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American Scene: Fastest U.S. highway, with 85 mph limit, to open

- - Thursday, September 6, 2012

TEXAS

AUSTIN — Texas will soon open a stretch of highway with the highest speed limit in the country.

The Texas Transportation Commission has approved the 85 mph speed limit for a 41-mile-long toll road near the increasingly crowded Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio.

The road runs several miles east of the interstate between two of the state's largest metropolitan areas. And while some drivers may be eager to put the pedal to the metal and rip through the central Texas countryside, others are asking whether it is safe.

"The research is clear that when speed limits go up, fatalities go up," said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Higher speed limits get people to their destinations faster, Mr. Rader said, "But the trade-off is more crashes and more highway deaths."

COLORADO

Holmes' behavior raised flags at Alabama school

DENVER — Colorado theater shooting suspect James Holmes' behavior during interviews raised concerns at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which rejected him from its neuroscience program despite describing him as an excellent candidate.

The school on Thursday released Mr. Holmes' application, which included interview review forms filled out by those who met with Mr. Holmes when he visited the school in February 2011.

Professors noted Mr. Holmes was a "top-notch" student, but shy. One professor doubted whether he wanted Mr. Holmes in his lab, noting that "he may be extremely smart, but difficult to engage."

Mr. Holmes later enrolled as a first-year Ph.D. student in a neuroscience program at the University of Colorado at Denver. He withdrew about six weeks before the July 20 attack in Aurora, where prosecutors say the 24-year-old opened fire during a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.

The University of Iowa also rejected Mr. Holmes.

CALIFORNIA

Navy cited by OSHA for mishandling toxic materials

SAN DIEGO — The Navy has been cited for workplace-safety violations that exposed hundreds of employees at an aircraft hangar in Coronado, Calif., to toxic materials, such as lead, cadmium and beryllium, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Thursday.

OSHA inspectors found widespread contamination at the Coronado aircraft-maintenance facility, including in areas where the 350 employees stored and consumed food, said Jay Vicory, director of the agency's office in San Diego. The facility is a part of the Navy's Fleet Readiness Center Southwest and works on repairing F-18 fighter jets.

The Navy was cited for 21 serious violations stemming from three OSHA inspections conducted in 2011. OSHA said a serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. Mr. Vicory said OSHA closely checked the facility after receiving complaints from employees.

He said he did not know if any had fallen ill, but OSHA plans to recommend an assessment be done by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which is part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

FLORIDA

Wife of convicted Ponzi schemer charged

FORT LAUDERDALE — The wife of an imprisoned Ponzi schemer is accused of concealing more than $1 million in jewelry.

Prosecutors filed money laundering and other charges Thursday against Kim Rothstein, 38, and four other people. Court documents say the group conspired to hide and sell jewelry purchased with ill-gotten gains.

An attorney for Mrs. Rothstein didn't return an email seeking comment. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.

Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of jewelry, including two diamond rings weighing more than 12 carats each. Other items include 10 valuable watches, gold and platinum necklaces and bracelets, earrings, gold coins and gold bars.

Her husband, Scott Rothstein, is serving a 50-year prison sentence for fraud involving fake legal settlements.

TEXAS

Judge: Fort Hood suspect must be clean-shaven

FORT HOOD — The Army psychiatrist charged in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage must be clean-shaven or will be forcibly shaved before his murder trial, a military judge ordered Thursday.

Col. Gregory Gross issued the official order after a hearing to determine whether a federal religious-freedom law applied to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's case, and triggered another delay in all proceedings related to Maj. Hasan's trial because his attorneys plan to appeal.

Beards are a violation of Army regulations, and soldiers who disobey orders to get rid of facial hair can be shaved against their will. Col. Gross repeatedly has said Maj. Hasan's beard, which he started growing in jail this summer, is a disruption to the court proceedings.

Maj. Hasan told the judge last week that he grew a beard because his Muslim faith requires it, not as a show of disrespect. Col. Gross ruled Thursday that the defense didn't prove Maj. Hasan is growing a beard for sincere religious reasons.

Col. Gross had found Maj. Hasan in contempt of court at six previous pretrial hearings because he was not clean-shaven, then sent him to a nearby trailer to watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit television. But the judge allowed Maj. Hasan to remain in the courtroom for Thursday's hearing.

Maj. Hasan, 41, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the November 2009 attack on the Texas Army post.

OHIO

Neil Armstrong to be buried at sea

CINCINNATI — Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, will be buried at sea.

A family spokesman said Thursday no other details on the timing or the location of the burial were available. Armstrong was a Navy fighter pilot before joining the space program.

A public memorial service will be held at the Washington National Cathedral on Sept. 13. The 10 a.m. service will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the websites of the cathedral and space agency. It will be open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. But reservations still must be made through NASA.

A private service was held in Ohio for Armstrong, who died Aug. 25 at age 82.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports