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Panther comeback in Florida means lost cattle for ranchers, study finds

The Florida panther nearly died out in the 1990s, but conservation efforts since then have more than quadrupled the number of the endangered cats -- and research shows that may be bad news for cattle ranchers.

For centuries, more than 1,000 panthers, also known as cougars and mountain lions, roamed what is now Florida, until around 1832, when a bounty was placed on them because of their perceived threat to people and livestock. By 1995, there were only 20 to 25 of the cats left, and conservation efforts ramped up. By 2012, their numbers had grown to between 100 and 160.

Caitlin Jacobs, a University of Florida master's student in wildlife ecology and conservation, spent two years conducting a study that tracked more than 400 calves on two cattle ranches, according to the university.

One of the ranches Jacobs studied lost 5% of the herd each year to preying panthers. On both ranches, panther attacks caused the most deaths, although they weren’t the only animals hunting calves.

Each ranch...

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Wisconsin Supreme Court backs GOP law on voter ID

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday upheld state requirements that people show photo identification before being allowed to vote, the latest battle over how to regulate the polls.

In a split ruling, the court backed the photo requirement, strongly pushed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. However, there is still a pending suit on the issue which was initially struck down by a federal court in April. Earlier this week, the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief opposing the law, saying that the photo ID requirement unfairly limited participation by minority voters.

“Voter ID is a common sense reform that protects the integrity of our elections,” Walker said in a statement. "We look forward to the same result from the federal court of appeals.”

The issue of who gets to vote and under what circumstances goes to the heart of the political process, especially in the current election cycle on the federal level in which the GOP is seeking to retain control of the House of Representatives and...

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1 dead, 1 critical after shooting in downtown Chicago

A demoted worker shot and critically injured his company's CEO before turning the gun on himself Thursday inside a downtown Chicago high-rise in the city's bustling financial district, police said.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said the shooter came into work at a technological company on the 17th floor, and drew a gun during a meeting with his company's CEO.

The two men struggled for the gun, and the CEO was shot twice and remains in "grave condition," according to McCarthy. The shooter then took his own life.

“Apparently he was despondent over the fact that he got demoted," McCarthy said during a news conference. "They’ve been undergoing a downsizing. They’ve demoted a number of people.”

Officer Jose Estrada, a Chicago police spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times that the 54-year-old victim was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condtion.

The shooting took place inside the offices of ArrowStream, a technology company, according to the Chicago Tribune....

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Wisconsin Supreme Court hands Gov. Walker a victory on labor law

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state’s tough law that hobbled collective bargaining rights for most public employees, a decision that buoys the reelection campaign of Gov. Scott Walker, who used the law to climb to national political prominence.

Walker, embroiled in what the polls say is a close reelection bid, proposed reducing the collective bargain rights as part of an economic reform movement to bring government finances back under control. The effort led to weeks of noisy demonstrations at the Capitol in 2011, the flight of Democratic lawmakers to Illinois in the hope of blocking legislation by denying needed quorums and eventually a statewide recall effort that Walker survived.

In a 5-2 ruling released Thursday, the court upheld Walker’s law which, among other things, prohibits public worker unions from bargaining for anything beyond base wage increases tied to inflation. The latest ruling holds that collective bargaining is not a constitutionally...

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6 Philadelphia officers accused of robbing and beating drug suspects

A group of Philadelphia narcotics officers repeatedly robbed and assaulted the drug suspects they were supposed to be investigating, engaging in a campaign of brutality that lasted nearly six years, federal authorities said Wednesday.

Five of the six officers could face life in prison if convicted of the slew of corruption charges unveiled Wednesday by Edward Hanko, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia field office.

“The crimes alleged here are indefensible,” Hanko said in a statement. “That many of the victims were drug dealers, not Boy Scouts, is irrelevant. Police officers are sworn to uphold the law -- and to do it ‘by the book.’ This corrupt group chose to make their own rules. Now they will have to answer for it."

Each officer had been with the Philadelphia Police Department for nearly 20 years, according to a criminal complaint made public on Wednesday. They were identified as Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John...

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Massachusetts police share photo of windshield struck by flying ax

A photo Massachusetts State Police posted to its Facebook page on Wednesday looks like something out of a horror movie: A poorly secured ax went flying into the passenger-side windshield of a car on a Massachusetts highway, police said. 

No one was injured, but the picture that was posted by police -- with a warning -- has been shared thousands of times.

The incident happened about 11 a.m. on southbound Interstate 95 in Topsfield. The ax flew off a landscaper’s truck, piercing an unidentified driver’s windshield, police said.

The landscaper was ticketed for failure to secure cargo, which carries a $200 fine, police said. 

Follow @theryanparker for breaking news

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Pennsylvania State Police fights suit alleging discrimination

The Pennsylvania State Police will fight a federal Department of Justice suit alleging that physical fitness tests required for prospective state troopers discriminated against women, officials said Wednesday.

The Department of Justice filed suit Tuesday in federal court in Harrisburg, Pa., alleging that the tests used to judge applicants to the state Police Academy discriminated against women. The tests measured skills that were unneeded and kept dozens of women from becoming troopers, the government said.

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan sharply disagreed Wednesday at a news conference.

“I am extremely disappointed in the decision of the U.S. Department of Justice to file suit in an attempt to force PSP to lower the standards of its physical readiness test,” Noonan stated.

“To lower the physical fitness standards for applicants would be insulting to those men and women who already strove to achieve those standards and, more importantly, would endanger current and future...

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Detroit child shot to death in bed; police hold 'person of interest'

An 8-year-old Detroit boy was shot and killed Wednesday while lying in bed, authorities said, and police are interviewing a "person of interest" in the case.

Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody, a department spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times that officers found the boy suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest around 1:15 a.m. local time.

An unknown gunman fired at least four shots at the house where the victim lived alone with his mother, striking the child in the chest while he lay in bed, Woody said.

He said officers immediately began to do CPR and that the victim was then rushed to Children's Hospital of Michigan, where he died a short time later.

Police said investigators believe that the shooter was targeting the home, but did not say why. No one else was injured in the incident, authorities said.

Investigators said they are interviewing a "person of interest" in the case. The man, who did not turn himself into police, has a relationship to the victim's family, Woody said....

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Fire rips through dense Boston neighborhood; 1 firefighter injured

A six-alarm fire ripped through two homes in the dense neighborhood of East Boston Wednesday morning, injuring one firefighter and causing more than $1 million in estimated damage.

The fire was reported shortly after 8:30 a.m. local time, and by the time firefighters arrived the backs of two homes were engulfed in flames, said Steve MacDonald, spokesman for the Boston Fire Department.

“There was heavy fire showing immediately. It went rapidly up to six alarms,” MacDonald said.

There were initial concerns that some residents may have been trapped in one of the homes, MacDonald said, but everyone was later accounted for.

Access was difficult, he added, because of the narrow streets and the location of the homes.

“It’s a very congested neighborhood, both houses sit behind other houses on the street, there’s difficult access and there’s a lot of people,” MacDonald said.

Firefighters were forced to extend large lengths of hose through the neighborhood, fighting the fire from the roofs of...

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Detroit mayor takes control of water agency amid shutoff controversy

Detroit's emergency manager turned over control of the city's water and sewage department to the mayor's office Tuesday amid scrutiny over the city's policy of cracking down on water customers with overdue bills.

The city began aggressively disconnecting water for city residents who had not paid their bills and were falling farther behind. Thousands of customers were cut off as Detroit scrambled to repay its massive debt. In June, customers owed $90 million to the utility, and nearly half the city's roughly 300,000 accounts were past due.

"We need to change a number of things in the way we have approached the delinquent payment issues and I expect us to have a new plan shortly," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement Tuesday.

The water shutoff campaign drew widespread criticism, including from the United Nations, whose officials said in June that Detroit was violating international human rights standards by cutting off access to water for people already living in poverty....

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Boulder County, Colo., told to stop same-sex marriage licenses

The Colorado Supreme Court took another hand in the gay marriage battle Tuesday, ordering Boulder County to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall was the only clerk in the state who had been issuing such licenses. By the time the high court acted, Boulder County had issued 202 of the marriage licenses.

“I am disappointed by the Colorado Supreme Court’s stay, but I will comply with the order,” Hall said in a statement. “Given the avalanche of recent cases determining that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, I am hopeful the stay will be short-lived and that we will be able to resume issuing licenses soon.”

Hall began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on June 25, immediately after the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The 10th Circuit includes Colorado, which does not allow same-sex marriage, but does recognize civil unions. 

The high court ruled in...

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Theodore Van Kirk, last surviving member of Enola Gay crew, dead at 93

Theodore Van Kirk, the last surviving member of the Enola Gay flight crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in the final stages of World War II, died Monday at an assisted living facility in Stone Mountain, Ga. He was 93.

Van Kirk, a veteran of 58 U.S. combat missions, died of age-related causes, his son Tom said. 

Van Kirk, who went by the nickname "Dutch," was the crew's navigator. Before the historic flight, he was told he had been chosen for a top-secret bombing mission that could help end World War II. The payload was never specified.

When Van Kirk spoke to a Times reporter in April 2010, he was 89 and had just become the final survivor of the famous crew.

“It’s a very lonely feeling,” he said.

The Enola Gay dropped the first atomic payload in history over Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945.

The bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy," left 80,000 people dead in the initial explosion, and thousands more died from radiation poisoning. A second atomic bombing in Nagasaki killed at least...

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