Illinois Public Media News
Illinois State Police plan to boost the number of seat-belt enforcement zones and other patrols as the Memorial Day weekend approaches.
Besides being a time of heavier holiday traffic, the weekend is also the 10th anniversary of the state Department of Transportation's "Click It or Ticket" program.
IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffman credits "Click It or Ticket" with boosting compliance with Illinois' mandatory seat belt usage over the past decade, and helping bring traffic fatalities down to the lowest levels since the early 1920s --- with less than 1,000 deaths in 2009 and 2010.
"The safety belt usage rate is at an all-time high," Kauffman said. "It's more than 92% throughout the state. And we're continuing to look for other ways to increase that as well. So this is obviously an approach that helps with that. We understand that law enforcements is very helpful and very successful and effective in boosting safety across the state."
Nearly $1.6 million in federal funding will support Illinois' "Click It or Ticket" program this year --- as well as patrols to check for impaired driving. This funding will help more than 400 local law enforcement agencies provide extra patrols and roadside safety checks this weekend. Half or more of these patrols will occur during late-night hours.
The federal government's star witness at a Chicago terrorism trial revealed more potentially damaging details on Tuesday alleging close cooperation between a Pakistani militant group and the country's top intelligence agency, telling jurors that he frequently exchanged emails and met with members of both groups a month before the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
David Coleman Headley returned to the witnesses stand for a second day in the terrorism trial of a Chicago businessman accused of collaborating in the three-day siege of India's largest city - giving a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and how he was recruited by a member of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as ISI, to take part in the Mumbai plot.
Headley told jurors Tuesday that he met with both his handlers from Lashkar and ISI in Pakistan in October 2008 - one month before the Mumbai rampage that killed more than 160 people including six Americans - and his Lashkar contact, Sajid Mir, said militants had unsuccessfully tried to do the attack in September but crashed their boat leaving Pakistan. They also talked for the first time about a separate plot to attack a Danish newspaper that in 2005 had printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, he said.
"I suggested we only focus on the cartoonist and the editor," Headley testified of a later meeting with Mir. "He said, `"All Danes are responsible for this.'"
As the government's first and main witness in the trial of his longtime friend Tahawwur Rana, Headley's testimony outlining links between the ISI and Lashkar could inflame tensions between Pakistan and India and place even more pressure on the already frayed U.S. and Pakistani relations.
It also could add to the questions about Pakistan's commitment to catch terrorists and the ISI's connections to Pakistan-based terror groups, especially after Osama bin Laden was found hiding out earlier this month in a military garrison town outside of Islamabad.
Headley pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks that killed more than 160 people including six Americans, and he agreed to testify against Rana to avoid the death penalty, making him one of the most valuable U.S. government counterterrorism witnesses.
"Headley's testimony is a nail in the coffin of U.S.-Pakistani strategic cooperation," said Bruce Riedel, a former White House adviser on Middle Eastern and South Asian issues. "Until now his commentary has gotten very little attention outside India, now it will finally get the attention it deserves here."
The Pakistani government has denied the ISI orchestrated the Mumbai attacks, and a senior ISI official said Tuesday that the agency has no links to the terrorists behind the rampage. When asked about the testimony being heard in Chicago, the official said "it is nothing." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because his agency doesn't allow its operatives to be named in the media.
On Tuesday, Headley testified that details of planning for the attacks were known by an ISI officer known only by the alias "Major Iqbal" and Mir. Iqbal said a list would be provided to Headley of possible targets and later he would receive it from Mir. The three men met together in Pakistan in October 2008 where Mir told Headley about the failed attempt on Mumbai. The meetings continued.
"In a few weeks if everything went well, they were going to launch a second attempt," Headley testified.
Prosecutors showed emails between the three men - some of them forwarded to Rana - detailing points on the Mumbai attacks and the aftermath. They wrote in code from ever-changing email addresses including some that came from transliterated Urdu words into English and others from seemingly innocuous phrases like the email handle "Get Me Some Books," that Mir used at one time.
When the attacks happened, Headley, who was born Daood Gilani, testified that he got a text message from Mir asking him to turn on the television.
"I was pleased," he told jurors, but later he started to worry. "I was concerned if our plan had been leaked out."
At this time, Headley said, he was also in more frequent contact with Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, whom prosecutors identified as retired Pakistani military with links to Major Iqbal. Syed was referred to as "Pasha."
Rana, who attended medical school in Pakistan, was only brought up periodically throughout testimony, with Headley saying that he debriefed all his plans with Rana. He said they discussed the Mumbai attacks afterward and what they considered a successful mission against Indians.
"Dr. Rana said, `They deserved it,'" Headley said.
Rana, a Canadian citizen who has lived in Chicago for years, is accused of giving Headley cover during his time in Mumbai by allowing him to set up a branch of his Chicago-based immigration services business. His name is the seventh one on the federal indictment, and the only defendant in custody. Among the six others charged in absentia are Mir, Iqbal and Pasha.
Rana, who has pleaded not guilty, is also accused of helping arrange travel and other help for Headley, who planned the separate attack that never happened on the Danish newspaper. Defense attorneys have told jurors their client was taken advantage of by his friend and did not know what was in store. But prosecutors have said Rana was not duped and knew of the plans, both in Mumbai and Denmark.
Defense attorneys were expected scrutinize Headley's credibility as a witness, saying he has been motivated to change his story and that he was working for the U.S. government even as he said he was working for Lashkar and ISI.
(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)
Police in Champaign County are calling a death overnight at the county's correctional facility a suicide.
The sheriff's office says 24 year old Jesse Masengale had been sentenced on Monday to 30 years in prison for predatory criminal sexual assault on a child.
They say during a routine check, corrections officers at the county's satellite jail found Masengale inside a shower room inside an open dorm for non-problem jail inmates, hanging from a strip of fabric torn from a jail bedsheet. He was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Carle Hospital after officers tried to revive him.
Sheriff's officials say they're investigating Masengale's death but haven't found reason to believe anyone else was involved. They say a mental health interview conducted after his sentencing Monday found no concern of self-harm.
Dick Van Dyke won't be able to make it back to Danville High School to see the auditorium dedicated to him this weekend. But the 85-year-old comedian will make an appearance of sorts.
Danville High choral director Martha Lindvahl told The (Champaign) News-Gazette that Van Dyke will watch dedication ceremonies and performances Friday and Saturday via Skype. She says Van Dyke was invited and wanted to attend but is having back problems.
Van Dyke has recently been promoting his book, "My Lucky Life, In and Out of Show Business.''
Danville has only about 32,000 residents but Van Dyke is among a handful of famous entertainers from the town on the Indiana border. Others include Gene Hackman, Donald O'Connor and jazz pianist and singer Bobby Short.
Richard Daley is going back to school.
The recently retired Chicago mayor has taken a position at the University of Chicago.
Daley will not be a professor, and he won't be grading papers. But he will have an office, and - for the next five years - an academic title: "distinguished senior scholar."
The former mayor will be responsible for organizing ten guest lectures a year about big issues facing cities, using his heft to land some big visitors.
"Today's important for me, of course, because it marks yet another step in this the next phase of my life," Daley said in a press conference in Hyde Park. "I can tell you that it's already been quite exciting."
School officials say they started to talk about asking Daley to join the university in some capacity a short time after he announced last fall that he wouldn't seek a seventh term.
"The tradition of the university is to have vehement and sometimes destructive argument about every topic raised," said Colm O'Muircheartaigh, dean of the university's Harris School of Public Policy Studies. "We feel that the mayor's training as mayor for the last 22 years has equipped him well to participate in our discussions."
O'Muircheartaigh wouldn't reveal contract specifics.
"At the University of Chicago, we don't discuss pay for anybody," O'Muircheartaigh said. "And we're not going to break this rule in the case of the mayor."
In an email later on Tuesday, university spokesman Jeremy Manier said the salary is "within the normal bounds for visiting fellows of [Daley's] level of distinction."
Dale's job will be part-time, though O'Muircheartaigh declined to say how many hours the former mayor will be expected to work.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
An admitted terrorist will be back on the stand Tuesday in a Chicago courtroom.
David Headley is the government's star witness in the terrorism trial of Chicagoan Tahawwur Rana, but Headley is a sketchy star witness. He has been convicted twice for bringing heroin into the U.S. and he seems unapologetic on the stand talking about his participation in the Mumbai terror attack that left more than 160 people dead.
Headley said Rana allowed him to pretend to be an employee of Rana's immigration business. Prosecutors say that allowed Headley to scope out potential terror targets in India with ease because he appeared to be a secular American businessman, rather than a Muslim Pakistani terrorist. Prosecutors say Rana never carried a gun or threw a grenade in the attack, but his support was critical to the success of the Mumbai plot.
Rana's attorneys told jurors they should not trust anything Headley has to say. Headley's cooperation with the government allows him to avoid the death penalty.
(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)
The Champaign School Board continued Monday night talking about how to relieve overcrowding at Central High School.
Unlike past discussions, which have centered around building a new high school, this meeting focused on other options to reduce congestion at Central.
Among the proposals discussed, the board looked at having three high schools, fixing up the district's two existing schools, or merging Central and Centennial High Schools into one building that houses up to 3,000 students.
Champaign resident Mark Briggs has a son who is a junior at Centennial High School. He said merging Central and Centennial would open up more academic and extracurricular opportunities for students, like his son.
"He should have the same opportunities that everybody at Central has," Briggs said. "Everybody at Central should have the same opportunities that the students at Centennial have. They're two great schools. Bring them together, and it's going to be a fantastic school."
But Laurie Andrews, a parent of a 2nd grader at Westview Elementary, does not buy the merger idea. She taught at a large high school in Chicago for several years, and she said she found it difficult to regularly interact with many students and fellow teachers. Andrews said she worries having a single high school in the Champaign School District would make it difficult for teachers to connect with their students.
"I am totally against one high school," Andrews said. "I think it's very easy for students to slip through the cracks. It's hard for teachers to get to know students. It's hard for students to get to know each other. "
The school board voiced opposition to that plan, citing its roughly $160 million dollar price tag, the increased likeliness of gang activity, and the possibility some students would have trouble adjusting in a larger school.
"Some students just won't fair well at all in that type of environment because they need smaller one-on-one contact," school board member Jamar Brown said. "I don't know in this community if we can accomplish that in a large school."
Central High School Principal Joe Williams said he would like to stick with the status quo of two high schools, but added that Central should be in a new building. Williams said he is not sure the school district would want to staff a larger school to ensure "students don't fall through the cracks."
He also noted that moving to a larger school would likely force Champaign out of the Big 12 conference to compete against schools in the Chicagoland area.
"So, instead of traveling to Danville, Decatur, and Bloomington, Mattoon, and those areas," Williams explained. "We would actually be traveling north of Kankakee, even north of I-80."
Williams encouraged the school board to study student performance at other schools with varying enrollment sizes.
School board member Greg Novak agrees that having two high schools in Unit 4 has served the community well. He said building a third high school may not be the best idea because it could divert attention away from fixing up Central High School, which he acknowledged has some major problems.
"It doesn't matter how good wireless internet gets, it's still not going to go through the walls at Central very well," Novak said. "We're talking about trying to run a school for the 21st century in a school that was built in the mid-1920s."
If a new school is built, voters would have to approve a tax referendum of at least $50 million to begin construction.
Ideas for the Unit 4 restructuring plan can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org
Sunday's devastating tornado in Joplin Missouri underscores the sudden nature of storms and the challenge that emergency management officials face in sending out warnings.
Only 17 minutes separated the first tornado sirens in the city from the onslaught of the tornado. Champaign County Emergency Management Agency director Bill Keller says the National Weather Service tries to give as much advance warning as possible, and it's up to agencies like his to decide exactly when to set off the sirens.
"A lot of it depends on the past history of the storm," Keller said. "Every once in a while, one just fires up unexpectedly so to speak, like the Joplin (tornado). 17 minutes sounds like a lot of time, but if you don't have a plan on what you're going to do and where you're going to take shelter, that's not very much time."
Keller says sirens go off when a tornado has been visually detected, or if there's other evidence a tornado may be hidden by darkness or heavy rain.
Keller says every household should designate a place to go in the event of a tornado warning, and people in stores and other public buildings need to follow staff instructions when the warning sounds. He assumes that some Joplin tornado victims decided to leave stores and try to beat their storm home in their vehicles, which he says was not a good idea.
It's likely to be a few more days before Democrats propose new boundaries for Illinois' U.S. House districts. But Republicans already know they're not going to like it.
Two things are for sure: (1) Census numbers mean that Illinois is losing a congressional seat; and (2) the new map will favor Democrats, who control redistricting.
"They could push me East. They could push me West. They could change the district altogether. They could leave it as is," said U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a freshman Republican from Chicago's Northwest suburbs. "We don't know and because nobody on the Republican side has any seat at this table, we're left to the mercy of the one party in Illinois that's running things."
Walsh freely acknowledges that if Republicans were in control, they'd draw a map that favors their candidates.
Meantime, Raja Krishnamoorthi isn't waiting for the new boundaries. The former Democratic candidate for Illinois comptroller is publicly "exploring" a run for Walsh's 8th district.
In an interview Sunday, Krishnamoorthi said that based on early reports it's "pretty clear that...Democrats are going to be more competitive in this district and other places as well."
On Tuesday in Springfield, the House and Senate panels tasked with redistricting are scheduled to hold a joint hearing on proposed maps for state legislative districts. This will be the third hearing since those boundaries were released late last week.
A separate public hearing is planned for following the release of the proposed U.S. House map, according to Rikeesha Phelon, a spokesperson for state Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
"I don't anticipate that it will be early in the week," Phelon wrote in an email.
Top Democrats want the maps approved before the General Assembly is set to adjourn on May 31st. After that, the proposal would need Republican votes in order to pass.
The Department of Energy plans three public hearings next month in Illinois on the FutureGen coal-energy project as it gathers information about the potential environmental impact.
A hearing is planned for June 9 in Jacksonville. That's near the Morgan County site where the project will retool a power plant to use new technology that captures the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from coal and then store it underground.
Hearings also are planned for June 7 in Taylorville and June 8 in Tuscola in eastern Illinois. Those are alternate FutureGen locations.
A group of coal companies and other firms known as the FutureGen Alliance earlier this year picked the Morgan County town of Meredosia for the project. An earlier version of FutureGen planned for eastern Illinois was scrapped.
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