Measles at highest mark in 25 years

NEW YORK — Measles in the U.S. has climbed to its highest level in 25 years, closing in on 700 cases this year in a resurgence largely attributed to misinformation that is turning parents against vaccines. “This is alarming,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert. Not only is measles dangerous in itself, but its return could mean other vaccine-preventable diseases seemingly consigned to the past may be coming back as well, he said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 695 cases had been reported in 22 states this year as of Wednesday afternoon. That was up from 626 reported Monday and makes this the nation’s worst year for measles since 1994, with eight months still to go in 2019. There were 963 cases in 1994. Roughly three-quarters of this year’s illnesses in the U.S. have been in New York state, mainly in two ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and suburban Rockland County. Most of those cases have been in unvaccinated people. The number of cases is likely to go even higher. Measles is highly contagious and can spread through the air when someone coughs or sneezes. And in recent days, Jewish families have been gathering for Passover meals. It can take 10 to 12 days for symptoms to develop.

Texas executes avowed racist

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — An avowed racist who orchestrated one of the most gruesome hate crimes in U.S. history was executed Wednesday in Texas for the dragging death of a black man. John William King, who was white, received lethal injection for the slaying nearly 21 years ago of James Byrd Jr., who was chained to the back of a truck and dragged for nearly 3 miles along a secluded road in the piney woods outside Jasper, Texas. The 49-year-old Byrd was alive for at least 2 miles before his body was ripped to pieces in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998. Prosecutors said Byrd was targeted because he was black. King was openly racist and had offensive tattoos on his body, including one of a black man with a noose around his neck hanging from a tree, according to authorities. King, 44, was put to death at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. He was the fourth inmate executed this year in the U.S. and the third in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state. King kept his eyes closed as witnesses arrived in the death chamber and never turned his head toward relatives of his victim. Asked by Warden Bill Lewis if he had a final statement, King replied: “No.”

Parents charged in boy’s death

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — Authorities searching for a missing 5-year-old Illinois boy who had lived in deplorable conditions dug up his body Wednesday and charged his parents with murder, sadly declaring that the youngster would “no longer have to suffer.” The body, believed to be that of Andrew “AJ” Freund, was covered in plastic and buried in a shallow grave in a rural area of Woodstock in McHenry County, Crystal Lake police Chief James Black said. Black said investigators went to the site after they interviewed the boy’s parents overnight and presented them with cellphone evidence. Woodstock is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Chicago and a few miles from the family’s home in Crystal Lake. “This is not the outcome that we want to talk about … but it is the unfortunate result,” said Jeffrey Sallet, who runs the FBI in northern Illinois. The parents, Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham, each face charges of first-degree murder and other crimes.

Migrants turn to ‘The Beast’

IXTEPEC, Mexico — The train known as “The Beast” is once again rumbling through the night loaded with people headed toward the U.S. border after a raid on a migrant caravan threatened to end the practice of massive highway marches through Mexico A long freight train loaded with about 300 to 400 migrants pulled out of the southern city of Ixtepec on Tuesday. They sat atop rattling boxcars and clung precariously to ladders alongside the clanking couplings. Most were young men, along with a few dozen woman and children. Mothers clambered up the railings clutching their infants. Migrants displayed a Honduran flag from atop the train. The train known in Spanish as “La Bestia,” which runs from the southern border state of Chiapas into neighboring Oaxaca and north into Gulf coast state Veracruz, carried migrants north for decades, despite its notorious dangers: People died or lost limbs falling from the train. Mexican authorities started raiding the trains to pull migrants off in mid-2014 and the number of Central Americans aboard the train fell to a smattering. But about a week ago, a longtime migrant rights activist, the Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, noticed a change: Large numbers of migrants started getting off the train in Ixtepec, the Oaxaca town where his Brothers on the Road shelter is located. Many had waited weeks for Mexican visas that never materialized, and simply decided to head north without papers. Others were part of a 3,000-person migrant caravan that was broken up in a raid Monday by federal police and immigration agents on a highway east of Ixtepec.

Public defenders ask off case

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The public defenders for the Parkland school massacre defendant unexpectedly asked to withdraw from the case Wednesday, saying the 20-year-old man will soon inherit nearly a half-million dollars and no longer qualify for free legal representation. The Broward County Public Defender’s Office filed the unexpected notice late Wednesday, saying Nikolas Cruz is set to receive more than $432,000 shortly from his late mother’s life insurance policy. Under state law, the public defender can only represent defendants who cannot afford private attorneys. Cruz is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder arising from the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The former Stoneman Douglas student faces a possible death sentence. Public Defender Howard Finkelstein and his chief assistant, Gordon Weekes, said their office learned about the insurance policy this week. At a court hearing last year, their office had said the amount was likely to be about $30,000, too little to hire a private attorney. “By statute, we can only represent the poor and indigent,” Weekes said. “We are asking to withdraw from the case because the defendant is no longer poor.”

Facebook expects privacy fine

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook said it expects a fine of up to $5 billion from the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating whether the social network violated its users’ privacy. The company set aside $3 billion in its quarterly earnings report Wednesday as a contingency against the possible penalty but noted that the “matter remains unresolved.” The one-time charge slashed Facebook’s first-quarter net income considerably, although revenue grew by 25% in the period. The FTC has been looking into whether Facebook broke its own 2011 agreement promising to protect user privacy. Investors shrugged off the charge and sent the company’s stock up more than 9% to almost $200 in after-hours trading. EMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson, however, called it a “significant development” and noted that any settlement is likely to go beyond a mere dollar amount. “(Any) settlement with the FTC may impact the ways advertisers can use the platform in the future,” she said.

Drove into people, did not say why

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — A California motorist told investigators Wednesday that he deliberately drove into a crosswalk in a quiet Silicon Valley suburb, hitting seven people and injuring eight, but did not say why. Isaiah Joel Peoples, 34, was being held on eight counts of attempted murder as four of the victims remained hospitalized with major injuries. A 13-year-old Sunnyvale girl was in critical condition. Peoples did not resist arrest after the incident Tuesday night and was talking to investigators, Sunnyvale police Capt. Jim Choi said. “He did not say why he did it,” Choi said. “He did indicate that it was an intentional act. He did not express any remorse as far as we can tell.” Peoples’ mother, Leevell Peoples of Sacramento, said she couldn’t imagine any situation in which her mild-mannered son would deliberately crash into innocent people other than something related to the post-traumatic stress disorder she said he experienced after serving as an Army sharpshooter in Iraq.

Spate of Wi-Fi kiosk vandalism

NEW YORK — Police have arrested a man on criminal mischief charges for smashing up New York City’s flashy sidewalk Wi-Fi kiosks. Juan Rodriguez, 41, was seen on surveillance video hurling bricks or other objects at 42 LinkNYC kiosks in Manhattan over the last week. One of the videos, recorded April 16 by a camera on a kiosk near Times Square, shows a bearded man in a blue, long-sleeve T-shirt walking up and tossing a brick at the camera. New York City has more than 1,800 of the 9-foot tall, narrow kiosks. That includes about 1,100 in Manhattan. The kiosks feature large video boards and provide free Wi-Fi service and ports to charge phones.

Kim, Putin have high hopes

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin have high hopes for their first one-on-one meeting Thursday in far-eastern Russia, which comes amid deadlocked global diplomacy over the North Korean leader’s nuclear program. Kim is looking for a win after his failed second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, and Putin for a chance to raise Moscow’s clout in the region and gain more leverage with Washington. Kim arrived Wednesday aboard an armored train and told Russia’s state-owned Rossiya-24 he was hoping for a “successful and useful” visit and would like to discuss with Putin the “settlement of the situation in the Korean Peninsula” as well as bilateral ties with Russia. It was Kim’s first visit to Russia as North Korean leader; his late father, Kim Jong Il, visited Russia in 2011. The North Korean leader evoked his father’s “great love for Russia” and said that he intends to strengthen ties between the two countries.

Woman who fell to death ID’d

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. — An Arizona woman who died after falling over the edge of the South Rim at Grand Canyon National Park has been identified as Cynthia Ackley, 69, of suburban Phoenix. She fell about 200 feet Tuesday afternoon. It was the second over-the-edge death this month within the confines of the park.

Actor charged with DUI

MALIBU, Calif. — Prosecutors have charged Michael Madsen with two misdemeanor counts of drunken driving after the actor drove his SUV into a pole last month. Madsen, 61, was driving a Land Rover that ran into a pole in Malibu on March 24. No one was injured. Madsen is best known for appearing in the Quentin Tarantino movies “Reservoir Dogs” and “Kill Bill.”

Sri Lanka shakes up security posts

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s president shook up the country’s top security establishment after officials failed to act on intelligence reports warning of possible attacks before the Easter bombings that killed over 350 people, his office said Wednesday. The capital of Colombo, meanwhile, remained rattled by reports that police were continuing to conduct controlled detonations of suspicious items three days after the attacks on churches and luxury hotels, and the U.S. ambassador said that Washington believes “the terrorist plotting is ongoing.” During a televised speech to the nation Tuesday night, President Maithripala Sirisena said he would change the head of the defense forces within 24 hours, and on Wednesday he asked for the resignations of the defense secretary and national police chief in a dramatic internal shake-up. He did not say who would replace them. Sirisena said he had been kept in the dark on the intelligence about the planned attacks and vowed to “take stern action” against officials who failed to share it. Government leaders have acknowledged that some intelligence units were aware of possible attacks weeks before the bombings that struck three churches and three luxury hotels. The death toll rose Wednesday to 359, with 500 people wounded. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara also said 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58.

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