Nation & World Briefs 12-04-12 Two Mexican nationals charged in the killing of Coast Guardsman

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SAN DIEGO -- Drug smugglers from Mexico have been creeping farther north along the California coast in an attempt to evade authorities, and it appears the cat-and-mouse game was behind the death of a U.S. Coast Guardsman.

Two Mexican nationals -- Jose Meija Leyva and Manuel Beltran Higuera -- were charged Monday in Los Angeles with killing a federal officer while the officer was on duty.

Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne, 34, died Sunday after he was struck in the head by the suspects' vessel, believed to be laden with drugs, near the Channel Islands, west of Los Angeles and about 180 miles northwest of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Horne is the first law enforcement official to die off California since a spike in illegal activity began several years ago, said Ralph DeSio, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman.

At least six people aboard suspected smuggling vessels have been killed since the 2010 fiscal year.

Dunford okayed as Afghan commander: The Senate has approved Gen. Joseph Dunford, President Barack Obama's choice to be the top commander in Afghanistan. By voice vote Monday, lawmakers cleared the way for Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, to take over as head of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Dunford would replace Gen. John Allen, the current commander who has been nominated to take charge in Europe. Allen's nomination is on hold as he's ensnared in the sex scandal that had led to the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus. Dunford takes charge at a critical time for Obama and the military as they decide in the coming weeks the pace of drawing down the 66,000 U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan. Dunford has directed combat forces in Iraq.

Warns against premature action: Army Gen. Carter Ham, the top U.S. military commander in Africa, warned Monday against any premature military action in Mali, even as he said that al-Qaida linked extremists have strengthened their hold on the northern part of the country. Ham said that any military intervention done now would likely fail and would set the precarious situation there back "even farther than they are today." The African Union and United Nations are currently discussing the funding, troops and other assistance necessary to take back northern Mali from the extremists that took control there earlier this year.

Court ousts judge: Col. Gregory Gross , the military judge who ordered the Fort Hood shooting suspect's beard to be forcibly shaved has been thrown off the case, but the ruling ends lengthy delays in the trial of the Army officer charged with the 2009 rampage that killed 13 people. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled Monday in that Gross did not appear impartial while presiding over the case of Maj. Nidal Hasan. Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted in the 2009 shootings on the Texas Army post that killed 13 people and wounded more than two dozen others. The court said it was not ruling on whether the judge's order violated Hasan's religious rights.

FDA pledges support: The Food and Drug Administration said Monday it will collaborate with medical device manufacturers on a public-private partnership designed to speed up the development of new medical technology. The agency said it hopes to offer guidance to the Medical Device Innovation Consortium, a new industry-backed group that aims to simplify the design and testing of medical devices.

Dies after chemical exposure: An oil refinery worker has died after being exposed to propane and acid at a Valero plant in Memphis. He is the second person to die this year from an on-the-job injury at the plant. The plant has been cited for violations related to the safe handling and control of hazardous energy and chemicals. Fire Department spokesman Wayne Cooke said two workers were injured when a sight glass on a pump ruptured, exposing them to a mixture of propane and hydrofluoric acid. A sight glass is a transparent tube or window that allows workers to monitor fluid levels within a tank, pipe, pump or boiler. One of the workers died at the hospital. The second worker and two firefighters have non-critical injuries.

Mayor set for food stamp challenge: Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker is prepared for a food stamp challenge. He and one of his Twitter followers each plan to live for a week on the monetary equivalent of food stamps or less. The mayor's week began today. The North Carolina woman's began Sunday. The mayor prepared for the challenge with a grocery purchase of $27.98. Booker tweeted a picture of a receipt of the purchases he made Saturday at a Pathmark store in neighboring Irvington.

Offices of tunnel operator searched: Police investigating an expressway-tunnel ceiling collapse that killed nine people searched the offices of the tunnel operator today to see if there is any evidence that the company neglected safety. Hundreds of concrete slabs collapsed Sunday deep inside the Sasago Tunnel west of Tokyo, falling on three moving vehicles. The accident is raising calls for more spending on Japan's aging infrastructure. The tunnel, a major link between Tokyo and central Japan, opened in 1977 at about the peak of the country's postwar road construction boom. Central Nippon Expressway Co., its government-owned operator, said it had no record of any repairs performed since then, but company official Satoshi Noguchi said an inspection of the tunnel's roof in September found nothing amiss.

Chinese units charged: Federal regulators have charged the Chinese affiliates of five of the biggest U.S. accounting firms with impeding the government's investigation of Chinese companies by refusing to turn over documents. The Securities and Exchange Commission said Monday it has started proceedings against the Chinese affiliates of all so-called Big Four accounting firms -- Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers -- and a fifth major firm, BDO.

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