San Diego, Dec 1 (AP/UNB) — An attempt to smuggle immigrants into the country illegally ended with three people dead and eight seriously injured in a crash in a remote, rugged area of California near the Mexico border, authorities said.
The incident began Thursday afternoon when U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered tire tracks for several cars that ran from the international border north into the U.S. The agency calls such incidents "drive-throughs" — instances in which cars illegally enter the U.S., often through remote areas.
They found a piece of a vehicle that they recognized as likely being from a pickup truck spotted nearby 10 minutes later. Agents tried to stop the pickup, but it fled, entering and exiting Interstate 8 twice and weaving through traffic at speeds up to 100 mph, according to witnesses.
Agents then deployed a tire deflation device, and the truck lost control within a minute, crashing and rolling over.
California authorities say one woman and two men were killed in the crash on westbound I-8 about 60 miles (96 kilometers) east of San Diego.
California Highway Patrol spokesman Officer Travis Garrow says a male driver and a female passenger were believed to be seated in the cab of the truck, and nine men were in the bed.
Authorities haven't identified anyone involved in the crash but said the driver could face vehicular manslaughter charges.
It's believed the illegal crossing happened near Campo, California. The Border Patrol released photos of steel fencing cut to allow enough space for a vehicle to pass through.
The crash occurred in a sparsely populated area of rugged oak- and chaparral-covered mountains on the main highway between San Diego and Arizona. Migrants typically walk across the border several miles south and hide in the boulders and brush for hours, even days, for smugglers to pick them up on the side of a paved rural road.
It is one of the busiest corridors for illegal crossings on California's border with Mexico. The Border Patrol uses motion and ground sensors as well as cameras, but it is still viewed by smugglers and migrants as a route with better chances of success than San Diego.
It wasn't immediately clear if any of the immigrants in the truck were involved in the migrant caravan from Central America, although the Border Patrol says that the ones who survived are all Mexicans.
Agency spokeswoman Takae Michael said the pickup was traveling with another car before agents spotted it. Agents later found that car abandoned in the driveway of a home, and they arrested 12 people who also were believed to be involved in smuggling.
The Border Patrol has been involved in several fatal pursuit crashes, including one in Texas this June in which five of 12 passengers in a car being chased by agents died. In March 2016, two people were killed while in a car that was fleeing Border Patrol agents on I-8 near Yuma.
Border Patrol policy states agents can only chase vehicles when the benefit outweighs any immediate danger of such pursuits. It also states that agents can use tire-deflating devices if a vehicle they're trying to stop fails to do so, but that agents should consider how safe it is to do so, like whether there are other cars around and what the area's topography is.
The agency's vehicle pursuit policy was overhauled in the 1990s after a Border Patrol chase in California's Riverside County ended in a deadly crash near a high school. Four students and a father who was driving his son to school were killed.
Josiah Heyman, the director of the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, said the Border Patrol's use of vehicle pursuits has been problematic.
He says agents aren't usually involved in chasing high-level criminals, but rather immigrants who, if they crossed illegally, would face a misdemeanor count of illegal entry or a felony one if they'd done so before.
Large numbers of immigrants are usually packed in cars when they're being smuggled and can't wear seatbelts, making a crash even more dangerous, Heyman said.
"It amplifies the dangerousness of this," Heyman said. "I think in all cases, vehicular pursuit is still a risky choice because the risk is not just to innocent bystanders, the risk is to the officer and the risk is to the people in the vehicle."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection says its Office of Personal Responsibility is investigating the agent's response.
The driver of the car, a U.S. citizen, is in police custody.
Alaska, Dec 1 (AP/UNB) — Back-to-back earthquakes measuring 7.0 and 5.7 shattered highways and rocked buildings Friday in Anchorage and the surrounding area, sending people running into the streets and briefly triggering a tsunami warning for islands and coastal areas south of the city.
No tsunami arrived and there were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the first and more powerful quake was centered about 7 miles (12 kilometers) north of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, with a population of about 300,000. People ran from their offices or took cover under desks. The 5.7 aftershock arrived within minutes, followed by a series of smaller quakes.
"We just hung onto each other. You couldn't even stand," said Sheila Bailey, who was working at a high school cafeteria in Palmer when the quake struck. "It sounded and felt like the school was breaking apart."
A large section of an off-ramp near the Anchorage airport collapsed, marooning a car on a narrow island of pavement surrounded by deep chasms in the concrete. Several cars crashed at a major intersection in Wasilla, north of Anchorage, during the shaking.
Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll said he had been told that parts of Glenn Highway, a scenic route that runs northeast out of the city past farms, mountains and glaciers, had "completely disappeared." Traffic in the three lanes heading out of the city was bumper-to-bumper and all but stopped Friday afternoon as emergency vehicles passed on the shoulder.
The quake broke store windows, knocked items off shelves, opened cracks in a two-story, downtown building, disrupted electrical service and disabled traffic lights, snarling traffic. It also threw a full-grown man out of his bathtub.
Flights at the airport were suspended for hours after the quake knocked out telephones and forced the evacuation of the control tower. And the 800-mile Alaska oil pipeline was shut down while crews were sent to inspect it for damage.
Anchorage's school system canceled classes and asked parents to pick up their children while it examined buildings for gas leaks or other damage.
Fifteen-year-old Sadie Blake and other members of the Homer High School wrestling team were at an Anchorage school gymnasium for a tournament when the bleachers started rocking and the lights went out. People started running down the bleachers in the dark, trying to get out.
"It was a gym full of screams," said team chaperone Ginny Grimes.
When it was over, Sadie said, there was only one thing she could do: "I started crying."
Jonathan Lettow was waiting with his 5-year-old daughter and other children for a school bus near their home in Wasilla when the quake struck. The children got on the ground while Lettow tried to keep them calm.
"It's one of those things where in your head, you think, 'OK, it's going to stop,' and you say that to yourself so many times in your head that finally you think, 'OK, maybe this isn't going to stop,'" he said.
Soon after the shaking ended, the school bus pulled up and the children boarded, but the driver stopped at a bridge and refused to go across because of deep cracks in the road, Lettow said.
At Chugiak High School, acting principal Allison Susel said ceiling tiles came down, books and other items fell from shelves, and water line breaks caused damage.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tweeted that her home was damaged: "Our family is intact — house is not. I imagine that's the case for many, many others." She posted a video of the inside of her parents' home, with broken dishes littering the kitchen floor. A large set of antlers appeared to have fallen off a wall of the living room.
Gov. Bill Walker issued a disaster declaration. He was in an elevator in a high-rise Anchorage office building and said it was a "rough ride" coming down. He described the quake as a 7.2, though it was unclear why his figure differed from that of the USGS.
Walker says it will take more than a week or two to repair roads damaged by the earthquake.
"This is much more significant than that," he told reporters at a news conference.
Walker leaves office on Monday, and he said members of Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy's staff had been involved with the earthquake response to ensure a smooth transition.
"This isn't a time to do anything other than take care of Alaskans, and that's what we're doing," he said.
In Kenai, southwest of Anchorage, Brandon Slaton was home alone and soaking in his bathtub when the earthquake struck. Slaton, who weighs 209 pounds, said it created a powerful back-and-forth sloshing that threw him out of the tub.
His 120-pound mastiff panicked and tried to run down the stairs, but the house was swaying so much that the dog was thrown into a wall and tumbled down the stairs, Slaton said.
Slaton ran into his son's room after the shaking stopped. The boy's fish was on the floor, gasping, its tank shattered. Slaton put the fish in a bowl.
"It was anarchy," he said. "There's no pictures left on the walls, there's no power, there's no fish tank left. Everything that's not tied down is broke."
Alaska was the site of the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the U.S. The 9.2-magnitude quake on March 27, 1964, was centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Anchorage. It and the tsunami it triggered claimed about 130 lives.
The state averages 40,000 earthquakes a year, with more large quakes than the 49 other states combined. Southern Alaska has a high risk of earthquakes because the Earth's plates slide past each other under the region.
Alaska has been hit by a number of powerful quakes over 7.0 in recent decades, including a 7.9 last January southeast of Kodiak Island. But it is rare for a quake this big to strike so close to such a heavily populated area.
David Harper was getting coffee at a store when the low rumble began and intensified into something that sounded "like the building was just going to fall apart." He ran for the exit with other patrons.
"People who were outside were actively hugging each other," he said. "You could tell that it was a bad one."
Washington, Nov 30 (AP/UNB) — Donald Trump for decades dreamed of building a Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow, a plan that flared and fizzled several times over the years, most recently when his presidential campaign was gaining momentum.
That last plan led Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen to plead guilty Thursday to a charge brought by the special prosecutor looking into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Cohen admitted he lied to Congress about key details in the negotiations for the Moscow tower, most notably that those talks stretched much deeper into the presidential campaign than previously thought, to June of 2016.
Trump, speaking to reporters Thursday, disputed Cohen's timeline and suggested his former fixer was telling prosecutors what they wanted to hear to save his own skin. As for why the most recent deal failed, Trump said he made the decision himself for one main reason.
"It was very simple," he said. "I was very focused on running for president."
Trump's plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow went back as far as 1996 when the future president paid a visit to the Russian capital to check out building sites on land being developed by a U.S. company.
That idea fell through, along with plans to revamp the dilapidated Hotel Moskva next to the Kremlin, but the real estate mogul raised the prospect of a "super-luxury residential tower" bearing his name on other sites he visited on his three-day stay in the city.
"Moscow is going to be huge," Trump told Playboy magazine in a 1997 interview.
Trump revived the idea in 2013 during his visit to Moscow as owner of the Miss Universe pageant. Trump later said he had discussed the idea with Aras and Emin Agalarov, a father-and-son Russian development team close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump reportedly scouted a potential site, but the idea again faded.
The tower idea came back yet again in October 2015, when Andrey Rozov, an obscure Russian real estate developer, signed a letter of intent sent by Cohen to advance the construction of a Trump World Tower that would feature 250 luxury condos, no fewer than 15 floors of hotel rooms, commercial and office space, a fitness center and an Ivanka Trump spa.
It was a potentially lucrative deal for Trump's company, handing it $4 million in upfront fees plus possibly millions more from a cut on everything from food and banquet fees to spa charges. His share on the first $100 million in condo sales alone would reach another $5 million.
Rozov's signed letter was sent back to Cohen by Felix Sater, another Trump world figure who had worked on and off for the Trump Organization and operated as a government informant following a 1998 conviction in a stock fraud case.
Sater sent Cohen an email expressing optimism: "Let's make this happen and build a Trump Moscow. And possibly fix relations between the countries by showing everyone that commerce and business are much better and more practical than politics."
Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump were copied in on emails about the project in late 2015, according to a person close to the Trump Organization. In one email, Ivanka Trump even suggested an architect for the building, the person said, noting the Trump Organization provided the emails to congressional committees. The company's email traffic about the project ends in January 2016, said the person, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Like the previous failed projects, the Rozov-helmed effort soon ran aground. According to Cohen's testimony in 2017 and his plea agreement, negotiations with Rozov's group stalled, and the two Trump associates turned to aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin to move the project forward.
Cohen told congressional investigators last year that he had sent an email in January 2016 to Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman. Cohen told the committee he never heard back from Peskov and the tower deal collapsed by the end of that month.
But according to Cohen's new statement to prosecutors, the tower deal remained viable as late as June 2016, after Trump had vanquished his Republican presidential rivals and was mounting his general election campaign against Hillary Clinton. Cohen said he kept Trump, named as "Individual 1" in the plea, updated about the deal's progress, and also "briefed family members of Individual 1 within the company about the project."
Cohen said in his plea that he also spoke by phone with an assistant to Peskov — identified in the plea as "Russian Official 1" — in January 2016 and outlined the project and "requested assistance in moving the project forward."
According to the plea, Cohen later discussed traveling to Moscow to jump-start the deal. In May 2016, a month after Trump had emerged the winner of the GOP primaries, Sater — identified as "Individual 2" — told Cohen that Peskov wanted to meet him in mid-June at an international business forum in St. Petersburg and "possibly introduce you" to Putin or Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
BuzzFeed News reported Thursday that Trump's company considered giving the Moscow tower's penthouse apartment to Putin. Sater told BuzzFeed: "My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin."
Sater and Cohen continued to email about the foundering project well into June 2016, soon after a much-scrutinized meeting at Trump Tower in New York between Trump's son Don Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign chairman Paul Manafort and several Russian attendees, purportedly to discuss the possibility of "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.
On June 14, Cohen met Sater in the tower lobby and told him his potential trip to St. Petersburg was off.
Thursday, Trump suggested his consideration of a Moscow tower was all part of being a businessman who was also running for president.
"I decided ultimately not to do it," he said. "There would be nothing wrong if I did do it."
"There was a good chance that I wouldn't have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?"
Washington, Nov 30 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump says he has asked Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to stay in the job through the 2020 election.
Trump is tweeting praise for McDaniel, saying she "oversaw history defying gains in the Senate and unprecedented fundraising strength."
Republicans gained two Senate seats in this month's midterm elections, but Democrats took control of the House.
It is unusual for a sitting president to add Senate seats in his first midterm election. But the Senate landscape in 2018 was difficult for Democrats, who were defending 10 seats in states Trump carried just two years ago.
Trump says he asked McDaniel to serve through 2020 "because there is no one better for the job!"
Washington, Nov 30 (AP/UNB) — Former FBI Director James Comey moved Thursday to block a subpoena from the Republican-led House of Representatives, saying the closed-door interview demanded by lawmakers would be selectively leaked for political purposes.
Comey was subpoenaed earlier this month by the House Judiciary Committee to discuss FBI actions and decisions in 2016, including the decision to not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server. The FBI also opened an investigation that year into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Comey, who has testified multiple times about both investigations on Capitol Hill, said last week that he would be happy to testify in a public hearing but would refuse to appear at a closed-door, private interview.
The interview had been scheduled for Monday, but Comey's lawyers asked a judge Thursday to put off his appearance and also to spike the subpoena.
As set forth in Comey's motion to quash the subpoena, his lawyers wrote, "Mr. Comey's testimony will be subject to selective leaking by members of the Judiciary Committee in furtherance of the Committee's abuse of these proceedings and harassment of witnesses who appear in closed-door depositions."
They said House committees had been leaking to "support a false political narrative, while subjecting the witnesses to a variety of abuse."
They attached a series of news articles about closed-door congressional interviews that they said had been based on leaks.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, who sent the subpoena, tweeted Thursday evening that Comey "believes he deserves special treatment, as he is the only witness refusing to either appear voluntarily or comply with a subpoena."
Goodlatte added, "What is Director Comey trying to hide from the American people with his baseless motion to quash?"