Chain-reaction crash kills five, injures 60 on Pennsylvania Turnpike

By Steve Gorman and Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters) – A chain-reaction crash involving a tour bus, three tractor-trailers and a passenger car killed five people and injured about 60 others on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Pittsburgh early on Sunday, state police said.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators began arriving hours later in Mount Pleasant Township, about 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Pittsburgh, to determine the cause of the pre-dawn pileup.

The accident forced the closure of an 86-mile (138-km) stretch of the turnpike, a major east-west highway across the state, in both directions between the exits for New Stanton and Breezewood, adding to post-holiday travel woes in the region.

The highway was reopened about 16 hours after the crash, state police said.

The tour bus was headed downhill when it swerved into an embankment at a bend in the road and rolled over on its side, state police spokesman Stephen Limani told a news conference hours later.

Two tractor-trailers then plowed into the bus and a third big rig slammed into the other trucks in a chain reaction that also involved a car, Limani said. All three trucks, at least one belonging to FedEx Corp <FDX.N>, were hauling shipments of packages, he said.

Five people from the entangled vehicles were killed and about 60 others were injured, two of them described as critically hurt, although all of those taken to hospitals were expected to survive, according to Limani. Three area hospitals took in a total of 57 patients from the accident, according to a state police tally.

Limani said the bus, owned by Z&D Tour Inc, was en route from Rockaway, New Jersey, where the company is based, to Cincinnati. But Z&D owner Chen Dan Yu said the ill-fated bus trip originated from Manhattan’s Chinatown district and was headed to multiple Ohio destinations, the New York Times reported.

Chen told the Times that Z&D had contracted with a Chinatown company called Ohio Coach for ticket sales on that route, which he said his company drives daily.

Emergency personnel also faced a language barrier as some of the bus passengers spoke only Japanese, while others spoke only Spanish, Limani said. The injured ranged in age from seven years old to some believed to be their 60s, he said.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation. But Limani said some motorists reported deteriorating weather conditions at the time of the accident in an area that lies in the snowbelt of western Pennsylvania.

“There was some precipitation that was coming down, and I’m sure that could have played a factor,” he told reporters. A state transportation official told reporters that road crews had been out overnight applying salt and ash to icy spots on the highway.

NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said crash investigators would be looking to see if the bus was equipped with an electronic data recorder similar to the “black boxes” carried on airplanes.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Steve Gorman in Culver City, California; Editing by Peter Cooney and Christopher Cushing)

Thanksgiving leftovers: Storm serves U.S. Northeast second helping of snow

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A vast wintry storm that has been raging across the United States since before Thanksgiving served a second helping of snow to the Northeast on Monday, closing offices and threatening to disrupt the evening rush-hour commute.

Alternating rain and snow showers were forecast to switch completely to snow, piling up by the workday’s end to 1 to 3 inches in New York and 4 to 6 inches in Boston, said meteorologist Bob Oravec of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

Heavier snow totals were expected in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, northwestern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire and Maine, with some areas already receiving 1 foot of snow, Oravec said.

“When it’s all said and done, some areas will have over 2 feet of snow from this storm, especially over parts of the Poconos and Catskills,” Oravec said of the mountain regions.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all non-essential state employees in the capital region to stay home on Monday. State offices in New Jersey opened as usual on Monday, but New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said all non-essential workers should head home at noon due to weather conditions.

Travel glitches on U.S. flights began mounting throughout the morning, with most of the 1,500 cancellations and delays posted by late morning at airports in San Francisco, Albany, Boston, Chicago and Newark.

The storm that started on the West Coast ahead of Thanksgiving, the busiest U.S. travel holiday, slowly rolled across the entire country, drenching some areas with rain, blanketing others with snow and blasting still others with winds. Three tornadoes were reported northwest of Phoenix.

“It’s uncommon to have a tornado in Phoenix, but it’s not uncommon to have multiple types of weather with a big winter storm like that,” Oravec said.

The storm was expected to linger in New York until just before sunrise on Tuesday, in Boston until early Tuesday afternoon and in Maine until Wednesday morning.

“There have been huge impacts from the storm since it occurred during the Thanksgiving week of travel and coming home from the holiday,” Oravec said.

“It hit about possibly the worst time it could hit, and it went right across the entire country.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Exelon to close Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania on Friday

(Reuters) – U.S. energy company Exelon Corp said it will shut the last reactor at the Three Mile Island power plant, site of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, at noon local time on Friday.

The company announced in May that it planned to shut the 45-year old unit in September due to inaction in the Pennsylvania legislature on a bill that would have subsidized the continued operation of nuclear power in the state.

Paul Adams, a spokesman for Exelon, said the company will issue a statement later Friday on the planned closure. He noted Exelon never owned the unit that suffered the accident in 1979.

Exelon said on its website it bought the 837-megawatt (MW) Unit 1 at Three Mile Island about 20 years after accident at Unit 2. Unit 2 is owned by FirstEnergy Corp <FE.N>.

One megawatt can power about 1,000 average U.S. homes.

Nuclear services company EnergySolutions Inc said in July it was in negotiations with a unit of FirstEnergy to acquire and complete the decommissioning of Unit 2.

In recent years, electricity prices have been depressed by cheap natural gas from shale fields, including the Marcellus in Pennsylvania, and by increased use of renewable power.

This has reduced the amount of money power plants can make selling electricity and forced generators to shut several coal and nuclear plants in recent years.

Many states, including New York, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey and Ohio have already adopted nuclear subsidies to keep their reactors in service to help meet carbon reduction and other goals.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have considered legislation, but not in time for Three Mile Island. Exelon said it had to decide whether to spend the money to refuel the plant by June 1.

In addition to the states, officials in U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration have also proposed programs to keep nuclear and coal plants operating longer.

Nuclear power plants generated about 39% of Pennsylvania’s electricity in 2018 and have provided over 90% of its zero-carbon power, according to federal and industry data.

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Exelon operates two reactors at Peach Bottom and two at Limerick, FirstEnergy operates two reactors at Beaver Valley, and Talen Energy owns two at Susquehanna.

FirstEnergy’s bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions unit has said it would shut Beaver Valley in 2021 unless the reactors receive some financial support from federal or state programs.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

U.S. to seek death penalty for accused Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

FILE PHOTO: Flowers and other items have been left as memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue following last Saturday's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a Pennsylvania man accused of bursting into a Pittsburgh synagogue last year with a semi-automatic rifle and shooting 11 people to death, according to court papers filed on Monday.

Robert Bowers, 46, shouted “all Jews must die” as he fired on congregants gathered for Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, authorities said.

Bowers, who is from a Pittsburgh suburb, has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to a 63-count indictment and is awaiting trial though a trial date has not been set. The charges include using a firearm to commit murder and obstruction of free exercise of religious belief resulting in death, the court filing said.

“Robert Bowers expressed hatred and contempt toward members of the Jewish faith and his animus toward members of the Jewish faith played a role in the killings,” prosecutors said.

The massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue was the deadliest attack ever on Jewish Americans in the United States.

The synagogue is a fixture in Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, which is home to one of the largest and oldest Jewish populations in the United States.

Bowers targeted that location “to maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes and instill fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities,” prosecutors said in court papers.

An attorney for Bowers, death penalty specialist Judy Clarke, did not return calls or an email seeking comment.

FILE PHOTO: The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

MULTIPLE CONGREGATIONS

The Tree of Life synagogue hosted multiple Jewish congregations.

Dor Hadash, one of the congregations that was attacked and whose name means New Generation in English, expressed disappointment in the decision to seek the death penalty.

Instead, attorneys for Bowers and federal prosecutors should have reached a plea agreement that would see him receive a life prison sentence, Dor Hadash said in a statement.

“It would have prevented the attacker from getting the attention and publicity that will inevitably come with a trial, and eliminated any possibility of further trauma that could result from a trial and protracted appeals,” it said.

Separately, a spokesman for Tree of Life said in an email the congregation “does not have a statement on this matter; we have confidence that justice will be served.”

Among those killed were a 97-year-old woman and a married couple in their 80s. Two civilians and five police officers were wounded before the gunman, who was armed with an assault-style rifle and three handguns, was shot by police at the synagogue and surrendered. He has been held in jail since then.

The mass shooting followed a rise in the number of hate crimes and the number of hate groups in the United States, according to separate reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Pittsburgh to propose tighter gun laws after synagogue attack

FILE PHOTO: Vigil attendees comfort one another outside the Tree of Life synagogue, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – The Pittsburgh city council on Tuesday was due to introduce a package of gun-control laws including a ban on assault-style rifles, nearly two months after a gunman shouting anti-Semitic messages killed 11 people in a synagogue.

The measure would also ban certain types of ammunition and allow courts to ban gun ownership by people deemed to pose a significant threat of violence.

FILE PHOTO: Flowers and other items have been left as memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue following last Saturday's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Flowers and other items have been left as memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue following last Saturday’s shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

“As gun violence escalates across the country, it would be unconscionable for me to stand by and do nothing,” Councilman Corey O’Connor, one of the legislation’s authors, said in a statement. O’Connor represents Squirrel Hill, the neighborhood where the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue took place.

Assault-style weapons, with the capacity to fire multiple rounds in a short period of time, have played a significant role in the series of deadly mass shootings the United States has experienced in recent years.

Gun-rights advocates opposed the measures and threatened legal action if they passed.

The Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League and Firearm Owners Against Crime noted that a state law forbids local governments from enacting stricter gun laws than those in place statewide. The groups also said the proposal would violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Robert Bowers, 46, is accused of shooting and killing 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27, using a legally purchased assault-style rifle and three handguns. He has pleaded not guilty.

 

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)

Man charged with Pittsburgh synagogue massacre due in court

FILE PHOTO: Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – The man charged with shooting 11 worshipers to death at a Pittsburgh synagogue, marking the deadliest ever attack on America’s Jewish community, was due to make his first court appearance on Monday before a federal judge.

Robert Bowers, 46, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic material online, has been charged with 29 criminal counts, including the violation of U.S. civil rights laws in what federal prosecutors say was a hate crime.

Several of the charges can be punishable by the death penalty.

Bowers is accused of storming into the Tree of Life temple in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s close-knit Jewish community, yelling “All Jews must die” as he opened fire on members of three congregations holding Sabbath prayer services there on Saturday morning.

In addition to the 11 mostly elderly worshipers who were killed, six people, including four police officers who confronted the gunman, were wounded before the suspect surrendered. Two of the surviving victims remained hospitalized in critical condition.

“The fact that this attack took place during a worship service makes it even more heinous,” U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said on Sunday at a news conference.

Bowers’ initial appearance before a judge was scheduled for Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Brady said.

About 2,500 people attended an interfaith memorial service for the victims that was held late on Sunday on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

The dead included two brothers in their 50s, David and Cecil Rosenthal, a married couple in their 80s, Sylvan and Bernice Simon, and 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the oldest of the victims.

Another was Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, a family physician who initially escaped the attack only to be killed when he returned to render aid to the wounded, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed column by Pittsburgh carpet salesman Lou Weiss, who knew five of the victims personally.

The killings rocked the Squirrel Hill community, an enclave that encompasses several synagogues and Jewish religious schools, and sparked security alerts at places of worship across the country.

The massacre also took on political overtones as some complained that the confrontational, nationalistic rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump has encouraged right-wing extremists and fed a surge in activity by hate groups.

Trump, who branded Saturday’s shooting an act of pure evil and called on Americans to rise above hatred, was already facing similar criticism after pipe bombs were mailed last week to some of his most prominent political adversaries. The targets, mostly Democrats, included former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Cesar Sayoc, 56, a strip club DJ and part-time pizza delivery man whose van was pasted with pro-Trump images and slogans disparaging the political left, was arrested in the pipe bomb case on Friday and faced his first court appearance on Monday in Florida.

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Justice Department probes Catholic Church sex abuse in Pennsylvania

Storm clouds pass over a Roman Catholic church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Cohn

(Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into child sex abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, four Roman Catholic Church dioceses said on Thursday.

The dioceses of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie and Allentown told Reuters that they had received federal subpoenas following a state grand jury report that alleged over 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused children over 70 years. The Associated Press first reported on Thursday the Justice Department investigation.

The dioceses said they were cooperating with the investigation but declined further comment.

The Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia declined to comment.

An 884-page report made public in August by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro after a two-year investigation contained graphic examples of children being groomed and sexually abused by clergymen. Shapiro said at the time that it was largely based on documents from secret archives kept by the dioceses, including handwritten confessions by priests.

The report cited 301 priests, some of whom have died.

In September, U.S. Catholic bishops said they would set up a hotline for accusations of sexual abuse against clergy members and lay persons employed by the Church.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Writing by Andrew Hay Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Police called to Turk cleric’s U.S. compound after shooting report

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center in rural Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, is seen in this picture taken July 9, 2013. REUTERS/Staff/File Photo

(Reuters) – Police were called to the Pennsylvania compound of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric accused by Turkey of instigating a failed 2016 coup, on Wednesday after a guard fired a shot at a suspected armed intruder, a Gulen spokesman said.

FILE PHOTO: U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo

The security guard fired a warning shot as the person tried to enter the compound’s gates, and the intruder fled, the spokesman said. There are no known injuries or arrests, Alp Aslandogan, Gulen’s media adviser, told Reuters.

“Just one shot was fired,” Aslandogan said. “The person disappeared. The incident is over as far as we’re concerned.”

Gulen was inside his residence on the compound at the time.

“His response was that the authorities should be informed and everybody should cooperate fully with the investigation to find out what happened,” Aslandogan said.

Several Pennsylvania State Police cars were seen around the sprawling gated compound and retreat in Saylorsburg in the Pocono Mountains, according to photographs shared online by local news reporters.

Police, who left the scene a short time later, did not respond to requests for comment. A local television station, WNEP, reported that police were still searching for the suspected intruder.

President Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government accuse Gulen of orchestrating an attempted coup in July, 2016, in which rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets, bombing parliament. More than 240 people were killed in the violence.

Gulen denies the accusations.

His compound is patrolled by a team of uniformed private security guards, some of them armed with handguns.

Erdogan has repeatedly demanded that the United States extradite Gulen to Turkey, straining relations between the two NATO allies. Washington has asked for more compelling evidence of Gulen’s involvement in the attempted coup.

A U.S. evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, has been held under house arrest in Turkey after authorities charged him with links to Kurdish militants and Gulen supporters, an accusation he has denied. That case has become a key issue in the worsening diplomatic conflict between the two countries, leading to U.S. sanctions.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Vatican voices ‘shame and sorrow’ over damning sex abuse report

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis delivers a speech after a meeting with Patriarchs of the churches of the Middle East at the St. Nicholas Basilica in Bari, southern Italy July 7, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

By Philip Pullella and Scott Malone

VATICAN CITY/BOSTON (Reuters) – The Vatican expressed “shame and sorrow” on Thursday over revelations that Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused about 1,000 people over seven decades, vowing to hold abusers and those who protected them accountable.

In a long statement that broke the Vatican’s silence over a damning U.S. grand jury report that has shaken the American Church, spokesman Greg Burke said the Holy See was taking the report “with great seriousness”.

He stressed the “need to comply” with civil law, including mandatory reporting of abuse against minors and said Pope Francis understands how “these crimes can shake the faith and spirit of believers” and that the pontiff wanted to “root out this tragic horror”.

The grand jury on Tuesday released the findings of the largest-ever investigation of sex abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church, finding that 301 priests in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years. It contained graphic examples of children being groomed and sexually abused by priests.

“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible. Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith,” Burke said.

“The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur,” he said.

St. Joseph Catholic Church is seen in Hanover, Pennsylvania, U.S., August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barr

St. Joseph Catholic Church is seen in Hanover, Pennsylvania, U.S., August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

His statement came hours after U.S. bishops called for a Vatican-led probe backed by lay investigators into allegations of sexual abuse by former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned last month.. The Vatican did not directly address their request.

Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation in July after American church officials said allegations that he sexually abused a 16-year-old boy almost 50 years ago were credible and substantiated.

McCarrick was possibly the first cardinal to resign since French theologian Louis Billot, who according to the National Catholic Reporter, a US newspaper, left over a disagreement with Pope Pius XI in 1927.

“The overarching goal in all of this is stronger protections against predators in the Church and anyone who would conceal them, protections that will hold bishops to the highest standards of transparency and accountability,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement.

The bishops said they would create a new way to report accusations of sexual abuse by clergy members and for claims to be investigated without interference from bishops overseeing priests accused of sex abuse. They said it would involve more church members who were not clergy but had expertise in law enforcement or psychology.

Nick Ingala, a spokesman for Voice of the Faithful, a group formed to promote parishioners’ voices after the abuse scandal surfaced, said it was heartening that bishops wanted to set up an independent review process but he expressed skepticism that it would be successful.

“I don’t know how they are going to work that out,” Ingala said in a telephone interview. “I’m always hesitant to give 100 percent credence to any plan the bishops put forth based upon experiences in the past.”

The Pennsylvania grand jury report was the latest revelation in a scandal that erupted onto the global stage in 2002, when the Boston Globe newspaper reported that for decades, priests had sexually assaulted minors while church leaders covered up their crimes.

Similar reports have emerged in Europe, Australia and Chile, prompting lawsuits and investigations, sending dioceses into bankruptcy and undercutting the moral authority of the leadership of the Catholic Church, which has some 1.2 billion members around the world.

(Editing by David Gregorio, Toni Reinhold)

Rescuers pull people from cars, homes in flooded New York, Pennsylvania

The top of the Empire State Building is covered in fog during a rainy day in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

(Reuters) – More forecasts of heavy rains posed new danger on Tuesday in parts of New York state and Pennsylvania, where rescuers hauled people from waterways, flooded cars, and homes.

Following several days of heavy rain throughout the northeastern United States, the National Weather Service issued new warnings of flash floods for areas around Binghamton, New York, near the Pennsylvania border.

“Many roadways are now closed and no unnecessary travel is advised,” the Seneca County, New York, sheriff’s office said in a statement. “Citizens are urged to shelter in place and move to higher ground if they are experiencing high water.”

Video from the region showed emergency responders using rafts to pull people from swollen waterways, as well as flooded homes and cars. Federal forecasters warned that parts of the region could see as much as 4 inches (10 cm) more rain today.

“Flooding is one of the primary killers with regards to weather. It’s not tornadoes. It’s not wind damage,” said Brett Rossio, an Accuweather meteorologist. “It doesn’t take much. Even just a foot of water can pull you away very easily.”

More than 8,000 people had lost power in areas drenched by the storms and the Red Cross said it was operating shelters. It was not immediately clear how many people were in them.

Both Pennsylvania and New York activated their emergency response centers for the storms, which started over the weekend.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)