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Nicole Kopelman and her dog Jack cross the intersection at Paseo de Peralta and the Old Santa Fe Trail in Santa Fe, N.M., on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Driving conditions were difficult on some northern New Mexico highways due to the latest blast of freezing temperatures, wind, and snow. (Clyde Mueller/ The Santa Fe New Mexican/ AP Photo)

Winter weather blankets US, from New Mexico to Michigan. Next up: Tennessee.

By Staff writer / 12.05.13

Snow, sleet, freezing rain ­– they’re all making a sweep from the western corner of the United States to the South, propelled by Arctic air. 

The winter storm has already brought heavy snowfall to a large swath of the nation extending from Washington State to Michigan and as far south as New Mexico. The storm is now well on its way to Texas and Arkansas and is also heading east into Tennessee.

"This cold air is going to overtake just about the entire country," said Carl Parker, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. The storm is expected to affect 32 million people for the rest of the week – and the only Americans likely to miss out are residents along the Eastern Seaboard, according to weather predictions.

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Going into Thursday evening, Texas and the mid-South are expected to face as much as an inch of ice. The thicker the ice, the more likely it is to weigh down trees and power lines, triggering power outages.

As of Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service has issued ice storm warnings for parts of far northeast Texas, southern Oklahoma, and western Tennessee.

“This is going to be overwhelming in terms of power outages,” said Jim Cantore, a storm tracker for The Weather Channel, reporting from Dallas. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a million-plus (outages).”

Still, the South has had warm weather leading up to the storm, and meteorologists are hopeful those conditions will prevent a hard freeze from setting in. 

But bitterly cold temperatures in the Rockies have already prompted safety warnings for residents, and the Arctic air has threatened crops as far south and west as California, The Weather Channel said.

On Wednesday, parts of New Mexico had a frosting of snow, with up to six inches around Santa Fe

In Pullman, Wash., on Wednesday, the temperature fell below zero for the first time in almost three years, NBC reported. In Oregon, authorities closed part of Interstate 84 on Tuesday because of traffic jams brought on by the snow.

In the Dakotas, the extreme temperatures posed a possible threat to cattle ranchers, according to the Associated Press. Ranchers lost thousands of their stock during a blizzard in early October, but since then, the cattle have had time to grow their winter coats, adding a layer of insulation.

"Cattle are a hardy species," Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, told the AP. "They can endure a lot."

After this storm, which The Weather Channel has named Cleon, another storm system could bring similar weather conditions into parts of the southern Plains, Ohio Valley, mid-Atlantic, and Northeast this weekend into Monday,  the channel reported.

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A "19 Heros" patch is attached to a flagpole at the site where 19 firefighters died battling a wildfire on June 30 near Yarnell, Ariz. (Matt York/ AP Photo)

Yarnell fire report: Forestry officials didn't put enough value on human life

By Staff writer / 12.05.13

When battling forest fires in Arizona last June, state forestry officials placed a higher value on the protection of property than on human life, according to new investigation by state officials.

The Wednesday ruling from the Arizona Industrial Commission came after its investigative agency, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH), released findings that recommended citations and financial penalties against the Arizona State Forestry Division, the Associated Press reported.

ADOSH’s report rejected the Forestry Division’s September review of the forest fires that killed 19 members of a 20-person team of Granite Mountain Hotshots on June 30 near Yarnell, Ariz., a town northwest of Phoenix. The Hotshots' deaths led to a national debate about the value of saving homes and rebuilding in fire-prone areas.

The Forestry Division’s review did not assign blame in the deaths and “found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.”

In a direct rebuttal, the Industrial Commission report found that the Forestry Division failed to remove firefighters even after it learned that "suppression of extremely active chaparral fuels was ineffective and that wind would push active fire towards non-defensible structures.” While communication problems did play a role in the firefighters’ deaths, those problems arose because key staff members failed to show up for a morning planning meeting and because the Hotshot crew wasn’t provided with adequate maps or a second escape route, the Industrial Commission said.

The commission is requiring the Forestry Division to pay a total of $559,000 in fines, which includes payments of $25,000 to the survivors of each of the 19 Hotshots killed in the flames.

While combating the fire on June 30, members of the Hotshot team moved from a relatively safe area on a ridgetop down a mountainside through an unburned area, when a wall of flames trapped the group after winds shifted unexpectedly. It remains unclear why the firefighters did not notify anyone they were moving or why they relocated, the AP reported.

The only surviving crew member, Brendan McDonough, was acting as a lookout for the others who had gone down the mountainside. Mr. McDonough was rescued before flames reached the area where he was located. 

The Forestry Division was in charge of containing the blazing forest fire that began on June 28 with a lightning strike near Yarnell. The flames, which destroyed more than 100 homes, were finally contained on July 10.

The Industrial Commission’s chairman, David Parker, said he believed the fire management team on site did everything in its power to defend the community and provide for the safety of people, The Daily Courier of Prescott, Ariz., reported.

“It’s not the intention of the people that (is) in question, it’s that employees remained exposed after they no longer should be exposed,” Mr. Parker said.

The mother of one of the firefighters has filed a $36 million notice of claim against the state, Yavapai County, and the city of Prescott, saying their negligence led to the death of her son, the AP said.

Carrie Dennett, a spokeswoman for the Forestry Division, said the agency fully cooperated with the investigation and declined to comment to the AP. The Forestry Division has 15 days to dispute the ADOSH findings, which were unanimously approved by the Industrial Commission. 

A Metro-North passenger train lays on its side after derailing in the Bronx borough of New York Sunday. (Mark Lennihan/AP )

Brakes weren't the problem in New York train crash, NTSB says (+video)

By Staff writer / 12.03.13

As the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the Sunday derailing of a Metro-North train continues, the possibility of mechanical error as a cause is slowly being ruled out.

The NTSB’s preliminary investigations revealed there were no anomalies in the train’s brake performance, and there was no indication that the brake systems were not functioning properly, said NTSB member Earl Weener during a Tuesday afternoon press conference.

The train’s driver, William Rockefeller, who was injured in the crash, told investigators that he “lost focus” and went into a daze shortly before the crash, according to a Reuters report on Tuesday. A second source also said Mr. Rockefeller went into a “highway hypnosis” before the crash took place.

The Metro-North train went hurling off its tracks at 82 m.p.h. in an area where the speed limit is 30 m.p.h.

Whatever the findings on the cause of the crash, the engineer could be faulted for the train's speed alone, said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"Certainly, we want to make sure that that operator is disciplined in an appropriate way. There's such a gross deviation from the norm," Governor Cuomo said on Tuesday, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Crew members, including Rockefeller, are being interviewed on Tuesday, and initial breathalyzer tests came back negative for all crew members, according to federal investigators. The results of drug tests are still pending.

Rockefeller worked for Metro-North for 15 years and has been an engineer for 10 of those years. Rockefeller had worked on his route – running from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to Grand Central Terminal in New York City – full-time since November, according to Mr. Weener.

When Rockefeller clocked in on Sunday morning at 5:04 a.m., it was the second day of his five-day workweek. The engineer was scheduled to make two round trips each day and typically worked nine-hour days, Weener said.

The Federal Railroad Administration instituted new regulations on working hours in April 2012 to “minimize the fatigue factor,” tightening the number of hours and days commuter-rail employees can work.

The NTSB said its investigation will continue for weeks, possibly months, and the organization has not yet found a definite cause for the train’s derailment.

The New York Police Department is conducting its own investigation with help from the Bronx district attorney’s office, in the event the derailment becomes a criminal case.

"Once the NTSB is done with their investigation and Billy [Rockefeller] is finished with his interview, it will be quite evident that there was no criminal intent with the operation of his train," said Anthony Bottalico, executive director of the rail employees’ union.

Rockefeller, who has never been disciplined for job performance as a train driver, has hired a defense lawyer, Jeffery Chartier, according to Reuters. 

Four people were killed, and more than 60 were injured when the train derailed. 

Sunday’s accident is the second on the Metro-North line in six months and occurred about 2,000 feet from where the previous crash happened. In July, a CSX freight train carrying tons of garbage derailed.

The two crash sites both lie along a curve in the train tracks where the Hudson and Harlem Rivers meet in the Bronx near Spuyten Duyvil station. The area is a “slow zone” because of two tight curves that come in quick succession. In the area, the speed limit drops to 30 m.p.h., compared with 70 m.p.h. for the track well ahead of the curves.

An Amtrak train traveling on an unaffected track (top), passes a derailed Metro-North commuter train, Sunday in the Bronx borough of New York. The Metro-North train derailed on a curved section of track early Sunday. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Derailed New York train was going 82 m.p.h. in 30 m.p.h. zone, feds say (+video)

By Contributor / 12.02.13

The commuter train that derailed in the Bronx borough of New York early Sunday morning was traveling 82 m.p.h. when it went hurtling off the tracks in an area where the speed limit was 30 m.p.h., said a National Transportation Safety Board official on Monday afternoon. 

This discovery is part of an ongoing investigation by the NTSB to find out why seven Metro-North passenger cars and their locomotive veered off track en route from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to Grand Central Terminal in New York City. 

The board’s investigation team used data recorders from the train’s rear-mounted locomotive and front car to help establish a timeline of events, including the train’s speed. Approximately six seconds before the rear engine came to a stop, the throttle went idle. One second later, pressure in the brake pipe dropped to zero, which resulted in max breaking. 

It is still too early to know whether it was human or mechanical error that caused the crash, and authorities were not yet sure what caused the throttle to idle or the brake pressure to drop, said Earl Weener, an NTSB member during Monday’s press conference. 

On Monday, the NTSB began to interview the train’s engineer and plans to speak with three other crew members during the next few days.

The train’s engineer, William Rockefeller, was injured and "is totally traumatized by everything that has happened," said Anthony Bottalico, executive director of the rail employees union, according to the Associated Press.

Sunday’s accident is the second on the Metro-North line in six months and occurred about 2,000 feet from where the previous crash happened. In July, a CSX freight train carrying tons of garbage derailed. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), owned by the state of New York, runs the Metro-North commuter rail.  

The two crash sites both lie along a curve in the train tracks where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet in the Bronx near Spuyten Duyvil station. The MTA considers this area to be a “slow zone” because of two tight curves that come in quick succession. In the area, the speed limit drops to 30 m.p.h., compared with 70 m.p.h. for the track well ahead of the curves, said Mr. Weener.

The wreck in the Bronx came two years before the federal government's deadline for Metro-North and other railroads to install automatic-slowdown technology designed to prevent catastrophic accidents, the AP reported. But with the cause of Sunday's wreck unknown, it was not clear whether the technology would have made a difference.

As the investigation continues, the rail cars and locomotive, which were repositioned onto tracks early Monday morning, will be moved to a secure location for more detailed study, according to the NTSB.

The deaths of four passengers in Sunday's derailment are the first in an accident in the MTA’s 31-year history. The Metro-North train was half-full at the time of the crash and was carrying approximately 150 passengers when the incident occurred. 

Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a Metro-North passenger train derailment in the Bronx borough of New York Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. Metropolitan Transportation Authority police say the train derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station. (Craig Ruttle/ AP Photo )

Clues sought to fatal train derailment in New York (+video)

By Staff writer / 12.02.13

Early Monday morning, cranes pulled toppled commuter cars back onto tracks as federal investigators began piecing together a picture of what caused a Metro-North commuter train to derail in New York's Bronx borough 24 hours earlier.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation aims to find out why seven passenger cars and their locomotive cascaded over the train tracks as they neared the end of a nearly 80-mile commute from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., south to Grand Central Station in New York City.

The accident killed four people and injured about 60 others.

The scene “looked like a toy train set that was mangled by some super-powerful force,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a phone interview Sunday with CNN.

"As the cars were skidding across the ground, they were actually picking up a lot of debris; a lot of dirt and stones and tree limbs were going through the cars, so it actually looked worse up close," Governor Cuomo told NBC’s "Today" show Monday morning.

The NTSB's Earl Weener said investigators are checking tracks, signals, and equipment and are looking at both the train’s maintenance records as well as personnel records to try to figure out what caused the accident, WNYC reported.

NTSB investigators are expected to be on-site for seven to 10 days.

Sunday’s accident is the second on the Metro-North line in six months and occurred about 2,000 feet from where the previous crash happened. In July, a CSX freight train carrying tons of garbage derailed. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), owned by the state of New York, runs the Metro-North commuter rail. 

The two crash sites both lie along a curve in the train tracks where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet in the Bronx near Spuyten Duyvil station. The MTA considers this area to be a “slow zone” because of two tight curves that come in quick succession. In the area, the speed limit drops to 30 m.p.h., compared with 70 m.p.h. for the track well ahead of the curves, said Mr. Weener.

Cuomo said he suspects that speed will turn out to be a contributing factor in the accident, although he also cited equipment failure, operator error, and track problems as other possible causes. “The trains negotiate that turn dozens of times all day long, so there has to be something else here,” he said.  

The NTSB has been urging railroads for decades to install technology that can stop derailment from occurring as a result of excessive speed.

Congress in 2008 approved a rail-safety law that gave commuter and freight railroads until the end of 2015 to install the technology, known as positive train control. PTC is aimed at preventing human error – the cause of about 40 percent of train accidents. But the systems are expensive and complicated. Railroads are trying to push back the installation deadline another five to seven years.

Metro-North is in the process of installing the technology. It now has what's called an "automatic train control" signal system, which automatically applies a train's brakes if an engineer does not respond to an alert that indicates excessive speed. These systems would slow trains, but not bring them to a halt.

Authorities do not yet know how fast the train was traveling, but they located a black box, which records the speed of trains, and it should show how fast the train was traveling at the time of the crash, said Weener.

The number of Metro-North train accidents has been falling for the past decade, according to a Federal Railroad Administration database. However, injuries from accidents are up dramatically this year, and accidents this year are also on the rise, the Associated Press reported.

The deaths of four passengers in Sunday's derailment are the first in an accident in the MTA’s 31-year history.

A part of the Metro-North line between the Bronx and parts of New York’s Westchester County could be closed for a week or more. Service was suspended on Monday on the Metro-North’s Hudson line, which serves 26,000 on an average weekday, according to the MTA website.

This report includes information from the Associated Press. 

A couple rest their feet on their luggage while waiting for their flight to return home to Germany at Newark Liberty International Airport Wednesday in Newark, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Thanksgiving storm: Travel is OK, but Macy's parade may lose balloons

By Staff writer / 11.27.13

As warm rains bluster up the Eastern seaboard, disrupting pre-Thanksgiving travel on the busiest travel day of the year, New York City officials must decide what to do with the country's largest holiday spectacle, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Meanwhile, communities across the Midwest and South prepare for their own outdoor events in plummeting – and in some cases record-breaking – temperatures.

While the storm has been less disruptive to air travel than reports early in the week indicated, the area around New York City is bearing the brunt of weather-related complications. By Wednesday afternoon, flights to five airports – Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, and New York's Newark Liberty, LaGuardia, and John F. Kennedy – were being delayed at their points of origin.

The bobbing floats and marching bands of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade draw performers from around the country to New York, along with 3.5 million spectators each year. But the whimsical fete's balloons could be grounded if sustained winds exceed 23 miles per hour and gusts exceed 34 miles per hour. After ferocious winds in 1997 caused a mammoth Cat in the Hat balloon to topple a light post and seriously injure a spectator, the city restricted the parade to safe wind conditions, reports Associated Press.

By Wednesday afternoon the National Weather Service was predicting morning winds between 15 and 25 miles per hour in the city, with gusts between 30 and 45 miles per hour. City officials will decide Thursday morning whether to let the balloons go up.

"On Thanksgiving morning, Macy's works closely with the NYPD, who, based on real time weather data and the official regulations determine if the balloons will fly and at what heights," Macy's spokesman Orlando Veras told Associated Press.

Though flights were on hold to Philadelphia shortly after noon Wednesday, winds there are expected to subside in time for the City of Brotherly Love's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which claims to be the country's oldest. Thursday will mark its 94th year.

While Wednesday has been warm and wet on the East Coast, snowstorms have been snaking through Appalachia, upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and the Great Lakes. There may be knocking knees at this year's Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will occur on the coldest Thanksgiving since 1989 if temperatures don't rise above the predicted high of 31 degrees F. America's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which marches through Detroit, will also be visited by unseasonably low temperatures, and possibly snowflakes.

The deep South will experience its coldest Thanksgiving in years, breaking records in some areas. A freeze is expected to reach the Gulf coast and portions of central Florida, where fruit trees could be at risk of damage Wednesday night. The Poarch Creek Indians of Atmore, Ala., will host their 43rd annual Thanksgiving Powwow in sunshine, but when the day's first dances begin, the area will just be thawing after a frigid overnight low of 24 degrees F.

For up-to-date information on airport conditions and delays, visit the Federal Aviation Administration's web page on flight delays. Websites like allow users affected to check on specific flights, and USA Today has compiled a list of national airlines' fee-waiver policies. Airlines are allowing travelers booked on Wednesday flights to various East Coast destinations to delay their flights a day or more at no cost.

Having galloped across the country, leaving high winds, power outages, and coastal flooding in its wake, the storm should go whinnying out of Maine by Wednesday night, Accuweather reports. It is expected to leave clear, cold Thanksgiving air behind as it sweeps through Canada's Maritime provinces. Canadians can batten their hatches, having celebrated Thanksgiving in October.

Cows are seen on a farm outside Melbourne, Australia, on Nov. 18. Cattle generate twice as much methane as the EPA previously believed, says a new report. (Sonali Paul/Reuters/File)

Are gassy cattle a bigger problem than US government thought?

By Staff writer / 11.26.13

The gassy rumblings of ruminating cattle, along with the hisses and sloshes as natural gas is extracted, refined, and transported to communities across the United States, may release 50 percent more methane into the atmosphere than the government had estimated, according to a report published Monday by Harvard University scientists. Because methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas, the new findings could tilt the international debate on the safety of natural gas, which the White House has promoted as a  "clean energy" source responsible for a domestic manufacturing boom.

The nearly 90 million cattle who spend their days in US feedlots are the country's largest source of methane from anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates. But the new report finds that ruminant animals generate twice as much methane as the EPA supposed. In Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, anthropogenic methane emissions from all sources were 2.7 times greater than believed, making up 24 percent of the nation's emissions, found the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report comes on the heels of a decision by the EPA to reduce its estimates – by 25 percent to 30 percent – of the atmospheric carbon released by the natural-gas industry.  

"These results cast doubt on the EPA's recent decision," wrote the researchers for the report. "Overall, we conclude that methane emissions associated with both the animal husbandry and fossil fuel industries have larger greenhouse gas impacts than indicated by existing inventories."

The MIT Technology Review described how the study might change the perceptions of different fossil fuels:

"At stake is whether switching from coal to natural gas can provide a net benefit in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Burning natural gas releases about half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal. But that benefit could be offset by leaks of methane, the primary component of natural gas."

President Obama remains a strong supporter of the natural-gas industry, but he has begun discussing it in more measured terms. In his 2012 State of the Union address, he praised the industry's cleanliness and economic promise, which he said was "proving that we don't have to choose between our environment and our economy." But his 2013 Economic Report included some reservations:

"Measuring fugitive methane emissions from the U.S. natural gas supply chain and, more generally, understanding the potential impacts of natural gas development on water quality, air quality, ecosystems, and induced seismicity, are critical to understanding the impact on the environment of the increasing use of natural gas."

The report also called anthropogenic greenhouse gases "the most significant long-term pollution challenge facing America."

After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas, and it affects the atmosphere's ability to oxidize other pollutants. According to the report, anthropogenic methane emissions account for 50 to 65 percent of the global methane "budget," the largest portion of which comes from cattle. The natural-gas industry is the next largest source, followed by fermentation in landfills and then coal mining.

So, why are the results of this report so different from government data?

These scientists took a somewhat more on-the-ground (and, it turns out, up-in-the-air) approach. Whereas the EPA bases its estimates on assumed emissions per animal, or per unit of coal or gas sold, these researchers gathered nearly 13,000 measurements of airborne methane from points on the ground, on telecommunications towers, and on airplanes. They also used known information about population density and economic activity to try to determine the relative responsibilities of different methane-generating sectors, in different regions.

But, the MIT Technology Review wrote, the study does not provide "the last word" on methane pollution. "For one thing, it doesn’t directly measure emissions from specific sources, so it doesn’t pinpoint causes of leaks. As more data is gathered, steps can be taken to reduce methane leaks; for example, natural-gas producers and [distributors] could be required to follow best practices."

The EPA said Monday that it is reviewing the Harvard study. "EPA is committed to using the best available data for our inventory and continually seeks opportunities to update and improve our estimates," the agency said in a statement.

Natural-gas industries have been less welcoming of the news.

"Australia's coal seam gas industry has rejected" the study, saying it conflicts with existing information on natural-gas extraction, reports Australia's Sydney Morning Herald.

A source in the US natural gas industry said officials there were not ready to comment on the report.

Just one day before the Harvard report was published, a group of US and Russian scientists published a study in Nature Geoscience, which found that bubbles of ancient methane are surfacing at increasing rates in the Arctic region, as warming oceans thaw underwater permafrost and increasingly fierce storms break up structures that kept them underwater.

"Increasing storminess and rapid sea-ice retreat causing increased CH4 fluxes from the [East Siberian Arctic Shelf] are possible new climate-change-driven processes," the scientists wrote. "Continuing warming of the Arctic Ocean will strengthen these processes."

On Friday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the Pentagon's first-ever Arctic strategy to maintain peace and cleanliness in the rapidly fracturing region, as global warming makes it increasingly vulnerable to drillers and shipping companies.

Attorneys David Henry (l.) and Matt Morgan and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (r.) surround Tricia Norman as she answers a question during a news conference in Tampa, Fla., last month. (Calvin Knight/The Ledger/AP)

Rebecca Sedwick suicide: Mother vows to 'crusade' for tougher bullying laws (+video)

By Staff writer / 11.25.13

The mother of Rebecca Sedwick, the 12-year-old Florida girl who killed herself in September after months of online bullying, announced Monday that she would push state and federal lawmakers to pass antibullying legislation.

Under her proposals, children who repeatedly bully others could be sent to a juvenile detention facility, and public schools would be required to establish and follow antibullying procedures, reports Reuters.

"I'm going to make sure that other children are not tormented like my daughter was. My goal is to use this personal tragedy to make society a safer place to live, said Tricia Norman, Rebecca's mother. "I know it is what Rebecca would want."

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Ms. Norman's lawyer, Matt Morgan, promised a "crusade" against bullying, during a press conference Monday in Orlando, Fla.

Rebecca, who had changed middle schools in an attempt to escape bullying by her classmates, jumped to her death from a silo in an abandoned cement factory, leading to the arrest of two girls, ages 12 and 14, on charges of stalking, and raising many questions about who should be held responsible in cases of juvenile and online bullying, and how.

Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Fla. told the New York Times that the 14 year old had posted on Facebook, "Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself," and used internet slang to emphasize that she couldn't care less. But, he said, the girl told police that her account had been hacked, and that she had not written the posting. Last Wednesday the charges against both girls were dropped due to lack of evidence, and on Thursday the younger of the two appeared on NBC's "Today" show with her parents. She denied the felony stalking charges against her, and said the experience had taught her the importance of standing up against bullies.

Norman announced at Monday's press conference that she intended to file a civil lawsuit that would "hold them accountable to the full extent of the law," though her lawyer would not say whom exactly the lawsuit would target.

"I know having anger in my heart is not good," Norman said, according to an Associated Press report. "I keep waiting for an apology I know will never come. This lack of personal responsibility is beyond upsetting."

The Orlando Sentinel reports that a Florida cyberbullying law went into effect weeks after Rebecca's death, but that there is no criminal penalty for those accused of cyberbullying. 

The proposed law has been dubbed "Rebecca's Law," and Mr. Morgan said that it had "support at the highest levels," though he would not specify whether the proposed law had legislative sponsors.                                                                                                                                 

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Chrissy Green and daughter Skyla take their turn down the hill at Cameron Stadium in Lawton, Okla., on Sunday, after a morning snowstorm left a blanket of inviting icy stuff on the slope. (Stephen Robertson/The Lawton Constitution/AP)

Thanksgiving Day: widespread sun after a cold, wet mess (+video)

By Staff writer / 11.25.13

A ferocious storm, which formed off the coast of California last week and coated the southwest and southern Plains with unseasonal snow and ice, is now lumbering toward the eastern part of the US. It is expected to gain momentum by joining forces with another pressure system currently forming in the Gulf of Mexico, before moving north and disrupting Thanksgiving travel on Wednesday, the biggest travel day of the year. 

"In the storm's wake, fresh, cold air will pour across the Eastern US for Thanksgiving Day," reports Accuweather. But, notes the forecasting service, winds could remain strong, which might impact festivities, including the balloon-filled Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

With 37 percent of all holiday travelers planning to set out for their weekends on Wed., Nov. 27, Accuweather predicts widespread travel delays that will affect all of New England and the mid-Atlantic, reaching as far south as Georgia and as far west as central Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

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The storm is expected to deliver 2 inches of rain and high winds along the East coast's I-95 corridor, Tuesday and Wednesday, according to meteorologist Dave Samuhel of Inland from that area, he forecasts six inches of snow across a broad area encompassing West Virginia, parts of Pennsylvania and New York, and northern New England.

AAA, the service organization for motorists, projects that 43.4 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from their homes between Wednesday and Sunday, 90 percent of them by car. On average, they will venture 601 miles away from home, which is the distance between Chicago, Ill., and Chattanooga, Tenn., a nine-hour car trip.

About 1.5 percent fewer people are projected to travel than did last year, reports AAA. Thanksgiving 2012 may have been the peak of the post-recession travel rebound, after the 2008-2009 recession drove Thanksgiving travel down by 25 percent.  

“For those traveling, the good news is motorists will receive a holiday bonus in the form of lower gas prices, which are at their lowest levels for the holiday since 2010," said AAA Chief Operating Officer Marshall Doney, in a press release. In most states, reports AAA, drivers can now find gas being sold for under $3 per gallon.

Aside from rains in California and snow showers in the upper Great Lakes area, weather on Thanksgiving Day should be cause for gratitude after the passing storm; most of the country can expect a brisk but sunny day.   

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Former state chemist Annie Dookhan sits Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, before a hearing where she entered a guilty plea on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and tampering with evidence. Ms. Dookhan, who admitted faking test results in criminal cases, was sentenced to three to five years in prison, followed by two years' probation. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, David L Ryan)

Chemist who falsified drug tests in criminal cases goes to jail herself (+video)

By Staff writer / 11.22.13

A former state chemist for Massachusetts pleaded guilty Friday to breezing fraudulently through tens of thousands of tests used to prosecute drug-related crimes and then covering up her shortcuts. Annie Dookhan will serve three to five years in prison, and the Massachusetts criminal justice system must now reevaluate thousands of prosecutions that relied on her tests.

After initially denying the charges, Ms. Dookhan, who was born in Trinidad, raised in Boston, and is now a single mother in her 30s, changed her plea Friday. She pleaded guilty to 27 charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and tampering with evidence.

Dookhan's actions may have distorted the results of the criminal trials of more than 40,000 individuals, and close to 350 people have already been released from prison as a result, Boston public radio station WBUR reports. The Boston-area Department of Public Health laboratory where she had worked for 10 years was closed in August 2012 after the scandal surfaced, and the Associated Press reports that 1,100 criminal cases have been dismissed or not prosecuted as a result.

Judge Carol S. Ball, who delivered Dookhan's sentence in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, said in her ruling that “the consequences of her behavior, which she ought to have foreseen, have been nothing short of catastrophic." She continued, "Innocent persons were incarcerated, guilty persons have been released to further endanger the public, millions and millions of public dollars are being expended to deal with the chaos Ms. Dookhan created, and the integrity of the criminal justice system has been shaken to the core."

As of Friday, the state had spent a total of $8.5 million responding to the drug lab crisis, AP reports, and another $8.6 million was authorized to be spent in the current fiscal year, according to Alex Zaroulis, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance.

Dookhan was removed from her laboratory duties after she was caught forging a colleague's initials in June 2011, according to The New York Times. But she continued to serve as an expert court witness until she was put on administrative leave in February 2012. In August 2012, she admitted to having mishandled samples, and a subsequent investigation, CNN said, alleged that she had routinely tampered with criminal evidence by altering vials of substances awaiting evaluation for drug content. She altered them, allegedly, to cover up the practice of "dry labbing" samples, which means testing only a fraction of a group of samples before marking them all positive for illegal drugs.

WBUR created charts that show the breakdown of Dookhan's lab results, along with the seemingly remarkable speed with which she processed drug tests. Her colleagues' work slowed down significantly after the US Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the Sixth Amendment right to confront one's accusers required that chemists make themselves available to testify in court about the results of criminal drug tests. But Dookhan actually started processing drug samples more quickly after that point.

During her August 2012 confession, a police report quoted by The New York Times noted, “She became sad and a slight tear came to her eye, and she stated, ‘I screwed up big time. I messed up. I messed up bad. It’s my fault. I don’t want the lab to get in trouble.’”

But Dookhan's motives remain unclear.

Evidence emerged that she became a go-to chemist for prosecutors who needed their evidence analyzed quickly. Anne Goldbach, of the Massachusetts public defenders agency, told WBUR, “You can tell that Annie Dookhan felt a sense of allegiance to the prosecution. That is absolutely unconscionable.”

Dookhan's attorney, Nicolas Gordon, said, "Her motivation is to be the hardest-working and most prolific and most productive chemist that she could possibly be, and that's how this whole mess begins," WBUR reports.

The Boston Globe suggested that a humble background left Dookhan with a big need to prove herself. "A petite 4 feet 11 inches and a native of Trinidad, Dookhan appeared determined even as a young immigrant girl to outrun expectations and the perceived anonymity of her circumstances," the Globe wrote in February. "Notably intelligent, 'Little Annie' Dookhan was going to make sure that she would never be overlooked."

Dookhan's choice to plead guilty means that the case will not go to trial, so her motive may remain hard to pinpoint.

The Massachusetts state prosecutor had asked for a five- to seven-year sentence, citing the "egregious nature" of Dookhan's actions, AP reports. Her defense lawyer requested a one-year sentence for his client, who has no previous criminal record and has been the primary caretaker of her disabled son.

According to The New York Times, at least 50 of the defendants who have been released from jail because of the scandal, now known as "Dookhan defendants," have been rearrested. Two were murdered upon their release, and one man, Donta Hood, who had been serving time for cocaine possession, is back behind bars after allegedly shooting a man during a drug dispute.

Jamell Spurill, who had been jailed on drug charges, was recently released but soon rearrested, charged with possessing a stolen gun, the Times reports. According to Dookhan's prosecutors, he told police, “I just got out thanks to Annie Dookhan. I love that lady.”

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