack so vicious neighbors could hear the hammering – but had no clue the women were being attacked.

“Around midnight we heard loud hammering. It was loud. I work in construction so I know what a hammer sounds like. I can’t believe it was the sound of someone getting hit. It sounded like someone was swinging that hammer hard,” said Neighbor Camilo Alvarez, 23.

“I didn’t hear anybody screaming,” he added. “About 15, 20 minutes later the police came and arrested someone in the front yard. I can’t imagine what they went through. It’s disgusting. I’ve been up all night, I couldn’t sleep.”

Sources said Amarillo confessed and made the bizarre claims that the women were witches who were “doing voodoo on him” during questioning at the 115th precinct house, where he remained in custody Wednesday morning.

A next door neighbor, who declined to give her name, said, “I would hear yelling and fighting. I would hear banging like he was beating them. He wasn’t a friendly guy,” she said.

“This summer he broke the windows when he couldn’t open the door after they locked him out,” she said, also adding that cops had been called to the house before. “He wasn’t a friendly guy, he would never say hello to anyone. I think he was from Argentina.”

She also said she felt the walls of her house shaking last night. “My room was shaking. It went on for 10 minutes,” she said. “My body is trembling. I can’t believe this happened. What’s going to happen to the little girl?”

Lina Castaneda’s 7-year-old daughter was at home at the time and has been taken to Elmhurst Hospital, according to Arnoldo Parra, whose nephew is the father of the girl. “These are excellent women and I’m not just saying that because they are relatives. I never met the man (Carlos) he recently came into the picture. I hear he’s from Argentina or Uruguay,” he said.

Another neighbor, Deborah Pawluk, 58, mournfully recalled the slain women and the young girl left behind.
“They were a lovely family, they were always happy. She’s an adorable little girl. The mother would have birthday parties in the front yard for her. You’d always see them together,” Pawluk said.

“I can’t believe this happened. I can’t fathom something like that. This is something this girl will never forget. How is this child going to process that? How are you going to get rid of seeing something like that? They were a happy family up until yesterday. That was that little girl’s only family and now they’re gone,” she lamented.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

States eye return to firing squads, electric chairs

ST. LOUIS — With lethal-injection drugs in short supply and new questions looming about their effectiveness, lawmakers in some death penalty states are considering bringing back relics of a more gruesome past: firing squads, electrocutions and gas chambers.

Most states abandoned those execution methods more than a generation ago in a bid to make capital punishment more palatable to the public and to a judicial system worried about inflicting cruel and unusual punishments that violate the Constitution.

But to some elected officials, the drug shortages and recent legal challenges are beginning to make lethal injection seem too vulnerable to complications.

“This isn’t an attempt to time-warp back into the 1850s or the wild, wild West or anything like that,” said Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin, who this month proposed making firing squads an option for executions. “It’s just that I foresee a problem, and I’m trying to come up with a solution that will be the most humane yet most economical for our state.”

Brattin, a Republican, said questions about the injection drugs are sure to end up in court, delaying executions and forcing states to examine alternatives. It’s not fair, he said, for relatives of murder victims to wait years, even decades, to see justice served while lawmakers and judges debate execution methods.

Like Brattin, a Wyoming lawmaker this month offered a bill allowing the firing squad. Missouri’s attorney general and a state lawmaker have raised the notion of rebuilding the state’s gas chamber. And a Virginia lawmaker wants to make electrocution an option if lethal-injection drugs aren’t available.

If adopted, those measures could return states to the more harrowing imagery of previous decades, when inmates were hanged, electrocuted or shot to death by marksmen.

States began moving to lethal injection in the 1980s in the belief that powerful sedatives and heart-stopping drugs would replace the violent spectacles with a more clinical affair while limiting, if not eliminating, an inmate’s pain.

The total number of U.S. executions has declined in recent years — from a peak of 98 in 1999 to 39 last year. Some states have turned away from the death penalty entirely. Many have cases tied up in court. And those that carry on with executions find them increasingly difficult to conduct because of the scarcity of drugs and doubts about how well they work.

In recent years, European drug makers have stopped selling the lethal chemicals to prisons because they do not want their products used to kill.

At least two recent executions are also raising concerns about the drugs’ effectiveness. Last week, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die by injection, gasping repeatedly as he lay on a gurney with his mouth opening and closing. And on Jan. 9, Oklahoma inmate Michael Lee Wilson’s final words were, “I feel my whole body burning.”

Missouri threw out its three-drug lethal injection procedure after it could no longer obtain the drugs. State officials altered the method in 2012 to use propofol, which was found in the system of pop star Michael Jackson after he died of an overdose in 2009.

The anti-death penalty European Union threatened to impose export limits on propofol if it were used in an execution, jeopardizing the supply of a common anesthetic needed by hospitals across the nation. In October, Gov. Jay Nixon stayed the execution of serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin and ordered the Missouri Department of Corrections to find a new drug.

Days later, the state announced it had switched to a form of pentobarbital made by a compounding pharmacy. Like other states, Missouri has refused to divulge where the drug comes from or who makes it.

Missouri has carried out two executions using pentobarbital — Franklin in November and Allen Nicklasson in December. Neither inmate showed outward signs of suffering, but the secrecy of the process resulted in a lawsuit and a legislative inquiry.

Michael Campbell, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said some lawmakers simply don’t believe convicted murderers deserve any mercy.

“Many of these politicians are trying to tap into a more populist theme that those who do terrible things deserve to have terrible things happen to them,” Campbell said.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., cautioned that there could be a backlash.

“These ideas would jeopardize the death penalty because, I think, the public reaction would be revulsion, at least from many quarters,” Dieter said.

Some states already provide alternatives to lethal injection. Condemned prisoners may choose the electric chair in eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. An inmate named Robert Gleason Jr. was the most recent to die by electrocution, in Virginia in January 2013.

Missouri and Wyoming allow for gas-chamber executions, and Arizona does if the crime occurred before Nov. 23, 1992, and the inmate chooses that option instead of lethal injection. Missouri no longer has a gas chamber, but Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, and Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican, last year suggested possibility rebuilding one. So far, there is no bill to do so.

Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington state still allow inmates to choose hanging. The last hanging in the U.S. was Billy Bailey in Delaware in 1996. Two prisoners in Washington state have chosen to be hanged since the 1990s — Westley Allan Dodd in 1993 and Charles Rodman Campbell in 1994.

Firing squads typically consisting of five sharpshooters with rifles, one of which is loaded with a blank so the shooters do not know for sure who fired the fatal bullet. They have been used mostly for military executions.

Since the end of the Civil War, there have been three civilian firing squad executions in the U.S., all in Utah.

Gary Gilmore uttered his famous final words, “Let’s do it” on Jan. 18, 1977, before his execution, which ended what amounted to a 17-year national moratorium on the death penalty. Convicted killers John Albert Taylor in 1996 and Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010 were also put to death by firing squad.

Utah is phasing out its use, but the firing squad remains an option there for inmates sentenced prior to May 3, 2004.

Oklahoma maintains the firing squad as an option, but only if lethal injection and electrocution are deemed unconstitutional.

In Wyoming, Republican state Sen. Bruce Burns said death by firing squad would be far less expensive than building a gas chamber. Wyoming has only one inmate on death row, 68-year-old convicted killer Dale Wayne Eaton. The state has not executed anyone in 22 years.

Jackson Miller, a Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates, is sponsoring a bill that would allow for electrocution if lethal injection drugs are not available.

Miller said he would prefer that the state have easy access to the drugs needed for lethal injections. “But I also believe that the process of the justice system needs to be fulfilled.”

Naked socialite jumps to death after facelift

A British socialite freaked out after having plastic surgery, stripped naked and jumped to her death off a Beverly Hills high rise last week, authorities said.

Sandra D’Auriol, 53, who used to work for jeweler Asprey – a favorite of the royal family – had undergone a facelift last Tuesday and woke up the following morning “agitated and aggressive,” according to investigators who believe she might have had a bad reaction to anesthesia.

D’Auriol took off her clothes and went to the roof of the Camden Medical Arts building, at 414 N. Camden Drive, on Wednesday morning, officials said.

She sat there for three hours, dangling her feet off the edge. Police negotiators tried to reason with D’Auriol before she took the fatal plunge.

The mother of two was based in Hong Kong.

She had gone under the knife of famed Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Brian Novack, a Tinseltown nip-tuck veteran who has worked on Demi Moore and other A-Listers, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

D’Auriol was on the board of directors of the Child Welfare Scheme, a Hong Kong charity dedicated to helping poor kids in Nepal.

“It was a tragic incident,” former CWS colleague Avi Rai told The Daily Mail.

“It has been a very difficult time for her family. She was British and married with two children. It would not be appropriate for me to say anything more as the death is still under investigation.”

D’Auriol, who had lived in Hong Kong since 1983, was born to British parents in India and grew up in Singapore and Ibiza, according to her CWS bio.

“Every season, she creates one-of-a-kind jewelry which is exhibited in various cities such as London, Paris, New York, Milan, and others,” the charity profile said.

“She has been involved with CWS since 1999 and despite being a wonderful and busy mother, wife and friend, she always has plenty of time to help anyone in need.”

Important Super Bowl Information

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) today shared some important information with its licensees about the Super Bowl.  Due to the high volume of visitors expected in the New York City area for Super Bowl XLVIII, the TLC anticipates increased demand and fare opportunities for taxicabs and for-hire vehicles.  Please note the following:
  • The TLC will be directly messaging drivers with Super Bowl-related fare opportunities.
  • Drop-offs will NOT be permitted at MetLife Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday (2/2/14).  All vehicles entering the area MUST have an NFL Super Bowl parking pass and will be required to stay at the stadium for the duration of the game.  Vehicles without a pass will be turned away upon entering the vicinity.
  • Please visit for the NYC Department of Transportation website for information on traffic conditions and road closures. http://www.nyc.gov/dot
  • LaGuardia (LGA) Airport will offer special parking to licensed liveries between January 27 and February 2, 2014.  Please note that this does NOT apply to Kennedy Airport (JFK).
    • Licensed liveries can park free for two (2) hours at Lot 1 (near Terminal B) and Lot 5 (near Terminals C and D). 
    • Parking for longer than two (2) hours will result in drivers being charged the normal parking rate for their entire time in the lot.
    • Lot 7 will continue to be available to those for-hire vehicles that are pre-registered to park up to three (3) hours for $1.00. 
  • The NYS Office of Victim Services has an important message regarding the Super Bowl. We encourage you to visit their website at http://www.ovs.ny.gov/index.html.
Please continue to check the TLC, NYCDOT and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey websites for additional information regarding Super Bowl operation.

Hoping to land spot, Lannan thrilled to be near home

NEW YORK -- Though John Lannan grew up a Yankees fan, his Long Island home was actually closer to Shea Stadium. As a result, Lannan and his father frequented both parks, fostering their appreciation for each side of New York City baseball. It is little coincidence, then, that Lannan's name has come up seemingly every winter in Hot Stove conversations regarding the Mets.

"It was definitely one of my goals to play for the hometown team," Lannan said in a telephone interview last week.

The former Chaminade High School star has not achieved that goal just yet, but after signing a Minor League deal with the Mets on Jan. 21, he's closer to it than ever. Lannan will compete against Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jenrry Mejia and a small pool of prospects for the Mets' fifth-starter job this spring, with the hope of eventually suiting up mere miles from his childhood home.

"That's exactly what my goal was, just to find an opportunity for me to go in and compete and prove to a team that I can go out and help the team win," Lannan said. "The Mets told me that I'd go out and compete, and that's what I plan on doing."

Half a year ago, the thought of winning any big league job might have seemed daunting for Lannan, considering the state of his balky left knee. An issue since 2011, the joint caused Lannan enough trouble to affect his performance but not quite enough to keep him off the field -- until an April start for the Phillies in Cincinnati, when the knee felt so weak and painful that he could no longer push off his left leg.

Doctors prescribed a rehab regimen, which allowed Lannan to make 11 more starts from June through August. But by the end of that run, he felt weak again. Rehab alone was not going to do the trick.

"The only option there was to get it fixed," Lannan said, "and for me, it was probably the best thing to do."

In Lannan's estimation, he's now fully healthy for the first time in years following surgery on the knee. He has been throwing off a mound and doing all of his other regular baseball activities in Tampa, Fla., where he keeps his offseason home. And like many of his new teammates (including Mejia, who has already been in Florida for more than a week), Lannan plans to arrive in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in advance of the Mets' mandatory reporting date for pitchers and catchers on Feb. 15.

The goal now for Lannan is to make the team, which he will have a strong chance of doing should his newfound health allows him to rediscover his old form. From 2008-11 with the Nationals, Lannan averaged 31 starts and 179 innings per year with a 4.00 ERA. The Mets have made it clear that they are looking for a cheap, sturdy option to hold down the fifth-starter's job until top prospect Noah Syndergaard is ready for the big leagues, and Lannan certainly fits that description.

Lannan, of course, would like to win the job and never give it up. Who wouldn't? But he is also realistic. If the Mets ask Lannan to pitch in relief for the first time in his life, he said he would consider it. If the Mets want him to mentor younger pitchers in the clubhouse, Lannan said he feels he "can offer some sort of veteran presence."

And if the Mets want him to come back north with them to Flushing, not far from where his parents and in-laws still live, Lannan will have realized one of his lifetime goals.

"Obviously with what's been going on in the past with the Mets, they've held their own and they've made some moves this year to continue getting stronger," Lannan said. "So it's exciting to watch. It's going to be an exciting year, for sure."

‘Duck Dynasty’ star heading to Capitol for State of the Union

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister is bringing a little bit of Hollywood South to the nation’s Capitol to hear President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address.

McAllister, R-Swartz, said Willie Robertson of the popular reality television series “Duck Dynasty” will be his special guest in the House gallery for Tuesday night’s address.

McAllister describes Robertson, CEO of the West Monroe, La.-based Duck Commander enterprise, as a “close friend, constituent and small business owner” who’s thankful for the opportunity to attend the event.

Robertson is the son of Phil Robertson, whose anti-gay comments in GQ magazine led to the patriarch’s brief suspension by A&E. The network reversed the suspension after supporters and fans felt he was being censored by the network.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Muhammad Ali’s son shut off from dad, living in poverty

In 1986, when Muhammad Ali Jr. was 14 years old, his father, the greatest boxer alive, picked up the teen for a visit.

“We got in the car, and I said I needed to stop for something to eat,” Ali Jr. recalls. “By the time I came back out, he was gone.”

Ali Jr. called his father’s new wife, Lonnie, and said, “Daddy left me up here. I don’t know why he left me.” She said she’d tell him as soon as he arrived home.

“He turned the car around and came back to pick me up,” Ali Jr. says. “I said, ‘Daddy, why did you leave me?’ He said, ‘I kind of forgot you were in the car.’ ”

Ali Jr. remembers it sadly, the moment when his dad’s Parkinson’s became apparent.

“That was the first time I ­actually realized something was wrong with him,” he said.

Now 41, nearly destitute and living in the dangerous Chicago neighborhood of West Englewood, Ali Jr. fears his father has now forgotten him for good — and the boxing great’s wife, Lonnie, is keeping him from even saying a proper goodbye.

“If I saw my father right now, I’d say I love you, I miss you, and I want you to see your grandkids,” says Muhammad Jr., who lives in a two-bedroom hovel he shares with his wife, Shaakira, and two children, Ameera, 6, and Shakera, 5.

“I wished before my dad got really sick, I could have had that father-son relationship, but that’s impossible now. I wish I could have made up for lost time. But it doesn’t break my heart anymore. It’s been broken so many times I’m used to it by now.”

Muhammad Jr. was born in 1972 in Philadelphia to Ali, then 30, and actress Belinda Boyd, who was 17.

Muhammad Jr. can’t remember ever enjoying a family meal together. Mostly, his grandparents raised him, as his father was busy boxing and his mom was acting in films.

He grew up with three sisters — Maryum and twins Jamillah and Rasheda — but when they were infants, Ali began an affair with Veronica Porsche, who became his second wife in 1977.

The kids still saw their dad, and Junior fondly remembers those days as an extended family.

“My father used to do magic tricks. He’d have a handkerchief that he’d make into a cane; he’d then make it disappear. His card tricks were really good. He was such a comical person. My father liked to wear masks and scare people. He liked to have people on the edge of their seats.

“We used to go to Pennsylvania where he had a training camp, and he’d do tricks on stage. We all went. It was all the family, including my stepsisters Leila and Hana. We’d get on the Bluebird Winnebago bus and go up to see him,” Muhammad Jr. says.

“We stayed in log cabins, ride horses, watch him train, jump ropes and eat all the time as a family. He had a great cook.

“But I never went to any boxing matches apart from one when he fought Leon Spinks, and I just remember he kept on smiling even though he was getting hit a lot.

“He never wanted me to be a fighter. He said, ‘Don’t get into it if you don’t know what you’re doing, as it’s dangerous.’

“I used to see him all the time when I was a child. He made sure he was there, would get all the siblings together, and never kept us a secret from each other. I was proud of my daddy. Fame and fortune meant nothing, I just saw him as my daddy.”

But being Muhammad Ali Jr. had its pitfalls. Although his dad was conquering the world for a third time in 1978, his son was battling on the playground.

“You may think having Muhammad Ali as your dad is great, but I had problems. People wanted to pick fights. School was hell. They wanted to see if I was like my father. I’d get bullied all the time. Girls would only get with me because of my father, not because of me. Nothing was as it seemed. I didn’t know who really loved me. People just used me so they could get a glimpse of my dad. Some people didn’t like it that my dad was black or didn’t go to war. We had to fight all his battles.

“It meant my grandparents sheltered me a lot. Dad didn’t know, as he wasn’t around every day. I felt in some ways like I never had a childhood.

“I’d say my father was good and bad. The reason I say that is because my father never really spent time with me. Whenever we had time, he spent it with his daughters rather than me. Even in the only picture I have of all the family together, they’re all wrapped close, and I’m far out to the left. I felt like the outcast. I still do,” Muhammad Jr. sobs.

He says he still feels the problems of his childhood and they’re stopping him from moving on.

“He gave us money directly, anything we wanted. Everything was given to me, and I was hidden away, which has hurt me in the long run. I’m like a 12-year-old in a 41-year-old’s body now. I was always sheltered as a
child, limited to what I could do, so I don’t know how to get out there and do it now,” he adds.

“I sometimes resent to this day my dad. I was cursed with this name. People wanted me to follow in my father’s footsteps, but what about my own? I want to make it myself. I don’t want to be in the shadows of someone else.

“It’s like I’m cursed. My life is cursed. I thought about even changing my name to Malik Islam and running away and starting a new life again. But my children stop me. I want to teach them and give them the discipline I never got.”

While Ali was champion of the world at age 22 and amassed a fortune of well over $100 million, his son is living off food stamps. Driving with a reporter to his local cafe for breakfast, he points excitedly at a charity shelter and says it’s his savior.

“I go there when I ain’t got no food in the crib or the kids need shoes and clothes,” he says.

“My life now is crap. I live in a s–t area, a house I don’t own. I survive off handouts and food stamps. I’ve tried for a job, but there’s no hiring. I go on the ­Internet, but I’ve never been taught how to use it, so it always messes up. I’m stuck. If my ­father was still around and was coherent, he’d help me. But that’s not the case, is it?

“If I was rich, I’d find a cure for Parkinson’s. Next thing, I’d get a big house with my father and kids and I’d take care of him.”

Muhammad Jr. says the last time he saw his father was at dad’s birthday party in Las Vegas last year, and it was like “he was in a coma.”

“Now when you see him, his hands shake and his face is cold. His expressions are numb. It isn’t him. He had always been talkative, joking around, the soul of the party. Now he doesn’t do any of that. It’s like night and day right now,” Muhammad Jr. says. “Sometimes, you look at things and ask: ‘Did it really happen? Did he box like that? Did he talk like that?’ ”

Ali Jr. blames the breakdown in their relationship on Lonnie, his father’s fourth wife. This isn’t the first time Lonnie, whom Ali married in 1986, has been accused of tearing the family apart. Ali Sr.’s brother, Rahman, spoke out last year about not being able to see his brother and the treatment his sibling was receiving.

Muhammad Jr. says: “He slipped out my life the moment he got married to Lonnie. The trips to see me stopped immediately. She once said that they couldn’t afford to come and see me. How can a man who’s well respected in the world, bigger than Elvis, with all the money he’s made, not afford to travel?”

Lonnie, who has power of attorney, has made it clear Ali Jr. is not welcome, he says. When he phoned his father on Ali Sr.’s birthday, Jan. 17, no one answered.

Muhammad Jr. thinks his dad, now 72, won’t make it to his next birthday — “not a chance” — and hopes the day will come when the greatest living sportsman’s pain will finally ebb away.

“I just want, hope and pray to God that that awful disease takes my dad sooner rather than later. Takes him away from all the suffering he’s in. It’d be really sad to see him go, but everything is for the best, and I will see him again in heaven,” he says.

“I have no regrets in life apart from one. I regret not being able to call him on his birthday and wish him happy birthday, tell my daddy I love him. It may be his last birthday, and this is when you should be with your father the most. I love you, Daddy.”

Weekend Bridge Closures – January 25-26

The Brooklyn Bridge will be closed Manhattan-bound from midnight Friday to 7 am Saturday, from midnight Saturday to 9 am Sunday, and from midnight Sunday to 6 am Monday. The eastbound BQE exit onto the bridge closes 30 minutes earlier, the northbound FDR Drive exits close up to an hour earlier, and other Brooklyn ramps onto the bridge shut down 5-15 minutes earlier.

One lane in each direction on the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge over Newtown Creek will be closed on Sunday from 7 am to 2 pm to install electrical equipment.

Detailed information on weekend street closures will be available on the DOT web site at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/wkndtraf.shtml.

Mo, Pettitte celebrated during BBWAA dinner

NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte enjoyed one more send-off to their illustrious careers on Saturday, as the pair of retired hurlers were honored at the annual dinner of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Rivera and Pettitte completed their long and successful playing careers last season with the Yankees, making them a layup to receive the chapter's "Toast of the Town" award.

"It was priceless, all these 19 years I played in New York," Rivera said. "I gave everything I had. I promised I would empty the tank and I did. I did empty the tank."

The longtime teammates were introduced at the podium by former manager Joe Torre and Yankees executive Gene Michael. Torre said that with Rivera and Pettitte, "It was never about 'me.' It was always about 'we.'"

Shortly after Rivera opened his remarks, an audience member was heard yelling, "One more year!" The all-time saves leader shook his head and grinned, pointing to Yankees hurler David Robertson, who was seated next to him on the dais and received the chapter's "Good Guy" award.

"We've got our future closer right here," Rivera said. "You've got to respect that."

Pettitte said that sharing the final days of Rivera's career, coinciding with the conclusion of his own time on the mound, had created some of the "coolest moments" of his time in the game.

"Every year, our goal was to bring a World Series championship to this city," Pettitte said. "We had a great opportunity to be part of this franchise. I have been so blessed to have the people that I've had around me and behind me to push me."

The chapter also honored Hank Aaron and Al Downing, paying tribute to the upcoming 40th anniversary of Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run by honoring both pitcher and hitter with the "Willie, Mickey and
the Duke" award, noting players who are forever linked.

"I've always thought playing 23 years in the big leagues was something special," Aaron said. "I'm quite honored and quite proud that those three were ballplayers I had the honor of playing with."

Red Sox pitcher Craig Breslow and Boston Police Department detective Kevin McGill were on hand as the chapter honored the "Boston Strong" recovery efforts with the "You Gotta Have Heart" award.

"I'm honored to be in this kind of company," said McGill, who was visibly touched by a lengthy standing ovation. "Thank you -- not for me, but for every cop, every fireman, every EMT."

Mets pitchers Bobby Parnell and Dillon Gee received the Joan Payson award for humanitarian service. Both players have been active with Tuesday's Children, a charity that helps families affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We're just lucky to give back," Parnell said. "That's what this game is about."

All three of the new managerial inductees into the Hall of Fame -- Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa -- were on hand for the event, as were the major award winners of 2013.

That group included American League MVP Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers and National League MVP Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, as well as Cy Young Award winners Max Scherzer of the Tigers and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.

"Growing up, you never really think of being right here," said Kershaw, who was introduced at the podium by Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, a surprise addition to the guest list. "You just think about playing in the big leagues. You never think about sitting next to Sandy Koufax at a dinner like this."

Broadcaster Tim McCarver was honored for his long and meritorious service to the game, and Marquis Grissom was on hand to speak on behalf of the 1994 Expos, who were recognized with the Casey Stengel "You Could Look It Up Award."

Grissom and the Expos led the NL East by six games and had just won 20 of 23 games when a player strike hit in August '94, eventually wiping out a World Series that Montreal had a good shot to have appeared in.

"I think it's ironic we're here 20 years later talking about the 1994 Expos," Grissom said. "I think that speaks volumes about the kind of team we had."

Wil Myers of the Rays picked up his AL Rookie of the Year Award, and Jose Fernandez of the Marlins received his NL Rookie of the Year Award. Both Managers of the Year were also recognized, with Clint Hurdle of the Pirates and Terry Francona of the Indians accepting their hardware.

"I'm truly blessed to be able to earn a living doing what I'd be doing anyway for free," Francona said.

Police ID Maryland mall shooter

COLUMBIA, Md. — Police have identified the gunman in the Maryland mall shooting as a 19 year old from suburban Washington.

Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said Darion Marcus Aguilar of College Park, Md., arrived at the mall shortly after 10 a.m. on Saturday armed with a Mossburg 12-gauge shotgun and used it to kill two people at a store on the upper level of the Mall of Columbia before killing himself.

McMahon said police are trying to determine whether Aguilar knew either of the victims.

Police identified the victims as 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo of College Park, Md., and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson of Ellicott City, Md. Both worked at a skateboard shop called Zumiez.

It took hours to identify the shooter since he was carrying ammunition and a backpack and police thought he may have had explosives, McMahon said. When the body was searched, police found crude homemade explosives in the backpack.

“When we originally found the shooter, he still had a lot of ammunition on his person,” McMahon said at a news conference Sunday morning.

McMahon said he didn’t know if Aguilar had a criminal record. No motive has been given for the shooting.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” McMahon said.

Very few details were released about Aguilar. He apparently lived with his mother in the suburb of College Park, where University of Maryland is located. McMahon didn’t know if Aguilar was a student there.

According to McMahon, Aguilar purchased the shotgun last month at a shop in neighboring Montgomery County.

Aguilar took a taxi to the mall and roamed its halls before shots rang out within an hour. Police arrived at the scene just 2 minutes after a 911 call came into authorities at 11:15 a.m. When they arrived, they found three bodies at the Zumiez skateboard shop on the upper level.

Five others were injured in the midmorning shooting and its aftermath. All had been released from hospitals by Saturday evening. Only one person was injured by gunfire.

“This was a very scary incident,” Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said. “There were a lot of people very close to where this happened.”

Earlier, McMahon praised mall patrons for doing the right thing by sheltering in place and not stampeding toward the exits.

“We actually have drilled on this in the past and that experience has been very beneficial to us,” McMahon said Saturday.

A news release Saturday night said police found and disabled “two crude devices that appeared to be an attempt at making explosives using fireworks.” Police were searching the mall with dogs overnight, which is
standard procedure, and the mall was to remain closed through Tuesday.

Joan Harding of Elkridge, Md., was shopping with her husband, David, for a tiara for their granddaughter’s 18th birthday. She said she heard something heavy falling, followed by gunshots and people running.

“My husband said, ‘Get down!’ and the girl that worked in the store said, ‘Get in the back,’” Harding said.

That is where they hid until police searched the mall and signaled it was safe to leave.

The shooting took place around 11:15 a.m. Saturday at a shop called Zumiez, which sells skateboards, clothing and accessories. The company’s chief executive, Rick Brooks, said it was making counseling available for employees in the area.

McMahon said at a news conference that authorities had difficulty identifying the gunman because of concerns he was carrying explosives and were proceeding with an “abundance of caution.” By late Saturday, police said they had tentatively identified the gunman but declined to release his name while they followed up on leads.

Police identified the victims as 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo of College Park, Md., and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson of Ellicott City, Md. Both worked at Zumiez.

Benlolo’s grandfather, John Feins, said in a telephone interview from Florida that his granddaughter had a 2-year-old son and that the job at Zumiez was her first since she went back to work after her son’s birth.
“She was all excited because she was the manager there,” he said.

He said he had spoken with his daughter, Brianna’s mother, earlier in the day, but didn’t know who the gunman was or whether the person knew his granddaughter.

“It’s senseless. It’s totally, totally senseless,” he said.

He described his daughter’s family as a military family that had moved frequently and had been in Colorado before moving to Maryland about two years ago. He said his granddaughter was on good terms with her son’s father, and they shared custody.

“I mean what can you say? You go to work and make a dollar and you got some idiot coming in and blowing people away,” he said.

The mall is at the center of the town that’s a suburb of both Baltimore and Washington, and it typically opens at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. It was busy with shoppers and employees when the shots rang out before noon.

Tonya Broughton of Silver Spring, Md., was with a friend getting facials for a “girls’ morning out,” she said.

“The only thing I heard was all the people running and screaming and saying ‘There’s a shooter! There’s a shooter!’” she said.

Wearing a gel face mask, she and her friend hid in a Victoria’s Secret store, as her anxious thoughts turned to her family.

People were directed out of the mall and into a parking lot, where some boarded a bus and others walked toward their cars. Police cars blocked off various entrances to the mall as SWAT officers and law enforcement vehicles gathered in the expansive parking lot. Some people were seen crying and hugging and at least one woman was carrying a baby. Detectives interviewed witnesses as they emerged from the mall.

Laura McKindles of Columbia works at a kiosk in the mall. She said she heard between eight and 10 gunshots, followed by people running and screaming. She ran into the backroom of a perfume store and locked the door.

Allison Cohen, who works at the apparel store Lucky Brand Jeans, said she always felt safe at the mall.

“I truly never thought something like this would ever happen here,” Cohen said. “It’s really, really shocking.”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

‘Zero evidence’ of ‘legitimate traffic study’ in Bridgegate

There is “zero evidence” that last year’s crippling George Washington Bridge closures were part of a “legitimate traffic study” by the Port Authority, a leading US senator charged Thursday.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee, said a 12-page letter from the PA shows that its officials tied to the “Bridgegate” scandal “did not follow their agency’s own procedures” and engage in “careful planning and communication” before closing access lanes that caused four days of massive tie-ups in September.

“The Port Authority’s response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study,” Rockefeller said.

The West Virginia Democrat also called it “unconscionable that anyone would block commercial traffic and risk the safety of thousands on our interstate highway system in this way.”

In the letter dated Wednesday, PA Board Secretary Karen Eastman called the lane closures “aberrational events” and said the board “still does not have many of the facts as to the motivations behind actions taken at the GWB.”

But the letter blamed the closures and other “operational decisions” on since-resigned PA official David Wildstein, an appointee of NJ Gov. Chris Christie, who last week was revealed to have gotten an email
saying “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” from a top Christie aide.

During a marathon press conference last week at which he announced the firing of Bridget Anne Kelly for her role in the scandal, Christie claimed ignorance of the lane-closure scheme, adding: “I don’t know if this was a traffic study that morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study.”

Some reports have suggested that Fort Lee was targeted for retaliation because Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich refused to endorse Christie, a Republican, for re-election last year.

Update to "Medallion - Authorized Vehicles" List

Starting Thursday, January 16, 2014, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) is adding four new data elements to the Medallion Vehicles – Authorized list that is published to OpenData as well as the version of the same list that is provided in the daily e-mail that is sent to the industry stakeholders who elected to receive them. The four new data elements are:
  • Agent Name
  • Agent Telephone Number
  • Agent Website Address
  • Agent Address
*Please note that these data elements may be blank if the medallion is not being actively managed by an Agent.

Man who paid $350K to hunt black rhino getting death threats

DALLAS — A North Texas man who paid $350,000 for the right to hunt an endangered African black rhino said he’s had to hire full-time security due to death threats after his name was leaked onto the Internet.

Corey Knowlton told Dallas television stations WFAA and KTVT that he won last week’s Dallas Safari Club auction to hunt a black rhino in the African nation of Namibia. The club says the permit was auctioned to raise money for efforts to protect and conserve the species.

An estimated 4,000 black rhinos remain in the wild, and the auction drew critics who said all members of an endangered species deserve protection.

“I’m a hunter,” Knowlton told WFAA. “I want to experience a black rhino. I want to be intimately involved with a black rhino. If I go over there and shoot it or not shoot it, it’s beyond the point.”

Knowlton lives in Royse City, about 30 miles outside Dallas, and leads international hunting trips for a Virginia-based company, The Hunting Consortium.

He told KTVT that threats made to organizers before the auction led the Safari Club to contact him and see if he would bid. Knowlton and a silent partner raised the money to make the bid, he said.

His name was posted on Facebook and then picked up by websites that publicized his involvement in the auction. He told KTVT that since then, he’s feared for his family’s safety.

“They’re wanting to kill me,” he said. “They’re wanting to kill my children. They’re wanting to skin us alive.”

The club says the Namibian rhino in question is older, male and nonbreeding — and that the animal was likely to be targeted for removal anyway because it was becoming aggressive.

Knowlton said he believed the hunt would be managed well and that the money would go to save rhinos in the end.

Of critics who had written thousands of comments on his Facebook page and online, Knowlton said: “They don’t know who I am. They don’t know what I’m about. They don’t even understand the process.”

Knowlton did not return phone and email messages from The Associated Press.

Expanded replay approved, to begin this season

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Expanded instant replay became a reality for the upcoming season Thursday when the proposal was unanimously approved at the quarterly Owners Meetings. The Major League Baseball Players Association and World Umpires Association also signed off on the plan.

"This is really big," Commissioner Bud Selig said after making the announcement. "I'm proud of the changes we've made and I'll tell you why I'm proud of them: because they won't disturb the game as we know it. Yes, there will be some differences. But because of [MLB Advanced Media], because of our own technology, because of everything else, we've been able to do this."

Asked where this ranks in terms of accomplishments during his tenure, he responded: "It ranks very, very high."

A proposal to ban home-plate collisions was not voted on, but MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred said he was confident that, too, will be in place by Opening Day.

The highlights of the new replay system are as follows:
  • Each manager will be permitted one challenge in a game. If the challenge is upheld in any portion, he will retain the right to challenge one more play. A manager will not be allowed to challenge more than two plays in a game.
  • If a manager has exhausted his challenges, the umpiring crew chief may initiate a review on any close play from the seventh inning forward. 
  • All reviews will be conducted at the Replay Command Center at MLBAM headquarters in New York. Two additional four-man umpiring crews will be hired and umpires will be rotated through New York to review video feeds. Every ballpark will have a designated communication location near home plate. There, the crew chief and at least one other Major League umpire will have access to a hard-wired headset connected to the Replay Command Center. The decision of the replay official in New York will be final.
  • Approximately 90 percent of all plays will be subject to review, including calls involving home runs, ground-rule doubles, fan interference, boundary calls, force plays, tag plays, fair-foul and trap plays in the outfield, hit by pitches, timing plays, touching bases, passing runners and any dispute involving ball-strike counts, outs, score or substitutions. All other plays, including obstruction and force plays at second base, will not be reviewable. 
  • Teams will now be allowed to show all replays on the in-park video board, regardless of whether the play was reviewed.
  • To initiate a review, a manager will verbally inform the umpires of his intention in a timely manner. The challenge may involve multiple portions of the same play, but each must be specified during the appeal. 
  • Teams will be allowed to have a club employee monitor video and communicate with the manager in deciding whether or not to challenge a call. Both the home and road teams must have equal access to all video, but no additional electronic equipment will be allowed in the dugouts.
  • The changes to instant replay will first be utilized during Spring Training. Clubs will also be allowed to show all replays on the ballpark scoreboard regardless of whether a play has been reviewed. 
  • Instant replay will be utilized during some televised games in Spring Training for the purposes of educating on-field personnel on the rules of the new system.
Other protocols of the new system for instant replay are as follows:

PLAY TYPES
The following play types will be subject to review:
  • Home run
  • Ground-rule double
  • Fan interference
  • Stadium boundary calls (e.g., fielder into stands, ball into stands triggering dead ball)
  • Force play (except the fielder's touching of second base on a double play)
  • Tag play (including steals and pickoffs)
  • Fair/foul in outfield only
  • Trap play in outfield only
  • Batter hit by pitch
  • Timing play (whether a runner scores before a third out)
  • Touching a base (requires appeal)
  • Passing runners
  • Record keeping (Ball-strike count to a batter, outs, score, and substitutions)
All other plays will not be reviewable; however, the umpires may still convene on the field at any time to discuss the play.

INITIATION OF INSTANT REPLAY
  • Field managers may initiate replay review on one reviewable play per game by verbally indicating his intention to challenge, in a timely manner, to the crew chief. Guidelines will be established to determine whether a challenge is timely.
  • The manager may request that the umpire review multiple portions of the same play, but he must specify exactly which portions of the play he is challenging. 
  • If any portion of a challenged play is overturned, the manager who challenged the play will retain the ability to challenge one more play during the game. No manager may challenge more than two plays in a game.
  • Once the manager has exhausted his ability to challenge plays during the game and after the beginning of the seventh inning, the crew chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call. In that circumstance, the crew chief is not obligated to invoke instant replay if requested by the manager.
  • Home run calls that are currently subject to instant replay review will continue to be reviewed at the crew chief's discretion. Managers may request that an Umpire review a home run call, but managers cannot challenge home run calls.

REVIEW PROCESS
  • Once instant replay review is invoked (either by the manager or the crew chief), the crew chief will signal to the official scorer that the play is under review.
  •  The crew chief and at least one other umpire will then move to a designated communication location near home plate, where they will have access to a hard-wired headset connected to the Replay Command Center in New York. 
  • Major League umpires will be staffed as replay officials at the Replay Command Center, located at MLB Advanced Media headquarters, for all Major League games.
  • The Replay Command Center will have direct access to video from most cameras in the ballpark in real-time, regardless of whether they are shown on the live broadcast. 
  • The replay official will look at the video feeds and determine if there is clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call on the field. If the replay official overturns a call on the field, he will also use his judgment to determine where to appropriately place runners if the play had been called correctly on the field.
  • The umpires on the field will not have a monitor to review the play and they will not leave the field at any time. 
  • The replay official will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call.
  • On-Field personnel may not argue with the decision of the replay official.

CLUB ACCESS TO VIDEO
  • To determine whether to challenge a play, personnel in the dugout will be permitted to communicate with a video specialist in the clubhouse who has access to the same video that is available to Replay Officials. This communication will occur via the dugout phone.
  • Both the home and visiting clubs will have standardized technology to ensure each club has equal access to all video. 
  • No monitors or additional electronic equipment will be permitted in the dugout.

SCOREBOARD REPLAYS
  • Clubs will now have the right to show replays of all close plays on its ballpark scoreboard, regardless of whether the play is reviewed.

Missing Wall Street Journal reporter’s credit card was used in Mexico

The search for a missing Wall Street Journal reporter from New Jersey took a bizarre twist Thursday when a family member said his credit card was used in Mexico, according to a report.

A purchase was made with David Bird’s credit card in Mexico Wednesday night, four days after the energy reporter was last seen going for a walk near his Long Hill Township, NJ home.

According to NBC News, a source close to the family confirmed the purchase, and said his disappearance may be connected to his OPEC coverage.

It was unclear if the family believes Bird is in Mexico.

A family spokesman called the NBC report “speculation.”

“There are a lot of rumors going around,” Carolyn Buscarino, a family friend for 10 years, told the Post. “It’s like he vanished.”

Bird, 55, an avid hiker and marathoner, vanished Saturday afternoon after telling his wife he was going for a walk, presumably in the woods near their house.

Bird’s wife Nancy said he left the house wearing a red jacket, jeans and sneakers, but left his phone at home.

His wife said he had been suffering from a gastrointestinal virus, and took medication for a liver transplant.

The prescription, which he left home, is for anti-rejection medication, and the family said he can’t go on for too long without it.

Bird’s disappearance drew more than 100 cops and volunteers who have scoured the area for a trace of the missing journalist.