- - Sunday, October 21, 2012

DALLAS — Big Tex, the metal cowboy whose slow drawl of “Howdy, folks!” made him an icon of the State Fair of Texas for 60 years, was destroyed Friday when flames engulfed his 52-foot-tall frame.

Some material that made up Big Tex’s hands and sleeves could still be seen as firefighters gathered around the scorched area. This year’s fair, which closes Sunday and had been celebrating the towering structure’s birthday, went on despite the fire — just as Big Tex would want it.

“Big Tex is a symbol of everything the state fair stands for,” fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said. “Big Tex is where my parents told me, ‘If you get lost, meet at Big Tex.”’

The cowboy always was easy to spot, with his 75-gallon hat and 50-pound belt buckle. Ms. Gooding said she didn’t know what caused the fire, but noted that electrical controls move Big Tex’s mouth and head.

CALIFORNIA

Voice software aids study of rare Yosemite owls

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — Scientists working in Yosemite National Park are eavesdropping on forest creatures, hoping to gain a greater understanding of a rare subspecies of Great Gray Owls.

The raptors number fewer than 200 in and around the park, and even the slightest human intervention can disrupt their breeding and feeding cycles.

Scientists are using data-compression digital audio recorders to capture forests sounds. They developed software to discern the low-frequency owl calls from other noises in an effort to determine their numbers and rates of reproduction.

The raptors were cut off from their plentiful Canadian counterparts during the ice age 30,000 years ago. Since then, scientists have been looking for ways to protect them and better understand their habitat-specific evolution. Great Gray Owls are the largest in North America with 5-foot wingspans.

NEW JERSEY

Two adult women accused of anti-bullying attack

TOMS RIVER — A New Jersey mother and grandmother have been arrested on charges they attacked two fourth-grade boys they claim were bullying a 9-year-old girl.

Twenty-eight-year-old Rebecca Sardoni, of Toms River, and her mother, 51-year-old Stephanie Sardoni, of Beachwood, were arrested Friday.

Toms River police tell The Asbury Park Press that witnesses say the women boarded a school bus Friday bound for East Dover Elementary School and sought out boys they claimed had been harassing Rebecca’s daughter.

Police say Rebecca cursed at and slapped two boys while her mother screamed at them. Rebecca denies she hit or touched anyone. She tells the newspaper she took matters into her own hands because school officials ignored her complaints. School officials couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday.

CALIFORNIA

ACLU wants veterans’ group removed from cross case

SAN DIEGO — A veterans’ organization should have no say in legal talks on how to modify a war memorial cross that is located on federal land, the American Civil Liberties Union told a federal judge Friday in a hearing to decide whether the group should be dropped from the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns said he will issue his ruling on the ACLU’s request soon, but he told the court that he was inclined to allow the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial Association to continue to intervene as a party in the case.

The association maintains the Mount Soledad cross, which has been deemed to be an unconstitutional mixing of government and religion by a federal court that ordered it be modified but did not specify what needs to be done.

David Loy of the ACLU in San Diego argued the veterans’ organization maintains the memorial but does not own it and therefore has no right to decide how the property should be reconfigured.

PENNSYLVANIA

Relative sees costumed girl as skunk, then shoots her

FREEDOM — Police say a costumed 9-year-old girl was accidentally shot outside a western Pennsylvania home during a Halloween party by a relative who thought she was a skunk.

New Sewickley Township police say the girl was over a hillside and wearing a black costume and a black hat with a white tassel. Chief Ronald Leindecker says a male relative mistook her for a skunk and fired a shotgun, hitting her in the shoulder Saturday night.

Chief Leindecker told the Beaver County Times that the girl was alert and talking when she was flown to a hospital in Pittsburgh, about 30 miles away. Her condition was unavailable. Chief Leindecker says the man hadn’t been drinking and he doesn’t know whether charges will be filed.

FLORIDA

Judge: Zimmerman defense can see Trayvon records

SANFORD — A judge has ruled that attorneys for a Florida neighborhood watch volunteer can inspect the school records and social media postings of the unarmed teenager he is accused of murdering.

Judge Debra S. Nelson said Friday that defendant George Zimmerman’s attorneys need to know whether Trayvon Martin’s school records and social media postings give any evidence that he had violent tendencies.

Mr. Zimmerman, 29, fatally shot the 17-year-old in February. Mr. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, saying he shot Trayvon in self-defense. The judge has scheduled Mr. Zimmerman’s trial for next June.

From wire dispatches and staff reports