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    Ballot questions would legalize medical marijuana, allow independent repair shops access to diagnostic information from manufacturers, establish a new system for evaluating teachers and allow terminally ill patients to self-administer drugs to end their lives.

    BOSTON -- Secretary of State William F. Galvin is moving forward four proposed statewide ballot questions including measures to allow terminally ill patients to self-administer drugs to take their lives and another to create a new system for evaluating teachers.

    Galvin plans to file the four ballot questions with the clerk of the state House of Representatives on Wednesday, marking another step in the process for such citizen initiatives. Under the state Constitution, legislators will now have until May 2 to pass the ballot questions as bills. If the bills don't pass or legislators fail to act, supporters would need to gather an additional 11,485 voter signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

    Two other questions would legalize medical marijuana and allow independent repair businesses to obtain access to all the diagnostic information they need for fixing motor vehicles.

    billgalvin.jpgSecretary of State William Galvin

    Arthur Kinsman, coordinator of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, said the group intends to vigorously pursue approval of the repair measure in the Legislature, but is also prepared to collect additional signatures.

    "We have every intention of taking it to the ballot if the Legislature doesn't act," Kinsman said.

    According to Brian S. McNiff, a spokesman for Galvin, the secretary of state's office counted and allowed 83,180 voter signatures for the "right to repair" question and 80,710 signatures for the proposed law for the humanitarian use of marijuana.

    Galvin allowed 79,626 signatures for the proposed “death with dignity” initiative and 81,117 for the measure to establish a new evaluation system for educators.

    Municipal clerks had certified the signatures before an earlier deadline. Advocates then turned in those signatures to Galvin's office by early in December.

    All the ballot efforts collected more signatures than the required 68,911. Each group used paid signature gatherers, a common practice for binding questions the reach the statewide ballot.

    The proposed teacher evaluation law would take effect on Jan. 1 of 2013. The law would not affect existing union contracts but would have to be followed in future agreements, according to a summary by the state attorney general's office.

    Timothy T. Collins , president of the Springfield Education Association, said he personally opposes the teacher evaluation ballot effort.

    "I don't think it will be good for public schools or public school children," he said.

    Collins said he supports new educator-evaluation regulations approved in June by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

    Collins said those state regulations are being phased in and should be allowed to fully take effect. "It would be very, very difficult to start over with new changes," he said.

    Sam Castaneda Holdren, a spokesman for Stand for Children, which is sponsoring the proposed ballot question, said the measure would make teaching performance a priority over seniority when making layoffs, abolishing "a last in, first out" policy.

    "If we wait any longer, we risk keeping generations of kids in classrooms where they are not learning by allowing our schools to languish with outdated policies that do not put performance first and respect educators as professionals," Holdren said in an e-mail.

    According to the new state regulations, teachers and administrators are evaluated partly by the scores of their students on the MCAS statewide tests, the opinions of students and parents, observations in classrooms and other measures.

    The ballot question would have evaluation requirements that would go beyond the state regulations in some ways, Jason Williams, executive director of Stand for Children in Massachusetts, has said.

    “We are pleased that .. lawmakers will now have a chance to weigh in on An Act to Promote Excellence in Public Schools when they return in January," Williams said in a statement.

    The proposed ballot question may face a legal challenge. Paul F. Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, has said the association the plans to file a lawsuit, asking the state Supreme Judicial Court to block the proposed teacher-evaluation law from the ballot partly because it is too broad.

    According to the "death with dignity" ballot question, patients would be allowed to ask for life-ending medications from a doctor if they are terminally ill. Modeled after a law in Washington state, the proposed law would be available for people with six months or less to live and they would need to take the medications themselves after obtaining a prescription.

    The proposal is being opposed by the state's four Roman Catholic bishops and the Massachusetts Medical Society.

    Another ballot question would make Massachusetts the sixteenth state, including Maine and Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia, to have laws allowing the medical use of marijuana.

    Under the proposed ballot question , people would need to be diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition such as glaucoma, cancer or "other conditions" as determined by a doctor, according to a copy of the proposed question.

    Patients would be allowed to buy up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for their personal use from a nonprofit center that would grow the plants. The state Department of Public Health would regulate the provisions for medical marijuana.

    Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, who has filed a medical marijuana bill, has said he will work to approve his bill and then will back the ballot question if his bill fails in the Legislature.

    “We are still hopeful that the Legislature will act to provide patients in Massachusetts the same access to necessary medical resources to fight debilitating diseases that are available in sixteen other states across the country,” Whitney Taylor, spokeswoman for the medical-marijuana effort, said in a statement.

    Under the "right to repair" initiative, manufacturers would be required to sell to independent shops all the computer software they need to correctly figure out the problems of vehicles belonging to customers.

    Supporters said that people should not be required to have dealers repair their vehicles. Independent repairers said they need access to the right diagnostic and safety information to fix cars.

    But car manufacturers have said that if the information becomes widely accessible, it would lead to the manufacture of cheap versions in foreign nations. They warned it would allow operators in other countries to avoid the costly research needed to make the parts.

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    Police said the marijuana has a street value of about $8,400.

    1999 holyoke police car.jpg

    HOLYOKE – Police, responding to a report of a large quantity of marijuana spotted inside a room at the County Inn Suites late Tuesday afternoon, said they were greeted by the distinctive odor of the leafy drug as they approached the room.

    Frederick Stirton lll, of 9 Tinkham Glen, Wilbraham, answered the door and told police that “he loves marijuana and that he loves to smoke it and that he had just smoked some,” Capt. Arthur R. Monfette said.

    Stirton told police that he had less than an ounce in his possession. Police, however, found a number of glass jars and plastic bags of marijuana in the bathroom that tallied to 4 pounds, 2 ounces, Monfette said.

    Police confiscated the marijuana, which has a street value of about $8,400, and charged Stirton with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

    Police were summoned to the hotel at 1 County Club Way after a manager reported that employees had spotted the pot inside the first floor room and that the occupant had just returned, Monfette said.

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    The Daily Hampshire Gazette reports that the Hadley school bus experienced brake failure in the Jan. 11 crash.

    Winter 2011: Shoveling the snow off roofsTed Beaulieu, left, and Blake Lamothe, right, remove snow from Lamothe's house on Main St. in Palmer Tuesday, February 8. See more photos of Western Mass. shoveling roofs »

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    the new emergency room is expected to be completed in the fall of 2012

    SPRINGFIELD – State regulators have approved Baystate Medical Center’s plans to build a 70,000-square-foot emergency room as part of its ongoing Hospital of the Future expansion project.

    The new emergency room will be more than three times the size of the existing emergency room, according to a news release from Baystate.

    December 3, 2010 - Springfield -Baystate Medical Center hospital expansion construction site.

    The new emergency department is expected to be completed by the fall of 2012, sooner than had been planned. Baystate said Thursday morning that it moved up construction due to need.

    The Massachusetts Public Health Council approved the project Wednesday.

    Baystate Medical Center is the only Level 1 trauma center in western Massachusetts. Its emergency department cared for about 114,000 patients in 2010.

    The new emergency room will cost $45 million to build and will increase the overall Hospital of the Future project cost from $251 million to $296 million.

    Baystate also plans to open a six-story center of the treatment of heart and blood vessel disease in 2012. Other space in the Hospital of the Future could be used for a childrens’ hospital.

    More information will be available later today.

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    After three cracks in the walls of Ludlow's Paul R. Baird Middle School are seen, 700 students are evacuated from the building Wednesday morning. Watch video

    On Wednesday at approximately 9:30 a.m., Paul R. Baird Middle School students and faculty were evacuated when three cracks in the walls of a hallway were noticed.

    Approximately 700 students were evacuated, and school officials placed phone calls and sent e-mails out to students’ parents notifying them to pick up their children or prepare for their arrival by bus.

    Superintendent of Ludlow Public Schools Theresa M. Kane stated the evacuation was “strictly a precaution.”

    A parent of a child living with autism, who wished to remain anonymous, phoned into ABC 40 News to say she felt the administration should have handled the situation differently. She stated in a phone interview that her husband found their child wandering home, and school officials should have paid closer attention.

    School officials said they “did their best,” and the building was evacuated in less than 20 minutes.

    To hear more about the evacuation, watch ABC 40’s video coverage above.

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    A juror in Gary Mercure's trial was dismissed by the Berkshire Superior Court judge Wednesday for sending a Twitter message.

    Church AbuseIn a Feb. 9, 2011 photo, Gary Mercure, a former Catholic Priest from the Albany, N.Y. Diocese, stands trial in Berkshire County Massachusetts on charges of raping and molesting two former altar boys in the 1980s, in Pittsfield, Mass. Jury deliberations in the trial were delayed Wednesday after a juror was dismissed for sending a Twitter message.

    PITTSFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Jury deliberations in the trial of a New York man accused of abusing two boys in Massachusetts while serving as a Roman Catholic priest have been delayed after a juror was dismissed for sending a Twitter message.

    The juror in Gary Mercure's trial was dismissed by the Berkshire Superior Court judge Wednesday for sending a tweet that said "I am in contempt of court, de facto if not de jure."

    Juror Seth Rogovoy, editor of the magazine Berkshire Living, tells The Berkshire Eagle his tweet had nothing to do with the trial. The judge ruled Rogovoy violated an order barring discussion of the case.

    "I never mentioned any of the people (involved): the defendant, the witnesses. I never mentioned the court I was sitting it," Rogovoy said in an interview with the Albany Times-Union.

    Rogovoy, who uses his last name as his Twitter handle, had also tweeted on Feb. 3, "Sucks that you can't tweet from the jury box. What's the fun in that?"

    His latest post, as of 10:54 a.m. Thursday, reads, "News reports of my getting thrown off a jury for tweeting have seemingly attracted an influx of new followers. Welcome, tweeps!"

    Prosecutors allege Mercure raped the boys in the Berkshires in the 1980s while a priest in the Diocese of Albany, N.Y.

    Mercure's lawyers say the alleged victims were coached into making abuse claims.

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    UMass offering a workshop on basic poultry care at the UMass farm in Hadley Saturday afternoon.

    CHICCC.JPGUMass is offering a workshop on chicken raising Saturday at the UMass farm in Hadley

    AMHERST – The University Of Massachusetts Center for Agriculture offers a range of workshops on all kinds of topics but on Saturday, UMass will be talking about chickens as well.

    For the first time, the center will be offering a workshop called “A Flock of Your Own: Basics of Poultry Care.” Joe Shoenfeld, associate director for the center said they decided to offer it because “of the growing popularity and interest.”

    Ten years ago, residents of suburbia “weren’t interested in such animals” but now he said more people want to know.

    Several communities including Amherst are trying to come up with bylaws to allow residents to more easily keep the barnyard cluckers in places other than on farms.

    The workshop, which is one of nine workshops offered at the UMass Hadley Farm, will look at all kinds of things such as how to breed and care for chickens, he said. They’ll also learn about heritage breeds.

    The agriculture center runs workshops on livestock like this one and another on fruits and vegetables, he said.

    There are two sessions and people can attend two for $75, or a single session for $50. The workshop on chickens is in the afternoon from 1 to 4 p.m.

    The morning session, which begins at 9 a.m. offers the following workshops: getting a handle on manure and mud issues, pasture hay and weed management, raising small ruminants and the legal rights and responsibilities of livestock owners.

    Besides the workshop on chickens, the afternoon session offers another session on legal rights and responsibilities of livestock owners, raising rabbits, adventures in animal reproduction and caring for your camelid.

    Pre-registration is encouraged. Participants may bring samples of hay and weeds for identification and recommendations. For more information visit:

    The same program is offered in Dighton on Feb. 26.

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    The Department of Public Works' proposal is to close Lincoln Avenue at the North Hadley Road intersection to prevent drivers from using Lincoln as a straight route from Amity Street to the University of Massachusetts campus

    View Larger Map

    AMHERST - Although an agenda posting glitch delayed the official public hearing, people still turned out for a Public Works Committee meeting this week to voice concerns about a proposal to close Lincoln Avenue to through traffic.

    The Department of Public Works plan is to close Lincoln Avenue at the North Hadley Road intersection to prevent drivers from using Lincoln as a straight route from Amity Street to Massachusetts Avenue and the University of Massachusetts. There could also be a partial closure on Sunset Avenue, which runs parallel to Lincoln.

    Residents on Lincoln have complained about traffic volume and speeding cars for years.

    Five people spoke against the proposal while three from Lincoln Avenue spoke in favor during this weeks' Public Works Committee meeting.

    The formal public hearing will be held March 1, and Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford B. Mooring said people can send comments to the department. The proposal can be viewed here:

    Caren M. Rotello and her husband, Vincent M. Rotello III, both spoke against the proposal.

    “It will take an extra 10 minutes driving all the way around,” he said. “Ever since I moved here 20 years ago, I drove down Lincoln. It’s a thoroughfare,” he said.

    “I’m concerned about safety,” said Lincoln Avenue resident Britt Ruhe, who endorsed the proposal. She feels there’s “a greater percentage of inattentive drivers on Lincoln.”

    If police were out enforcing the traffic speed, she’d support that, but she said, “We don’t have enough law enforcement.”

    People “can’t expect to live on Lincoln and have the quiet of Walden Pond,” said Ruth K. Miller, who opposed the proposal. She said people knew they were at the doorstep of UMass when they moved to that neighborhood.

    Mooring said the move to close a street to through traffic “is not unprecedented. It has been done.” But the closing of Lincoln would be the biggest.

    People in the neighborhood have raised traffic concerns for decades, and town officials have tried various ways to address the issues of volume and speed. Temporary speed cushions were put in place in late 2007. That slowed vehicle speed, but did not reduce the volume. Most recently temporary barriers were put in place. However, many complained about those because they did not reduce volume or speed as drivers found ways of skirting them.

    The proposal would have to come before the Select Board before it would be implemented. Mooring said the idea is to put the closing in place in April, and leave it in place until the fall.

    In an e-mail, Select Board chairwoman Stephanie J. O’Keeffe said she did not know when the proposal will come to the board. “I expect we would allow for public comment,” she said.

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    After 17 days of unrest, Egypt's president says protesters will have their demands met.

    hosni-mubarak.jpgHosni Mubarak, Egyptian president who has been in power through 17 days of protests that have demanded he leave office.

    CAIRO (AP); President Hosni Mubarak will meet the demands of protesters, military and ruling party officials said Thursday in the strongest indication yet that Egypt's longtime president may be about to give up power and that the armed forces were seizing control.

    Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for the Cairo area, told thousands of protesters in central Tahrir Square, "All your demands will be met today." Some in the crowd held up their hands in V-for-victory signs, shouting "Allahu akbar," or "God is great," a victory cry used by secular and religious people alike.

    The military's supreme council was meeting Thursday, without the commander in chief Mubarak, and announced on state TV its "support of the legitimate demands of the people." A spokesman read a statement that the council was in permanent session "to explore "what measures and arrangements could be made to safeguard the nation, its achievements and the ambitions of its great people."

    The statement was labelled "communique number 1," a phrasing that suggests a military coup.

    Footage on state TV showed Defense Minster Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi chairing the meeting of two dozen top stern-faced army officers, seated around a table. At Tantawi's right was military chief of staff Gen. Sami Anan. Not present was Mubarak, the commander in chief and a former air force chief, or his vice president, Omar Suleiman, a former army general and intelligence chief named to his post after the protests erupted Jan. 25.

    The head of the ruling party, Hossam Badrawi, told The Associated Press that he expects that Mubarak will "address the people tonight to respond to protesters demands."

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    Fraser’s girlfriend called the incident a misunderstanding and said there was no assault.

    Lawrence Police seal.jpg

    HAVERHILL – A Lawrence police officer was found guilty Wednesday of assaulting his former girlfriend during a dispute in which an officer from another department used a Taser on him.

    Daron Fraser was sentenced to one year of probation following his conviction in Haverhill District Court on Wednesday.

    Police Chief John Romero told The Eagle-Tribune he will recommend that Fraser be fired.

    The 39-year-old Fraser, of Raymond, N.H., was arrested after a July off-duty altercation with the girlfriend. An off-duty officer from the Kingston, N.H., department intervened and used a Taser issued by his employer on Fraser.

    The other officer was initially charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, but the charge was eventually dropped.

    Fraser’s girlfriend called the incident a misunderstanding and said there was no assault.

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    State TV says Hosni Mubarak will speak to the nation Thursday night.

    mubarak-resignation.jpgThe local government headquarters, is set on fire by protesters, claiming delays on requests for housing in Port Said Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011.

    CAIRO — State TV says President Hosni Mubarak will speak to the nation Thursday night from his palace in Cairo.

    The announcement comes after Egypt's military proclaimed on national television that it stepped in to "safeguard the country" and assured protesters that Mubarak will meet their demands. In Washington, the CIA chief said there was a "strong likelihood" Mubarak will step down Thursday.

    Read more: Egyptian president Mubarak to meet protesters' demands, officials say

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    The lawyer for the developer said that the board rejected his client's proposal to build four houses off Federal Street because it did not like the project, not because it did not meet legal requirements.

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    AGAWAM – Tirone Development Corp., a local company that has built homes here over the last 15 to 30 years, has appealed the Planning Board’s rejection of its plans to construct four houses off Federal Street to state Land Court.

    Tirone’s attorney, Joseph M. Pacella, said last week that board members acknowledged his client met subdivision control requirements during the public hearing on the project, but still denied the proposal to build Mariella Place on land between 45 and 35-37 Federal St.

    “It met the requirements, ‘we just don’t like it’,” Pacella said. “My client’s position is that is not how the law is to be applied.”

    Contending the reasons given for denial are “suspect at best,” Pacella said there is no precedent in Massachusetts to deny development based on dust and noise resulting from truck trips as was cited in records outlining the reasons for the rejection.

    The attorney also took issue with several other reasons given for the rejection, including the board turning down plans on the grounds that there will be little usable yard space for the four houses proposed for the parcel.

    Pacella said officials can’t reject plans based on such concerns about the future. The attorney said he expects state Land Court will set a hearing date sometime over the next few months.

    City Solicitor Vincent F. Gioscia could not be immediately reached for comment .

    The Planning Board denied plans for the proposed Mariella Place on Dec. 16. The board rejected them 2-1

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    Murray will visit Smith & Wesson Thursday afternoon to highlight job creation and economic development.

    02/10/11 Springfield Republican Photo by Mark M.Murray - Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, right gets a tour of the new emregency room under construction at the Mercy Medical center thursday morning. Daniel P. Moen, left President and C.E.O of Sisters of Providence Health Systems. and Stanley Rogalski, center Vice President of Support Services, lead the tour.

    SPRINGFIELD –Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray was clearly impressed Thursday morning as he viewed the efforts being made to bring Mercy Medical Center’s new $1.3 million Emergency Department to fruition.

    The project, which will increase the number of beds in the department from 28 to 43, is expected to be completed in April.

    “I was here a few months ago,” Murray said. “To see the progress here is really great. People from Springfield are being able to have a first class facility -- another first class facility.”

    Murray, accompanied by Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, met with Daniel P. Moen, who assumed his new position as president and chief executive officer of the Sisters of Providence Health System in January.

    “I am thankful the project was underway before I got here,” Moen said. “Improving the patient experience is what it is all about.”

    Annual patient visits to Mercy’s emergency department have grown from 55,000 in 2005 to 80,000 today, officials said.

    Along with increased beds, the expansion and renovation of the new department is designed around Mercy’s adoption of the “Nurse First” model for emergency care that was introduced earlier this year.

    Ryan White, RN and nurse manager at Mercy, said the new model puts the incoming patient in contact with a nurse right off who immediately assesses their condition and stays in contact through treatment and discharge.

    The Nurse First model has shown to improve both patient and nurse satisfaction, White said. “That’s the key to success,” he said, adding that Mercy is the first hospital in Western Massachusetts to adopt the model.

    Design improvements also improve the department’s ability to care for stroke patients, White said. Plans also call for a four-bed behavioral health unit to be located in a private and secure area of the department.

    Murray’s swing through Western Massachusetts started Thursday with a tour of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy in South Hadley and will finish this afternoon with a visit to Smith & Wesson to highlight job creation and economic development.

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    Secretary of State William Galvin said the 1775 letter from Joseph Warren was discovered in a planned Sotheby’s auction catalog.

    Revollutionary War Letter 21011.jpgView full sizeThis image released by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts shows the front of a 1775 handwritten letter from Joseph Warren, a prominent doctor and president of the Provincial Congress, to the revolutionary Committee of Safety describing the victory at Fort Ticonderoga, N.Y., and the strengthening of the provincial army. The letter was reported missing from the archives six decades ago, but was discovered in a Sotheby's catalog and has been returned to the state archives.

    BOSTON – A handwritten letter announcing the victory at Fort Ticonderoga that was reported missing from the Massachusetts state archives six decades ago has been recovered after being spotted as part of a planned auction of Revolutionary War manuscripts.

    Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin said the 1775 letter from Joseph Warren was discovered in a Sotheby’s catalog.

    The state was able to negotiate the letter’s return.

    In the letter, Warren, a prominent doctor and president of the Provincial Congress that sat in Watertown at the time, said he had just learned that Col. Benedict Arnold had captured Fort Ticonderoga, N.Y., and forts at Crown Point and St. John’s in the Lake Champlain area, which reduced the threat of British attack from Canada.

    Warren was later killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

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    Police seized 40 Oxycodone pills from the suspect.

    jefferyreilly20.jpgJeffery Reilly

    SPRINGFIELD – Police said they arrested a 20-year-old Wilbraham man in the South End early Thursday morning after they observed him sell Oxycodone to a buyer at a gasoline station at Mill and Locust streets.

    Officers Matthew Longo and Darrin Fitzpatrick were surveilling the area when they saw a silver Honda pull into the lot. A few minutes later a customer approached on foot and the officers saw a drug transaction, Sgt. John M. Delaney said.

    Police stopped the car and arrested the driver, Delaney, aide to Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet, said.

    Jeffery Reilly, 20, of 14 Mountainbrook Road, was charged with possession of Oxycodone (a Class B drug) with intent to distribute, Delaney, aide to Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet, said

    The officers seized 45 Oxycodone pills worth $20 apiece on the streets, Delaney said. They also confiscated $120 in cash and three cell phones, Delaney said.

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    The Allentown fire Chief said 47 buildings were damaged, with 8 of them total losses.

    Allentown, Pa. explosionA fire rages out of control after an explosion near the intersection of 13th and Allen Streets in Allentown, Pa., early Thursday Feb. 10, 2011. Several buildings are involved and at least two people are still unaccounted for. About 750 people, including elderly residents of a high rise, were cleared from the area. Many were taken to the Allentown fairgrounds for temporary refuge.

    ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A natural gas explosion rocked a downtown neighborhood overnight, leveling two houses and spawning fires that burned for hours through an entire row of neighboring homes. Three people were killed, including an infant, and at least two others were unaccounted for Thursday.

    A couple in their 70s lived in a two-story row house that blew up about 10:45 p.m. Wednesday, police Chief Roger MacClean said. Michelle Hall told The Morning Call newspaper that her in-laws, Beatrice Hall, 74, and William, 79, lived in the home.

    The victims ranged in age from 4 months to 79 years old, fire Chief Robert Scheirer said, but city officials have not released the names of those killed or missing.

    Scheirer said 47 buildings were damaged, and eight were expected to be total losses.

    The cause of the explosion was unclear. The state Public Utility Commission is investigating and looking for any violations of state or federal law, said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.

    "We don't know if it was the main, we don't know if it was the service line, if it was inside the house, outside the house," Kocher said. "It's all very preliminary at this point."

    The blaze was put out early Thursday, delayed by the difficulty of digging through packed layers of snow and ice to a ruptured underground gas line that was feeding the flames, Scheirer said. About 500 to 600 people who were evacuated were allowed to return home.

    Utility crews had worked to shut off the gas mains in the area. The type of main used in that area typically do not have valves that allow for simply shutting off the stream of gas, a spokesman for the utility said in an e-mail.

    A routine leak-detection check of the gas main that serves the area on the day before the explosion found no problems, said Joe Swope of Reading-based UGI Utilities Inc. The main dates to 1928.

    There's no history of leaks for that section of 12-inch cast-iron main, and there were no calls about gas odors before the explosion, said Swope.

    The utility used foam to seal the gas main on both ends of a one-block area at about 3:45 a.m. Thursday. It took crews some time to cut through reinforced concrete underneath the pavement, Swope said.

    The blast was so powerful that it sent a flat-screen computer monitor sailing into the back of Antonio Arroyo, whose house was on the opposite end of the row from the explosion.

    "I thought we were under attack," he recalled from a shelter where some 250 people took refuge in the hours after the blast.

    Arroyo and his wife, Jill, both 43, lost their home in the fire.

    Antonio said he ran outside and saw that an entire house had been leveled, a fireball now raging in the spot where it once stood.

    "What I saw, I couldn't believe," said Arroyo, a community volunteer.

    He and his wife, a nurse, fled their home with only the clothes on their back. They planned to return at daylight to see what they could salvage. Jill Arroyo broke down sobbing when she recalled her son's athletic memorabilia — likely lost in the blaze — including DVDs of his high school football games.

    "The DVDs are gone. All his trophies are gone. All gone," she sobbed as her husband comforted her.

    Tricia Aleski, who lives a few blocks away, said the explosion jangled her nerves.

    "I was reading a book in the living room and it felt like a giant kicked the house. It all shook. Everything shook," she said. "I checked the stove and everything, (to) make sure everything's off."

    Jason Soke was watching college basketball when he heard and felt the explosion. It rattled his windows. He went to the third floor and looked out and saw flames and smoke.

    "Your senses kind of get stunned," he said. "It puts you on edge."

    Last month in Philadelphia, a gas main explosion caught on video sent a 50-foot fireball into the sky, killing a utility worker, injuring six people and forcing dozens from their homes. Fire officials were investigating that blast.

    Late Thursday morning in Allentown, backhoe operators worked in the bitter cold to excavate the rubble from the explosion. Plywood covered more than a dozen blown-out windows at a church down the street; workers were boarding up the plate-glass front of the Arthritis Foundation building on the same block.

    Lucina Santini and her husband, Jose, came to the scene Thursday morning. They live several blocks away and had heard the explosion.

    "I really thought it was snow falling from the roof," said Jose Santini, 51. "It wasn't normal."

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    The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level in more than 2-1/2 years last week, easing some of the disappointment about a weak monthly jobs report.

    mubarakobama.jpgPresident Barack Obama meets with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sept. 1, 2010. Protestors in Egypt have been unrelenting in their demand for Mubarak to leave after nearly 30 years in power. Mubarak may resign tonight during an address to the Egyptian people.

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    Brown says he's not writing about what happened to him "to settle any scores" but to let people know they can overcome hardships.

    021811 scott brown.jpgU.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., has told Cape and Island's District Attorney Michael O'Keefe he doesn't want to seek criminal charges against a camp counselor who he says sexually assaulted him 40 years ago on Cape Cod.

    BOSTON — Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown has told a prosecutor he doesn't want to seek criminal charges against a camp counselor who he says sexually assaulted him 40 years ago on Cape Cod.

    Cape and Island's District Attorney Michael O'Keefe tells The Boston Globe that the Republican senator told him he didn't want to pursue the case. O'Keefe says Brown didn't identify his attacker. He says he will respect Brown's wishes and won't launch an investigation.

    Brown writes in a book to be released Monday that he was molested by a summer camp counselor when he was 10.

    In a statement released late Friday, Brown says he's not writing about what happened to him "to settle any scores" but to let people know they can overcome hardships.

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    “There must be another way to address current issues, temporarily, to avoid relocating students twice within a short, two- or three-year span,” said Vice Chairwoman Mary Beth Ogulewicz Sacco.

    WESTFIELD – The School Committee will delay consideration of a possible partial redistricting of students pending additional review of elementary school resources and class sizes.

    Vice Chairwoman Mary Beth Ogulewicz Sacco said she has instructed Superintendent of Schools Shirley Alvira and the School Department’s Building Equity Team to “explore other options to relocation of students to address large class sizes in some elementary buildings.”

    "The team, along with other principals, have been asked to expand its review of student and school needs along with other resources, including teachers and counselors, and bring in other recommendations short of redistricting,” said Sacco.

    “We want to avoid disrupting students,” Sacco said, explaining that a redistricting plan is anticipated within two years because of construction of a new elementary school.

    “There must be another way to address current issues, temporarily, to avoid relocating students twice within a short, two- or three-year span,” she said.

    The Equity Team, a group of principals and teachers, proposed the relocation of an estimated 55 students from Paper Mill School to Munger Hill School and the transfer of grade five students from several schools to South Middle School until a new elementary school is built.

    That recommendation, presented last month, has drawn opposition from parents, primarily parents of Paper Mill School youngsters.

    Principals Leslie Clark-Yvon and Margaret M. Adams, who led the equity team, have said changes are needed to provide even class sizes across the elementary school level. Currently many classrooms have between 27 and 31 students.

    The higher class sizes, principals note, is not the result of increased enrollment but a decrease in staff in recent years.

    Sacco said school officials have been asked to provide alternatives at the School Committee’s scheduled March 7 meeting.

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    The 13 proposed house lots would be part of a larger subdivision of 19 lots on a total of 30 acres.

    WEST SPRINGFIELD – The Planning Board has set March 16 as the date for a public hearing on a proposal to build 13 single-family homes off 1533 Piper Road.

    The 7 p.m. hearing will take place in the municipal building. It is preparatory to the board deciding whether to grant the project the special permit for a subdivision needed for it to move forward.

    Francis Wheeler Construction Co. has filed an application with the Planning Board for a permit to develop the house lots on about 14 acres of land. The parcel is on the south side of Piper Road and to the west of 1533 Piper Road, the home of landowner Gail D. Mulcahy.

    The land is zoned residence A-1. The application on file in the Planning Board office calls for sidewalks on one side of 935-foot-long access road ending in a cul-de-sac.

    The 13 proposed house lots would be part of a larger subdivision of 19 lots on a total of
    30 acres. Six of those lots do not need Planning Board approval because they all have frontage on Piper Road.

    A.J. Wheeler, a partner in Francis Wheeler Construction Co., has said plans call for building homes selling for $300,000 to $500,000. The company would like to break ground in the spring, according to him.

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