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Nation in brief

Diocese settles 61 sex abuse claims

By Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 23, 2003

BOSTON - The Diocese of Manchester, N.H., announced a $6.5-million settlement Thursday that resolves most of the sexual abuse cases pending against the Roman Catholic Church in New Hampshire.

The agreement with 61 men and women leaves fewer than a dozen abuse complaints pending against the New Hampshire diocese, said church spokesman Patrick McGee. The church has now settled with 176 individuals in 18 months, with the payouts now totaling $15.45-million, McGee said.

All the settlement payments will come from insurance funds, McGee said.

In a written statement, Bishop John McCormack, head of the New Hampshire diocese, apologized and said he was grateful to resolve the latest group of claims. "I am personally sorry for the hurt they have experienced and I have written to each person expressing my deep regret," he said.

Peter Hutchins, a Manchester lawyer who has settled 79 cases against the diocese, called Thursday's agreement "revolutionary, compared to other dioceses around the country."

Rather than litigating, "which would have caused hard feelings, high emotions - and which would have forced the parties to drift apart," the church negotiated settlements based on "objective criteria" that established individual damages, Hutchins said.

Patrick Ford, a layman active in the New Hampshire diocese, said the relatively swift settlements - averaging slightly more than $100,000 per victim - came about because "the bishops here grasped the significance of getting this behind us."

Hutchins said only about a dozen civil cases remain against the diocese.

Boulder crushes hiker who pushed friend to safety

SALT LAKE CITY - A hiker was crushed by a falling 5-ton boulder after he pushed a friend out of the rock's path, authorities said.

Seth Buhr, 22, was hiking with three friends in Big Cottonwood Canyon, about 15 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, when the boulder fell as the group was taking a break beside a waterfall Wednesday, Salt Lake County sheriff's spokeswoman Peggy Faulkner said.

Two of the hikers noticed a shift in the rocks above Buhr and a woman, and yelled for them get out of the way. Buhr pushed the woman into a pool before the boulder crashed down on him.

"She'd have been killed. He saved her life," Faulkner said. "Just a freaky accident. Nobody was above the rock. It's scary stuff, nature."

Maryland reduces penalty for medical marijuana use

BALTIMORE - Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed a bill Thursday that reduces criminal penalties for seriously ill people who smoke marijuana.

Ehrlich is the first GOP governor to sign a bill protecting medical marijuana patients from jail, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. The Bush administration had pressed him to veto it.

The new law does not legalize marijuana, but reduces the penalty to a maximum $100 fine with no jail time if defendants convince a judge they need marijuana for medical reasons. Previously, possession or use of marijuana brought penalties of up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.

Cracked tubes at fault in nuclear plant leak

HOUSTON - Microscopic cracks in two tubes probably caused the acid leak detected last month at the South Texas Project nuclear plant, officials said Thursday.

A study of what caused the cracks could last through July, plant spokesman Alan Mikus said.

The leak was detected when boric acid residue was discovered during routine maintenance on Unit 1 of the twin reactor near Bay City, about 80 miles southwest of Houston.

Battery-powered car crash kills student in school lot

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A 14-year-old girl was killed Thursday when the experimental, three-wheeled electric car she was driving crashed into a railing in a school parking lot in front of dozens of other youngsters.

Meagan Hollingshead apparently lost control of the soapbox derby-like car at the McKinley Middle School. She was wearing a helmet but was struck in the face.

The battery-powered cars are built by high school students, who routinely give demonstrations to other students.

About 40 middle school students were in the parking lot, said superintendent Lew Finch.

Yale blast was pipe bomb

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - FBI agents investigating a bombing at Yale University's law school dusted for fingerprints Thursday and showed students a sketch of a man seen leaving the empty classroom just before the blast.

The explosive - which investigators believe was a pipe bomb - damaged two rooms Wednesday, and about 300 rare law books in a room below were soaked with water from the sprinkler system. No one was injured.

New Haven police spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester said the FBI has identified the man in the sketch. She could not say whether the man is a suspect.

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