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Sheriff: 'God bless their souls'

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CALABASAS, Calif. — NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on a steep hillside in dense morning fog in Southern California on Sunday, his sudden death at age 41 touching off an outpouring of grief for a star whose celebrity transcended basketball.

Rick Bowmer 

FILE - In this March 28, 2016, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant waves to the fans after his introduction before the start of the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, in Salt Lake City. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. He was 41. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The chopper went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Authorities said that nine people were aboard the helicopter and presumed dead. Bryant, an all-time basketball great who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was among the victims, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.

Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also was killed, a different person familiar with the case said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva would not confirm the identities of the victims Sunday afternoon pending official word from the coroner.

“God bless their souls,” Villanueva said at a news conference.

News of the charismatic superstar’s death rocketed around the sports and entertainment worlds, with many taking to Twitter to register their shock, disbelief and anguish.

“Words can’t describe the pain I am feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me,” retired NBA great Michael Jordan said. “We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force.”

David Zalubowski 

Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers and forward P.J. Tucker react during a tribute to NBA star Kobe Bryant before an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Denver. Bryant died in a California helicopter crash Sunday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

NBA players were in tears during pregame warm-ups as crowds chanted “Kobe! Kobe!” Tiger Woods was unaware of the news during his final round at Torrey Pines in San Diego when he started hearing the gallery yell “Do it for Mamba,” referring to Bryant by his nickname.

People were glued to their phones and TV screens all around the world as news of the crash spread and networks broke into programming with live coverage. A visibly shaken LeBron James wiped his eyes with tissues and walked away alone from the Lakers plane that had just landed in Southern California.

Thousands of people gathered to mourn Bryant outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, where there is a statue of the retired Lakers legend. Mourners in number 24 jerseys mixed with those in fancy dress arriving at the downtown arena for Sunday evening’s Grammy Awards.

People carried flowers and chanted “Kobe!” and “MVP!” under giant video screens showing Bryant’s smiling face.

“This is where we needed to be,” said Naveen Cheerath, 31.

Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the Lakers as a prolific shot-maker with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, when the Lakers’ James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.

Chris Pizzello 

Los Angeles Laker fans Alex Fultz, from left, Eddy Rivas and Rene Alfaro mourn retired NBA star Kobe Bryant outside of the Staples Center prior to the 62nd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Los Angeles. Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif. He was 41. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet. “Much respect my brother.”

Bryant had one of the greatest careers in recent NBA history and became one of the game’s most popular players as the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise. He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.

He teamed with O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to consecutive NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

“There’s no words to express the pain Im going through,” O’Neal tweeted. Sunday. “@kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. ... IM SICK RIGHT NOW.”

His Lakers tenure was marred by scandal, when in 2003, Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He said the two had consensual sex, and prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge at the request of the accuser. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.

Bryant went on to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010, and retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.

After leaving the game, Bryant had more time to play coach to daughter Gianna, who had a budding basketball career of her own and, her father said, wanted to one day play in the WNBA. They were seen sitting courtside at a Brooklyn Nets game late last year, Bryant clearly passing along his wisdom to his daughter. He regularly showcased her talents on the court on social media.

Bryant’s death was felt particularly painfully in Los Angeles, where he was unquestionably the most popular athlete and one of the city’s most beloved public figures. Hundreds of fans — many in Bryant jerseys and Lakers gear — spontaneously gathered at Staples Center and in the surrounding LA Live entertainment complex on Sunday, weeping and staring at video boards with Bryant’s image.

Chris Carlson  

FILE — In this July 26, 2018 file photo former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch during the U.S. national championships swimming meet in Irvine, Calif. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. Gianna also died in the crash. She was 13. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

“Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court — and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved. He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

President Donald Trump tweeted condolences to Bryant’s family, saying that “despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, (Bryant) was just getting started in life.”

The cause of the crash was unknown. Authorities earlier said five people were killed before raising the death toll to nine.

Among those killed were John Altobelli, head coach of Southern California’s Orange Coast College baseball team, his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, who played on the same team as Bryant’s daughter, said his brother, Tony, who is the sports information director at the school.

The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause can take a year or more.

Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard what sounded to him like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.

“Ït was very foggy so we couldn’t see anything,” he said. “But then we heard some sputtering, and then a boom.”

The fog cleared a bit, and Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.

Firefighters hiked in with medical equipment and hoses, and medical personnel rappelled to the site from a helicopter, but found no survivors, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.

Michael Owen Baker 

People gather outside Staples Center after the death of Laker legend Kobe Bryant, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

Firefighters worked to douse flames that spread through about a quarter acre (.10 hectares) of dry brush, Osby said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the downed chopper was a Sikorsky S-76.

Among other things, investigators will look at the pilot’s history, the chopper’s maintenance history, and the records of its owner and operator, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference.

“The S-76 is a pretty expensive, sophisticated helicopter. ... It’s certainly a quality helicopter,” said Justin Green, an aviation attorney in New York who flew helicopters in the Marine Corps.

Green believes weather may have contributed to the crash. Pilots can become disoriented in bad weather, losing track of which direction is up. Green said a pilot flying an S-76 would be instrument-rated, meaning they could fly the helicopter without relying on visual cues from outside.

Along with his work boosting women’s sports, Bryant opened a production company and entered the entertainment field in retirement. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for his contributions to “Dear Basketball,” an animated short about his relationship to the game. He also produced content for ESPN.

Hastings hosts first show choir competition

Dazzling dresses and sharp suits lined the Hastings High School auditorium stage on Saturday for Hastings Tiger Clash, the school’s first show choir competition since beginning its program four years ago.

Seven schools performed a wide range of musical numbers, each with choreographed dance routines.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Hastings’ Sarah Spilinek performs Saturday with Uncaged OnStage during the Tiger Clash show choir competition at Hastings High.

Hastings show choir members Jonah Smith and Alice Franssen served as emcees for the event, introducing the judges and performing groups, as well as skits through the event to highlight concessions and other offerings at the show.

For Franssen, a Hastings High senior, it’s her first year participating in the show choir, Uncaged OnStage.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Hastings High students (from left) Jonah Smith, Emily Struss and Ella Collins perform with Uncaged Onstage during the Tiger Clash show choir competition Saturday in Hastings.

“It helped me grow in confidence and improve my vocal and dancing skills,” she said.

Smith, a Hastings High junior, has been involved with the show choir for each of his high school years. He said he was glad to be a part of Hastings’ inaugural show choir competition.

“It’s really exciting,” he said. “I love how everyone is getting involved. It’s making me feel like we have a community. It shows how far we’ve come.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Hastings Middle School students perform Saturday during the Tiger Clash show choir competition at Hastings High.

Jon Marquez, show choir director and vocal music teacher at Hastings High, said having students host the event is part of the competition’s culture.

The emcees were only one piece of the dozens of volunteers needed to help during the competition. Students and parents alike pitched in to help with the various tasks necessary to act as the host school for the competition. Some took tickets or helped with concessions or T-shirt sales. Others helped as stage crew to set up between performances.

Marquez said the volunteers were crucial to making the show a success.

“It exceeded all the expectations I had,” he said. “All the volunteers were great. Everyone was so helpful.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Eighth-grader Kamila Cuevas performs with Hastings Middle School Resonance Saturday during the Tiger Clash show choir competition at Hastings High.

He said more than 400 high school students competed from schools across the state, ranging from Wahoo to Scottsbluff and Sidney. The seven participating schools expressed interest in returning and Marquez has heard from another four schools interested in joining next year.

Show choir competitions generally average around nine participating schools, so Marquez said another four would put Hastings in a good position looking forward at the competition.

Chris Walker, a junior in the Hastings choir, said the competition also helped forge bonds between Hastings and other performing schools.

“This is a really big moment for us,” he said. “I think this will finalize our standing as a show choir school.”

Bringing the competition to Hastings was also a boon to participants and spectators from central and western Nebraska.

Jeb Brant of Hastings has been to several competitions to watch his son, a junior, perform with the show choir. He said it was nice to have another event in their hometown.

“I think it’s fabulous,” he said. “It is nice to bring lots of people into the city. It’s a great opportunity for the kids.”

Mike and Anna Sorensen of Grand Island liked the fact that the event was so close to home as well. Their son performed with Grand Island High School’s Ultimate Image team.

“It’s nice to keep things regional besides always going east,” Mike said.

Mike and Charlotte Waters of Hansen said they have been all over the state during the last five years to watch show choir events where their grandchildren compete. For Saturday, they were watching their grandchildren in Grand Island’s Ultimate Image team.

“Show choir competitions are always fun,” Charlotte said. “These groups work so hard to prepare. It’s fun to watch.”

They came to the event early to watch other schools as well.

“If we’re going, we might as well make a day of it,” Mike said. “Here, we can see schools we don’t normally see.”

Hebron officials want residents to pool together

HEBRON — Hebron city officials are pursuing ways to reduce the tax burden after voters approved a $3.5 million bond in December to fund a community swimming pool to replace the one that has served the community for nearly nine decades.

Voters approved the new pool project by a vote of 360-199 via a mail-only election that has drawn some outspoken opposition from a few area businesses apparently unhappy with the prospect of having to shoulder a larger tax burden because of its passage.

One of the oldest original swimming pools in Nebraska, the Hebron pool had fallen into a state of disrepair that nearly forced its closure for the season in 2018. In addition to its severely deteriorated operating systems, multiple safety issues — including spider cracking in the deck, uneven deck slope, electrical and mechanical functionality failures, and the leakage of 20,000 gallons of water per day — made replacing the pool the most viable option to closure chosen by voters.

City Councilwoman Rita Luongo, who serves on the facilities committee that oversees parks and recreation and other city facilities, said the city now will pursue additional funding to offset $500,000 or more of the bond obligation through grants and private donations. City Clerk Jana Tietjen said the fundraising efforts are a top priority going forward.

Mayor Doug Huber has been an outspoken supporter of the project from the outset, saying it provides summer jobs for youth and maintains a quality of life standard while keeping the city moving forward in terms of its overall growth.

While sympathetic to those who have spoken out against replacing the pool, Huber said he continues to see its value in terms of retaining area residents who otherwise would be driven to take their business elsewhere to neighboring pools and businesses.

“The way I look at it, we either try to keep our community moving forward or we just stop and start going backwards,” Huber said. “I understand there’s a financial burden as far as property taxes, but a lot of them also understand that if people can take their kids out of town to another community — which we have some within a 25-mile radius that have pools and semi water parks — that those people are going to shop in other communities and not ours.

“Which is the worst of two evils, losing customers or paying some extra property tax? I guess it’s a tough decision to make. You have to look at the quality of life and whether we want to keep our community going forward.”

Contrary to concerns voiced by some area residents that the new pool’s price tag is inflated with unnecessary and elaborate upgrades, Huber said the design — still in the planning phase —simply replaces that which is already in place with new materials and equipment.

“Size wise, it’ll be the same,” he said. “It’s just a pool, bath house, slide and two diving boards.”

Already plans are underway to pursue a pair of grants and community support to help offset the tax burden on property owners. Residents are being asked to consider rounding their electric bills up to the nearest dollar — or whatever amount they choose — to help reduce the final cost of the project while sending a message to those issuing grants that the city is committed to completing the project.

“Those are two things we’re doing right now,” Huber said. “Basically we’re kind of at a standstill until we find out about the grants.

“I’m a property taxpayer just like anybody else. I own a home, but there are businesses that have a lot more wealth than what I’ve got and it affects them more than it does me. I think the City Council is trying to do their best to make sure the impact to everybody is as minimal as it can be.”

In divided America, some voters tuning out impeachment trial

HAMBURG, Pa. — For all the gravity of a presidential impeachment trial, Americans don’t seem to be giving it much weight.

As House impeachment managers make their case to remove President Donald Trump from office, voters in several states said in interviews with The Associated Press that they’re only casually following the Senate trial, or avoiding it altogether — too busy to pay close attention, bored of the legal arguments, convinced the outcome is preordained or just plain tired of the whole partisan saga.

Web traffic and TV ratings tell a similar story, with public interest seeming to flag after the House voted last month to impeach a president for only the third time in U.S. history.

“I’ve been watching some really odd stuff just to avoid it,” said Kim Ashford, 50, a court-appointed advocate for foster children from Gilbert, Arizona. “In my circle, everybody’s tired of hearing about it. There’s nobody budging. Let’s just agree to disagree.”

Monica DeMarco, who voted for Trump in 2016 but doesn’t plan to do so again, said she hasn’t watched a single second of the trial, though she’s read a little about it in The New York Times.

“I want to watch something that takes me some place happy,” said DeMarco, 50, who lives near Hamburg, Pennsylvania, and works for a cargo hauler.

“What’s going to happen is going to happen and like the marching ants we are, we’ll go on,” DeMarco said. “Life’s going to go on tomorrow, the sun’s going to come up and we’re going to take care of what’s important in our lives.”

Many Americans are tuning out because they made up their minds about Trump’s impeachment months ago, said Eric Kasper, director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. In addition, he said, there’s little doubt about the eventual outcome — acquittal by the GOP-controlled Senate — depriving the trial of drama.

“If the story was still unwritten, so to speak, then people would still tune in even if they had personally strong feelings about how they would want it to end,” Kasper said. “It’s the fact that both of those things are the case — a lot of people have made up their minds, and it looks pretty clear what the outcome of this trial is going to be.”

Americans are sharply divided along party lines in their views on impeachment, and most say their positions are firm. Three-quarters say it’s not very likely or not at all likely that the trial will introduce new information that would change their minds, according to a poll this month from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

“I don’t think there’s any possibility of removal, said Montel Herman, 82, of Osage, Iowa, who described himself as a moderate Democrat. ”I question whether this is worth it.”

Online and on TV, interest has waned since the House launched impeachment hearings into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

The six major networks drew about 11.8 million viewers on the first day of the Senate trial, when lawmakers debated the rules and argued over documents and witnesses.

Combined viewership plummeted to fewer than 9 million people on the trial’s second day, when House Democrats began making their argument to remove Trump from office, according to Nielsen.

By comparison, an estimated 13.8 million people watched the first day of the House impeachment hearings last fall.

“I think it matters. I think we should probably watch it,” said Lynn Jackson, 56, a library assistant from San Tan Valley, Arizona. But, she added, “I work all day, and then I get home and I’m cooking, cleaning.”

U.S. news sites have also experienced waning impeachment interest.

Around the time of the House impeachment vote last month, stories about impeachment averaged about 20 million page views each day. Last week, impeachment stories drew about 15 million page views daily, according to digital advertising and web tracking company Taboola. Google searches on impeachment have also declined since the House vote.

Interest was a little higher among some of the Democrats lining up to see their party’s presidential candidates in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire this weekend. But even those watching closely said they have little doubt the trial will end in acquittal.

“I’m a bit intrigued by it, but it’s a foregone conclusion. I had a kid sick kid last week, but that’s the only reason I watched for a while. And I fell asleep twice,” said Jeremiah Condon, a 38-year-old building contractor from Fort Dodge, Iowa, who attended a campaign event for Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg.

“It’s stunning how serious it is, and how little it seems to matter,” he said.

Up to this point, the Senate trial has featured evidence and arguments that have already been aired publicly, and it’s unclear whether senators will vote to hear from new witnesses that might heighten public interest.

“I’m not going to sit there and watch it word for word,” said Paul Faust, 69, an independent from Hamburg who voted for Trump and remains a supporter. “Every day it seems like they’re repeating the same thing over and over.”

Frank Sprague, chairman of the Claremont School Board in New Hampshire, said he’s finding impeachment interesting, but doubts most share his view.

“I think that there’s some fatigue around this,” Sprague said after an event for Democratic candidate Joe Biden. “The battle lines are drawn, the camps are where they are and some people are in intractable positions, left-right.”

Even though Dave Enslow knows how the trial will end, he said it’s still important to follow what’s happening.

“It’s a moment in history,” said Enslow, 41, who traveled to Iowa from his home in Seattle to see some of the Democratic candidates in person. “This is a big deal. ... In the political world I’m not sure it’s going to go anywhere, but it’s important.”