Nation roundup for December 9


East Coast is hit by snow storm

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A powerful storm that crept across the country dumped a mix of snow, freezing rain and sleet on the Mid-Atlantic region and headed northeast Sunday, turning NFL playing fields in Pennsylvania into winter wonderlands, threatening as much as a foot of snow in Delaware and New Jersey and raising concerns about a messy morning commute.

The storm forced the cancellation of thousands of flights across the U.S. and slowed traffic on roads, leading to a number of accidents, including a fatal crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Morgantown that led to a series of fender-benders involving 50 cars.

What was forecast in the Philadelphia area to be a tame storm system with about an inch of snow followed by rain mushroomed into a full-blown snowstorm that snarled traffic along Interstate 95 in Pennsylvania from the Delaware to New Jersey state lines.

Paul Jones, 24, a youth hockey coach from Warminster in the Philadelphia suburbs, was on his way to a game in Lancaster when he got stuck — along with his fiancee, another coach and three players — in a major backup on the turnpike.

The roadway was “snow-covered, slick,” Jones said in an interview from the car, where he was a passenger and had been at a standstill for more than an hour.

“People are in and out” of their vehicles, he said. “Kids are having a snowball fight on the side of the road, making snow angels, people are walking their dogs.”

New York railway to analyze lines

NEW YORK (AP) — The Metro-North Railroad has until Tuesday to identify places in its system with major speed changes under an order from federal transportation officials requiring an extra worker in the driver’s cab on routes like the one where a speeding commuter train derailed this week, killing four people.

The emergency order by the Federal Railroad Administration, which also requires Metro-North to overhaul its signal system, was a reaction to Sunday’s wreck in the Bronx, where a train flew off the tracks after hitting a curve at 82 mph, nearly three times the 30 mph speed limit.

The lone train operator told investigators he nodded at the controls and didn’t apply the brakes until it was too late.

There was no system in place to ensure he didn’t miss the spot where he had to slow down as the curve approached. Engineers are required to know speed restrictions by heart, but there are no flashing lights, or even signs, to remind them to decelerate.

“While we assist the National Transportation Safety Board in carrying out its investigation, this emergency order will help ensure that other Metro-North trains travel at appropriate, safe speeds,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

The order gives the railroad until Dec. 31 to provide the Federal Railroad Administration with a plan and target dates for modifying the existing signal system so trains will automatically slow down in places where the speed limit drops by more than 20 mph.

The federal agency gave the authority until Tuesday to identify all the spots in the system where there are such 20 mph variations.

Web giants react to defamation suit

CINCINNATI (AP) — From Twitter and Facebook to Amazon and Google, the biggest names of the Internet are blasting a federal judge’s decision allowing an Arizona-based gossip website to be sued for defamation by a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader convicted of having sex with a teenager.

In court briefs recently filed in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, the Internet giants warn that if upheld, the northern Kentucky judge’s ruling to let former cheerleader Sarah Jone’s lawsuit proceed has the potential to “significantly chill online speech” and undermine a law passed by Congress in 1996 that provides broad immunity to websites.

“If websites are subject to liability for failing to remove third-party content whenever someone objects, they will be subject to the ‘heckler’s veto,’ giving anyone who complains unfettered power to censor speech,” according to briefs filed Nov. 19 by lawyers for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Amazon, Gawker and BuzzFeed, among others.

Those heavy hitters “really tell you how major of an issue this is,” said David Gingras, attorney for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based thedirty.com and its owner, Nik Richie, 34, who lives in Orange County, Calif.

A message left for Jones’ attorney, Eric Deters, seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.

The case centers on the federal Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996 to help foster growth and free speech on the Internet by providing immunity from liability to websites for content posted by their users. The law also was designed to encourage websites to self-police offensive material.

 

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