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American Scene: 1,700 Yosemite visitors alerted to virus risk

- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 28, 2012

FRESNO — Yosemite officials have told 1,700 past visitors they may have been exposed to a rodent-borne disease already blamed for the deaths of two people who stayed at the park.

The email alerts Tuesday involve hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which can be carried in the urine, saliva and feces of infected deer mice.

All of the at-risk visitors had stayed in the "Signature Tent Cabins" in Yosemite National Park's Curry Village.

Yosemite officials warned those who stayed there from mid-June through this week to beware of any symptoms of hantavirus, which can include fever, aches, dizziness and chills.

Park officials told people to seek medical help immediately for such symptoms. There is no specific treatment for the respiratory illness.

Two other people were infected and were expected to survive.

Federal epidemiologists learned over the weekend of the second fatality.

ARKANSAS

Punitive damages reduced in case against evangelist

LITTLE ROCK — A federal appeals court Tuesday ordered punitive damages against an evangelist who ordered two boys to be beaten to be reduced from $60 million to $24 million.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an additional $3 million award each for the two men, now in their 20s, who grew up in Tony Alamo's ministries.

The court's decision comes after a jury last year found Alamo liable for battery, outrage and conspiracy and awarded the two men $30 million each in punitive damages, plus another $3 million each for the abuse they suffered.

The appeals court said Tuesday that the men should get $12 million each instead of $30 million each in punitive damages.

"Despite the exceptionally reprehensible nature of Alamo's conduct, it would be unconstitutional to let the punitive damages — and their 10:1 ratio to compensatory damages — stand," Judge Duane Benton wrote in an opinion for a three-judge panel.

Alamo, who was born Bernie Lazar Hoffman, is serving a 175-year prison term after being convicted in 2009 of taking girls across state lines for sex. He has asked the court to vacate that sentence, too.

The federal appeals court shot down Alamo's other arguments, including one that he wasn't liable because he was exercising his First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.

NEW JERSEY

Feds say mail carrier distributed cocaine packages

NEWARK — A New Jersey mail carrier regularly received and distributed cocaine shipments in falsely addressed packages along her route on behalf of a drug trafficking organization based in Puerto Rico, federal authorities said Tuesday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey said Christina Nunez has admitted intercepting packages of cocaine from Puerto Rico and passing them to a co-conspirator in Camden.

Prosecutors say Miss Nunez, who was assigned to a post office in Secaucus, was responsible for moving more than 18 kilograms of cocaine from October 2010 until her arrest Friday. The 30-year-old from Lyndhurst is charged with conspiracy with intent to distribute cocaine and mail theft.

Her boyfriend also has been arrested and charged.

HAWAII

Flight attendant's career lands in Guinness Book

HONOLULU — A flight attendant is landing in the Guinness Book of World Records after his 63 years of moving about the cabin ended in his home state of Hawaii.

Ron Akana, 83, finished his career as the longest-serving flight attendant for any U.S. carrier over the weekend on a United Airlines flight from Denver to Kauai.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported the Honolulu-born Mr. Akana will go into the record book this fall.

Passengers aboard the trip to Mr. Akana's professional final destination heard an announcement marking his longevity and wrote him well-wishes.

Mr. Akana says he decided to retire when he was offered a buyout. He was one of the first male flight attendants at United.

He returned to his home in Colorado on Monday and plans to spend his retirement traveling.

DETROIT

Sikh temple shooter's death officially ruled a suicide

MILWAUKEE — The man who killed six Sikh worshippers at a Wisconsin temple before fatally shooting himself had a history of alcohol problems and underwent a noticeable personality change in the preceding year, according to an investigative report released Tuesday.

The report said Wade Michael Page's sister told investigators he had a bloated appearance that made her wonder if he had been drinking recently. She also said she noticed Page become more intense over the past year, as if he had lost his wit and sense of humor. She said he took everything literally.

Page, 40, opened fire Aug. 5 before a service was to start at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in a suburb south of Milwaukee. He killed six people and wounded four before he was shot in the abdomen during a firefight with police. He died after he shot himself in the head.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office, which released the investigative report, officially ruled his death a suicide.

Page's sister told authorities her brother didn't use drugs but had a history of alcohol problems. Online court records show a history of drunken driving and a 1994 arrest in Texas after Page got drunk and kicked holes in the wall of a bar.

Toxicology reports, which would show whether he had drugs or alcohol in his system during the shooting spree, are still pending.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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