Georgia couple begs U-Haul thieves to return the urn holding their baby’s ashes

A Georgia couple was left devastated after thieves stole their U-Haul moving truck — which held an urn filled with their infant son’s ashes.

Ben and Kassandra Benton were asleep at a LaQuinta hotel in Covington on Wednesday, when the U-Haul holding all their possessions was stolen from the parking lot, WAGA reported.

A military family, they had been moving to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, Today.com reported.

“It feels like we are losing him all over again,” Benton told Today of her six-month-old son, Wyatt.

The baby had been born premature, and died of a brain infection after a long hospital battle, the family told Today.

The van was later found abandoned in a park, 30 minutes from the hotel. The thieves had taken everything inside except for some black plastic bags filled with clothes.

Surveillance video showed a dark SUV and a gray car pull up next to the truck outside the hotel at around 1:20 a.m. Wednesday, according to WAGA.

A man wearing a gray hoodie then got out of the SUV and approached the truck to hop inside and drive off, the outlet reported.

Cops say they are searching for at least three suspects.

“We of course are grateful our family is okay, but he was a big part of our lives,” the mom said of Wyatt.

A reward is being set up by Covington Police for any information leading to an arrest, Today reported.

“I just beg whoever took him to have a heart,” the mom told Today.

“Imagine it being their own kid or family member that they love and think about how they would feel. Please just return him. We don’t even care if they drop him somewhere that someone would recognize and let us have him back,” she said.

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Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

CAIRO (AP) – A trailer-truck crashed into a microbus, killing at least 18 people and injuring five others south of the Egyptian capital, authorities said.

The country’s chief prosecutor’s office said in a statement the crash took place late Friday on a highway near the town of Atfih, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Cairo.

The Cairo-Assiut eastern road, located on the eastern side of the Nile River, links Cairo to the country’s southern provinces and is known for speeding traffic.

Police authorities said the truck’s tire exploded, causing it to overturn and collide with the microbus. The victims were taken to nearby hospitals, the statement said. The truck driver was arrested.

Traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.

The country’s official statistics agency says around 10,000 road accidents took place in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.

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Senate Agrees to $300 Weekly Jobless Aid Through End of August in COVID-19 Relief Bill

The Senate in the early hours of Saturday voted to reduce the weekly unemployment benefit from $400 to $300 per week for recipients through the end of August in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. The amendment from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was agreed to by a vote of 50-49 after hours of negotiations among Democrats. Under the new arrangement, the first $10,200 that people receive of unemployment benefits will be eligible for a tax break for those making less than $150,000. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also proposed an amendment to extend the $300 benefit through July 18, which also passed 50-49 but was later essentially overtaken by the Wyden amendment. The amendments were made during the vote-a-rama, a marathon voting session where any lawmaker can bring amendments to the floor for a vote that can be passed with a simple majority. Republicans had one less vote because Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) left Washington …

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At least 10 injured after Texas natural gas explosion

As least 10 people were injured in a fire caused by a natural gas explosion in Texas Friday night, officials said.

The explosion happened just before 8 p.m. when workers for the utility company CenterPoint Energy were trying to shut down a gas line outside a home in the town of Spring, KXAN reported, citing the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office.

All the victims are believed to be from the energy company. They were hospitalized but their conditions were not immediately known.

Firefighters who arrived at the scene managed to contain the flames, Fox affiliate KRIV reported.

At least one house was damaged in the blast, and residents were evacuated from the area, according to the outlet.

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White Rochester cop probed after pepper-spraying black mom near toddler

A Rochester police officer has been placed on administrative leave after video emerged Friday of the cop pepper spraying a shoplifting suspect as she attempted to flee with her three-year-old child.

The video was released as the Rochester Police Department remains under scrutiny over its interactions with black residents — including Daniel Prude, whose September 2020 death while in custody was also captured on disturbing video.

Video of the Feb. 22 incident shows a black woman running from a white police officer after being accused of robbing a convenience store.

The body-cam footage shows the officer subduing the woman while another officer takes the screaming child several feet away.

The incident is being investigated, Rochester Police said in a press statement.

“The child was not pepper sprayed or injured during the arrest,” the statement said.

Police chief Cynthia Herriot-Sullivan said that the officer involved appeared to have followed appropriate procedure, but added that ” some things to me aren’t as simple as whether a policy was followed or not.”

Rochester’s Police Accountability Board, which was created in 2019, said that it saw parallels between this case and one where a 9-year-old girl was pepper sprayed and then forced to sit in the back of a police vehicle.

“Both incidents involved Black mothers. Both involved Black children. Both involved Black people obviously in crisis. Both involved officers using pepper spray on or around a Black child,”  Shani Wilson, the PAB chair, said Friday.

As of now, the mom, whose name has not been released, is charged with trespassing and is still in police custody.

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Friday Sports in Brief

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Kansas placed coach Les Miles on administrative leave, hours after a report released by LSU revealed school officials there considered firing him in 2013 because of his behavior with female student workers.

Miles is entering his third year as Kansas coach, and coming off a winless 2020 season. He was coach at LSU for 11-plus years before being fired four games into the 2016 season. The 67-year-old Miles has denied allegations he made sexual advances toward students and has said he merely sought to serve as a mentor for students who expressed an interest in pursuing careers in sports.

Earlier in the day, LSU released a law firm’s 148-page review of how the university has handled sexual misconduct complaints. Then-athletic director Joe Alleva’s 2013 recommendation to former LSU President F. King Alexander to fire Miles is detailed in the report by the Husch Blackwell law firm. The report offers a scathing view of the resources and attention LSU has dedicated to complaints of sexual misconduct and violence against women campus-wide.

GOLF

ROLLING HILLS ESTATES, Calif. (AP) – Tiger Woods was unconscious in a mangled SUV after he crashed the vehicle in Southern California last week, according to a court document that also revealed a nearby resident and not a sheriff’s deputy was first on the scene.

The witness, who lives near the accident scene in Rolling Hills Estates just outside Los Angeles, heard the crash and walked to the SUV, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Johann Schloegl wrote in the affidavit. The man told deputies that Woods had lost consciousness and did not respond to his questions.

The first deputy, Carlos Gonzalez, arrived minutes later the morning of Feb. 23 and has said Woods appeared to be in shock but was conscious and able to answer basic questions. Woods suffered severe injuries to his right leg and cuts to his face.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California lifted some coronavirus restrictions on outdoor sports and entertainment venues, clearing the way for fans to attend games on Major League Baseball’s opening day and for theme parks like Disneyland to reopen for the first time in more than a year.

The rules take effect April 1, but they only apply to people living in California. Baseball teams, event organizers and theme parks are not allowed to sell tickets to anyone living out of state as public health officials try to limit mixing while continuing to roll out coronavirus vaccinations.

The San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s all announced they will have fans in the stands for opening day on April 1. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants both start their seasons on the road and said they would announce their plans later.

PRO FOOTBALL

NEW YORK (AP) – The NFL hired Maia Chaka as the first Black female official in league history. She will work games during the 2021 season.

Chaka enters the NFL after working in the Pac-12 and Conference USA. She was selected in 2014 for the NFL’s Officiating Development Program, which identifies college officiating talent with the goal of showing them some of the same experiences as NFL officials before determining if they have the ability to succeed as an NFL official.

A graduate of Norfolk State, Chaka earned her bachelor’s in education in 2006. She is a health and physical education teacher in the Virginia Beach public school system.

The NFL did not specify which officiating position she will work.

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) – Washington released AP Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith, a move that was expected but still provides a cold ending to the veteran quarterback’s storybook tenure with the organization.

Smith’s release clears just under $15 million in salary cap space for Washington, which is hoping to figure out its long-term QB situation and fill many holes in the aftermath of a 7-9 season, NFC East title and wild-card round loss. Coach Ron Rivera said he met with Smith this week, each side figured it was best to move on, and the organization granted Smith’s request to be released.

Smith made a triumphant return to NFL action last season, two years after breaking two bones in his right leg and requiring 17 surgeries to repair it. His battle against a life-threatening infection and long rehab process to get back on the field became a documentary and an inspirational tale whether he played again or not. And, of course, he did play again.

DENVER (AP) – Prosecutors said Broncos star linebacker Von Miller won’t face criminal charges following an investigation by police in a Denver suburb.

In a statement, the District Attorney’s Office of the 18th Judicial District said it decided not to file charges after reviewing the findings of a criminal case submitted by police in Parker. It said prosecutors cannot meet the minimum American Bar Association standard for prosecuting someone, which includes believing the charges are supported by probable cause, there is enough evidence to win a conviction and that doing so is “in the interests of justice.”

The club’s all-time sacks leader, Miller missed the 2020 season with an ankle injury he suffered just before the opener.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons is the first NFL player to be franchise tagged in 2021.

NFL teams have until Tuesday at 4 p.m. EST to use the tag to prevent a pending free agent from hitting the open market.

The Broncos went ahead and tagged their star safety for the second consecutive year. They have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal or Simmons would have to sign his $13.7 million franchise tag tender to play in 2021.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) – Arizona released the Notice of Allegations it received from the NCAA last fall, which includes five Level I violations.

The school released the notice after a judge this week ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by ESPN.

The charges include a lack of institutional control by the men’s basketball and swimming programs, and unethical behavior by assistant basketball coach Emanuel Richardson for accepting $20,000 in bribes. Richardson was among 10 people arrested in an FBI investigation into college basketball and served three months in prison.

The Notice of Allegations also charged basketball coach Sean Miller with failing to promote compliance and unethical behavior by former assistant coach Mark Phelps for asking a player to delete texts related to an impermissible $500 loan. Phelps and Richardson also were charged with unethical recruiting conduct.

BASEBALL

NEW YORK (AP) – Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he’s feeling better after getting a pacemaker and hopes to return to the team Saturday or Sunday.

Boone said he would have been back with the Yankees on Friday if not for coronavirus protocols. He had the pacemaker inserted Wednesday and was discharged from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida, on Thursday.

Boone said he felt light-headed at times during the offseason and reached out to his cardiologist for testing. He said monitoring determined he had a low heart rate.

NEW YORK (AP) – Pitcher Sam Dyson was suspended for the 2021 season by Major League Baseball under the domestic violence policy of the league and the players’ association.

The 32-year-old last played in 2019 for San Francisco and Minnesota. MLB began investigating Dyson in 2019 after a woman wrote two lengthy social media posts alleging domestic violence by an unnamed individual.

The woman later told The Athletic that Dyson physically abused her. The Athletic reported she provided photos showing bruises on her arms she said were caused by Dyson. She also claimed Dyson physically harmed her cat.

HOCKEY

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Mark Pavelich, the speedy center from the Iron Range who played on the “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey team, has died at a treatment center for mental illness. He was 63.

Officials in Anoka County, Minnesota, confirmed that Pavelich died at the Eagle’s Healing Nest in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, on Thursday morning. The cause and manner of death are still pending.

Pavelich was undergoing treatment at the home as part of a civil commitment for assaulting his neighbor in Cook County, Minnesota, in August 2019, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

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Former Mexican President Vincent Fox expects cannabis bill to pass

MEXICO CITY – Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said on Friday he expected Congress to pass its new law to legalize cannabis next week, a move that would effectively create one of the world’s largest weed markets.

The bill, backed by the administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, would mark a major shift in a country bedeviled for years by violence between feuding drug cartels.

Fox, a director at Colombian-Canadian Khiron Life Sciences which focuses on cannabis for medical use, has been a long-standing advocate for the decriminalization of marijuana in Mexico.

“We’re receiving direct information from the lawmakers,” he told Reuters. “It’s information that is quite trustworthy and solid, and next week this should be approved.”

A source in the lower house told Reuters the bill would be discussed on Monday. It was due to be approved in December but was delayed.

The bill, which easily passed the Senate in a vote in November, would create a huge new legal market for marijuana which companies like Khiron Life Sciences are eager to tap.

Canada’s Canopy Growth and The Green Organic Dutchman as well as Medical Marijuana from California are among other firms eyeing Mexico.

Grand View Research said in a recent study the global legal market for the plant could be worth $73.6 billion by 2027.

Lopez Obrador has argued that decriminalizing cannabis and other narcotics could help combat Mexico’s powerful drug cartels.

Fox said he wants to create a marijuana greenhouse and a laboratory where the plant will be studied at his Fox Center in Mexico.

“I’m convinced legalization of marijuana is the first step towards the legalization of all prohibited products,” he said.

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The Gary Sanchez positives keep coming for Yankees

Observations from the Yankees’ spring training game on Friday

Power Up

After hitting just three homers last season, Gleyber Torres hit his first of the spring — an opposite field shot off Tigers left-hander Tyler Alexander.

Walk On

Right-handed prospect Luis Medina walked four batters in just two-thirds of an inning. The 21-year-old has struggled with his command, but opened eyes pitching in Puerto Rico in winter ball during the offseason.

Caught My Eye

For a second straight game, Gary Sanchez threw a runner out trying to steal second, this time Detroit’s Akil Baddoo. Carlos Mendoza said Sanchez displayed a “Gary Sanchez-type arm” on the throw: “A plus, plus arm.’’

Saturday’s Schedule

The Yankees are scheduled to visit the Pirates at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla., at 1:05 p.m. But due to rain in the forecast, Gerrit Cole — who was slated to start the game — will now throw a live BP at the player development complex in Tampa. Jameson Taillon will instead start the game against his former team, should the weather allow. If they do play, Aaron Boone didn’t rule out a return to the dugout for the game.

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Pope Francis to meet with top Shiite cleric in Iraq

NAJAF, Iraq — Pope Francis met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most senior clerics in Shiite Islam, in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf on Saturday to deliver a message of peaceful coexistence, urging Muslims to embrace Iraq’s long-beleaguered Christian minority. 

The historic meeting in al-Sistani’s humble home was months in the making, with every detail painstakingly discussed and negotiated between the ayatollah’s office and the Vatican. 

When the time came, the 84-year-old pontiff’s convoy, led by a bullet-proof vehicle, pull up along Najaf’s narrow and column-lined Rasool Street, which culminates at the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine, one of the most revered sites in the world for Shiites. He then walked the few yards to al-Sistani’s modest home, which the cleric has rented for decades. 

A group of Iraqis wearing traditional clothes welcomed him outside. As a masked Francis entered the doorway, a few white doves were released in a sign of peace. 

The closed-door meeting was to touch on issues plaguing Iraq’s Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and his opinions on religious and other matters are sought by Shiites worldwide.

For Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority, a show of solidarity from al-Sistani could help secure their place in Iraq after years of displacement — and, they hope, ease intimidation from Shiite militiamen against their community. 

The visit was being carried live on Iraqi television, and residents cheered the meeting of two respected faith leaders.

”We welcome the pope’s visit to Iraq and especially to the holy city of Najaf and his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani,” said Najaf resident Haidar Al-Ilyawi. “It is an historic visit and hope it will be good for Iraq and the Iraqi people.”

Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday and met with senior government officials on the first-ever papal visit to the country, aimed at promoting his call for greater fraternity among all peoples. It is also his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and his meeting Saturday marked the first time a pope had met a grand ayatollah.

On the few occasions where he has made his opinion known, the notoriously reclusive al-Sistani has shifted the course of Iraq’s modern history.

In the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion he repeatedly preached calm and restraint as the Shiite majority came under attack by al-Qaida and other Sunni extremists. The country was nevertheless plunged into years of sectarian violence. 

His 2014 fatwa, or religious edict, calling on able-bodied men to join the security forces in fighting the Islamic State group swelled the ranks of Shiite militias, many closely tied to Iran. In 2019, as anti-government demonstrations gripped the country, his sermon lead to the resignation of then-prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

Iraqis have welcomed the visit and the international attention it has given the country as it struggles to recover from decades of war and unrest. Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group in 2017 but still sees sporadic attacks.

It has also seen recent rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias against U.S. military and diplomatic facilities, followed by U.S. airstrikes on militia targets in Iraq and neighboring Syria. The violence is linked to the standoff between the U.S. and Iran following Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord and its imposition of crippling sanctions on Iran.

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Angels’ Shohei Ohtani hits 100 mph in spring outing

Shohei Ohtani figured he’d be careful in his return to the mound after two injury-spoiled seasons.

A few batters in, the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way sensation reached back for a little extra — and brought back some of the buzz that surrounded his major league debut three years ago.

Ohtani reached 100 mph with his fastball and showed off his signature splitter while striking out five over 1 ²/₃ innings in the Angels’ 7-3 win over the Oakland Athletics on Friday. The right-hander allowed a run, three hits and two walks, struggling to command his slider but showcasing the arm strength and stuff that allowed him to dominate in the majors before Tommy John surgery in 2018.

“Since this was my first game, I wasn’t planning on letting it go in the beginning, especially early in counts,” Ohtani said via translator. “As the game went on, I felt better and I started throwing harder, but I think that led to me cutting the ball a couple times, so it’s something I have to work on.”

The 26-year-old Japanese star stunned baseball with his two-way ability as a rookie in 2018, going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts and hitting .285 with 22 homers as a designated hitter. He tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during the season, though, and had Tommy John surgery that October.

Shohei OhtaniShohei OhtaniAP

Ohtani stayed off the mound in 2019 yet thrived as a full-time designated hitter. But he faltered on both sides of the ball trying to resume his two-way role during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He struggled in two starts on the mound and put his pitching on hold amid a right forearm/elbow strain. He slumped at the plate, too, hitting .190 with seven homers.

The 2018 AL Rookie of the Year is off to a strong start this spring on both sides. He crushed a 468-foot homer over the batter’s eye at Tempe Diablo Stadium in a game Wednesday, then showed improved mechanics on the mound Friday.

“It really starts with his delivery, I think it’s more clean and consistent,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I like his arm stroke better. It starts there and then he’s able to recapture the velocity he’s had in the past, and the really good break of his splitter. The big thing for his success is going to be repetition of delivery and knowing where his fastball is going consistently.”

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