Nation and World briefs for December 30

Officials: ‘Affluenza’ teen, mother planned flight to Mexico

Officials: ‘Affluenza’ teen, mother planned flight to Mexico

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A teen fugitive who’s known for using an “affluenza” defense and his mother attempted to disguise themselves and disappear among the American tourists thronging a Mexican resort city for the holidays, but are now in custody and will be returned to the U.S., authorities said Tuesday.

Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said 18-year-old Ethan Couch — who was on juvenile probation after killing four people in a drunken driving wreck — and his mother had prepared to be gone a while, even dyeing Couch’s blond hair black, before being detained Monday in the Pacific Coast city of Puerto Vallarta.

“They had planned to disappear. They even had something that was almost akin to a going-away party before leaving town,” Anderson said. He would not give details about the event, including how many people attended.

During the sentencing phase of Couch’s trial, a defense expert argued that his wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition the expert termed “affluenza.” The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation drew ridicule.

Couch disappeared as authorities investigated whether he had violated the terms of his probation.

Gains in Iraqi city vindicate US-led strategy, at high cost

BAGHDAD (AP) — The advance of Iraqi forces into the heart of Ramadi, a restive city that fell to the Islamic State group earlier this year, in some ways vindicated the U.S.-led coalition’s strategy for rolling back the extremists — but victory has come at a high cost, and the same tactics might not work elsewhere.

The battle for Ramadi was waged by the Iraqi military — rather than Shiite or Kurdish militias — with elite counterterrorism units advancing under the cover of coalition airstrikes and raising the Iraqi national flag over the main government complex in the provincial capital on Monday.

Pockets of resistance remain, but the majority of Ramadi is under government control for the first time since May, when IS militants punched their way into the city with a series of massive suicide car bombs, scattering and humiliating Iraq’s beleaguered security forces.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Belawi said “heavy and concentrated airstrikes” by the U.S.-led coalition killed IS fighters, destroyed their vehicles and blew up suicide car bombs before they could be deployed, allowing his forces to advance into the city.

“I think this fight shows the Iraqis are ready to fight and these calls for U.S. ground troops are not the best strategy moving forward,” said Ahmed Ali, a senior fellow at the Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Iraq.

Belgium: 2 suspected of plotting attacks arrested

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian authorities announced Tuesday they have arrested two men and seized military-type uniforms and Islamic State group propaganda in connection with a suspected plot to unleash holiday season attacks against police, soldiers and celebrated locations in Brussels.

The attacks under preparation “were the same style as those perpetrated in Paris Nov. 13,” in which 130 people were killed and hundreds injured by suicide bombers and gunmen equipped with Kalashnikov-style assault rifles, according to an internal document from Belgian state security services cited by RTBF French-language television. Those lethal actions were claimed by the Islamic State extremist group.

The two suspects were arrested following searches Sunday and Monday in the Brussels area, the eastern Liege region and Flemish Brabant, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement. It did not disclose their names or further information about them.

During the searches, no weapons or explosives were found, but military-type training uniforms, IS propaganda material and computer equipment were impounded and are being examined, the prosecutor’s office said.

It said the case was unrelated to the brazen and bloody extremist actions in Paris a month and a half ago but that the investigation, which is still ongoing, has revealed a “threat of serious attacks that would target several emblematic places in Brussels and be committed during the end-of-year holidays.”

2 Cleveland officers still in jeopardy over Tamir Rice case

CLEVELAND (AP) — Despite the grand jury decision not to charge a white patrolman in the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the case is far from over for the city of Cleveland, the officers involved in the shooting, or the black boy’s grief-stricken family.

The family is suing the city, federal prosecutors are looking into possible civil rights charges against Timothy Loehmann and his partner, and the two officers face a departmental investigation that could result in disciplinary action, including firing.

Tamir was carrying what turned out to be a pellet gun when Loehmann shot and killed the boy within two seconds of emerging from his police cruiser in November 2014. On Monday, prosecutors said a grand jury concluded that Loehmann reasonably believed that it was a real gun and that his life was in danger.

The case has stirred racial tensions and added Cleveland to the list of U.S. cities — Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore; North Charleston, South Carolina; and New York City, among them — where blacks have died in the past two years at the hands of police.

On Tuesday, about 50 people marched peacefully in front of the county courthouse in downtown Cleveland to protest the grand jury decision. Demonstrators chanted, “Justice for Tamir!”

Deadly Midwest storm brings Northeast its 1st hit of winter

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Winter weather that spun off a series of deadly storms in the Midwest brought the season’s first big punch to the Northeast on Tuesday, with snow, sleet and freezing rain greasing roads, sending drivers spinning and keeping people indoors amid sub-freezing temperatures.

Parts of northern New England had already about 6 inches of snow by early evening, and isolated areas could get 10 inches or more by the time it ends late in the day, according to the National Weather Service.

The weather made for a sloppy mess in parts of metro Boston, where memories linger of last winter’s record-breaking snowfall. But as Fernando Gonterman waited for a train from Harvard Square to his job at Massachusetts General Hospital, he was unfazed.

“Weather is weather. Just deal with it, right?” he said.

In snow-loving Vermont, Chassidy Byrd, the assistant manager at a gas station and convenience store in Plainfield, said the storm returned the state to a sense of normal.

Pilot killed in Alaska crash wasn’t authorized to fly plane

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The pilot of a small plane that smashed into a building in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday was not authorized to fly the aircraft used in volunteer search-and-rescue missions, authorities said.

Doug Demarest, 42, of Anchorage, died when the Cessna 172 clipped an office building and slammed into a commercial building, according to the FBI, which is helping investigate the crash.

The plane belongs to the Civil Air Patrol, a civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force that is made up of volunteers who help with search and rescue, disaster relief and homeland security across the country, according to a statement from the national group. Demarest joined the patrol in 2010.

No one on the ground was hurt and there was no indication anyone else was aboard the plane, FBI spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellessier said. Neither agency would release additional details about Demarest or how he acquired the plane.

The early morning crash happened before most businesses opened for the day in the heart of downtown, an area surrounded by offices, hotels and restaurants.

Amid attendance attacks, Rubio focuses on Iowa

CLINTON, Iowa (AP) — Amid new criticisms about his Senate attendance record, Marco Rubio says some of his rival candidates are getting “a little desperate and a little nasty.”

The Florida senator kicked off an Iowa tour Tuesday, as a super political action committee backing Jeb Bush announced a new ad in the state accusing Rubio of missing a Senate meeting after the November terrorist attacks in Paris. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also piled on during an Iowa stop, questioning Rubio’s Senate attendance.

After a town hall meeting in the leadoff caucus state, Rubio said the ad from Right to Rise “isn’t accurate,” adding that as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee he attended a different briefing on the Paris attacks. Asked about Christie’s comments, he said the governor had been away from New Jersey “half the time.”

“Candidates I think as we get down the stretch here some of them get a little desperate and a little nasty in their attacks,” Rubio said.

Rivals have tried to make an issue of Rubio’s attendance in the Senate. In 2015, he has missed about 35 percent of roll call votes, according to That’s more than any of the other senators running for president.

Guinea declared free of Ebola, step to end spread of disease

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — The World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak over in Guinea Tuesday, a huge step in the fight against the world’s largest epidemic and the first time there are no known cases anywhere since the virus emerged in Guinea two years ago.

The West Africa-concentrated outbreak last year spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. Liberia is on a countdown to become Ebola-free on Jan. 14, which could mark a final end to the epidemic. Sierra Leone, the third West African country to be hammered by the epidemic, was declared free from transmissions on Nov. 7. No new cases have been reported anywhere in the world in at least 21 days, according to WHO.

“This is the first time that all three countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — have stopped the original chains of transmission that were responsible for starting this devastating outbreak two years ago,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

But experts warn that cases may still emerge. So far, the virus has killed more than 11,300 people worldwide.

“We definitely cannot let our guard down,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It’s certainly possible we will have more cases and more clusters in the coming months.”

Ex-‘Glee’ star Mark Salling accused of child porn possession

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Authorities say former “Glee” star Mark Salling has been arrested in Los Angeles for investigation of possessing child pornography.

Police Officer Tony Im says the 33-year-old actor was taken into custody Tuesday after a warrant was served at his home in the Sunland area.

Im says Salling had been investigated by the LAPD’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, but he did not elaborate.

Representatives for Salling did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Im didn’t know if Salling has a lawyer.

Salling is best known for playing bad-boy Noah “Puck” Puckerman on TV’s musical dramedy “Glee,” which aired on Fox from 2009 until earlier this year.