Saturday, December 21, 2013

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Ice, snow, flooding and even tornadoes threaten to snarl Christmas travel from Texas to Canada

CHICAGO (AP) -- A storm with a 2,000-mile footprint threatened to frustrate Christmas travelers from Texas to Nova Scotia with a little of everything Mother Nature has to offer, from freezing rain, ice and snow to flooding, thunderstorms and at least one tornado in the South.

Some of the millions of people hitting the roads and airports Saturday squeaked through before any major weather hit, but as the afternoon wore on, cancellations and delays started to mount at major aviation hubs. Forecasters said roads that are passable one minute could become treacherous the next as a cold blast on the backend of the storm turns rain to ice and snow.

Making it harder for forecasters to stay a step ahead, the system was a weird swirl of wintry and spring-like weather as it passed over areas in the Midwest. While ice was accumulating in Oklahoma and elsewhere, downing trees and power lines, Memphis, Tenn., was enjoying spring-like weather, with temperatures reaching into the 70s.

Authorities said a suspected tornado injured three people and damaged three homes Saturday evening near Hughes, Ark., which is just 35 miles southwest of Memphis. And David Cox, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Jackson, Miss., said a second suspected tornado touched down near Dermott in far southeastern Arkansas, injuring two people and damaging about 20 homes.

Powerful straight-line winds, too, were causing problems and were being blamed for pushing vehicles off of Interstate 40 near West Memphis, Ark., which backed up traffic in both directions for miles.

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S. Sudan: 3 US military aircraft hit by gunfire, 4 wounded; UN chopper hit in same area

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Gunfire hit three U.S. military aircraft trying to evacuate American citizens in a remote region of South Sudan that on Saturday became a battle ground between the country's military and renegade troops, officials said. Four U.S. service members were wounded in the attack in the same region where gunfire downed a U.N. helicopter the day before.

The U.S. military aircraft were about to land in Bor, the capital of the state of Jonglei and scene of some of the nation's worst violence over the last week, when they were hit. The military said the four wounded troops were in stable condition.

The U.S. military said three CV-22 Ospreys -- the kind of aircraft that can fly like a helicopter and plane -- were "participating in a mission to evacuate American citizens in Bor." A South Sudan official said violence against civilians there has resulted in bodies "sprinkled all over town."

"After receiving fire from the ground while approaching the site, the aircraft diverted to an airfield outside the country and aborted the mission," the statement said. "The injured troops are being treated for their wounds." It was not known how many U.S. civilians are in Bor.

After the aircraft took incoming fire, they turned around and flew to Entebbe, Uganda. From there the service members were flown to Nairobi, Kenya aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 for medical treatment, the statement said.

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Memorials in US, Scotland, London mark 25th anniversary of Lockerbie attack

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) -- Families of some of the 270 people who died in an airliner bombing 25 years ago gathered for memorial services Saturday in the United States and Britain, honoring victims of a terror attack that killed dozens of American college students and created instant havoc in the Scottish town where wreckage of the plane rained down.

Bagpipes played and wreaths were laid in the Scottish town of Lockerbie and mourners gathered for a moment of silence at London's Westminster Abbey, while U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told victims' relatives at Arlington National Cemetery that they should take comfort in their unity even if time cannot erase their loss.

"We keep calling for change, and fighting for justice, on behalf of those no longer with us. We rededicate ourselves -- and our nation -- to the qualities that defined the men and women that we lost," Holder said.

The events marked the 25th anniversary of the explosion of Pan Am 103, a New York-bound flight that exploded over Lockerbie less than an hour after takeoff from London on Dec. 21, 1988. Many of the victims were American college students flying home for Christmas, including 35 Syracuse University students participating in study abroad programs.

The attack, caused by a bomb packed into a suitcase, killed 259 people aboard the plane, and 11 others on the ground also died.

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AP PHOTOS: Families honor the 270 who died in airliner bombing over Lockerbie 25 years ago

Twenty-five years ago, Pan Am 103, a New York-bound flight from London, exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people aboard the plane, and 11 others on the ground.

Memorial services were held Saturday in the United States, Scotland and England as families remembered the terror attack's victims. Many of the dead were American college students flying home for Christmas.

Bagpipes sounded and wreaths were laid in the Scottish town of Lockerbie and mourners gathered for a moment of silence at London's Westminster Abbey. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told victims' relatives at Arlington National Cemetery that they should take comfort in their unity even if time cannot erase their loss.

Here's a collection of images from that catastrophic day in 1988 and from this weekend's services.

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Hospital: 17-year-old student who was shot in head by classmate at Colorado high school dies

LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) -- A suburban Denver high school student who was shot in the head by a classmate died Saturday afternoon, hospital officials and her family said.

Claire Davis, 17, was in critical condition after being shot at point-blank range at Arapahoe High School on Dec. 13.

"It is with heavy hearts that we share that at 4:29 p.m. this afternoon, Claire Davis passed away, with her family at her side," a statement from Littleton Adventist Hospital said.

"Despite the best efforts of our physicians and nursing staff, and Claire's fighting spirit, her injuries were too severe and the most advanced medical treatments could not prevent this tragic loss of life. Claire's death is immensely heartbreaking for our entire community, our staff and our families."

The Davis family said in a statement that they are grateful for the 17 years they had with their daughter.

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In conservative Utah, gay marriage catches many off guard; Legal battle expected to continue

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A day after a judge's surprise ruling overturned Utah's same-sex marriage ban, at least one county clerk intended to open early Saturday to issue licenses.

About 40 minutes north of Salt Lake City, about 300 hundred people showed up at the Weber County Clerk's Office on Saturday afternoon but were later turned away without marriage licenses.

Clerk Ricky Hatch apologized and said that county officials had told him that opening for special circumstances may violate constitutional guarantees of equal protection. Hatch told The Associated Press he was also told that the county's standard security requirements were not in place for a Saturday opening.

The confusion Saturday and reports of other crowds scrambling to find an open office illustrated how gay marriage caught many in Utah off guard.

On Friday, more than 100 couples rushed to wed in Salt Lake County shortly after the ruling was released. State officials slammed the decision and moved to stop licenses from being issued.

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US releases once-secret legal rulings in attempt to justify Bush-era surveillance programs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The director of national intelligence on Saturday declassified more documents that outline how the National Security Agency was first authorized to start collecting bulk phone and Internet records in the hunt for al-Qaida terrorists and how a court eventually gained oversight of the program.

The declassification came after the Justice Department complied with a federal court order to release its previous legal arguments for keeping the programs secret.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explained in a statement Saturday that President George W. Bush first authorized the spying in October 2001, as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, just after the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush disclosed the program in 2005. The Terrorist Surveillance Program -- which had to be extended every 30-60 days by presidential order -- eventually was replaced by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that requires a secret court to approve the bulk collection.

Clapper also released federal court documents from successive intelligence directors arguing to keep the programs secret, after a California judge this fall ordered the administration to declassify whatever details already had been revealed as part of the White House's campaign to justify the NSA surveillance. Former agency contractor Edward Snowden first made the surveillance programs public in leaks to the media.

A senior intelligence official Saturday confirmed that the documents were released as part of two long-running class-actions cases against the NSA in California. The official said that at the judge's direction the administration reviewed prior declarations in order to relate information that is no longer classified and determined what could be released. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to describe the court case by name.

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Walking across US: Whether for cause or just because, lure of road irresistible, inexplicable

For a week following Jadin's death, Joe Bell lay in bed, beating himself up, wondering what he could -- should -- have done differently to help his son.

In the face of relentless bullying at high school, the openly gay 15-year-old had confessed to his parents six months earlier that he'd been having suicidal thoughts. Bell and his wife got their son into counseling, and Jadin appeared to be doing well.

Then he hanged himself.

Racked with guilt, Bell chided himself over scolding Jadin for smoking a few days before the hanging. The Oregon man worried that he couldn't survive this grief.

Bell knew he had to do something. Then it came to him: He'd walk across the country, sharing Jadin's story.

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In Hawaii, Obama and family open winter vacation on quiet note with hope for few interruptions

HONOLULU (AP) -- An ocean away from Washington worries, President Barack Obama opened his annual Hawaii vacation Saturday on a quiet note -- and hoped it would stay that way for the next two weeks.

Every year, Obama and his family prepare to return to his birth state here on the sun-scorched shores of Oahu. And every year -- until now -- congressional squabbling has forced the Obamas to delay their trip.

This year, Obama was cleared for an on-time departure by Congress, which defied pessimistic expectations last week by passing a bipartisan budget deal, all but ensuring the government won't shut down over the next two years. It was a far cry from presaging a new era of cooperation, to be sure, but a silver lining for Obama a day earlier as he acknowledged a year of frustrating "ups and downs" in an end-of-year news conference.

The president, first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and first dogs Sunny and Bo hopped an overnight flight Friday aboard Air Force One to Honolulu, where they were whisked by motorcade to a beachside home in Kailua, a sleepy suburb with a five-mile stretch of beach popular among windsurfers and tourists.

The next morning Obama, typically an early riser, got a late start, staying at the home until early afternoon, when he headed to the golf course at a nearby Marine Corps base. Joining Obama for the round of golf were Sam Kass, the White House chef; Marvin Nicholson, Obama's trip director; and presidential friend Bobby Titcomb, the White House said.

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Budget crunched: Cutting smaller sports a growing trend at cash-strapped universities

The meeting was brief. A few minutes tops.

Temple athletic director Kevin Clark didn't mince words. Standing inside the football team's indoor practice facility earlier this month, Clark scanned the crowd of dozens of student-athletes -- none of them football players -- and told them the financially strapped athletic department was cutting their sport at the end of the 2013-14 academic year.

There weren't a lot of details. No lengthy question and answer session. Sitting alongside his 16 teammates on the men's gymnastics team, sophomore Evan Eigner sat in stunned silence.

"When I heard the news," Eigner said, "I kind of went numb a little bit."

Temple's announcement that it's going from 24 sports to 17 next fall, a move that will eventually save about $3-3.5 million a year, was just the latest in a growing line of colleges and universities that are reshaping overextended athletic programs by shuttering smaller sports to help make those that remain -- particularly those designed to bring in revenue -- more competitive.