- - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

ALABAMA

IV infections probed after hospital deaths

MONTGOMERY | Medical investigators found that infections linked to a contaminated liquid nutrition supplement could have begun two months before officials realized there was a widespread problem at Alabama hospitals, the head of the state health agency said Wednesday.

Nine people died and 10 others were sickened this month after receiving nourishment from the kits. But because all the patients were already seriously ill, investigators may never be able to determine whether the IV feeding liquid contaminated with bacteria was to blame for the deaths and illnesses, said Dr. Donald Williamson, director of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

There was a single incident in January, but officials didn’t notice a pattern until this month. Officials have not released the names or illnesses of the patients who were sickened. However, patients who typically use the IV feeding liquid have severe illnesses, including gastrointestinal diseases or are chemotherapy patients, Dr. Williamson said.

Officials think the outbreak was linked to one batch of feeding liquid produced at a Birmingham-area laboratory of Meds IV, and all the contaminated material has been recalled.

CALIFORNIA

Former city officials indicted in salaries scam

LOS ANGELES | A former public official accused of masterminding a scam that nearly bankrupted a modest Los Angeles suburb has been charged with additional crimes of falsifying documents and illegally inflating his retirement benefits, according to county grand jury indictments unsealed Wednesday.

The documents charge Robert Rizzo, ousted Bell city manager, and his former assistant, Angela Spaccia, with conflict of interest for creating what authorities said were illegal retirement packages for themselves. Both are also charged with falsifying documents to hide the true salary of Bell’s former police chief.

Mr. Rizzo and Ms. Spaccia pleaded not guilty Wednesday and were ordered to return to court May 3 for a preliminary hearing.

Mr. Rizzo already faces more than 50 counts of misappropriating public funds, conflict of interest, falsifying public records and other charges brought by the district attorney’s office. Prosecutors said he masterminded a scam in which he paid himself and other top Bell officials massive salaries.

In all, prosecutors said, Bell was looted of more than $6 million. The city of 40,000 people, where one in six people live in poverty, is as much as $4.5 million in debt.

FLORIDA

Whale that killed trainer returns to show

ORLANDO | The killer whale that drowned a trainer last year at SeaWorld in Orlando is performing in shows for the first time since the death.

SeaWorld officials said Tilikum participated in the marine park’s “Believe” show on Wednesday morning.

Tilikum drowned Dawn Brancheau, 40, on Feb. 24, 2010.

Trainers remained out of the pool Wednesday for the performance before a crowd that filled the 5,000-seat Shamu Stadium.

The park is working on plans to get trainers back in the water with the whales. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration last summer accused SeaWorld of recklessly putting trainers in danger. The company is fighting OSHA’s citations and $75,000 fine.

GEORGIA

Cheap version of preterm birth drug OK’d

ATLANTA | Pregnant women will still be able to get a drastically cheaper version of a new expensive drug that prevents premature birth, federal health officials said Wednesday.

Since the drug was approved, it’s been unclear whether women would have to pay $1,500 per dose for the licensed version or could continue to have it made by specialty pharmacies for $10 to $20.

The price increase caused an outcry, and the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday took the unusual step of declaring that pharmacies can still make the cheap version of the once-a-week shot on an individual basis, as they have for years. The agency said it wouldn’t step in unless there was a problem with the safety of the specially made version.

In response, KV Pharmaceutical Co, which makes the drug named Makena said it was committed to making sure all women who need the drug have access to it. The company said it plans another announcement by the end of the week about the drug’s price.

MICHIGAN

Group: Shipwreck found in Lake Michigan

HOLLAND | An organization that documents shipwrecks said it has found the wreck of a 60-foot, single-masted sloop in Lake Michigan that may date back to the 1830s while looking for remnants of a plane that crashed into the lake more than 60 years ago.

The wreck was found off southwestern Michigan in water about 250 feet deep between Saugatuck and South Haven, Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates announced this week. The discovery was made while working with author Clive Cussler and his sonar operator Ralph Wilbanks of the National Underwater & Marine Agency.

The group was searching for the remnants of Northwest Airlines Flight 2501, which crashed into the lake in 1950, killing 58 people.

NEW JERSEY

Crackdown planned on parkway toll cheats

WOODBRIDGE | New Jersey is planning to crack down on motorists who go through exact change lanes on the Garden State Parkway without paying their tolls.

Officials say the toll cheats cost the state $4 million a year in lost revenue, noting that many drivers toss slugs, rocks and other foreign objects into the collection baskets.

So they plan to have a video system in place by summer’s end to capture the license plates of violators. They also will double the fine imposed on toll cheats, raising it from $25 to $50.

The new technology will replace a 50-year-old system that allowed drivers who didn’t have exact change to take home an envelope provided at the toll lanes. They were then supposed to put the amount owed in the envelope and mail it in, but officials say they collected just $28,000 through that system in 2010.

NEW YORK

Table service mulled in Times Square

NEW YORK | Food and drink table service may be coming to the pedestrian plazas in New York City’s Times Square this summer.

The Times Square Alliance on Tuesday issued a request for proposals from area restaurants and vendors to take orders and serve food to people seated at the 100 tables and chairs in the car-free zone.

The business improvement district says up to five vendors will be issued contracts.

Proceeds from the vendor sales will go to the alliance for maintenance and security of the car-free area.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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