- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2004

FDA chief named to oversee Medicare

President Bush named Mark McClellan, chief of the Food and Drug Administration, to run the agency that oversees Medicare and its new prescription drug benefits.

Mr. McClellan is a physician and economist and the brother of White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who jokingly acknowledged the awkwardness of the moment as he announced his brother’s nomination yesterday.

“Bite my tongue … he is a highly qualified nominee who brings a tremendous amount of experience and expertise to the position,” the press spokesman said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. McClellan will be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Lester Crawford, FDA deputy commissioner, will become the agency’s acting commissioner.

Mechanic indicted on murder charge

SARASOTA, Fla. — An auto mechanic accused of killing a girl whose abduction was captured on a car wash surveillance camera was indicted on a first-degree murder charge yesterday as prosecutors indicated for the first time they believe he raped the 11-year-old.

The state attorney’s office separately filed charges of kidnapping and capital sexual battery against Joseph P. Smith, 37, assistant state attorney Dennis Nales said. Prosecutors declined to release details of the charge.

Mr. Smith is accused of killing Carlie Brucia, whose body was found near a church five days after she was abducted Feb. 1. Investigators have refused to say exactly how the girl was killed, except by “homicidal violence.”

Mr. Nales declined comment on whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Mr. Smith, who’s being held without bond in the Sarasota County jail.

Utah firing squads near elimination

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers sent the governor a bill yesterday to eliminate firing-squad executions and deny killers, as one state legislator said, the chance to “go out in a blaze of glory.”

However, four death row inmates who have already chosen to die in a hail of bullets will get their way.

The House gave final approval to the measure, which would change Utah’s method of execution to lethal injection. Gov. Olene Walker is expected to sign the measure.

A relic of its territorial days, Utah’s firing squads employ five riflemen, one of whom shoots a blank so none will know who fired the fatal shot. Idaho and Oklahoma retain the firing squad on their books as an option but have not used it in modern times.

NASA determines how shuttle was damaged

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A full year after the Columbia tragedy, NASA has finally determined how and why the piece of foam insulation that doomed the spacecraft broke off from the fuel tank at liftoff.

NASA’s top spaceflight official, Bill Readdy, said yesterday that, through extensive testing, the agency has learned that air liquefied by the super-cold fuel in the tank almost certainly seeped into a void in the foam, or collected around bolts and nuts beneath the foam. The trapped air expanded as the shuttle rose, and blew off a chunk of foam the size of a suitcase.

Rather than peeling off, as NASA had assumed from past experience, the foam was pushed off with explosive force, Mr. Readdy said.

A tank redesign and improved techniques for applying and double-checking the foam should solve the problem, NASA said.

From staff reports and wire dispatches

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