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Archive for Friday, January 28, 2005

Briefly - Nation

January 28, 2005

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California

Murder charges filed in deadly train crash

A suicidal man who allegedly parked his SUV in the path of a commuter train and triggered a horrific wreck that killed 11 people was charged with murder and could face the death penalty, authorities said Thursday.

The criminal case moved forward against Juan Manuel Alvarez as police and forensics experts worked to gather evidence from the crime scene and coroner's investigators searched the tangled wreckage for any remaining body parts.

Prosecutors have not decided if they will seek the death penalty against Alvarez, 25, who had been ordered by a court to stay away from his family after his wife alleged he abused drugs and threatened them.

Authorities say he also had slashed his wrists and stabbed himself at some point during his aborted suicide attempt. He remained hospitalized Thursday, and a court hearing was set for today.

Authorities say Alvarez drove his green Jeep Cherokee into the path of a Metrolink commuter train early Wednesday. He then changed his mind and got out of the vehicle just before the Jeep was struck by a train heading to Los Angeles, police said.

Washington, D.C.

FCC won't appeal media ownership rules

The Bush administration won't appeal to the Supreme Court to try to revive sweeping changes in media ownership rules thrown out by a lower court.

The Federal Communications Commission had until Monday to decide whether to appeal the ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The Justice Department, in consultation with the FCC, decided against an appeal, FCC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said Thursday.

She did not explain why or say whether the agency would try again to rewrite the rules.

The changes would have allowed a single company to own TV stations and a newspaper in the same area, and to own more TV and radio stations in a single market. Critics, including many in Congress, said that would encourage mergers and stifle diversity in news and entertainment.

Big media companies wanted the changes and are not giving up the fight.

The National Association of Broadcasters and an official with Tribune Co. said they still planned to appeal to the Supreme Court.

New Jersey

Lawyer says reservist will plead in abuse case

An Army sergeant accused in the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal will plead guilty to reduced charges next week as part of a deal with military prosecutors, his lawyer said Thursday.

The deal would not require Sgt. Javal S. Davis to testify against anyone else, civilian defense attorney Paul Bergrin said. Davis doesn't have useful information to offer, Bergrin said.

Davis, 27, of Roselle, had been charged with conspiracy to maltreat detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, dereliction of duty for failing to protect detainees from abuse, and maltreatment of detainees.

Those charges will be dismissed, and Davis -- who is not seen in any of the notorious photos from the prison -- will plead guilty to simple assault and rendering false official statements, Bergrin said Thursday. The proposed deal comes less than two weeks after another reservist, Spc. Charles Graner Jr. of Uniontown, Pa., was convicted in the case.

Davis had been facing up to 8 1/2 years in jail, forfeiture of pay, reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge. Under the plea deal, he would face a maximum of 1 1/2 years in prison.

Massachusetts

Accuser breaks down in church abuse trial

After a grueling second day of intense and graphic questioning by a defense lawyer, the man who has accused defrocked priest Paul Shanley of raping him as a child broke down on the witness stand Thursday and begged the judge not to force him to continue testifying.

Frank Mondano, Shanley's attorney, has spent the past two days seeking to undermine the accuser's credibility, grilling him about his troubled childhood and his motivation for coming forward with what he says are repressed memories of the alleged abuse.

Mondano has said the man made up his story to cash in on the multimillion-dollar settlements paid to victims of abuse by priests in Boston's Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

The accuser, now a 27-year-old firefighter, says Shanley raped and molested him at a parish outside Boston beginning when he was 6.

The man is the lone remaining accuser in the case against the 74-year-old Shanley, one of the central figures in the Boston clergy sex abuse scandal. Mondano said if the accuser did not show up for further questioning, he thought he had grounds for a mistrial.

Florida

NASA honors victims of spacecraft accidents

NASA observed a moment of silence across the country and in orbit Thursday in memory of the 17 astronauts killed in America's three spacecraft tragedies.

"NASA remembers our heroes," the space agency said on its Internet site against a black backdrop, flashing photos of the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews.

Aboard the international space station, commander Leroy Chiao asked colleagues in Mission Control to pause with him to "honor our fallen."

A year ago, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe declared the last Thursday of every January would be a Day of Remembrance. NASA's "three darkest hours," as O'Keefe put it Thursday, took place around this time of year: the Apollo 1 fire during a countdown test at the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967; the Challenger launch accident on Jan. 28, 1986; and the Columbia re-entry disaster on Feb. 1, 2003.

Three astronauts died inside the Apollo 1 spacecraft, seven aboard Challenger and seven more aboard Columbia.

Michigan

Ford recalls nearly 800,000 pickups, SUVs

Ford Motor Co. is recalling nearly 800,000 pickups and sport utility vehicles because the cruise-control switch could short-circuit and cause a fire under the hood, the nation's second-biggest automaker said Thursday.

The recall covers approximately 792,000 Ford F-150 pickups, Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators from the 2000 model year. Also included are 2001 F-Series Supercrew trucks made at the same time.

Ford will notify owners of the recall in February, and dealers will deactivate the cruise control switch for free. Once the company has enough replacement switches, it will send another letter notifying owners that they can get their switches replaced.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the defect in November after 36 reports of fires. All of the incidents occurred when the vehicle was parked and the ignition was off. No injuries were reported.

Atlanta

CDC makes stockpile of flu vaccine available

Afraid millions of doses will go to waste, the government all but dropped its restrictions on the flu vaccine Thursday, encouraging states with ample supplies to offer shots to anyone who wants one.

The vaccine shortage from last fall has turned into a surplus because the flu season has been mild and because many people were scared off by the prospect of long lines at clinics.

As a result, the government has been backing away from restrictions that said flu shots should be reserved for elderly people, babies and those with chronic medical conditions.

More than half of the states have already dropped all their restrictions, and public officials have been urging the federal government to do the same.

Washington, D.C.

Plan would raise airline ticket security fee

A fee charged to airline travelers to help pay for airport security would more than double under President Bush's spending proposal for the Homeland Security Department.

Bush's plan calls for boosting the security fee from $2.50 to $5.50 for a one-way airline ticket and from a maximum of $5 to $8 for multiple legs. The fee increases are expected to generate $1.5 billion.

Debby McElroy, president of the Regional Airline Assn., criticized the proposal as taxing an industry that already carried one of the highest tax burdens.

Bush plans to submit his budget proposal to Congress on Feb. 7.

Washington, D.C.

Democrats' study: Bush doubled P.R. spending

The Bush administration has more than doubled spending on public relations since taking office, a panel of congressional Democrats said Thursday while calling for reining in tax-funded efforts to sway public opinion.

Last year, the administration spent more than $88 million on public relations contracts, up from $37 million in 2001, according to an analysis by House Government Reform Committee Democrats.

The four-year total was $250 million, almost twice as much as President Clinton spent in the previous four years.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the analysis was created "to serve a partisan purpose." He had no data to contradict the findings.

The Democrats' findings come after a string of incidents involving three federal agencies.

Lawmakers in both parties expressed concern early this month at revelations the Department of Education had paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind education plan.

Washington, D.C.

Report: More deaths, injuries linked to ATVs

More people are being killed and injured on all-terrain vehicles as the number of riders increases, according to government statistics.

New estimates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission show that 621 people were killed in 2002, the most ever. Figures for 2003 are incomplete.

The report, posted late Wednesday on the agency's Web site, also estimates that 125,500 people suffered injuries serious enough to send them to emergency rooms in 2003, a 10 percent jump from the previous year.

Safety groups seized on the data as evidence not enough is being done to promote ATV safety, particularly among children. About one-third of the dead and injured since 1982 have been children under 16.

The CPSC estimated 6.2 million four-wheel ATVs were in use in 2003, twice as many as five years earlier. Three-wheel ATVs were outlawed in 1988 because of their propensity to tip, though some remain in use. They accounted for less than 10 percent of injuries in 2003.

New York City

Planned Parenthood president resigns

Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for the past eight years, has resigned, the abortion rights organization announced Thursday.

The 90-year-old nonprofit is the country's largest provider of abortions, performing more than 200,000 annually. It has been a favorite target of abortion foes, whom Feldt once described as "guerrilla fighters" who resent changes that have given women more choices about sex and childbearing.

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