- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2008

Huge star explodes in unknown galaxy

The explosion of a star in a previously unknown galaxy halfway across the universe was so huge it set a record for the most distant object that could be seen on Earth by the naked eye.

The aging star, about 40 times the size of the sun, exploded in a gamma ray burst 7.5 billion light years away, its light finally reaching Earth early Wednesday. One light year is 5.9 trillion miles.

The gamma rays were detected by NASA’s Swift satellite at 2:12 a.m. “We’d never seen one before so bright and at such a distance,” NASA’s Neil Gehrels said. It was bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

However, NASA has no reports that any skywatchers spotted the burst, which lasted less than an hour. Telescopic measurements show that the burst was bright enough to be seen without a telescope.

Ray’s poisonous barb didn’t kill boater

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A boater who was killed when a ray jumped out of the water in the Florida Keys and hit her face died of skull fractures and brain injuries, not from the animal’s poisonous barb, a medical examiner said Friday.

Judy Kay Zagorski, 57, of Pigeon, Mich., was in the front of a boat going 25 mph Thursday when a 75-pound spotted eagle ray leapt from the water and hit her in a freak collision.

Monroe County’s medical examiner, Dr. Michael Hunter, determined the cause of death was “blunt force” head injury. The collision occurred near Marathon, about 50 miles northeast of Key West.

Dr. Hunter’s report noted she suffered “multiple skull fractures and direct brain injury resulting in sudden death,” said Jorge Pino, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

SLA ex-fugitive freed from prison

LOS ANGELES — The former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive who hid for years by posing as an ordinary housewife has been released from prison after serving time for trying to bomb police cars, corrections officials said.

Sara Jane Olson, formerly known as Kathleen Soliah, walked out of the Central Women’s Facility in Chowchilla this week, said Bill Sessa, a state Department of Corrections spokesman.

In 2001, Olson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 years in prison for attempting to bomb police cars in 1975 with the SLA, the group best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst. Olson vanished soon after she was charged in the attempted bombings and reinvented herself as a Minnesota housewife.

“Like all inmates in her circumstance, she earned time for her good behavior in prison, she wasn’t treated any differently than anybody else,” Mr. Sessa said. He declined to discuss terms of her parole, citing security concerns.

Midwesterners eye rising rivers

DUTCHTOWN, Mo. — Flood-weary residents in Missouri, Arkansas and Ohio fought to save their homes yesterday after heavy rainstorms pushed swollen rivers out of their banks, and a fresh snowstorm blew through parts of the Upper Midwest, canceling flights and some Good Friday services.

Along the Meramec River in eastern Missouri, residents of Valley Park hoped the town’s $49 million earthen levee, built in 2005 to withstand a 100-year flood, would pass its first big test. The surging Meramec was expected to crest at a record 40 feet today — 24 feet above flood stage.

Heavy snow fell or was expected from Minnesota to Ohio. Milwaukee got 14 inches Friday and 10 inches fell in Red Wing, Minn.

Parts of the Midwest got a foot of rain over a 36-hour period this week, causing widespread flash flooding. The worst flooding happened in smaller rivers across the nation’s midsection. Major channels such as the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers saw only minor flooding.

Nurse accused in hepatitis cases

EL PASO, Texas — At least 15 military service members or their relatives are believed to have been infected with hepatitis by an Army nurse suspected of stealing their painkillers during surgery.

The nurse, retired Capt. Jon Dale Jones, was arrested this month in Miami on federal charges of assaulting three of those patients and possession of a controlled substance by fraud.

Federal prosecutors said they believe Capt. Jones spread the disease in 2004 during surgeries at an El Paso military hospital by diverting fentanyl — a powerful painkiller often used for anesthesia — from patients to himself.

The outbreak — and the nearly three-year-long criminal investigation that followed — apparently did not prevent Capt. Jones from continuing to work as nurse in Texas, at least two other states and Washington, D.C.

Capt. Jones, 45, has pleaded not guilty and was released on bond.

From staff reports and wire dispatches.

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