National briefs: Traffic deaths spiking in '12

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WASHINGTON -- After six years of decline took traffic deaths to the lowest point in 60 years, they increased dramatically in the first half of 2012, federal data shows.

Highway safety experts were at a loss to explain why, but most speculated that rebounding economic confidence may have put more people on the roads.

"Traffic deaths drop in a recession, sometimes significantly," said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "People who lose their jobs or are worried they may lose them don't take as many optional trips, like driving at night or on weekends, or going to parties or the bars. Once the economy improves, that driving comes back."

The number of roadway fatalities jumped by 13.4 percent in the first three months of this year, and the total for April, May and June was 5.3 percent higher than in 2011. For the six-month period, 16,290 people were killed, 1,340 higher than in the same time frame last year.

Meningitis outbreak

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- An outbreak of a rare and deadly form of meningitis has now sickened 26 people in five states who received steroid injections mostly for back pain, health officials said Wednesday. Four people have died, and more cases are expected.

Eighteen of the cases of fungal meningitis are in Tennessee, where a Nashville clinic received the largest shipment of the steroid suspected in the outbreak. The drug was made by a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts that issued a recall last week. Investigators, though, say they are still trying to confirm the source of the infections.

Three cases have been reported in Virginia, two in Maryland, two in Florida and one in North Carolina. Two of the deaths were in Tennessee; Virginia and Maryland had one each, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Police sex scandal

DETROIT -- For the second time in two years, a Detroit police chief is embroiled in a sex scandal.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing suspended Ralph Godbee on Tuesday from his $140,400-a-year job amid allegations that the married chief of police had a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

Chief Godbee, 44, and Angelica Robinson, a 37-year-old internal affairs officer, had been conducting an affair that she said had run its course, according to her attorney, David Robinson.

Killer whale injured

SAN DIEGO -- An 11-year-old killer whale injured during a show at SeaWorld in San Diego continues to recuperate but is currently not performing in the Shamu Show, SeaWorld said Wednesday.

Nakai, a male, sustained a deep gash to his lower jaw during a show with two other orcas Sept. 20.

SeaWorld officials say the injury occurred when the animal accidentally scraped his jaw on the side of the pool. But the activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has suggested it was the result of a fight with other killer whales.

Wright home shielded

PHOENIX -- The city of Phoenix and a developer who was poised to demolish a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home have reached an agreement that will put any work on hold while a search continues for a buyer, a city official confirmed Wednesday.

The agreement with the developers who bought the 1952 home in the city's Arcadia neighborhood delays for nearly a month any demolition of the house, said Brendan Mahoney, a senior adviser for Mayor Greg Stanton.

The deal signed Monday allows time for a potential sale to buyers who will preserve the house, and also protects the developers, who contend they were issued a valid demolition permit that the city claimed was issued in error.

Saving the Poe House

BALTIMORE -- Baltimore will pay the B&O Railroad Museum $180,000 in consulting fees under a plan to turn the Edgar Allan Poe House into a self-sufficient tourist attraction, the city's spending panel decided Wednesday.

The 5-0 vote of the Board of Estimates is the latest step in a strategy to turn the Poe House into a draw that will not only see increased attendance, which has fluctuated between 3,000 and 5,000 annually, but also make Baltimore a destination for Poe enthusiasts. The writer lived in the row house from 1832 to 1835.

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