Nation briefs 06/06/03

Friday, June 6, 2003

R.I. commission votes for stronger fire safety laws

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A commission formed after a deadly nightclub fire voted Thursday to recommend a tougher state fire code with more stringent sprinkler requirements and a ban on pyrotechnics in smaller buildings.

The state panel also recommended giving local fire marshals more power and eliminating exemptions that allow owners of many older buildings to avoid installing sprinkler systems.

"We wanted to be the safest state in the country and this takes us there," said state Sen. John Celona, the commission co-chairman.

The blaze ripped through The Station nightclub in West Warwick on Feb. 20, killing 100 people and injuring nearly 200 others. The fire, in a decades-old building without sprinklers, was sparked by a band's pyrotechnic display.

The panel, formed to examine fire safety, must report its recommendations to lawmakers this week. State lawmakers this month are expected to approve all or most of the recommendations, which also have support from Gov. Don Carcieri.

Kansas police bureau apologizes for evidence mixup

TOPEKA, Kan. -- The Kansas Bureau of Investigation's director apologized for the agency's mishandling of evidence that let a man go free 12 years ago who now is charged in a string of rapes and a 2002 murder.

In a news conference Thursday, KBI Director Larry Welch said the apparent mislabeling of a blood sample belonging to Douglas S. Belt in October 1991 allowed him to go free in a rape case.

He added, "The even more terrible consequences are the later, additional crimes Mr. Belt has been charged with committing."

Belt, 42, is in jail on a charge of first-degree murder in the killing and decapitation of Lucille Gallegos, 43, at the Wichita apartment complex where she worked as a maid. She was slain in June 2002.

Since his arrest last November, Belt also has been charged with seven rapes that took place between 1989 and 1994 in four Kansas counties, and with a 1992 attack on a woman near Granite City, Ill.

Officials deny zoning change to Amish men

ZION, Pa. -- Officials rejected a request to change a local ordinance so two Amish men could keep horses on their rural central Pennsylvania property, meaning the men have less than a week to remove the animals or face fines of $100 a day.

The horses are an essential form of transportation for the Amish, who generally shun modern conveniences such as electricity, telephones and cars. Daniel King and Daniel Beiler said they use the horses to pull buggies.

"I ain't going to be able to live very long paying $100 a day," King, 26, said after Wednesday's vote by the Walker Township supervisors.

The men's attorney said they would appeal the ruling.

King and Beiler, 31, acknowledged knowing Walker Township had a zoning ordinance prohibiting horses when they bought the land. The township only allows horses on plots larger than two acres, and does not allow horses within villages or in areas zoned for multifamily residential use.

Killer, two other inmates escape from N.H. prison

CONCORD, N.H. -- A convicted killer and two other inmates were on the loose Thursday, a day after they cut through two fences topped with razor wire and escaped from a state prison, apparently with the help of a former inmate.

Police early Thursday tracked down a man they believe helped the three get away, but as officers tried to enter his motel room, he shot himself, authorities said. The man, identified as Shane Laslie, was in critical condition Thursday at a Boston hospital.

Laslie, 26, had been paroled from the same prison in January 2002 on a cocaine possession conviction, said Jeff Lyons, Corrections Department spokesman.

It wasn't immediately clear how he came under suspicion in Wednesday's jail escape.

-- From wire reports

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