Aide testifies Christie was told of traffic study

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff testified Friday in her criminal trial that she told him about a traffic study on the George Washington Bridge before sending an email that it was “time for some traffic problems,” which prosecutors say started a political revenge plot.

Bridget Kelly is accused of plotting with two other former Christie allies to close lanes on the bridge that connects New Jersey and New York as revenge against a Democratic mayor who wouldn’t endorse the Republican governor’s reelection effort in 2013.

Kelly maintained Friday that she believed the lane closings to be part of a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey traffic study. She is on trial along with former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni.

David Wildstein, a former Port Authority staff member, previously pleaded guilty in the case and is the prosecution’s key witness. The self-described mastermind of the plot, Wildstein has said the traffic study was a cover story.

Kelly said Friday that Wildstein told her that the traffic study would cause “tremendous traffic problems” in Fort Lee but would ultimately help traffic flow. She said Christie (R) said that the study was fine and that she should run it by his then chief of staff. He then asked how their relationship was with Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, she said.

The release of the “traffic study” email was what blew the scandal into full public view and led to Christie firing Kelly and campaign manager Bill Stepien.

At a Dec. 13, 2013, news conference, Christie told reporters that no one in his administration other than Wildstein knew about the closings. Christie was told about the traffic in Fort Lee on the third day of the gridlock during a Sept. 11 memorial event in New York, Wildstein said.

Christie has denied that he had any knowledge about the lane closures and hasn’t been charged.

— Associated Press

Chemical spill forces temporary evacuations

A chemical spill at a northeast Kansas distilling plant released a noxious cloud of fumes Friday, forcing temporary evacuations and sending more than 50 people to the hospital, including one person who was in intensive care, officials said.

The spill occurred at the MGP Ingredients plant in Atchison, said Katie Horner, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Emergency Management. She said the spill occurred as two chemicals, sulfuric acid and sodium hypochlorite, were mistakenly combined at the plant, which produces premium distilled spirits and employs about 300 people.

Homes and schools near the plant had been evacuated early Friday, but city officials gave the all clear for residents to return before noon. Atchison has about 11,000 residents and is about 50 miles northwest of Kansas City.

— Associated Press

Pastor pleads guilty in fatal church beating

The pastor of a small church where two brothers were beaten for hours during a counseling session that she had called pleaded guilty Friday to manslaughter and assault.

Three other church members admitted to less serious charges for their roles in the all-night beatings that killed Lucas Leonard, 19, and injured Christopher Leonard, 17, last October.

Word of Life Christian Church Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, her brother Joseph Irwin, and church member Linda Morey and her son David Morey were the last of nine people charged to be convicted in the attack, which investigators say took place after the brothers discussed leaving the congregation. Joseph Irwin and the Moreys each pleaded guilty to assault. Sentencings are set for December and January.

— Associated Press