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Black farmers' bias claims examined

The Agriculture Department is investigating complaints that black farmers were denied disaster aid in Arkansas and Georgia this year, even as the department was settling a civil rights lawsuit.

The complaints involve three of the Farm Service Agency's county offices in Arkansas and two in Georgia. A team from the USDA's civil rights office was in Georgia last week, officials said Tuesday.

Those cases were among several complaints of discrimination the department received. Many of the complainants declined to cooperate with investigators.

Last April, a federal judge approved the settlement of a class-action lawsuit alleging that USDA had regularly denied black farmers loans and other assistance.

Some farmers have declined to participate in the settlement.

On Tuesday, about 120 people marched around the department's headquarters. Later, 14 of the farmers met with Rosalind Gray, director of the civil rights office.

Gray said some employees have been fired or disciplined.

John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, said he has received complaints from producers who say they were told by department officials that they didn't need disaster grants or loans because they were benefiting from the settlement.

The agency distributed $2-billion in aid this summer for weather-related losses that farmers had suffered in previous years.

Judge denies request to

end race-based busing

BOSTON _ Quashing a bid by a group of white parents to end race-based student assignment in Boston public schools by September, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that racial formulas will still be used to send students to school next month.

The ruling, however, will not affect the Boston School Committee's recent vote to rid the school district of race-based student assignment by the fall of 2000.

Saying that the "onerous" task of reassigning as many as 20,000 students within five weeks would be too detrimental to parents, students and school staff, U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner denied the parents' request.

NASA revises cause

of launch short circuit

New findings Tuesday prompted NASA to change its mind about the cause of the electrical short that occurred during last month's launch of the shuttle Columbia.

The short that disrupted the computer-like controllers on two of the shuttle's three rocket engines was likely caused by a blow to a wire beneath the payload bay, said James Hartsfield, a NASA shuttle program spokesman.

NASA said Monday that engineers had determined the short occurred 5 seconds after liftoff because insulation from the wire had been chafed away over time against a screw head.

Experts, however, changed their mind Tuesday after reviewing the results of an analysis with an electron microscope.

"From looking at it with the electron microscope the indentations in the wire were a telltale sign that it was really an impact type of damage," Hartsfield said. The short could have developed at any time since Columbia was manufactured, he said, adding, "They really don't know when it could have happened."

Texas executes man

in teller's slaying

HUNTSVILLE, Texas _ A ninth-grade dropout who shot a bank teller to death the day after she picked out her wedding dress was executed by injection on Tuesday.

Kenneth Dwayne Dunn, 39, was the third man executed in Texas in the last week and the 19th this year. Three more are set to die in the next eight days.

On March 17, 1980, Dunn walked into a Houston-area bank where he had been seen before as a customer. This time he was armed with a .357-caliber Magnum revolver and demanded money from each teller.

Witnesses said 21-year-old Madeline Peters was on the phone and unaware of the robbery. When Dunn reached her window and ordered her to put cash in a bag, she responded, "What?"

He fired, killing her with one shot to her head. He fled with almost $12,000.

"Her wedding dress was in a box open behind her," prosecutor Joe Magliolo recalled Tuesday.

Boy Scout recovering

from mauling by bear

A sleeping Boy Scout was dragged from his tent by a black bear at a northern Wisconsin camp and severely mauled before campers scared the bear off.

Matthew Murphy, 14, of Ashland, Wis., was in serious condition with a dislocated shoulder and bite wounds to his head and shoulder. He is expected to make a full recovery.

The boy was sleeping about 6:30 a.m. Monday in a tent at Tomahawk Scout Reservation camp when a bear grabbed the tent and hauled it and the boy about 80 feet.

Matthew's father threw a rock at the bear, which retreated. But it came toward him, and he threw a log at the animal, forcing it to climb a tree. After the boy was carried to safety, the bear began tearing up the tent again.

Suspect in railroad

killings indicted again

LEXINGTON, Ky. _ Angel Maturino Resendiz, suspected of being the "railroad killer," has been indicted in the 1997 killing of a University of Kentucky student.

Fayette County prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty for Resendiz, who was indicted Monday by a grand jury in the slaying of Christopher Maier, 21, on railroad tracks near the Kentucky campus. He also was charged with the rape and beating of Maier's girlfriend.

Authorities have linked Resendiz to nine slayings. He is charged with seven, including two in Illinois and four in Texas.

Seat belt law proposed

for Calif. farm workers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. _ In the aftermath of Monday's crash that killed 13 migrant workers in the San Joaquin Valley, emergency legislative reforms were proposed Tuesday that include a bill to require safety belts on farm labor vans.

"These accidents are almost as predictable as the harvests in the valley," said Assemblyman Dean Florez, a Democrat from the valley.

Florez and Democratic Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes of Fresno proposed a package of emergency bills to crack down on what they characterized as a worker transport system desperately in need of tighter regulation.

The two Latino freshmen legislators scrambled to draft the bills one day after the tomato workers were killed when the long van they were riding in smashed into a semitrailer truck on a country road in Fresno County.