Sunday, July 8, 2007

State tries to avert furloughs, shutdowns

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Legislators trickled back into the Capitol yesterday with less than two days to agree on a state budget before a partial government shutdown that would furlough thousands of workers and curtail some services.

High-level negotiations between the General Assembly and aides to Gov. Edward G. Rendell ended late Friday with no agreements reported and no new talks scheduled.

A stalemate between the Democratic governor and the narrowly divided legislature over a $27 billion-plus budget and some of Mr. Rendell’s top priorities has showed no sign of easing.

If today ends without a deal in place, more than 24,000 state workers whose jobs are not deemed essential to health and safety will be furloughed without pay at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.

Former JonBenet suspect arrested

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — John Mark Karr, who made what turned out to be bogus claims of killing JonBenet Ramsey, was jailed yesterday after a domestic argument at his father’s house in suburban Atlanta, police said.

Officers received a 911 call late Friday from the house about an argument involving Mr. Karr, his girlfriend and his father, Sandy Springs police Lt. Steve Rose said.

Mr. Karr, who was arrested last summer in Thailand after confessing to killing the 6-year-old beauty contestant, was arrested in the domestic case shortly before midnight and charged with battery and obstruction.

Girl punished for graffiti

KATY, Texas — Writing “I love Alex” on a school gymnasium wall brought a 12-year-old the same punishment as if she had made terrorist threats.

The Katy Independent School District rated the message, written with a baby blue marker by sixth-grader Shelby Sendelbach, as a Level 4 infraction — the same as for threats, drug possession and assault.

Only murder, gun possession, sexual assault and arson are considered more severe by the suburban Houston district.

For her punishment, Shelby was assigned to an alternative school from Aug. 27 through Dec. 21.

School district spokesman Steve Stanford said the district was just following a state law, saying it requires assignment to an alternative school for graffiti. Her parents have appealed and a hearing is set for this month.

Utah wildfires force evacuations

SALT LAKE CITY — A scorching heat wave coupled with tinder-dry conditions caused racing wildfires yesterday and led authorities to evacuate homes and close highways, officials said.

A 160,000-acre wildfire in Utah jumped a freeway, forcing the closure of Interstate 15 for a 100-mile stretch through central Utah, fire officials said. Interstate 70 was closed in Richfield, Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Winward said.

The fire, about 120 miles south of Salt Lake City, also forced the evacuations of Cove Fort and the Blundell Geothermal Power Plant, where it was threatening railroad lines, bridges and several homes, Color County Fire Information Officer LaCee Bartholomew said.

The fire, which has burned about 250 square miles, was triggered by lightning Friday afternoon and was pushed north and west yesterday by high winds, Mr. Bartholomew said.

Glitches postpone asteroid mission

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The planned launch of a spacecraft to explore two of the solar system’s largest asteroids was delayed until the middle of the month because of problems with a tracking ship and aircraft.

NASA had set tomorrow afternoon as a new launch time for the Dawn spacecraft, which will embark on a yearslong journey to the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, which lie between Mars and Jupiter.

Late Friday, NASA officials announced that the spacecraft would launch next Sunday.

Woman pleads not guilty in shooting

NEW YORK — A woman accused of shooting a commune leader last year in an ambush outside his home pleaded not guilty Friday to attempted murder, assault and weapons charges.

Rebekah Johnson was ordered held without bail at an arraignment on Staten Island. If convicted of attempted murder, she faces up to 25 years in prison, prosecutors said.

Miss Johnson, 44, was captured last month in Philadelphia after more than a year on the run. She had been featured five times on Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted.”

An indictment unsealed Friday claims that Miss Johnson shot Jeff Gross — a founder of the Staten Island-based shared-living community Ganas — five times as he was coming home from a movie on May 29, 2006. Mr. Gross survived.

From staff reports and wire dispatches

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