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FLAGSTAFF — Teeth-chattering. Axle-busting. Head-pounding.
Arizona authorities say a package addressed to Sheriff Joe Arpaio discovered in a northern Arizona mailbox would have exploded if opened, leading to serious injuries or death.
FLAGSTAFF — Arizona tribal members say they're shocked by a television sitcom that made fun of one of the most pervasive social ills on American Indian reservations — alcoholism.
FLAGSTAFF — The Grand Canyon is an international destination where spectacular views are not the only thing that grab tourists' attention.
FLAGSTAFF — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has imposed new pollution limits on three coal-fired Arizona power plants, aiming to protect the environment and air quality for wilderness areas and landmarks such as the Grand Canyon.
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK - Google and its street-view cameras already have taken users to narrow cobblestone alleys in Spain using a tricycle, inside the Smithsonian with a push cart and to British Columbia's snow-covered slopes by snowmobile.
The Grand Canyon boasts some of the most spectacular views in the world, revealing a rich geological history that few ever see from the Colorado River that formed it millions of years ago.
FLAGSTAFF -- Keith Little, one of the most recognizable faces of the Navajo Code Talkers, has died.
FLAGSTAFF — Urban Outfitters has removed the word "Navajo" from product names on its website in the wake of criticism from the Navajo Nation government, bloggers and others, who viewed the usage as disrespectful and a trademark violation.
Upscale decor and expanded menu offerings are part of the cafe concept being tested by Subway.
CAMP VERDE, Ariz. (AP) - A self-help author who led a deadly sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona was found guilty of three counts of negligent homicide Wednesday.
FLAGSTAFF — A convicted killer who escaped from an Arizona prison had planned to overdose on heroin at Yellowstone National Park and let bears eat him, according to a sheriff's report.
Tracy Province told a sheriff's detective after his capture that he had wanted to go up on a mountain, shoot up a gram of heroin and "be bear food." As he was preparing the drug, a voice told him not to go through with the plan, and he changed course in favor of trying to hitchhike to Indiana to see family.
"He called it divine intervention," Mohave County sheriff's Detective Larry Matthews wrote in the August report.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal first reported Province's interview Thursday.
Authorities say Province asked fellow convict John McCluskey and their alleged accomplice, Casslyn Mae Welch, to take him to Yellowstone, so they drove him to the Wyoming park from New Mexico. Province doesn't name anyone else in the interview with Matthews, but it's clear whom he's with.
The trio faces capital murder and carjacking charges in New Mexico.
Province has pleaded guilty to Arizona charges of escape, kidnapping, aggravated assault and armed robbery and is scheduled to be sentenced Friday. He then will be sent to New Mexico to face charges there.
Province, McCluskey and a third inmate, Daniel Renwick, escaped from a minimum-security prison near Kingman on July 30. Authorities say Welch helped them flee by throwing cutting tools over the perimeter fence.
Province told Matthews about his plan to commit suicide after he was returned to Arizona from Wyoming, where he was captured Aug. 9 in the sleepy town of Meeteetse, steps from a church where he sat in the pews and sang "Your Grace is Enough." A woman he talked to after church recognized him from a photograph on television.
Al Nash, a spokesman at Yellowstone National Park, said it's certainly possible that Province's plan to let bears eat him would work, but it struck him as improbable.
"We have a fair number of bears in the ecosystem," Nash said. "They eat about anything. A bear would rather get an easy meal than a difficult meal, but human bear encounters are very infrequent."
FLAGSTAFF — State transportation officials, who sold about 100 vehicles from their fleet to help close a $100 million deficit and pay for plowing last winter, say they aren't expecting major budget constraints in the upcoming snow season.
Warehouses across the state are stocked with 24,000 tons of deicer, and the nearly 200 snowplows are serviced and staffed as officials prepare for the first major snowfall.
"As long as we don't have something like last year, then our budget will be able to handle the winter," Department of Transportation spokesman Rod Wigman said Wednesday.
Officials say while the budget still is a concern, it has largely stabilized after March's vehicle sale to pay for the costly plowing of highways during and after last winter's storms.
Transportation officials expect to pay anywhere from $3 million to $7 million for snowplowing and winter storm maintenance, depending on the severity of the winter season. Nearly 400 transportation employees are trained and licensed to operate snowplows and typically work 12-hour shifts during winter storms.
Part of their training includes eight to 16 hours on a snowplow simulator, which resembles a race car arcade game. Potential operators must navigate snowpacked roads, and trainers can create obstacles by putting pedestrians, cars and elk on the screen.
Snowplows ran nearly nonstop last winter to clear roads for those who dared to drive on them.
The Flagstaff area was hit particularly hard with an above-average 144 inches of snow. In January, residents saw 4½ feet of snow — the third-highest total recorded for a five-day snowfall — during an El Nino season.
The snowfall caused $4.1 million in damage to the state highway infrastructure.
It's unclear what this year will bring.
Weather forecasters say this winter will be characterized by La Nina. The conditions correlate with warmer weather in the South and East because they allow the jet stream, which brings warmer temperature, to wander north.
About two in every three La Nina patterns have brought below-normal precipitation to Arizona's high country.
"There's a little more uncertainty about whether this is going to bring above- or below-normal precipitation," said Nick Petro, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.
Since 1950, Flagstaff has seen an average yearly snowfall of 96 inches. During La Nina years, average snowfall in the mountain city is 88 inches.
Payson gets an average 2 feet of snowfall a year, and about 5 inches less in La Nina years.
Whatever the winter brings, transportation officials say it's best to be prepared with a full tank of gas, tire chains, food and water, and details about road conditions.
They urge drivers to keep a safe distance from snowplows and to brake slowly on wet or slippery roads.
Transportation officials say roads won't be closed unless conditions call for it.
BELLEMONT — A rare swarm of tornadoes shoved semis off highways and destroyed homes in the pre-dawn darkness Wednesday, leaving startled residents wondering if they were in Arizona anymore or had woken up in the twister-prone Midwest.
After one tornado rumbled through Bellemont around 5:30 with wind speeds of up to 110 miles per hour, residents armed with flashlights emerged from their homes to check on the damage — a house splintered, windows smashed, garage doors twisted, but no major injuries.
"Running through the house, all the Kansas movies go through your head telling you: 'Move to the basement,'" Breanna Hunt said. "But we don't have a basement."
Another tornado struck minutes later east of the small town of a few hundred people nestled in the Ponderosa pines just west of Flagstaff. Weather forecasters confirmed a total of four twisters, including one reported around noon along Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff.
National Weather Service meteorologist George Howard said 22 tornado warnings were issued Wednesday. The radar showed many more twisters likely formed but weren't confirmed.
Sparsely populated Arizona typically has four tornadoes a year, but rarely if ever sees twisters come in clusters and cause the kind of damage seen Wednesday, meteorologists said.
"The hammering that northern Arizona is getting right now is exceptional," said National Weather Service meteorologist Ken Waters in Phoenix. "It's not uncommon this time of year to have one or two tornado reports or a warning, but this is quite an outbreak."
The storm system moved across the West over the last few days, dropping record-setting rain in northern Nevada, pounding Phoenix with hail and dumping enough snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains to close a highway pass.
In Utah, two teenagers were struck by lightning outside their school Tuesday. They were airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital, where they regained consciousness Wednesday.
The extreme weather came from a low-pressure system that has been parked over Central and Southern California. The system was expected to weaken as it drifts northward.
Arizona, however, was the hardest hit. On Tuesday, storms ripped out trees and broke windows in metropolitan Phoenix, flooded roadways, shut airports and dented cars and shattered windows with hail bigger than golf balls in some places.
On Wednesday, semitrailers were sitting along the side of Interstate 40. High winds cast dozens of cars of a freight train off the tracks in Bellemont around 6:30 a.m. No one was injured and the cars did not contain any hazardous materials.
About 30 homes were so badly damaged that they were uninhabitable and the people who lived in them were evacuated, authorities said. A shelter was set up for them.
Minutes before the first tornado in Bellemont touched down, Jeff Cox was standing in his garage, his children nestled in bed. Rain and hail pounded hard against the windows and a fierce wind made it look like houses were swaying.
Then Cox heard a deafening sound and ducked beneath a flatbed trailer carrying two all-terrain vehicles.
The tornado struck, pushing the trailer two feet, tearing off the roof of nearly his entire home and throwing it and other debris into the nearby forest.
"It was so loud, it sounded like a big boom," his wife, Jennifer, said through tears, wiping water from collectables she was trying to salvage.
It was directly in the path of the tornado and the most damaged.
Rain later drenched nearly everything inside.
At Brad and Dani Stricker's home, the kitchen cabinets were knocked from the walls of their ranch-style house, the refrigerator was tipped over, every window in the house was busted and the frame was exposed with drywall and glass covering the carpet.
Brad Stricker said he and his wife were lying in bed when the tornado struck, spraying shattered glass. But nothing hit them.
"Miraculously, we're OK," he said.
ST. JOHNS — A forest ranger who alertly spotted a pair of fugitives at a remote Arizona campsite was hailed Friday as "a true hero" after his tip allowed a heavily armed law enforcement contingent to capture the couple.
FLAGSTAFF — The race for secretary of state in Arizona drew fewer than a handful of candidates this year, and the only contest in the primary is between two Democrats seeking the party's nod.
The secretary of state is the chief elections officer, a regulator for consumers and the custodian for the state's official records. But most importantly, says Democratic candidate Chris Deschene, the secretary of state is first in line to succeed the governor if there is a vacancy.
That played into both Deschene's and Sam Wercinski's decision to seek the position. They'll face off in the Aug. 24 primary. Whoever wins will go up against Republican Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who was appointed to the position after Jan Brewer was elevated to governor, in the Nov. 2 general election.
Green Party candidate Michelle Lochmann has filed as a write-in candidate.
A provision in the state Constitution that dates from statehood nearly a century ago says a governor's powers go to the secretary of state when the governor is absent from the state. Five secretaries of state have assumed the governorship in Arizona history.
Arizona does not have a lieutenant governor, though a ballot measure this year could change that.
Both Deschene, of LeChee on the Navajo Nation, and Wercinski want the secretary of state to have more of an active role in state government that would better reflect the duties assumed when the governor is absent.
For Wercinski, of Phoenix, that means working with the attorney general on consumer protection issues, creating jobs and developing business.
"As the official keeper of all government records, it can help to provide more accountability and transparency in government," Wercinski, 48, said. "From there, be a key leader in helping fix state government."
At minimum, the secretary of state should be able to partner with the governor, the attorney general and other chief elected officials to address issues such as economics, infrastructure and education, said the 39-year-old Deschene.
Deschene said whoever is elected must have broad experience in voting on core issues affecting the state, a diverse background and be able to deal with economics. He asserts his qualifications far outweigh those of Wercinski, as an attorney, engineer and a state representative who has worked on bills that directly affect Arizona's voting rights.
"When they (voters) looked at the leadership component, they said, 'You've been proven and been tested with your military service, your experience running divisions and operations, departments that are responsible to a larger unit and running multi-million-dollar budgets,'" he said.
Deschene said he would institute a top-to-bottom review of the secretary of state's office if elected to make the voting process less complex and cut inefficiencies.
Wercinski said he's already started analyzing past elections and found clear patterns of people being disenfranchised because they are directed to the wrong polling locations.
Wercinski, a veteran who served as the state's real estate commissioner and touts his experience in the private sector, has outspent Deschene by more than $30,000 in his first run at a political office. Deschene had about $11,000 cash on hand as of May 31, while Wercinski had more than $125,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
"I'm the Democrat that shares the values that Arizonans seek in their elected leaders," Wercinski said. "I'm the Democrat that is inclusive, who is a good listener and who has empathy. That is a key value that I think is missing in leaders today, the ability to understand where other people and other communities are at this moment and what they're trying to achieve."
PRESCOTT VALLEY — A 2-year-old Arizona boy walked three miles barefoot through brush and steep terrain into a mine pit where he was found dead, still clad in the pajama top and diaper he was wearing when he wandered from his home two days earlier.
Emmett Trap's body was discovered around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday by search and rescue personnel after going missing Monday night, said Yavapai County sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn.
"It's amazing he got that far and tragic," D'Evelyn said. "The teams out there were devastated. They were so adamant that they were going to find him."
Emmett's mother told authorities she and her four children were at home in Dewey-Humboldt — about 85 miles north of Phoenix — when she awoke from a nap Monday night and couldn't find him. The boy apparently had wandered off with the family dog, but the dog returned when called.
Dozens of searchers on foot, horse and all-terrain vehicles were planning to focus on mine shafts, open wells and septic tanks Wednesday. Then someone alerted authorities to what appeared to be baby footprints in a former mining area that is about three walking miles from the family's home.
Searchers converged on the mining pit and "sadly Emmett was in that pit," amid sludge, hardened mud and other fluids.
"It doesn't appear he could get out once he got in there," D'Evelyn said.
The boy's body was taken to a medical examiner's office, where an autopsy will be performed, he said. No foul play is suspected.
The family's yard wasn't fenced and Emmett had wandered off short distances before, but family members told authorities he always came back, D'Evelyn said.
The discovery weighed heavily on the hearts of search and rescue members, some of whom also were looking for another 2-year-old boy authorities say is presumed dead.
Sylar Newton was last seen the night of July 24 at the Beaver Creek Campground near Rimrock, where he was camping with his custodial mother and her family.
Authorities have said they don't believe Sylar wandered off on his own, as his custodial mother claimed, and are conducting a criminal investigation.
FLAGSTAFF — A bill giving American Indian tribes more authority to combat crime on their reservations has cleared Congress and is headed to President Barack Obama, who said he looks forward to signing it.
Obama said the Tribal Law and Order Act, which passed the U.S. House Wednesday, is an important step in addressing the "unique public safety challenges" that confront tribal communities.
"The federal government's relationship with tribal governments, its obligations under treaty and law, and our values as a nation require that we do more to improve public safety in tribal communities," Obama said. "And this act will help us achieve that."
The Senate approved the measure in June.
The bill came as a response to what Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said is a crisis situation on Indian reservations, where violent crime continues to devastate communities at rates much higher than the national average.
The measure provides for the appointment of special U.S. attorneys to ensure violent crimes are prosecuted. It also revamps training for reservation police, expands the sentencing authority of tribal courts from one to three years, and improves the collection and reporting of Indian crime data.
"This is going to have a very big impact for tribes across the country," said Dorgan, the bill's author. "I think they'll move quickly to take advantage of the provisions."
Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said law enforcement on tribal lands has long been hamstrung by federal restrictions and inadequate resources.
"The Tribal Law and Order Act is a significant step forward for tribal police — officers who serve their communities honorably and deserve the full authority to protect Indian Country just like any other state, county, or city in the nation," Keel said in a statement.
Bernadine Martin, chief prosecutor on the Navajo Nation, said she looks forward to a provision that requires the U.S. Department of Justice to maintain criminal data on cases from Indian Country that U.S. attorneys decline to prosecute, and share evidence from those cases with tribal officials. Some U.S. attorneys already do that.
Knowing which crimes are declined will help tribal prosecutors decide whether they should move forward with tribal charges, which typically carry less stringent punishments than federal charges.
"They have to now tell us what they're taking in and tossing out," Martin said.
The bill also requires that tribal and federal officers serving Indian Country be trained in interviewing victims of sexual assault and collecting evidence at crime scenes. Lack of evidence is among the reasons that federal justice officials have cited in declining to prosecute cases.
The pool of potential recruits for Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement could also see a boost with the bill, which raises the maximum hiring age from 37 to 47. Fewer than 3,000 BIA and tribal police officers patrol more than 56 million acres of tribal lands, said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., a sponsor of the House measure.
On the 2.3 million-acre Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles the South Dakota-North Dakota border, the BIA had only nine patrol officers in 2008. That meant at times, just one officer was on duty to patrol a land mass about the size of Connecticut.
"When you live in those circumstances, it is not a safe place to live," Dorgan said.
FLAGSTAFF — A 12-year-old girl died Tuesday after being swept away by floodwaters after heavy thunderstorms hit a section of northern Arizona scarred by a wildfire last month, authorities said.
FLAGSTAFF — An estimated 1,000 Flagstaff residents evacuated from their homes by a raging wildfire may be allowed to return home Wednesday as firefighters made progress in containing the 14,000-acre blaze.
Massive clouds of smoke continued to choke Flagstaff on Tuesday as 800 firefighters battled to keep a nearly 22-square-mile wildfire from heading toward the mountain town of about 60,000 people.
By late Tuesday afternoon, authorities announced that the so-called Schultz fire was 20 percent contained and Coconino County Sheriff's officials said a decision would be made sometime Wednesday morning whether evacuees would be able to return home.
Crews continued to work on containment lines on the south and north sides where the fire is most active, said fire spokeswoman Erin Phelps.
The fire's southern edge is about five miles from Flagstaff, where rocky terrain and rolling hills make the ground more difficult for fire crews to access.
The smoke over parts of Flagstaff was the result of burnout operations to rob the fire of fuel and new growth on the south and north sides.
Four heavy air tankers were on standby. They're capable of carrying more than 2,000 gallons of fire retardant used to slow the spread of fire. The tankers are part of 19 under contract through the U.S. Forest Service to fight fires across the country.
Strong winds had quickly fanned the fire that broke out Sunday. Authorities said it was started by an abandoned campfire. No major injuries have been reported and no structures have burned.
Conditions are dry, despite record amounts of snowfall in the area last winter. Authorities said campfires are to blame for the Schultz fire and another smaller one in southeast Flagstaff. Campfires will be prohibited in three Arizona forests starting Wednesday.
The fire in southeast Flagstaff was 80 percent contained Thursday afternoon. A third fire 11 miles northeast of Williams was expected to be fully contained Wednesday.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer toured the fire area Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Brewer said she spoke with President Obama, who assured her of the federal government's continued support in firefighting efforts, according to a news release from the White House. Two requests from the state for federal fire management assistance funds have been granted, it said.
Residents who showed up at a shelter at lunchtime were still waiting to hear how long they had to be out of their homes. Tracey Simpson, who has stayed in hotels the past two nights, learned she would have to find a room for yet another night.
Simpson and her husband moved to Flagstaff from Pennsylvania five weeks ago and were forced to evacuate on Sunday from the home they rent in the fire area.
She has no assurance of recovering any possessions if they were lost to the flames.
"We were unprepared," Simpson said. "I forgot to get renter's insurance."
Staying in hotels is getting expensive, she said, and they can't bring their two dogs along to sleep at a shelter.
"I have never experienced anything like this," Simpson said. "We just want to go home."
Percy Piestewa said her family has not been allowed to return to their home since Sunday, but she's not worried.
"You just have to leave everything up to God.
Piestewa said the family was staying with friends and attending briefings at the Red Cross shelter. She is the mother of Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, who was killed in Iraq in 2003.
In Colorado, firefighters battled a 700-acre wildfire Tuesday west of Canon City near the scenic Royal Gorge Bridge. The blaze forced an unknown number of residents from their homes and destroyed several structures. It wasn't immediately known whether any of those were homes.
The suspension bridge that crosses the 1,200-foot deep gorge over the Arkansas River remained off limits. River rafting through the gorge has also been shut down because of the fire.