American Scene: Yosemite shuts cabins at center of rodent probe

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CALIFORNIA

FRESNO — More than 90 cabins in Yosemite National Park were closed for several days after the site was found to be at the center of a mouse-borne virus that has been blamed for the deaths of two people, officials said Thursday.

Park officials said the double-walled design of the 91 cabins that were closed Tuesday made it easy for mice to nest between the walls. The disease is carried in the feces, urine and saliva of deer mice and other rodents.

Over the past three weeks, two people have died of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome after staying in one of the so-called Signature cabins of curry village. Another person is confirmed ill and one more likely has the virus, which kills 36 percent of the people it infects.

Mike Gauthier, Yosemite chief of staff, said the design allowed for rodent infestation. “We just weren’t aware that design would lead to it,” he said.

A report obtained earlier in the day said the National Park Service was warned in 2010 that efforts should be stepped up to inspect for rodents in Yosemite and prevent them from entering areas where people sleep.

The 2010 report issued by the California Department of Public Health was commissioned by the park service.

MASSACHUSETTS

Lab shut down amid improper drug testing

BOSTON — A Massachusetts lab has been shut down after state police discovered that a chemist failed to follow protocols, potentially exposing thousands of drug convictions to legal challenges.

The lab was involved in certifying drug evidence in cases submitted by local police in dozens of communities across the state, including Boston.

State police began an investigation in June, just before they took over operation of the lab from the state Department of Public Health.

They discovered that a chemist who worked at the lab since 2003 had not followed procedures. It is not clear how many cases she mishandled, but she was involved in several thousand cases.

A state police spokesman said the investigation shows that the chemist did more than cut corners. He said police think she deliberately mishandled drug testing.

TEXAS

Man convicted in 2010 sex assault case

LIBERTY — A jury has convicted the first of 20 defendants to go to trial in the sexual assault of a Texas middle school student over a nearly three-month stretch in late 2010.

Eric McGowen wasn’t in court Thursday when he was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child. The 20-year-old was free on bail and skipped out during a break in proceedings Wednesday, the first day of testimony.

The jury deliberated for about 20 minutes before returning its verdict. McGowen faces from 25 years to life in prison. The judge issued an arrest warrant for McGowen.

Prosecutors said McGowen or the other defendants sexually assaulted the girl, then 11, on at least five occasions in late 2010. All six juveniles and two adults have pleaded guilty.

FLORIDA

Spacewalking astronauts stymied by sticky bolts

CAPE CANAVERAL — Sticky bolts proved too much for a pair of spacewalking astronauts.

The astronauts tried for hours Thursday to install a power-switching box outside the International Space Station, but they had to call it quits because of stubborn bolts.

NASA’s Sunita Williams and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide used all sorts of tools and tactics as they tried to bolt down the new unit, but nothing worked. With time running out, Mission Control told the astronauts to tie down the box and go back inside. The work will be left for a future spacewalk.

The power-switching unit is one of four. The other three are working fine. Nonetheless, the power system will need to be reconfigured at the space station given Thursday’s failed effort.

PENNSYLVANIA

Man is killed by hit-and run driver after saving his son

PHILADELPHIA — A father pushed his 5-year-old son out of harm’s way just before he was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver on a heavily traveled thoroughfare that has become notorious for deadly pedestrian accidents.

Michael Romano, 43, who died at the scene of the crash shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday, managed to push his son to safety before impact.

The driver fled but was pulled over about three blocks away by an off-duty police officer who witnessed the crash, authorities said.

Police identified the driver as Roderick Williams, 22, of Philadelphia. He was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide, driving under the influence and related offenses.

Mr. Romano’s son was treated for minor injuries at a hospital and discharged.

CALIFORNIA

Bus drivers may have eaten drugged goodies

SAN DIEGO — Four San Diego County bus drivers may have fallen ill from eating drug-laced goodies provided by a fellow worker.

The Metropolitan Transit System drivers were on their routes Sunday when they felt dizzy and had to pull over, transit officials said.

Replacements were brought in.

It was unclear how many passengers were aboard the buses.

“The source of the illness has been traced back to baked goods distributed by one fellow employee,” Paul Jablonski, CEO of the transit system, said in a memo sent Wednesday to board members.

The memo did not indicate what might have been in the goodies but said the drivers were placed on leave pending drug testing.

A fifth worker also was placed on paid leave, officials said.

IDAHO

Veterinarians volunteer to care for burned bear

BOISE — Veterinary hospitals across southwestern Idaho are volunteering to care for a black bear cub rescued from a wildfire burning in the eastern Idaho backcountry.

The bear, nicknamed “Boo Boo,” needs daily care for second-degree burns on all four paws. Mark Drew, a veterinarian with the state Department of Fish and Game, said he is checking into a handful of facilities and hopes to pick a place for the bear soon.

The cub needs his bandages changed every day for at least four weeks to heal.

Boo Boo weighs about 25 pounds and is estimated to be 4 months old. He was discovered Sunday night clinging to a tree in a region recently scorched by a massive wildfire near Salmon.

Efforts to find the bear’s mother were unsuccessful, officials said.

The cub likely hadn’t eaten for at least four days and couldn’t walk when he was found, the Idaho Statesman reported.

DELAWARE

Judge rules secret court arbitration unconstitutional

DOVER — A Delaware law allowing Court of Chancery judges to preside over secret arbitration in business disputes is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

The ruling was issued in a lawsuit filed by the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, which argued that the secret proceedings violated the rights of citizens to attend judicial proceedings and access court records.

In a 26-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Mary McLaughlin agreed that the Chancery Court, which often presides over high-profile business disputes involving some of the world’s largest corporations, cannot conduct secret arbitration.

Judge McLaughlin noted that under the arbitration process, a sitting judge hears evidence, finds facts and issues enforceable orders.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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