• SURGING WILDFIRE FORCES EVACUATIONS IN CALIFORNIA: SANTA BARBARA (AP) — A surging wildfire has forced dozens of residents and Memorial Day campers to evacuate the mountains of Santa Barbara County in California.
The U.S. Forest Service says the fire broke out about 2:45 Monday in Los Padres National Forest about 15 miles north of Santa Barbara and quickly surged to 500 acres amid winds of about 20 mph.
Firefighters are scrambling to catch up with the blaze with help from four water-dropping planes and two helicopters.
The Forest Service says Paradise Road and the many campgrounds along it have been evacuated and closed.
The county’s Office of Emergency Services tells the Santa Maria Times that 50 to 75 residents have evacuated.
• TEMPORARY BROOKLYN BRIDGE CLOSURE OVER LEFT CAR: NEW YORK (AP) — An abandoned SUV on the Brooklyn Bridge brought traffic to a halt for about an hour at the tail end of the Memorial Day long weekend as New York City police temporarily shut down the roadway to determine if the vehicle was a threat.
Authorities said a call about the car, a Dodge Durango with no license plates on the Manhattan-bound lanes, came in around 5:15 p.m. Monday. The vehicle was stopped a short distance into the bridge’s span coming from the Brooklyn side of the East River.
Police shut down traffic in both directions around 6 p.m., causing a traffic headache as drivers were forced to find alternate routes. Authorities declared the all-clear around 7 p.m., with traffic resuming soon after.
The New York Police Department’s bomb squad and other investigators headed to the area to check out the car. Television footage showed police trucks stationed on the empty span near the blue SUV as traffic backed up on nearby roadways.
• SEN. MCCAIN MAKES TRIP TO SYRIA TO VISIT REBELS: WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John McCain, a proponent of arming Syrian rebels, quietly slipped into Syria for a meeting with anti-government fighters Monday.
Spokeswoman Rachael Dean confirms the Arizona Republican made the visit. She declined further comment about the trip.
The visit took place amid meetings in Paris involving efforts to secure participation of Syria’s fractured opposition in an international peace conference in Geneva.
And in Brussels, the European Union decided late Monday to lift the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition while maintaining all other sanctions against Bashar Assad’s regime after June 1, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said following the meeting.
Two years of violence in Syria has killed more than 70,000 people. President Barack Obama has demanded that Assad leave power, while Russia has stood by Syria, its closest ally in the Arab world.
McCain has been a fierce critic of Obama administration policy there while stopping short of backing U.S. ground troops in Syria, but he supports aggressive military steps against the Assad regime.
• FBI: MAN TRIED TO OPEN EXIT DOOR ON OREGON FLIGHT: PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A passenger on a commercial flight from Alaska to Oregon was arrested Monday after witnesses say he tried to open an emergency exit during the plane’s descent and other passengers had to help restrain him using shoelaces and seat-belt extensions.
Passengers and crew aboard the Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Portland told investigators that 23-year-old Alexander Michael Herrera made “unusual statements” before trying to open the plane’s door Monday morning, FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said.
Flight 132 was preparing to land at Portland International Airport when the Arizona man set off an alarm by pulling the door handle in the emergency-exit row, Steele said.
Witness Henry Pignataro told KGW-TV that a woman seated next to Herrera asked for help.
“I put him in a choke hold and brought him down to the ground,” Pignataro said.
Pignataro said he and another man held down the passenger and asked flight attendants for restraints. He said they brought three sets of shoelaces, which Pignataro and the other man used to bind Herrera’s legs.
The flight attendants then brought extra seatbelt extensions, and the witnesses applied those to Herrera, as well.
Pignataro said Herrera — listed as 220 pounds in his booking information — was then placed into a seat, where he calmly sat “surrounded by big guys” until the plane landed only nine minutes behind schedule.
• 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF WOOLWORTH’S SIT-IN RECALLED: JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi will inaugurate a marker Tuesday recalling a civil rights protest 50 years ago when a white mob attacked a racially mixed group seated at a whites-only lunch counter.
On May 28, 1963, the mob attacked some Tougaloo College students and faculty members who opposed segregation by sitting at the whites-only counter at a Woolworth’s five-and-dime store in Jackson. Some of the peaceful demonstrators were beaten. Others were doused with ketchup, mustard and sugar.
The marker is part of the Mississippi Freedom Trail, a series of signs honoring those who challenged segregation. The sit-in was similar to other protests around the South and occurred two weeks before Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson.
The Woolworth’s, which was located on a downtown Jackson street, closed decades ago.
• CHICAGO MAN CHARGED IN SLAYING OF 6-MONTH-OLD GIRL: CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago man accused of killing a 6-month-old girl in a shooting that also wounded her father was seeking revenge for the theft of a video game console, authorities said Monday.
Koman Willis was charged with first-degree murder Monday in the death of the infant, Jonylah Watkins, who was shot on March 11 while sitting in her father’s lap in a minivan. The baby’s father, Jonathan Watkins, was seriously wounded in the attack, and police say he was the intended target.
The shooting, which took place in the middle of the day in the Woodlawn neighborhood on the city’s South Side, was one of several earlier this year that brought attention to the gang violence in Chicago.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters the suspect is a documented gang member with 38 previous arrests and was acting in response to a burglary at his mother’s home.