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Blues Extend Qualifying Offers to Eight

Tuesday, 02 July 2013 21:28 Published in Sports

ST. LOUIS – St. Louis Blues Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Armstrong announced today that the club has extended qualifying offers to eight players including Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Stewart, Jake Allen, Kris Russell, Evgeny Grachev, Philip McRae, Cade Fairchild and Tyler Shattock.  The qualifying offers will allow the Blues to retain the negotiating rights for each player.

EGYPT PROTESTERS MASS BEFORE MILITARY DEADLINE

Tuesday, 02 July 2013 11:05 Published in National News

CAIRO (AP) — With a military deadline for intervention ticking down, hundreds of thousands of protesters seeking the ouster of Egypt's Islamist president sought Tuesday to push the embattled leader further toward the edge with another massive show of resolve and unity.

In a significant move, opposition parties and the youth movement behind the demonstrations agreed that reform leader and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei would represent them in any negotiations on the country's political future.

The pact, at least in theory, should end the bickering and rivalries that have plagued the opposition.

At the same time, President Mohammed Morsi faced fissures from within after a stunning surge of street rage reminiscent of Egypt's Arab Spring revolution in 2011 that cleared the way for Morsi's long-suppressed Muslim Brotherhood to win the first open elections in decades.

Three government spokesmen were the latest to quit as part of high-level defections that underscored his increasing isolation and fallout from the ultimatum from Egypt's powerful armed forces to either find a political solution by Wednesday or the generals would seek their own way to end the political chaos.

The police, which are under control of the Interior Ministry, have stood on the sidelines of the protests, refusing even to protect the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood that have been attacked and ransacked. Their ministry has thrown its considerable weight behind the military.

In response to the growing pressures on Morsi, his Islamist backers have stepped up their own warnings that it may take bloodshed to dislodge him.

Some supporters say they would rather die fighting a military takeover than accept Morsi's ouster just a year after the country's first free election.

"Seeking martyrdom to prevent the ongoing coup is what we can offer as a sign of gratitude to previous martyrs who died in the revolution," Brotherhood stalwart Mohammed el-Beltagi wrote Tuesday in his official Facebook page.

Morsi, meanwhile, met with Defense Minister and army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Qandil in the second such meeting in as many days. No details were given about the meeting, reported by an official at the president's office, Ayman Ali.

The meeting, however, suggests that efforts were being made to resolve the crisis, although there is little time and almost no political will from the opposition to accept anything less than Morsi's departure.

At least 16 have been killed in clashes since Sunday between Morsi's opponents and his many backers, who have equated the demonstrations and military arm-twisting to a coup against a democratically elected president.

The Tamarod, or Rebel, movement which organized the protests has given the president until 5 p.m. Tuesday (1500 GMT) to step down or face even larger demonstrations and possible "complete civil disobedience."

In a highly symbolic move, the crowds have camped out at Cairo's Tahrir quare, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. They also have massed outside the president's Ittahdiya palace in the leafy suburb of Heliopolis.

Across town, however, Morsi's backers have hunkered down at their own rally site, vowing to resist any attempts to nullifying his election last year and the rise of Islamist voices in Egypt's political affairs after bring muzzled under Mubarak.

On Monday, a line of around 1,500 men with shields, helmets and sticks — assigned with protecting the rally — stamped their feet in military-like lines, singing, "Stomp our feet, raise a fire. Islam's march is coming."

The volatile atmosphere has been made even more unsettled by the prospect the military could soon step in.

The military's declaration, read Monday on state TV, put enormous pressure on Morsi to step down and sent giant crowds opposing the president in Cairo and other cities into delirious celebrations of singing, dancing and fireworks.

But it also raised worries on both sides that the army could take over outright as it did after the 2011 ouster of Mubarak and raised the risk of a backlash from Morsi's Islamist backers, some of whom once belonged to armed militant groups.

Morsi's office issued a statement saying a "modern democratic state" was one of the main achievements of the anti-Mubarak uprising, adding, "With all its force, Egypt will not allow itself to be taken backward."

While not bluntly rejecting the ultimatum, it said Morsi was still reviewing the military statement and that some parts of it "could cause disturbances in the complicated national scene."

At the same time, he is grappling with growing dissent within his inner circle.

A foreign ministry official said career diplomats Omar Amer and Ihab Fahmy have stepped down after nearly five months speaking on behalf of Morsi. On Monday, six Cabinet ministers quit.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

State TV later reported the resignation of Cabinet spokesmman Alaa el-Hadidy.

Also Tuesday, an Egyptian court dealt another blow to Morsi's authority, ruling that the president's widely disputed appointment of an attorney general last November was illegal.

Morsi's dismissal of Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid, who was appointed by Mubarak, was seen by the judiciary as an encroachment on its independence. The opposition has long demanded the removal of Abdel-Meguid's successor, Talaat Abdullah.

President Barack Obama said the U.S. is committed to democracy in Egypt, not any particular leader. Traveling in Tanzania, Obama said that although Morsi was democratically elected, the government must respect its opposition and minority groups.

Egypt's presidency said Morsi received a phone call from Obama, who said the U.S. administration "supports peaceful democratic transition in Egypt."

Many of those now in the anti-Morsi campaign then led demonstrations against military rule, angered by its management of the transition and heavy hand in the killing of protesters.

Hours after its announcement, the military issued a second statement on its Facebook page denying it intended a coup. "The ideology and culture of the Egyptian armed forces does not allow for the policy of a military coup," it said.

In its initial statement, the military said it would "announce a road map for the future and measures to implement it" if Morsi and its opponents cannot reach a consensus within 48 hours — a virtual impossibility. It promised to include all "patriotic and sincere" factions in the process.

The military underlined it will "not be a party in politics or rule." But it said it has a responsibility to find a solution because Egypt's national security is facing a "grave danger," according to the statement.

It did not detail the road map, but it heavily praised the protests that began Sunday demanding that Morsi step down and that early elections be called.

Sunday's protests on the first anniversary of Morsi's inauguration were the largest seen in the country in the 2½ years of turmoil since Egyptians first rose up against Mubarak in January 2011.

Violence broke out in several parts of the country, often when marchers came under gunfire, apparently from Islamists. In Cairo, anti-Morsi youth attacked the main headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood with stones and fire bombs, while Brotherhood supporters barricaded inside opened fired on them. The clash ended early Monday when the protesters broke into the luxury villa and ransacked it, setting fires.

Nationwide, at least 16 people were killed Sunday and more than 780 injured, Health Ministry spokesman Yehya Moussa told state television.

Under a framework drawn up by Tamarod, after Morsi steps down, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court would become an interim president and a technocrat government would be formed. An expert panel would write a new constitution to replace the one largely drafted by Islamists, and a new presidential election would be held in six months.

Outside the presidential palace, protesters contended that Morsi could not survive with only the Islamist bloc on his side.

"It is now the whole people versus one group. What can he do?" said Mina Adel, a Christian accountant. "The army is the savior and the guarantor for the revolution to succeed."

ARIZONA 'HOTSHOTS' LIVED THE MEANING OF THE WORD

Tuesday, 02 July 2013 10:52 Published in National News

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — They were fathers and expectant fathers. High school football players and former Marines. Smoke-eaters' sons and first-generation firefighters.

What bound the members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots together was a "love of hard work and arduous adventure," and a willingness to risk their lives to protect others. And now, 19 families share a bond of grief.

All but one of the Prescott-based crew's 20 members died Sunday when a wind-whipped wildfire overran them on a mountainside northwest of Phoenix. It was the nation's biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years and the deadliest single day for fire crews since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In the firefighting world, "Hotshot" is the name given to those willing to go to the hottest part of a blaze. They are the best of the best, crews filled with adventure-seekers whose hard training ready them for the worst.

"We are routinely exposed to extreme environmental conditions, long work hours, long travel hours and the most demanding of fireline tasks," the group's website says. "Comforts such as beds, showers and hot meals are not always common."

Above all, the crew's members prided themselves on their problem-solving, teamwork and "ability to make decisions in a stressful environment."

"It's a younger man's game," said Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo, and the statistics bear him out. Of those who died, 14 were in their 20s; their average age was just 26.

At least three members of the crew were following in their fathers' firefighting footsteps.

Kevin Woyjeck, 21, used to accompany his dad, Capt. Joe Woyjeck, to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, sometimes going on ride-alongs. The firehouse was like a second home to him, said Keith Mora, an inspector with that agency.

"He wanted to become a firefighter like his dad and hopefully work hand-in-hand," Mora said Monday outside a fire station in Seal Beach, Calif., where the Woyjeck family lives. "He was a great kid. Unbelievable sense of humor, work ethic that was not parallel to many kids I've seen at that age. He wanted to work very hard."

Chris MacKenzie, 30, grew up in California's San Jacinto Valley, where father Michael was a former captain with the Moreno Valley Fire Department. An avid snowboarder, MacKenzie joined the U.S. Forest Service in 2004, then transferred two years ago to the Prescott Fire Department.

Dustin DeFord, 24, was a Baptist preacher's son, but it was firefighting that captured his imagination.

At 18, he volunteered for the Carter County Rural Fire Department like his father did in his hometown of Ekalaka, Mont., according to The Billings Gazette. Almost everyone knew DeFord in the small town where he grew up and had worked a variety of jobs, the local sheriff said.

He liked to cliff jump and run "Spartan Race" obstacle courses, and he passed the physical test for the Granite Mountain crew in January 2012.

"He was one of the good ones who ever walked on this earth," Carter County Sheriff Neil Kittelmann told the newspaper.

Many of those killed were graduates of Prescott High. One of them was 28-year-old Clayton Whitted, who as a firefighter would work out on the same campus where he played football for the Prescott Badgers from 2000 to 2004.

The school's football coach, Lou Beneitone, said Whitted was the type of athlete who "worked his fanny off."

"He wasn't a big kid, and many times in the game, he was overpowered by big men, and he still got after it," the coach said. "He knew, 'This man in front of me is a lot bigger and stronger than me,' but he'd try it, and he'd smile trying it."

As a condition of hire, each of these Hotshot members was required to pass the U.S. Forest Service's "Arduous Work Capacity Test" — which entails completing a 3-mile hike carrying a 45-pound pack in 45 minutes. The group also set for its members a fitness goal of a 1.5-mile run in 10 minutes, 35 seconds; 40 sit-ups in 60 seconds; 25 pushups in 60 seconds; and seven pull-ups, according to the crew's website.

"The nature of our work requires us to endure physical hardships beyond most people's experiences," the website said. "Environmental extremes, long hours, bad food, and steep, rugged terrain, demand that we train early and often by running and hiking, doing core exercises, yoga, and weight training."

The group started in 2002 as a fuels mitigation crew — clearing brush to starve a fire. Within six years, they had made their transition into the "elite" Hotshot community.

At Captain Crossfit, a warehouse filled with mats, obstacle courses, climbing walls and acrobatic rings near the firehouse where the Hotshots worked, trainers Janine Pereira and Tony Burris talked about their day-to-day experiences with the crew in what was a home away from home for most of them.

The whole group grew beards and mustaches before the fire season started but had to shave them for safety.

"They were trying to get away with it, and finally someone was like, 'No. You've got to shave that beard,'" Pereira said. "They were the strongest, the happiest, always smiling."

Former Marine Travis Turbyfill, 27, whose nickname was "Turby," would come in to train in the morning, then return in the afternoon with his two daughters and wife, Stephanie, a nurse, Pereira said.

"He'd wear these tight shorts ... just to be goofy," Pereira said. "He was in the Marine Corps and he was a Hotshot, so he could wear those and no one would bug him."

Andrew Ashcraft, 29, another Prescott High graduate, would bring his four children to the Captain Crossfit daycare, Pereira said.

"He'd come in in the early morning and do a workout, and then, to support his wife, he'd do one again," she said. "He'd carry her around sometimes and give her a kiss in front of all his guys."

Other members of the group were just beginning families.

Sean Misner, 26, leaves behind a wife who is seven months pregnant, said Mark Swanitz, principal of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in Santa Barbara County, where Misner graduated in 2005. Marine Corps veteran Billy Warneke, 25, and his wife, Roxanne, were expecting their first child in December, his grandmother, Nancy Warneke, told The Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside.

At 43, crew superintendent Eric Marsh was by far the oldest member of the group. An avid mountain biker who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, Marsh became hooked on firefighting while studying biology at Arizona State University, said Leanna Racquer, the ex-wife of Marsh's cousin.

In April 2012, Marsh let reporters from the ASU Cronkite News Service observe one of the crew's training sessions. That day, they were playing out the "nightmare scenario" — surrounded by flames, with nothing but a thin, reflective shelter between them and incineration.

"If we're not actually doing it, we're thinking and planning about it," Marsh said.

During that exercise, one of the new crew members "died."

"It's not uncommon to have a rookie die," Marsh told the news service. "Fake die, of course."

On Monday, more than 1,000 people crowded into the bleachers and spilled onto the gymnasium floor at the Prescott campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The crowd stood for more than a minute as firefighters in uniform walked in.

U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon said the Hotshots had made the ultimate sacrifice: "They gave their lives for their friends."

"It's times like today that define who we are," he said.

When U.S. Rep. David Schweikert asked audience members to raise their hands if they knew one of the fallen firefighters, about a third of the crowd did.

In a shaking voice, Fire Chief Fraijo described a picnic he threw last month for his new recruits and their families. Earlier Monday, he met with those same families in another auditorium and gave them the tragic news.

"Those families lost," he said. "The Prescott Fire Department lost. The city of Prescott lost. The state of Arizona and the nation lost."

___ Associated Press reporters Raquel Maria Dillon in Seal Beach, Calif., Sue Manning in Los Angeles and Felicia Fonseca in Prescott contributed to this report.

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