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World Briefs II

Flight 800 Inquiry Discounts Theory of Nearby Missile Blast

The Washington Post

The FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board have all but ruled out one of two remaining active theories of a possible criminal cause for the explosion of Trans World Airlines Flight 800, which killed 230 people on July 17, 1996.

Detailed letters to members of Congress this week from the FBI and the board said the FBI has found no evidence that a missile exploded near the Boeing 747 and sent a fragment into its fuel tank. Extensive tests with exploding missile warheads produced damage patterns "significantly different" from those found in the wreckage of the plane, the safety board's letter said.

The FBI's letter said that no theory has been ruled out but that there is "no evidence" of a missile or bomb and "the likelihood of finding such evidence in the future diminishes as we daily complete leads and other lines of inquiry seeking to close out theories and resolve questions of possible criminal activity."

The letters from James K. Kallstrom, assistant FBI director, and Jim Hall, chairman of the safety board, said tests conducted by the FBI, the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration, in which various missile warheads were exploded near an aircraft fuselage, offered no support for the "proximity explosion" theory.

"Examination of the recovered pieces of the aircraft, particularly the skin, has not found the markings and fragmentation patterns that would be characteristic of the warheads of large conventional or shoulder-launched missiles," said Kallstrom's letter to Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's aviation subcommittee.

Sleeping Driver Gets Five Years

The Washington Post

Neal Edward Semich was feeling drowsy as he drove his Dodge sedan to a business meeting in February. He cranked up the vent to stay alert.

But Semich, 35, of Fredericksburg, Va., dozed off anyway. He crossed a double yellow line on Route 28 in Prince William County, startling an oncoming driver who lost control of his car and struck another vehicle.

Two people died in the wreck. Semich drove away, later saying he was unaware he had caused the accident.

Thursday, as Semich begged for leniency and choked backed tears, Prince William Circuit Judge Richard B. Potter sentenced him to five years in prison. He was sentenced to seven years in prison but the judge suspended two years of the sentence; Semich also must complete two years of parole.

The judge said he was exceeding state sentencing guidelines, which recommend a maximum term of six months, because of the nature of the crime and to send a message.

"If you're tired and falling asleep as you drive, you need to get off the road," Potter said. For drivers who may consider getting on the road when they're drowsy, he said, "the lesson from this case is you go to jail."

Semich, an electrical engineer for the Navy, had pleaded guilty in July to two counts of reckless driving and felony hit-and-run.

At Thursday's sentencing in Manassas, Semich apologized for his actions and asked the judge to take into account that he suffers from sleep apnea, which was not diagnosed until after the accident. The disorder keeps Semich from sleeping soundly and caused him to doze off behind the wheel, shortly before 8 a.m., his attorney said.

North American Mound' Structure Predates Pyramids

Los Angeles Times

Long before the Egyptians began building pyramids, North Americans were erecting massive earthworks that reflected sophisticated leadership skills and the ability to warehouse the large quantities of food necessary to sustain their construction efforts, new archeological discoveries show.

A team of researchers reports in Friday's edition of the journal Science the discovery of the oldest reliably dated human-made structure in North America, a 5,400-year-old earthen mound at Watson Brake, La., that is almost 2,000 years older than nearby sites.

The circular mound, as tall as a two-story house, forms an enclosure nearly 300 yards in diameter, but its purpose is not yet clear.

The discovery of this and other mounds in Louisiana and Florida suggest that the earliest Americans, long thought to be simple hunter-gatherers who roamed the countryside in small, mobile bands, were actually capable of organizing and executing large civil engineering projects, the team reports.

The discovery "totally changes our picture of what happened in the past," says archeologist Vincas Steponaitis of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

2,000 Marijuana Plants Seized

the Los Angeles Times

In the second such discovery in Los Angeles this year, sheriff's deputies Wednesday raided a house converted to indoor marijuana growing, taking into custody three people including a couple arrested in 1993 on charges of running what was then the biggest such indoor pot plantation in California history.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department narcotics detectives netted more than 2,000 plants believed to be worth about $20 million on the street, authorities said.

In July, sheriff's detectives seized 4,116 marijuana plants worth an estimated $20 million growing in the Bel-Air mansion of medical marijuana-activist Todd McCormick. Detectives said the house raided Wednesday appeared to have no connections to McCormick or any medical marijuana group.

Each room in the 4,000-square-foot, six-bedroom house in the San Fernando Valley was packed with marijuana plants, from inch-high seedlings to stalks five feet tall.