- - Monday, August 16, 2010

CALIFORNIA

Bureau to probe fatal off-road wreck

LOS ANGELES | The federal Bureau of Land Management is conducting an official review of a weekend accident at an off-road race in the California desert that killed eight spectators.

Spokeswoman Jan Bedrosian said Monday that the agency is also cooperating with other law enforcement agencies in the investigation and reviewing all off-road vehicle events in the California desert for safety.

Eight fans were killed Saturday at the California 200 race in the Mojave Desert when a truck went out of control after a jump and hit a crowd lining the course. Other fans were injured.

Race promoter Mojave Desert Racing had a BLM permit for the event, which has raised questions about oversight and safety at the races on federal land.

FLORIDA

Astronauts replace key cooling pump

CAPE CANAVERAL | Spacewalking astronauts installed a new coolant pump for the International Space Station on Monday, accomplishing urgent cooling-system repairs after more than two weeks of impaired operations in orbit.

Initial tests showed the ammonia pump was operating well. Flight controllers still have more checks to make. If everything goes well, NASA expects to have the space station’s disabled cooling loop back in action by Thursday.

The orbiting lab has been operating on only half its normal cooling capability ever since the pump failed July 31, forcing the six-member crew to shut down science projects and turn off unnecessary equipment to avoid overtaxing the single functioning cooling line. But living conditions never deteriorated.

GEORGIA

Raid victim’s kin to get $4.9 million

ATLANTA | The city has agreed to pay $4.9 million to the family of a 92-year-old woman killed in a botched drug raid.

Mayor Kasim Reed said Monday that the city will pay the family of Kathryn Johnston $2.9 million this fiscal year and the rest next year.

Ms. Johnston died in her home in 2006 when three members of a police drug squad kicked in the door, acting on an informant’s claim that he had bought narcotics there. She took a shot at them and was gunned down. No drugs were found, and officers planted drugs that had been recovered from a different raid.

An FBI investigation led five officers to plead guilty for their roles in the shooting, while six others were reprimanded for not following department policy.

MASSACHUSETTS

Jail probe sought after suspect’s suicide

BOSTON | A Boston city councilor called Monday for an independent investigation of jailhouse procedures after the apparent suicide of a former medical student awaiting trial in the shooting death of a masseuse he met through Craigslist.

City Councilor Stephen Murphy said Philip Markoff, 24, should not have been able to kill himself while in custody of the Suffolk County sheriff. He was discovered dead, alone in his cell, on Sunday morning.

The Boston Herald, quoting anonymous sources, said Mr. Markoff used a pen to cut arteries and covered his head with a plastic bag. The newspaper also reported that he had not been checked all night.

“Regardless of my personal feelings about Philip Markoff, he technically was an inmate awaiting trial, and he was in the care and custody of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office. He had shown a penchant for doing harm to himself before. You would have thought he would have been under the closest of attention,” said Mr. Murphy, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee.

MISSOURI

Judge overturns ban on funeral protests

JEFFERSON CITY | The state’s ban on protests at funerals is unconstitutional, a federal judge said.

Monday’s ruling affects restrictions targeting a Kansas church whose members have picketed outside service members’ funerals. The church contends the deaths are God’s punishment for U.S. toleration of homosexuality.

Missouri’s law bars protests near any funeral, procession or memorial service from an hour before until an hour after the service. A complementary law specifically states that protesters must stay back at least 300 feet.

But Judge Fernando Gaitan said the ban infringes on free-speech rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to step into Missouri’s appeal of a court order barring it from enforcing the ban while a lawsuit against it was ongoing.

NEW JERSEY

Ex-skate champ sentenced in meth case

JERSEY CITY | Former U.S. figure skating champion Nicole Bobek was ordered to spend five years on probation for her role in a New Jersey methamphetamine ring, a sentence that she said would give her a chance to get her life back on track.

“Nothing but positive things can come out of this,” she said outside the Jersey City courtroom where she was sentenced Monday. “It’s been a long 1½ years. I’m looking to get back onto that ice.”

The 32-year-old pleaded guilty in June to a charge of conspiring to distribute crystal meth. She was among 28 people accused last year of running a network that allegedly distributed $10,000 worth of methamphetamine per week.

The leader of the group, Edward Cruz Jr., was sentenced last week to 16 years in prison.

NEW YORK

Street crossers to get countdowns

NEW YORK | From Park Avenue to Queens Boulevard, about 1,500 city intersections are getting countdown crosswalk signals to help millions of pedestrians know how much time they have to cross streets.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other city officials on Monday announced that the signals would be phased in starting this month after a pilot program at 24 intersections.

“Crossing the street shouldn’t just be a judgment call,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said. “And these kinds of countdown signals really help take the guesswork out of getting across our corridors safely.”

SOUTH CAROLINA

Tots drown in car; mom faces charges

ORANGEBURG | The bodies of two toddlers were recovered Monday from a car submerged in a South Carolina river, and their mother was charged with leaving the scene as authorities investigated whether it was an accident.

Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams said the boys, ages 1 and 2, were recovered from the North Edisto River after the car was found near a rural boat landing.

Their mother, whose name was not released, was being held Monday on a charge of leaving the scene of an accident, Sheriff Williams said.

He said the Highway Patrol was notified about 6:15 a.m. Monday that there had been an accident and a woman needed help getting her children out of the car. Divers were sent to the scene.

The children, still strapped in their seats, were dead when the car was lifted from the water about 45 minutes later, he said.

TEXAS

Court lets stand judge’s reprimand

HOUSTON | The Texas Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the state’s highest criminal court judge, who wants a reprimand for her handling of an execution-day appeal revoked.

Judge Sharon Keller appealed the “public warning” the State Commission on Judicial Conduct gave her after she closed her court while defense attorneys were trying to file a last-minute appeal for an inmate executed hours later.

Michael Wayne Richard received a lethal injection on the same day in 2007 that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether mentally impaired people should be spared from execution.

The judicial conduct panel decided Judge Keller mishandled her duties and cast “public discredit on the judiciary.” It could have recommended she be removed from the bench.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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