Originally created 01/31/05

Across the southeast



Reports of leniency raise DUI convictions

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Drunken-driving convictions have risen sharply in the state after newspaper reports that judges were letting thousands of drivers off easy.

In North Carolina, drunken-driving conviction rates rose from 59 percent in the last half of 2003 to 63 percent a year later. The rates in some of the state's most lenient counties have more than doubled since last summer, The Charlotte Observer reported Sunday.

Last summer, the newspaper reported that nearly all DUI suspects who went to trial in some counties were found guilty, while about nine in 10 in other counties were acquitted.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. wrote a memo to the state's District Court judges in September, citing the stories and suggesting that some judges have been requiring prosecutors to present more proof than the law requires.

"If that is true, we should not condone it," she wrote. "And we should persuade our colleagues not to do it."

Louisiana town finally gets telephone service

MINK, LA. - There's a fish-fry today in this hamlet of 15 households to celebrate big news: phone service.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco plans to call 83-year-old Mink resident Alma Louise Bolton from Baton Rouge to mark the occasion, which finally connects one of the nation's last rural areas without access to regular phone service.

"We started in early 1970 trying to get a phone," Ms. Bolton said. "We'd talk to the phone company, but they'd never call back. Some in the community bought CBs (citizen band radios). We tried those for a while."

BellSouth Corp. has spent $700,000 - or about $47,000 per phone - to extend about 30 miles of cable through thick forests to Mink, about 100 miles south of Shreveport.

All phone customers in the state will cover the cost through a small monthly charge on their bills.

Hundreds of troops come home from Iraq

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Tears and cheers marked the return this weekend of several hundred troops from a U.S. Marine battalion that spent seven months in Iraq, including bloody missions in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

Over three days, about 850 troops from the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment based at Camp Lejeune returned in waves.

Cheers erupted Saturday as eight buses of Marines and sailors pulled up to the crowd assembled at Camp Lejeune's Area One gymnasium.

Richard Munday, a mortarman with Weapons Platoon, Charlie Company, had little to say.

"It's great to be home," he said. "I'm going to go take a long shower."