- - Thursday, August 4, 2011

FLORIDA

NASA: Debris in lake from Columbia shuttle

CAPE CANAVERAL — NASA confirmed Thursday that a large piece of debris from space shuttle Columbia, which was destroyed in 2003, has been found in a drought-stricken lake.

The component of the ill-fated spaceship is one of its 18 gas tanks, the space agency said.

Columbia disintegrated as it attempted to fly through the atmosphere for a landing in Florida on Feb. 1, 2003. Undetected damage in its heat shield caused it to break apart over East Texas and Louisiana, killing its seven-member crew.

The Nacogdoches Police Department called NASA late last week to ask for help identifying a 4-foot-diameter spherical metal tank found in a newly exposed bed of Lake Nacogdoches.

GEORGIA

Mom opts for retrial in jaywalking death case

ATLANTA — A woman convicted of vehicular homicide after her 4-year-old son was struck and killed by a van as they jaywalked across a busy Atlanta-area street said she accepted a judge’s offer to have her case retried.

Raquel Nelson, 30, said she was taking Judge Kathryn Tanksley up on the unusual offer of a new trial after a jury in Cobb County convicted her in July of vehicular homicide and other charges for not using a crosswalk.

The judge sentenced Nelson last week to a year of probation, sparing her the three-year prison sentence she could have received for the charges.

A new trial could wipe out the probation sentence, but it could also mean enduring an emotional new proceeding that could end with an even tougher penalty.

The trial is scheduled for Oct. 25.

HAWAII

Human trafficking case charges dropped

HONOLULU — A federal judge on Thursday dismissed all charges against two brothers accused of bringing 44 laborers from Thailand and forcing them to work on a Hawaii farm.

Federal prosecutors asked U.S. Chief District Judge Susan Oki Mollway to drop all 12 counts against Alec and Mike Sou of Aloun Farms, and the judge granted their request, said Clare Hanusz, an attorney representing many of the Thai laborers.

The brothers faced up to 20 years in prison without parole if they had been found guilty of the most serious charges. They went on trial after backing out of a plea deal last September that would have given them a five-year maximum sentence.

Prosecutors cited new evidence that surfaced this week in asking Judge Mollway to drop the charges.

Judge Mollway ruled on Tuesday that prosecutors couldn’t claim that it was illegal to charge laborers recruiting fees in 2004 when the Sous brought workers to Hawaii. The law was changed in 2009 to prohibit recruiting fees.

NEW YORK

Groups file lawsuit to delay gas development

NEW YORK — Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday in New York City to force federal officials to conduct an environmental review before issuing final regulations on natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin because of concerns over the method used to remove the gas.

The lawsuit asks a federal court in Brooklyn to find that the Delaware River Basin Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated federal rules by not doing the review. A similar suit was filed earlier this year by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The Delaware River Basin provides drinking water to millions of people, including New York City residents. About a third of the basin sits on top of the Marcellus Shale, a natural gas reserve underneath several states.

The commission imposed a moratorium on drilling in its part of the formation while it works on regulations. Meanwhile, energy companies have leased thousands of acres of land in the basin, and the commission has released draft regulations.

TEXAS

AWOL Muslim soldier may get more charges

WACO — An AWOL soldier accused of planning to make bombs as part of a “massive attack” against Fort Hood soldiers could face more charges, a judge said Thursday.

A federal judge in Waco heard testimony from FBI agents in the case of Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo before sending the case to a grand jury. The judge said Pfc. Abdo could be indicted on additional charges but didn’t elaborate.

U.S. attorneys already have charged Pfc. Abdo with possession of an unregistered destructive device. Pfc. Abdo, who is being held without bond, has yet to enter a plea. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

The 21-year-old serviceman was arrested last week at a Killeen motel near Fort Hood, where investigators said they found a handgun and ingredients for an explosive device.

Pfc. Abdo claimed conscientious objection this year, citing his Muslim beliefs. But that status was put on hold after he was charged with possessing child pornography. After a hearing last week, Pfc. Abdo shouted the name of the Muslim Army psychiatrist charged in the 2009 rampage at Fort Hood that killed 13 people.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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