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Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file  

Hollis Biddle (left) poses with Dave Campbell (right). Biddle, who worked for the Tribune-Herald for 55 years, died Monday.

Cameron Park Zoo welcomes new African lion cub

The new African lion cub at the Cameron Park Zoo is “fat and sassy” and couldn’t have formed a better bond with her mother Leia, zookeepers said.

Rey, now almost 12 weeks old, has slowly started to make public appearances, giving visitors the opportunity to see a young member of species facing a high risk of extinction.

The cub is the first for Leia and Kaikane, said Terri Cox, curator of exhibits and programs. Zookeepers opted to stick with a “Star Wars” theme in naming the new lion cub since her mother was named after Princess Leia.

Zookeeper Megan Robertson said it was hard to keep the new arrival a secret until the public announcement. Excitement has been building among zoo staff as Rey has grown from her birth weight of 2 pounds to her current 20 pounds, Robertson said. Zoo staff wanted to wait until Rey was big enough to be allowed in the outside exhibit and give time for her to bond with mom, Robertson said.

Temperature has also played a factor in keeping Rey indoors. It must be at least 60 degrees for such a young cub to head outside. Weather permitting, Rey is making public appearances from 3 to 4 p.m. As she grows up she will be allowed outside for longer periods of time, she said.

“She is fat and sassy,” Cox said. “She doesn’t have much of a scruff for (Leia) to carry her around.”

Leia, originally from the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, is young herself at four years old, Cox said.

“They do play a lot because mom is young, and I think she kind of sees her as part baby, part playmate,” she said. “She’s very cute.”

Though Leia is young, she’s doing a great job as a mother despite the odds, Robertson said.

Big cats often struggle with their first litter, she said.

To add to the natural hardship, Leia’s own mother died while giving birth, so Leia had to be hand raised, she said.

“She kind of had those two things working against her,” Robertson said. “She’s been a fantastic mom since the beginning. They bonded really well.”

The Cameron Park Zoo will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.

“We have a large group of elderly animals and a lot of babies coming on,” Cox said. “It’s a nice circle of life going on.”

Cities sue Defense Dept. over gun-check system failures

NEW YORK — Three large U.S. cities filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Department of Defense, arguing that many service members who are disqualified from gun ownership weren’t reported to the national background check system.

New York City, San Francisco and Philadelphia said in court papers that the military’s broken system for relaying such information helped spur the massacre of 26 people inside a Texas church last month.

“This failure on behalf of the Department of Defense has led to the loss of innocent lives by putting guns in the hands of criminals and those who wish to cause immeasurable harm,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “New York City is joining Philadelphia and San Francisco to stand up to the Department of Defense and demand they comply with the law and repair their drastically flawed system.”

Local law enforcement officials rely on the FBI’s database to conduct background checks on gun permit applications and to monitor purchases. It must be up-to-date in order to prevent people from wrongly getting guns, the cities’ attorneys wrote.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, seeks an injunction and judicial oversight to ensure ongoing compliance with the Defense Department’s obligation to submit records.

Military officials previously acknowledged problems with their reporting.

A Pentagon spokesman on Tuesday said he couldn’t comment specifically on the lawsuit.

“The department continues to work with the services as they review and refine their policies and procedures to ensure qualifying criminal history information is submitted to the FBI,” said Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Defense Department’s failure to report “significant numbers” of disqualifying records to the FBI’s national background check system allowed former U.S. Air Force member Devin P. Kelley to buy a rifle and shoot 26 people to death Nov. 5 in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church, the lawsuit said. Kelley had been convicted of assaulting family members in a 2012 court martial and should not have been allowed to purchase a gun.

Air Force leaders already acknowledged that the service failed to alert the FBI to Kelley’s criminal history and that they discovered “several dozen” other such reporting omissions. They said that while policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking.

And Army leaders have said their service also has similar gaps.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon’s watchdog agency it found a “troubling” number of failures this year by the military services to alert the FBI to criminal history information. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a far-ranging review of the FBI database.

Philadelphia in particular has been plagued by gun violence and “relies on this reporting when making the crucial decision whether a license-to-carry applicant should be permitted to carry a firearm,” said Mayor Jim Kenney, who is a Democrat like the mayors of New York and San Francisco. “We’re joining in this suit because reporting these records is absolutely critical to those decisions. The background check system only works if it contains the proper records.”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement that the Department of Defense’s failure to accurately report criminal convictions puts Americans at risk.

“We cannot accept the level of gun violence in our country as ‘just the way it is,’” he said.

The lawsuit names the armed forces individually, as well as the Department of Defense, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and several other officials.

According to the lawsuit, the U.S. Air Force failed to submit records in about 14 percent of cases, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps failed to submit records in 36 percent of cases, and the U.S. Army didn’t submit records in about 41 percent of cases.

The Air Force said it has already made changes designed to prevent such failures in the future. For example, it is now requiring that leaders up the chain of command verify that criminal history reporting requirements have been met in every case. And, additional training on these procedures is being conducted.

Ann Rroznovsky

Ann Roznovsky

Baylor claims ties to administrators did not hamper Title IX investigation

Baylor University continued Tuesday to press plaintiffs in a federal Title IX lawsuit to disclose more details of personal communications from women who allege they were sexually assaulted by fellow students.

In a filing with the U.S. District Court for the Western District, Baylor said the plaintiffs have no legal basis for redacting information such as the names of friends who discussed the assault allegations with the plaintiffs online. The university also defended itself against accusations that an investigation into one of the “alleged assailants” was closed prematurely because of his ties to top administrators. The investigation resulted in a no-contact order issued against the man, according to the filing.

The 10 plaintiffs in the Title IX lawsuit are claiming Baylor put them in danger by failing to take sufficient action against sexual misconduct reports.

In the filing Tuesday, Baylor attorneys ask the judge to compel the release of redacted information so that the university could “determine the factual merits of the claims.”

“Only after the Jane Does, the John Does and pertinent witnesses have been questioned about their knowledge of plaintiffs’ allegations can the parties and court explore whether Baylor is legally responsible for causing an assault,” Baylor’s attorneys wrote.

Baylor has been seeking the information since last month, and in this case it was responding to a plaintiffs’ reply that argued communications with “non-party” friends should be protected. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Dunnam has argued that witnesses or others who communicated with the plaintiffs should be notified before their identities are disclosed.

He has criticized Baylor for behaving according to a “double standard” as it has fought against disclosure of records of current and past students not party to the Title IX case. In Tuesday’s filing, Baylor responded that it is trying to uphold FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects educational records. That law does not apply to private correspondence, the filing asserts.

In an interview Tuesday, Dunnam said student privacy is important regardless of FERPA, and he hopes the judge will find a reasonable solution.

“I think Baylor’s hypocrisy on student privacy is astounding,” Dunnam said. “The issue is the privacy rights of these students. … Baylor is very cavalier about their privacy rights.”

He said the “non-party” individuals in question are in many cases fellow rape survivors, which makes privacy even more important.

The filing also gave Baylor an opportunity to push back against Dunnam’s suggested that one of the alleged assailants, whom Baylor called “John Doe 3,” got favorable treatment from administrators, including former president Ken Starr.

Starr and vice president Kevin Jackson wrote a character reference letter in March 2015, after John Doe 3 graduated and found that a juvenile record of sexual misconduct was an obstacle to getting a job.

Baylor’s attorneys say Dunnam confused the timeline of events with the alleged assailant, and argue that Starr and Jackson couldn’t have known about the plaintiff’s sexual assault allegation, which she didn’t report until February 2016.

Dunnam stood by his earlier criticism and said Starr and Jackson should have known, as the previous filing states, about an unrelated sexual harassment allegation that took place while the alleged assailant was at Baylor.

Dunnam suggested Baylor was lax in dismissing that allegation after only a day of investigation. But in its latest filing, Baylor says it was not indifferent to those sexual harassment allegations and gave the complainant what she sought: a “no-contact” order that would keep the male student away from her.

Waco Transit continues Safe Ride Home shuttle for New Year's Eve

As Waco residents ring in the new year this weekend, the Waco Transit System will once again offer a lifeline to keep the streets clear of drunken drivers.

Waco Transit’s 13th annual Safe Ride Home program will offer free shuttles to New Year’s events and back home between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m. Sunday, according to a press release from the transportation system.

“It’s just about offering people a safe alternative,” Waco Transit General Manager Allen Hunter said.

McLennan County had 261 alcohol-related crashes in 2016, according to the latest data available from the Texas Department of Transportation. Of those, seven were fatal.

Statewide last year, about one in four deaths on Texas roads between Dec. 1 and Jan. 1 were alcohol related, according to a TxDOT press release. There were 2,321 alcohol-related crashes during that time, according to TxDOT.

“Tragically, there are many families who experience the holidays without a loved one due to a drunk driver,” TxDOT executive director James Bass said in the press release. “We need to remember that each time someone dies or is seriously injured on our roadways, it affects a family and an entire community. Don’t make a bad decision that could cause heartache for your family and others. Make a plan to get home safely. It could save lives.”

But Hunter said Waco Transit’s Safe Ride Home event this year might be different than years past, because New Year’s Eve celebrations fall on a Sunday night. More people are likely to stay home or go to private parties instead of local bars, he said.

Attendance has also fluctuated since the start of the program, said Hunter, who has been with the transit system for 13 years and started as general manager in October. Last year, Safe Ride Home served 133 people, and two years ago it served 97, he said. But the program served 323 people in 2011, 310 in 2010, 357 in 2009 and 285 in 2008, according to Tribune-Herald records.

The drop in the number of people taking advantage of the service may be because there are more options for safe rides available in Waco than there used to be, he said. But as long as the Safe Ride Home program has sponsors, Waco Transit will continue to offer the service, he said.

The Sparkle and Shine New Year’s Eve party, hosted by arts space Cultivate 7twelve and Luna Juice Bar will also offer sober rides home, provided by Sunshine Recovery Homes.

And the Milo Biscuit Company + Wine Shoppe New Year’s Eve celebration will be partnering with Uber to offer ride shares to and from the event.

“It’s not a competition,” Hunter said of the alternatives to Waco Transit’s Safe Ride Home. “We’re excited to see other opportunities out there to offer more choices.”

Safe Ride Home shuttle rides should be scheduled in advance by calling 750-1620, but same-day requests will be accepted based on availability. Group bookings are available, and Waco Transit will send whatever size vehicle is necessary to pick up everyone, he said. No group is too big or too small, he said.

The Safe Ride Home shuttle operates in Waco’s urbanized area, and residents can also call 750-1620 to find out whether transportation will be available to their residence or event.

For partygoers who find themselves unexpectedly needing a ride, Tow King will also offer free vehicle tows between 6 p.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday.

Those in need of a tow can either call Tow King directly at 666-5484 or by coordinating with Waco Transit, Hunter said.

“As long as we get one person home safe, as far as I’m concerned it’s a success,” he said.