Mystery ‘missile’: Officials scrambled this week to explain what appeared to be an airborne missile sighted off the Southern California coast. Military and aviation authorities denied any knowledge of a missile launch, but a KCBS-TV cameraman filmed a soaring orange plume over the Pacific and posted video of it online. The Pentagon said it was looking into the “unexplained contrail,” but insisted there was no threat to national security. The statement did little to quell speculation from news outlets or conspiracists, however, whose theories about the origin of the plume ranged from a foreign attack to an accidental submarine rocket launch. “The best we can tell,” said a Pentagon official, “it was probably caused by an aircraft.”
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Hit-and-run plea outrage: A prosecutor stirred public anger this week when he dropped a felony charge against accused hit-and-run driver Martin Erzinger because it might affect his job as a wealth manager at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. While driving his Mercedes on July 3, Erzinger, 52, allegedly hit bicyclist Dr. Steven Milo from behind, then sped off. “Mr. Erzinger struck me, fled, and left me for dead on the highway,” Milo said in court papers. Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert offered Erzinger the chance to plead guilty to two misdemeanors, saying, “Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession.” That prompted more than 1,000 outraged e-mails to his office, as well as an objection by Milo, a New York physician who suffered spinal cord injuries in the accident.
Seceding from Medicaid? Republican lawmakers this week proposed that Texas drop out of Medicaid, the system of federal- and state-funded health care for the poor and disabled, to help close the state’s roughly $25 billion budget deficit. After several Republican legislators raised the idea in separate news conferences, Gov. Rick Perry suggested Texas could create its own insurance program for the state’s Medicaid recipients. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, estimates that Texas could save $60 billion between 2013 and 2019 by dropping Medicaid. However, Republican State Rep. John Zerwas said it may not be “feasible” to forgo federal aid, which covers 60 percent of Medicaid costs. Ron Anderson, chief of Dallas’ Parkland Hospital, called dropping Medicaid an idea “so bizarre as to be unworthy of consideration.”
Prosecutor fired for anti-gay vendetta: State Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell was fired this week for repeatedly harassing the openly gay president of the University of Michigan’s student assembly. Attorney General Mike Cox said that in addition to Shirvell’s “harassing conduct” toward student Chris Armstrong on the Internet, he had “engaged in borderline stalking behavior” by showing up at Armstrong’s house several times, including once at 1:30 a.m. Shirvell had apparently intended to “out” Armstrong’s friends as gay. Shirvell’s blog, “Chris Armstrong Watch,” accused the 21-year-old sociology major of being a “privileged pervert,” a “racist, elitist liar,” and a “gay Nazi.”
Facebook firing: The National Labor Relations Board announced last week that it had filed a complaint against an ambulance company for firing a worker after she criticized her boss on her personal Facebook page. Board officials said Dawnmarie Souza, an emergency medical technician, was fired after posting sarcastic remarks on Facebook about her supervisor at American Medical Response. The company said Souza had violated a policy barring employees from depicting the company “in any way” on social-media sites. Lafe Solomon, the NLRB’s acting general counsel, said, “Employees have protection under the law to talk to each other about conditions at work.” Labor lawyers said the conflict has the makings of a landmark case that may help define the rights of workers in the new frontier of social media.
New Haven, Conn.
Triple murder death sentence: A jury this week imposed the death penalty on Steven Hayes, who was convicted last month of the 2007 murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters. Hayes broke into the victims’ Cheshire home—with an alleged accomplice now awaiting trial—after following them home from a supermarket. After severely beating Dr. William Petit, they forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw $15,000 from a bank before sexually assaulting and murdering her and her daughters. After tying Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, to their beds, Hayes doused them with gasoline and set them on fire. Juror Herbert Gram said the deciding factor was Hayes’ indifference to the suffering of his victims. “The earth will be a better place if Hayes is removed from it,’’ Gram said. Petit said executing Hayes was “justice,’’ not vengeance. “We need to have some rules in a civilized society,” he said.
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