American Scene: Man with bionic right leg
 climbs Chicago skyscraper

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CHICAGO — The metal on Zac Vawter’s bionic leg gleamed as he climbed 103 floors of Chicago’s Willis Tower, becoming the first person ever to complete the task wearing a mind-controlled prosthetic limb.

Mr. Vawter, who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident, put the smart limb on public display for the first time during an annual stair-climbing charity event Sunday called “SkyRise Chicago” hosted by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he is receiving treatment.

“Everything went great,” said Mr. Vawter at the event’s end at the skyscraper formerly known as the Sears Tower. “The prosthetic leg did its part, and I did my part.”

The robotic leg is designed to respond to electrical impulses from muscles in his hamstring. When Vawter thought about climbing the stairs, the motors, belts and chains in his leg synchronized the movements of its ankle and knee.

The computerized prosthetic limb, like something one might see in a sci-fi film, weighs about 10 pounds and holds two motors.  

WASHINGTON

Military hearing set in Afghanistan massacre

SEATTLE — The U.S. soldier accused of carrying out one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is due to appear in a military courtroom Monday, where prosecutors will for the first time lay out their case that he slaughtered 16 people during a predawn raid on two villages in the Taliban’s heartland.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a married father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., is accused of slipping away from a remote outpost in southern Afghanistan early on March 11 with an M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher to attack the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, in a dangerous part of Kandahar province.

The massacre left 16 dead — nine of them children, and 11 of them members of the same family. Six others were wounded, and some of the bodies set afire.

Monday marks the start of a preliminary hearing, called an Article 32 hearing, before an investigative officer charged with recommending whether Sgt. Bales‘ case should proceed to a court-martial.

The hearing is scheduled to run as long as two weeks, and part of it will be held overnight to allow video testimony from witnesses in Afghanistan.

PENNSYLVANIA

Boy killed in fall from ledge at zoo’s wild-dog exhibit

PITTSBURGH — A 2-year-old boy visiting the Pittsburgh Zoo was killed Sunday morning when he fell off a railing that his mother had put him on top of to view a pack of African painted dogs, who pounced on the child and mauled him, police said.

It’s not clear whether he died from the fall or the attack, said Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Authorities didn’t immediately release the name of the boy or his mother, but say she is 34 years old and lives in Pleasant Hills, just outside Pittsburgh.

Zookeepers called off the dogs, but one wouldn’t respond, and police had to shoot him, Ms. Baker said. The dogs are about as big as medium-sized domestic dogs, 2 to 2½ feet high and 37 to 80 pounds, according to the zoo.

TEXAS

FBI asked to probe helicopter shooting

McALLEN — Texas state police have asked for a federal investigation of a chase in which a trooper fired on a fleeing pickup truck from a helicopter, resulting in the deaths of two Guatemalan immigrants who were hiding in the bed.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has said troopers believed drugs were hidden under a sheet in the truck’s bed when the shots were fired during the pursuit. Instead, nine Guatemalans were in the truck, including six under the sheet, and a 14-year-old driver.

DPS Director Steve McCraw said in a statement Friday that he had asked the FBI and U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to investigate the incident. The Texas Rangers, an elite unit within DPS, had led the investigation of the shooting. Mr. McCraw said they will turn over their completed investigation and evidence to federal authorities.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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