Four Mass. Boys Die

In Accident on Icy River

LAWRENCE, Mass. -- With a sudden impulse to slide on the river's ice, William Rodriguez, 11, scurried 25 feet from shore and, with his six playmates looking on, suddenly plunged through.

Moments later, he and three other boys who raced out to save him were trapped beneath the ice of the Merrimack River.

Yesterday, a steady stream of mourners placed candles bearing the four boys' names on a muddy berm overlooking the place where they had played the day before.

Mackendy Constant, 8, was the first to go after his friend. But in an attempt to throw him a jacket, Constant fell through. The other five, determined to pull their friends from the freezing water, locked arms and began to venture out. Soon, they too broke through the soft, one- to two-inch sheet.

Soon, four boys -- Rodriguez; Constant; Victor Baez, 9; and Christopher Casado, 7, slipped below. They were trapped under the ice for at least 10 minutes and were unconscious when they were pulled out, officials said. They were pronounced dead at hospitals. Two of the boys were rescued by police, firefighters and paramedics who battled floating ice, driving rain and the muddy river bank.

Religious tokens, flowers and toys adorned the river's edge yesterday. One sign read: "I will miss you my friend Christopher, your friend Zachary."

U.S. Death Sentences

Decline for Third Year

A total of 155 inmates in the United States received a death sentence in 2001, the fewest in 28 years, says a Justice Department report released yesterday.

The third straight annual decline occurred at a time of growing national debate about capital punishment, sparked in part by recent exonerations of death row inmates because of DNA evidence and by calls for more state moratoriums on executions.

The report by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics found a steady decline in the number of inmates who received a death sentence, with 304 in 1998, 282 in 1999 and 229 in 2000. The number put on death row last year represented the lowest figure since the 1973 total of 44 inmates.

The death sentences of 90 inmates were set aside or overturned last year, according to the report.

It said 66 death row inmates were executed last year by 15 states and the federal government.

Nev. College Charges 15 in Student's Death

RENO, Nev. -- Fifteen students at the University of Nevada, Reno have been charged with campus violations in connection with the October drowning of a classmate.

The students, once members or pledges of the now-defunct Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, face suspension or expulsion, said Rita Laden, the university's assistant vice president of Student Life Services.

The charges stem from the Oct. 10 death of Albert Santos, 18, of Las Vegas. The student, who could not swim, drowned while in Manzanita Lake with eight other pledges.

The violations against the 15 students range from swimming in the lake on the campus to the more serious charge of hazing, Laden said.

Last month, prosecutors decided not to file any criminal charges after concluding that the pledges decided on their own to swim in the lake, and had not been ordered to by upperclassmen.

* MIAMI -- An elephant knocked a zookeeper down and repeatedly kicked him into a pile of rocks, critically injuring him, officials said yesterday. A crowd of visitors, including children, witnessed the attack, zoo spokesman Ron Magill told WFOR-TV. He said the 20-year-old elephant stopped when another zoo employee started yelling at her. The victim, 31, was knocked unconscious and suffered a laceration to his head and a back injury. He was listed in critical condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

-- From News Services