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ST. AUGUSTINE -- St. Johns County doctors closed their offices Wednesday to protest the rising cost of malpractice insurance.
The 300 doctors and health care workers gathered outside Flagler Hospital for a rally and "study day." Similar walkouts have occurred in Palm Beach County, Mississippi and West Virginia.
The doctors called for a $250,000 cap on punitive malpractice awards beyond actual damages, blaming out-of-control juries for the insurance hikes. President Bush and a Florida task force appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush have called for such a limit on so-called "pain and suffering" awards.
"The situation in Florida is far worse than anyone can imagine. It's a ticking time bomb and if the Legislature doesn't act quickly, many people will be without health care because doctors won't be able to practice in this state," said Dr. Miguel Machado, president of Flagler Hospital's medical staff.
DAYTONA BEACH -- A student told police he torched a Bethune-Cookman College dormitory because "God told me to set the fire," authorities said. Two students and a firefighter were hurt.
Langston Imani DuBois Deary, 18, was charged with arson to an occupied building after the Tuesday morning fire at LeFevre Hall that caused $250,000 in damage.
Two students suffered smoke inhalation, and one was admitted to Halifax Medical Center. A Daytona Beach firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion.
Deary, of Atlanta, told investigators he lit a pile of clothes on fire in his room about 6 a.m., after he had smoked marijuana.
"I felt like I was God; I could do anything," police said Deary said.
Deary was in the Volusia County Jail Wednesday with bail set at $20,000. He refused to cooperate at his initial hearing Tuesday and was carried to and from the courtroom.
The dorm's 158 male students were relocated to other rooms.
PACE -- Christina Mixson was driving her husband to work Tuesday when a white object about the size of a cigarette pack smacked their windshield, cracking it.
"It sounded like a brick hit the windshield," she said.
Paul Mixson Jr. retrieved the box and read the inscription: "U.S. Government. Harmless weather instrument."
They reported it to the Florida Highway Patrol, and troopers traced the 8-ounce device to a weather balloon launched Monday from Slidell, La., 175 miles west of this Florida Panhandle town.
The device was used to record temperature, humidity, air pressure and wind data as it climbed to 111,032 feet, National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Koziara said. A bright orange parachute was supposed to bring it back to earth, but the Mixsons found only a string attached to it.
The Mixsons are making a damage claim.
"We are sorry about the windshield. We're just glad no one got hurt," said Koziara, who couldn't recall such a thing ever happening before.
ORLANDO -- U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, has requested a slot on the House Science Committee to help investigate the space shuttle Columbia disaster.
Feeney, whose district includes the Kennedy Space Center, wants a waiver to a GOP rule limiting House freshmen to two committee posts. He has already been assigned to the Judiciary and Financial Services committees.
"We're hopeful, but of course I haven't been promised anything," Feeney said Wednesday. A decision on his request could come today.
The former state House speaker has sought a spot on the panel since U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Palm Bay, left the committee overseeing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for a seat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., said Monday the panel plans a far-reaching inquiry into the nation's space program.
Feeney's wife, Ellen, works for Space Gateway Support, a NASA contractor but has nothing to do with the shuttle program.
TALLAHASSEE -- Former state lawmaker George Kirkpatrick, who represented Gainesville in the Florida Senate for 20 years, died suddenly Wednesday. He was 64.
Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, was talking with an employee outside his Tallahassee office when he collapsed and died, said his daughter, Catherine Kirkpatrick. The cause of death wasn't immediately determined.
"I talked to him today," Catherine Kirkpatrick said. "He was in great spirits. He lived life to the fullest every day."
Kirkpatrick, a native of Gainesville, was elected to the state Senate in 1980 as a Democrat. He became a Republican in 1998 and left the Legislature in 2000 because of term limits.
Survivors also include his wife Monika and son George Kirkpatrick.
BUSHNELL -- The brother of a man involved in a road rage chase was charged Wednesday with second-degree murder after investigators determined he fired the shotgun blast that killed a 5-year-old girl.
Joshua Walsh, 22, of Wildwood shot out the back window of a car with a 12-gauge shotgun, killing Marishka Lovett, according to the Sumter County Sheriff's Office. He surrendered Wednesday.
The girl's father, Tyrone Lovett, was driving with his daughter and mother-in-law in his Ford Escort Saturday night when he was cut off by Jeremiah Walsh's Pontiac Trans Am, authorities said.
A two-county, 12-mile pursuit began. Lovett told deputies the Trans Am finally pulled over near two pickup trucks parked on a county road.
Joshua Walsh got out of one of the pickups and fired the shotgun at Lovett's car, deputies said.
Authorities believe Jeremiah Walsh used a cellular phone to alert his brother of the chase.
From the state wire
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