North Texas
2:07 pm
Fri September 17, 2010

Panel Unwilling To End Arson Inquiry & Midday Roundup

Dallas, TX – Scientists reviewing a disputed arson finding that led to the execution of a Texas man are resisting efforts to clear fire investigators of professional misconduct.

The scientists on the Texas Forensic Science Commission, meeting Friday in Dallas, said they would like to interview more fire experts about professional standards used by arson investigators in the early 1990s.

The commission is balking at approving a report that says fire investigators weren't at fault in determining that a 1991 house fire that killed three girls in Corsicana was deliberately set.

Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of setting the fire and executed in 2004.

Commission Chairman John Bradley, who was appointed last year by Gov. Rick Perry, urged the panel to decide the investigators acted appropriately.

Texas jobless rate rises to 8.3 percent in August

The Texas unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent in August after a large loss of government jobs fueled by a purge of temporary Census workers.

The Texas Workforce Commission said Friday the jobless rate jumped from 8.2 percent in July, mostly because of a loss of 35,300 government jobs after Census jobs were dropped from the payroll in August.

The overall drop in jobs was 34,200, according to commission figures.

Commission Chairman Tom Pauken says the government losses offset gains in most sectors.

The Texas unemployment rate remained below the national figure of 9.6 percent.

Education and health services had the largest increase in August at 12,400 jobs.

Drivers to move into fast lane for licenses

The Texas Public Safety Commission has approved a plan meant to shorten the wait at the state's largest driver's license offices.

Instead of the current first-come, first-served process, drivers seeking to renew a license will get what amounts to an express lane, while those with longer transactions could make an appointment.

The San Antonio Express-News reports Friday that before heading for a location, customers could even check online to pick the DPS license office with the shortest wait time.

The Department of Public Safety says the changes, approved Thursday, will begin as a pilot program in Austin and possibly spread to the 50 largest offices across the state by next summer.

DPS assistant director Rebecca Davio says "we need to improve the way we do our business."

EPA investigates release at BP's Texas refinery

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating a 40-day benzene release at BP's Texas City refinery, the site of a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers.

The EPA's investigation comes after Texas filed suit against BP over the toxic release in April. Texas City residents have also filed a class-action suit against BP seeking $10 billion in damages.

EPA regional director Al Armendariz says the agency joined the investigation to ensure "disclosure of all information by BP." Initially, the EPA is requiring BP to disclose information regarding its operations during the monthlong incident.

BP is already under fire for problems at the refinery that led to the explosion in 2005 and for the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Man who duped Army gets 6 months in prison

A Texas man who earlier this year tricked the Army into allowing him to join the reserves as a noncommissioned officer has been sentenced to six months in prison and a bad conduct discharge.

A spokeswoman at Fort Rucker in Alabama says Jesse Bernard Johnston III received the punishment from a military judge July 26 after pleading guilty to seven counts of
wrongdoing.

The charges stemmed from a scheme in which he used falsified discharge papers to dupe the Army into thinking he was a decorated ex-Marine.

The deception allowed the 26-year-old Johnston to join a reserve unit at the Fort Worth Naval Air Station as a sergeant without going through basic training. It was uncovered while he was going through advanced aviation training at Fort Rucker.