Odd and interesting news from around the West.
Phoenix airport begins providing pet therapy to travelers
PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is unveiling a new pet therapy program aimed at helping people stressed out by travel relax through quality time with a dog.
KTVK-TV reports (http://bit.ly/2gpkpNd ) the 'Navigator Buddies' debuted on Friday is the latest installation to the airport's Navigator program. Sky Harbor officials say the 'Navigator Buddies' program is made up of volunteers, dogs and owners who are registered in good standing with a qualified pet therapy organization.
Official hope the dogs will bring stress relief and emotional comfort to travelers.
111-year-old Golden Gate hotel reopens after expansion
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The 111-year-old Golden Gate hotel-casino on Fremont Street has reopened after an expansion project that reflects the resurgence under way in downtown Las Vegas.
City officials and hotel-casino executives on Friday officially marked the reopening of the property famous for hosting the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.
The expansion included nearly doubling the size of the casino floor, expanding the outdoor bar and redesigning the property's facade drawing inspiration from the Jazz Age.
"We maintained some of the great historical themes, but we've added a number of more modern amenities," CEO and owner Derek Stevens said after a ceremony.
The expansion is part of a series of projects expected to continue the revitalization of downtown Las Vegas.
Across from the Golden Gate, Stevens is working on a new hotel-casino project on the site of the now-closed Las Vegas Club and Mermaids. Meanwhile, the nearby Downtown Grand recently earned approval to build a hotel tower that will nearly double the resort's existing room total.
Fremont Street Experience, a five-block entertainment district with access to casinos, is also expected to undergo renovations to its light show.
Patrick Hughes, president of Fremont Street Experience, said travelers visit downtown Las Vegas for its pedestrian-friendly setup, connectivity of the hotel-casinos and attractions such as the Mob Museum and Neon Museum.
He cited a tourism report that showed 53 percent of visitors to Las Vegas in 2016 stopped downtown at some point during their trip.
"We only have 5 percent of the city's hotel rooms, which means a trip downtown is a major part of their trip to Las Vegas," he said. "They come to Las Vegas because downtown is part of that experience, not competing with the Strip, but we are a destination within a destination."
The Golden Gate's new entrance on Fremont Street features 500-pound golden velvet drapes. The expansion added nearly 100 slot machines and a 360-degree, 24-foot tower of televisions that encases a chandelier.
The property was last expanded in 2012 with a five-story luxury hotel tower and new lobby.
Follow Regina Garcia Cano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reginagarciakNO
Fire torches historic national park chalet in Montana
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The main building of an historic, backcountry chalet in Glacier National Park in northern Montana burned in a wildfire Thursday evening.
The two-story Sperry Chalet was lost despite efforts by firefighters to protect it and save it, fire officials said.
"The firefighters, supported by 3 helicopters, made a valiant stand to save the structure but were unsuccessful in saving the main Sperry Chalet," according to a statement posted on a federal fire website.
No one was hurt, and firefighters were working to save other buildings of the chalet. The chalet had been closed since Aug. 15 because of the fire.
The Sperry Chalet was built in 1913. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977.
Elsewhere in Montana, a wind-driven wildfire ripped through parched forest and grasslands in southeastern Montana, threatening 35 homes and structures and forcing the evacuation of an undetermined number of residents scattered in the area, officials said Thursday.
The fire that started in the Custer National Forest about 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of Broadus on Wednesday burned at least 47 square miles (121 square kilometers) in a single day.
Authorities issued evacuation orders for the ranches and houses that dot the landscape in the direction the fire is heading. It is unclear how many people are affected by the order, but fire officials say 35 homes and other structures are threatened.
"It's growing exponentially," said U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman Mark Jacobson. "A lot of those people are sparse and spread out."
It's one of 45 fires that ignited Wednesday in Montana, where more than 90 percent of the land is in moderate to exceptional drought. Many of the new ignitions were caused by lightning strikes from a passing thunderstorm that carried little rain.
Unrelenting wind gusts caused the fire to spread too fast for crews to establish containment lines initially, and crews focused on protecting the buildings in the fire's path.
Wind gusts and low humidity hampered firefighting efforts again on Thursday.
A 20-person crew and equipment arrived Thursday to help the 70 people working on the fire, but firefighting resources are stretched and are being diverted to catch new fires before they spread, Jacobson said.
"We have a lot of other fires that are popping up all around this fire," he said. "The situation is rapidly evolving. They're doing their best with what they have."
Montana officials plan to nearly triple the number of National Guard troops deployed to fight fires by the end of the weekend. Those 350 soldiers will work on fire lines, firefighting aircraft and provide security in fire zones, Adjutant Gen. Matthew Quinn said.
With personnel and equipment scarce across the nation, those troops could free up other firefighters to focus on keeping small blazes from turning into large ones, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director John Tubbs said.
"We need people on the ground fighting fire and we've asked the Montana Guard to step up," he said.
So far this year, more than 1,500 fires have burned 937 square miles (2,426 square kilometers) in Montana as the state suffers a drought that intensifies each week. The fires have already drained the state's firefighting reserve fund and an emergency fund, and there is no end in sight for the hot, dry weather that the fires are feeding on.
In northern Montana, a wildfire burning between Havre and the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation has destroyed five cabins, five other structures and is threatening another 130 buildings, Hill County officials said.
Residents in the area have been notified that they may have to evacuate if the 17-square-mile (44-square-kilometer) spreads. It was uncontained as of Thursday afternoon.
In western Montana, fire crews continued to hold the line against a blaze that was threatening Seeley Lake. More than 1,000 homes and businesses in the town are under evacuation orders.
Utah officer who arrested nurse over blood test put on leave
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah nurse said she was scared to death when a police officer handcuffed and dragged her screaming from a hospital after she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient.
After Alex Wubbels and her attorneys released dramatic video of the arrest, prosecutors called for a criminal investigation and Salt Lake City police put Detective Jeff Payne on paid leave Friday.
"This cop bullied me. He bullied me to the utmost extreme," Wubbels said in an interview with The Associated Press. "And nobody stood in his way."
The Salt Lake City police chief and mayor also apologized and changed department policies in line with the guidance Wubbels was following in the July 26 incident.
Wubbels, a former alpine skier who competed in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics, said she adhered to her training and hospital protocols to protect the rights of a patient who could not speak for himself.
"You can't just take blood if you don't have a legitimate concern for something to be tested," Wubbels said. "It is the most personal property I think that we can have besides our skin and bones and organs."
Payne didn't return messages left at publicly listed phone numbers, and the Salt Lake Police Association union did not respond to messages for comment. The department and a civilian board also are conducting reviews.
"I was alarmed by what I saw in the video with our officer," Police Chief Mike Brown said.
Police body-camera video shows Wubbels, who works in the burn unit, calmly explaining that she could not take blood from a patient who had been injured in a deadly car accident, citing a recent change in law. A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said a blood sample cannot be taken without patient consent or a warrant.
Wubbels told Payne that a patient had to allow a blood sample to determine intoxication or be under arrest. Otherwise, she said police needed a warrant. Police did not have one, but Payne insisted.
The dispute ended with Payne saying, "We're done, you're under arrest" and pulling her outside while she screamed and said, "I've done nothing wrong!"
He had called his supervisor and discussed the time-sensitive blood draw for over an hour with hospital staff, police spokeswoman Christina Judd said.
"It's not an excuse. It definitely doesn't forgive what happened," she said.
Payne wrote in a police report that he grabbed Wubbels and took her outside to avoid causing a "scene" in the emergency room. He said his boss, a lieutenant whose actions also were being reviewed, told him to arrest Wubbels if she kept interfering.
The detective left Wubbels in a hot police car for 20 minutes before realizing that blood had already been drawn as part of treatment, said her lawyer, Karra Porter. Wubbels was not charged.
"This has upended her worldview in a way. She just couldn't believe this could happen," Porter said.
Wubbels and her attorneys on Thursday released the video they obtained through a public records request to call for change. She has not sued, but that could change, said attorney Jake Macfarlane.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said that the video was concerning and called the police chief to ask for a criminal investigation.
The department is open to the inquiry that will be run by Salt Lake County's Unified Police, Judd said. Gill's office will review the findings.
In response to the incident, Judd said the department updated its blood-draw policy last week to mirror what the hospital uses. She said officers have already received additional training.
The agency has met with hospital administration to ensure it does not happen again and to repair ties.
"There's a strong bond between fire, police and nurses because they all work together to help save lives, and this caused an unfortunate rift that we are hoping to repair immediately," Judd said.
The hospital said it's proud of the way Wubbels handled the situation.
The patient was a victim in a car crash and Payne wanted the blood sample to show he had done nothing wrong, according to the officer's written report.
The patient, William Gray, is a reserve police officer in Rigby, Idaho, according to the city's police. They thanked Wubbels for protecting his rights.
Gray is a semi-truck driver and was on the road when a pickup truck fleeing from authorities slammed into him and his truck burst into flames, police reports say.
Ho reported from Las Vegas. Associated Press writers Michelle Price and Brady McCombs contributed to this report.
Giant puppet takes on worries stuffed into "gloom box"
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — High anxiety about White House politics, hurricane flooding and even the threat of nuclear war with North Korea is adding an extra spark to the annual burning of a giant, ghostly marionette that serves as an effigy to gloom and doom.
The ritual burning of Zozobra was attracting tens of thousands of revelers Friday to a Santa Fe city park for a mixture of wholesome and ghoulish fun.
Inside the six-story puppet are reams of crumpled, handwritten notes about recent troubles and travails that people hope to leave behind. Worries this year included a combustible mix of disenchantment with politics and preoccupation over natural and manmade disasters.
In preparation for the burning, Holly Garcia, a 39-year-old homemaker stuffed several notes into a slotted "gloom box" at a shopping center.
The first was about a hospitalized sister and a brother recovering from brain surgery. Then came a note about the U.S. president, and a hand-scrawled prayer for friends and former neighbors besieged by floods in League City, Texas — a community sandwiched between Houston and the Gulf of Mexico.
"I put down, 'Get rid of Donald Trump!'" said Garcia, while still counting her blessings. "I'm very blessed personally, my immediate family."
Yinka Adeniji, a 40-year-old technology consultant, said he wanted to join others in washing away all internal feelings of bad will — and also perhaps get rid of an inept U.S. political system and start from scratch.
"I think it's going to take a lot more than Zozobra," he said. "We're a country that doesn't want to care for its people."
The invention of Will Shuster — a painter from Philadelphia who migrated to the Southwest — Zozobra was first built and ignited in 1924, adding a madcap celebration to a Santa Fe's weeklong community "fiestas" that include historic and religious processions. The festival's name was derived from a Spanish word for anguish.
Modern pyrotechnics have transformed the nighttime burning, now preceded by hours of live music and performances on an adjacent stage. A team of a dozen puppeteers heaves on cords to flex the groaning marionette's arms, head and jaw.
The spectacle appeals to people's "better angels" in a year marked by disaster and political upheaval, said Ray Sandoval, who organizes Zozobra for the local Kiwanis Club to raise money for youth charities.
He spied credit card bills and a paid-off mortgage papers among the messages in the Zozobra stuffing this year — along with worries about nuclear war.
"We're getting a lot of political messages to be quite honest," Sandoval said. "People are really worried about the path of the country and their leadership. There are a lot of them that are more hopeful for the country."
Shelley Berman, comedian-bard of everyday life, has died
Comedian Shelley Berman, who won gold records and appeared on top television shows in the 1950s and 1960s delivering wry monologues about the annoyances of everyday life, has died. He was 92.
Berman died Friday at his home in Bell Canyon, California, from complications from Alzheimer's disease, according to spokesman Glenn Schwartz.
Berman was a pioneer of a new brand of comedy that could evoke laughter from such matters as air travel discomforts and small children who answer the telephone. He helped pave the way for Bob Newhart, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and other standup comedians who fashioned their routines around the follies and frustrations of modern living.
Tributes came in Friday from Steve Martin, who tweeted that Berman "changed modern stand-up," and Richard Lewis, who said there was "no better wordsmith."
Late in his career, he played Nat David, father of Larry David, on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." With dialogue improvised by its cast, the comedy series gave Berman the opportunity to return to his improv roots and introduced him to a new generation of TV viewers.
"I'm not a standup comedian," Berman often insisted. "I work on a stool."
Comedy was not a childhood ambition for him. He trained as an actor, with the Goodman School of Drama in his native Chicago and with the prestigious actress-teacher Uta Hagen in New York.
"I had dreams of being an actor," he said in a 1960 interview. "For 10 years I tried, picking up small jobs in summer stock and TV. I had a hard time of it."
As a last resort, he put together a 20-minute routine and auditioned at the Chicago nightclub Mister Kelly's. He was given a job, and then he had to scramble to write more material for a half-hour show.
"I was always one of those life-of-the-party boys," he admitted, "though I never stooped to wearing women's hats or lampshades. I was always making people laugh, in school and later in life."
Berman's success in Chicago led to a booking in Las Vegas. He bombed. The gamblers didn't laugh nor did they talk. Accustomed to slam-bang comics out of vaudeville and burlesque, they listened in amazement to the guy sitting on a stool and using big words with a routine that often consisted of one side of a make-believe phone call.
He continued on the saloon circuit, honing his craft and deciding on which direction to go. He didn't fit any category. He wasn't a joke teller nor a "sick" comedian. He figured he was a "humanist humorist."
Berman made the first of many appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1959. That year he issued his first album, "Inside Shelley Berman." It won a gold record and received the first-ever Grammy Award for the spoken word. Two more albums achieved gold status.
Along with his busy schedule in nightclubs and auditoriums, he fulfilled his first ambition to be an actor. He appeared in a Broadway play, "The Boys Against the Girls," in 1959 and a musical, "A Family Affair," in 1962. His film debut came in 1964 with the adaptation of Gore Vidal's hit political stage drama "The Best Man," starring Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson.
"Not only an accomplished comedian, actor, and author, Shelley was among the new breed of comedians who made a significant impact through recordings," said The Recording Academy in a statement. "Shelley will be deeply missed, but the influence he exerted on our creative community will remain forever."
Berman's comedy career stalled in 1963. He was performing his act before an audience for a documentary-style NBC show, "Comedian Backstage," when a telephone ringing interrupted him; it was the second night it happened. He stormed backstage and ranted at everyone in sight. His outburst, edited to make him appear temperamental, was included in the telecast.
"Once you're known as being difficult, it becomes too hard to deal with management and even fellow artists," he remarked in 1986. The bookings fell off, and Berman returned to acting, with little luck. He and his wife, Sarah, were forced to file for bankruptcy, and he began a long struggle to pay off his taxes and creditors.
He found work in television series such as "The Twilight Zone," ''Rawhide" and "Peter Gunn" and occasional movies including "Divorce American Style." He became active in regional theater and also worked his old routines before college and lecture audiences.
For more than 20 years he taught comedy at the University of Southern California.
In recent years, he landed guest roles on series including "The King of Queens," ''Boston Legal" and "CSI: NY," and appeared in the film "Meet the Fockers."
He retired from performing in 2014 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Sheldon Leonard Berman was born in Chicago and attended public schools. After training as an actor, he joined an improvisational company in Chicago, Compass Players, the beginning of the famed Second City. Watching his fellow performers, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Berman said in 2000, "I learned more in two weeks than I did in four years at Goodman."
He married in 1947, and he credited Sarah with helping him to survive through his jobless period while trying to be a comedian, the bankruptcy, the rebuilding of his career and the loss of their son, Joshua. They also had a daughter, Rachel, who, along with his wife, survives him.
Berman said of his marriage: "The love we have and the way it has grown, that's what I'd like to be remembered for."
The late Associated Press entertainer writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.
Judge: Colorado sex offender registry unconstitutional
DENVER (AP) — Colorado's sex offender registry is unconstitutional, subjecting offenders to "cruel and unusual punishment" by the public and restrictions on their ability to find work or homes long after completing prison or probation and parole sentences, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch ruled Thursday in the case of three offenders who want to remove their information from the registry, the latest example of courts limiting states' efforts to keep track of offenders.
Matsch wrote that the registry exposes "the registrants to punishments inflicted not by the state but by their fellow citizens."
The ruling has no immediate effect, even for the three offenders named in the case, said their attorney Alison Ruttenberg, but each can use the ruling to ask state judges to remove them from the registry. The decision still could have sweeping implications for Colorado and potentially other states, dependent on how state judges and other officials respond this fall.
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a statement that the ruling won't affect operation of the registry. She didn't immediately say whether her office will appeal the decision.
"While concerning, yesterday's ruling affects only three individuals and does not call into question the constitutionality of Colorado's sex offender registry as a whole, which continues to be lawfully maintained by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation," Coffman said. "I am committed to having a robust sex offender registry in our state that protects the public."
Ruttenberg said Colorado offenders can use Matsch's decision to ask state judges to remove them from the registry or to defend themselves against charges of failing to register.
If the state appeals to the 10th Circuit Court but fails to get the order overturned, the case also could be cited in other states, she said.
"These people had done everything society asked them to do," Ruttenberg said. "They served their sentence, stayed out of trouble and had done nothing else wrong but were being publicly vilified."
In Colorado, offenders' names, addresses, photos and other identifying features are posted on a state website, based on offenders' registrations with local law enforcement. The offenders' lawsuit argued that the information makes it difficult for offenders to find jobs and housing. Routine visits by police and flyers posted on doors clearly identify them as registered sex offenders, the suit says.
Matsch also blasted state judges who denied one offender's requests to be removed from the registry for "Kafka-esque" proceedings that asked the offender to prove that he would not commit another offense and then ruling against him on their "subjective opinions." The system continues to punish offenders for years after completing a court-ordered sentence, he said.
"The fear that pervades the public reaction to sex offenses_particularly as to children_generates reactions that are cruel and in disregard of any objective assessment of the individual's actual proclivity to commit new sex offenses," Match wrote. "The failure to make any individual assessment is a fundamental flaw in the system."
Utah-funded overdose medicine saves 46 people in 6 months
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The lives of 46 people in Utah were likely saved during the first six months of the year by police officers who gave them a drug called Naloxone, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, according to state data.
The overdose victims were saved as part of a state-funded pilot program aimed at reducing high rates of opioid death in the state, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/2evc4KZ ) Thursday.
The state Department of Health awarded 32 agencies, including police and health departments, about $236,000 to buy Naloxone kits and train employees how to use them.
Agencies not receiving state money also reported purchasing and distributing Naloxone throughout the same time period. Those agencies bought about 1,200 kits, leading to another 25 people being saved, according to the data.
Utah ranked seventh in the nation for overdose deaths from 2013-15, with an average of 24 people dying each month from a prescription opioid overdose in 2015 alone, according to the data.
"The funding for the pilot program has been critical to ensuring access to Naloxone for those at greatest risk of an overdose," said Joseph Miner, the state Health Department's executive director. "Providing Naloxone may mean the difference between life and death for those struggling with opioid addiction."
The state made Naloxone more accessible in December by allowing pharmacies to hand it out without a prescription. And then in January, the health department launched a statewide campaign, complete with billboards lining the highways, to education people about opioid addiction.
While this month, Intermountain Healthcare, one of the region's largest care providers, pledged to slash the number of opioid tablets its physicians and other health professionals prescribe by 40 percent by the end of 2018.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com
Car believed to hold 2 bodies pulled from California river
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A recovery team using a helicopter and a hoist on Friday dragged a car from the middle of a dangerous California river where it had been stranded for more than a month and believed to hold the bodies of two exchange students from Thailand.
The car had crashed through a guardrail and plunged 500 feet over a cliff in the Sierra Nevada below into the Kings River, authorities said.
After more than a month of planning and waiting for the river water to calm, a helicopter lowered members of the recovery team. They dragged the car 100 (30 meters) through rapids to the riverbank, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims told the Fresno Bee (http://bit.ly/2gq1SjV).
They'll next remove the bodies, said Mims, who also briefed relatives of the crash victims who traveled to California.
On July 26, the exchange students were driving a vehicle on curvy Highway 180 along a steep canyon 75 miles east of Fresno when it crashed and became lodged on boulders in the middle of the river.
The slow pace to launch the recovery had prompted emotional pleas to authorities from relatives traveling in from Asia.
But only now has the river — with thundering rapids fed by massive amounts of snowmelt high in the Sierra Nevada — calmed enough to make conditions safe for the recovery team, officials said.
Investigators linked the car with the students who had planned to visit Kings Canyon National Park, famous for its sweeping mountain vistas and giant sequoia trees.
Thiwadee Saengsuriyarit, 24, and her male friend Pakapol Chairatnathrongporn, 28, had been enrolled at the University of South Florida. Authorities will await autopsies to confirm their identities.
Friday's recovery effort did not include a second car in the same stretch of the river believed to hold a missing couple from China. Publicity of the first stranded car and the trail of wreckage led investigators to the white car submerged nearby.
Authorities have linked it with Yinan Wang, 31, and Jie Song 30, missing seen since early August. The river's flow has to drop even more before it's safe for the second recovery, officials said.
Authorities: Jail deputies let inmate throw feces at others
DUBLIN, Calif. (AP) — A California county sheriff's office arrested four of its own deputies who are accused of allowing a maximum-security prisoner to throw feces and urine at other inmates.
The East Bay Times reports (http://bayareane.ws/2evaOHS ) the Alameda County Sheriff's Office arrested its deputies on Thursday on charges of mistreating inmates at Santa Rail Jail.
One deputy resigned and three others have been placed on administrative leave after Sheriff Gregory Ahern launched an investigation in January. The three on leave are 26-year-old Sarah Krause, 23-year-old Justin Linn and 27-year-old Erik McDermott, while Stephen Sarcos resigned.
Inmate Ruben Febo Jr. says he is housed in the same area where the mistreatment took place. He recently wrote a letter to the East Bay Times saying he was placed in a cell "saturated in feces."
Information from: East Bay Times, http://www.eastbaytimes.com
Police: Passenger arrested after seatbelt confrontration
PHOENIX (AP) — Authorities say a Tucson man was arrested and removed from a Southwest Airlines flight about to depart Phoenix for Denver after he repeatedly ignored requests to fasten his seatbelt and shoved a flight attendant.
Police say 58-year-old David Clyne Dutson was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor assault Wednesday night at Sky Harbor International Airport.
A police probable-cause statement says all passengers on the plane were taken off the flight after Dutson refused to get off and that police then arrested him.
Dutson was released from jail Thursday after making an initial court appearance, during which the case was dismissed. It was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can be refiled.
Court records don't list a defense attorney who could comment on the allegation and there's no phone listing under his name.
Spokane puts rocks under freeway to deter homeless camping
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The city of Spokane is laying tons of basalt boulders below Interstate 90 to prevent homeless people from camping downtown.
The Spokesman-Review says (https://goo.gl/h9vfXm) the $150,000 effort is one of many steps the city is taking to get people off the streets and into shelters.
The city council earlier this year approved $510,000 to keep one shelter open around the clock. It also committed $1.1 million in 2018 to keep the entire shelter system, which include day and night shelters for families with children, single women and teens, operating.
City Council President Ben Stuckart says the city wants to get people to use those newly funded resources and avoid disrupting private businesses.
He says the problem of homelessness is growing in Spokane, as it has in other West Coast cities.
Other cities have used environmental design such as benches with vertical slats to drive homeless people away from certain areas.
This story has been updated to correct that the city committed $1.1 million to keep the entire shelter system operating, not operating around the clock.
Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com
Restaurant owner pleads guilty to tax theft through software
BELLEVUE, Wash. (AP) — A Bellevue restaurant owner has pleaded guilty to using software that deleted transactions and allowed her to steal nearly $400,000 in sales taxes.
The Seattle Times reported Thursday (https://goo.gl/zGfSWf ) that Yu-Ling Wong, the owner of Taiwanese restaurant Facing East, has agreed to pay $300,000 in restitution to the Department of Revenue.
An Everett man who sold her the software pleaded guilty in December.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says the prosecution was the first in the U.S. for the use of sales suppression software.
The missing taxes became apparent when auditors looking at the restaurant's tax returns found a smaller than normal amount of cash sales and that cash tips on some days exceeded the restaurant's total cash sales.
Las Vegas wedding industry wants to boost marriage rate
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Matthew and Christi Zenner started planning their wedding in their home state of Washington, but it didn't take long for them to call it quits. All of the necessary arrangements — from the venue to the guest list — soon became too overwhelming, Christi Zenner said.
Her husband, Matthew Zenner, said they switched plans and booked a Las Vegas wedding instead for a quick, easy destination wedding.
"When you're thinking about a low-maintenance, stress-free wedding, Vegas is what comes to mind," he said.
In 2016, the Clark County clerk's Marriage License Bureau issued 81,325 marriage licenses, about 80 percent of which were given to tourists such as the Zenners. It's enough for Las Vegas to keep its title of marriage capital of the world, but it's a far cry from its peak in 2004, when about 128,000 marriage licenses were issued.
While Nevada still leads the pack in number of weddings, the state has taken a hit in marriage rates with the rest of the United States.
The marriage rate — the number of new marriages per 1,000 people — has seen a major decline across the United States, including Nevada. The marriage rate in Nevada in 2000 was 72.2, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2005, it had dropped to 57.4. By 2015, it was 31.
That follows trends seen across the country. The national marriage rate in 2000 was 8.2 and fell to 6.9 in 2015.
Michael Kelly, general manager of the Little Vegas Chapel, has been working in the Las Vegas wedding industry for seven years. While his business has seen growth in recent months, he has noticed the overall decline in marriage rates.
"Hopefully it picks up again," he said. "We provide folks getting married with a great experience. We can provide a lot of local jobs for folks."
IMPACT ON STATE ECONOMY
Clark County Clerk Lynn Goya said about 4 percent of Las Vegas' annual visitor volume comes for weddings, and more than 10,000 jobs in Clark County depend on wedding tourism.
"It's an important sector," she said.
Kris LaBuda, the manager of wedding services for Flamingo and The Linq Hotel and board president of the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce, said the wedding industry affects all small businesses involved in tourism, from employees at McCarran International Airport and limo drivers to those working at bakeries and flower shops.
The wedding industry brings more than just jobs to Nevada, LaBuda said. The newlyweds and their guests often have extended stays in Las Vegas, enjoying the city and spending money as tourists on the days surrounding the ceremony.
"We have the opportunity through wedding tourism to bring people to Las Vegas who might otherwise not have come," she said.
REASONS FOR DECLINE
Aimee Stephens, director of marketing and social media at Vegas Weddings and communications chair of the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce, said she can point to several influencing factors for the decline. She said it aligns with the economy's decline, when Las Vegas as a whole was seeing fewer tourists.
Also, Stephens said destination weddings have increased in popularity in the past 15 years — something that can be both positive and negative for the Las Vegas wedding industry.
"We're competing on a grander scale against more places than we were previously," she said.
The decline can also be attributed to national trends among millennials, who are getting married later in life than previous generations did. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that that median age at first marriage in the U.S. in 2000 was 26.8 for men and 25.1 for women. By 2016, that number rose to 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women.
Stephens has noticed a similar trend in Las Vegas.
"The millennials, they graduated college or high school in the middle of the economy tanking," she said. "A lot of people are waiting until they feel more secure in life to move forward with such a big step."
Goya said the marriage rate decline can be misleading — the absolute number of marriages in the United States is staying "pretty flat" with population growth — but the local wedding industry is still taking action to increase the marriage license rate.
One of the first major pushes against the declining marriage rate was in 2015, when the cost of marriage licenses rose $14, from $63 to $77. The additional funding would be set aside for promoting the Las Vegas wedding industry.
Goya said the additional charge brings in about $1.1 million a year. Last year's additional funding went to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which used the money to boost marketing and branding for Las Vegas destination weddings.
Maria Phelan, communications manager at the convention authority, said the marketing has been targeting couples in Southern California.
"It makes the most sense to target those more familiar with averages and more willing to travel," she said. "We're trying to highlight the fact that there are many different (wedding) choices that Las Vegas offers."
Local Las Vegas businesses have also united to fight for the wedding industry.
The Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce was launched in March 2016 to promote wedding tourism in Las Vegas through a partnership with the Clark County Clerk's office and the convention authority. LaBuda said the chamber aims to build the Las Vegas brand, increase tourism and promote the industry's influence on Las Vegas businesses and families.
And it seems those efforts have paid off. Stephens said she has seen the marriage license rate stabilize over the past two years.
"It's still not the numbers from 15 years ago," she said, "but hopefully we're hitting that trend where it's growing."
LAS VEGAS APPEAL
Even with marriage rates much lower now than in previous years, Las Vegas still holds its spot as one of the top wedding destinations in the world.
Aimee Stephens, director of marketing and social media at Vegas Weddings and communications chair of the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce, said the affordability of the weddings is a major draw. Couples can come for a joint wedding and honeymoon with affordable hotels, airfare and restaurants, all while avoiding the sky-high national average wedding cost. One study from The Knot found the average wedding cost in 2016 was $35,329.
Stephens said Las Vegas chapels buck that trend; chapel packages at Vegas Wedding start at $199.
"People can get married here and still put a deposit on a home," she said.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com
Prescott Valley woman is facing 21 counts of animal cruelty
PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. (AP) — Yavapai County Sheriff's officials say a Prescott Valley woman is facing 21 counts of animal cruelty.
They say 22-year-old Marie Spak is accused of keeping animals in deplorable and disgusting conditions at her leased home.
Spak recently moved, and the cleaning crew reported finding two dead rabbits inside a kennel in the master bedroom. Both were in an extreme case of decomposition.
Authorities say the odor in the house was so bad, the crew had to wear respirators.
Inside the shed, authorities found a dead dog in a cardboard box.
Five dead chickens were found behind the shed, and two more dead dogs were in trash cans.
Next to the trash cans, a plastic storage bin contained 10 dead baby chickens.
Authorities say another dead dog was found in the yard.
New Mexico village to hold Bigfoot festival
JEMEZ SPRINGS, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico village is holding a festival in connection with a legend that Bigfoot is roaming around the state's Jemez Mountains.
The Los Alamos Monitor reports (https://goo.gl/E26ihV ) the village of Jemez Springs is hosting the Bigfoot BBQ & Blues Fest on Saturday to celebrate rumors the ape-like creature hangs around the forests near one of the nation's premier nuclear labs.
Event organizer Felix Nunez says he didn't want to hang his hat on Bigfoot's existence. But he says there are unexplainable and fascinating audio and video clips.
The gathering will feature anthropologist and Bigfoot expert Christopher Dyer, who will present evidence suggesting Bigfoot has taken up residence in New Mexico. Organizers say Dyer will present hair, photographs and a map pinpointing sightings around the state.
Information from: Los Alamos Monitor, http://www.lamonitor.com