Wednesday, February 13, 2013

'Heart Attack Grill' spokesman dies at 29

575-pound man promoted burgers-and-fries restaurant with high-calorie menu

Luci Scott / AP
lair River, 29, of Mesa, Ariz., died Tuesday after gaining fame as the 575-pound spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Ariz. Friends say he contracted pneumonia after a bout with the flu.

TODAY staff and wire
updated 3/4/2011 12:16:36 AM ET

PHOENIX — A 575-pound man who gained a measure of fame as spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill — a Phoenix-area restaurant that unabashedly touts its unhealthy, high-calorie menu — has died.

Friends of 29-year-old Blair River say he died Tuesday, possibly from contracting pneumonia after a bout with the flu.

Story: Heart Attack Grill serves bypass burgers, flatliner fries

Restaurant founder Jon Basso told The Arizona Republic that River was more than the larger-than-life caricature he portrayed in promoting the restaurant in Chandler, which includes huge hamburgers, milkshakes and fries cooked in lard on its menu

Basso said River was a creative genius who had been planning to take part in the shooting of a promotional spot called, "Heart Attack Grill: The Musical."

Breaded bliss: 7 crazy sandwiches

"Cynical people might think this (River's death) is funny," Basso said. "But people who knew him are crying their eyes out. There is a lot of mourning going on around here. You couldn't have found a better person."

The 6-foot-8 River was an Arizona state high school heavyweight wrestling champion in 1999 and played football at Mesa Community College.

Heart Attack Grill 'spokesman' dies after apparent heart attack

The Heart Attack Grill's unofficial spokesman, John Alleman, died after suffering an apparent heart attack, the restaurant's owner told NBC News.

By JoNel Aleccia, Staff Writer, NBC News

A 54-year-old man who spent his days touting the greasy pleasures of the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas has died of an apparent heart attack, the restaurant’s owner said.

John Alleman was waiting for a bus outside the downtown grill last week when he collapsed, Jon Basso told NBC News. Alleman was hospitalized for several days, but died on Monday at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, a spokeswoman confirmed.

He’s the second unofficial spokesman for the unabashedly unhealthy restaurant to die in the past two years, according to press reports.

For the past 18 months, Alleman spent part of virtually every day at the grill, standing outside the doors, urging customers to come in and try the restaurant’s renowned “Coronary Dog” or a side of “Flatliner Fries.” The place is known for flagrantly fattening entrees, including the "Quadruple Bypass Burger" that weighs in at 9,983 calories.

“He did it for free,” Basso said. “He wouldn’t accept a dollar. He wouldn’t even accept a free burger.”

Alleman was relatively slender, but had a family history of heart disease, Basso said. He apparently lost both of his parents in their early 50s. He is survived by a brother, Paul Alleman, who also lives in Las Vegas, records show.

He is the second unofficial spokesman for one of Basso’s restaurants to die, according to press reports. Blair River, who stood 6-foot-8 and weighed 575 pounds was known as the “Gentle Giant” at the Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Ariz., according to the Arizona Republic newspaper. He died in March 2011 from complications of flu-related pneumonia. He was 29.

Alleman was known at the Las Vegas restaurant as “Patient John,” a nod to the grill’s hospital-themed gimmick where waitresses clad in skimpy costumes are called “nurses” and Basso refers to himself as the “head surgeon.” A caricature of Alleman is a staple on Heart Attack Grill menus, clothing and other merchandise. His real job was as a security guard at a local skyscraper, Basso said.

Basso seemed shaken by Alleman’s death in a telephone interview. He said he was with Alleman before he died and didn’t know quite what to do with a bag of Alleman’s clothing and personal belongings a hospital staffer told him to take home.

The grill will go on, said Basso, who was fielding media calls during a bartending shift on Tuesday. A former owner of a diet center, he said he grew tired of lying to people about weight-loss. The restaurant may have another spokesman, but, for now, Basso said he was missing his friend.

“Normally, I’m a lot more jovial,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Dorner carjacking victim: 'He came up to me with his gun pointed at me'

A man who was carjacked by alleged cop killer Christopher Dorner in California's Big Bear mountains on Tuesday escaped only seconds before a deadly shootout began.

"I was happy that he let me go and had me take my dog,'' Rick Heltebrake told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Wednesday. "I got to tell you, not more than 10 seconds after that I was walking up the road, and that's when I heard a volley of gunfire. At that point I bailed into the snow and hid behind a tree and called the local deputy up here on his personal cell phone and told him what was going on. That's when everything started happening and then I found out later what was happening with those gunshots.''

Late Tuesday, investigators found charred human remains in a California mountain cabin where they believe Dorner was holed up. The former Los Angeles police officer is accused of killing three people in a rampage that started on Feb. 3 and was the target of the largest manhunt in Los Angeles history.

Dorner is believed to have tied up two women who came to clean the cabin, which is across the street from a police station, and then stole their car. After crashing the car, authorities then believe he encountered Heltebrake and stole his truck. Heltebrake was about half a mile from the highway checking a property on which he runs a Boy Scout camp.

"I saw him right away," Heltebrake said. "I saw a vehicle that was trashed behind him in the snow. He came up to me with his gun pointed at me. I stopped my truck, put it in park, raised my hands, and he said, 'I don't want to hurt you; just get out and start walking up the road and take your dog,' which is what I did.

"He was very calm. I stayed calm. It was a pretty serious situation based on recent events around here. Wasn't a lot of panic. Basically he told me what he wanted me to do and I did it."

Dorner was dressed in camouflage and was wearing some type of ballistic vest with unknown items in the pockets, according to Heltebrake.

"He was dressed for action.''

'Ugliest woman in the world' buried 150 years after end of tragic life

Universalimagesgroup / Getty Images
Julia Pastrana, the "ugliest woman in the world," suffered from congenital hirsutism combined with gingival hyperplasia. Her manager displayed her in the U.S. as a circus attraction and the result of union between a woman and a bear.

By Gabriel Stargardter, Reuters

MEXICO CITY -- The "ugliest woman in the world" was buried in her native northern Mexico on Tuesday, more than 150 years after her death and a tragic life spent exhibited as a freak of nature at circuses around the world.

Born in Mexico in 1834, Julia Pastrana suffered from hypertrichosis and gingival hyperplasia, diseases that gave her copious facial hair and a thick-set jaw. These features led to her being called a "bear woman" or "ape woman."

During the mid-1850s, Pastrana met Theodore Lent, a U.S. impresario who toured the singing and dancing Pastrana at freak shows across the United States and Europe before marrying her.

In 1860, Pastrana died in Moscow after giving birth to Lent's son, who inherited his mother's condition. The son died a few days later, and Lent then toured with the mother and son's embalmed remains. After changing hands over the ensuing decades, both bodies ended up at the University of Oslo in Norway.

People stand next to the coffin containing the remains of Julia Pastrana in Sinaloa de Leyva on Tuesday.

"Imagine the aggression and cruelty of humankind she had to face, and how she overcame it. It's a very dignified story," said Mario Lopez, the governor of Sinaloa state who lobbied to have her remains repatriated to her home state for burial.

"When I heard about this Sinaloan woman, I said there's no way she can be left locked away in a warehouse somewhere," he said.

Crowds flocked to the small town of Sinaloa de Leyva on Tuesday to pay their respects to Pastrana, who was buried in a white coffin adorned with white roses.

"The mass was beautiful," said New York-based Mexican artist Laura Anderson Barbata, who has led a nearly decade-long campaign to have Pastrana returned to Mexico for a proper Catholic burial. "I was very moved. In all these years I've never felt so full of different emotions."

Victims of gun violence drowned out by those imagining gun confiscation: Jarvis DeBerry


Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously injured in the mass shooting that killed six people in Tucson, Ariz. two years ago, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, for a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence. She is escorted by her husband, Mark Kelly, right, a retired astronaut, Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., second from left, and the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, left. (Photo by The Associated Press)
Jarvis DeBerry, | The Times-Picayune By Jarvis DeBerry, | The Times-Picayune
on February 09, 2013 at 9:00 AM, updated F

tired astronaut Mark E. Kelly began his Jan. 30 testimony to a Senate committee by describing the changes he's observed in his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, who was representing Arizona's 8th Congressional District two years ago when a gunman shot her in the head with a semiautomatic handgun. Kelly said Giffords' "gift of speech is a distant memory. She struggles to walk, and she is partially blind. Her right arm is completely paralyzed." Then, after praising his wife's resilience, Kelly said, "We aren't here as victims. We're speaking to you today as Americans."

When did those two words -- American and victim -- become antonyms? Didn't the Senate Judiciary Committee convene a hearing called "What Should America Do About Gun Violence?" because too many Americans have fallen victim to gunshots? Didn't they invite Kelly because his wife was one of America's most famous and highest-ranking victims of gun violence? Yes, Giffords survived her attack, but we know from Kelly's opening remarks and from Giffords' own halting testimony at the hearing that she's not the same person. She's suffering now in ways she didn't before. There's no shame in acknowledging that she's a victim. As an American victim of gun violence, Giffords has plenty of company.

Perhaps we could have a more civil conversation regarding guns if we reminded ourselves that there are victims out there -- many of them dead, many of them alive but scarred mentally, physically or both. However, judging by the volume of the protests, one could easily get the impression that the real victims aren't the ones who've been injured, or the ones who've been killed but are those who imagine the government coming to take their guns away. And some of them would rather keep our attention turned away from those who've had uncomfortably close experiences with gunfire.

Before last week's Super Bowl, a choir from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., took to the Superdome turf and sang "America the Beautiful" with Grammy-award winner Jennifer Hudson. It was at their school on Dec. 14 that 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 of their schoolmates and six adults who worked at the school. Some critics had argued before the game that the plan to have the children sing before an international audience exploited them. Beyond that, some complained that the children were being trotted out to make a political statement. But what statement exactly? What political position is being advanced by having them appear in public and sing their love for America?

If the children's visibility gives an advantage to those seeking gun restrictions, wouldn't keeping them out of sight help those who think a more thoroughly armed citizenry is the solution? That's not to say the expressed concern for these children is frivolous. Could they be exploited? Of course, even by those who are well intended. At the same time, it doesn't seem right for adults to have a debate prompted by a school shooting and refuse to let children be seen or heard. To the contrary; their victimization ought to be foremost in our minds.

The folks fighting more gun restrictions don't want children killed any more than those demanding tougher laws. This debate does not pit those who love children against those who don't. Rather, it pits those who think gun violence can be reduced with more guns against those who think that goal's more likely to be achieved with more restrictions.

What role should victims of gun violence play in the national debate on gun control?
  • There should be more restraint practiced because victim appearances make the debate overly emotional.
  • They should be as visible as possible, lest we lose sight of the stakes.
vote and review results

In his written testimony to the Senate committee, David B. Kopel, a constitutional lawyer at Denver University, makes a fairly strong case for why many gun control proposals would be meaningless. But in his argument against limiting the size of ammunition magazines, he unwittingly makes a point for those afraid of more armed personnel on campus. In a written transcript of his testimony, Kopel tells the committee that "in stressful circumstances, police as well as non-police civilians often miss when firing a handgun even at close range (so) having the extra rounds can be crucially important in some defensive contexts."

It's the thought of would-be heroes not just missing their target but hitting the wrong ones that makes some folks skeptical of ideas to bring more guns into schools. Righteousness has no bearing on marksmanship. If police at close range are often inaccurate, what might we expect from those with less training? Let's not replace the intended victims of a criminal with the unintended victims of a good guy.

And let us stop making "victim" a dirty word. Let's instead commit ourselves to seeing those victims and their injuries. We owe them nothing less.

Obama's State of the Union proposals could impact Louisiana in a big way

(Gallery by The Associated Press)
Bruce Alpert, | Times-Picayune By Bruce Alpert, | Times-Picayune
on February 12, 2013 at 9:28 PM, updated February 13, 2013 at 7:27 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address offered new initiatives that, if adopted, will significantly impact Louisiana, including those in the state who make the minimum wage, the oil and gas industry and the state's structurally deficient bridges. It was a bold speech, one that cheered many Democrats, but led Republicans to complain about an expensive, big government agenda that can't be sustained.

In his first State of the Union address of his second term, Obama Tuesday night called for a "Fix-it-First program to put Americans to work on the nation's most urgent repairs, such as the 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the United States. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 11.5 percent of the nation's bridges are structurally deficient, but it's 12.9 percent in Louisiana.

The president also took aim at the "soaring cost" of higher education, saying his administration on Thursday will release a new "college scorecard," telling Americans where they can get the most bang for their educational buck.

On energy, the president proposed to use some oil and gas industry revenue to help finance an Energy Security Trust to drive research and technology "to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good."

On the minimum wage, now $7.25, the president proposed an increase to $9 and after that adjusting the wage to the annual cost of living increase - something he says his Republican presidential opponent Mitt Romney advocated during the 2012 campaign.

"The single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families," Obama said. "This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families...For businesses across the country; it would mean customers with more money in their pockets."

He also called for developing, along with the states a plan to make quality pre-school available to every child in America. Questions remain how much of the cost would be picked up the federal government and how much by state and local governments.

"Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road," the president said. "But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool and for poor kids who need the help the most; this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives."

And he made an emotional appeal for a universal background checks for gun purchases, and getting "weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets." Police, he said, are tired of being outgunned.

"If you want to vote no, that's your choice," Obama said. "But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun."

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., had mixed views, praising the president's commitment to continued natural gas development, but questioning his call to target the oil and gas producers for higher taxes. She stood out in the Senate chamber with her colorful Mardi Gras beads.

"I was glad to hear the President focus on the benefits of natural gas development," Landrieu said. "This is truly a game changer for our country that is bringing us to the verge of energy independence and has the potential to create millions of good jobs across our country. It also gives us an advantage in the manufacturing sector and is helping attract big business to America because of this cheaper source of energy."

Though the president said his proposals would not add to the federal deficit, Republicans were skeptical.

"It was pretty shocking," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson. "The president says on one hand the deficit situation is a manufactured crisis when we keep reaching the debt limit because we're spending money we don't have. And yet here he is proposing 20 new federal spending programs and he still calls for higher taxes. This just shows he is out of touch with the realities of the spending problems in Washington."

Scalise, who wore a Mardi Gras tie, has been a leading critic of the president's call for reduced carbon emissions to deal with global warming. Scalise calls global warming unproven.

Obama went after the skeptics during his State of the Union address.

"Yes, it's true that no single event makes a trend," Obama said. "But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15," Obama said. "Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods - all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it's too late."

On global warming, Scalise said carbon emissions are coming down, yet the president still calls for "more crippling" EPA regulations and is putting too many restrictions on clean burning natural gas.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said he was pleased the president made a commitment in his speech to improving the nation's ports, and presented proposals that can "significantly" benefit Louisiana.

"This shouldn't be all about, as Republicans suggest, the cost, but what the return on investment is," Richmond said. If anything, Richmond said, he believes the president low balled the benefits of early childhood education, saying the return of former Gov. Mike Foster's early-child education initiative was more like 9-1, than the seven to one figure cited by the president.

He said the president extended an "olive branch," to Republicans, but based on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican response, "it doesn't appear" the GOP is willing to work with him, Richmond said.

On Twitter, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., wrote: "There's a lot we can do to create jobs w/out more spending - including producing energy jobs right here in America."

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, complained that Obama offered too much government.

"Tonight, President Obama doubled down on failed policies from the past while outlining his shortsighted vision for the future," Jindal said. "Instead of committing his second term to growth and prosperity, the president confirmed that we have gone from the greed of Wall Street to the greed of government. It's about more, more, more. More government, more spending and more economic uncertainty."

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, reacted negatively to the president's speech.

"America has a spending problem that is creating unsustainable debt, contributing to high unemployment and all the while Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt," Cassidy said. "President Obama wants to increase taxes without offering a plan to decrease the debt or to preserve Medicare and Social Security. America needs real reforms that control spending while focusing on job creation and preserving the programs seniors have earned."

Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, also slammed the speech.

"Tonight's speech centered around America's sluggish economy, and with it ideas on how to get it moving at a faster rate," Alexander said. "Proposals for investments in infrastucture, manufacturing, clean energy, education were heard among others. However, these promises were more of the same we've all heard before, and more of the same still largely unfilled."

Bourbon Street shooting suspect identified, 2 more sought

The NOPD released photos that they say show three suspects in the Bourbon Street shooting that wounded four people -- three of them innocent bystanders -- on Saturday night during Mardi Gras 2013 festivities. (Photo by NOPD)
Mary Kilpatrick, | The Times-Picayune By Mary Kilpatrick, | The Times-Picayune
on February 10, 2013 at 7:10 PM, updated February 11, 2013 at 1:05 AM

Latest New Orleans crime stories

Westminster Names Affenpinscher Banana Joe Best in Show

02/12/2013 at 11:55 PM EST
Westminster 2013 Names Affenpinscher Banana Joe Best in Show
Banana Joe
Stan Honda/Getty
Westminster has its top dog!

After two days of meticulous primping, prizes and the less-pretty realities of any spirited championship, the 137th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show came to its finale Tuesday night, declaring Affenpinscher Banana Joe the best in show.

The competition proved fur-rocious as the pint-sized, black-haired furball bested six other finalists (and 2,721 entries total) for the honor, including Old English Sheepdog Swagger, who was named the reserve best in show. It’s the first time the breed has ever taken home the top prize in Westminster history.

Earning top marks at Westminster is the latest accolade in Banana Joe's storied run. The paw-dorable pooch, who is 5 years old, has been named best in show 86 times in his career, and his Westminster win will go down as his last.

"It's all so indescribable. It's just a wonderful thing as a tribute for a small breed with such a big heart," handler Ernesto Lara said post-victory. "The plans for him now is for him to retire back home where he was born, and that's in the Netherlands."

Describing his little buddy, Lara praised the breed for its commendable qualities as a canine companion.

"An Affenpinscher is a very human-like dog," he said. "It's definitely a breed you don’t want to tame or train, in the proper sense."

"You want to befriend it," Lara continued. "Once you gain the friendship, they're loyal just like a human friend."

As for Banana Joe's big victory, "Nobody told him he's small," said Lara, "and I don't think he'll believe that."