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Nation in brief

No proof of mystery illness in U.S.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 18, 2003

Health authorities have identified 14 "suspicious" cases of respiratory distress in the United States that may be linked to a mysterious wave of infection emerging from Asia, but none of the cases have been definitively identified as the enigmatic illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the CDC, said she doubted that any of the 14 suspicious cases were linked to the outbreak.

"It would not be surprising to identify cases in the United States, but we have not found any yet," she said.

As more nations, including the United States, report suspected cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, , health officials called for calm, saying the disease so far is restricted to three population categories:

Those who live in Guangdong Province of China.

Travelers to China, Hong Kong, Singapore or Vietnam.

Relatives of patients, or health-care workers who have treated patients.

A handful of suspected cases of a deadly flu-like illness surfaced in new spots around the globe Monday, but medical experts said there "should not be panic" because the spread is not as aggressive as most forms of influenza.

Most of the 167 cases that have appeared in the past three weeks are health workers in Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore. China said 300 people had what appeared to be the same illness in an outbreak that began last November in Guangdong province.

The Chinese said the disease seemed to weaken as it passed from person to person. That's encouraging, WHO officials say, adding that some of the patients in the latest outbreak seem to be recovering.

Sen. Bill Nelson says arrogance hurt 'Columbia'

WEST PALM BEACH -- U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said arrogance and a lack of communication among NASA officials contributed to the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia six weeks ago.

The former astronaut, who flew on Columbia in 1986, said Monday that the same problems befell the Challenger before it exploded in 1986.

He sent a letter Friday to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board asking board members to find out when Mission Control realized the seriousness of Columbia's problems during re-entry.

VIDEO ASSEMBLED: Columbia lost "a steady stream" of pieces from California all the way to its final breakup over Texas, as wires in its left wing burned and shorted out, shuttle officials told the accident investigation board Monday.

Investigators showed a nearly complete video of the space shuttle's flight from the California coastline to its breakup over east Texas, a mosaic assembled from about 15 clips shot by amateur astronomers early on the morning of Feb. 1.

An expert in spacecraft re-entry, William Ailor of the Aerospace Corp, said it is critical to the investigation to find some of shuttle pieces that fell out West.

Panel will investigate handling of Smart case

SALT LAKE CITY -- An independent commission will be appointed to investigate how police handled the Elizabeth Smart abduction case, Salt Lake City's mayor said Monday.

Rocky Anderson said the five-member panel will begin its work after the case against kidnapping suspect Brian Mitchell is finished.

MEDIA CIRCUS: In the five days since the kidnapped teen returned home, the family's spokesman has fielded more than 3,000 media calls and received nearly 100 film, book or made-for-TV-movie proposals. USA, ABC, NBC, CBS and Lifetime are all reportedly interested in obtaining rights to the story.

Tractor driver's police standoff snarls D.C. traffic

WASHINGTON -- A man drove a tractor into a pond Monday between the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, police said.

Authorities closed streets in the area, several blocks from the White House. They said they were communicating with the man, who was wearing military fatigues and a helmet with a red cross on it.

Police declined to make the man's identity or motivation public, but the Washington Post quoted unidentified law enforcement sources as saying he was Dwight W. Watson, 50, a tobacco farmer from Whitakers, N.C., and claimed to be carrying explosives. The U.S. Park Police, FBI, ATF and Secret Service joined city police and blocked off much of the area around the National Mall.

The standoff continued as midnight approached, but authorities said they were in no hurry.

FBI breaks up 'cult-like' investment fraud ring

SAN DIEGO -- The FBI said Monday it had broken up a "cult-like" investment-fraud and money-laundering ring that may have cheated investors around the nation out of more than $50 million.

Eight people, including alleged ringleader John Franklin Harrell, were arrested early Monday on federal charges of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy in the year-old investigation. Search warrants were executed in San Diego, Las Vegas and Dallas.

Harrell, 69, claimed to be in charge of an offshore trust created by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, worth $1.6 trillion, according to the FBI. Investors were told that money would be available to them if they gave him enough seed money to start an insurance company called Good Samaritan.

Also . . .

PLAYGROUND ARSENIC: Environmental groups asked the government Monday to ban the use of an arsenic-based pesticide on wooden playground equipment because they say it can increase children's risk of cancer.

ABORTION DOCTOR KILLING: The lawyer for James Kopp told a judge Monday that the antiabortion activist felt it was his religious calling to fire a high-powered assault rifle at Buffalo-area abortion doctor Barnett Slepian in 1998. Kopp seeks acquittal, saying he only meant to wound the doctor to protect the unborn.

MILITARY JET CRASH: A military jet from Nellis Air Force Base crashed Monday after colliding with another F-15C during a training exercise over the Nevada desert, but the pilot ejected safely.

MOBSTER CASE: The brother of the late mob boss John Gotti and six other reputed members of the Gambino crime family were found guilty of federal racketeering charges Monday in a trial that included testimony from actor Steven Seagal.

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