Boy, 10, stranded by dispute over payment

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 (UPI) — A 10-year-old Maryland boy stranded in a psychiatric facility in Washington can get out if responsible parties agree on how to pay for his care, a judge ruled.

The boy is trapped by a three-cornered dispute over how to pay for his care, and his mother says he is not ready to return home, The Washington Post reported.

At a hearing Monday, lawyers for Prince George’s County, Md., and Children’s Hospital in Washington disputed which government would be responsible for paying if he is transferred to a residential facility in Philadelphia.

Superior Court Judge Eugene Hamilton said most of the boy’s care in Philadelphia will be covered by Medicaid so at most the county or the District of Columbia would be responsible for a 10 percent or 20 percent co-payment. But he said the Philadelphia facility will not admit him until it knows who is paying.

“D.C. and Maryland are hem-hawing about responsibility of this case when, at the end of the day, it’s not their money,” Hamilton said.

While the boy’s mother, who has custody, and his father, were both in court, Hamilton said the boy, whose name was not released, is considered legally to have been abandoned in Washington. He was hospitalized after being suspended from school Aug. 31, attacking a relative and making a suicide attempt.

Kandahar blast death toll rises

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Nov. 1 (UPI) — A suicide bomb attack outside the U.N. refugee agency in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Monday killed six people, officials said.

Four attackers died in an ensuing gun battle with Afghan security forces, CNN reported. Earlier reports said an explosives-laden truck blew up outside the U.S. International Relief and Development instead of the nearby U.N. refugee agency.

Those killed in the attack included three employees of the U.N. agency, two Afghan civilians and one Afghan police officer, CNN reported, quoting the provincial government. The attack also injured five people.

The explosion was followed by a long gun battle with police, who stopped the attackers from breaching the compound, the report said.

The U.N. agency said it was seeking more information on the incident but noted “the fact remains that people working for us have been wounded and killed and the functioning of our Kandahar office seriously disrupted.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said, “It also underscores the great risks for humanitarian workers in Afghanistan.”

Afghan National Army commander Gen. Hamid Wardag said the attack was the work of the Taliban.

Violence by the insurgents has increased sharply in the region as Afghan security forces begin to take control of their country’s security responsibility from NATO and U.S. forces.

Three U.S. troops died in an explosion set off by an improvised explosive device Oct. 22.

A suicide car bomber rammed the vehicle into a NATO armored bus in Kabul Saturday, killing 17 people, including 13 foreigners, most of them Americans, and four Afghans.

U.S. study urges sentencing reform

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Mandatory minimum sentences are “excessively severe and are applied inconsistently,” the U.S. Sentencing Commission has concluded.

The commission, which studied the issue at the direction of Congress, released a 645-page report Monday. In a statement, Commission Chair Judge Patti B. Saris said the commission “continues to believe that a strong and effective guideline system best serves the purposes of sentencing established by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984,” and recommends reform of mandatory sentencing.

“While there is a spectrum of views on the Commission regarding mandatory minimum penalties, the Commission unanimously believes that certain mandatory minimum penalties apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently across the country,” the statement said.

The commission report recommends Congress revisit “certain statutory recidivist provisions” in drug sentencing law and consider reform that would allow for flexibility in sentencing “low-level, non-violent offenders convicted of other offenses carrying mandatory minimum penalties.”

The commission also recommended that Congress reconsider so-called stacking of mandatory minimum penalties for some federal firearms crimes, “as the penalties that may result can be excessively severe and unjust, particularly in circumstances where there is no physical harm or threat of physical harm.”

Saris said mandatory minimum sentencing has contributed to federal prison overcrowding, with the federal Bureau of Prisons over its capacity by 37 percent.

“The number of federal prisoners has tripled in the last 20 years,” Saris said. “Although the Commission recognizes that mandatory minimum penalties are only one of the factors that have contributed to the increased capacity and cost of inmates in federal custody (an increase in immigration cases is another), the Commission recommends that Congress request prison impact analyses from the Commission as early as possible in the legislative process when Congress considers enacting or amending federal criminal penalties.”

The report is posted online at www.ussc.gov.

Two earthquakes reported in China

BEIJING, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Two separate earthquake of moderate intensity jolted the western and the northwest parts of China early Tuesday, but there were no reports of casualties.

The first quake, with a 5.5-magnitude, struck at 5:58 a.m. along the border of Sichuan and Gansu Provinces in western China, about 800 miles southwest of Beijing, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

China’s official Xinhua news agency reported the epicenter, at a depth of about 12.5 miles, was in city of Guangyuan in Sichuan.

“People ran out of their houses when the quake struck, but there have been no housing collapses in (the region),” a local official was quoted as saying.

The second quake, with a 5.4-magnitude at a depth of 17.3 miles, was reported at 8:21 a.m. in China’s Xinjiang-Uighur region, 1,762 miles west-northwest of Beijing, USGS said.

Mekong joint security agreement reached

BEIJING, Oct. 31 (UPI) — China, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos agreed to joint security operation on the Mekong River following the recent deaths of 13 Chinese sailors, China Daily said.

Officials from all four countries, who met in Beijing, agreed to enhance law enforcement on the river, where drug and weapons smuggling has increased, the report said.

The illegal activities have resulted in frequent armed robberies, endangering shipping, the Chinese Public Security Ministry said.

“It’s necessary for law enforcement agencies to strengthen cooperation and take effective measures,” the ministry said.

The report said 13 Chinese sailors on two cargo vessels were shot with their hands tied behind their back on the Mekong River in the Oct. 5 incident. Nine alleged suspects have surrendered to authorities in Thailand, the report said.

The joint agreement called for establishing a security mechanism for the river that will include sharing of intelligence and joint patrols.

The 3,032-mile long Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia, and is an important shipping route for countries in the region.

NTSB: Operator error in monorail crash

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Oct. 31 (UPI) — The National Transportation Safety Board issued a report Monday saying operator error is to blame for a fatal monorail crash in 2009 at Walt Disney World.

The crash occurred July 5, 2009, when a pink monorail backed through an improperly aligned switch-beam and crashed into purple monorail on the same line at the Florida theme park, the investigation concluded.

The driver of the purple monorail was fatally injured and the six passengers on board were uninjured. The driver of the pink monorail was the only person on board the pink monorail and received non-life threatening injuries.

The NTSB determined the collision occurred when a shop panel operator failed to position the switch-beam properly and the central coordinator failed to verify its position before allowing the pink monorail to move in reverse.

The reported said officials at Walt Disney World have taken steps to resolve problems the NTSB found.

“These actions have included revising operating procedures for monorail drivers and guidelines for monorail central coordinators; providing additional training for monorail employees; updating monitoring system software; installing additional direct-feed video cameras; and planned reconfiguring of the monorail braking system,” the report said.

U.S. releases Russian spy bust documents

NEW YORK, Oct. 31 (UPI) — The FBI Monday released videos, documents and photographs detailing the actions of a Russian spy ring broken up more than a year ago in New York.

The FBI said the documents provide a “rare glimpse” into the one of the biggest spy scandals since the Cold War, The Washington Post reported.

In June 2010, the FBI arrested 10 Russian agents who had been living in the United States for years, probably acting as “spotters” recruiting people to work for Moscow’s Foreign Intelligence Agency. The agents were swapped with Russia for four Americans the country held.

The documents released by the FBI are heavily censored, with entire pages of material missing and no audio accompanying the videos. The trove was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by news outlets.

The videos include clips of the Russians meeting with undercover FBI agents and picking up a package from a so-called dead drop, in which messages are exchanged through a clandestine drop-off spot. One video shows a Russian agent giving a “brush pass,” secretly passing a message to a Moscow official.

The FBI dubbed the case “Operation Ghost Stories,” because six of the agents assumed the identities of dead people.

Newborn dolphin dies at Chicago zoo

CHICAGO, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A newborn bottlenose dolphin at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo died just after birth, zoo officials said.

The male dolphin, born Sunday weighing 40 pounds after a full-term pregnancy, showed little movement and seemed weak, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday. The calf’s mother, Tapeko, had progressed normally throughout the pregnancy and had been in labor for 3 hours.

“Normally a newborn calf would need very little assistance from its mother to swim to the surface to take its first breath,” said Mike Adkesson, associate veterinarian for the zoo. “However, Tapeko had to push her calf to the surface and he was unsuccessful in taking a breath.”

The veterinary staff at the zoo attempted to revive the calf, but he showed no signs of life. A necropsy was scheduled to determine the cause of death.

Dolphin viewing was closed to the public Sunday.

“Our experienced marine mammal staff is just devastated as they share a close bond with the animals in their care. Our primary concern now is the well-being of Tapeko, who is being closely monitored,” said Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of animal collection and care for the Chicago Zoological Society.

Ariz. ‘baseline’ serial killer convicted

PHOENIX, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A jury in Phoenix Monday convicted the so-called Baseline Killer, Mark Goudeau, on nine counts of first-degree murder.

Goudeau was found guilty on 67 counts following seven days of deliberation after his five-month trial. He was acquitted on three counts of armed robbery or attempted robbery and one count of kidnapping, while the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on one sexual assault count, The Arizona Republic reported.

Goudeau is due in court Wednesday morning, when the jury will be informed of any aggravating factors that would quality the 47-year-old former construction worker for the death penalty. Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty in the case.

Authorities said Goudeau carried out a series of attacks from August 2005 to June 2006. The attacker was dubbed the Baseline Killer because the assaults began along Baseline Road in Phoenix.

Goudeau was arrested in September in an attack on two sisters. He was convicted on 19 counts in 2007 and sentenced to 438 years in prison in that case.

The cases for which he was convicted Monday involved 33 victims, including eight women and one man who died. All but two of the victims were female, most were Hispanic and four were children.

TV falls, kills 6-year-old Illinois boy

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill., Oct. 31 (UPI) — A 6-year-old boy died after a 36-inch television set fell on him in the basement of his Illinois home, relatives said.

Karl Clermont, of Arlington Heights, went to the basement to watch television by himself Sunday evening, his live-in aunt said. She said she heard a crash and found the boy underneath the television set, the Chicago Tribune reported Monday.

The aunt ran outside screaming for help and asked a neighbor to lift the television off Clermont, police said.

Police say they don’t know what caused the television to fall, but noted the 36-inch set was on an 18-inch stand. They do not suspect foul play.

Clermont was pronounced dead at Northwest Community Hospital. His mother was at work at the time, police said.