- - Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Trial date set in civil rights death

MARION | A judge has set a Nov. 29 trial date for a former Alabama state trooper charged with murder in a 1960s shooting that helped galvanize the civil rights movement.

Alabama Circuit Judge Tommy Jones also refused to step down from the case against James Bonard Fowler, 76, a decision the district attorney said he would appeal.

That could cause an additional delay in the case against Mr. Fowler, who was indicted more than three years ago in the 1965 death of Jimmie Lee Jackson during a civil rights march in Marion.

Mr. Fowler, who is white, contends he fired in self-defense when Mr. Jackson, who was black, attacked him.

Mr. Jackson’s death prompted the civil rights march in Selma that became known as “Bloody Sunday” when it was turned back by club-swinging troopers.


Tourist drowns at ‘Into the Wild’ site

FAIRBANKS | A Swiss woman who was trying to wade across a swollen Alaska river to see an abandoned bus made famous in the movie “Into the Wild” has drowned, state troopers said.

Troopers said Claire Jane Ackermann, 29, attempted to cross the Teklanika River with a 27-year-old man from France on Saturday when they lost their footing and were pulled under by the current. The man survived.

The old Fairbanks city bus was where Chris McCandless, 24, camped out and starved to death in 1992. It has become a destination for adventurers.

The 2007 movie was an adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book about McCandless, who began wandering across the country after college.


Celebrity surgeon killed in car crash

VENTURA | Celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Ryan has died after his vehicle barreled down a cliff near Malibu, authorities said.

The California Highway Patrol said Dr. Ryan’s 1995 Jeep Wrangler went off the side of Pacific Coast Highway and landed on its roof Monday afternoon.

Dr. Ryan, 50, performed multiple plastic surgeries this year on actress Heidi Montag. His website includes a long list of testimonials from celebrities such as Lorenzo Lamas.


Test scores dip, yet more college-ready

Average scores on the ACT college entrance exam inched downward this year, yet slightly more students who took the test proved to be prepared for college, according to a report released Wednesday.

The findings sound contradictory. But the exam’s authors point to a growing and more diverse group of test-takers — many are likely scoring lower overall, but more are also meeting benchmarks used to measure college readiness.

Last spring’s high school seniors averaged a composite score of 21.0 on the test’s scale of 1 to 36, down slightly from 21.1 last year and the lowest score of the past five years.

At the same time, 24 percent of ACT-tested students met or surpassed all four of the test’s benchmarks measuring their preparedness for college English, reading, math and science. That is up from 23 percent last year and 21 percent in 2006.

Although that still shows three in four test takers will likely need remedial help in at least one subject to succeed in college, ACT officials are encouraged to see improvement as ever-larger numbers of students take the exam.

On the not-so-encouraging front, ACT takers prepared for college English have dropped from 69 percent to 66 percent in that span. Still, English remains a strong suit for ACT test takers compared with other subjects.


Mom of baby with bong arrested

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS | A central Florida mom who thought it would be funny to post a picture of her baby with a bong on her Facebook page has been arrested.

Rachel Stieringer, 19, was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. A Texas resident called Florida’s abuse hot line after seeing the picture online of the baby posing with his face in the bong.

Clay County Sheriff’s deputies said Miss Stieringer turned herself in July 29 and was released on $502 bond.

A spokesman for the Department of Children and Families said Monday the baby had no injuries and drug tests came back negative.


Study: 1 in 5 teens has slight hearing loss

CHICAGO | A new study has found a stunning increase in the rate of hearing loss among American teenagers. The report says nearly one in five teenagers has at least slight hearing loss.

The cause is a mystery. But some experts are urging teenagers to protect their hearing by turning down the volume on their digital music players. They warn that slight hearing loss can cause problems in school.

The researchers compared hearing loss rates from the late 1980s and early 1990s with rates in 2005 and 2006.

They found hearing loss had increased from about 15 percent to almost 20 percent of teens. That means about 6.5 million teenagers have at least slight hearing loss.

The study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.


BP to stop handling spill claims

NEW ORLEANS | BP plans to stop processing claims from people and businesses hurt by the Gulf oil spill as it prepares to transfer that role to a government-appointed administrator.

The company said it will stop accepting new claims after Wednesday. The Gulf Coast Claims Facility, led by Kenneth Feinberg, will take over the process starting Aug. 23.

BP PLC said it has paid roughly $368 million to individuals and businesses, including about $102 million thus far in August. Claims filed by government entities, as opposed to people and businesses, will still be handled by the British energy giant.


Lesbian student sues over rejected photo

JACKSON | Another teenage lesbian is suing a Mississippi school district, this time over a policy banning females from wearing tuxedos in yearbook portraits.

Ceara Sturgis’ dispute with the Copiah County School District started in 2009, before another lesbian student in another Mississippi school district fought to wear a tuxedo to prom and bring a same-sex date.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday for Miss Sturgis, contending the Copiah schools discriminated against her on the basis of sex and gender stereotypes. Her photo and name were left out of the senior section of the yearbook.


Club collapse pinned on founder

BILLINGS | A federal judge has pinned the financial collapse of the exclusive Yellowstone Club on its founder, Tim Blixseth, but says he doesn’t have to repay all its debts.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ralph Kirscher said that “in a pattern of self-dealing,” Mr. Blixseth siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from the private Montana ski club, which counts Microsoft’s Bill Gates among its membership.

In a 135-page ruling issued Thursday, Mr. Blixseth was ordered to repay most of the club’s creditors for losses stemming from its 2008 bankruptcy. That could amount to tens of millions of dollars.

But Judge Kirscher denied repayment to the financial giant Credit Suisse. The judge said the firm knew most of a $375 million loan it arranged for the club would go straight into Mr. Blixseth’s pocket.


Feds: No charges in school spying case

PHILADELPHIA | Federal prosecutors will not file charges against a school district or its employees over the use of software to remotely monitor students.

U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said investigators have found no evidence of criminal intent by Lower Merion School District employees who activated tracking software that took thousands of webcam and screenshot images on school-provided laptops.

A student and his family sued the district in February, claiming officials invaded his privacy by activating the software. That case continues.

The district has acknowledged capturing 56,000 screen shots and webcam images so it could locate missing laptops.

Mr. Memeger said he decided to make Tuesday’s announcement to close the matter before the start of the school year.


Gunman dies after firing at police

McKINNEY | A man drove a pickup truck loaded with ammunition into a suburban Dallas police station’s parking lot on Tuesday, set the truck on fire and exchanged gunfire with police, officials said. The gunman was the only casualty and died at the scene.

McKinney Deputy Police Chief Scott Brewer said the man was shouting as the truck became engulfed in flames and the ammunition inside began exploding. The still-unidentified gunman then began shooting toward the police station and there was a “brief exchange of gunfire,” Chief Brewer said.

It was not clear how the gunman died.

Chief Brewer said police had no idea why the attack occurred or whether the man planned the attack alone.

“We believe there is just one shooter at this point in time,” Chief Brewer told reporters at McKinney City Hall. The police station sits amid a large cornfield near Collin College.


Piracy charges against 6 Somalis dismissed

RICHMOND | A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.

The dismissal of the piracy count by U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson tosses out the most serious charge against the men, but leaves intact seven other charges related to the alleged April 10 attack on the USS Ashland in the Gulf of Aden. A piracy conviction carries a mandatory life term.

Attorneys for the six men had argued that the men did not seize or rob the Ashland, falling short of the centuries-old definition of piracy.

Judge Jackson, who issued the ruling from Norfolk, wrote that the government was attempting to use “an enormously broad standard under a novel construction of the statute” that would contradict a nearly 200-year-old Supreme Court decision.

The six allegedly attacked the Ashland in a skiff, which was destroyed by 25mm gunfire from the Ashland. The men claimed they were ferrying refugees.


MSHA: Accidents not reported at mine

CHARLESTON | Government investigators have cited Massey Energy for failing to report at least 20 accidents at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in the two years before an April explosion killed 29 miners there.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration posted copies of the citations on its Web page Tuesday.

Four citations accuse Massey of failing to report that miners were forced to miss work because of the explosion, but most of the alleged violations predate the blast. Among other things, MSHA alleges Massey failed to report nine accidents serious enough to force miners to miss work and that two workers contracted black lung disease.

Virginia-based Massey says it’s reviewing the citations.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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