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Nation roundup for February 27

BP exec testifies at Gulf spill trial

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The first BP executive to testify at a trial spawned by the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico took the stand Tuesday to testify.

Lamar McKay was president of BP America at the time of the disaster. He is the trial’s second witness and is expected to be the highest-ranking BP official to testify in person. His appearance Tuesday followed testimony by a plaintiffs’ expert who criticized BP’s safety record.

This isn’t the first time McKay has testified under oath about the spill. He appeared before Congress less than a month after the deadly rig explosion.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is hearing the case without a jury. Barring a settlement, Barbier will decide how much more money BP and other companies owe for their roles in the disaster.

McKay’s testimony at a civil trial to determine how much more BP and other companies should pay for the spill followed that of an expert witness for people and businesses suing the company. University of California-Berkeley engineering professor Robert Bea testified that BP PLC didn’t implement a 2-year-old safety management program on the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

“It’s a classic failure of management and leadership in BP,” said Bea, a former BP consultant who also investigated the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and New Orleans levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Storm paralyzes parts of Midwest

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — For the second time in a week, a major winter storm paralyzed parts of the nation’s midsection Tuesday, dumping a fresh layer of heavy, wet snow atop cities still choked with piles from the previous system and making travel perilous from the Oklahoma panhandle to the Great Lakes.

The weight of the snow strained power lines and cut electricity to more than 100,000 homes and businesses. At least three deaths were blamed on the blizzard.

The Missouri Department of Transportation issued a rare “no travel” advisory, urging people to stay off highways except in case of a dire emergency. Conditions were so bad that some snowplows slid into ditches, underlining the danger to even well-equipped travelers.

“It’s straight hell. It’s snowing, blowing, drifting, everything,” said Robert Branscecum, a trucker from Campton, Ill., who was hauling Walmart merchandise to Dallas.He had been stranded since Monday evening at Beto Junction, about 80 miles southwest of Kansas City.

“The cars are stuck in the parking lot. Some of the trucks that tried to leave got stuck,” he said. “I’m not leaving anytime soon.”

Court conflicted on DNA sampling

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday struggled with what one of the justices called its most important criminal procedure case in decades, whether to let police take DNA without a warrant from those arrested in hopes of using it to solve old cases.

Justices seemed conflicted over whether police have a right to take genetic information from people who have only been arrested without getting a judge’s approval first, or if the government’s interest in solving cold cases trumped the immediate privacy rights of those under police suspicion of other crimes.

One justice seemed to make clear what he thought. “I think this is perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades,” said Justice Samuel Alito, a former prosecutor.

Amgen study is halted after death

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal health regulators have halted Amgen’s studies of its drug Sensipar after the death of a 14-year-old patient in a company trial.

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday it is still gathering information about the death, but has shut down all studies of the drug in children.

Sensipar is approved in adults to treat over-activity of the parathyroid gland, which can lead to brittle bones, kidney stones and abdominal pain. It has been used since 2004 to treat symptoms of chronic kidney disease and parathyroid cancer.

Amgen Inc. had been studying the drug to see whether it works in children.

The Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based company said in a statement that it “is working as rapidly as possible to understand the circumstances of what happened.”

The FDA said on its website that it is unclear whether Amgen’s drug had a role in the patient’s death, but it is reminding doctors to prescribe it carefully.

The drug is known to lower calcium levels, sometimes to a dangerous extent.

The agency says doctors should monitor patients’ calcium levels monthly to make sure they don’t fall to dangerous levels. Signs of a calcium deficiency include muscle cramping, convulsions and burning or prickling sensations.

The most common side effects of the drug in adults include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Amgen reported annual sales of $800 million for Sensipar in 2011, its most recent full-year financial report.

Company shares fell 7 cents to $89.48 in afternoon trading Tuesday.

 

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