Friday, January 4, 2013

Published:

NY nursing homes under scrutiny over handling of Sandy evacuees; 'Where is this money going?'

NEW YORK (AP) -- A nursing home and an assisted living facility are under scrutiny by state officials and an advocacy group after The Associated Press disclosed that hundreds of elderly and disabled people forced to evacuate by Superstorm Sandy were still sleeping on cots in cramped and sometimes oppressive conditions almost two months later.

New York's attorney general sent two investigators to the Bishop Henry B. Hucles Episcopal Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Brooklyn last week after the AP reported that the home was swollen to nearly double its 240-bed licensed capacity with evacuees from the storm-damaged Rockaway Care Center on the Queens seashore.

As of Christmas, many of those patients were still sleeping, field-hospital style, on rows of cots squeezed into community rooms, a rehabilitation gym and the nursing home's tiny chapel.

The state's Office of Long Term Care Ombudsman also dispatched a representative to check on conditions. State Health Department officials were independently investigating how one patient walked out of the facility unnoticed on a cold Friday night, only to turn up at a hospital two days later.

Separately, a legal aid group, MFY Legal Services, is questioning why disabled and elderly residents of Belle Harbor Manor, an adult care home in Queens, were still being asked to sign over most of their monthly Social Security checks to the facility to cover room and board even though they have been flooded out of their rooms since Halloween.

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FDA proposes sweeping new food safety rules covering farms and processing plants

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed the most sweeping food safety rules in decades, requiring farmers and food companies to be more vigilant in the wake of deadly outbreaks in peanuts, cantaloupe and leafy greens.

The long-overdue regulations could cost businesses close to half a billion dollars a year to implement, but are expected to reduce the estimated 3,000 deaths a year from foodborne illness. Just since last summer, outbreaks of listeria in cheese and salmonella in peanut butter, mangoes and cantaloupe have been linked to more than 400 illnesses and as many as seven deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The actual number of those sickened is likely much higher.

The FDA's proposed rules would require farmers to take new precautions against contamination, to include making sure workers' hands are washed, irrigation water is clean, and that animals stay out of fields. Food manufacturers will have to submit food safety plans to the government to show they are keeping their operations clean.

Many responsible food companies and farmers are already following the steps that the FDA would now require them to take. But officials say the requirements could have saved lives and prevented illnesses in several of the large-scale outbreaks that have hit the country in recent years.

In a 2011 outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe that claimed 33 lives, for example, FDA inspectors found pools of dirty water on the floor and old, dirty processing equipment at Jensen Farms in Colorado where the cantaloupes were grown. In a peanut butter outbreak this year linked to 42 salmonella illnesses, inspectors found samples of salmonella throughout Sunland Inc.'s peanut processing plant in New Mexico and multiple obvious safety problems, such as birds flying over uncovered trailers of peanuts and employees not washing their hands.

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European atom smasher hiatus into 2015 sets stage for more discovery

GENEVA (AP) -- The world's largest and most powerful atom smasher goes into a 2-year hibernation in March, as engineers carry out a revamp to help it reach maximum energy levels that could lead to more stunning discoveries following the detection of the so-called "God particle."

With the reopening of its $10 billion proton collider in early 2015, the stage will be set for observing more rare phenomena -- and unlocking more mysteries, said James Gillies, chief spokesman for the European particle physics laboratory known as CERN.

The Large Hadron Collider under the Swiss-French border will operate for two more months then shut down through 2014, allowing engineers to lay thousands more superconducting cables aimed at bringing the machine up to "full design energy," Gillies told The Associated Press on Friday.

Physicists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN, won't exactly be idle as the collider takes a break. There are still reams more data to sift through since the July discovery of a new subatomic particle called the Higgs boson -- dubbed the "God particle -- which promises a new realm of understanding of the universe.

For the next two months, the Large Hadron Collider will be smashing protons with lead ions, then undergo several weeks of testing before it shuts down. The collider launched in September 2008, but had to be switched off just nine days later when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated, causing extensive damage to the massive magnets and other parts of the collider some 300 feet (100 meters) below the ground.

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American Eagle pilot fails alcohol test while preparing for flight, arrested at Minn. airport

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- An American Eagle pilot was suspended after failing a blood-alcohol test as he prepared to fly on Friday from Minneapolis to New York City, authorities said.

Police at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport said officers and a Transportation Security Administration agent smelled alcohol as they passed the pilot waiting to get on an elevator. The pilot was conducting preflight checks at about 6 a.m. when police boarded the aircraft, airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said.

Officers made him take a breath test and arrested him on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol, Hogan said. Passengers had not yet boarded the flight to New York's LaGuardia Airport, he said.

Hogan said airport police will wait until blood tests are processed before deciding whether to file charges against the pilot. Police identified the pilot as 48-year-old Kolbjorn Jarle Kristiansen. He was released to airline employees several hours after his arrest.

Federal rules prohibit pilots from flying within eight hours of drinking alcohol or if they have a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 or higher, half the level allowed for motorists.

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Venezuelan VP: Ailing Hugo Chavez could be sworn in later before Supreme Court

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuela's vice president said Friday that President Hugo Chavez could be sworn in by the Supreme Court later on if he's not able to take the oath of office next week before lawmakers because of his struggle with cancer.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro made the comment in a televised interview on Friday night, dismissing the argument by some opposition leaders that new elections must be called if Chavez doesn't take office as scheduled on Thursday. His stance appeared likely to generate friction between the government and opposition over the legality of putting off the swearing-in, which the constitution says should occur on Thursday before the National Assembly.

Maduro says Chavez, as a re-elected president, remains in office beyond the inauguration date stipulated in the constitution, and could be sworn in if necessary before the Supreme Court at a date to be determined.

"The formality of his swearing-in can be resolved before the Supreme Court of Justice, at the time (the court) deems in coordination with the head of state, Commander Hugo Chavez," Maduro said.

As for the opposition, Maduro said, "they should respect our constitution." The vice president held up a small copy of the constitution and read aloud passages relating to such procedures.

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Sergeant in Saudi Arabia's air force jailed in Vegas on New Year's Eve child rape charges

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A sergeant in Saudi Arabia's air force was jailed in Las Vegas on charges that he pulled a boy into a hotel room and sexually assaulted him the morning of Sin City's big New Year's Eve fireworks extravaganza.

Mazen Alotaibi, 23, faces charges including kidnapping, sexual assault with a minor and felony coercion that could get him decades in state prison, according to police and charging documents obtained Friday.

The boy, who is younger than 14, told police the man forced him into a room at the Circus Circus hotel on the Las Vegas Strip and raped him. Police arrested Alotaibi after being called to the hotel before 9:30 a.m. Dec. 31.

"There was a kidnapping and sexual assault with force," Las Vegas police Lt. Dan McGrath said. "The victim said he was forced into the room and sexually assaulted. We have a strong case based on the evidence."

The boy, who lives out of state, was staying at the hotel with his family, McGrath said. He was taken to a hospital for medical treatment and evidence collection and released later to family members. His name was not made public.

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India rape victim's friend recounts attack in TV interview; recalls apathy of police, public

NEW DELHI (AP) -- The suffering of a university student and her male friend who were brutally attacked aboard a bus in India's capital did not end after the woman was gang-raped and both were savagely beaten for 2 1/2 hours. Dumped naked on a roadside, the pair encountered shocking apathy as passersby offered only cursory looks and police debated jurisdiction for 30 minutes before taking them to a hospital, where the man received no treatment as he sat without clothes on the floor for hours, the friend recounted in a television interview.

The interview Friday marked the first time the man, who has not been named, has spoken publicly about the Dec. 16 attack in New Delhi.

The attack has outraged Indians and led to calls for tougher rape laws and reforms of a police culture that often blames rape victims and refuses to file charges against accused attackers. The nation's top law enforcement official said the country needs to crack down on crimes against women with "an iron hand."

The 23-year-old woman died last weekend from massive internal injuries suffered during the attack. Authorities charged five men with her murder and rape and were holding a sixth suspect believed to be a juvenile. A hearing in the case was scheduled for Saturday.

On the night of the attack, the woman and her companion had just finished watching the movie "Life of Pi" at an upscale mall and were looking for a ride home. An autorickshaw driver declined to take them, so they boarded the private bus with the six assailants inside, the companion told the Indian network Zee TV.

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Report: California state parks officials at highest levels kept $20M hidden from state

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Officials at the highest levels of the California Department of Parks and Recreation helped keep millions of dollars secret for more than a decade, the California attorney general's office said in a report released Friday.

The report said the "intentional non-disclosure" continued because employees feared the department's budget would be cut if lawmakers found out, and that they would be embarrassed about the years of covering it up.

"Throughout this period of intentional non-disclosure, some parks employees consistently requested, without success, that their superiors address the issue," Deputy Attorney General Thomas M. Patton wrote in the report.

Parks Director Ruth Coleman, who had been director since 2002, resigned and a senior parks official was fired last summer after $54 million was found hidden in two special funds as up to 70 parks were threatened with closure because of budget cuts.

The report said the actual amount intentionally hidden in the State Parks and Recreation Fund was $20 million, and the remaining $34 million discrepancy was due to differences in the timing of the fund reports to the state finance department and the controller's office. The amount of money kept hidden had grown as high as $29 million in 2003, the report said.

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Kobe Bryant joins Twitter, 100s of thousands immediately follow him

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kobe Bryant is no longer a holdout. He's on Twitter.

With five words -- "The antisocial has become social" -- the Los Angeles Lakers guard sent the first tweet from his account Friday. About 270,000 people followed his verified account, (at)kobebryant, within a few hours.

Bryant tiptoed into the Twitterverse last week when he briefly took over Nike basketball's account, when he sent out things like a photo of him hanging out with his daughter, an ice bath that he was dreading and even a suit he was wearing to a particular game.

Bryant says those few days made him consider starting his own account, saying he enjoyed connecting with fans "with no filters."

Heat star LeBron James has 6.8 million followers, the most of any NBA player.

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Heisman QB Manziel runs for 2 TDs, Texas A&M 14-13 halftime lead over Oklahoma at Cotton Bowl

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel ran for two touchdowns, and had to tiptoe down the sideline for 23 yards on Texas A&M's opening drive, and the 10th-ranked Aggies led No. 12 Oklahoma 14-13 at halftime of the Cotton Bowl on Friday night.

Playing his first game since becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman, Manziel had already created several more highlights by halftime in his first bowl game after an SEC-record 4,600 total yards in the regular season.

Already with a 24-yard gain on an earlier third down, the Aggies had third-and-9 on their opening drive when Manziel rolled to his left and took off. When he juked around a defender and got near the sideline, he tiptoed to stay in bounds and punctuated his score with a high-step over the pylon for a quick lead.

Officials reviewed the touchdown play, but it was clear by the replay shown on the huge video screen above the Cowboys Stadium field that Manziel, who had three carries for 52 yards on the 75-yard drive, stayed in bounds.

Manziel rushed for 113 yards on seven carries before halftime, and completed nine of 17 passes for 75 yards.