AP News in Brief 02-15-19

Deadly blue ‘Mexican oxy’ pills take toll on US Southwest

TUCSON, Ariz. — Aaron Francisco Chavez swallowed at least one of the sky blue pills at a Halloween party before falling asleep forever. He became yet another victim killed by a flood of illicit fentanyl smuggled from Mexico by the Sinaloa cartel into the Southwest — a profitable new business for the drug gang that has made the synthetic opioid responsible for the most fatal overdoses in the U.S.

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Three others at the party in Tucson also took the pills nicknamed “Mexican oxy.” They were saved after partygoers flagged down police who administered naloxone overdose reversal medication. The treatment came too late for the 19-year-old Chavez.

The pills vary widely in strength, from a tiny amount to enough to cause lethal overdoses. Law enforcement officials say they have become a lucrative new product for the cartel, despite the conviction this week of Sinaloa kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera in New York.

The four Tucson partiers thought they were taking oxycodone, a much less powerful opioid, investigators believe. The death of Chavez and many others, officials said, illustrate how Arizona and other southwestern states bordering Mexico have become a hot spot in the nation’s fentanyl crisis. Fentanyl deaths tripled in Arizona from 2015 through 2017.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen in 30 years, this toll that it’s taken on families,” said Doug Coleman, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge of Arizona. “The crack (cocaine) crisis was not as bad.”

Amazon dumps NYC headquarters and its promised 25,000 jobs

NEW YORK — Amazon abruptly dropped plans Thursday for a big new headquarters in New York that would have brought 25,000 jobs to the city, reversing course after politicians and activists objected to the nearly $3 billion in incentives promised to what is already one of the world’s richest, most powerful companies.

“We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion — we love New York,” the online giant from Seattle said in a blog post announcing its withdrawal.

The stunning move was a serious blow to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had lobbied intensely to land the project, competing against more than 200 other metropolitan areas across the continent that were practically tripping over each other to offer incentives to Amazon in a bidding war the company stoked.

Cuomo lashed out at fellow New York politicians over Amazon’s change of heart, saying the project would have helped diversify the city’s economy, cement its status as an emerging tech hub and generate money for schools, housing and transit.

“A small group (of) politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community,” he said.

AP Interview: Maduro reveals secret meetings with US envoy

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Nicolas Maduro has invited a U.S. special envoy to Venezuela after revealing in an AP interview on Thursday that his foreign minister recently held secret talks with the U.S. official in New York.

A senior Venezuelan official said the second of two meetings took place Feb. 11 — four days after the envoy, Elliott Abrams, said the “time for dialogue with Maduro had long passed,” and as the Trump administration publicly backed an effort to unseat the embattled Venezuelan president. The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the talks.

Even while harshly criticizing Donald Trump’s confrontational stance toward his socialist government, Maduro said he holds out hope of meeting the U.S. president soon to resolve a crisis over America’s recognition of opponent Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

Maduro said that while in New York, his foreign minister invited Abrams to come to Venezuela “privately, publicly or secretly.”

“If he wants to meet, just tell me when, where and how and I’ll be there,” Maduro said without providing more details. He said both New York meetings lasted several hours.

From wire sources

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Trump Org scraps plans for 2 hotel chains, blaming politics

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s company is scrapping plans for two new hotel chains announced two years ago, casting blame in part on a hostile political environment.

The Trump Organization said Thursday that it will no longer try to open hotels under its Scion and American Idea brands catering to budget and mid-priced travelers, a departure from its focus on luxury hotels. The announcement comes as the company has posted losses at a few of its golf properties and brand experts say it has lost some of its appeal.

“We live in a climate where everything will be used against us, whether by the fake news or by Democrats who are only interested in presidential harassment and wasting everyone’s time, barraging us with nonsense letters,” the president’s son, Eric Trump, said in an emailed statement. “We already have the greatest properties in the world and if we have to slow down our growth for the time being, we are happy to do it.”

The rollout began with promises of fast success. The company said in March 2017 that nearly two dozen developers had already signed letters of intent to open mid-priced Scion hotels, and was enthusiastic about the future prospects.

“It’s full steam ahead,” said Eric Danziger, who oversees the hotel business for the family. “It’s in our DNA.”

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After shooting: ‘You can’t really trust other students’

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Some students have difficulty trusting classmates outside their circle. Parents say interactions with school staff are more impersonal. Teachers worry that added security detracts from learning.

The Parkland massacre a year ago upended school life across Florida. In the year since a gunman fatally shot 14 students and three staffers, school districts have reshaped the K-12 experience, adopting new rules for entering campus, hiring more police and holding frequent safety drills. Some districts trained teams of armed employees to confront attackers.

“You can’t really trust other students. They all have different mindsets,” said Allen White, a senior at the lone high school in the central Florida farming town of Okeechobee.

Reflecting at a skate park near campus, White and four friends said their school’s atmosphere changed after Feb. 14, 2018. Only last month, suspicious social media posts put Okeechobee High on alert, prompting many students, including White, to stay home.

“I don’t really feel safe. It has become a real-life epidemic,” he said. He attributed school violence primarily to bullying and mental health and said schools need to better address those issues.

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ICE halts force-feeding of immigrant detainees

The U.S. government has suddenly stopped force-feeding all nine Indian immigrants on a hunger strike inside an El Paso immigration detention center, according to local reports Thursday.

The dramatic reversal comes as public pressure was mounting on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt the controversial practice, which involves feeding detainees through nasal tubes against their will. Last week, the United Nations human rights office said the force-feeding of immigrant hunger strikers at the facility could violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

On Wednesday, a U.S. district judge said the government had to stop force-feeding two of the detained Indian immigrants, but warned that if their health started to decline he would consider ordering force-feeding again, their attorney said Thursday. The next day, all force-feeding at the detention center near the El Paso airport stopped, according to reports in the El Paso Times and Texas Monthly.

“This is a win for us,” said Louis Lopez, who is representing Malkeet Singh and Jasvir Singh in the case heard Wednesday in El Paso. Both men are Punjabi Sikhs in their early 20s. “They have a First Amendment right to protest.”

Detained immigrants have sporadically staged hunger strikes around the country for years, protesting conditions they face while seeking asylum. But force-feeding, which began under court order earlier this year, has not previously been reported, and advocates involved said they weren’t aware it had happened before.

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Storm creates chaos in California with flooding, mudslides

SAUSALITO, Calif. — Waves of heavy rain pounded California on Thursday, trapping people in floodwaters, washing away a mountain highway, triggering a mudslide that destroyed homes and forcing residents to flee communities scorched by wildfires last year.

The powerful system swept in from the Pacific Ocean and unleashed damaging rain, snow and wind across the U.S. West into Wyoming and Colorado after walloping Northern California and southern Oregon a day earlier.

The National Weather Service reported staggering rainfall amounts across California, including more than 9.4 inches (24 centimeters) over 48 hours at one location in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.

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A woman pulled from rising water in a low-lying area between those mountains and LA had a heart attack and died at a hospital, said Capt. Ryan Rolston with the Corona Fire Department. The unidentified woman was one of nine people and three dogs rescued in a flood control channel where homeless people camp, Rolston said.

North of San Francisco, a mudslide barreled over cars, uprooted trees and sent a home sliding down a hill and smashing into another house in Sausalito.

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