Fort Lauderdale, Jan 4 (AP/UNB) — Two big rigs and two passenger vehicles collided and spilled diesel fuel across a Florida highway Thursday, sparking a massive fire that killed seven people, authorities said.
The wreck happened on Interstate 75 about a mile (1.6 kilometers) south of Alachua, near Gainesville. The flames were fed by about 50 gallons (189 liters) of diesel, authorities said.
Several others were taken to the hospital, some with critical injuries, the Gainesville Sun reported. Authorities initially said six had died but late Thursday night revealed a seventh victim had perished.
Emergency crews extinguished the fire and said they were treating the crash as a homicide investigation, but didn't say why. The fire was so intense that authorities said it damaged parts of the road.
A spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol told The Associated Press in a phone interview that their top priorities were to conduct a thorough investigation and to identify the deceased victims.
"There's going to be families that need to be notified that their loves ones have perished," said Lieutenant Patrick Riordan.
It's unclear whether the victims were killed in the wreck or whether they burned in the fire, which would make identification more difficult, he said.
The aftermath closed part of the highway in both directions, causing massive delays.
The crash was in the northbound lanes, but southbound lanes were closed for hours to keep a route open for first responders, according to a tweet from the Alachua County Sherriff's office, which said the emergency "required all hands on deck." Authorities opened the northbound lanes around 8 p.m. but said southbound lanes could be closed until morning.
Debris including personal property and vehicle parts was scattered across the road, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
A helicopter arrived to search for any victims who may have been in nearby woods.
Washington, Jan 3 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he has received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and will be setting up a meeting with Kim "in the not-too-distant future" to restart talks about the North's nuclear programs.
"He'd like to meet. I'd like to meet," Trump said as he held up the letter during a Cabinet meeting.
Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted: "Kim Jong Un says North Korea will not make or test nuclear weapons, or give them to others — & he is ready to meet President Trump anytime."
Kim has met several times with the leader of South Korea and attended a summit in Singapore with Trump in June. Kim has signed vague statements pledging a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but has not described how and when that might occur.
In a New Year's message, Kim hinted at a possible cap on nuclear weapons production if the U.S. took equivalent steps. He did not elaborate. He also stood by his commitment on denuclearization, which does not mean the unilateral ridding of the North's arsenal. Both areas need to be further clarified in negotiations.
Kim sees such weapons as a valuable deterrent to a possible U.S. military strike. He also believes his weapons put him in a position of strength from which he can make demands and extract concessions.
The message he is conveying to Trump is for the American leader to start addressing his concerns about security and easing sanctions or the North Korean will have no choice but to try a different, less-friendly approach. Kim is warning that he will be able to make a case to China, Russia and possibly even South Korea that if the situation deteriorates, Washington will be to blame.
During the Cabinet meeting, Trump lamented that he's not been given enough credit for opening a dialogue with North Korea. Trump said his engagement with North Korea helped stave off what he said "could have been World War III."
But he and Kim spent most of 2017 exchanging personal insults and war threats before agreeing to their meeting in Singapore.
"You know, frankly, if this administration didn't take place, if another administration came in instead of this administration ... you'd be at war right now," he told reporters. "You'd be having a nice, big fat war in Asia. And it wouldn't be pleasant."
Before Trump took office, the United States engaged in four major negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, stretching from the mid-1990s to about 2012. All were aimed at getting North Korea to halt or disable its nuclear missile programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic concessions.
Trump also said North Korea has tremendous economic potential so he looked forward to meeting again with Kim. "We'll set that up," he said. "We'll be setting that up in the not too distant future."
Concord, Jan 3 (AP/UNB) — New Hampshire Democrats asserted their newly acquired power at the Statehouse on Wednesday by restoring a ban on guns and other deadly weapons on the House floor.
For the last decade, rules on allowing guns in Representatives Hall, including the anteroom and public gallery overlooking it, have flipped back and forth depending on which party held the majority. After four years in the minority, Democrats regained control of the House in November, and one of their first actions was to restore the rule Republicans had thrown out in 2015.
The 220-163 vote largely followed party lines, with only four Democrats voting against the ban. One Republican voted for it.
"This is an issue of gun safety and public safety," said Majority Leader Douglas Ley, Democrat, of Jaffrey. "We don't want to wait, as has been suggested, until there is a problem because if we do that, we are waiting until there is a tragedy."
Supporters of the ban called it common sense, given that children frequently visit the Statehouse. They cited two recent incidents as cause for concern: A House lawmaker dropped a loaded revolver onto the floor as she arrived late to a committee hearing in 2017, and another lawmaker dropped his handgun at a hearing in 2012. Neither weapon discharged. Neither is currently in the House.
Republican Rep. John Burt, of Goffstown, said banning guns was as absurd as banning women or minorities would be, and said the House doesn't have the authority to turn its chamber into "some kind of Constitution-free zone." After receiving five death threats in his four terms, Burt said he will continue exercising what he called his God-given right to carry a gun, despite the vote.
"I want to make sure every crazy nut out there that loves to go to these gun-free zones and do their killing understand one thing: I, Rep. John Burt of Goffstown, will not be a victim in my House, the people's house, because you guys have the majority," he said.
The first ban on weapons in the House was enacted in 1971. It was requested by a Republican House speaker after a fellow lawmaker threatened to shoot him, said Rep. Timothy Smith, Democrat, of Manchester.
"I would submit, Mr. Speaker, that if there is a threat of gun violence in this chamber, that threat does not come from a nut in the gallery," Smith said. He later apologized, saying he did not mean to suggest any of his colleagues were "nuts."
Several female lawmakers expressed concern about being unprotected if they leave their guns at home or having them stolen if they store them in their cars while at the Statehouse. Under the rule, Statehouse security officers would provide secure storage for weapons.
"Why are you choosing to leave me defenseless?" asked Rep. Kimberly Rice, a Republican, of Hudson. "Let's be honest. Violence against elected officials is on the increase, yet you chose to leave us defenseless."
About 50 opponents of the ban gathered outside the Statehouse in 20-degree-Fahrenheit (minus 7-degree Celsius) weather before the vote. One man wearing a tri-corner hat and a gun on each hip carried a sign that read, "Keep Calm and Carry," on one side. The other side said: "Ban Idiots, Not Guns."
Tijuana, Jan 3 (AP/UNB) — Just after people raised their glasses to ring in the New Year, about 150 migrants gathered at a section of border wall in Tijuana to try to cross into the United States, many of them asylum seekers fed up with the long wait to have their claims processed.
On the other side, U.S. Border Patrol agents wearing camouflage and night-vision goggles and carrying assault-style rifles yelled, "Don't jump. It's dangerous. Get back!" in Spanish. American activists accompanying the migrants shouted at agents in English not to fire tear gas because children were present.
Several migrants tried to climb the metal wall, prompting agents to fire the first volley of tear gas. When migrants approached the wall again, authorities fired a second round and then a third.
The migrants fled, screaming, crying and coughing. One mother was hysterical after briefly losing her children in the thick smoke and darkness.
"The children were crying," said Jose Fajardo Anariba, 16, from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. "They couldn't tolerate it."
Tuesday's confrontation was at least the second time in a little over a month that U.S. authorities have fired tear gas into Tijuana. The action drew sharp criticism from politicians and activists on both sides of the border and raised questions about the use of force against migrants.
Instead of offering the asylum seekers protection, "border agents are firing tear gas at vulnerable families with children," Andrea Guerrero, head of the advocacy group, Alliance San Diego, said in a statement.
At a Cabinet meeting Wednesday at the White House, President Donald Trump said the clash showed that "people tried to charge the border and couldn't." With a complete wall, no one could enter unless that person was a "champion pole vaulter."
He described the border as being "like a sieve" and noted that the tear gas was "flying" to deter the migrants and added that it's "very tough" to keep immigrants out.
Trump was making his case for $5.6 billion from Congress for a wall at the border and vowing that the partial government shutdown now in its 12th day will last "as long as it takes" to get the money.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said tear gas, pepper spray and smoke were used to target rock throwers, not the migrants who were trying to cross. The agency said it could not help small children who were being passed over the concertina wire from getting hurt because of the rocks being thrown.
Several teenagers, wrapped in heavy jackets, blankets and rubber mats, were also put over the concertina wire.
An Associated Press photographer saw rocks thrown only after U.S. agents fired the tear gas. Customs and Border Protection said the incident would be reviewed to ensure compliance with the agency's use-of-force policy.
The agency said 25 migrants were detained while others crawled back into Mexico through a hole under the fence. An AP photographer saw migrants put their hands up or behind their heads once they crossed the border as agents approached.
Anariba said he would try to climb the border wall again. His mother was killed in Honduras, and he has nothing in his homeland, he said.
Since a caravan of Central Americans arrived in Tijuana last month after walking, hitchhiking and taking buses across Mexico, daily apprehensions in the San Diego sector have jumped about 45 percent. Agents are now detaining about 150 migrants a day, compared with about 105 daily in 2018, authorities said.
Many of the migrants are waiting in Tijuana for a chance to apply for asylum in the U.S., but there was a backlog of more than 3,000 names at the San Diego crossing before the caravan's arrival.
A few have found jobs in Mexico and tried to settle there. But thousands are still camped in a concert hall in Tijuana, growing increasingly frustrated at the long wait to apply for asylum.
On Nov. 26, U.S. agents launched tear gas across the border after some migrants tried to breach the border following a peaceful march in Tijuana. The march was to demand U.S. authorities accelerate the asylum process.
U.S. officials are processing fewer than 100 claims a day at the San Diego crossing, the nation's busiest.
Use of force by Customs and Border Protection has declined from a high during the 2013 budget year, when firearms were used 45 times compared with 14 times during the first 11 months of 2018, government statistics show. Since then officers have been trained to use less lethal methods such as batons, pepper spray and tear gas.
The data includes Border Patrol agents who patrol between the ports of entry and officers who police border crossings. The latest figures, which do not include this month's incidents, also show a dramatic drop in the use of less-lethal methods compared with 2013.
Seattle, Jan 2 (AP/UNB) — Washington on Tuesday joined a handful of other states that ban anyone under 21 from buying a semi-automatic assault rifle after voters passed a sweeping firearms measure in November that has drawn a court challenge from gun-rights advocates.
The ballot initiative seeks to curb gun violence by toughening background checks for people buying assault rifles, increasing the age limit to buy those firearms and requiring the safe storage of all guns. Only the age-limit portion of the measure goes into effect on Jan. 1; the rest becomes law on July 1.
Kristen Ellingboe, a spokeswoman for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said the initiative was one of the most comprehensive gun-violence prevention measures to pass in the United States. It specifically targeted "semi-automatic assault rifles" in response to mass shootings across the country, she said.
"We've seen that assault rifles are the weapon of choice for mass shootings, and when they're used, more people are killed and injured," Ellingboe said.
Fifty-nine percent of Washington voters approved Initiative 1639 in the Nov. 6 general election.
"We've see time and again that Washington voters want action to prevent gun violence in our state," Ellingboe said. "They showed that again by supporting 1639 by a wide margin."
Opponents have sued to block it.
"Starting today, young adults between the ages of 18 to 20 will have their rights to purchase semi-automatic rifles stripped away," said Dave Workman, a spokesman for the Bellevue, Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation.
The federal lawsuit says the measure violates the Second and 14th amendments of the Constitution as well as gun sellers' rights under the Commerce Clause. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are firearms dealers in Spokane and Vancouver, a 19-year-old competitive shooter, a 19-year-old in the Army Reserves, a 20-year-old recreational shooter, the Second Amendment Foundation and the National Rifle Association.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he "looks forward to representing the people of the state of Washington in court against the NRA."
"The gun lobby is trying to thwart the will of nearly 60 percent of Washingtonian voters who supported common sense gun reform in our state," he said in an email.
The full measure, when it goes into effect later this year, will expand the background check process to ensure that vetting for rifle purchases is the same as for buying pistols.
Now, people in Washington who buy long guns are run through the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Background checks for handgun sales are done by local law enforcement agencies that can access NICS as well as more detailed records that might expose mental health issues or harder-to-find criminal records. And you must be 21 to purchase a pistol.
"This will update Washington state law so the requirements to purchase semi-automatic assault rifle will match handguns," Ellingboe said.
In most states, including over the border in Idaho and Oregon, you must be 18 to buy an assault rifle. But Republican-dominant Florida passed a law after a school shooting to increase the age limit to 21.
Nikolas Cruz was 18 when he legally bought the assault rifle he used to kill 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last February.
Four other states — Hawaii, Illinois, Vermont and New York — also prohibit anyone under 21 from buying all firearms.
Workman of Second Amendment Foundation says Washington's measure will take away firearms from law-abiding residents who can easily pass multiple background checks. It will impair public safety and embolden criminals while placing restrictions on people who already legally own semi-automatic rifles, Workman said.