Nation & World Briefs 12-06-13 Prosecutors face tough choices in NYC derailment


NEW YORK -- While the city's Metro-North Railroad is already getting hit with multimillion-dollar civil claims over a deadly commuter train derailment, prosecutors will face tough choices when deciding whether to bring criminal charges against the train's engineer, who told investigators he nodded or fell into a daze at the controls.

Legal experts said drowsy driving isn't necessarily a crime, and it can be tough to prosecute drivers who nod off unless there are extra factors at play, such as drug use or brazen disregard for passenger safety. The prosecutor's office investigating the engineer recently failed to convict a bus driver of manslaughter in a 2011 crash that killed more than a dozen passengers, in part because his drowsiness wasn't accompanied by any such factors.

"There's a sentiment that when something terrible happens, you have to hold someone accountable criminally -- that's not always the case," said attorney Andrew Abramson, who represented a Staten Island Ferry pilot sentenced to 18 months in prison following a deadly wreck in 2003. "Sometimes there is a tragedy, and it's really a matter for the civil courts."

Federal and city investigators are gathering information about Sunday's train accident, which killed four people and injured more than 60, and likely will spend months analyzing the conduct of engineer William Rockefeller.

Obama defends NSA: President Barack Obama is defending the National Security Agency, saying it does a very good job of not engaging in domestic surveillance. He was responding to a Washington Post report Thursday that the agency tracks locations of nearly 5 billion cellphones every day overseas, including those of Americans. In a taped interview aired Thursday on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews," Obama said the people who want to hurt the U.S. communicate using modern technologies available on cellphones. He says to do a good job protecting the country, the U.S. needs to "keep eyes on some bad actors."

Hagel to reassure Gulf allies: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel faces a tough challenge as he looks to reassure nervous allies in the Gulf that the U.S. will continue its strong military support to the region, even as world powers move forward on the nuclear pact with Iran. Hagel, who arrived in Bahrain Thursday, is slated to speak to a gathering of Gulf leaders later this week at a security conference. U.S. officials said that he will stress America's commitment to the region, including sales of military weapons and ongoing efforts to improve the region's ability to defend itself. His visit comes less than two weeks after international leaders reached a deal with Iran that would freeze parts of its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from crippling Western economic sanctions.

Middleman sentenced to three years: Russell Spencer, a former U.S. Navy subcontractor who acted as a middleman in a kickback scheme that cost the Navy $18 million, was sentenced Thursday in Providence, R.I., to three years in prison by a federal judge, who said the man's extraordinary cooperation with investigators saved him from a much stiffer term. The judge ordered Russell Spencer, 59, of Portsmouth, along with some of the five other people convicted in the 15-year scheme, to pay $18 million in restitution. She told him to report to prison on Jan. 7. Spencer acknowledged he set up a company that was used to funnel money from Georgia-based Navy contractor Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow, or ASFT, to Ralph Mariano, a civilian employee of the Navy who worked for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport. Mariano was last stationed at the Navy Yard in Washington.

Judge urges compromise: Judge Steven Rhodes urged Detroit and its creditors to keep negotiating Thursday in a 150-page opinion that mimics his decision earlier this week that the city is eligible for a makeover in bankruptcy court. Rhodes didn't break new ground since announcing the decision Tuesday during a 90-minute address to a packed courtroom. But a written opinion was necessary, especially for unions and pension funds that are pursuing appeals. Rhodes said Detroit is eligible for Chapter 9 protection because the city is broke and any negotiations with thousands of creditors before the July filing would have been impossible. As part of his ruling, he found pensions are like any other contract and can be broken in bankruptcy, despite protections in the Michigan Constitution.

GM to largely pull Chevrolet from Europe: General Motors Co. plans to largely withdraw its Chevrolet brand from Europe from the beginning of 2016, focusing more sharply on its main Opel and Vauxhall brands. Chevrolet will no longer have a "mainstream presence" in Europe, GM said in a statement Thursday, adding the decision was "largely due to a challenging business model and the difficult economic situation" on the continent. The company said the move will reduce the "market complexity" of maintaining several brands in the region. GM has continued to lose money in Europe, where automakers' sales have been hampered by persistent economic weakness, even as the company's performance elsewhere improves.

Urges storage solution: Allison Macfarlane, the top U.S. nuclear regulator today said nuclear energy users, including Japan, must figure out how to ultimately store radioactive waste. Macfarlane, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in Tokyo that finding an underground repository remains a challenge despite a global consensus on the need for such a facility to deal with high level waste coming out of nuclear power plants. Japan has no final waste repository, not even a potential site. The U.S. government's plan for building a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been halted by strong local opposition due to safety concerns.

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