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American Scene

- - Thursday, October 7, 2010

CALIFORNIA

Police: Kidnap victim, truck located

LOS ANGELES | Authorities say they have found a pharmaceutical delivery man and his stolen truck after he was kidnapped by men impersonating police officers.

Los Angeles police Sgt. Mitzi Grasso said Thursday the delivery man was uninjured. She says investigators were talking to him but hadn't had a chance to search the truck.

The kidnapping took place at a pharmacy in the San Fernando Valley.

The delivery driver was dropped off on a nearby street corner, and the truck was found in a liquor store parking lot.

Sgt. Grasso says investigators are looking for two men believed to be impersonating police officers.

She says weapons were involved in the abduction, but she didn't have details.

FLORIDA

Lawyers compete for big payday

MIAMI | More than 100 lawyers are battling for the biggest chunks of what is likely to be a multibillion-dollar settlement for Gulf of Mexico oil spill victims, jockeying for spots on the elite team that will control the plaintiffs' cases.

A judge will pick 12 to 15 lawyers to take the lead in lawsuits against BP PLC and other companies. The team could get up to 15 percent of a settlement in the more than 300 suits that have been consolidated in New Orleans federal court. That's on top of the typical 30 percent fee lawyers charge their individual clients.

Competition is fierce: Candidates include a former Cabinet secretary and the lawyer who represented Al Gore in the 2000 presidential recount case.

GEORGIA

CDC: Arthritis on rise in adults

ATLANTA | Health experts say a surprising jump in the number of Americans hobbled by arthritis may be due to obesity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday said about 22 percent of U.S. adults have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. The telephone poll results from 2007 through 2009 were roughly the same as a similar CDC report a few years earlier.

But more adults said their arthritis interfered with their usual activities, rising to 9.4 percent from 8.3 percent. That's about 21 million people.

Arthritis Foundation President Dr. John Klippel said the increase may be due to overweight and obese baby boomers. Older people suffer more osteoarthritis, and weight puts more pressure on achy joints.

KENTUCKY

Church leader: Yoga not Christianity

LOUISVILLE | A Southern Baptist leader who is calling for Christians to avoid yoga and its spiritual attachments is getting plenty of pushback from enthusiasts who defend the ancient practice.

Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler says the stretching and meditative discipline derived from Eastern religions is not a Christian pathway to God.

Mr. Mohler said feedback has come through e-mail and comments on blogs and other websites since he wrote an essay to address questions about yoga he has heard for years.

Mr. Mohler argued in his online essay last month that Christians who practice yoga "must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga."

INDIANA

Money manager to be sentenced

NOBLESVILLE | An Indiana money manager who admitted stealing investors' money to finance his lavish lifestyle and to trying to fake his own death by parachuting out of an airplane and allowing it to crash was due in court Thursday to be sentenced.

Marcus Schrenker, 39, agreed to a 10-year prison term when he pleaded guilty last month to securities fraud.

Hamilton Superior Court Judge Steven Nation is expected to rule whether Schrenker should serve the sentence consecutively or concurrently with a four-year federal sentence stemming from the January 2009 plane crash.

Schrenker was an amateur daredevil pilot who used money he stole from investors to buy planes, luxury cars and a 10,000-square-foot home in an upscale suburban Indianapolis neighborhood nicknamed "Cocktail Cove," where affluent boaters often socialized, prosecutors say.

They say Schrenker bilked nine clients, including a friend of 10 years and his own aunt, out of a total of about $1.5 million they thought they were investing in a foreign currency fund that didn't really exist.

MASSACHUSETTS

Bridal scam brings plea

BOSTON | A Pittsburgh woman has pleaded guilty to allegations she defrauded advertisers and exhibitors out of thousands of dollars with a fake bridal show in Boston.

Prosecutors are recommending a five-year prison sentence for Karen Tucker, who pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in U.S. District court in Boston. The defense is seeking a three-year prison term.

Tucker and an uncharged coconspirator allegedly posed as representatives of a business known as the Boston 411, which promoted a nonexistent home and bridal show at the Hynes Convention Center in March.

Tucker told a judge that she served in the Marines in the 1980s and has been treated for schizophrenia and a "social disorder."

Her attorney says she has taken responsibility for her actions.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 12.

MICHIGAN

Suspect faces new charges

FLINT | The suspect in a series of stabbings in Michigan and two other states is also facing a charge of malicious destruction of property.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton says Elias Abuelazam is accused of smashing a car window July 12 outside a bar in Genesee Township, about eight miles north of Flint, Mich.

The felony charge Thursday carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The 33-year-old Mr. Abuelazam already faces one murder charge and five attempted murder charges. Five men were killed and nine injured in a series of stabbings in the Flint area. Mr. Abuelazam also is suspected in four attacks in Virginia and Ohio.

He was arrested in Atlanta on Aug. 11 while trying to catch a flight to Israel, his native country.

MISSOURI

Boy credited with sign change

MANCHESTER | St. Louis County highway officials are crediting a 6-year-old boy with giving them some direction on making their road signs more accurate.

KTVI-TV says first-grader David Hindes apparently noticed that a sign in the St. Louis suburb of Manchester told motorists that a single curve was ahead rather than the multiple twists and turns that actually unfold.

The boy repeatedly complained to his parents about the discrepancy until his dad suggested he take action. The boy wrote a letter to highway administrators who called him the next day to tell him he's right.

The sign has since been updated.

His attentiveness — and persistence — won him a tour of the county shop where signs are made.

David's mom says he was so happy, it was as if he had visited Santa's workshop.

NEW JERSEY

Governor scraps rail tunnel

TRENTON | A newspaper is reporting that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will cancel a decades-in-the-making, $8.7 billion rail tunnel project because of escalating costs.

Christie has scheduled a 1:30 p.m. press briefing. His staff would not say what the hastily called news conference is about. However, Mr. Christie said Wednesday that a decision on the tunnel project was imminent.

The Star-Ledger of Newark cites two senior officials who say the governor will discuss other transportation projects that will allow New Jersey to keep the $3 billion in federal funding earmarked for the tunnel project.

The commuter tunnel has been planned for 20 years.

Currently, NJ Transit and Amtrak share a two-track tunnel beneath the Hudson River. The project would add two more tracks.

TENNESSEE

Firefighters let home burn

SOUTH FULTON | A Tennessee woman said Wednesday she doesn't blame the firefighters who watched while her house burned to the ground after her family failed to pay a $75 annual protection fee.

Paulette Cranic said the firefighters who came to the scene were just following orders. Her family had paid the fee in the past but simply forgot it recently. Mrs. Cranic, 67, said she's just thankful no one was hurt in the fire last week that destroyed the doublewide trailer in rural northwest Tennessee.

"You can't blame them if they have to do what the boss says to do," Mrs. Cranic said. "I've had firemen call and apologize."

Firefighters did not try to save the burning structure because Mrs. Cranic had not paid the subscription fee for fire protection. Firefighters went to the scene to keep flames from spreading to nearby property whose owners had paid. The county has no free fire service.

Her grandson, Lance Cranic, 21, who lived there with her and her husband, started the fire while burning trash in a barrel. He went inside to take a shower and upon returning saw a shed next to the house in flames. It spread despite his efforts to put it out with a garden hose.

UTAH

Wildfires frequent at Utah base

SALT LAKE CITY | A review of government records shows wildfires have burned at a Utah Army National Guard base an average of twice a year for three decades.

The worst blaze forced residents to flee more than 1,600 houses last month in the suburb of Herriman and raised questions about the danger at Camp Williams, nestled in the foothills near Salt Lake City.

Information obtained by the Associated Press from a state government database shows that firearms and explosives were responsible for more than 40 percent of the 82 wildfires reported at the sprawling base since 1973.

The wind-whipped September fire ignited by machine-gun training blackened 6 square miles of dry brush on and off the base 26 miles from downtown Salt Lake City.

Three homes were destroyed and dozens more received soot and smoke damage.

From wire dispatches and staff reports