published Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Region Digest

FORT PAYNE, AL

A former North Alabama businessman was among 14 people killed in a plane crash in Honduras.

Jim Howell owned Carpet Care in Fort Payne for about 30 years before selling it and moving to Honduras in 2003 to be a missionary.

The minister with Kingdom Hall of Jehovah Witnesses in Fort Payne, Ken Mayo, said Howell and another Jehovah's Witnesses missionary, Flynn Tomchuk, of Richland, Wash., were killed when the Central American Airlines' flight went down in Las Mesitas, about 3 miles south of the airport in Tegucigalpa.

Mayo told the Times-Journal in Fort Payne that Howell was a "gentle giant" who would return to Fort Payne each year for a visit.

ATLANTA, GA

Elephants blamed for TB outbreak

A tuberculosis outbreak among workers at a Tennessee elephant sanctuary is being blamed on the pachyderms.

Elephants can carry TB, and there have been reports of them spreading it to people who touch them. But three of the eight workers infected with TB in 2009 weren't in direct contact with the elephants.

The three worked in an administrative building next to an elephant barn at the refuge in Hohenwald, about 85 miles southwest of Nashville. The 2,700-acre Elephant Sanctuary was founded in 1995 as a place for old, sick and rescued elephants.

Investigators believe the TB bacteria spread through the air when the elephants sneezed, or through pressure-washing or dust from sweeping the barn.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the report Wednesday in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

KNOXVILLE, TN

Man pleads guilty in forest arsons

A man charged in a number of wildfire arsons in East Tennessee has entered a plea deal.

John Wesley Irons pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court at Knoxville on Tuesday to setting two fires in the Cherokee National Forest in March 2007.

The plea deal included Irons telling the U.S. Forest Service his fire-setting secrets, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel.

In return for the plea, the government dropped other woods arson charges against Irons, who is 64.

He faces a mandatory seven-year minimum prison term when he's sentenced in July.

MARIETTA, GA

'Barbie Bandit' back in jail

One of two women who were dubbed the "Barbie Bandits" after a Cobb County bank heist is behind bars again.

Ashley Nicole Miller, 22, was sentenced to 90 days in jail for violating her probation in a recent arrest on a battery charge in Gwinnett County. Records show she was booked into the Cobb County Jail Jan. 14.

Miller and Heather Lyn Johnston gained national attention in 2007 when authorities say they staged a bank robbery. Surveillance video showed the two laughing as they stole nearly $11,000 from a bank teller who was later determined to be part of the scheme.

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