California fire torches almost 20,000 acres, threatens thousands of homes

It's already torched more than 30 square miles, but a massive mountain fire in southern California is nowhere near under control. The blaze, near Idyllwild and Fern Valley, prompted an evacuation order for about 6,000 residents, Forest Service spokeswoman Melody Lardner said. More than 4,000 homes are threatened by the fire. (24379)
California fire torches almost 20,000 acres, threatens thousands of homes It’s already torched more than 30 square miles, but a massive mountain fire in southern California is nowhere near under […] Credit: Gina Genis Photography

Arizona

The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating dozens of racial profiling claims after it launched its smartphone app a month ago. The app allows people to report whether they believe they were victims of profiling because of SB 1070, which is the state’s immigration enforcement law. It’s called STOP 1070. On its first day, 1,600 people downloaded the app. A month later, more than 3,200 people had it on their phone. A social media expert said it is new mobile technology like the app that’s making it easier for people to get behind a cause. “We have a real problem with racial profiling in this state, and this county (Maricopa),” said ACLU Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler. The organization is now investigating 50 cases, 23 of them coming from the app submissions. The rest are from the ACLU website and hot line.

California

It’s already torched more than 35 square miles and the massive mountain fire in Southern California is nowhere near being under control. The blaze, near Idyllwild and Fern Valley, prompted an evacuation order for about 6,000 residents, fire officials said. More than 4,000 homes are threatened by the fire. As of Thursday morning, the inferno was about 15 percent contained. It has burned 22,800 acres—up from the nearly 20,000 acres reported Wednesday night, officials said. About 3,000 fire personnel were at the scene, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Melody Lardner said. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries on Wednesday. At least eight structures have been damaged or destroyed in the blaze.

Connecticut

A dean at one of the most prestigious boys schools in the country is preparing to face felony drug charges. Regis High School Dean of Students Nicholas deSpoelburch was found with three envelopes of heroin in his car, as well as drug paraphernalia, according to Fairfield County police. The dean, 35, was arrested more than a week ago. Lt. Donald Wakeman, the ranking detective, told PIX11 News that an officer, while on a routine patrol, spotted deSpoelburch’s car parked at the end of a short, deserted roadway, just off busy Route 7. The officer found the dean asleep in the front seat of the car, and woke him up. “He told the officer that he had some prescription drugs that were not in their original containers,” as required by Connecticut law, Wakeman said. That violation permitted the officer to search deSpoelburch’s Nissan Altima, in which he found the heroin and other evidence that strongly suggested, according to police, that the high school administrator had been using, or intended to use, the addictive drug.

Indiana

Officials stopped a teen from setting off a homemade explosive device at the Laporte County Fair last week. The plan was thwarted with the help of two tipsters. One called 911 and the other gave sheriff’s deputies at the fairgrounds a description of the teen. Within minutes he was located. And while he was being searched, police say another 16-year-old, who apparently didn’t know about the device, became disruptive and kicked a deputy. That second teen was pepper-sprayed and arrested as well. “He just decided to intervene and help this individual out. I guess he thought police were harassing this individual,” a deputy said. The device was quickly moved to a less populated area, and the Porter County bomb squad took it apart. Another 16-year-old was later arrested at his home and charged with manufacturing the device, possibly, authorities say, with help from websites like YouTube. The teen who planned to set off the explosion was charged with possession of the device. And a third was charged with battery to a police officer, and resisting arrest. All three teens are from Laporte County. The manager of the fair expressed gratitude that what could have happened didn’t, thanks to the people who spoke up and the deputies who acted quickly.

Kansas

Four former bank employees are charged with embezzling from a bank in Grant County and staging a robbery to cover the thefts, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said. The former employees of Western State Bank in Ulysses were charged in a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday. The defendants are Amber Gutierrez, 32, Hattie Wiginton, 32, Ashley Cravens, 28, and Linda Wise, 59. They were are charged with embezzlement by a bank employee, bank robbery, and making a false statement to the FBI. If convicted, they face maximum penalties of 5 to 30 years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000, depending on the crime.

Louisiana

A man has admitted he killed his uncle’s 6-year-old stepdaughter, whose body was found in a Louisiana trash can this week, a spokesman for the Jefferson Parish sheriff’s office said recently. Matthew Flugence admitted to detectives Wednesday morning that he stabbed Ahlittia North, a girl he previously baby-sat, over the weekend, Col. John Fortunato said. Flugence, 20, was arrested in the case on Tuesday, the day authorities found Ahlittia’s body in a trash can down the street from her mother and stepfather’s apartment in the New Orleans suburb of Harvey. Flugence, who had an outstanding warrant charging him with sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl last year, has been charged with murder, Fortunato said. “I don’t know what else I can say about the character of an individual who just admitted to killing a 6-year-old,” Sheriff Newell Normand told reporters Wednesday morning when asked about Flugence’s background. “I think that speaks for itself.”

Massachusetts

A man who’d been prepared to testify in the trial of reputed Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger was found dead a day after he learned he was dropped from the prosecution’s witness list. Massachusetts State Police are investigating the death of Stephen Rakes, 59, the Middlesex County district attorney’s office said Thursday. A jogger reported finding Rakes’ body in Lincoln. There were no obvious signs of trauma, the office said. An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause and manner of death. Bulger is charged in the deaths of 19 people during some two decades when prosecutors say he terrorized South Boston as the head of the Irish mob. He also faces charges of extortion, racketeering and money laundering. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Rakes had alleged that Bulger forced him to sell his South Boston liquor store to him in the 1980s. Steve Davis, a brother of one of Bulger’s alleged murder victims and a friend of Rakes, said, “I was upset for him . . . because he was looking forward to testifying.” Davis said he’d become close to Rakes in the months leading to Bulger’s trial, which began in June.

Ohio

A Cleveland man accused of murder, rape and holding three women captive for about a decade in his home pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the 977 counts against him. Ariel Castro’s plea is his second in a month, necessitated by a fresh indictment issued by a grand jury last week. The indictment added 648 counts to the 329 to which he pleaded not guilty in June. Authorities said Castro abducted Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina “Gina” DeJesus separately in a two-year period starting in 2002. The women, as well as Berry’s 6-year-old daughter, who authorities say was fathered by Castro, were freed in May after one of the women shouted for help while Castro was away from his 1,400-square-foot home. The judge on Wednesday ordered that bail remain at $8 million and that a previous order prohibiting Castro from contacting his alleged victims remain in place. Castro, a former school bus driver, is awaiting trial in a Cleveland jail.

Compiled by Juliana Norwood. CNN News Wire contributed to this report.