- - Thursday, May 5, 2011

GEORGIA

U.S. could see most measles cases in decade

ATLANTA — The United States seems to be on track to have more measles cases than any year in more than a decade, with virtually all cases linked to other countries, including Europe where there’s a big outbreak.

Already there have been 89 cases reported so far. The U.S. normally sees only about 50 cases of measles in a year thanks to vaccinations.

Health officials are reluctant to make predictions, but acknowledge the pace of reports is unusually brisk.

“It’s hard to say, but we’re certainly getting a lot,” said Greg Wallace, who leads the measles, mumps, rubella and polio team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Europe, especially France, has been hit hard by measles, with more than 6,500 cases reported in 33 nations. International health officials are blaming it on the failure to vaccinate all children.

MASSACHUSETTS

More teens plead in bullying-suicide case

HADLEY — Three teenagers admitted Thursday that they participated in the bullying of a 15-year-old Massachusetts girl who later committed suicide, with one lawyer complaining the girls had been unfairly demonized as “mean girls.”

Sharon Chanon Velazquez, 17, and two 18-year-olds, Flannery Mullins and Ashley Longe, were sentenced to less than a year of probation after they admitted to sufficient facts to misdemeanor charges in the bullying of Phoebe Prince, a freshman at South Hadley High School who hanged herself in January 2010.

Prosecutors said Prince, who had recently immigrated from Ireland, was hounded by five teens after she briefly dated two boys. Her death drew international attention and was among several high-profile teen suicides that prompted new laws aimed at cracking down on bullying in schools.

By admitting to sufficient facts, they acknowledged that prosecutors could win a conviction if the case went to trial. The charges against the girls were continued without a finding and will be dismissed if they successfully complete their probation.

MINNESOTA

Pro-gay speech a YouTube hit

ST. PAUL — A Minnesota lawmaker’s speech against banning gay marriage in the state’s Constitution has become an online hit.

A video of Rep. Steve Simon’s remarks has at least 182,000 views on YouTube so far.

At a Capitol hearing on Monday, the Democrat asked, “How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?”

Mr. Simon said it was an off-the-cuff comment provoked by conversations with constituents, and that he wasn’t angling for national publicity.

Legislative Republicans want Minnesotans to vote in 2012 to ban gay marriage.

MONTANA

New wolf rules challenged by lawsuits

BILLINGS — Environmental groups asked a federal judge Thursday to put gray wolves back on the endangered species list in the Northern Rockies.

Two lawsuits were filed in federal court in Montana as control over more than 1,300 wolves was turned over to state authorities in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Utah.

A federal budget bill rider in April had mandated Thursday’s lifting of wolf protections.

Western lawmakers who backed the measure said they wanted to circumvent U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, who blocked previous efforts to lift protections and allow hunting.

But environmentalists say that because the case before Judge Molloy was pending, Congress violated the separation of powers doctrine outlined in the Constitution that bars interference with the judiciary.

NORTH CAROLINA

Man convicted in wife’s 2008 death

RALEIGH — A North Carolina jury has found a man guilty of first-degree murder in the 2008 strangulation of his wife, who he said disappeared while out for a jog.

The jury returned the verdict Thursday against Bradley Cooper after deliberating for three days. Cooper showed little emotion as the judge read the verdict.

Prosecutors based part of their case on a map of the site where 34-year-old Nancy Cooper’s body was found July 14, 2008. The image appeared on her husband’s computer three days before she disappeared.

Bradley Cooper said his wife went for a jog on the morning of her disappearance and never returned. Her body was found near the couple’s home.

OHIO

Two students drown, one missing in Costa Rica

COLUMBUS — Two Ohio teenagers on a school mission trip to Costa Rica died in the Pacific Ocean when they were pulled along by an undertow current, and a third student swept out with them has not been found, officials said Thursday.

The three were spending an afternoon at the beach when Wednesday’s accident occurred, according to a statement from Patriot Preparatory Academy in Columbus. They were among eight members of the junior and senior classes who were on a service trip in the Central American country and were to return home Thursday, the school said.

The first body recovered was that of Caity Jones. James Smith’s body was recovered Thursday, and authorities were searching for missing student Kai Lamar, a Red Cross spokesman said.

PENNSYLVANIA

Appeal over church closures nixed by diocese

PHILADELPHIA — A northeastern Pennsylvania bishop has dropped his appeal of a Vatican ruling that overturned the closure of six churches, but says the ruling doesn’t technically require him to reopen them.

The Vatican had ruled each church must be “maintained as a Catholic worship site” after parishioners appealed the Allentown diocese’s closure plans. But Bishop John Barres on Thursday dropped his appeal, saying the decree doesn’t require the diocese to keep the churches’ doors open.

The worshippers disagree, saying canon law requires the churches to be open for worship.

The five-county diocese announced in 2008 it would close 47 churches. A Vatican panel ruled earlier this year the diocese had failed to come up with a “grave” reason for nine closures. The diocese had appealed six of those decisions.

WYOMING

Snowmobile limit proposed for park

CHEYENNE — A proposal released Thursday by the National Park Service would allow no more than 330 snowmobiles a day into Yellowstone National Park during the winter - a significant reduction from recent years.

The agency had been studying several options, ranging from 720 snowmobiles a day to an outright ban as it wrestles with the long-running dispute between environmentalists and snowmobile enthusiasts.

During the past two winters, officials have allowed 318 snowmobiles and 78 multipassenger snow coaches a day under temporary rules. In previous years, as many as 720 snowmobiles were permitted.

The new proposal would allow the 318 snowmobiles and 78 snow coaches for one more winter, with the proposed changes taking effect in the 2012-13 winter season. In addition, all snowmobilers would still be required to arrange for guides, and snow coaches for the first time would be required to install engines that emit less pollution.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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