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On My Mind

Marine veteran Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. killed after clash with police who responded to his medical emergency

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Marine veteran Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. killed after clash with police who responded to his medical emergency

Exclusive: White Plains police came to 'help,' but shot 68-year-old with stun gun and beanbag gun

What began as a mission of mercy at a public housing project in White Plains ended with police killing the very man they had been dispatched to help.

By the time the rapidly escalating conflict was over, police had zapped a 68-year-old former Marine and correction officer with a stun gun, shot him with a beanbag gun and blasted him twice in the chest. The chronically ill Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. died at White Plains Hospital shortly after the early-morning clash on Nov. 19.
Only now, more than four months after the fact, have authorities finally agreed to convene a grand jury to determine if the cops committed a crime.
Like 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Chamberlain was African-American, and his death has added fuel to the growing national debate that has flared since the Florida teen was killed on Feb. 26.
As in Florida, the White Plains incident received little press attention for weeks and authorities resisted a grand jury probe.
Since then, accounts have surfaced that at least one officer was heard on a tape hurling racial epithets and taunts in the moments before cops removed Chamberlain’s apartment door from its hinges and burst inside.
During the past several days, nearly 200,000 people have signed an online petition demanding justice in Chamberlain’s case. White Plains Mayor Tom Roach on Friday issued his first public statement of condolences to the dead man’s family.
That’s a far different atmosphere and tone than in November.
Back then, police reports stated a deranged man had attacked officers with a hatchet and a knife before cops shot him in self-defense. White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong quickly declared it a “warranted use of deadly force.”
But as the weeks passed, the official story became riddled with holes.
To begin with, the police who arrived at Chamberlain’s apartment in the Winbrook Houses about 5 a.m. were not responding to a disturbance or a crime in progress.
They were supposed to be there to help the man.
Chamberlain, who lived alone, suffered from a chronic heart condition and wore a pendant to signal LifeAid, a medical alert company, in case of trouble. 
That morning, the company called police after the pendant went off and Chamberlain failed to respond to a two-way audiobox installed in his apartment. He appears to have accidentally set off the device while he was sleeping. 
A LifeAid employee then requested that a squad car go by the house to check on him.
When police arrived, they started banging on his door. Chamberlain yelled out to them that he was all right, that they weren’t needed.
The dead man’s son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., and a pair of lawyers said LifeAid’s audiobox recorded every sound inside the apartment. They listened to the recording in February in the office of Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, though authorities have not released it publicly.
According to the official police version, the officers heard loud noises inside and thought someone else might be in danger. They said they needed to force their way inside to make sure everything was okay.
But Chamberlain refused to open the door for them, according to the lawyers who listened to the audio recording. He was angry at being disturbed by the loud banging and by several police cars and fire engines. He became increasingly agitated as he saw more police arriving with guns drawn.
A nearly hour-long standoff ensued. 
Chamberlain’s niece, Tonyia Greenhill, who lived in an apartment upstairs, came down and tried to talk with police, but was ignored. Her uncle sounded scared and was begging the police through the door to leave him alone, she recalled.
One of the family’s lawyers is Mayo Bartlett, a former Westchester assistant district attorney. He and the dead man’s son said someone can be heard screaming at Chamberlain on the LifeAid tape:
“I don’t give a f--k, n----r, open the door!”
One of the people banging outside was also reportedly heard yelling: “I need to use your bathroom to pee!” 
Others were taunting Chamberlain’s military service after they discovered he was a former Marine.
The LifeAid dispatcher, who was listening to every word of the commotion, offers at one point to contact family members of Chamberlain to intercede, and even tries to cancel the call for police assistance.
But a police officer is heard saying “We don’t need any mediators,” according to the lawyers.
Two other video cameras captured part of the events that night, and the family and its lawyers have seen those as well.
One is a security camera in the hall of the building. Another is attached to the stun gun police used.
Those reportedly show police prying the door partly open. At one point, according to Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., a metal object is slipped through the gap in the door and falls in the hallway.
“It’s hard to tell what it is, but that could be what police are saying was a hatchet,” the son said.
The tape runs for several more minutes while cops and firefighters work to remove the hinges to the door.
When they finally do, a camera reveals Chamberlain Sr. standing inside his apartment, wearing only boxer shorts, with his arms at his side and his hands empty, according to the son and the family’s lawyers.
“The minute they got in the house, they didn’t even give him one command,” Bartlett said. “They never mentioned ‘put your hands up.’ They never told him to lay down on the bed. The first thing they did ... you could see the Taser light up ... and you could see it going directly toward him.”
Why anyone would use a stun gun on a man with a known heart condition is astounding in itself.
But the cameras don’t capture anything more after that point, according to the son and lawyers. Police say Chamberlain later came at them with a knife, and one cop fired two shots. More than four months after the incident, authorities have refused to identify that cop.
Public Safety Commissioner Chong’s office declined Tuesday to say anything about the case, saying only that there’s an ongoing investigation.
Late last Thursday, following the national furor over the failure of authorities to take Trayvon Martin’s death to a grand jury, and following weeks of protests by Chamberlain’s family, District Attorney DiFiore met with the dead man’s son and the lawyers.
At last, she confirmed to them that a grand jury will begin hearing evidence in the case this month.
A medical alert, then killed  by a cop

Nov. 19, 2011

5:08 a.m.: Kenneth Chamberlain’s medical alert device accidentally goes off, triggering a response from the White Plains
Department of Public Safety.

5:25 a.m.: Police knock on Chamberlain’s door. He says he doesn’t need help and refuses to open it.

6:00 a.m.: Cops snap the lock and attempt to use Tasers on Chamberlain. One officer fires on the 68-year-old. Cops say he had a knife; the family’s attorney says he was unarmed.

7:09 a.m.: Chamberlain dies during surgery at White Plains Hospital.  

Feb. 15

Chamberlain family files notice of claim saying they plan to sue the Police Department.

March 29

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore tells Chamberlain’s family the case would be presented to a grand jury within a month.

March 30

White Plains Mayor Tom Roach releases a statement giving his “condolences” to Chamberlain’s family.

April 2

Chamberlain’s son petitions White Plains City Hall to pressure police to release the shooting officer’s name.

Health care law reaches high court

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altWASHINGTON – Health coverage for more than 30 million people. The power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. President Obama's re-election. The reputation of the Supreme Court and the legacy of its chief justice.

And to hear some tell it: liberty.

All that and more could be at stake today when the Supreme Court begins three days of historic oral arguments on a 2010 health care law that has become a symbol of the nation's deep political divide.

  • Not since the court confirmed George W. Bush's election in December 2000 — before 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq,Wall Street's dive and Obama's rise — has one case carried such sweeping implications for nearly every American.

"There's never been anything this big that the federal government has required … to which the states were not given an opt-out," says former Florida attorney generalBill McCollum, a Republican who filed the first lawsuit against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Acton March 23, 2010, the day it became law. "It's the totality of this, the enormity of it."

"You've got just unbelievable repercussions here. The stakes couldn't be any higher," says Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader who helped lead the previous effort to change the health care system in 1993-94. "For anybody who cares about health care, this is the whole ballgame."

Passed by Democrats along strictly partisan lines and still two years short of full implementation, the law is designed to extend health coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people, ban insurers from discriminating against those with expensive ailments, and require nearly all Americans to buy insurance or pay penalties. 

t turns out that's not all. The overhaul of a health care system that spends more than all other industrialized nations but still has 50 million uninsured has taken on even more significance as it reaches the high court:

•Millions of Americans stand to feel the direct reach of the court, as the entire health care system and the costs associated with it could be affected by its decision. Already, millions have used the law's early benefits, such as free wellness exams for seniors and a provision that allows children up to age 26 to be covered on their parents' policies.

Yet two years in, implementation of the law has been uneven. The Commonwealth Fund, a research foundation that highlights the health care needs of the poor, found that 49 states had taken at least some steps toward implementing insurance market changes, including 23 that had passed new laws or regulations; only Arizona remained on the sidelines. Many states are proceeding too slowly to meet timetables if the law is upheld — but could reverse field if the law is overturned.

Americans remain divided on whether the law was a good or bad idea. Even so, only one in four expect it to improve their situation, and nearly three in four believe the insurance mandate is unconstitutional, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll last month showed. Many Americans also are confused about the law's standing: A poll this month by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation found 42% were either unsure of the law's status or believed the Supreme Court had already overturned it.

"The public's been dug in since the beginning," says Mollyann Brodie, Kaiser's director of public opinion and survey research. "It's really become more of a symbolic issue, and a touchstone issue, about the role of government."

•This year's presidential election and the agenda of the next Congress will be affected by the justices' ruling, expected in late June. Though the health care issue is a drag on Obama's re-election chances now, a win in court could sway independent voters, says Chris Jennings, former health policy adviser to President Clinton.

However, conservatives are twice as likely to be angry if the ruling goes against them, perhaps portending an extra push to defeat Democrats at the polls, according to the Kaiser survey. Their anger is reflective of the 3-to-1 ratio of negative-to-positive TV ads about the law over the past two years, according to Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group.

That effort likely would spill over into the 2013 congressional session, marked by targeted efforts to repeal parts or all of the law. Those efforts are underway already: The House voted 223-181 last week to abolish the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which was created under the law to keep Medicare costs from soaring. The bill is certain to die in the Senate.

•The Supreme Court's reputation and future precedents will be shaped by the outcome. Frequently divided 5-4 and facing a docket that includes immigration, affirmative action, gay marriage and voting rights, the court and Chief Justice John Roberts will themselves be judged by their decision. And a ruling to uphold the mandate, or to overturn the expansion of Medicaid, could have sweeping repercussions on future mandates or federal aid to states.

Before one word has been spoken in court, the case has been likened to its review of the income tax system in 1895, the Social Security Act in 1937 and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in 1964-65.

"It's an incredible case study about the role of the court," says Bradley Joondeph, a law professor at Santa Clara University who has monitored the health care lawsuits. "When do the justices feel it's their role to step in and essentially overrule the judgment of the political process?"

The principal players before the court will be the federal government, a coalition of 26 states, and the National Federation of Independent Business, plus two lawyers appointed by the court to argue key points. Beyond them, more than 130 amicus briefs — a modern record, surpassing two affirmative action cases in 2003 — have been filed by organizations ranging from the seniors organization AARP to the Young Invincibles, a group of young adults.

Former attorney general Edwin Meese, chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the conservativeHeritage Foundation, compares the case to the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case of 1954. "The fact that they have allotted a full six hours of argument is indicative of how important the court itself deems it to be," Meese says.

Day One: Decide its fate, or wait?

The court's review of Obama's signature policy achievement follows more than two dozen federal district court lawsuits and seven at the appeals court level. Two district courts and one appeals court struck down the law; another appeals court ruled that it's too soon to try the case.

At 10 a.m. ET Monday, the court will hear 90 minutes of arguments on whether that three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals was correct, and the whole case must be put on hold. Ironically, it's a position neither side takes.

At issue is the Anti-Injunction Act of 1867, which bars challenges to tax laws before they are enforced. Because the requirement to buy health insurance is backed by an IRSpenalty, the justices must decide if challenges to the law are premature. Should that be the ruling, all bets are off until at least 2014, when the mandate takes effect — and most likely 2015, when the first penalties would be payable.

In his brief arguing for delay, Washington attorney Robert Long says Congress "provided that the penalty should be assessed and collected in the same manner as taxes," and that the Anti-Injunction Act defines taxes as "assessable penalties."

Paul Clement, a former solicitor general under President George W. Bush who will argue before the nine justices as the states' lawyer, counters that the mandate, not the penalty, is being challenged. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli says the penalty "is not within the category of tax penalties that trigger" the Anti-Injunction Act.

Day Two: The main event

The most anticipated arguments will come Tuesday, when the court devotes two hours of debate to the "individual mandate" — a phrase that never appears in the 2,409-page statute.

The government's case is simple: Congress has clear authority to regulate interstate commerce. The mandate does just that by regulating the financing of health care, which represents 18% of the nation's economy. It is "necessary and proper" in order to carry out the changes in the insurance market, such as guaranteeing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. And it's authorized by Congress' taxing power.

The law's proponents see a slam-dunk. "There's no question the federal government can do this," says Washington lawyer Joe Onek, a veteran of the Carter and Clinton administrations. "In the end, it may turn out to be an anticlimax."

Opponents say the government has never required Americans to enter into commerce and warn that such a mandate could lead to more in the future. Their pitch: If this is allowed, what couldn't the government do? "It's contrary to the notion that the federal government is a government of limited powers," says Paul Orfanedes, director of litigation for Judicial Watch, which has filed a brief in opposition.

The justices will hear only from the Justice Department, the states and the National Federation of Independent Business, but this part of the lawsuit has produced the most "friend of the court" briefs: 46 opposing the mandate and 32 supporting it.

Day Three: A double-header

Wednesday morning, the justices will hear arguments on whether the individual mandate can be thrown out and the rest of the law upheld. Neither side wants that to happen.

Although the mandate is the law's most unpopular element, even proponents say if it goes, it should take at least some of the most popular provisions with it. That would include guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and limits on premiums for those with expensive ailments — changes that the government says could not be paid for unless millions more people buy insurance.

The states and business group challenging the law argue that the mandate isn't "severable" at all — if it's struck down, the entire law should fall. The law "was a unique package deal," argues Michael Carvin, the lawyer representing small businesses. His brief says the law "cannot survive and never would have been enacted without its unconstitutional heart."

The final act will be played out Wednesday afternoon, when the court considers the law's expansion of Medicaid to cover about 16 million more adults.

The 26 states argue that the expansion and initial 100% federal funding is "coercive" by luring states into an offer they can't refuse. They say it also will pull others into Medicaid who already qualify but have not enrolled, and it will require certain treatments, all at a cost states cannot afford. "This is going to wreck our budgets," McCollum says.

Proponents see it as a key step toward universal coverage. If the court strikes down the Medicaid expansion, they say, programs ranging from child welfare to prisons could be jeopardized, as well.

In court, watching for the slightest clues

So crucial is the case that the two sides have taken up arguments usually identified with their opponents.

Liberals note that conservative opponents of the law — generally disposed toward judicial restraint — want nine unelected judges to overrule the work of the elected members of Congress.

"The unelected Supreme Court shouldn't be taking democratic decisions away from the people," chides Neal Katyal, who as acting solicitor general until last June defended the law in the lower courts.

Conservatives note that the administration denied during debate on the law that its threatened penalty was a tax. Now, however, its lawyers are eagerly calling it just that — and therefore constitutional under the taxing and spending clause. Whatever it's called, it rises to a maximum of $2,085 a family or 2.5% of household income by 2016.

"It's incredibly ironic" that backers call it a tax, says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a formerCongressional Budget Office director and aide to Republican Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. He accuses them of "a cynical willingness to say anything to get what they want."

If it will be difficult sometimes to tell the proponents from the opponents without a scorecard, most court-watchers needn't worry. Tickets for the oral arguments are nearly impossible to get. Those left out will crowd the streets and steps outside the court, near where Tea Party and other protesters rallied over the weekend.

Those inside will be looking for any judicial flinch or wisecrack to determine each justice's inclination. "Everybody's going to be pouncing on every raised eyebrow … the ridiculous and the sublime," says Robert Laszewski, an independent health care consultant from Virginia.

Guessing what the court will decide has become a favorite pastime of constitutional scholars and legal amateurs alike. Much of the betting is that the court, despite its 5-4 conservative tilt, will uphold the law.

One reason: Opponents have a higher burden of proof. They must prove the law unconstitutional under the commerce, tax, and necessary and proper clauses of the Constitution. Backers just need one clause to save them.

Another: A majority of lower courts upheld the law, including two judges noted for their conservatism: Jeffrey Sutton of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Sometime around June 29, the last day of the court's term, the speculation will end. But the political and policy battles over the Affordable Care Act will be far from over.

"This decision is going to come by the Fourth of July, and that's going to be just before the (national) political conventions," Laszewski says. "What's it going to mean if the Supreme Court says it was all unconstitutional and a waste of time?"

The law's defenders have an answer. "History will not judge them well, and I know that, because I'm going to write the history," says Akhil Reed Amar, a constitutional scholar atYale Law School.

Even so, the potential for a slice-and-dice decision affecting parts of the law, or one that puts off the decision altogether, has many court-watchers unwilling to predict an outcome.

Says Kevin Marshall of the law firm Jones Day, which is representing the National Federation of Independent Business: "There's probably an infinite number of permutations for how this case could turn out." 

Rick Santorum under fire over ranting rightwing pastor

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Rick Santorum is facing some awkward questions after footage emerged of a radical evangelical preacher opening a campaign rally with calls for all non-Christians to “get out” of America.In the footage, filmed at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana yesterday, Pastor Dennis Terry told a crowd that anyone who doesn’t worship God should leave the country, before calling on people to "stand up" against" gay people, liberals and women who have abortions.

“Listen to me. If you don’t love America, and you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say, get out!,” he said. “We don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Mohammed, we don’t worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

To a rapturous applause, Pastor Terry continued: “As long as they continue to kill little babies in our mother’s womb, somebody’s got to take a stand and say it’s not right. God be merciful to us as a nation. As long as sexual perversion is becoming normalised, somebody needs to stand up and say God forgive us, God have mercy upon us.”

Republican contender Mr Santorum was shown clapping approvingly in the background as the rightwing pastor delivered the ranting fire and brimstone address. He later received a personal blessing from the preacher who called on God's will to be done in the upcoming election.

The comments raise some embarrassing questions for the ultraconservative Catholic candidate, who has previously said J F Kennedy’s notion of separating the Church and state made him want to “throw up”.

Last night he was forced to clarify his stance over the pastor's opinions and whether he agreed with the comments.

Insisting he supported religious freedom, Mr Santorum said he “wasn’t quite listening” during the speech but had not clapped at the parts where their opinions clashed.

“I didn’t clap when he said that. I do remember him saying that, I said, well, I wasn’t quite sure he was saying it for himself, I wasn’t quite listening to everything to be honest with you. But I wasn’t sure whether he was speaking for himself or speaking generally, but I didn’t clap when he said that because it’s not how I feel.”

The clips are reminiscent of the Rev Jeremiah Wright episode during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, where the pastor's "God Damn America" sermon, almost stalled Obama's White House chances.

Following Rev Wright's fiery comments about Hillary Clinton having a white advantage, Mr Obama denounced the sermon calling it "inflammatory and appalling".

Despite being Obama's longtime pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ, Wright was ejected from the campaign shortly afterwards.



Hey Teacher (And Employer), Leave Those Facebook Passwords Alone

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The news is full of stories this week about those in positions of power demanding Facebook passwords. The ACLUannounced that it is helping a Minnesota high school student sue Minnewaska Area Schools after school officials forced her to hand over her Facebook password so that they could search her private messages for an alleged conversation with another student about S-E-X. Because the school is a public institution, the ACLU alleges this violated the student’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches. Meanwhile, MSNBC reports on prospective prison guards in Maryland being forced to hand over their Facebook passwords during job interviews and college athletes who are forced to friend their coaches on the social network. The Maryland Department of Corrections wanted to check applicants’ pages for any signs that they’re affiliated with a gang, while coaches want to make sure athletes are behaving (and not violating any NCAA rules).

Those of you offended by the idea of a prospective employer simply looking at your public-facing Facebook page must now be curled up in the fetal position, rocking back and forth, and crying at the horror of it all. In fact, says privacy attorney Behnam Dayanim of Axinn Veltrop Harkrider, there is no legal protection for you, at this point, if an employer asks for your Facebook password during a job interview. You can (and you should!) say no, but private employers have the right to ask for it and can choose not to hire you if you refuse.

“Legally, the employer has a strong position. You can say no, but there’s no element of duress there. If you don’t get the job, you’re no worse off than you were before,” says Dayanim. “That said, as a policy matter for the employers, I think it’s a bad idea.”

Oftentimes, employers asking for Facebook passwords wind up targeted in Internet shame campaigns and then back down. But there could be greater protection than “SHAME ON YOU” in the future. Some legislators aren’t too happy about employers hacking into prospective employees’ accounts. Lawmakers in Illinois and Maryland have proposed bills to prohibit employers from requiring applicants to hand over passwords to their social networking accounts during the interview process.

“Congress should clarify that this is not permissible and protect companies from liability for what their employees say and do privately on this medium,” says Dayanim.

It’s interesting that employers think it’s okay to do this. They would never ask candidates to hand e-mail passwords over for a review of private messages and thoughts to vet candidates. It’s the mixed public-private nature of Facebook that makes it ripe for this abuse.

In the case of government employers, the law is a bit murkier, says Dayanim. An enterprising lawyer could argue that such a search is a constitutional violation, threatening someone’s First and Fourth Amendment rights to free speech and freedom from unreasonable searches, respectively.Though an employer workaround might be to automate the review so that it’s a narrow search; if the Maryland Department of Corrections had an automated tool that went through applicants’ pages looking only for evidence of gang activity, the courts might find that that’s not an unreasonable search, says Dayanim.

“Employers are feeling squeezed,” he said. On the one hand, certain industries, like the securities industry, face liability for not monitoring what their employees are doing and saying, but on the other hand, they’re being told that some social media monitoring is too excessive.

The Minnesota high school student, at least, has a strong and relatively clear case. If there was no immediate threat posed by the sexy conversation she allegedly conducted with another student, school officials should have sought a warrant to get access to her Facebook account, or at least gotten permission from her parents.

The student athletes, on the other hand, who are forced to friend their coaches probably don’t have much of a legal argument to make. “They get a benefit: free tuition,” says Dayanim. “In exchange, they have to agree to this monitoring by a coach. If they agreed to that with the school in advance, that’s a legally sound practice.”

Tornado forecasts saved countless lives

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HENRYVILLE, Ind. – At the 103-year-old dream home on a hill that Roger Ledbetter had restored, Sunday was burial day.

The house had been knocked off its foundation and ruined by killer twisters. A neighbor worked a backhoe to carve open a grave for three of Ledbetter's seven horses, so badly injured they had to be put down. Shep the dog had already been buried. A search was underway for the family cat, Miss Beasley.

Yet for all the tears and tragedy that weather delivered along the miles of winding country road here, Ledbetter says, it could have been far worse. His in-laws, who were living in the farmhouse that he rebuilt for his future retirement, had enough warning of the storms' approach to leave for safer ground.

  • It saved their lives.

"Thank God we had enough warning that I could convince my in-laws to leave," says Ledbetter, 54, who owns a plywood company in New Albany.

Officials and survivors of the storms say warnings provided by weather forecasters and relayed through news reports, e-mail and other alert systems, coupled with neighbors passing the word house to house, kept the toll from growing higher.

Even with the heartfelt optimism here, it might be months or years before some towns recover from the tornadoes of 2012. And one of the symbols of that recovery — a 15-month baby who was the sole survivor of her family — died Sunday.

At least 39 people were killed as volatile weather across a broad swath of the south and central part of the country triggered at least 74 tornadoes in 10 states over several days. Five states — Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Alabama and Georgia— suffered fatalities.

The stricken areas were still assessing the damage, but as of Sunday night, Indiana had declared states of emergency in 11 counties, Ohio in one county and Kentucky declared a statewide emergency. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear requested a federal declaration. Twenty-two of the 46 counties hit by the storm in his state had declared states of emergency.

The storms destroyed homes, farms and businesses and knocked out power, cellphones and Internet service.

In New Pekin, Ind., 15-month-old Angel Babcock, found alive Friday in a field near where the rest of her family was killed, died of traumatic brain injury at a Louisville hospital. Her family — parents Joseph Babcock, 21; and Moriah Brough, 20; and her siblings, Jaydon Babcock, 2, and Kendall Babcock, 2 months — all died when a violent storm destroyed their home.

Not even a week into the month, this is already the nation's deadliest March for tornadoes since March 1994, when 40 people were killed, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

The National Weather Service's Joe Sullivan calls the advance notice of the storms "a great success of the entire warning program." Without it, he says, "there could have been scores" of fatalities.

Annette Cartwright says a firetruck crew stopped Friday at her home in Chelsea, Ind., to warn that a severe storm was approaching. Her mother-in-law, daughter and son-in-law took shelter in the basement and survived the winds that destroyed the home over their heads and the nearby barn as if "a bomb went off."

"They told them to get inside," says Cartwright, 40, who was at work.

Local TV stations "kept saying, 'This is really bad,' " she recalls. "The warnings saved three lives at my house."

Chelsea, an unincorporated community that's more a sprawling neighborhood than a town, has no warning sirens, Cartwright says, but most nearby towns do. "We can sometimes hear the ones in New Washington," she says.

Retiree Jim Gray, 62, who also lives in Chelsea, had enough warning to pick up his 6-year-old grandson from school Friday. They went to the basement of Gray's home, which was not damaged.

"Everybody knew it was coming," says Gray, who first heard about the potential for tornadoes on Wednesday. "They kept saying, 'It's going to be a bad one.' "

In Henryville, birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Harland Sanders, few buildings are recognizable. The rural road to Maryville and Chelsea is a trail of tragedy, almost every home and barn damaged. Bare concrete pads are all that remain of some homes.

The National Weather Service says one of two tornadoes that whipped through Henryville had winds of 175 mph. Debris was found 68 miles away.

A restored church leveled

A couple miles from Ledbetter's 100-acre farm is a sign that says "Mt. Moriah Church. Have you talked to Jesus today?"

It's all that's left. A pile of brick and wood lies where the church once stood. Sanders, the late fried chicken magnate, paid for a previous restoration after a fire. In a cemetery across the road, the graves of his parents are covered with fallen trees and pink insulation from the church.

At Ledbetter's ruined home — where horses Freckles, Wilma and Henry were being laid to rest — his barn is gone. So is a six-car garage and a flagpole. The U.S. flag that flew from it was found, dirty and tattered, by a neighbor. He hung it over a piece of fence left standing.

"When I see that flag," Ledbetter says, choking up, "it really gets to me."

Search-and-rescue crews made second runs of wrecked buildings on Sunday. A sheriff's deputy pointed to a pile of rubble where a mother protecting her kids was injured, costing her both her legs. At another house, the owner was extricated with a broken back. Thousands of trees are cracked. Muddy cars lie in ditches on their roofs.

Buddy Rogers, spokesman for the Kentucky Emergency Management agency, says the advance notice saved lives in that state as well. Twenty-one people died and 300 were injured as storms ripped through 46 of the state's 120 counties, he said.

"When you see firsthand the overall destruction, you have to wonder, my gosh. We were blessed that there were not more fatalities," he says.

The state does not know yet what rebuilding will look like because it is still assessing the damage and its costs, he says.

"This won't be a speedy recovery, but we'll do it," he says. "Kentuckians are resilient."

He says the National Weather Service provided forecasts as early as two days before the storms hit, giving residents time to prepare and evacuate. He says the longer-range forecasts help more than the outdoor sirens, which sound just 10 to 20 minutes before a tornado hits.

National Weather Service meteorologists say they can tell up to eight days in advance if a severe storm will hit a particular region of the U.S. What they can't do is track a specific twister far in advance.

Forecasts for tornadoes and the storms that create them have gotten better, but tracking a tornado is still an imprecise science because the storms are small, unpredictable and short, says Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center.

"Trying to look at something as elusive as a tornado is difficult," he says. "It can form in a matter of minutes and dissipate in a matter of minutes."

Meteorologists can pinpoint a tornado on average about 10 to 30 minutes before it hits. Radar helps with educated guesses about a tornado and its path, and they used eyewitness accounts, too, Carbin says.

Forecasts for tornadoes, or storms that lead to tornadoes, have gotten considerably better since the 1950s, when the National Weather Service began using radar and computer models to track the paths of storms, says Harold Brooks, a research meteorologist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

Today, more than 75% of tornadoes are identified, he says. Less than 30 years ago, it was about 25%.

Better forecasting

Brooks says better forecasting with the help of radar and computer models has helped reduce fatalities. Better ways of spreading the information and stronger housing construction also play a huge role, he says.

Last year, tornadoes left 550 people dead.

"In the modern world, we think of that as a catastrophic loss of life," he says. "That would have been an ordinary year for our great-grandparents."

Knowing several days in advance that a storm could lead to a tornado helps individuals, counties, hospitals and other officials prepare.

But, Brooks says, it still comes down to people reacting to the information: "No matter how good your warning system is, it depends on how people are responding."

Roger Jones, 60, listened to the warnings. After the storms hit, he surveyed damage to the farmhouse where he grew up and where his father was born in Chelsea. It took a direct hit from a falling tree but was unoccupied. A grain bin was damaged, a machine shed was destroyed and a barn was blown away, but Jones, who lives 4 miles away, feels lucky.

His mother, who lived in the house until her death in 2008, would have refused to leave despite the warnings, he says.

"The warning system was very adequate" and saved lives, he says. "Everyone knew that this tornado was coming and that it would be on the ground a long time," he says. "They were absolutely right on."

Jay Casper, 43, was helping salvage possessions from his mother-in-law's Marysville home Sunday. A tornado sliced off the roof. He was grateful that she was at his home in Bloomington, Ind., when the twister struck. The town has no warning sirens, he said.

There's been talk in the past of the need for sirens, says Casper, who works at a lumber company, "and I bet there will be now."

Bello and Rice reported from McLean, Va.; Welch from Los Angeles. Contributing: the Associated Press 

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