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News Briefs, part 2

Brother Says Phoenix May Have Taken Drugs before Death

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES

The untimely death of actor River Phoenix remained cloaked in mystery Monday, as an autopsy failed to address an anguished statement by the young star's brother that drugs may have contributed to his sudden collapse, authorities said.

Phoenix, who rose to fame as a teen-aged actor in the 1986 coming-of-age film, "Stand By Me," fell into a violent seizure and died early Sunday outside a Sunset Strip nightclub where a Halloween party was in full swing. Officials at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said he arrived in full cardiac arrest, with no pulse or blood pressure.

In a frantic call to paramedics, Phoenix's brother, who had helped him out of the club only to watch him collapse on the sidewalk, told a dispatcher that the 23-year-old actor may have ingested "Valium or something," according to a tape of the 911 call he placed.

A TV newsmagazine, quoting an anonymous hospital source, also reported that cocaine and Valium were detected in a routine blood workup done at the Cedars-Sinai emergency room.

But officials at the hospital refused to confirm the report, and those who knew Phoenix said the reports were difficult to reconcile with his reputation for clean living and dedicated professionalism.

Los Angeles County Coroner's spokesman Scott Carrier said an autopsy performed Monday was "inconclusive as to the cause of death," and offered no clues except for a lack of blockage of major arteries, which would indicate that he did not die of heart disease or massive stroke. Carrier said further toxicological tests would better adress the drug question, but those tests will not be available for at least another week to 10 days.

More Hot, Dry Winds Put Southern California on Fire Alert

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES

Hot, dry winds are expected to return Tuesday, and police and firefighters will be on special patrol across Southern California to deter arsonists who might attempt to take advantage of the dangerous fire conditions, officials said Monday.

Arsonists were blamed for at least six of last week's devastating fires. No suspects have been arrested yet in any of those blazes, and investigators fear that some may attempt to strike again Tuesday.

Volunteer citizen groups, equipped with portable radios, were scheduled to join police and fire personnel in the patrolling effort in areas where brush is thickest and fire danger is the greatest. Fire units were being placed on "red-flag" alert.

Forecasters said the winds should gust at up to 50 mph over some areas of Southern California Tuesday and Wednesday, accompanied by warm temperatures and low humidity -- conditions similar to those that whipped last week's brush fires into destructive firestorms that destroyed 815 buildings, including 685 homes.

With the 13 blazes that charred more than 170,000 acres fully contained and largely extinguished by Monday night, the main work of the hundreds of firefighters still manning the lines was to preparefor Tuesday's winds and to ready the land for winter rains.