- - Tuesday, June 17, 2008

ALASKA

Two backpackers missing in park

ANCHORAGE — Ground and air crews searched nearly 100 square miles of Denali National Park on Monday for two women missing on what was supposed to be a short backpacking trip.

Searchers with dogs were to arrive Monday to help look for Abby Flantz, 25, of Gaylord, Minn., and Erica Nelson, 23, of Las Vegas. They were reported overdue Saturday when they did not show up for work at a hotel outside the park.

The women were last seen Thursday at the Savage River check station about 15 miles from park headquarters; they had planned to return Friday.

“Our concern with these young women is, they were only going to go in for one night,” said park spokeswoman Kris Fister. “They wouldn’t have gone in that far.”

ARIZONA

Airliner lands with wheel ablaze

PHOENIX — A Southwest Airlines flight landed at Sky Harbor International Airport on Monday with flames coming from a wheel in its right rear landing gear.

The fire, which reportedly occurred as the aircraft was touching down, was quickly put out on the runway and no one was injured, said airport spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez.

Southwest Flight 2511, with 127 passengers, had originated at Austin, Texas, officials said.

Miss Rodriguez said the aircraft remained on the airport’s north runway while passengers were taken to a terminal.

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger in Dallas had no information on the fire but said one of the plane’s tires blew out. She said the cause of the blowout was still under investigation.

CALIFORNIA

Police ID man who fatally beat boy

TURLOCK — Authorities have identified a man who was fatally shot by police while beating a toddler to death on a rural road in Stanislaus County.

Officials said Monday Sergio Casian Aguilar, 27, parked his car on the country road Saturday night and proceeded to stomp, kick and punch a 2-year-old officials thought to be his son. Authorities did not identify the boy.

Passers-by called 911 and attempted to intervene.

Dan Robinson, the chief of a local volunteer fire department, says he got out of his car and tried to stop Mr. Aguilar, whom he described as having a “total hollowness in his eyes.”

Authorities said Mr. Aguilar had no previous criminal history.

FLORIDA

NASA close to repair plan

CAPE CANAVERAL — More than two weeks after Discovery’s blastoff battered the launch pad, NASA is close to nailing down its repair strategy and insists the damage can be mended in time for the next space shuttle flight.

NASA plans to send Atlantis to the launch pad at the end of August, for an early October liftoff to the Hubble Space Telescope.

About 5,300 of the special heat-resistant bricks broke off a wall of the flame trench during Discovery’s liftoff on May 31. Some of the foot-long bricks were hurled more than 1,800 feet.

The most likely repair is installing steel mesh over the 75-by-20-foot area where the bricks came off and then spraying on a heat-resistant covering. That method does not require new bricks, which would take a few months to make and receive, said Perry Becker, a NASA engineer who is leading the investigation and repair effort.

Senior managers will meet June 26 to consider the options.

HAWAII

Proposal shrinks harbor upgrades

KAHULUI — The state Department of Transportation proposed dramatically shrinking a $350 million plan to upgrade and expand Kahului Harbor.

The state said shippers, in an uncertain economy, can not afford to pay the higher tariffs needed to cover the cost of the capital improvements.

The cost of a scaled down plan would be about $150 million.

KANSAS

Extradition appealed in model killing

WICHITA — A man suspected of killing a Kansas college student who led a secret life as an Internet porn model is appealing his extradition from Mexico, authorities said.

The Kansas attorney general’s office said a higher court in Mexico will review the case against Israel Mireles. That could take three to four months.

Mr. Mireles was arrested in December at a relative’s home in Melchor Muzquiz, Mexico.

He is charged with capital murder, rape and aggravated criminal sodomy in the death of 18-year-old Emily Sander.

The disappearance of the Butler Community College student drew nationwide attention after the discovery that she also was an Internet pornography model named Zoey Zane.

LOUISIANA

New Orleans at risk from Category 2

BATON ROUGE — Despite a massive effort to repair and upgrade flood defenses since Hurricane Katrina, storm surge could pour over levees in New Orleans if a strong Category 2 or higher hurricane strikes the city, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday.

While the forecast uses what officials say is the most accurate and complete picture yet of the region’s levee heights, they said they weren’t surprised by findings that reaffirm the area surrounding New Orleans is among the nation’s most hurricane-vulnerable.

The forecast released Monday represents the first time the yearly storm surge predictions have used levee heights based on global positioning system technology.

A team led by Roy Dokka, the director of the Center for Geoinformatics at Louisiana State University, traveled 1,000 miles of levees, flood walls and other coastal features since Katrina with GPS technology mounted on vehicles to obtain the new measurements.

“They are more correct than they have ever been before,” Wilson Shaffer, a hurricane modeling expert with NOAA’s National Weather Service, said of the levee-height measurements.

MASSACHUSETTS

Baby’s pajamas shown at murder trial

WOBURN — Jurors in the trial of a British man accused of killing his wife and 9-month-old daughter were shown the baby’s undershirt and polka-dot pajamas caked with dried blood Monday — a sight that drew gasps in the courtroom.

State police chemist Deanna Dygan testified that she determined that the gunshot to the chest that killed Lillian Rose Entwistle was a “contact shot,” with the gun pressed directly against the baby.

Neil Entwistle, 29, has pleaded not guilty to murder in the January 2006 killings of his daughter and his 27-year-old wife, Rachel.

When Miss Dygan identified Lillian’s bloody “onesie” undershirt and footed “sleeper” pajamas, Mr. Entwistle looked away and later dabbed his eyes with a tissue.

A small hole was visible in the upper left chest area of the pajamas and the onesie. Jurors were also shown the bloodstained green nightshirt Mrs. Entwistle had been wearing.

Prosecutors said that Mr. Entwistle shot his wife and daughter after becoming despondent over mounting debt and dissatisfied with his sex life. The suspect flew to his native England the day after the killings and was arrested in London three weeks later.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Pilot lands biplane on busy highway

LEBANON — The pilot of a 1940 biplane with engine failure made an emergency landing on busy Interstate 89 in New Hampshire without disrupting traffic.

Bud Bushway was headed from Rutland, Vt., to the airport in Lebanon when the plane’s engine suddenly quit working, WMUR-TV, Manchester, reported Monday.

Mr. Bushway said he was about 5 feet too low to make it to the airport when the engine gave out.

His next best option, he told WMUR, was to land on the nearby interstate.

“It happened so fast you don’t think, you just go on instinct at that point,” Mr. Bushway said. “I didn’t see much of anything. I was trying to fly that airplane.”

Sgt. Dave McCormack of the state police said Mr. Bushway picked a break in the traffic to set the plane down Saturday.

He turned the plane in the same direction as the cars and landed it in the southbound lanes before moving to the side of the road.

NEW YORK

Judge takes a bite out of dog’s fortune

NEW YORK — Trouble, a white Maltese that inherited $12 million from late hotel billionaire Leona Helmsley, will have to get by on a little less, after a judge gave $10 million of the bequest to charity and two Helmsley grandchildren.

Judge Reena Roth ruled Helmsley was mentally incompetent when she made out her will, and decided to give $4 million to an undisclosed charity, and $6 million to Craig and Meegan Panzirer, who were cut out of the will, the New York Post reported Monday.

Helmsley, 87, who earned the sobriquet “the Queen of Mean,” left the lion’s share of her $2.5 billion fortune to unnamed causes through a charitable trust after she died on Aug. 20.

Trouble now lives at an undisclosed location in Florida, where she was taken in December after receiving numerous death threats.

Helmsley married real estate magnate Harry Helmsley in 1972, helping him build a company managing some of New York’s most prestigious addresses, including the Empire State Building, as well as hotels across the country.

Famed for observing that “only the little people pay taxes,” Helmsley served time in jail for fraud from 1992 to 1993 after being investigated for skipping taxes owed notably on hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of luxury jewelry.

PENNSYLVANIA

Coal miner dies in accident

MOUNT CARMEL — A 40-year-old coal miner was killed in an eastern Pennsylvania mine accident, authorities said.

The accident happened just after 10 a.m. Monday at the Harmony Mine near Mount Carmel, about 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

WNEP-TV reported that other miners were able to get the victim to the surface and he was airlifted to a hospital, where he died.

Federal and state inspectors are trying to determine the cause of the accident.

The mine is owned by UAE Coal Corp. Associates.

It is the third fatal mining accident in Pennsylvania this year.

TEXAS

Mansion fire set likely by ‘angry man’

AUSTIN — Investigators said Monday they think someone angry with the government set the Texas Governor’s Mansion on fire this month, and they offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

State Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado had said last week that investigators did not think the blaze was politically motivated, but he changed course Monday.

“It is likely that feelings of anger may have motivated his crime,” Marshal Maldonado said at a news conference Monday. “He may be known to get angry and express strong opinions about the government, Governor [Rick] Perry himself, the death penalty, the renovation of the mansion or other political issues.”

Marshal Maldonado did not say what led investigators to that conclusion. He appealed to the arsonist himself for help solving the case.

“We do feel you had a message and we would like to hear from you. We’re not quite sure what that message is, but please contact us,” he said.

Investigators have said video footage shows a suspect in the early morning hours of June 8, standing in front of the Governor’s Mansion, igniting an object and throwing it onto the porch of the historic landmark, creating a fireball and blaze that ravaged the 152-year-old structure.

Department of Public Safety troopers were on guard at the time.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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