National news briefs: 5/17/14

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Calif. wildfires investigated

SAN DIEGO -- With evacuation orders being lifted Friday, investigators worked to determine whether an unusually early and intense outbreak of wildfires in Southern California this week was ignited by something as ordinary as sparks from cars or something as sinister as an arsonist.

State fire officials said the first of at least 10 blazes that erupted between Tuesday and Thursday was found to have been caused by a spark from malfunctioning construction equipment. But it could take months to get to the bottom of the most damaging fires.

Pentagon cites overcharges

WASHINGTON -- Northrop Grumman charged the U.S. Army excessive labor rates for almost six years for more than 300 subcontractor employees working on counter-narcotics programs in Afghanistan and the U.S., according to the Pentagon's inspector general.

The Army Contracting Command may have paid as much as $123 million in questionable costs, according to the May 13 report obtained by Bloomberg News.

Randy Belote, a spokesman for Falls Church, Virginia-based Northrop, said in an e-mailed statement the company has been cooperating with the inspector general "for some time on their investigation into the conduct of one of our subcontractors on" the counter-narcotics contract.

Duke lacrosse case settled

DURHAM, N.C. -- Eight years after three Duke lacrosse players were wrongfully accused of rape in a case that put Durham and its police department under a harsh spotlight, a long-running lawsuit has been settled.

Under terms of the settlement, the three players -- Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans -- will receive no money. At their request, the city will make a $50,000 grant to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.

The settlement was outlined in federal court documents this week and at a hearing Friday.

Insulin pen misuse possible

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Griffin Hospital said Friday that insulin pens may have been misused on more than 3,000 patients over the past six years, possibly exposing them to hepatitis and HIV.

The 3,149 patients were hospitalized between Sept. 1, 2008, when the pen was introduced to the facility, and May 7, 2014, when the possible misuse came to light. All are eligible for free screening, testing and counseling for HIV, hepatitis C, and hepatitis B.

The misuse of insulin pens has been an issue at a number of hospitals in recent years.

Circus case ended

WASHINGTON -- A number of animal rights groups including the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States ended their 14-year litigation with Feld Entertainment this week by paying nearly $16 million to settle unproven allegations that Feld's Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus was mistreating elephants.

The settlement covers the legal costs incurred by Feld Entertainment defending the allegations.

Also in the nation ...

Darden Restaurants has agreed to sell the Red Lobster seafood-restaurant chain to Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion. ... President Barack Obama on Friday appointed longtime White House aide Kristie Canegallo as deputy chief of staff for policy implementation to oversee issues that include the continuing rollout of the Affordable Care Act and better integration of technology in classrooms. ... Houston has jumped past Los Angeles to the No. 1 most dangerous city in the nation when it comes to dogs biting postal workers as dogs attacked 5,581 postal employees last year.

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