Mad Minute stories from Monday, February 12th

AZUSA, Calif. (AP) - A mountain lion roamed through backyards in a neighborhood outside Los Angeles before wildlife officers tranquilized it.

The lion was spotted Monday morning in the eastern Los Angeles County community of Azusa, near the San Gabriel Mountains wilderness.

TV news helicopters showed it pawing at the door of a home and jumping onto the roof of a shed, then leaping over a fence.

Azusa police contained the big cat until wildlife officers arrived and used social media to warn residents to stay indoors.

After being tranquilized, the sleeping lion was loaded onto a pickup truck to be moved out of the neighborhood.


UCHAREST, Romania (AP) - Orange snow has fallen in parts of eastern Europe after a rare meeting of Siberia and the Sahara.

Meteorologists say the snow from Siberia collided with dust-filled wind from the Sahara desert in Africa.

The orange snow has been spotted on mountains in Russia's Sochi region, farther east in Georgia's Adzharia region and at Romania's Danube port of Galati.

Some skiers have posted photos on social media joking that they were on Mars, not a mountain.

Romanian meteorologist Mia Mirabela Stamate says a wind carrying sand particles from the Sahara met with a massive snowfall on Friday. She predicts that the orange-hued snow will move eastward.



PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Crews have replaced a telephone pole in Providence, Rhode Island, that was being held together by duct tape.

WJAR-TV reports the pole was split in two several weeks ago when it was struck by a truck. A crew with National Grid used tape to hold the pole together, and a supervisor with the utility deemed it safe for the short term.

A permanent repair was scheduled for next week, but the pole was replaced Friday after a resident expressed concern about its safety.


BOSTON (AP) - Loren Zitomersky has gotten used to the jokes: "Hey, you're running the wrong way!"

Slamming straight into trees he didn't see behind him? Not so much. Also, ouch.

But the Disney movie production lawyer is on a singular quest to break the world record for the fastest marathon ever run backward. Zitomersky, 33, who's known on social media as "Backwards Guy ," hopes to accomplish the feat at next month's Boston Marathon to raise money and awareness for an epilepsy cure.

The Associated Press caught up with Zitomersky, who lives in Los Angeles, to find out what makes him tick. (Or is that tack?)

AP: Let's start with the question everyone surely asks when they see you: Why?

Zitomersky: My dad lost a son to epilepsy in 1977 before I was born. I never got to meet Brian, but his loss obviously had a huge impact on my dad. He and I started riding bikes and running marathons to raise money for the Epilepsy Foundation . Nobody wants to talk about epilepsy - it's such a stigmatized disorder - yet one in 26 people has it.

AP: What are your plans at the Boston Marathon on April 16?

Zitomersky: Last June, I qualified for Boston with a 3 hour, 14 second marathon. Immediately I told myself I'm going to go big with my epilepsy fundraising and awareness campaign. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what to do for Boston. Someone threw out an idea: What about a world record? But most of the records were kind of cheesy - fastest marathon run while dressed as a clown; that sort of thing. Then I stumbled upon the record for fastest backward marathon.

AP: Who holds that world mark now?

Zitomersky: Xu Zhenjun set the record at the Beijing Marathon in 2004 with a time of 3:43:39. Beating it will mean running backward at a pace of about 8 and a half minutes per mile. In training, I've worked myself up to 45 backward miles per week, but I can't emphasize enough how hard it is. It's not efficient at all. Your calves feel like they're on fire. You use 33 percent more energy running backward than forward.

AP: What are the occupational hazards?

Zitomersky: At first it was tough just getting my bearings and balance. Early on, I ran into a tree and cut up my back. When you're running forward you can zone out. You can't do that running backward. But I've gotten used to it. Sometimes I run with a friend who acts as a spotter. He's basically the eyes in the back of my head: "Right, right ... left, left ... in 100 yards we're going to make a left turn."

AP: How do people react when they see you?

Zitomersky: Hey, it's LA - there's a lot of weirdos out here. A lot of people just stare at me. Some get really excited and run backward with me for a few steps. I had a woman run up and hug me. Kids love me - most of them, anyway. A little girl saw me and she immediately turned around and started running backward. Then she fell down and started crying. I guess backward running isn't for everyone. But I do get a lot of messages of support from people who suffer from epilepsy.

AP: How confident are you of breaking the record?

Zitomersky: It's literally going to be the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I'm by no means 100 percent sure I'll manage it, but I'm going to give it my all. I'll be a wreck, crying my eyes out. I'm going to be a running meme.


De QUEEN, Ark. (AP) - A group of inmates is tending to 200 roosters at an Arkansas sheriff's office pending their use as evidence against 137 people arrested at a cockfight.

Sheriff Robert Gentry said the birds would be held at his office until a court decides what to do with them.

The Texarkana Gazette reported several agencies raided a cockfight near De Queen March 17, tracking down an operation that moved every weekend. The sheriff said 34 people face felony counts of unlawful animal fighting and 86 face misdemeanors. Others arrested were spectators.

Gentry said the suspects are from Arkansas, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Texas.

Administrator assistant Terry Hernandez said Friday jail trustys were watching the birds - not anyone accused of staging cockfights. Workers at a neighboring business said the birds were noisy.


Schools nationwide are debating President Trump's call to arm teachers and security guards with guns - while one Pennsylvania school is getting attention for its last line of defense.

Blue Mountain School District Superintendent David Helsel made headlines recently after testifying to lawmakers at the state capitol that his students could be armed with rocks in case of an active shooter lockdown.

"Every classroom has been equipped with a five-gallon bucket of river stone," Helsel told lawmakers. "If an armed intruder attempts to gain entrance into any of our classrooms, they will face a classroom full students armed with rocks and they will be stoned."

The superintendent told Fox News on Friday he was surprised by the added media attention for something he calls a "last resort." He said he has received positive support from parents in the community.

Helsel said the school district has a series of safety measures already installed, including cameras and new security locks on classroom doors, as well as armed security and training for staff and students in a program called ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.

But if an unarmed teacher decides to lockdown a classroom, instead of being passive as they had been trained to do in the past, Helsel said his kids will be empowered to defend themselves.

"Obviously a rock against a gun isn't a fair fight, but it's better than nothing," he said, adding, "I'm not sure why some people feel that it's more appropriate to be a stationary target under a desk in a classroom rather than be empowered to defend yourself and provide a response to deter the entry of an armed intruder into their classroom."

Helsel said another district had recommended using golf balls, but he didn't like that idea because they would bounce around whereas the rocks are shaped in a way to hit and fall after being thrown.

The plan has received mixed reactions from the community.

A senior at Blue Mountain High School supports the idea.

"It matters because it will help protect the schools, anything helps, rocks are better than books and pencils," he told WNEP.

"At this point, we have to get creative," one parent said. "We have to protect our kids first and foremost. Throwing rocks? It's an option."

But not everyone thinks it's a good idea.

"It's absurd," another parent said. "Arm the teachers."

Helsel said, while the teachers are not armed, the district is looking for volunteers at the school on maintenance staff to be properly trained and armed, adding that he hopes they never have to use any of the safety measures.


JAMAICA, N.Y. - An arriving crewmember discovered that he could not get a leg up on U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in his attempt to transport illegal drugs into the United States.

On March 17, Mr. Hugh Hall, a citizen of Jamaica, and crew member of Fly Jamaica Airways arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport from Montego Bay, Jamaica and presented himself for inspection. Mr. Hugh was escorted to a private search room where CBP officers discovered four packages taped to his legs, all of which contained a white powder that tested positive for cocaine.

Mr. Hall was arrested for the importation of a controlled substance and was turned over to Homeland Security Investigations. Approximately 9 lbs. of cocaine was seized, with an approximate street value of $160,000.

"This seizure is another example of our CBP officers being ever vigilant in protecting the United States from the distribution of illicit drugs," said Leon Hayward, Acting Director of CBP's New York Field Operations.

Mr. Hall faces federal narcotics smuggling charges and will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the U.S. Eastern District Court of New York.

All defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty.


MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The man made famous by being "the most interesting man in the world" while pitching Dos Equis beer loaned his expertise with his perfectly groomed facial hair by helping to judge a contest looking for the best beard in Vermont.

Jonathan Goldsmith, whose close-cropped beard was a key part of the image of the cigar-smoking sophisticate, judged the Best Beardies competition Saturday. It was sponsored by the Vermont chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

This year's competition raised $45,000 for Make-a-Wish Vermont, topping the nearly $30,000 it brought in last year.

The contest's 2018 Top Beardie was Chip Fortune, of Colchester, whose mountain man-style beard won over the judges.

The other winners were: Troy Headrick, of Burlington, urban beard; Louie Coli, of Westford, freestyle beard; Dillon Mears, of Plainfield, people's choice; and Steve Jalbert, of Barre, top fundraiser.

The winners were among this year's 20 competitors who made it to Saturday's finals. They each won a plaque, a gift card for beard care products and bragging rights.

Goldsmith said before the competition that a beard reveals the personality of the man who sports it.

"If it's wild looking, unkempt - that has some statement. If it's immaculately trimmed, it might mean that he keeps a clean desk," said Goldsmith, a Vermont resident who now promotes tequila. "If it's really long, I would say that it's somebody who is his own man and doesn't really care about convention."

Jalbert, 33, has a long beard that covers his bald pate. He said friends, family and admirers of his beard, which he's been working on for about a year, urged him to enter.

"The biggest thing is you have to have patience. It doesn't grow fast," Jalbert said.

There's a science to ensuring that his beard remains kempt, he said. He washes it several times a week and he uses oils to keep it tame and looking good.

"Most people have a good thing to say about a guy with a good beard," said Jalbert, who raised $2,070 in contributions.

Also judging those goods beards was Bryan Sturge, last year's winner. He still has the beard he grew to honor his daughter who died of cancer in 2013.

Organizers have also drawn the Montana Make-a-Wish organization into the best-beard fray.

Montana, which is holding its finals March 29, is betting bison steaks it can find a better beard in Big Sky Country than the Green Mountain State. Vermont is countering that bet with of maple syrup.


A man who fell into the space between two buildings in Honolulu on Friday while trying to retrieve lost baseballs with a pole was finally rescued after about three hours of effort by first responders.

The unidentified 55-year-old man, who had fallen about 12 to 15 feet before becoming stuck, was taken to a hospital in serious condition, Honolulu's KHON-TV reported.

The man reportedly had been bouncing a baseball on top of one of the buildings around 2 p.m. when it got away from him and fell into a tight space between that building and an adjacent one.

"Apparently, he got a couple of baseballs stuck inside the wall," Ray Rodrigues, a property manager for one of the buildings, told the station. "He was going to pick them up with a pole, and he fell inside."

Rescuers tried lowering a cable, but the man was unable to grab it, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Then they spent hours trying to cut through a concrete wall of one of the buildings in a bid to free the man, who could be heard screaming, KHON reported.

Finally, around 5:30 p.m., the man was pulled out from a hole that firefighters had cut into one of the walls, the newspaper reported.

"My recommendation would be to put some kind of screen or protective area between the spaces between the two buildings," construction expert Lance Luke told KHON. "Now, you have to get both building owners to agree to that, but that would be safer than how it is now."

A city spokesman told the station that an inspector would be sent to look at the site next week.


Karen Cooper was ready to go out on a limb to save her beloved, so she got married - to a tree.

Specifically, a giant ficus that's shaded Snell Family Park in Fort Myers, Florida, for more than a century.

The tree became the center of a neighborhood controversy when city staff began discussing cutting it down last year. Cooper, who lives nearby, began mobilizing to save it.

The News-Press reports effort that culminated with the waterfront nuptials Saturday, complete with flowers, music, a tree-decorated wedding cake and a canine ring-bearer named Little Bear.

Though rooted on city property, some of the Indian laurel's 8,000-square-foot canopy and root system extends to a neighboring lot, for sale for $1 million.

After a site visit last December, the city's public works department OK'd the tree's removal after the beautification board had been notified. In February, the board discussed spending $13,000 to cut down the sprawling tree and replacing it with smaller geiger trees.

Once neighbors got wind of those plans, the protests started: phone calls, posters, fliers and, most recently, Cooper's wedding, during which she and several other white-dressed women vowed to honor and protect it before some 50 onlookers.

Cooper got the idea from a group of women who've been protesting deforestation in Mexico by marrying trees, she said. "So I saw that and I thought, 'Oh we should marry the ficus tree - kind of giggle, giggle - but everyone said it's a really good idea, so I said, 'OK, let's do it.' "

She staged the wedding three days ahead of Tuesday's Beautification Advisory Board meeting, when the tree's fate is on the agenda. To be discussed: last month's report by certified arborist Rick Joyce, who gave the tree a thorough check-up. He determined it's in fairly robust health and could withstand judicious pruning

In an email, city spokeswoman Stephanie Schaffer wrote, "The City is moving forward to save the Snell Park ficus tree. Every day City employees care for the trees and plants that give our city a sense of community and shared history."

But even though the city appears to be backing away from its initial plans to cut down the ficus, its fate remains uncertain, Cooper points out.

Ward 5 Councilman Fred Burson, the only city official to attend the ceremony, vowed to help save the tree, in front of which he'd posed with his family for a campaign photo. "If we don't get it settled at the Beautification Board meeting, I'll take it to the City Council," he said.

Cooper and her tree guardians will be there, cheering him on.

"If they cut down this tree, I'm going to be a widow," she said.

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