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Nation Briefs: Texas cancer-fighting agency under investigation

- - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas prosecutor responsible for investigating public corruption among state officials said Tuesday that he has opened an investigation into the state's troubled $3 billion cancer-fighting agency. Gregg Cox, director of the Travis County district attorney's public integrity unit, told The Associated Press that an investigation has begun into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The agency also is under investigation by the Texas attorney general's office after an $11 million grant to a private company did not receive the proper review.

Mr. Cox said his unit, which prosecutes crimes related to the operation of state government, is beginning its investigation not knowing "what, if any, crime occurred" at the institute.

ILLINOIS

Pilot, 2 nurses killed in helicopter crash

ROCHELLE — A medical helicopter crashed in a Northern Illinois field, killing the pilot and two nurses who were traveling between hospitals to pick up a patient, authorities said.

Rockford Memorial Hospital on Tuesday identified those killed as pilot Andy Olesen, 65, and flight nurses Karen Hollis, 48, and Jim Dillow, 40. It said the hospital was grieving for "three heroes who dedicated their careers to serving others."

No patients were aboard when the helicopter went down about 8:30 p.m. Monday near Rochelle. Rockford hospital spokesman Wester Wuori said the helicopter was flying to pick up a patient at a Mendota hospital.

FLORIDA

Mystery minishuttle sent back to space

CAPE CANAVERAL — The military's small, top-secret version of the space shuttle rocketed into orbit Tuesday for a repeat mystery mission, two years after making the first flight of its kind.

The Air Force launched the unmanned spacecraft Tuesday hidden on top of an Atlas V rocket.

It is the second flight for this original X-37B space plane. It circled the planet for seven months in 2010. A second X-37B spacecraft spent more than a year in orbit.

These high-tech mystery machines -- 29 feet long -- are about one-quarter the size of NASA's old space shuttles and can land automatically on a runway. The two previous touchdowns occurred in Southern California; this one might end on NASA's 3-mile-long runway once reserved for the space agency's shuttles.

MASSACHUSETTS

Utilities hit with hefty fines for responses to storms

BOSTON — State energy regulators have fined three Massachusetts utilities nearly $25 million for their responses to two major storms in 2011.

The penalties were announced Tuesday by the Department of Public Utilities after a yearlong investigation.

Some customers were without power for a week after Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and a surprise October snowstorm.

By far the biggest penalty was assessed against National Grid, fined $18.7 million. Department of Public Utilities Chairwoman Ann Berwick said regulators found "systematic and fundamental failures" in how the company planned for and responded to the storms.

ILLINOIS

Man gets 10-year sentence in suicide-bomber plot

CHICAGO — A Chicago man was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 10 years in prison for plotting to attend a Somali training camp with dreams of becoming a suicide bomber for al Qaeda and another terrorist group, al-Shabab.

Shaker Masri, 29, was sentenced two years after his arrest, which relied heavily on an FBI informant. He pleaded guilty in July to trying to provide material support and resources to a terrorist organization. He declined to make a statement in court Tuesday and showed little emotion as U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman announced the sentence.

FLORIDA

Trayvon Martin shooter to stay on 24-hour monitor

SANFORD — George Zimmerman must remain under 24-hour GPS monitoring while awaiting trial in the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and must stay in the county despite the defense's concerns about his safety, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The defense presented a lengthy bond modification argument to Judge Debra Nelson that included Mr. Zimmerman's probation officer testifying that the former neighborhood watch volunteer was complying with all terms of his release on a $1 million bond.

After a rebuttal by the prosecutors, Judge Nelson, without explanation, denied the request for modification of the bond terms.

Mr. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon, 17, after an altercation in Sanford in February. He has pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

From wire dispatches and staff reports