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American Scene: France honors WWII vets at military academy

- - Wednesday, May 9, 2012

NEW YORK

WEST POINT — France has bestowed honors on three dozen World War II veterans at the U.S. Military Academy.

The French ambassador to the United States awarded the French Legion of Honor during a ceremony held Tuesday at West Point, on the Hudson River north of New York City. It's the highest decoration given by France.

Since 2005, more than 300 American veterans who fought in France during World War II have received the honor. Among those receiving the Legion of Honor at West Point were several combat veterans from New York.

French officials say they chose West Point to host the ceremony because the military academy produced officers who led troops in France during both world wars. The academy was established in 1802, the same year Napoleon Bonaparte founded the Legion of Honor.

RHODE ISLAND

Gun parts found in toys at airport being probed

WARWICK — Officials say a man whose child had gun parts and ammunition hidden inside stuffed animals in his carry-on bag was detained for three hours before being released.

Authorities say federal transportation agents found the items Monday when the man and his 4-year-old went through security at Rhode Island's T.F. Green Airport. The man said he didn't know the items were there.

An airport spokeswoman says he was detained for three hours and let go. He continued traveling Tuesday.

Airport Police Chief Leo Messier said Tuesday the case "appears to be the result of a domestic dispute," but he didn't elaborate. Airport police, state police and the FBI are investigating.

ILLINOIS

Pilot who saved 184 in Sioux City crash dies

ST. CHARLES — The pilot who helped save 184 people during a plane crash in Sioux City, Iowa, has died at the age of 69.

Rosa Fitch says her husband, Dennis Fitch, died at their home in St. Charles of brain cancer on Monday.

In July 1989, Mr. Fitch was a United pilot and flight instructor who happened to be a passenger on United Flight 232 when it lost all hydraulic power while flying from Denver to Chicago.

The DC-10 crash-landed, killing 111 people. Mr. Fitch and 184 others survived, largely as a result of his troubleshooting from the cockpit floor where he and the crew struggled to control the plunging jet.

The work of the crew became famous in the aviation world and became part of pilot training.

CALIFORNIA

Man held in torching of cab after 2010 Lakers victory

LOS ANGELES — An intense two-year police investigation has led to the arrest of an arsonist suspected of torching a taxicab during a melee outside the Staples Center after the Los Angeles Lakers NBA championship victory in 2010.

Investigators say Darren Cooper has been charged with arson for his purported role in the June 2010 violence after the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics.

Mr. Cooper's age and other details will be released at a Wednesday news conference.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and police Chief Charlie Beck are expected to ask for public help in identifying five other suspects.

Besides the torched cab, people started other fires, rocked cars, smashed windows and threw objects at fans and officers.

There were 45 arrests in the days after the melee.

CALIFORNIA

Bomb threat halts 2 Southwest Airlines flights

SANTA ANA — Two Southwest Airlines flights with ties to Phoenix and Orange County's John Wayne Airport were grounded Tuesday night after a threatening phone call, authorities said.

Both planes were cleared later in the evening.

The threat was made while Flight 1184 was en route to Phoenix from Orange County, Southwest spokeswoman Ashley Dillon said. The plane was taken to an isolation pad after it landed in Phoenix.

The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task force worked with the Phoenix Police Department to screen the plane at Sky Harbor, FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson said.

The threat prompted Southwest to cancel another flight, Flight 811, which had been scheduled to travel from Orange County to Phoenix, Ms. Dillon said. The flight was canceled before passengers boarded in Orange County, she said.

Local authorities screened and cleared the plane at John Wayne Airport.

Ms. Dillon said the threat wasn't specific to either flight, but Southwest decided to screen the two planes. Ms. Dillon said she could not say who received the threat or exactly what the threat entailed

LOUISIANA

Coast Guard steps up inspections of towboats

NEW ORLEANS — A new round of inspections of towboats and tugs is starting in July as part of a nationwide push by the Coast Guard to improve the safety of the nation's rivers and harbors.

Since a 2008 collision and oil spill near New Orleans involving an improperly licensed towboat captain, the Coast Guard has begun inspecting work boats across the nation.

So far, the Coast Guard says it has inspected 2,887 towing vessels that volunteered to be inspected in the 26 states that fall under the Coast Guard's Eighth District, which is headquartered in New Orleans.

Starting on July 1, the agency says it will begin inspecting the rest of the towing fleet in the district.

Michael White, a Coast Guard towing vessel specialist, says the goal is 100 percent participation.

NEVADA

Teen pleads guilty in killing of classmate

ELKO — One of two teens accused in the March 2011 slaying of a Nevada classmate has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder with a deadly weapon in a deal that will spare him the death penalty.

The Elko Daily Free Press reports Kody Cree Patten, 19, said he understood the plea bargain he was making at the Wednesday morning court hearing in Elko, but he didn't discuss details about the killing of Micaela "Mickey" Costanzo, 16. He'd previously pleaded not guilty and was set for a July trial.

"It was the sensible thing to do," lawyer John Ohlson said about the agreement reached last week, adding that if some of the details about the killing came out at trial, "it would be difficult to avoid the death penalty."

At his sentencing, set for July 31, he could receive life in prison with parole, life in prison without parole, or 50 years in prison with the possibility of parole. He could be given an additional 1 to 20 years on his sentence for the use of a deadly weapon.

Patten and Toni Fratto, his girlfriend at the time, were accused in the death of Costanzo, who was taken to a remote area near the Utah-Nevada border after track practice at West Wendover High School on March 3, 2011.

Authorities said Costanzo was struck in the head with a shovel and her throat was slit before she was buried in a shallow grave.

CALIFORNIA

Panel OKs Pebble Beach area development

SAN FRANCISCO — After decades of environmental fights, California's chief coastal regulator approved a scaled-back development plan by a Clint Eastwood-backed group on a swath of prime real estate covered by rare Monterey pines.

The California Coastal Commission made the decision Wednesday involving the proposal by Pebble Beach Co. to build 90 homes in Monterey County's Del Monte Forest.

The proposal also called for preserving 635 acres of native forest and improving public access to the breathtaking site.

The project is vastly smaller than one Mr. Eastwood and his partners golf legend Arnold Palmer and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth initially put forward.

That plan included an 18-hole golf course, revamped polo fields and 100 new mansions near the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links.

The commission voted that down in 2007, leading to the much smaller plan.

From wire dispatches and staff reports