Arizona Has More Than Half

Of Nation's West Nile Cases

PHOENIX -- With triple-digit heat and nearly nonexistent rainfall, Phoenix seems an unlikely spot for this year's West Nile virus epicenter. Yet, federal health officials say Arizona is the only state in which the mosquito-borne virus is epidemic.

"Minnesota may be the land of a thousand lakes, but we're the land of thousands of abandoned swimming pools," said Will Humble, head of disease control for the Arizona Department of Health Services. The pools, irrigation canals, patio misters and lush lawns have turned neighborhoods into oases for mosquitoes.

At least 290 of the nation's more than 500 West Nile cases are in Arizona this year; three of the 14 deaths were in Arizona. Nearly all cases have been in populous Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix.

Last year was the first time the virus appeared in areas west of the Continental Divide. It hit Colorado hard and drifted slowly into Arizona's northeastern tip, then down south. It is now spreading in California, where at least 116 cases have been reported and at least five people have died.

* ERIE, Pa. -- An alleged militia leader who authorities said built a bunker on his land and stockpiled weapons for an apocalyptic showdown with federal agents pleaded guilty to weapons offenses. George Bilunka, 59, admitted possessing unregistered firearms.

* NEW ORLEANS -- A white Louisiana judge who appeared at a Halloween party in shackles, an afro wig and blackface makeup last year should be suspended for a year without pay, the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana said. The state Supreme Court will decide punishment for Timothy Ellender, a state district judge in Terrebonne Parish. Ellender at first called the furor over his costume "a tempest in a teapot" but in testimony before the commission admitted that his behavior was offensive.

* ALBANY, N.Y. -- Citing what they called a public health emergency, New York officials ordered power plants to reduce emissions blamed for acid rain. State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Erin M. Crotty announced the emergency order aimed at reducing emissions for at least 90 days and said the state is appealing an order that blocked the same regulations from taking effect permanently.

* MILWAUKEE -- A church elder was sentenced to 21/2 years in prison for abusing an autistic boy, 8, who suffocated in what prosecutors called an exorcism. Prosecutors said Ray Hemphill, 46, lay on Terrance Cottrell Jr.'s chest for at least an hour while trying to release "demons" from him before the boy died last year. "It was your unreasonable and reckless conduct that caused this child to die," Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jean DiMotto told Hemphill.

* GILMORE, Ark. -- A family friend was charged with kidnapping Patricia Ann Miles, 6, who disappeared after riding her bicycle to a grocery store Sunday morning. Jo Ann Buchanan, who occasionally baby-sat for the girl, has refused to speak to investigators, police said.

* MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The Alabama Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that accused serial bomber Eric Robert Rudolph must pay $115 million to nurse Emily Lyons, who was injured in a 1998 blast at a Birmingham abortion clinic.

-- From News Services