Atlantis ends successful mission
CAPE CANAVERAL — Space Shuttle Atlantis and its crew returned to Earth yesterday, wrapping up a 5-million-mile journey highlighted by the successful delivery of a European lab to the International Space Station.
Atlantis circled Earth 202 times during its mission, which began Feb. 7. Nine of those 13 days were spent at the International Space Station, where the two crews installed the European science lab, Columbus.
A French astronaut, Leopold Eyharts, remained at the orbiting outpost to get Columbus up and running. He replaced NASA astronaut Daniel Tani, who returned home aboard Atlantis after 120 days in space. Mr. Tani’s mission was marred by the death of his 90-year-old mother in a traffic accident in December.
NASA’s next mission is three weeks away. Endeavour is scheduled to blast off with the first piece of Japan’s massive space station lab on March 11.
Snow causes vehicle pile-up
MICHIGAN CITY — More than two dozen cars and trucks were involved in a chain-reaction wreck yesterday on a slippery section of Interstate 94 in northern Indiana, police said.
No serious injuries were reported, state police Sgt. Ann Wojas said.
Up to 3 inches of snow fell in the area during the night and snow was falling heavily at the time of the midmorning crash, which closed a six-mile stretch of I-94’s westbound lanes for about seven hours.
Sgt. Wojas said the crash involved 15 cars and 12 tractor-trailer rigs about three miles east of the Michigan City exit on I-94.
Sgt. Wojas said more than 90 wrecks were reported yesterday morning in her seven-county district, which includes Interstates 80 and 94.
Woman sentenced in kidnapping case
LOS ANGELES — A woman was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison yesterday for her role in a kidnapping scheme in which five wealthy Russian immigrants were killed and their bodies dumped into a reservoir near Yosemite National Park.
Authorities said Natalya Solovyeva, 32, lured one of the victims to a Los Angeles bar, where he was abducted and then forced to contact another man who also was kidnapped.
Solovyeva was the girlfriend of Jurijus Kadamovas, 40, one of two men sentenced to death in the case. Two other men were sent to federal prison.
The victims were killed in 2001 and 2002, even though their families and friends gave the kidnappers $1.2 million. Prosecutors said the kidnappers used the money to buy new vehicles and to buy mink coats for their girlfriends.
Pilot killed in jet collision
PENSACOLA — An Air Force fighter pilot died yesterday after his jet and another likely collided during a training exercise and crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. The other pilot was rescued and is expected to survive.
The single-seat F-15C Eagles crashed yesterday off the Florida Panhandle, said Col. Todd Harmer, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing, 58th Fighter Squadron. The pilots had ejected and were later rescued.
The base has suffered a “great loss,” Col. Harmer said. “We will continue to do everything we can to assist our families and airmen at this tragic time.”
The cause of the collision about 35 miles south of Tyndall Air Force Base was not known, but the Air Force will investigate, Col. Harmer said. Weather in the area was clear.
The exercise emphasized “basic maneuvers and tactics,” Col. Harmer said.
Motorists rescue bus crash victims
COTTONWOOD — Motorists who came across a fatal school bus crash here quickly turned into rescuers, helping the driver pull screaming children out of the overturned bus and ferrying some to a hospital in their own cars.
Four children aboard the bus were killed Tuesday afternoon, and at least 14 persons were injured.
“I parked my car and called 911, and ran to the school bus, and the driver was handing kids out the door as fast as I could take them,” Karen Mahlum told the Marshall Independent. “They were screaming and screaming on the bus. There was so many kids.”
Classes were canceled yesterday at Cottonwood’s Lakeview School, which has 580 children from kindergarten to 12th grade, and grief counselors met with students and staff.
Police said the bus was struck by a van and landed on its side atop a pickup truck. An investigation was under way to determine whether anyone was at fault.
Indictment upheld in judicial bribery
OXFORD — A federal judge yesterday declined to dismiss an indictment in a judicial bribery case against powerful lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and two others.
Mr. Scruggs, his son Zach and law partner Sidney Backstrom are accused of trying to bribe a judge to get a favorable ruling in a dispute over $26.5 million in legal fees from a mass settlement of Hurricane Katrina insurance lawsuits.
U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. ruled that there is enough evidence against the three for the case to go to trial. They have pleaded not guilty to counts including wire fraud and defrauding the federal government.
Three other defendants have pleaded guilty in the case: lawyer Timothy Balducci. Richard Scruggs’ former defense attorney Joey Langston and former state Auditor Steve Paterson, a former business partner of Balducci’s.
Campus locked down after threat found
JERSEY CITY — St. Peter’s College locked down its campus for several hours yesterday after the discovery of a note threatening violence at the northern New Jersey school.
The lockdown ended shortly before 3 p.m., after a room-by-room police search of the roughly 3,000-student campus turned up nothing dangerous, school spokeswoman Lorraine McConnell said.
At 10:40 a.m., campus security became aware of the handwritten note, taped in the stairwell of an administration and classroom building, Miss McConnell said.
Within two minutes, the college sent students e-mail and cell phone text message alerts, using a system set up after April’s massacre at Virginia Tech, where a gunman killed 32 persons before killing himself.
Paper to publish last edition Saturday
ALBUQUERQUE — The Albuquerque Tribune, a victim of plunging circulation in the Internet age, will publish its last edition Saturday.
Editor Phill Casaus said the newspaper’s 38 editorial employees were told of the decision during a staff meeting yesterday morning.
The Tribune’s Cincinnati-based owner, E.W. Scripps Co., announced in August that the afternoon newspaper would close unless a buyer could be found.
Mr. Casaus said the last three editions will feature stories about the Tribune’s role in Albuquerque journalism.
The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for a series about the experiences of Americans who had been used without their knowledge in government radiation experiments nearly 50 years earlier. The Tribune was a Pulitzer finalist in 1996, and a first-place winner in the 1998 and 2001 National Headliner Awards.
Bank error leads to theft charge
NEW YORK — A man was charged with withdrawing $2 million from an account after a bank confused him with a customer who has the same name.
Benjamin Lovell was arraigned Tuesday on grand larceny charges. The 48-year-old salesman said he tried to tell officials at Commerce Bank in December that he did not have a $5 million account. He said he was told that it was his and he could withdraw the money.
Prosecutors said the bank, which advertises itself as America’s Most Convenient Bank, confused Mr. Lovell with a Benjamin Lovell who works for a property management company.
The lesser-funded Mr. Lovell gave away some of the withdrawn money and blew some of it on gifts, but lost much of it on bad investments, prosecutors said.
Governor’s book touts Scouts values
AUSTIN — The governor of Texas argues in a new book that attacks on the Boy Scouts represent the latest front in a “culture war” and the moral struggle for the country’s future.
Gov. Rick Perry was scheduled to be in New York yesterday to start a book tour promoting “On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts are Worth Fighting For.”
In a telephone interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, Mr. Perry said his support of the Boy Scouts is “intensely personal.”
The book extols the virtues of the Boy Scouts and its effect on Mr. Perry as he was growing up in rural Paint Creek. “Life revolved around school, church, and — for most boys — the Boy Scouts,” wrote Mr. Perry, who eventually achieved Scouting’s highest honor: Eagle Scout.
The book also traces a 30-year history of litigation involving the Scouts — most of which they won — which Mr. Perry considers an attack on traditional values and faith in God.
Mr. Perry, a Republican, targets the American Civil Liberties Union as the primary force behind a leftist push to accept homosexuality and challenge Scouting’s duty to God.
From wire dispatches and staff reports