Authorities opened an investigation into New York's Staten Island ferry crash after claims that the vessel's pilot was asleep or had lost consciousness at the controls. The city's worst mass transit accident in a generation occurred Wednesday afternoon. The pilot, assistant Capt. Richard Smith, reportedly fled the scene and attempted suicide; he was under police guard at St. Vincent's Hospital. Witnesses said the crash - which killed 10 people and injured at least 42 others - happened as the 300-foot craft carrying an estimated 1,500 passengers and crew slammed full-speed into a concrete pier.

The New York Stock Exchange will fine five specialist firms $50 million each for trading in ways that cheated investors of the bestprices they could have received, reports said. The disciplinary action was expected to be announced Thursday against the largest floor-traders: LaBranche & Co.; Spear, Leeds & Kellogg; Fleet Specialists; Van der Moolen; and Bear Hunter.

California got the federal OK for a 70-year-old promise to use less Colorado River water so six other states can claim their share. In a ceremony at Hoover Dam, Interior Secretary Gale Norton signed the agreement, which also calls for the nation's largest rural-to-urban water sale, to supply fast-growing Southern California. Norton called the agreement a roadmap for future water trades in the West, which faces increasing demand.

For the second time in two years, a Connecticut Roman Catholic diocese agreed to pay to settle claims of sexual abuse by priests. The $21 million agreement resulted from negotiations that began last year in Bridgeport with 40 people who said they'd been victimized as children by 16 priests. All of the latter now are inactive. The diocese reached a $15 million settlement in 2001 with 26 other plaintiffs.

The US charged two men with supplying illegal arms to Iraq Wednesday, the first of 30 pending investigations into the sources of Saddam Hussein's weapons stores. Investigators say Sabri and Regard Yakou, who are father and son, devised a scheme by which Iraq obtained sophisticated patrol boats in violation of US and UN embargoes.

The Florida Marlins won the right to represent the National League in baseball's World Series. Their 9-6 playoff victory Wednesday night over the Chicago Cubs keeps the latter out of the fall classic for the 58th straight year.

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