AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on March 13, 2014 at 5:02 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 13 at 5:02 AM

Malaysian aviation chief: No sign of missing plane in area shown by Chinese satellite images

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Planes sent Thursday to search the area where Chinese satellite images showed possible debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner found nothing, Malaysia's civil aviation chief said, deflating the latest lead in the six-day hunt.

"There is nothing. We went there, there is nothing," Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

Adding to the mystery, The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. investigators suspect the plane flew on for four hours once it lost contact with air traffic controllers, based on data from the plane's engines that are automatically downloaded and transmitted to the ground as part of routine maintenance programs.

The report, based on two anonymous sources, raises questions as to why the Boeing 777 would have been flying without passive or active contact with the ground, and if anyone would have been in control during that time. U.S. counterterrorism officials are considering whether a pilot or someone else on board intentionally disabled the jetliner's transponders to avoid detection and divert it, the report said.

The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been punctuated by false leads since it disappeared with 239 people aboard about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday.

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Searchers go through rubble of 2 NY buildings where 6 killed in gas explosion

NEW YORK (AP) — Under the bright glare of generator-powered floodlights, rescue workers using back hoes and a bulldozer tried to clear through mountains of broken bricks and splintered wood early Thursday as they searched for any additional victims still buried from an explosion that demolished two Manhattan apartment buildings and killed at least 6 people. Meanwhile, questions swirled about the gas leak that triggered the blast and whether complaints about gas odors had been ignored.

The explosion Wednesday morning injured more than 60 people, with searchers still trying to locate others a day later. At the site on Park Avenue and 116th Street, thermal imaging cameras were being used to identify heat spots — bodies or pockets of fire. Three victims were found between midnight Wednesday and early Thursday.

"This is a difficult job, a challenging job," Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said. He said it was "a very terrible and traumatic scene."

Searches of the street were completed Wednesday evening and no victims had been found there, city officials said. Workers initially were hampered from fully accessing the building space because of a sinkhole caused by a subsurface water main break. The weather also posed a challenge, with temperatures dropping into the 20s and rain falling, but workers planned to be at the site through Thursday.

The fiery blast erupted at about 9:30 a.m., around 15 minutes after a neighboring resident reported smelling gas, authorities said. The Con Edison utility said it immediately sent workers to check out the report, but they didn't arrive until it was too late.

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Police: 2 dead after driver crashes through South By Southwest festival barricades, hits them

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A man and woman were killed early Thursday after a suspected drunken driver fleeing from arrest crashed through barricades set up for the South By Southwest festival and struck the pair and others on a crowded street, police said.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said 23 others were injured, five critically, in the crash that happened around 12:30 a.m. as the driver tried to evade a pursuing police officer. The two people who died were on a moped that the motorist hit. The chief said the man also hit pedestrians in front of a club that was emptying.

Acevedo told reporters during a news conference that the motorist also struck a cab before crashing, jumping out of his car and trying to run. A pursuing officer shocked him with a stun gun and took him into custody.

The man, whose name was not released, faces two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

The accident stunned revelers at the annual music, film and interactive conference that draws tens of thousands to Austin each year. Many were getting real-time reports from social media.

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Former Fla. Gov. Reubin Askew has died; led state through integration battles of the 1970s

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who guided the state through a period of school busing to achieve integration in the 1970s, died early Thursday. He was 85.

Askew died surrounded by family members at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare, Ron Sachs, a former aide and family spokesman, told The Associated Press.

Askew was admitted to the hospital Saturday, his family said. Over the past three months, he has suffered from aspiration pneumonia, hip surgery and, most recently, a stroke.

Askew rose from obscurity in the Florida Legislature to become the Democrats' surprise gubernatorial nominee in 1970 and then beat the incumbent Republican, Claude Kirk.

His eight years in office coincided with the end of the Vietnam War, Watergate and dramatic social change across the nation. He was a liberal on racial issues and crusaded for overhauling the state's tax laws, open government, environmental protection, ethics legislation and streamlining the courts and other governmental agencies.

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Germany: Russia risking 'massive' economic and political consequences over course in Ukraine

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that Russia risks "massive" political and economic consequences if Moscow does not enter into "negotiations that achieve results" over the situation in Ukraine.

In an address to Parliament, Merkel told lawmakers the only way out of the crisis is through diplomacy and assured them that "the use of the military is no option."

But, she said, the European Union and other western nations would soon freeze bank accounts and implement travel restrictions if Russia refused to enter "negotiations that achieve results and aren't just a play for time."

If Moscow does not begin to "deescalate" the situation then, Merkel said the 28 European Union nations, the United States and other trans-Atlantic partners were prepared to take even stronger measures that would hit Russia economically.

"If Russia continues on its course of the past weeks that will not only be a great catastrophe for Ukraine..." Merkel said in the nationally televised address. "It will cause massive damage to Russia, both economically and politically."

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Oscar Pistorius murder trial: defense lawyer questions competence of forensic analyst

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — The chief defense lawyer at Oscar Pistorius' murder trial on Thursday pointed out alleged missteps by police and questioned their treatment of evidence in the investigation of the athlete's killing of his girlfriend.

Lawyer Barry Roux cross-examined a police forensics expert for a second day, challenging his analysis of a bullet-marked toilet door that was removed from the bathroom at Pistorius' home, where the double-amputee athlete fatally shot Reeva Steenkamp before dawn on Feb. 14, 2013.

Pistorius has said he shot Steenkamp by mistake through the door, fearing there was a dangerous intruder in the house. The prosecution says he intentionally killed her after an argument.

Roux said fragments went missing from the door after police investigators took possession of it, and he questioned the reliability of police studies of the door. The lawyer also noted that Vermeulen had not read Pistorius' version of events on the night of the killing until after he had completed his forensic study of the door, and was therefore leaning toward the prosecution's version of what happened.

The colonel's testimony has also focused on a cricket bat that Pistorius said he used to break through the toilet door to get to Steenkamp after, according to his account, realizing his mistake.

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CIA-Senate dispute raises murky legal, policy issues; no guarantee of criminal prosecution

WASHINGTON (AP) — A dispute between the CIA and the Senate that flared into public view this week has no obvious path toward criminal prosecution and may be better resolved through political compromise than in a court system leery of stepping into government quarrels, legal experts say.

The fight was fully aired Tuesday when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in an extraordinary Senate speech, accused the CIA of improperly searching a computer network the spy agency had set up for lawmakers investigating the George W. Bush-era interrogation program for suspected terrorists. CIA Director John Brennan denied the allegations, saying he'd asked for the computer audit to determine whether there was a security breach on the computers used by the Senate staff.

The matter has landed in the lap of the Justice Department, which has been asked to investigate whether laws were broken.

But legal experts say prosecutors will be hesitant to wade into a separation-of-powers dispute between two branches of government that involves a muddled area of the law and raises as many policy questions as it does legal ones. The Justice Department receives far more requests to open criminal probes than it chooses to pursue. Federal courts, too, are reluctant to referee power disputes between the two other branches of government.

"There's an ongoing debate about what the proper role of each of these branches of government is," said Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. "Who's watching the watchers? Is Congress watching the CIA or is the CIA watching Congress? And who's in control here?"

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Late winter storm sweeps through Midwest, Northeast; 3 killed in Ohio pileups

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A storm that swept through the Midwest and the Northeast just a week before the start of spring caused pileups on the Ohio Turnpike involving at least 50 vehicles, leaving three people dead and a state trooper seriously injured.

Snowy conditions along the busy toll road Wednesday had emergency workers struggling to reach accidents stretched across a 2-mile section in the eastbound lanes between Toledo and Cleveland. Another series of pileups about 10 miles to the east shut down the turnpike's westbound lanes near Sandusky.

Between 6 to 8 inches of snow fell on Cleveland and northeast Ohio.

Mike Ramella, a salesman from the Cleveland suburb of Westlake, was among the drivers mired in a 7-mile backup.

"I'm surrounded," by snow and cars, he told his wife on the phone. He said he was trying to get home to her and their three children, including a newborn, after a business trip to Michigan but was unable to make it to the next exit.

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Volunteers cuddle babies too sick or tiny to leave hospital; 'a simple touch can be healing'

CHICAGO (AP) — A volunteer slips her arms into a gauzy yellow hospital gown and approaches a medical crib holding a tiny newborn hooked up to noisy machines.

"OK," she says, with a smile. "Baby time."

That means cuddle time in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital. Here, as at several other hospitals around the country, strangers offer a simple yet powerful service for newborns too tiny or sick to go home.

When nurses are swamped with other patients and parents cannot make it to the hospital, grandmas, empty-nesters, college students and other volunteers step in. They hold the babies, swaddle them, sing and coo to them, rock them, and treat them as if they were their own.

A plaintive cry signals time to get to work.

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A day after getting cut, Ware agrees with Broncos; Revis released by Bucs; Decker joins Jets

Well, that didn't take long.

Pass rusher DeMarcus Ware got a $30 million, three-year contract from the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after being released by the Dallas Cowboys.

Not quite keeping pace with the nonstop nature of Day 1 of free agency, Day 2 did include the Buccaneers releasing cornerback Darrelle Revis after failing to trade him; wide receiver Eric Decker bolting Denver to sign with the New York Jets; receiver Golden Tate leaving the Super Bowl champion Seahawks to play alongside All-Pro Calvin Johnson with the Lions; and the Browns cutting two quarterbacks, Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.

The Revis move saved the Bucs a $1.5 million bonus that would have been due if he remained on the roster with his $16 million salary. It also freed up room under the cap for a continuing roster overhaul under new coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht.

With Broncos executive John Elway showing the same ability to close a deal that he did during his Hall of Fame career as a quarterback — and used two years ago to lure Peyton Manning to Denver — Ware's first team visit resulted in a deal that includes $20 million in guaranteed money.

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