Substance Abuse Counselor Convicted In Bizarre DUI Death

February 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

A substance abuse counselor who “mowed” down a man with her car in Torrance after drinking alcohol, then drove more than two miles with him embedded in the windshield, was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder, two counts of DUI and hit and run.

Sherri Lynn Wilkins’ attorney had contended that the victim jumped on Wilkins’ car and she “panicked,” but was not impaired.

Sentencing for Wilkins, 52, was set for March 26.

Authorities said Wilkins struck Moreno on Torrance Boulevard near Madrid Avenue on Nov. 24, 2012, and drove 2.2 miles with Moreno embedded in the windshield of her car before another motorist directed her to pull over.

Wilkins smoked a cigarette as bystanders tried to help the injured man when she eventually stopped her Mitsubishi Eclipse at Crenshaw Boulevard and 182nd Street, Deputy District Attorney Saman Ahmadpour said.

The 31-year-old Torrance resident later died at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

“This was not an accident, ladies and gentlemen. … This was murder,” Ahmadpour told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury in closing arguments of Wilkins’ trial.

“She didn’t just come across Phillip Moreno. She mowed him down,” the prosecutor said. “She knocked him out of his pants. She knocked him out of his shoes.”

The prosecutor told jurors that Wilkins took Moreno as he was “stuck on her windshield for over two miles trying to get home,” arguing that the Torrance woman failed to immediately stop to check on his welfare or to notify authorities what had happened and swerved her car to try to “shake him off.”

“She was clearly intoxicated that evening,” Ahmadpour argued.

Defense attorney Nan Whitfield, however, described Moreno as being drunk, and said her client “did not strike” the man.

“A naked man 20 years her junior jumped on her car. That’s the bottom line …,” Wilkins’ lawyer told jurors. “She was panicked, panicked.”

Whitfield challenged the allegation that her client was drunk at the time, saying alcohol she drank just before getting behind the wheel had not yet gotten into her system and impaired her driving ability. A blood sample that reflected a 0.15 percent blood-alcohol content was taken about 1 1/2 hours after the collision.

“She is not guilty of any of these offenses,” the defense attorney told jurors.

Outside court after the verdict, Whitfield said, “I think it was an outrage. I think it’ll be back on appeal.”

Harlan said the case was a “complete tragedy” that was “preventable.”

“I think the jury properly condemned that conduct …,” he said. “She could have stopped when he was in her windshield.”

House Republicans Release Standards For Immigration Reform

February 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

House Republicans last week released a list of requirements they say demonstrates their interest in reaching an agreement soon on immigration reform.

The “Standards for Immigration Reform” are the result of a debate within GOP, and are designed to serve as the guiding principles for conservatives to use to negotiate with Democrats.

Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida assured that immigration reform is a “priority” not only within his party but for the country in general. He said the current system is not good for the U.S. economy.

In a statement released last Friday, the Cuban-American legislator expressed the importance of bringing about immigration reform, and said it is “reckless to continue accepting the status quo.”

He said, “knowing that we have millions of undocumented immigrants in the shadows,” it’s “unacceptable’ to “continue providing amnesty ‘de jure’.”

Diaz-Balart said he has worked tirelessly with his colleagues to find a solution that will work to secure our borders and revitalize the American economy, and respect the rule of the law while still keeping immigrant families together.

For her part, Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the current immigration system “dysfunctional” and said it needs to be fixed; “the sooner, the better.”

Ros-Lehtinen appeared optimistic about the objective to achieve immigration reform this year.

She told Efe hearing her Republican colleagues talk about how to develop and advance a strategy has her in “especially high spirits.”

For the congresswoman, “fundamental to the debate is that we take measures to make sure we do not confront the same situation in the future,” and to better “the situation of millions of people that live with the fear of being deported.”

North Carolina Congressman Robert Pittenger, however,  said before anything else can be done, the country’s borders must first be secured. “This is a basic national security issue, as it is critical we know who is in our country,” he said in written statement.

“After the borders are secured and we stem the tide of illegal immigrants, further reform becomes easier to implement,’ he stated.

Pittenger said immigration reform is a complex issue, however, “it is critical we carefully consider the options and avoid unintended consequences,” he said, referring to legislation that only a “few read and less understand.”

While the draft standards released last week do not outline a pathway to citizenship, they do recognize the plight of young people brought to the country illegally:

“One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, those who know no other place as home. For those who meet certain eligibility standards, and serve honorably in our military or attain a college degree, we will do just that.”

Republicans, however, have also expressed skepticism that President Obama can be trusted on the issue.

And according to some GOP legislators, there was a visible division within the Republican Party as to whether they should continue with the legislation during am election year.

Some of the GOP’s more conservative members, like Steve King from Iowa, said the Party shouldn’t do anything to move immigration reform forward.

The released standards support the legalization of undocumented immigrants, but only after they meet certain requirements and after there has been put in place mechanisms to fulfill very specific conditions.

In a phone interview with a media outlet, Diaz-Balart affirmed that “the biggest problem” expressed by Republicans is distrust of President Obama.

Speaking on his behalf, President Obama said very clearly last Friday that in “any scenario” undocumented immigrants should have access to a path to citizenship, because he doesn’t want a situation where there are “two classes” of people in the country.

Editorial Cartoon

February 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

PL-unnaffordable-health-care-act-cartoon

America the Beautiful for the 21st Century

February 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

During this year’s Super Bowl, Coca-Cola debuted a 60-second commercial paying tribute to the diversity of our nation. Coke’s “It’s Beautiful” ad featured expansive scenes of the country and shots of a wide variety of real people. Some of them were enjoying a Coke.

It was set to “America the Beautiful” — as sung in seven different languages, including English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Hindi.

This commercial generated a profoundly negative response among conservative commentators. They reacted with hostility, fear, and even bigotry. To their discredit, these commentators revealed not only their ignorance — but also a willful refusal to accept the reality of America in the 21st century.

On his radio show, Glenn Beck termed the ad “in your face,” and an attempt to “divide people.” This is quite ironic, considering that only weeks ago Beck admitted that his Fox News program was itself divisive.

“I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart,” he said. He’s right about that. His conspiracy theories, “birther” comments, and demagoguery were a far more corrosive influence on American society than any commercial ever could be.

Former Rep. Allen West also took offense at the Coke commercial.

“If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing “American the Beautiful” [sic] in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come — doggone we are on the road to perdition,” the Florida Republican wrote on his website.

Even though West gets the name of the song wrong, that does not stop the tea-partying politician from calling the spot “truly disturbing.” As a self-styled “Guardian of the Republic,” West might be surprised to know that our country doesn’t have an official language and that the Census Bureau reports that 381 languages are commonly spoken within our borders.

Then there’s Todd Starnes, who tweeted “Couldn’t make out that song they were singing. I only speak English.” The Fox Radio host went on to wonder, “So was Coca-Cola saying America is beautiful because new immigrants don’t learn to speak English?”

Apparently these conservatives need a decoder for this commercial. “With ‘It’s Beautiful,’ we are simply showing that America is beautiful and Coke is for everyone,” explained Katie Bayne, President of North American Brands for Coca-Cola in a statement.

By the way, new immigrants do learn English. Consider a 2012 study by the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project that looked at language use among Latino immigrants.

While the first generation is usually only proficient in Spanish, by the second generation, the use of Spanish falls as the use of English rises. By the third generation, English is the dominant language. A separate study last year by University of Wisconsin researchers found that Latino immigrants are learning English faster than previous groups of immigrants.

It’s sad that Beck, West, Starnes and other conservative commentators don’t appreciate the richness of our multicultural society.

The fact is that our country has always been multilingual. There are 169 Native North American languages that are still spoken today, linguist Nataly Kelly notes at The Huffington Post, and several of the Founding Fathers spoke languages besides English, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe.

Today, 60 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. This year, for the first time, the Super Bowl was also televised in Spanish. So Coke’s commercial truly reflects our nation’s past, present, and future. What’s wrong with that?

Coca-Cola deserves praise for its inclusive Super Bowl commercial. And critics of the ad ought to think about the motto on the Great Seal of the United States: E pluribus unum. It means “Out of many, one” — and it’s in Latin.

 

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City. Distributed via OtherWords.org.

 

Time to Invest In Future Environmental Voters of Color

February 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Campaign for Communities, which created a coalition of Latino, African American, low-income and environmental organizations working to educate, register and turn out voters using environmental issues as motivation. During the 2004 and 2008 election cycles, we registered hundreds of thousands of voters and turned out more — all of whom were educated as to how their health was at risk from environmental issues and how to analyze candidates’ records. Most recently, we conducted an on-the-ground Latino voter education/registration/turnout on California’s Prop. 39, which passed handily and with no small credit going to Latinos, African Americans and other minorities who voted in higher numbers than whites.

 

Our initial effort was a breakthrough. Before then, no coalition of national black, brown and environmental groups had ever been formed to work on voter education. At the time, few Latino or African American organizations were singularly focused on environmental issues. While minority-led environmental justice groups had long existed, most were focused on environmental health issues. None were focused on voter education and making the environment a major voting issue.

When we began, we suffered no illusions. We knew that jobs, education, immigration and other issues would initially trump environment, an issue never fully translated to minority populations. Our initial attempts to create environmental educational materials that would resonate with minority voters produced limited results. But we found common ground and our coalition produced long-term friendships and shared history.

 

At first, there wasn’t much polling on how Latinos or African Americans would vote on environmental issues or whether they would vote for candidates based on environmental records. Little money was being spent on minority voter persuasion regarding environmental issues — odd, given the disproportionate impact environmental issues have had on minority and poor communities and how easy it would have been to make that case. Never mind that census data made it clear that in many states, minorities would soon be in the majority or in election-significant numbers and therefore worth long-term investment.

 

For 10 years, minorities have repeatedly proved themselves reliable voters for health, environment and infrastructure investment initiatives and for candidates who support them. Across the spectrum of issues, Latinos and African Americans vote in higher percentages that their white counterparts for environmental initiatives and for green candidates.

Beyond consistent pro-environment voting, African American, Latino and other organizations now include environment and environmental health-related issues. Some polls indicate that minority voters’ concern about climate change is almost double that of whites. Minority-rights-focused organizations now invest in environmental staff; training young environmental scientists, conducting their own research on climate issues; fighting for their fair share of the green jobs market; and playing an important role in solar energy investments in their communities.

Despite these pro-environment voter statistics and community environmental programs, year-round investment in educating and turning minority voters into permanent climate/environment voters still lags behind investments in other demographics. While large-scale voter registration efforts always materialize during major election cycles, few leave a permanent infrastructure behind. And with few exceptions, none are focused on creating permanent active environment voters.

 

While there have been advancements in strengthening relationships between environmental and civil rights organizations, creating a vibrant, diversified climate or environmental voter constituency requires continual investment in voter registration and education. Environment and climate issues are key concerns for both minority and youth voters. Give them a green reason to vote and they will turn out.

Beyond this voter engagement investment, building a permanent minority-owned and environment-focused infrastructure in communities of color will embolden community leaders and officials to take more leadership in the climate change movement. Certainly, communities of color have been and will continue to be more adversely affected by climate disasters than other demographics, so building a constituency that can respond to climate disasters is a key to building resilient communities.

Low-income communities are anxious to invest in efficiency and renewable energy programs, but are stymied for a number of reasons, including financing, access and other factors.  For example, while solar rooftops have grown exponentially in southern California, FICO credit score requirements exclude many low-income families, and even if they qualify, their smaller homes are not given priority by private sector installers. These types of issues exist nationwide and need to be solved.

 

Finally, building a permanent integrated environmental/climate movement requires investment in the next generation of green voters, including supporting minority and low-income students to enter the green technology and STEM fields. Finally, investment in low-income schools through greening and efficiency projects, and requiring core curriculum compatible environmental and civic education will keep the movement growing.

Investment in minority and low-income voters has produced stunning environmental voter conversion rates despite low investment in voter education and infrastructure development.  With 2014 environmental initiatives on the horizon, building an environmental voting bloc should be our highest priority.

 

Kathleen Rogers, president, Earth Day Network; Greg Moore, executive director of the NAACP National Voter Fund and Antonio Gonzales is president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP). SVREP, founded in 1974, is the largest and oldest nonpartisan Latino voter organization. 

 

L.A. Should Share Sidewalk Repair Cost, Councilman Says

February 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

With nearly half of its sidewalks still in disrepair, the city should begin shouldering some of the costs of fixing broken walkways alongside commercial properties, a Los Angeles city councilman said Tuesday.

Property owners would pay 50-75 percent of the costs, while the city would cover the rest, according to Councilman Bob Blumenfield’s proposed motion.

The idea revives a similar program, which ended in 2009, that split sidewalk repair costs evenly between the city and property owners, with the city’s Bureau of Street Services doing all of the repair work.

The new program would be restricted to commercial areas such as “pedestrian corridors, transit routes and transit hubs,” and offer an incentive by reducing the property owners’ share of the costs depending on how quickly they act, according to Blumenfield.

“We need to take swift action to upgrade our sidewalks, which will encourage people to get out and walk, visit our local restaurants and businesses and improve streetscapes to help revitalize our neighborhoods,” Blumenfield wrote.

Under his motion, the Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Street Services would be instructed to develop a pilot program and incentive plan.

According to the city attorney, the burden is on property owners to repair broken sidewalks, but “confusion” about who bears responsibility persists, according to Blumenfield’s motion.

About 4,620 miles, or 40 percent of the city’s 10,750 miles of sidewalks, need fixing, with much of the damage caused by overgrown tree roots, according to the motion.

In 1973, the city stopped assessing property owners for repair costs on sidewalks eroded by tree roots, but has gone ahead and fixed some sidewalks, which has contributed to some of the confusion and resulting lack of action on repairs, the councilman’s motion says.

Supervisors Delay Funding for Child Welfare Reforms

February 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to wait until April, when a child welfare commission will issue its final report, before committing dollars to reforms of what the panel has called the “dysfunctional county child protection system.”

The commission had pushed for “immediate implementation” of 10 preliminary recommendations detailed in its Dec. 30 interim report.

“It would be unconscionable to unearth issues that the county could address immediately that could improve child safety and not bring those findings to the board,” the panel’s co-executive director, Cheryl Grills, told the supervisors.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas urged his colleagues to support a recommendation to medically pre-screen every child under 12 months old detained by the county’s child welfare agency before placing them in a foster home or group home.

About 170 children per month under the age of 1 are taken from their families due to reports of neglect or abuse, according to a Department of Health Services representative. Children at that age are at a critical developmental stage and at the highest risk of dying as a result of abuse, according to the commission’s report.

“The question is: shall we wait until another child is put at risk?”, Ridley-Thomas said.

But Supervisor Don Knabe argued that the county would be unable to pay for every change the commission would ultimately suggest and shouldn’t set priorities without seeing a final report.

“This is a commission that will be coming back with beaucoup recommendations, all of which we’ll probably think are good,” Knabe said.

The costs associated with those reforms could total tens of millions of dollars, said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

“We shouldn’t pull the trigger on any recommendation before we see the whole package,” Yaroslavsky said.

Ridley-Thomas argued that two of the suggested reforms would cost nothing: a protocol for ensuring that every child abuse allegation is reported in an electronic database, and staffing probation officers in DCFS offices to help with background checks of potential foster families.

The board agreed to both of those recommendations, asking for a report back on implementation in 45 days.

The discussion highlighted problems with funding services and coordinating work across all the departments responsible for child welfare, each of which is subject to different federal and state requirements.

For example, the county’s public health nurses cannot easily be recruited to help DCFS nurses investigate child abuse, according to the directors of both those departments.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich urged the departments to bring those issues to the board so that county lobbyists could push for legislative changes.

Supervisor Gloria Molina said such problems are pervasive.

“You’ve just hit on the largest problem this county and every county has,” Molina said.

She urged the commission to consider those restrictions when crafting its final recommendations.

She urged the commission to consider those restrictions when crafting its final recommendations.

Early Education Center Opens In East Los Angeles

February 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

4th street school

The ceremonial ribbon for a new center in East Los Angeles focused on providing early childhood education services was cut Tuesday by Los Angeles Unified School District officials, who were joined by other special guests, students, parents and staff.

The  “4th Street Early Education Center” is located on the 4th Street Elementary School campus, and was built with funds from LAUSD‘s $19.5 billion New School Construction and Modernization Program.

“Today’s ribbon cutting signifies another investment in our children and their future, especially here in East Los Angeles,” said former US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who is a candidate for termed-out Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s district seat, which includes East LA.

Board Member Monica Garcia, who represents the district where the school is located, officially welcomed the center, and said “the Class of 2028” now has “beautiful classrooms and a nature garden [where they can] learn, grow and play.”

Vernon Police Launches Online Crime Reporting

February 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

With just a few strokes on a keyboard, Vernon residents and others in the city can now file crime reports online, the city’s police department has announced.

The Vernon Police Department’s online crime reporting system is the only system of its kind in the Southeast region, according to police.

The types of crimes that can be filed through the online service, however, are restricted to those where there is no suspect information available. Minor crimes, such as petty theft, hit and run traffic accidents, identity theft, lost property, vandalism or harassing phone calls may be reported through the system, according to Police Chief Daniel Calleros.

“It’s a very user friendly system,” explained Calleros at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

The new crime-fighting tool will allow people to conveniently report certain types of crime from their home, work or anywhere they have Internet access, the police chief said.

Unlike other online police reporting systems that require police personnel to take the data reported by crime victims and re-enter into another system, Vernon’s system is able to import the information directly from the victim’s online report and include it in the department’s record system.

Only crimes that occur within city limits can be reported online. If the crime occurred on the freeway or involves the theft of a vehicle or license plate, the victim must report it directly to the California Highway Patrol or the Vernon Police Department, respectively.

“The system is set up so that the [report is only submitted] after all the information is filled out correctly,” Calleros said.

Once the receiving sergeant approves the report, the user will receive a confirmation email with a report number.

In the case of crimes where the victim(s) have information about the suspect, such as their name, address or license plate number, a report should be made directly to the city’s police department, in person or by calling (323) 587-5171.

 For more information or to access the online police reporting visit, www.cityofvernon.org/departments/police-department/308-online-police-reporting.

 

Pedestrian Struck in Boyle Heights Crosswalk

February 6, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

 A pedestrian was hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday after a hit and run accident in Boyle Heights, police said.

Edward Nix, 54, of Los Angeles, was struck by a red Honda van traveling eastbound in the 2800 block of East Olympic Boulevard around 5:55 p.m. Monday, said Detective Felix Padilla of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Central Traffic Division.

Padilla said the victim was crossing Olympic in a marked crosswalk.

There was no description of the suspected driver, Padilla said, but there was footage of the vehicle, taken just before the accident, he said.

The victim was hospitalized with severe head injuries, Padilla said.

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