LAS VEGAS (AP) — A fire at a hotel’s swimming pool sent large plumes of black smoke high above the Las Vegas Strip but left most guests unscathed Saturday.
It took firefighters about 30 minutes to gain control of the blaze that broke out on the 14th floor of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas hotel, Clark County Fire Chief Greg Cassell said.
One person was taken to a hospital with smoke inhalation, fire officials said. A second person was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene. But nobody suffered any burns from the flames that ignited outside on the pool deck, Clark County fire spokeswoman Sandra Baker said.
The fire was first reported around 12:15 p.m. with multiple 911 calls coming in. The blaze quickly consumed pool cabanas, chairs and furniture, Cassell said. At least 110 firefighters were on the scene to not only battle the fire, but help with evacuations.
No flames ever made it into the hotel. However, smoke got into some floors above the 14th floor because the windows of some rooms were open. Firefighters were working with ventilation personnel to use temporary fans to get the smoke out.
The 14th and 15th floors in The Cosmopolitan’s West End tower will remain closed until further notice, hotel officials said in a statement. The pool area, a fitness center and a spa will also be closed indefinitely. Some guests will be relocated within the resort or to other properties, hotel officials said.
It could be quite some time before the cause of the fire is determined, Cassell said. Investigators are interviewing guests and going through cellphone videos.
Julio Loredo of San Francisco was in his room on the 33rd floor of the neighboring Vdara hotel when his room started to darken. “We looked out the window, and there was ash hitting our window,” Loredo said.
He then looked out a hallway window, where he saw guests fleeing The Cosmopolitan pool deck.
“People were running. We could see small explosions,” Loredo said. “It was in less than a minute that it was completely engulfed.”
He also saw people running out of the hotel doors and onto the Strip. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was unbelievable,” Loredo said.
The fire also shut down streets around the Strip for several hours, and a few remain closed on Saturday afternoon.
Associated Press photographer John Locher and writer Juliet Williams contributed to this report.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Four years ago, the Beaverdale neighborhood in Des Moines organized big for President Barack Obama’s re-election, building an uber-volunteer group skilled at phone-banking, door-knocking and boosting caucus and general election participation. The volunteers dubbed their leafy neighborhood Obamadale.
Now the 2016 Democratic presidential hopefuls are visiting this liberal stronghold, trying to rename it once more.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley hung out at a local bar Friday night and Hillary Rodham Clinton visited a house party Saturday afternoon. But they may have to keep wooing for a while. The neighbors are split among the candidates or undecided.
“I think Obamadale is still kind of an open target for candidates at this point,” said Brad Anderson, a resident who served as Obama’s state director in 2012.
Anderson said that in the last presidential election, the Obamadale group “over-performed by every metric that was set.” The group of about 20 core activists and dozens more participants got training from the campaign and put in long hours working the phones and going door to door. They turned out big numbers on caucus night and again in the November general election, when the incumbent Obama won the state. Their organizing methods were so successful that they were sent to other areas to boost participation.
“You get off work and clock in volunteering,” recalled founding member Kimberly Boggus, 36. “Phone banks Monday and Wednesday. Saturdays and Sundays were canvassing.”
Political engagement is a longtime tradition in the neighborhood. Located a short drive from downtown, the tidy streets are lined with small Tudor-style homes, known as Beaverdale Bricks. The shopping district features a candy shop and an independent bookstore. People mark the seasons with community gatherings and festivals.
It’s the kind of group any Democratic hopeful would like to scoop up. Clinton featured a local organizer in her announcement video and has picked up some key support here, including backing from the local Democratic state Sen. Janet Petersen. O’Malley has visited more than once, and played his guitar in a local tavern in the spring.
“It’s great to be in Beaverdale,” O’Malley told dozens packed into a local pub Friday night. “You guys have been terrific to me.”
He stood on a chair for a lengthy question-and-answer session that touched on raising the minimum wage and banking reform before accepting a guitar from an audience member and leading the enthusiastic crowd in song.
Clinton spoke to about 200 people in a Beaverdale backyard Saturday afternoon, calling the area “one of the most active, productive, effective areas in the whole state, not just in Polk County or Des Moines.”
She also told the crowd that she planned to release policies on climate change and renewable energy in Iowa on Sunday and Monday.
Back in the 2008 race, Obama had strong support in Beaverdale and spent July 4, 2007, here. Beaverdale Democrats said Clinton’s campaign was less active in the area during that campaign, when she placed third in the Iowa caucuses. But many said that she appears more committed to grassroots organizing here, as she is across the state.
“Her campaign this time around feels more like Obama ’08, more grassroots, bottom up,” said Petersen, who endorsed Obama in 2008.
For now, it looks like the Obamadale gang will not lock arms behind one candidate for the caucuses. Boggus is with O’Malley, “somebody that I relate to.”
But Sean Bagniewski, 31, who was featured in the Clinton video and hosted the Saturday house party, said “there’s quite a bit of support for Hillary right now.”
Bagniewski said he was thrilled to have the event at his home. “It takes a little bit longer to get their support over here, but when you get their support, they are in whole hog,” he said.
Rose Mary Pratt, 67, another member of the group, said she was still weighing her decision.
“I’ve had calls from all campaigns,” she said. “Because I’m an activist they want my commitment early.”
“I like all of them. Hillary’s my generation; I want to see a woman president. That’s meaningful to me. I think O’Malley is a new voice in the party and he’s quite articulate in his statements. I could go there. “
As for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, she said, “I’m an old liberal, so he says all the things I like to hear.”
Sanders has not done an event here, though Pratt said she saw him in the coffee shop several months ago and chatted with him. Sanders’ Iowa director, Pete D’Alessandro, said the campaign will organize in the neighborhood and Sanders probably will come for an event.
Whatever happens in the February caucuses, activists agree they’ll come together later on for the party nominee.
“We go our separate ways, we support the people that are more in mind with what we think,” said Ben Guise, 69. “We’re really close friends, all of us. We will have no trouble transitioning back.”
This story has been corrected to show the last name of the state senator is Petersen, not Peterson.
LISLE, Ill. (AP) — Family and friends of an Illinois woman found dead in a Texas jail remembered her Saturday as a “courageous voice” for social justice and promised to keep fighting for clarity on the circumstances surrounding her death.
Hundreds of people attended Sandra Bland’s funeral near the Chicago suburb where she grew up. They celebrated her life with words and songs of praise, and her mother danced in the church aisle with her arms raised. She and other mourners, though, said they were still struggling to understand how a traffic stop for failing to use a turn signal escalated into a physical confrontation and landed her in the cell where authorities say she killed herself three days later.
The Harris County, Texas, medical examiner’s office determined through an autopsy that Bland hanged herself with a plastic bag. The 28-year-old woman’s family has questioned the finding, saying she was excited about starting a new job and wouldn’t have taken her own life.
“I’m going to find out what happened to my baby,” her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said in remarks that brought mourners to their feet. “My baby has spoken. She’s still speaking and no, she didn’t kill herself.”
The traffic stop, which was captured on police dash cam video and on a bystander’s cellphone, and Bland’s death in custody have resonated on social media, with many grouping it with other prominent U.S. cases involving confrontations between the police and blacks over the past year.
Bland had spoken out about that issue and others in a series of videos she posted online this year with the hashtag “SandySpeaks.”
Mourners at Saturday’s funeral wore T-shirts with the tag. One person had it scrawled across a car window. Some took to Twitter with the hashtag “SandySTILLSpeaks.”
Crowds filed past her open casket to catch a last glimpse of Bland, who was dressed in an all-white suit with roses on top of her.
The July 10 traffic stop became heated when Bland refused the officer’s request to put out a cigarette and his subsequent order to get out of the car. He threatened to shoot Bland with a stun gun unless she obeyed his order and said she kicked him during the tussle. He has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
The Rev. Theresa Dear told reporters outside the DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church that Bland should be celebrated for standing up for herself.
“She challenged and asked the question why, ‘Why should I put out the cigarette?'” Dear said. “She asked 12 times, ‘Why am I being arrested?’ And so we celebrate that part of her personality.”
And she said friends and family continue to doubt authorities, even after the release of documents supporting the official conclusion of suicide.
“When you are about to start a new job, when you know your family is about to bring the money for your release, when you are an activist and a fighter, you don’t take your own life,” she said.
Bland’s story so moved people that her funeral even drew some who never met her.
“I don’t know Sandra, and I don’t know what happened,” Hank Brown, of Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune. “But I do know she didn’t have to die. There’s an epidemic of police terror in this country, and people need to stand up.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio zoo officials say they are pressing charges against a man who jumped a fence to pet cougars, then posted his video on YouTube.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium says the Delaware County Sheriff’s office has charged a suspect with a misdemeanor count of trespassing. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Tracy Whited says 35-year-old Joshua Newell was served Friday with a summons to appear in court Wednesday.
The video posted earlier this week shows an outer fence being jumped, then two cougars being petted through another fence as a voice says things such as “Kitty, kitty, kitty.”
Columbus Zoo CEO Tom Stalf says in a statement that animal welfare and safety are top priorities. He calls the video “alarming.”
A telephone listed to Newell’s suburban Gahanna address rang busy Saturday.
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ingrid Nilsen has been brought to tears.
The 26-year-old YouTube star openly wept as she was showered with cheers and applause from an enthusiastic crowd upon arrival on stage at this weekend’s VidCon, the sixth annual celebration of online video.
It was just last month that Nilsen, who mostly posts YouTube videos about beauty and style for her more than 3 million subscribers, released an entry titled “Something I Want You To Know (Coming Out).”
“I love you guys,” a weepy Nilson told thousands of fans gathered inside the Anaheim Convention Center for a Friday session starring lesbian, gay and bisexual YouTube stars. “This feels amazing. This is why I have two pockets full of tissues. It feels absolutely incredible. I just feel like I am giving all of myself now.”
Nilsen isn’t alone. Over the past year, such successful YouTube celebrities as Joey Graceffa, Shane Dawson and Connor Franta have posted videos declaring that they are gay or bisexual — and their popularity on the site has continued to climb.
For some YouTubers, sexual identity has always been part of their free-wheeling, diary-like content. Tyler Oakley, who currently boasts more than 7 million subscribers, can’t remember the last time he came out to anyone.
“I’ve been identifying as gay for over a decade, long before I joined YouTube, so I don’t even think about it anymore,” said Oakley.
It’s not quite as easy for others. Hannah Hart, who hosts the popular “My Drunk Kitchen” series on YouTube and has amassed more than 2 million subscribers, wasn’t sure at first how being honest about her sexual orientation would affect her growing fanbase.
“I was really hesitant to be so out, open and comfortable because I was afraid of getting stuck in a box when I was still trying to figure out my career identity,” said Hart. “I thought once everyone finds out I’m gay, they’re going to just put me in a specific place.”
Once she came out, Hart never looked back. Such interactive openness from this new generation of celebs stands in contrast to 18 years ago when Ellen DeGeneres appeared on a Time magazine cover with the headline “Yep, I’m Gay.”
While many YouTubers grapple with when or how to inform their subscribers that they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, others haven’t given a second thought about it.
“A lot of my content revolves around LGBT issues because I am an LGBT person,” said Miles Jai, who identifies as gender neutral and posts videos about fashion and beauty to more than 500,000 subscribers. “I think it should be part of general daily discussion. It’s part of my life, and my videos revolve around what happens in my life, so I can’t avoid that.”
Nilsen, who has been sponsored by CoverGirl and appeared as a judge on a youth-centric spin-off of the reality TV competition “Project Runway,” said she intends to strike a balance between personal and professional on her YouTube channel.
“It’s a part of my life, so I think it will come up, but it’s not something that I’m going to force into my videos,” said Nilsen. “Being a lesbian is a part of who I am, but there are so many parts of who I am.”
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The parents of a Montana teenager who shot and killed a friend knocking on his bedroom window late at night say he shouldn’t face criminal charges over what they describe as a tragic accident.
In an exclusive interview, they told The Associated Press that they blame themselves for allowing the teen to keep a loaded revolver in his room.
As a prosecutor moves to put the case before a special jury to decide on charges, the May shooting has revived the debate over the so-called Castle Doctrine that sometimes allows the use of lethal force to defend one’s home. It’s also raised questions about the 17-year-old shooter’s easy access to the handgun, given his age.
Fifteen-year-old MacKeon “Mackey” Schulte was killed as he and another boy tried to wake up Seth Culver at about 2:30 a.m., less than a block from where the three attended high school in Billings, Montana’s largest city.
Startled by the noises at his window, Culver grabbed a World War II-era, .38-caliber handgun given to him as a present by his father and shot once through the glass, striking MacKeon in the head, according to authorities and Culver’s parents.
The case will soon place the Culver family in an unwanted spotlight: Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told the AP he will convene a coroner’s jury next month to recommend whether criminal charges are warranted.
In interviews this week, Len and Regina Culver said they now realize they should not have allowed their son to keep the loaded revolver in his bedroom.
Len Culver, 60, said he had instructed his son on how to handle weapons responsibly, enrolling him in a hunter safety course when the boy was 13. Culver said he didn’t know until police told him on the morning of the shooting that it’s generally illegal under federal law for a person under 18 to possess a handgun.
“I don’t want them to make some BS, liberal deal out of this,” Len Culver said. “He did it. Yes, he did it. But let’s treat it like what it is. It isn’t going to happen again. Mack’s gone.”
The Culvers said criminal charges would merely compound a tragedy that has left their son despondent over his role in the death of one of his closest friends.
Regardless of whether the killing was intentional, police and outside experts have said Culver could face charges if it is determined that he disregarded the risks of not identifying his target before pulling the trigger.
Twito said he took the rare step of requesting the jury because of “the dynamics involved in this case.”
“The ages, circumstances, timing, relationships of the people — all of those things,” Twito said. “I think it was an appropriate case to look at in this way.” Witnesses could include the families of the two friends.
Such proceedings are open to the public and are usually reserved for fatal shootings by police officers or the death of inmates in custody. The jury’s findings would be advisory only and a final decision will be up to Twito’s office.
Twito said it was unlikely that Culver’s parents would face charges but added that he was “going to let the process unfold.”
Immediately after the shooting, Schulte’s family and friends rallied around Seth Culver to show support.
MacKeon’s father, Sean-Paul Schulte, hugged Seth at MacKeon’s funeral. Others spoke of the close bond the shooter and victim shared since they met during their freshman year at Billings Senior High School.
Regina Culver still carries on her cellphone a text she said she received from Sean-Paul Schulte directed to her son: “Don’t throw your life away. … Mackey loved you. … be strong as u can, study and do pushups,” a portion of the message read.
Schulte’s family has not said publicly whether they want charges filed in the case. But Sean-Paul Schulte said he believes both boys had been “desensitized” to violence by the video games they played.
“It’s hard to say it’s an accident when you grab a gun and shoot someone on purpose,” Sean-Paul Schulte said. “I don’t want some other dad in my position.”
Several weeks before the killing, Seth Culver took the handgun without his parents’ permission to a sleepover at MacKeon’s house, his parents said. When they discovered the weapon was missing from the drawer by their son’s bed, he had to come home. Len Culver said his son was yelled at for taking the gun and told he couldn’t take it out of the house again without telling them.
Looking back on that incident as she stood outside the window where MacKeon was killed, Regina Culver said she wished they had gone further.
She said the gun “should have been taken away (but) we probably just took TV away from him.”
“We’re not the only ones that knew he had it,” she added. “Mack knew he had it.”