Also trending on your Tuesday: St. Louis Co. teen runaway identified as Arizona cold case victim, dog lovers defend Biden's 'Champ' after called 'junkyard dog' by news anchor, Illinois becomes first state to abolish cash bail.
Police say expectant father in New York killed by exploding gender-reveal device
LIBERTY, N.Y. — An expectant father was killed when a device he was building for a gender reveal party exploded, police in New York said Monday.
Christopher Pekny, 28, was assembling a device for his child's gender reveal party in the Catskills town of Liberty when it exploded just before noon Sunday, state police said.
Pekny was killed by the blast and his 27-year-old brother, Michael Pekny, was injured, police said. Michael Pekny was treated for his injuries at an area hospital.
The death is the latest in a string of tragedies blamed on faulty gender reveal devices in recent years.
A Michigan man was killed earlier this month when he was struck by shrapnel from a gender reveal cannon being used at a baby shower, authorities said.
Another gender reveal device sparked a September 2020 wildfire that burned thousands of acres in Southern California. — Associated Press
Wife of drug kingpin El Chapo arrested on US drug charges
WASHINGTON — The wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was arrested in the United States and accused of helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar cartel and plot his audacious escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, a 31-year-old former beauty queen, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Monday and is expected to appear in federal court in Washington on Tuesday. She is a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico.
Her arrest is the latest twist in the bloody, multinational saga involving Guzman, the longtime head of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Guzman, whose two dramatic prison escapes in Mexico fed into a legend that he and his family were all but untouchable, was extradited to the United States in 2017 and is serving life in prison.
And now his wife, with whom he has two young daughters, has been charged with helping him run his criminal empire. In a single-count criminal complaint, Coronel was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the U.S. The Justice Department also accused her of helping her husband escape from a Mexican prison in 2015 and participating in the planning of a second prison escape before Guzman was extradited to the U.S.
Coronel’s attorney Jeffrey Lichtman declined to comment Monday night.
As Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, Guzman ran a cartel responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in recent court papers. They also said his “army of sicarios,” or “hit men,” was under orders to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who got in his way.
His prison breaks became the stuff of legend and raised serious questions about whether Mexico's justice system was capable of holding him accountable. In one case, he escaped through an entry under the shower in his cell to a milelong (1.6-kilometer-long) lighted tunnel with a motorcycle on rails. The planning for the escape was extensive, prosecutors say, with his wife playing a key role.
Court papers charge that Coronel worked with Guzman’s sons and a witness, who is now cooperating with the U.S. government, to organize the construction of the underground tunnel that Guzman used to escape from the Altiplano prison to prevent his extradition to the U.S. The plot included purchasing a piece of land near the prison, firearms and an armored truck and smuggling him a GPS watch so they could “pinpoint his exact whereabouts so as to construct the tunnel with an entry point accessible to him,” the court papers say.
Guzman was sentenced to life behind bars in 2019.
Coronel, who was a beauty queen in her teens, regularly attended Guzman’s trial, even when testimony implicated her in his prison breaks. The two, separated in age by more than 30 years, have been together since at least 2007, and their twin daughters were born in 2011. — Associated Press
Florida official won’t lower flags to honor Rush Limbaugh, defying Gov. DeSantis
Florida’s Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says she won’t lower flags at state offices under her direction to honor the late conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said Friday he will direct flags be flown at half-staff for Limbaugh, who died of lung cancer on Wednesday at age 70.
Fried said in a statement she will not observe that directive because such an honor should “reflect unity, not division.”
“Lowering to half-staff the flag of the United States of America is a sacred honor that pays respect to fallen heroes and patriots,” Fried said in a prepared statement. “It is not a partisan political tool. Therefore, I will notify all state offices under my direction to disregard the Governor’s forthcoming order to lower flags for Mr. Limbaugh — because we will not celebrate hate speech, bigotry, and division.”
Fried’s agency — the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — oversees numerous state offices, including nine regional licensing offices, 38 state forests and 23 agricultural law enforcement inspection stations.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during Monday’s news briefing that President Joe Biden will direct flags on federal property to be lowered to half-staff to mark 500,000 American deaths in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other Democrats have joined Fried in blasting DeSantis’ directive. Oakland Park Mayor Jane Bolin issued a statement Sunday calling on cities to challenge the planned directive, according to a report on the Florida Politics’ website.
DeSantis hailed Limbaugh as a media legend in a statement he issued this past week. Limbaugh lived in Palm Beach.
“Rush is the GOAT (greatest of all time) — of radio, of conservative media and of inspiring a loyal army of American patriots,” DeSantis said.
Fried is widely seen as a leading contender to challenge DeSantis in next year’s governor’s race. She has not officially announced her candidacy. — South Florida Sun Sentinel
Illinois becomes first state to abolish cash bail
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday signed into law a sweeping overhaul of policing and criminal justice that includes eliminating the cash bail system.
Under the new law, cash bail would be eliminated in 2023. Washington, D.C., and the states of New York and New Jersey have undertaken similar efforts.
Critics of the cash bail system say it criminalizes poverty. Getting rid of it does not mean that everyone goes free while awaiting trial. Judges make that call based on the threat a defendant poses.
“What we’ve done is strengthen judicial discretion when it comes to determining whether someone is a threat to a person or community,” said Sen. Robert Peters, a Democrat from Chicago. “We focused this explicitly and narrowed it so money does not play a factor. Money does not determine whether someone’s a threat.”
Illinois is among 26 states that have passed more than 100 new laws dealing with law enforcement policy since May, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But it is the only state so far to eliminate financial conditions for releasing people from custody while they await trial. — Associated Press, Chicago Tribune via Tribune News Service.
After almost 40 years, St. Louis Co. teen runaway identified as Arizona cold case victim
ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Nearly 40 years after the body of a girl was found on Valentine's Day off a northern Arizona highway, police have identified her as a teenage runaway from St. Louis County.
The Coconino County Sheriff's Office announced Monday that DNA had confirmed the homicide victim was Carolyn Eaton, a 17-year-old who was reported missing in 1981 from her home in Bellefontaine Neighbors.
Eaton was one of six sisters. She ran away after an argument sometime around Christmas in 1981, said Coconino County Sheriff's Office Lt. Jason Lurkins, who is working on the case.
Her body was found Feb. 14, 1982, by an Arizona state trooper off Interstate 40 in northern Arizona. The unidentified girl was soon dubbed “Valentine Sally” by authorities and became a well-known local cold case, Lurkins said.
Detectives exhausted all leads over the years but had been unable to determine the girl's identity. This year, they contracted with a company to compare DNA from the body with online ancestry databases and found a match with a first cousin in the St. Louis area, Lurkins said.
Detectives then traveled to St. Louis County to interview relatives, who confirmed they had a sibling who ran away in 1981.
"The family members were awestruck," Lurkins said. "We told one family member we were investigating a missing person case and they asked: Is this about Carolyn?"
Eaton's death was a homicide caused by some type of violence, but the state of the body made finding a more specific cause of death difficult, Lurkins said. The sheriff's office is continuing to search for a suspect.
Detectives believe a waitress at a truck stop near the remote area where Carolyn was found may have been among the last to see her, Lurkins said.
Patty Wilkins, Seligman, Arizona, told detectives at the time that on Feb. 2, 1982, while working the night shift at an Arizona truck stop owned by her family, she served a girl matching Carolyn's description when she came in late with a man wearing a cowboy hat with a peacock feather in it.
Eaton told Wilkins she had a toothache, so Wilkins said she gave the young girl an aspirin for the left side of her mouth.
Police eventually found Eaton's body about a mile up the road from Wilkins' family truck stop. When an autopsy was done on Eaton's body, Wilkins said police told her the aspirin was still on Eaton's tooth.
"I could have pulled her off that truck. I could have forced her to stay with me. I could have called 911. I could have done a million different things that I didn't do. The only thing I did was put that aspirin on her," Wilkins said Monday in an interview with the Post-Dispatch.
The body had previously been misidentified through facial reconstruction as Melody Cutlip, a Florida teen who went missing around that time but was reunited with her family in 1986.
"I've been with this department 23 years now and every so often we'd hear about the Valentine Sally case," Lurkins said. "So when it broke like this, it was a big deal and I'm sure it's bringing up a lot for her family."
St. Louis County missing persons detective Tom Taylor aided Arizona investigators when they traveled to Missouri for the case.
"It is an absolute reminder that hope springs eternal for police investigators and someone with a missing family member," said Taylor, recalling when he got the call about the DNA matches. "And it shows the investigators kept this case alive over all these years."
Taylor said St. Louis County has open missing persons cases dating to 1955, though police investigations into runaways like Eaton have changed dramatically.
"The availability in technology makes a huge difference today," he said. "Today, everyone has a cellphone that is trackable, and that's not something that was around at the time of this case."
Bellefontaine Neighbors police Maj. Warren Williss also aided Arizona investigators and said he had spoken with a few retired officers from the department who remembered the family and Eaton's case. The department no longer had case files connected to the disappearance.
"It's nice to get some sense of resolution," Williss said. "I hope that knowing more about what happened can help the family in some way." — St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Taylor Tiamoyo Harris and the Associated Press contributed.
Dog lovers defend Biden's 'Champ' after called 'junkyard dog' by news anchor
First Dog Champ is dissed as a "junkyard dog." Fans bite back. CNN's Jeanne Moos reports on the backlash.