American Scene: CDC says West Nile cases rise 40% in one week

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West Nile virus cases are up 40 percent since last week and may rival the record years of 2002 and 2003, federal health officials said Wednesday.

So far this year, 1,590 cases of the mosquito-borne disease have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 66 deaths.

About half of the cases are serious illnesses, and the CDC considers those the best indicator of West Nile activity because many mild cases do not get reported and their symptoms may not even be recognized.

Typical symptoms are fever, headache and body aches, and most people get better on their own in a few days. Less than 1 percent develops neurological symptoms such as stiff necks and even coma and paralysis.

Health officials think that West Nile activity is at its peak, but likely will continue through October. Because symptoms can take two weeks to appear, reported cases lag behind when people become infected.

All states except Alaska and Hawaii have found West Nile virus in people, birds or mosquitoes this year. Texas has been the hardest hit, accounting for half of the cases reported to the CDC so far.

ILLINOIS

Teachers union gives 10-day strike notice

CHICAGO — The Chicago Teachers Union has given a 10-day strike notice, saying members are willing to walk off the job for the first time in 25 years.

Union President Karen Lewis said Wednesday that contract talks are faltering, with unresolved issues that include pay increases and job security.

The notice does not mean teachers necessarily will go on strike. The union could decide to continue negotiating.

The soonest teachers could go on strike is Sept. 10. Many students are already back to school. The rest begin Tuesday.

The Chicago Board of Education says it is ready to care for children who rely on schools for meals and a safe place during the day.

Both sides already agreed on one big issue: hiring more teachers to allow for a longer school day.

FLORIDA

Court: Zimmerman judge should disqualify himself

ORLANDO — A three-judge panel in Florida has ruled that a new judge should be named in the case of a former neighborhood watch leader charged in the fatal shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin.

Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday that Judge Kenneth Lester should enter a motion to disqualify himself in George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder case. Mr. Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara asked the court earlier this month to overturn a previous ruling by Judge Lester not to leave the case.

One of the three judges dissented in the ruling.

Mr. O’Mara had argued that Judge Lester should disqualify himself after he said the judge made disparaging remarks about Mr. Zimmerman’s character and advocated for additional charges against him in setting his $1 million bond in July.

Mr. Zimmerman remains free on bail. He has pleaded not guilty.

NEW YORK

Man faces sentencing for dismembering boy

NEW YORK — A New York City hardware store clerk who pleaded guilty to kidnapping, killing and dismembering a lost little boy was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years to life in prison.

Levi Aron pleaded guilty this month to lesser charges in a deal that spared him a criminal trial and the possibility of life in prison without parole. When asked Wednesday if he wanted to speak at his sentencing hearing, the 37-year old whispered “no.” He will be eligible for parole in 40 years.

Aron wore a black yarmulke, bushy beard and orange prison jumpsuit, and kept his head down and eyes closed for much of the hearing. His attorneys said Aron suffered a head injury as a child that went untreated.

Aron admitted he kidnapped and killed 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky after the boy approached him on a Brooklyn street and asked for directions on July 11, 2011. The boy was Hasidic, an ultra-Orthodox version of Judaism, and the killing shook the tight-knit community in Borough Park, a safe and somewhat insular neighborhood home to one of the world’s largest communities of Orthodox Jews outside Israel. Aron, who lived nearby, was Orthodox but not Hasidic.

UTAH

Bars claim victory in drink-special fight

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah restaurant and bar owners are toasting the settlement of a lawsuit in their fight to get the state to allow drink specials.

The Utah Hospitality Association sued in federal court, claiming Utah’s law prohibiting establishments from offering discounted drinks or happy hour violates the Sherman Act, which protects against anticompetitive conduct.

The lawsuit was dismissed this week after the parties settled their dispute, according to court records.

Allen Whittle, the association’s vice president and owner of Bogeys Social Club, said the state agreed to allow establishments to change their drink prices daily, but they’re still not allowed to advertise them as specials or discounts.

He claimed that the settlement is a partial victory but said the group might sue again over the ban on advertising, claiming it is a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

“We disagree with it, but that’s what they’re telling us we have to do,” he said Wednesday. “We just can’t call them discounts or specials.

“Happy hour has been illegal in the state for years,” he added. “We were just fighting to have drink specials and basically be able to change our pricing daily if we want to.”

An initial lawsuit was dismissed in March by a federal judge who cited a lack of evidence proving Utah’s existing liquor laws hurt businesses. The association filed an amended complaint the next month, and the state again sought a dismissal.

ILLINOIS

Witness: 4th wife mulled extorting Drew Peterson

JOLIET — A lawyer says Drew Peterson’s fourth wife asked him shortly before she vanished about whether she could squeeze more money out of her husband in divorce proceedings if she threatened to tell police he had killed his third wife.

Harry Smith’s testimony Wednesday at the former Illinois police officer’s murder trial came as the defense sought to counter allegations Mr. Peterson killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004.

Savio’s death was reclassified from an accident to a homicide after Mr. Peterson’s fourth wife disappeared in 2007.

Mr. Smith testified that Stacy Peterson had called him and asked, in Mr. Smith’s words, “if the fact that [Drew Peterson] killed [Savio] could be used against him.”

The defense wants to dent the credibility of testimony from someone who said Stacy Peterson implicated her husband in Savio’s death.

ARIZONA

Court: Placement of Navajo boy with non-Indians OK

FLAGSTAFF — A Navajo child can remain with his non-American Indian caretakers, despite a federal law that gives preference to placement with tribal members, the state Court of Appeals has ruled.

The ruling upheld a juvenile court decision that found good cause to deviate from the Indian Child Welfare Act. The child identified as “Z” in court documents was a month old when relatives of the man thought to be his father began caring for him.

The appellate court said Tuesday that the boy, now 2, would suffer severe distress if removed from his current setting. The family has been certified to adopt him and pledged to expose him to Navajo culture with the help of his biological relative, the court wrote in a unanimous ruling.

The Navajo Nation, while conceding that “Z” was in a healthy, loving home, said that tribal culture must be learned in a Navajo home through daily ceremonies and by being surrounded by the language. Tribal Department of Justice officials, who did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, also had argued that the boy’s bond with the family was not sufficient to constitute good cause.

CALIFORNIA

Tennis referee pleads not guilty to murder

LOS ANGELES — A professional tennis referee beat her elderly husband to death with a coffee cup and used the broken handle to repeatedly stab him before judging a tennis match and getting a manicure, prosecutors said in court Wednesday.

The actions of Lois Ann Goodman showed premeditation and a lack of remorse, Deputy District Attorney Sharon Ransom said while urging a judge to keep her bail at $1 million.

After considering defense arguments, Superior Court Commissioner Mitchell Block reduced bail to $500,000 for the 70-year-old defendant and allowed home confinement with electronic monitoring after bail is posted.

In making the ruling, Commissioner Block said he considered her close ties to the community, her age and lack of a criminal record.

About two dozen supporters filled the Van Nuys courtroom as Mrs. Goodman pleaded not guilty to murdering her 80-year-old husband.

Mrs. Goodman, who has refereed matches between many tennis greats, was arrested last week in New York just before she was to referee at the U.S. Open.

Her husband, Alan Goodman, died in April. Authorities initially thought he likely fell down stairs at home while she was away, but later decided it was murder.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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