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    Saturday, May 2, 2009

    CNN - Teens acquitted of murder in immigrant's fatal beating

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    Teens acquitted of murder in immigrant's fatal beating

    Two Pennsylvania teens were acquitted of murder, aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation charges Friday in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant last summer.

    However, a Schuylkill County jury found Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak guilty of simple assault stemming from the death of Luis Ramirez, who died of blunt force injuries to the head after a fight with the defendants and their friends.

    Donchak, 19, was also found guilty of providing alcohol to the group of teens that encountered Ramirez the night of July 12 on a residential street in the rural mining town of Shenandoah.

    Prosecutors alleged the teens baited the undocumented Mexican immigrant into a fight with racial epithets, provoking an exchange of punches and kicks that ended with Ramirez convulsing in the street, foaming from the mouth.

    He died two days later in a hospital in Danville.

    Piekarsky, 17, had faced a charge of third-degree murder for allegedly delivering a fatal kick to Ramirez's head after he was knocked to the ground. He also was found not guilty of ethnic intimidation, aggravated assault and attempting to solicit a cover-up.

    An all-white jury of six men and six women heard from several prosecution witnesses, including a juvenile co-defendant and another teen who pleaded guilty in federal court for his role in the fight.

    While the jury heard conflicting accounts about who initiated the encounter or delivered the final kick to Ramirez's head, defense lawyers attempted to place the blame on another co-defendant, who is facing charges in juvenile court, and Colin Walsh, who has pleaded guilty to violating Ramirez's civil rights.

    The juvenile admitted on the stand to shouting "go home you Mexican [expletive]" after the first fight dispersed, prompting Ramirez to turn back and attack him.

    The juvenile's testimony was corroborated by Walsh, who admitted to punching Ramirez and knocking him to the ground after he charged the juvenile.

    Both witnesses said Piekarsky delivered the final blow to Ramirez's head while he was on the ground, but others testified that they couldn't be certain who had actually kicked him.

    The incident drew national attention to the small town of Shenandoah, highlighting issues of race relations.

    CNN - Nearly 300 at Hong Kong hotel placed under quarantine

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    Nearly 300 at Hong Kong hotel placed under quarantine

    Hundreds of guests and staff were under quarantine in China on Saturday after health officials determined that a hotel guest had contracted the H1N1 virus.

    Nearly 200 hotel guests and 100 staff members were ordered to stay in Metropark Hotel in Hong Kong for seven days to stop the spread of the H1N1 virus, a government spokesman said.

    The quarantine was ordered after a 25 -year-old Mexican man stayed in the hotel and became sick, according to the spokesman. The man reportedly flew from Mexico to Shanghai on April 30 and then went to Hong Kong.

    The traveler was taken to a hospital and tests confirmed that he had the virus, said York Chow, the secretary for food and health.

    Chow said officials would isolate the hotel and that "relevant people" would be quarantined for seven days and treated with an anti-viral medication, commonly known as Tamiflu.

    It is the first confirmed case of the virus in Hong Kong, local medical officials said. The World Health Organization said Friday that the number of confirmed cases stood at 367 worldwide, though no cases have been confirmed in mainland China.

    South Korean officials on Saturday confirmed their first case -- a 51-year-old nun who recently traveled to Mexico for volunteer work. The case has not been confirmed by the WHO.

    As the number of swine flu cases across the globe is expected to rise, scientists are racing to develop a vaccine to confront the virus.

    WHO counted 367 cases, including 141 in the United States and 156 in Mexico. Thirteen countries have confirmed cases, the organization said. National governments have confirmed an additional 381 cases, but the WHO has not yet reported those in its master list.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, hopes to have a vaccine for the virus available to manufacturers within a month, said Michael Shaw, the agency's lab team leader for the virus response.

    "We're doing the best we can as fast as we can," he said.

    Still, it would take four to six months from the time the appropriate strain is identified before the first doses become available, said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research.

    "Of course, we would like to have a vaccine tomorrow. We would have wanted to have it yesterday," she said. "It's a long journey."

    Kieny said there is "no doubt" that a vaccine can be made "in a relatively short period of time."

    Producing a vaccine involves isolating a strain of the virus, which has already been done, and tweaking it so manufacturers can make a vaccine, Kieny said.

    Once the virus reaches manufacturers, it faces additional testing before national regulatory agencies decide whether to approve a vaccine.

    CDC officials were asked Friday how the H1N1 virus measures up to the deadly virus that sparked the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

    "What we have found by looking very carefully at the sequences of the new H1N1 virus is that we do not see the markers for virulence that were seen in the 1918 virus," said Nancy Cox, chief of the CDC's Influenza Division.

    However, she added, "we know there's a great deal that we do not yet understand about the virulence of the 1918 virus or other influenza viruses that have a more severe clinical picture in humans."

    As researchers work, the mayor of Mexico City expressed optimism Friday.

    Authorities in Mexico are "beginning to see evidence that the (virus) might be letting up, and the number of people who have been hospitalized has leveled out in regards to people who are contagious, at least as of yesterday," Mayor Marcelo Ebrard told reporters.

    "I do not say this so that we lower our guard or so that we think that we do not have a problem anymore," he said.

    "We do have a problem, but I say this so that we know where we are as a city after we have done all we have done, and in what direction we are heading and how much we have progressed. And what I can say is that we are heading in the right direction."

    The WHO said Mexico has 156 confirmed cases and nine deaths. Mexican authorities say they have confirmed 16 deaths and at least 381 cases, and they suspect another 85 deaths may have been caused by the flu.

    The CDC gave the following state-by-state breakdown of the 141 confirmed H1N1 cases in the United States: Arizona, 4; California, 13; Colorado 2; Delaware, 4; Illinois, 3; Indiana, 3; Kansas, 2; Kentucky, 1; Massachusetts, 2; Michigan, 2; Minnesota, 1; Nebraska, 1; Nevada, 1; New Jersey, 5; New York, 50; Ohio, 1; South Carolina, 16; Texas, 28; and Virginia, 2.

    One death in the United States has been attributed to swine flu -- a toddler from Mexico whose family brought him to Texas for medical treatment.

    At a Cabinet meeting Friday, President Barack Obama praised the "extraordinary" government response to the virus but emphasized that "we also need to prepare for the long term."

    "Since we know that these kinds of threats can emerge at any moment, even if it turns out that the H1N1 is relatively mild on the front end, it could come back in a more virulent form during the actual flu season, and that's why we are investing in our public health infrastructure."

    In addition to the confirmed H1N1 cases in Mexico and the United States, Canada has 34; Spain has 13; United Kingdom has 8; New Zealand and Germany each have 4; Israel has 2; Austria, China, Denmark, Netherlands and Switzerland each have one, according to the WHO.

    Several other countries were investigating hundreds of other probable cases of the virus.

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