Engineer poisoned his co-worker’s water and food for months, prosecutors say

An engineer at a Berkeley, Calif., company has been charged with attempted murder in the alleged poisoning of one of his colleagues over several months, according to prosecutors.

David Xu, 34, of Lafayette, was arrested last week and charged with premeditated attempted murder and a special circumstance of causing great bodily injury as well as two counts of poisoning with an enhancement, said Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman with the Alameda County district attorney’s office.

His arrest came March 28 after police served a search warrant at his home. He is being held in Santa Rita Jail without bail, according to inmate records.

Berkeley police began investigating Xu after his colleague, identified in a criminal complaint as Rong Yuan, reported her suspicion that Xu was poisoning her while the two worked together at Berkeley Engineering and Research, police said.

Yuan noticed a strange taste or smell coming from her water and food that she had left unattended in her office. She told investigators she suffered from health problems immediately after consuming the water and food, requiring her to seek emergency care at a hospital several times, according to court records.

After suspecting Xu, Yuan reviewed surveillance video from her office and saw Xu adding something to her water bottle on two occasions on Feb. 11 and March 4, according to court records. Xu’s criminal complaint also alleges that he poisoned Yuan on Nov. 29 and Dec. 13.

Two of Yuan’s family members reported they also became sick after drinking from Yuan’s water bottle when she returned home from work, according to court documents. Water samples from Yuan’s water bottle on those two dates tested positive for a toxic amount of cadmium. Blood samples from Yuan and her relatives also indicated high levels of cadmium.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, cadmium is a malleable metal found in zinc and used in batteries. In the short-term, exposure to the metal can cause flu-like symptoms and damage to the lungs. Long-term exposure can lead to several diseases, including cancer.

— Los Angeles Times

Maryland lawmakers approve bill to become first state in the country to ban foam food containers

BALTIMORE — The Maryland General Assembly gave final approval Wednesday night to a bill that would make Maryland the first state in the country to ban polystyrene foam food containers and cups.

The House of Delegates voted 100-37 to approve the legislation sponsored by Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat.

It was Lierman’s third attempt to pass the bill.

“After three years of hard work, I’m thrilled to see Maryland be a leader in the fight to end our reliance on single-use plastics that are polluting our state, country and world by passing a bill to prohibit foam food containers,” Lierman said. “The health of the Chesapeake Bay, our waterways, our neighborhoods and our children’s futures depends on our willingness to do the hard work of cleaning the mess that we inherited and created.”

The legislation had already passed the state Senate by a 31-13 vote. The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat.

The measure now advances to the desk of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has not taken a position yet on whether he would sign the bill.

The bill passed both chambers with more than enough votes to override a veto should the governor issue one.

The legislation contains some exceptions. For example, foam products packaged outside Maryland — such as cups containing ramen noodles — could still be sold. Also exempted are foam products used to package raw or butchered meat and foam products not used for food service.

The ban would take effect July 1, 2020. County officials would be in charge of enforcing the ban, and could issue $250 fines.

The measure is among the priorities of Democratic leaders of the General Assembly.

Several local governments in Maryland, including Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and most recently Anne Arundel County, have already banned foam products.

— The Baltimore Sun

Christchurch mosque attacker ordered to undergo mental health tests

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The Australian man accused of killing 50 people and wounding dozens of others in two Christchurch mosques last month, was Friday ordered to undergo mental health tests to determine if he is fit to stand trial.

Brenton Tarrant, 28, showed no emotion as he appeared via video link from Auckland Prison at a hearing at the High Court in Christchurch.

Dressed in a plain gray prison jersey and wearing handcuffs, Tarrant remained silent at his second court hearing, during which he was presented with 50 charges of murder and 39 charges of attempted murder.

The alleged white supremacist is accused of opening fire in the Al Noor and Linwood mosques on March 15 in New Zealand’s worst-ever shooting.

High Court judge Cameron Mander ordered a mental health assessment of the accused.

“It is an entirely ordinary step taken in the process and I don’t think anything should be read into it,” Mander said in front of a courtroom packed with survivors, families and media from around the world.

Tarrant appeared via video link from New Zealand’s only maximum-security prison in Auckland and watched the procedural hearing in silence. He occasionally seemed bored, looking around the room.

Contrary to earlier indications that Tarrant was planning to represent himself, he was represented by lawyers Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson.

Tait issued a brief statement late Thursday saying that in any civilized society the rule of law must prevail and the rights to consult and instruct a lawyer were protected rights in New Zealand.

Justice Mander declined applications from national and international media to film, take photos or record Friday’s hearing.

Tarrant was remanded in custody to reappear in Christchurch High Court on June 14.

— dpa