March 27: Fortenberry conviction, Vazquez verdict and Elite Eight
By Hanna Christensen and Lauren Penington
Fortenberry found guilty of lying to the FBI
A federal jury found Rep. Jeff Fortenberry guilty on three felony counts for lying to federal agents about $30,000 worth of illegal 2016 campaign contributions from Nigerian foreign national Gilbert Chagoury. “After learning of illegal contributions to his campaign, the congressman repeatedly chose to conceal the violations of federal law to protect his job, his reputation and his close associates,” U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison said in a statement March 24. Gov. Pete Ricketts and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi issued statements March 25 calling for Fortenberry to resign from Congress. Fortenberry announced his resignation the following day. His last day in office will be March 31. Fortenberry’s sentencing hearing will be held June 28, and each of his three felony charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
Teen convicted in murder of Lincoln Police Investigator Mario Herrera
Felipe Vazquez, 19, was found guilty of all charges related to the death of Lincoln Police Investigator Mario Herrera at a trial in Columbus March 21. Herrera and other officers went to Vazquez’s Lincoln home in August 2020 to serve a warrant for second-degree assault, and Vazquez shot Herrera in the torso. Herrera died two weeks later. Vazquez was found guilty of first-degree murder, two charges of use of a firearm to commit a felony, possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, attempted assault on an officer, possession of a stolen firearm and escape. His sentencing date is May 25, and he may face up to life in prison.
COVID Risk Dial lowers to green in Lancaster County
The COVID-19 Risk Dial is now in the green (indicating low risk) for the first time since July 2021, the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department said March 22. “We have reached this milestone because of you– our residents– and the positive actions you have taken to protect yourself and others,” Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said. The mayor also thanked Health Director Pat Lopez and the whole local public health team for their heroic efforts. Lopez said the future course of the pandemic is still uncertain, and LLCHD is closely monitoring other variants, such as B.A.2, a version of Omicron that may be more transmissible. As of March 22, there have been 18 cases of B.A.2 reported in Nebraska, one of which was reported in Lancaster County.
Creighton loses after making it to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament
The No. 10 seed Creighton women’s basketball team lost 80-50 to No. 1 seed South Carolina in the Elite Eight showdown at Greensboro Coliseum March 27. This came after the Bluejays upset Iowa 64-62 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament March 25.
Agriculture Week and Social Work Month declared in Nebraska
Gov. Pete Ricketts officially dubbed March 20 to March 26 as Agriculture Week in Nebraska. “Nebraska agriculture powers our state’s growth and helps to feed the world,” Ricketts said at a March 21 press conference. “Each March, we set aside a week to thank our ag producers for their dedication to grow in Nebraska. Our strength as a state is rooted in work ethic, resourcefulness and generosity of our farm and ranch families.” He also dedicated March as Social Work Month in Nebraska and thanked social workers throughout the state for their service and for helping Nebraska rank seventh in the nation for child well-being, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
More than half a million chickens in Nebraska will be killed due to bird flu
The highly contagious avian flu was found among a flock of 570,000 broiler chickens in Butler County, according to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. All the chickens in the flock will be humanely killed and disposed of to prevent spread of the disease, the department said. “NDA will use all the resources at our disposal, in coordination with our federal partners to manage a quick response,” State Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said in a press release. Producers within 6.2 miles of the Butler farm will not be allowed to move birds or poultry products off their premises without obtaining permission from the department. This year, the bird flu has also been found in wild geese at Holmes Lake in Lincoln and in Cedar, Douglas and Merrick counties.
Blood announces running mate in gubernatorial election
State Senator Carol Blood of Bellevue, who is running for governor as a Democrat, officially announced former Sen. Al Davis as her running mate March 27. Davis was a registered Republican when he served in the Nebraska Legislature but has since switched to the Democratic party. “I wanted to make sure that whoever I brought in had the same fire in their belly to make Nebraska a better place to live and raise their families,” Blood said. “Al Davis is the one. He’s got past political experience, he’s got great experience when it comes to the environment, he’s a cattleman. He has everything I could possibly want in a running mate and, best of all, we get along really well.” According to Blood, agriculture issues such as the upcoming drought and climate change are going to affect upcoming sessions of the legislature. She said it is important for her partner to have a good grasp of these issues. Of the GOP candidates, only Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha has declared a running mate.
Henry Doorly opens Wildlife Safari Park for the season
The Henry Doorly Zoo’s Wildlife Safari Park opened for the season March 25. The four-mile drive-through park will be open every day 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October. Although the pandemic affected other public attractions hard, the Wildlife Safari Park set its attendance record at the beginning of the pandemic. “Over 400,000 people and a normal year is less than 200,000,” said Superintendent Gary Pettit to KMTV. That exposure carried over into 2021 and we had a very good year, and it looks like it’s continuing. We’re really excited about that, and we’re always going to be trying to add new little things here and there and it’s exciting.” Some birds are currently being kept isolated inside due to outbreaks of the bird flu in Nebraska.