Bird Virus Suspected in Illnesses

ATLANTA--An encephalitis outbreak that killed three people in New York may have been caused by a bird virus that previously was unseen in the Western Hemisphere and could now become established throughout the Western Hemisphere, federal health experts said yesterday.

Researchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the West Nile-like virus had been isolated in birds that died in New York. Researchers are trying to determine if the same virus caused three deaths and 15 illnesses in the past month that have been blamed on a rare outbreak of St. Louis encephalitis.

CDC officials said they fear that the virus could spread to Central and South America as birds migrate.

As New York completed the latest round of spraying yesterday to kill mosquitoes that could carry encephalitis, nature lovers said the pesticide the city had used--malathion--apparently had killed scores of migrating Monarch butterflies.

Nancy Sanchez-Caro, 55, an administrator at Montefiore Medical Center, was in-line skating in Central Park at dawn Monday and said she "saw dying Monarch butterflies on the road the whole way." She said the malathion truck made a pass through the park while she was there.

Migrating dragonflies, some of which are fairly rare, also appear to be suffering.

Paul Lederer, a Staten Island naturalist, said he counted 30 dragonflies at Great Kills Beach on Sept. 11--a day before the city sprayed the area--but only one in the same area about 17 hours after helicopters doused the area.

City officials confirmed that they sprayed both areas at the times cited, but Health Department spokesman John Gadd said the city was "responding to a significant public health situation."

Florida Electric Chair Use Upheld

TALLAHASSEE--Two months after an execution sent blood spurting down a condemned man's chest, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that the electric chair is not cruel or unusual punishment because it "renders an inmate instantaneously unconscious, thereby making it impossible to feel pain."

The court issued similar rulings after flames shot from the chair's headpiece during executions in 1990 and 1997.

In Friday's 4 to 3 ruling, Chief Justice Major Harding urged lawmakers to consider offering condemned killers an alternative method of execution, such as lethal injection. Of the 38 states with capital punishment, only Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Nebraska use the electric chair as their sole method.

The challenge to Florida's use of the electric chair was brought by Thomas Provenzano, who was scheduled to die in the electric chair Friday for the 1984 murder of an Orlando court bailiff. Provenzano's execution was delayed for a second hearing on his sanity.


* LYNN, Mass.--A 10-year-old boy pleaded not guilty to a juvenile charge of murder Friday in the death of his a 5-week-old relative whose body was found stuffed in a knapsack in a bedroom closet. If convicted, the 10-year-old could be committed to the Department of Youth Services until the age of 18, officials said.

* PALMDALE, Calif.--Space shuttle Columbia, the oldest orbiter in the four-ship fleet, landed here atop a modified Boeing 747 yesterday for a tuneup that will take until next July. Columbia has flown 122.2 million miles during 26 missions since 1981.

* PENDLETON, Ore.--Vehicle pileups during a blinding dust storm killed at least six people and injured at least a dozen just west of this northeastern Oregon city, forcing authorities to close Interstate 84 in both directions and reroute traffic through Walla Walla, Wash., from the wheat and sagebrush country 175 miles east of Portland. At least 50 vehicles were involved in one pileup, police said.

* NASHVILLE--A small plane crashed on a busy neighborhood street, killing the pilot and passenger but injuring no one on the ground. Fire Chief Buck Dozier said the plane "came down between two houses and just burst into flames."