LA BECERRERA, MEXICO
Residents prepare to evacuate volcano's flank as scientists warn of possible eruption
Army troops stood ready to evacuate hundreds of residents from towns on the flanks of Mexico's most active volcano yesterday as scientists said building pressure signaled an imminent eruption of the 3,820-meter (12,533-foot) "Volcano of Fire."
During the last several days, smoke, ash and vapor have been spewing from the crater of the volcano in the western Colima state.
Scientists said that within days or weeks, a huge dome of lava developing inside the crater would either collapse, sending hot rivers of lava and rock down the peak's southern flanks, or explode, launching rock and ash into the surrounding area.
Internal explosions in the volcano in 1999 sent lava flowing five kilometers (three miles) down the slopes, forcing the evacuation of nearly 500 people from 11 hamlets.
Residents are always barred from going within 6.5 kilometers (four miles) of the volcano. Since the lava dome has begun to expand, civil protection authorities are blocking anyone who doesn't live in the area from going any closer than 11.5 kilometers (seven miles).
White plumes of smoke curled skyward from the crater yesterday, a sign that pressure was being released. Area vulcanologists said seismic activity remained at stable, non-threatening levels.
Soldiers guarded the perimeter of the danger zone and manned the streets of area towns in case of an evacuation, and some coffee workers were unable to work in fields located within prohibited areas.
But it was a quiet Sunday for residents in the small villages of Yerbabuena and La Becerrera, located eight and 10 kilometers (five and six miles), respectively, from the volcano.
Cattle grazed in the shadow of the smoking colossus and machete-wielding workers cut fields of sugarcane, while townspeople attended Mass, swept the sidewalks, or chatted with neighbors on the sun-dappled streets.
"I've lived here all my life and I don't feel like there's any danger," said 40-year-old Daniel Viscaino, a farmer, taxi driver and musician from La Becerrera, a town of 500 people.
"As long as the smoke is coming out like that nothing's going to happen. Besides, it's nature. No one but God can really say when our time is up."
Alvaro Lepe, 52, owns 100 hectares (250 acres) of sugar cane, pasture and coffee fields in Yerbabuena, a hamlet of about 200 people. He said he's been keeping an eye on the volcano for 20 years.
"While it has changed, in no moment has it been as scary as they say," he said, nodding his straw-hatted head toward the volcano's peak as 30 workers labored in the cane field behind him.
"Nature is very unpredictable," he said, adding that if there were a strong eruption "you'd see both animals and people running for their lives."
Vulcanologists consider the Colima volcano to be the most active and potentially the most destructive of nine volcanoes located across the middle of Mexico. It has staged violent eruptions dozens of times since its first recorded eruption in 1560.
About 300,000 people live within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the volcano, and Colima city, the state capital, is within 30 kilometers (20 miles).
But researchers say, in recent times, lava has never descended below 1,900 meters (500 feet), well above the altitude of the current villages.
Man convicted in wife's killing wants state to pay for sex change operation
A man sentenced to life in prison without parole for strangling his wife is trying to force the state to pay for a sex change operation and hormone therapy to allow him to live as a woman.
Robert Kosilek, who uses the name Michelle, planned to be in federal court today to ask a judge to order the state Department of Corrections to cover the treatment.
He claims in a lawsuit that the corrections department is violating his civil rights and subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment by refusing to provide treatment for his gender identity disorder. He said he suffers continuous depression, anxiety and a high level of stress as a result of being denied treatment.
"The universal prescribed treatment involves psychotherapy, hormone therapy, and surgical correction of the offending genitalia," he said in court documents.
Advocates say there have been several cases across the country of transgender inmates successfully suing to get treatment, including psychotherapy and hormone therapy, but none have succeeded in getting surgery.
Kosilek, 52, says he began asking the state for treatment in 1990, after he was arrested in the killing of his 36-year-old wife, Cheryl. During his murder trial, Kosilek wore shoulder-length hair and long fingernails to court. His lawyer called him Michelle.
His condition was not part of his defense, however. He claimed he killed his wife in self-defense after she spilled boiling tea on his genitals. He was convicted in 1993 of strangling her with a length of wire and leaving her body in the back of a parked car.
John Moses, who prosecuted Kosilek, said the state should not be forced to pay for the operation.
"It doesn't seem to make any sense to me," Moses said.
The Department of Corrections tried unsuccessfully to get Kosilek's lawsuit thrown out. Neither the department nor Commissioner Michael T. Maloney would comment on the case before trial.
Hill & Barlow, the law firm appointed by the court to represent Kosilek, said in a statement: "The case raises important constitutional issues about medical treatment for prisoners." Individual lawyers appointed to the case would not comment.
Jennifer Levi, an attorney with Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, said inmates found to need sex change operations should get them.
"Transsexualism is a legitimate medical condition, and experts in the field recognize that for some individuals, sex reassignment surgery is the only way to treat that. Bias - which is not based on medical information - should not trump a prisoner's access to appropriate health care," Levi said.
Mob turncoat Gravano denies leading Arizona ecstasy ring
Former Mafia underboss Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, who pleaded guilty in Arizona and New York to numerous counts involving an ecstasy drug ring, is now claiming that he was not the leader of the operation based in the Phoenix area, according to documents filed in federal court in New York.
"The remarks about "owning Arizona" and demanding a "commission" for every pill sold are products of overheated informants who have watched too many reruns of 'The Sopranos' and are not supported by the facts," wrote Lynne Stewart, Gravano's New York lawyer.
Gravano may be looking for relief from a harsh prison sentence by claiming no ties to the Arizona ecstasy operation other than financing an occasional drug deal.
Gravano said in the court papers that former Gilbert, Ariz., resident Michael Papa, 25, was the drug ring's leader, reported the East Valley Tribune, a newspaper serving the Phoenix area.
Gravano, 56, also denied allegations by authorities that he once asserted his control of the Arizona ecstasy trade during a meeting with drug dealers at his ex-wife's Scottsdale, Ariz., restaurant, Uncle Sal's.
Gravano pleaded guilty June 29 to charges that he masterminded a multimillion-dollar ecstasy ring that sold the drug from Arizona to New York. He agreed to a 15- to 20-year prison term in the Arizona case and is facing about the same prison term in the New York case.
After sentencing in New York, Gravano will be brought to Arizona for sentencing. He will serve both terms at the same time.
His Arizona attorney, Greg Parzych, told the Tribune Friday that no sentencing date has been set in New York.
The New York case is an offshoot of the Arizona case, which resulted in the indictments of more than 40 people, including Gravano's two grown children and ex-wife.
Gravano has admitted to at least 19 murders but served only five years in prison on racketeering charges under his deal with New York prosecutors to testify against mob boss John Gotti.
He moved to Tempe in 1995 after leaving the federal witness-protection program to be closer to his family.