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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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This is your daily news update from The Gazette for Thursday, May 27:
Man charged in Tibbetts slaying blames masked mystery men
The man on trial for the 2018 abduction and stabbing death of Mollie Tibbetts claimed for the first time Wednesday that two masked men were responsible for the crime but forced him to take part at gunpoint.
The defense called Cristhian Bahena Rivera as a witness at his first-degree murder trial. He admitted that his car was the one seen on surveillance video circling Tibbetts while she was jogging in Brooklyn, Iowa, on July 18, 2018. He also acknowledged that she ended up in his car’s trunk, that he hid her body in a cornfield and that he told investigators where to find it a month later.
But he denied being responsible for stabbing her to death. He said two armed, masked men showed up at his home, forcing him to drive his car, passing Tibbetts several times while she ran, then telling him to stop, he said.
Bahena Rivera said the men loaded something into his trunk, then told him to drive several miles to a rural area. He said they threatened to harm his ex-girlfriend and young daughter if he ever told anyone what happened, then left on foot.
He said he opened the trunk a few minutes later and found Tibbetts’ body, then he carried it to the cornfield.
He testified that he wasn’t truthful with detectives when he was questioned in August 2018 because he feared for his daughter’s safety.
The defense rested its case Wednesday afternoon. Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday, starting soon after jurors arrive at 8:30 a.m. Watch the livestream at thegazette.com.
Grassley calls on Biden to back biofuels
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley this week called on President Joe Biden to support the nation’s biofuels community as the administration pursues a pared-down $1.7 trillion infrastructure plan.
Grassley joined fellow Iowa Republicans U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Reps. Randy Feenstra, Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks in sending a letter to Biden urging him to uphold his promise to support biofuels.
Biden, they said, has pledged to “promote and advance renewable energy, ethanol and other biofuels to help rural America.”
But Grassley and Iowa's GOP congressional delegation have criticized the $174 billion in the White House’s infrastructure plan that would subsidize electric vehicles, while hardly mentioning the biofuel industry.
Grassley, in a weekly conference call with Iowa reporters on Wednesday, called the administration's goals of boosting production and sale of electric vehicles and building a network of 500,000 charging stations by 2030 “unrealistic” and “idealistic.”
Iowa's ethanol and biodiesel industries employ about 40,000 Iowans.
UI plans for Student Well-Being Center
The University of Iowa is proposing a half-dozen projects totaling $60.8 million, including a new Student Well-Being Center and renovating Hillcrest Residence Hall. The university will seek approval from the Board of Regents next week.
The UI says the projects are in line with the regents’ moratorium barring new construction that would increase a university’s footprint because two buildings would be razed, actually reducing UI’s footprint.
The old laundry building just south of the Campus Recreation and Wellness building will be razed to make room for a $25 million to $28 million Student Well-Being Center. Plans also include razing the historic Westlawn building, which currently houses many student health services.
The issue of mental health and well-being has become such a priority on the UI campus that its Undergraduate Student Government recently endorsed building a new wellness center and helping fund it with a new $80-per-semester student fee “not to be imposed until the facility is open or near open.”
Sit-down scooters join Cedar Rapids bike-share fleet
Cosmo sit-down scooters will arrive Friday as the newest addition to the fleet of electric bikes and stand-up scooters available through the city of Cedar Rapids’ bike share program.
The sit-down scooters travel at the same speeds as traditional stand-up scooters, but lower the rider’s center of gravity. It makes hand signaling easier and provides another mobility option for riders.
Just like the e-bikes and scooters, the Cosmo scooters cannot be driven on sidewalks.
Thursday’s weather: Breezy, with showers and thunderstorms throughout the day and night. The high will be near 59 and low around 45. Wind gusts as high as 30 mph possible.
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