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Miami drug squad members on trial

Six members of Miami's elite street drug squad went on trial Monday, accused of violating the civil rights of a small-time crack dealer they allegedly beat to death. Federal prosecutors say the six men cornered Leonardo Mercado in his home, held him down and repeatedly hit him with a flashlight or night stick, then stomped him hard enough to leave boot-tread marks. They face life in prison if convicted. Defense attorneys say Mercado, who had cocaine in his blood, was a career criminal with a violent history, and died in a drug-induced psychosis while resisting arrest Dec. 16, 1988.Woman dies in fire after saving son

PUNTA GORDA _ A mother trapped in a burning mobile home handed her 4-year-old son through a window to his father's outstretched arms before succumbing to the smoke and flames, authorities said. Mary Rose Tolbert, 44, apparently was overcome in her bedroom as her husband, Daniel, 46, tried unsuccessfully to pull her through the same window that served as the escape hatch for their child, said Det. Jeff Riddell of the Charlotte County Sheriff's Department. Daniel Tolbert was treated for burns and a dislocated shoulder. He and the 4-year-old were in stable condition at hospitals. The fire broke out at 9:55 a.m. Sunday while the family was sleeping, and swiftly consumed the home and a car, firefighters said.

Man arrested in hacking death of family

MIAMI BEACH _ A 19-year-old man was arrested in the hacking death of a family in his Pennsylvania neighborhood and will be returned to his state within a day or two, a court official said Monday. Eric Robert Motis waived extradition in Dade County court Monday. Motis was arrested late Saturday night in Miami Beach while driving a car belonging to one of the murder victims, said Bucks County District Attorney Alan Rubenstein. The victims, Louise C. Hoopes, 42, and her sons Douglas, 16, and Daniel, 14, were killed as they slept early Oct. 15 in their Hilltown, Pa., home. The county coroner said they were stabbed and slashed in the head and neck. After his arrest, Motis was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, burglary, robbery and related offenses, Rubenstein said.

Paramedics defended in traffic jam

GAINESVILLE _ Hospital officials are defending a paramedic's road-jamming decision to land a helicopter on Interstate 75 near here during heavy rains and University of Florida homecoming-weekend traffic. More than 20 minor accidents were reported on the crowded interstate shortly after the helicopter landed about 2 p.m. Sunday to transport victims from a traffic accident near Micanopy. Paramedics described the condition of two patients as "yellow" _ serious but not life-threatening. "They have no idea what happens when you stop 15,000 cars for 15 minutes," said Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Larry Williams. "It takes as much four or five hours to get that traffic going."

Work camp inmate run over by officer

GAINESVILLE _ Dennis Vaughan, 27, a Gainesville Work Camp inmate, was trying to remove some wire from the axle of a truck Monday when his corrections officer accidentally ran him over, police reported. Vaughan, who was serving two prison sentences for drug, drunken-driving and fraud charges, was pronounced dead two hours after the accident. No charges have been filed against the officer. A police investigation continues.

HRS sued over temporary foster care

TALLAHASSEE _ Thousands of children are kept by the state welfare agency in temporary foster care much longer than the law allows, depriving them of a chance for normal lives, charges a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Miami. State law requires that once a judge has decided a child in foster care is dependent, the natural parents have 18 months to prove to the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) that they are capable of taking the child back. If they're not, HRS must find people to adopt them permanently. The lawsuit charges that dependent children in Dade County actually stay in foster care for an average of 36.4 months. HRS spokesman David Adams said the length of stay has dropped from 48 months to 29 months statewide over during the past three years.

_ Compiled by JAN BRACKETT from wire reports.

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