News briefs: Huge sink hole opens in highway, causing fatal Utah crash

Posted July 14, 2011, at 9:19 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — A 15-year-old girl died after heavy rains caused a huge sink hole to open on a Utah highway, swallowing one vehicle and causing her father’s SUV to careen off the road.

Authorities said the crash that killed Justine Barneck and injured her father, Michael Barneck, late Wednesday night happened when the road collapsed in front of them, leaving a patch of asphalt on the edge of the hole that the vehicle hit, causing the fatal accident.

At about the same time, a second car actually went into the 40-foot-wide, 30-foot-deep hole, said Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Todd Johnson. The driver of that vehicle, 37-year-old Helen Paulson, was hurt, but the extent of her injuries was not immediately clear.

The accidents near Tabiona, about 90 miles east of Salt Lake City, came about 15 minutes after a heavy storm began at about 11:30 p.m., quickly overflowing a clogged culvert and washing out the two-lane state road, Johnson said.

Michael Barneck was taken to a hospital with head injuries and is expected to be released Friday.

Justine Barneck was very close to her family, especially her twin sister, Jentri, who was not in the vehicle, said older sister Jamie Allred.

“She was an absolute angel,” Allred said.

NYC man held in boy’s slaying says he hears voices

NEW YORK — A man accused of kidnapping, killing and dismembering an 8-year-old boy who asked him for directions was ordered Thursday to undergo a psychological evaluation after his lawyer told a judge that his client might be mentally ill.

“He has indicated to me that he hears voices and has had some hallucinations,” said the attorney, Pierre Bazile.

Levi Aron, 35, pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and kidnapping as prosecutors said he lured Leiby Kletzky to his home Monday after the little boy got lost while walking home from an Orthodox Jewish day camp.

Video cameras captured the fateful encounter between the two on a Brooklyn street, while Leiby’s mother waited anxiously just a few blocks away. Detectives later found the boy’s severed feet, wrapped in plastic, in the man’s freezer, as well as a cutting board and three bloody carving knives.

At his arraignment Thursday afternoon, Aron appeared disheveled, confused and pale. He stayed quiet during the brief court proceeding. As he was led out of the courthouse holding cells, other inmates screamed obscenities at him. He was held without bail, placed on suicide watch and protective custody after his lawyers said they feared he could do harm to himself.

Police and prosecutors said Aron, a clerk at a hardware supply store, has confessed to suffocating the boy with a bath towel, but they continued to work on verifying his horrific and bizarre explanation for the boy’s death.

At the Kletzky household, his family also looked for answers, too.

“Why?” asked Shmuel Eckstein, a close family friend, as the boy’s parents and four sisters sat and prayed. “We don’t have that … What we know is that through Leiby’s death, God is sending us a huge signal — that we’re doing something terribly wrong. And we’re looking for what it is.”

He added that the family was not looking for retribution.

“We’re not into revenge,” he said.

Tug pilot to plead guilty in Pa. duck boat crash

PHILADELPHIA — A tug pilot talking on a cell phone as he steered a huge barge into a small duck boat, killing two tourists, has agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Tug pilot Matt Devlin, 35, of Catskill, N.Y., was consumed by a family emergency and had moved to a lower wheelhouse, where his view of the Delaware River was obscured, according to the information and plea documents filed Thursday.

In about 2½ hours at the wheel, Devlin made and received 21 cell phone calls and also surfed the Internet on a laptop, investigators found. Devlin “went numb” after learning his son was having trouble waking up from minor eye surgery and had perhaps been deprived of oxygen, his lawyer said.

“You think your 5-year-old baby is going to be brain-damaged, or going to die,” lawyer Frank DeSimone said, speaking publicly for the first time about Devlin’s actions that day. “He couldn’t think and he couldn’t make decisions.”

The charges come just weeks after the National Transportation and Safety Board issued its findings on the July 7, 2010, crash.

At a public hearing, NTSB officials stressed that the nation risks a surge in deadly accidents unless it makes distracted driving — talking, texting and surfing online while operating cars, boats and trains — as taboo as drunken driving.

Devlin was on his cell phone for 10 of the 12 minutes before the crash and could not see the stalled duck boat for the final nine minutes because it was in his blind spot.

 

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