Wednesday, December 23, 2009


New oil spill at Prudhoe Bay

ANCHORAGE | A spill was discovered Monday by a BP oil field operator doing a routine inspection at a drill site in the Prudhoe Bay oil field. It was coming from a 6-inch pipeline carrying a mixture of oil, water and natural gas, officials said.

BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said the break occurred where the production line left the well house.

“That break triggered the automatic shut-off valve of the well,” he said.

The force of the release destroyed the back of the well house and blew open its front doors. When the pipe separated, it misted the surrounding area.

About 17,000 square feet of the well’s gravel pad was sprayed with oil, as well as an undetermined area of tundra. Mr. Rinehart said the spill appeared to be small “because it happened and ended quickly.”


Not guilty plea in lizard smuggling

LOS ANGELES | A man accused of strapping 15 live lizards to his chest to get through customs at Los Angeles International Airport has pleaded not guilty to federal charges.

Michael Plank of Lomita, Calif., entered his plea Monday to a count of smuggling wildlife into the United States, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the suspect was returning from Australia in November when customs agents found two geckos, two monitor lizards and 11 smaller lizards fastened to his body.

Authorities said the lizards’ are worth at least $8,500. All Australian reptiles are strictly regulated, and authorities said the suspect had no permit for them.


Balloon boy’s parents get bill

DENVER | The Colorado couple responsible for the “balloon boy” hoax, which captivated audiences around the world, are facing a $42,000 bill for the stunt, their attorney said Tuesday.

Lawyer David Lane said Richard Heene and his wife, Mayumi, had been ordered to pay the amount in restitution for the air and land rescue effort triggered by their false report that son Falcon had floated away in a home-made balloon.

The Oct. 15 incident gripped millions of viewers as television networks broadcast live coverage of the “runaway balloon” feared to have a 6-year-old on board.

Authorities later said the incident was a hoax cooked up by the Heenes in a bid to land the family their own reality television show.

Mr. Heene, 48, and Mrs. Heene, 45, face a sentencing hearing in Colorado on Wednesday after entering guilty pleas to various charges.

Mr. Heene has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant while Mrs. Heene, a Japanese national, admitted a misdemeanor offense of false reporting to authorities.

Although the charges are punishable by jail terms, the couple are expected to receive probation.


Hearing planned on Gitmo detainees

STERLING | Foes and proponents of a plan to bring alleged terrorists from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Illinois are converging on a high school auditorium for the state’s first public hearing on the issue.

Both sides plan rallies before the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability convenes the hearing Tuesday in the small northwest Illinois community of Sterling.

About 50 people are scheduled to testify before the state legislative panel about Gov. Pat Quinn’s push to sell the Thomson Correctional Center to the federal government to house detainees. The White House also backs the plan.

The 12-member commission could vote Tuesday evening on a recommendation to sell Thomson. Even if they oppose it, the recommendation isn’t binding on the governor.


Judge: No change of venue for trial

WICHITA | A judge in Kansas has denied a request to move the murder trial for the man charged with killing one of the nation’s few doctors who performed late-term abortions.

The change of venue motion was the first of several Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert was to hear Tuesday in the case of Scott Roeder. Mr. Roeder is accused of shooting Dr. George Tiller on May 31 at the abortion doctor’s Wichita church.

The 51-year-old has confessed to fatally shooting Tiller, which he said was necessary to save unborn children.

Mr. Roeder’s lawyers argued that pretrial publicity could hurt his chances for a fair trial in Sedgwick County.

Mr. Roeder is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 11 on one count of premeditated first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault.


2 killed as train hits car at crossing

EFLAND | Two people are dead and a baby is in the hospital after an Amtrak train hit a car at a North Carolina railroad crossing.

Authorities said the car was crossing tracks Tuesday morning in Efland, about 40 miles northwest of Raleigh.

Highway patrol spokesman Sgt. Jeff Gordon said the woman driving was killed along with a 5-year-old boy. A 3-month-old girl was pulled from the wreckage and taken to University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill. There was no immediate word on her condition.

Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell in Washington said none of the 215 passengers on the Carolinian were hurt. She said the train was headed to New York from Charlotte and would likely be delayed for more than two hours.


Unclaimed corpses fill urban morgues

DETROIT | Bodies are accumulating at the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office as some families, hard-pressed by Detroit’s poor economy, are unable to claim and bury their loved ones.

Chief investigator Albert Samuels says between 50 and 60 of the approximately 155 corpses now being stored are unclaimed. That is double the amount of any time last year.

The morgue in Detroit has disposed of 27 unclaimed bodies since Oct. 1, only three fewer than all of past fiscal year.

State payments for indigent burials soared from 577 in May to 1,067 in June. The state averaged 1,268 payments per month in October and November.

Officials in the Milwaukee and Cleveland areas, as well as Los Angeles County, also say indigent burials are up.


Belt stops bullet shot through car

LANCASTER | Police say a central Pennsylvania man has his belt to thank for escaping injury in a weekend shooting.

Police in Lancaster say the unidentified victim was driving when he was fired at Sunday evening. Bullets struck the car and one passed into the cabin, hitting his belt before stopping.

Lancaster police Lt. Todd Umstead said the man was not hurt. The investigation is continuing, but the 39-year-old victim has not been cooperative beyond calling to report the shooting, he said.


Medieval ‘mourners’ embark on U.S. tour

DALLAS | Nearly 40 alabaster “mourners” commissioned in the 15th century to adorn the tomb of John the Fearless, the second Duke of Burgundy, will be seen together for the first time outside France when they begin a seven-city U.S. tour in the spring.

The 16-inch-high white sculptures show their grief in different ways: from a bent head, the face shrouded by a hood, to a hand reaching up to wipe a tear.

The sculptures’ tour begins March 2 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has been organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Dijon Museum of Fine Arts under the auspices of the French Regional & American Museum Exchange.

The Dijon museum is being renovated.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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