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Saturday, July 31, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Across The Nation

Seattle Times News Services

Big meteor bombardment delays shuttle a third time

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Twice the launch of the shuttle Discovery was delayed by technical problems.

Now, Mother Nature is the culprit.

NASA yesterday postponed Discovery's mission a third time, fearing the most intense meteor bombardment in 130 years would peril the $2 million shuttle and its five astronauts.

The launch, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, was delayed at least until Aug. 12, one day after the pummeling of Earth's atmosphere by the annual mid-summer Perseid meteor shower.

NASA decided not to risk Discovery in a cosmic hailstorm, where there is a one in 1,000 chance it would be hit. This is the first time a meteor shower has caused such a postponement - the meteors are expected to enter the atmosphere at 135,000 mph and burn up between 60 and 70 miles above Earth's surface.

Key Senate panel approves closure of 130 military bases

WASHINGTON - A key Senate committee voted yesterday to close 130 domestic military bases and realign 45 others in a sweeping reform of America's system of defense bases.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 11-1 against a bid to overturn the recommendations of the independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. Only Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., whose state was particularly hard hit, dissented.

Under the complex base-closing process, the commission's recommendations become law unless rejected in their entirety by both the House and Senate.

Billion-dollar pacts given for military-storage vessels

WASHINGTON - The Navy yesterday awarded $1 billion in contracts to shipyards in Virginia and California for five "roll-on, roll off" vessels for worldwide storage and transportation of U.S. military equipment.

The contracts are a major step in the Pentagon's move to fill gaps in the military's ability to get tanks and other heavy supplies to trouble spots in a hurry.

The ships, which will be converted from five civilian cargo vessels purchased by the Navy, will be designed to pre-position and deliver U.S. Army weapons and other equipment quickly in different areas such as the Persian Gulf.

The contracts are scheduled for completion by the end of 1995.

Suit accuses Catholic brother of 28 years of sexual abuse

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - A woman has filed a $7 million suit accusing a Catholic brother of 28 years of sexual abuse she said began when she was a child and was so severe that it robbed her of the ability to conceive.

Brother John Laurence Heathwood, of the Congregation of Christian Brothers of Ireland, was named as a defendant, as well as Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit, N.Y., and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester.

Heathwood taught math and drama at Bishop Kearney from 1964 to 1974.

Nancy Maher, now 40, was a Bishop Kearney student from 1966 to 1970 and active in drama.No criminal charges have been filed, but the suit cited specific allegations, including rape and deviant sexual acts that included photographing her injuries.

The suit charges the first sexual assault occurred when she was 12 and continuedinto adulthood. Maher suffered severe physical injuries, including cervical scarring that resulted in her inability to conceive, according to the suit.

Heathwood could not be reached for comment, but the regional Congregation of Christian Brothers in Westchester County, N.Y., said he "will not be assigned to active ministry until the matter is settled."

Baby Jessica to go to birth parents; court declines case

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court yesterday refused to intervene in a custody fight over 2 1/2-year-old Jessica DeBoer, closing off the last legal avenue for a Michigan couple to keep the child they have cared for almost since her birth and have sought to adopt.

The case of the little girl "touches the raw nerves of life's relationships," two dissenting justices said. She must be returned to her biological parents by Monday.

Cara and Daniel Schmidt, of Iowa, have been trying to regain custody of Jessica since a few weeks after the girl's birth, when a then-unmarried Cara Clausen changed her mind about giving the child up for adoption.

For more than two years since, Roberta and Jan DeBoer, who were never able to complete the adoption because of the Schmidts' intervention, have tried through numerous legal channels to hold onto Jessica.

Actress Jane Alexander Clinton's choice to head NEA

WASHINGTON - Actress Jane Alexander is President Clinton's choice to head the National Endowment for the Arts.

Alexander, who has broad backing in the arts community, had been considered a candidate for the post since February. A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed her selection yesterday.

She must be confirmed by the Senate.

The NEA this year received $174.4 million funding from the government, a small amount by Washington standards. Even so, it has been in the crossfire between critics of government involvement in the arts and defenders of taxpayer subsidies for controversial arts projects.

The 53-year-old actress was nominated for a Tony award this year for her current role on Broadway in "The Sisters Rosensweig."

Offstage, she has been active in political causes, especially those of nuclear disarmament and wildlife conservation.

Mother guilty of murdering six of her children in fire

BALTIMORE - A mother of seven was found guilty yesterday of murdering six of her children by setting their home on fire.

Juror deliberated for 11 hours before convicting Tonya Lucas, 29. The trial was the second for Lucas, whose first trial ended April 1 in a mistrial.

Lucas, who faces up to six life terms for the murder charges and 30 years on the arson charge, maintained her innocence and planned to appeal, said her attorney.

Prosecutors said Lucas set the fire to cover up the abuse of one of her children and to receive aid from relief agencies because she was facing eviction.

Lucas, her boyfriend and her 8-year-old son, William Lucas, escaped the fire, but heavy smoke choked the others, who ranged in age from 2 months to 12 years old.

- Times news services

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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