Empire State Winter Games torch relay in home stretch

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — The torch relay for the Empire State Winter Games is in the home stretch.
This year’s relay began last Sunday and is split into two segments, one coming east from Buffalo and one heading north from New York City.
Barring weather delays, runners on the two routes will meet at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday in Malone, a symbolic gesture uniting the state. They’ll then travel together to Lake Placid for the opening ceremony Thursday night. Olympic ski jumper Nick Farrell is the keynote speaker.
More than 2,300 athletes are expected to participate in more than 30 sports in the games, which end Sunday.

Bishop’s shutout, Benn’s goal help Stars beat Sabres 1-0

DALLAS (AP) — Ben Bishop was so solid in net it didn’t matter that the Dallas Stars were held under two goals for the fifth time in six games.
Jamie Benn scored in the first period and Bishop stopped 30 shots to help Dallas beat the Buffalo Sabres 1-0 on Wednesday night.
“As the game progressed, I thought (Bishop) got better and better,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. “In the third, he was our best player and he had to be and he really broke pucks out really well.”
Bishop made 13 saves in the final period, earning his third shutout this season and the 27th of his career. He is 11-0-1 against Buffalo.
“I’ve got to keep it going. I don’t want to talk about it,” Bishop said with a laugh. “So far, so good, and knock on wood. I don’t know what it is about them.”
Benn scored 8:39 in off a pass from ex-Sabre Taylor Fedun. Benn stickhandled to the front of the net, put the puck on his forehand and sent a wrist shot inside the right post.
“There was kind of a slow-moving puck out of the zone,” Fedun said, “and I was able to grab it before it hit the blue line, and then (Benn) was able to beat his guy back to the net. When you see a guy like Jamie Benn going to the net and he’s all alone, it’s a pretty mindless play to just slide it to him.”
Linus Ullmark stopped Dallas’ other 26 shots on goal.
“(Benn’s) a terrific player. You saw their goal, kind of a nifty move and puts it five-hole,” he said.
Buffalo appeared to score 4:28 into the third when Marco Scandella’s shot from the left point went over Bishop and into the net. The goal was disallowed because a referee ruled Nathan Beaulieu interfered with Bishop.
The Sabres challenged the call, but a replay review upheld the decision.
“I was just driving the net,” Beaulieu said. “On replay, it felt like I got pushed in, but it can go either way. I’m not going to argue. You can’t overturn it now. You’ve just got to live with it.”
Sabres coach Phil Housley defended his challenge.
“It could’ve gone to either way. I knew the call on the ice was a no goal, but I thought it was a good time to challenge. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way,” he said.
Dallas holds the first wild card in the Western Conference, two points ahead of Colorado and Vancouver.
Buffalo fell three points behind Columbus for the second wild card in the East. The Sabres have 56 points to 59 for the Blue Jackets, who were knocked out of third place in the Metropolitan Division by Pittsburgh’s win over Tampa Bay.
The Sabres were playing on back-to-back nights. Dallas hadn’t played since Jan. 19.
“We knew they played last night, but we haven’t played in 10 days, so I don’t know who had the advantage,” Bishop said.
Benn nearly scored a second goal in the first minute of the second period, but Ullmark turned away a backhand deflection off Benn’s stick.
NOTES: Benn’s team-leading 19th goal was his first in five games. … D Rasmus Dahlin played for the first time in the arena where Buffalo selected him first overall in the 2018 draft. He had scored six goals in his previous seven games. … Sabres RW Jason Pominville, 36, was a healthy scratch for the first time since April 4, 2006. … Buffalo had not been shut out since a season-opening 4-0 loss to Boston. … The Stars have four straight wins over Buffalo. … Dallas improved to 2-3 on a six-game homestand. … Each team committed only one penalty, both in the first period.
Sabres: Begin a team record-tying seven-game homestand Friday against Chicago.
Stars: Complete their longest homestand of the season Friday vs. Minnesota.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Cuomo vows crackdown on truckers who violate Thruway ban

By The Associated Press
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — State police will crack down on truckers who violate a travel ban on the western section of Thruway, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed Thursday, a day after a tractor-trailer crash near Rochester caused a major pileup that left a trooper with serious injuries.
Truckers who ignore traffic bans during severe weather and cause a crash which results in injury could be charged with reckless endangerment and assault as well as be ticketed, Cuomo said during a morning news conference at a state transportation facility outside Buffalo.
A ban prohibiting tractor-trailers and buses from traveling Interstate 90 between Rochester and the Pennsylvania border along New York’s southwest corner remained in effect Thursday. Bans were also in place for other Buffalo-area intestates and expressways, although restrictions on traveling local streets were lifted for the city and most Erie County towns.
Cuomo said a tractor-trailer whose driver ignored the ban jackknifed west of Rochester on Wednesday afternoon, causing a 19-vehicle pileup that injured several people, including a state trooper. Buffalo and Rochester media outlets reported several instances of truckers ignoring the ban and traveling on highways and roads despite whiteout conditions.
“That tractor-trailer ban is serious. We’re not asking tractor-trailers and buses to stay off the road. That is a legal ban,” Cuomo said. “If you violate the law in this situation you could be endangering human life.”
State police said the truck that caused the pileup was traveling east on I-90 when it jackknifed between Rochester and Buffalo and struck the rear of the patrol vehicle of Trooper Dominique Wilson, who had pulled over to assist stranded motorists. Her vehicle was then sideswiped by a second truck, troopers said.
Wilson was treated at a Rochester hospital for numerous injuries but is expected to recover, officials said. Two other people were treated and released, police said.
The two truckers were issued several tickets, including failing to heed the roadside traffic control devices that alerted commercial truck and bus drivers that a travel ban was in effect, troopers said.
After the news conference, Cuomo headed out in an emergency services truck to get a look at local road conditions. His entourage came upon two trucks police had stopped from getting on another route closed to truck traffic. Cuomo jumped on the running board of one of the trucks and told the driver to pull over because the roads were dangerous.
“They were a little surprised to see me, to tell you the truth,” said Cuomo, adding that both truckers would be ticketed by state police.
The weather was blamed for one death so far, Cuomo said. According to state police, a 59-year-old man died Thursday morning when his vehicle hit a snowdrift and then slammed into police in Livingston County, south of Rochester.
The storm that dumped up to 20 inches (508 millimeters) of snow on western New York was over by Thursday, giving way to subzero temperatures and dangerously low wind chills. The arctic conditions caused problems from Buffalo to Brooklyn, where about 200 firefighters battling an early morning blaze in a commercial building took turns getting warm on buses amid the frigid conditions.
On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a water main break shut down a section of Broadway as water gushed from manhole covers and formed icy patches at an intersection. Crews shut off the water and spread road salt on the street as utility workers repaired the break.
In New Jersey, firefighters contended with single-digit temperatures as they fought a blaze in a parking garage at Newark Liberty International Airport. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said the fire started on the rooftop of the garage at Terminal C and damaged more than a dozen vehicles. No injuries were reported.
This story has been corrected to show the number of vehicles in the pileup was 19 not 21.

Defense lawyer: Government case against El Chapo ‘a fantasy’

By JIM MUSTIAN, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — A defense attorney for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman assailed the federal case against the Mexican drug lord as “a fantasy,” telling a U.S. jury Thursday that the prosecution relied on a parade of cooperating witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people” for a living.
In an impassioned closing argument, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said prosecutors failed to address a “600-pound gorilla” of reasonable doubt in their bid to convict one of the world’s most notorious drug traffickers. He dismissed the testimony of government witnesses as “repulsive, dishonest garbage” and called into question the motives of the U.S. Justice Department, which he accused of disregarding another man the defense calls the actual cartel leader.
The prosecution, Lichtman added, orchestrated a “scripted event” over the past three months in federal court in Brooklyn based on the shifting accounts of degenerate drug dealers seeking leniency in their own cases.
“A house that’s built on a rotten foundation won’t stand for long,” Lichtman said. “We have to trust the word of these lunatics?”
The argument followed one by a prosecutor on Wednesday who told jurors the evidence against Guzman is overwhelming. The jury is expected to begin deliberating Monday.
Guzman faces drug and murder conspiracy charges and could spend the rest of his life in an American prison if convicted.
Lichtman scoffed at the notion that Guzman amassed a multimillion-dollar wealth over the course of three decades, referring to his client as a man of “plastic chairs and wooden planks for night stands.” He said the government had failed to produce evidence of ill-gotten gains beyond the word of the cooperating witnesses.
Prosecutors “expect you to ignore all the problems in their case,” Lichtman said. “They expect you to ignore the dishonesty of their witnesses.”
Lichtman singled out an allegation by a cooperator that Guzman had paid a $100 million bribe to a Mexican president to call off a manhunt. He argued that made no sense since authorities still arrested his client and sent him to the U.S. in 2017 to face drug-trafficking charges.
Guzman “pays the bribe and gets hunted down like an animal,” he said. “Is that logical?”
The lawyer said it would make more sense that the bribe was paid by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, since he’s never been arrested. The defense has sought to portray Zambada as the true leader of the cartel.
The bribe allegation was made by Alex Cifuentes, a Colombian trafficker who admitted on cross-examination that he had a history of lying to everyone around him, except when it came to his testimony about Guzman, Lichtman said.
Referring to another cooperating witness, Cifuentes’ brother, Lichtman asked jurors whether they would be comfortable buying a used car “from a Cifuentes” or entrusting their child to be babysat by one of the brothers.
The car would break down before it left the lot, Lichtman argued, while “the kid would be sold for a kilo of cocaine.”
Associated Press Writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.

Carcass of young humpback whale washes up on Kauai beach

LIHUE, Hawaii (AP) — Officials are investigating the death of a young humpback whale that washed up on a Kauai beach.

Kekaha resident Kevin Rogers told the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about the carcass after finding it during a Monday morning beach walk, The Garden Island reported.

The nearly 10-foot whale carcass was covered in wounds, Rogers said.

“It’s definitely a baby, and its body is full of lacerations,” Rogers said. “It’s missing a fin — there was maybe something nibbling on it at some point.”

Kauai County Ocean Safety officials helped remove the carcass and took it to the Pacific Missile Range Facility for a necropsy.

A veterinarian contracted by NOAA and an University of Hawaii stranding team were flown from Oahu to examine the carcass, said David Schofield, a stranding coordinator for the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. Officials were working to determine the cause of death.

The whale calf was likely dead in the water for some time, and the lacerations could have been caused by sharks, Schofield said.

“It’s too early to tell — we have to wait for the necropsy to be sure,” Schofield said.

The carcass could lead to clues about the fewer humpback whale sightings reported in recent years, Schofield said.

“It’s important that we send the team over and try to get as thorough a necropsy as possible because it could give us an understanding of why we are seeing less humpback whales this year,” Schofield said.

Chamber of Commerce Hawaii hires the son of Senate president

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii’s leading business advocacy group has hired a new lobbyist, the son of the state Senate president.

Chamber of Commerce Hawaii has hired 28-year-old Dan Kouchi to serve as its new assistant vice president for government affairs and alliances, which some state officials say could disrupt proposals to increase the state minimum wage, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

The chamber has been an outspoken opponent of proposals for minimum wage increases. Hawaii Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, has introduced a new bill that would incrementally increase the state minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Democratic Senate President Ron Kouchi said he sees no problem in his son lobbying at the state Legislature.

“He’s got a job to do. I got a job to do,” Kouchi said.

When asked if his son might use family ties to influence state issues, Kouchi said “the last time I checked, I paid his tuition and paid for his braces, so I don’t see how he has something over me.”

The Senate president’s obligation “first and foremost” is to his caucus, he said.

Dan Kouchi did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

“Our business advocacy team tracks numerous bills and Dan, as part of the team, will be advocating at the county and state levels, including at the Legislature,” said Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the chamber.

The public’s perception of the relationship could become an issue, depending on how the minimum wage measure proceeds, said Gary Hooser, vice chairman of the state Democratic Party.

“The failure to pass or the weakening of the minimum wage proposal will be blamed no doubt on the strength of the lobbying efforts of the Chamber of Commerce,” Hooser said. “People will inevitably connect the dots, rightly or wrongly, and those dots will lead to the Senate president.”

Michigan State Spartans basketball player Joshua Langford out for season

EAST LANSING (AP) — Michigan State guard Joshua Langford will miss the rest of the season because of his injured ankle.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo said in a statement Wednesday that the junior will likely need surgery. Langford has missed the last eight games.
In the 13 games he did play — all starts — Langford averaged 15 points.
“Josh has a stress injury that we caught fairly early and we had hoped that, with treatment and rest, he would recover,” Izzo said. “He has not.”
No. 6 Michigan State had its 13-game winning streak snapped with a loss at Purdue on Sunday.
The Spartans host Indiana on Saturday.
The loss of Langford takes away Michigan State’s No. 3 scorer behind Cassius Winston and Nick Ward.
“We hate this for Josh and our team, as he was one of our leading scorers, one of our top 3-point shooters and one of our two best defensive guards,” Izzo said.
“But our commitment to Josh and his long-term health is paramount. Josh has seen the best specialist in the country on this issue and we are putting together a plan for his complete recovery for the 2019-20 season.”
Izzo said Langford has done everything asked of him through the process.
“His selfless attitude is the reason there were tears throughout the meeting room when we shared the news with his team,” Izzo said. “I’ve never felt worse for a player than I do for Josh, but he’s a very religious kid who believes everything happens for a reason.
“He’s constantly telling me to not worry about him, but focus on the team. It’s the reason I have so much respect and admiration for the way he’s handled the injury.”

Gas use reduction requested

RAY TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Consumers Energy has called on customers to voluntarily reduce their natural gas usage following a fire at a suburban Detroit gas compressor station amid bitterly cold weather.
The Jackson-based utility says no one was injured in the fire Wednesday at its Ray Natural Gas Compressor Station in Macomb County. The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Consumers says all gas flow from the station was shut off, and it activated natural gas peaking storage fields to help meet the demand for gas to heat homes and businesses.
The Michigan Public Service Commission said all state-owned facilities in the Lower Peninsula lowered their thermostats by 5 degrees to reduce the burden on the natural gas supply.

Tesla posts small 4Q profit, expects to make money this year

DETROIT (AP) — Tesla managed to eke out a small fourth-quarter profit to close 2018, and it pledged to make money in all quarters this year.
But staying in the black will be difficult with a major debt payment due and slowing demand for pricier versions of its electric vehicles.
Palo Alto, California-based Tesla posted net income of $139.48 million, or 78 cents per share, from October through December. But its adjusted earnings, which don’t include stock-based compensation and other one-time items, fell short of Wall Street expectations. Tesla made $1.93 per share, while analysts polled by FactSet expected $2.20.
On a conference call Wednesday, CEO Elon Musk said the first-quarter profit might be small, but he was optimistic about making money “for all quarters going forward.”
The upstart company, which has changed the way people view electric cars worldwide, reported consecutive quarterly net profits for the first time since going public in 2010.
Its fourth-quarter revenue more than doubled from a year ago to $7.23 billion, beating estimates of $7.12 billion.
The company’s cash position improved by $753 million at the end of the year to $4.28 million, despite repaying $230 million in convertible notes. It had $9.4 billion in debt at the end of the year, a slight improvement over 2017.
For the full year, Tesla lost $976.09 million, or $5.72 per share. Without one-time items, the loss was $1.33 per share, worse than estimates of $1.24.

Audit: Michigan should better monitor job-creation promises

Associated Press
LANSING — Michigan’s economic development arm should better ensure that businesses receiving cash incentives create and keep promised jobs, according to a state audit released Wednesday.
Auditors reviewed Michigan Business Development Program incentives that were awarded over a nearly three-year period ending in mid-2017. They found that the Michigan Strategic Fund’s process for awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and loans to companies was sufficient, while the monitoring of compliance was “moderately effective.”
Auditors highlighted three reportable, or less serious, findings — including that the state should strengthen how it verifies that businesses have added enough new jobs to qualify for funding.
The Strategic Fund, they said, did not require companies to provide sufficient employee information — such as names or Social Security numbers — so it could check through an independent source like the secretary of state’s office or the Unemployment Insurance Agency. Data supplied by the businesses is not impartial, according to the audit .
The Strategic Fund disagreed with that finding and others, defending its process for collecting and verifying worker information as “robust.” Accessing information at other agencies would pose significant legal and confidentiality concerns, according to a response to auditors that said the state uses multiple sources to confirm employees are actively working.