Student Seeks Absence

To Make Drug Run

Balancing schoolwork with the demands of a part-time job is tough for any high school student. But trying to get out of class for a multi-state drug run requires some advance planning.

A 17-year-old student at Wilsonville High School in Oregon was arrested last week after he handed a note along with some cash to teacher Matthew Courtney, promising to make the teacher rich if he would falsify attendance records so the student could head to Arizona and California to pick up a drug shipment, the Clackamas County Sheriff's Department said.

The note said the student had taken drug orders from other students and he needed to make the pickup without school officials getting wise to his absence. The bribe was less than $100.

The student, who transferred to the school last year from Mexico, could get as much as 10 years behind bars and a $250,000 fine if convicted of the attempted bribery. The Sheriff's Department is investigating students who may have placed drug orders.

"We're not ignorant to the fact that there are drugs in every school, but this school doesn't have a drug problem," said Deputy Joel Manley, a Sheriff's Department spokesman. "But after 16 years in police work, nothing surprises me. I wish it did."

-- Kimberly Edds

Ground Zero Architect

Settles for Less

The price of genius was discounted last week.

Architect Daniel Libeskind, who drew the original sketches for the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, had demanded that developer Larry Silverstein pay him $843,700 for his work. Libeskind refused to itemize his work, preferring to describe the tab as a "genius fee."

Silverstein had a different view. Months back, he hired his own architect, David Childs, to substantially redesign Libeskind's Freedom Tower with an eye toward making it "more commercial." He also refused to pay Libeskind's bill.

All of this outraged Libeskind, who compared Silverstein to the long-deceased Soviet ruler Nikita Khrushchev and suggested that Childs could not draw. But a legal truce went into effect last week. With the help of a court-appointed monitor, Silverstein and Libeskind settled on a sum of $370,000.

-- Michael Powell

Drunk Drivers Face Arrest

For Spins on Wis. Lakes

"One for the lake" is now as incorrect in wintertime Wisconsin as "one for the road."

A state appeals court in Madison ruled that inebriated drivers out for a spin on the state's frozen lakes can be arrested for drunken driving. A Dodge County judge was wrong, the court said, to exclude such a public place, even if it lacked stop signs and double lines.

The accused, spotted with red eyes and alcohol breath on a cold January night, was Paul Minnig. A lawman booked him after getting a report that he had chased snowmobilers and harassed ice fisherman on Beaver Dam Lake.

"We're out here in the sticks," Blaine Lauersdorf, chief deputy of the Dodge County Sheriff's Department, explained last week. "You'll see trucks, ATVs and all that out on the lake all the time in the winter."

"It gets to be a real problem around here," added Alan Neumann, owner of the Nile Club restaurant in Beaver Dam. "There are guys who sit around on the lake and drink beer all day while they're fishing. They might drink a case and then get in their trucks to drive home."

Teenagers go joy riding and do spins in their cars and get too close to the ice fishing huts, Neumann said. His verdict: "There needs to be some controls."

-- Peter Slevin

Vine Is Suffocating

South Carolina Coast

Nutria, the fuzzy, orange-toothed devils of Maryland's Eastern Shore and Louisiana's swamps, ravage canal banks, costing millions of dollars in repair work. Kudzu, that suffocating, leafy crawler, blankets so much terrain that it earned the nickname "the vine that ate the South."

Each was a nonnative species, introduced well over half a century ago to fix one problem, only to proliferate wildly and become an even bigger problem. Fast forward to modern times and there is yet another nonnative that has turned into a scourge. It's so bad that it has earned its own nickname: "beach kudzu."

Beach kudzu, for the scientific sticklers out there, is technically called "vitex." Vitex was imported by beach preservationists in the early 1990s from the Pacific Rim to shore up South Carolina dunes damaged by Hurricane Hugo.

But the hurricanes that have crashed through since Hugo have done a heck of a job of breaking up vitex vines and carrying their seeds along the coast. Now the plant is growing so fast, in so many places, that environmentalists fear it is destroying the very dunes it was brought in to save. The problem is that vitex does not play nice with other plants. It kills off the natural sea oats that once held the dunes together. Left alone, vitex is not sturdy enough to hold up a dune.

But Betsy Brabson, the coordinator for the S.C. Beach Vitex Task Force, worries that vitex might still trick people into thinking it's a good thing: "It's pretty when it is in its peak," she said. "It has kind of a eucalyptus smell."

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia