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Falls man, 44, dies in house fire

NIAGARA FALLS -- A 44-year-old man died late Friday in a fire at his home.

Luther Palmer, of 537 1/2 Ninth St., was pronounced dead at 11:30 p.m. in Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center by Niagara County Coroner Steven A. Gerhardt.

Palmer was severely burned, but an autopsy conducted Saturday showed he died of carbon monoxide poisoning from smoke inhalation, Gerhardt said.

Fire Chief William Correa said he believes this was the city's first fatal fire in at least 18 months.

The fire broke out in the kitchen of Palmer's first-floor apartment at 9:52 p.m. It spread to the second floor of the 2 1/2 -story frame building, but the second-floor residents were not home, fire officials said.

"Heavy smoke and flames were coming out of the back of the house" when firefighters arrived, Correa said. The fire was extinguished in about an hour.

Correa said he believes a cooking accident may have triggered the fire. The investigation is continuing.

The house, which had working smoke detectors, is owned by Daniel Jones of 90th Street, fire officials said. Damage is estimated at $30,000, $18,000 to the building and $12,000 to its contents.

Kids playing with matches spark blaze

Buffalo firefighters were called to a blaze Saturday on the city's West Side that was sparked by children playing with matches, fire officials said.

The blaze broke out shortly before 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the 2 1/2 -story residence at 223 Massachusetts Ave. The fire started on the second floor of the home, fire officials said.

Three adults and three children were left homeless by the fire. The Red Cross is assisting them.

Damage to the residence was pegged at $50,000.

There were no injuries.

Search for gunman in slaying continues

Buffalo police are continuing their search for the accused gunman in a fatal shooting Wednesday night in a community center gymnasium.

Known by the street name of OJ, Odell Wilkins, 19, is wanted on murder- and weapon-related charges. Wilkins has been known to frequent addresses on Box Avenue and French Street.

Oscar K. Paris, 33, of Moselle Street, was shot in the chest after an argument in the C.R.U.C.I.A.L. Community Center on Moselle Street. Police said the shooting stemmed from an argument during a basketball game.

Three suffer minor injuries in crash

A one-car crash in Newstead on Saturday caused minor injuries to three Basom residents, Erie County sheriff's deputies said.

The driver of the car, Clint Stafford, 18, lost control of his eastbound vehicle on Carney Road at 2:51 a.m., according to Accident Investigator Thomas Daugherty, who said it hit a driveway culvert and flipped over.

Stafford and his passengers, Samuel Guidie, 18, and Ryan Hartranft, 20, were taken to Erie County Medical Center. They were treated in the emergency room and released.

Man faces prison term for arson

A Dart Street man faces a prison term of at least 10 years on his felony arson conviction Friday for setting fire to his flat two years ago.

A jury deliberated for about 45 minutes after a weeklong trial before Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico before finding Jose Cruz, 35, guilty of second-degree arson, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief charges for the $25,000 fire on Nov. 8, 1999.

Jailed since his arrest in May, Cruz, was remanded to jail pending his March 2 sentencing. He faces a mandatory prison term of 10 to 25 years as a second violent felony offender.

Prosecutors said authorities believe Cruz set the fire to get a woman who was paying his rent to give him more money in sympathy for the loss of his personal possessions.

Business group announces awards

BATAVIA -- The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce on Saturday announced its annual business awards, to be presented March 24 at a dinner at the Holiday Inn.

Chosen as "Industry of the Year" is Batavia Metal Products, a manufacturer of drop forgings and components for heavy machinery. Boshart Enterprises, an operator at the Genesee County Airport, was named "Business of the Year." Le Roy's D&R Depot Restaurant is the "Small Business of the Year," and Loose Ends Vending's Catering business was named "Service Business of the Year."

The chamber will also honor Notre Dame High School, whose 50th anniversary will be observed during the 2001-02 school year.

Free flu vaccinations available

Erie County is making free flu vaccinations available to all providers of emergency medical services throughout the county.

The initiative is possible, thanks to an increased supply of flu vaccine that was recently made available by the state Department of Health.

"With the delay in receiving this year's flu vaccine and the accompanying shortages, many individuals opted not to receive an immunization, allowing the available vaccine to be given to the at-risk population," said County Executive Joel A. Giambra. "Many of these individuals were emergency medical service providers, and I believe that we should concentrate on making sure that the people who help us are now vaccinated."

The effort will be coordinated through the county's emergency services department. The department may be contacted at 681-6070.

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