- - Monday, July 4, 2011

ALABAMA

Auburn oaks hanging on; fate remains uncertain

AUBURN — The ailing oaks at Toomer’s Corner are a mottled mix of yellow and brown these days, but experts say there’s still a chance the trees will be in good enough shape for Auburn football fans to roll them with toilet paper after wins this fall.

It’s been about five months since school officials confirmed that the landmark trees had been poisoned, and a University of Alabama fan is now awaiting trial in the attack.

Auburn horticulturist Gary Keever says the trees may be dying. But no one on the team that’s trying to save them is ready to say they won’t survive.

Auburn football fans traditionally roll the trees with toilet paper after victories, and Mr. Keever says the oaks might be in good enough condition for that to occur if they’re still alive in the fall.

FLORIDA

Last shuttle astronauts arrive for countdown

CAPE CANAVERAL — The four astronauts who will close out NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program arrived Monday for their history-making launch week, saluting the nation’s birthday and all those who contributed to Atlantis’ final flight.

The launch countdown begins Tuesday. Liftoff is set for Friday at 11:26 a.m. before an estimated crowd of up to 1 million people.

Commander Christopher Ferguson and his crew received small American flags as launch director Mike Leinbach greeted them out on the runway. The four needed just two training jets for the flight from their training base in Houston.

MONTANA

Oil firm admits spill may be bigger

LAUREL — Exxon Mobil Corp. acknowledged under political pressure Monday that the scope of its pipeline leak into the Yellowstone River could extend far beyond a 10-mile stretch of the famed waterway.

As the company intensified its cleanup of tens of thousands of gallons of spilled crude, Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing pledged to do “whatever is necessary” to find and mop up oil from the 12-inch pipeline that broke at the bottom of the river over the weekend.

The company earlier had dismissed assertions from state and federal officials that the spill was spread over dozens of miles. That drew sharp criticism from Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

On Monday, Mr. Pruessing pledged that crews would begin walking the Yellowstone shoreline as soon as the flooding river recedes to look for pooled oil along the banks.

NEBRASKA

Congested Missouri River threatens tributaries

LINCOLN — Hundreds of tributaries that feed the congested Missouri River face a greater-than-normal flood risk this summer because of water levels that have kept smaller rivers from draining.

Flood experts and emergency officials say backed-up water channels in South Dakota and Missouri have already caused flooding at points where they meet the Missouri River. In Hamburg, Iowa, work crews are keeping close watch on the Nishnabotna River to their east, as they battle the Missouri River from the west.

Hydrologists say tributary backups generally do not stretch more than a few miles from the point where rivers meet. But with floodwaters expected to stay through at least August, forecasters say the lesser-known tributaries could pose a significant threat as well if Missouri River flows increase or an intense storm strikes.

PENNSYLVANIA

Police kill suspect in weekend shootings

PHILADELPHIA — A career criminal suspected of shooting five people, two of them fatally, inside a suburban home over an alleged insurance-fraud scheme was killed by SWAT team members after a six-hour standoff Monday, authorities said.

Since leaving prison last year, Mark Richard Geisenheyner, 51, had been vowing revenge on Paul Shay, one of the victims of a weekend shooting in rural Montgomery County, authorities said.

Geisenheyner broke into Mr. Shay’s vacation home late Saturday and said, “Guess you never thought you’d see me again,” before shooting Mr. Shay in the head, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman said Monday, citing a survivor’s account.

He then shot four others, killing Mr. Shay’s nephew and a toddler, authorities said. Mr. Shay, his wife and the toddler’s mother remained in critical condition Monday.

Geisenheyner told friends that he had taken the rap and been cut out of the profits for an insurance scam he and Mr. Shay had concocted, Ms. Ferman said. Geisenheyner was arrested for possessing artwork that had been reported stolen from Mr. Shay’s home in 2006, and was sent back to prison on a parole violation, she said. Mr. Shay was not apparently charged, and Ms. Ferman did not know if Geisenheyner’s account was true.

TENNESSEE

101st Airborne to bring dogs from Afghanistan

NASHVILLE | Two stray dogs in Afghanistan that found comfort and companionship with a company of Army soldiers at a remote firebase are poised to leave the war zone behind. As the troops get set to return home, their spouses have raised nearly $6,000 to fly the dogs to the U.S.

A Facebook posting has spread the word and donations are flowing in to pay the costs of transporting the dogs - Smiley and OP1 - the thousands of miles from Afghanistan. Their destination: Fort Campbell and a new, peaceful life with the families of some soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

Sonya Luedeman, wife of Spc. Jason Luedeman - a medic in Charlie Company, 1-61 Cavalry - said her husband couldn’t stop talking about a black-and-white dog that had followed the soldiers back to their firebase during a patrol months ago. The soldiers called him OP1, after the outpost where they found him.

“He really was like a cohesive part of the unit,” Mrs. Luedeman said of the dog. Her husband “would tell me that every time OP would see the guys gear up for a patrol he would run outside to make sure they didn’t leave him behind.”

Dogs generally have a hard life in Afghanistan, where they are not typically considered pets and often scavenge for food around military bases. Someone had cut off OP1’s ears and it was difficult to determine how old he was because he was malnourished when the soldiers found him.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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