Nation roundup for April 12


Dreams dashed in tour bus crash

ORLAND, Calif. (AP) — It was a busload of opportunity: young, low-income, motivated students, destined to become the first in their families to go to college, journeying from the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles to a remote redwood campus 650 miles north.

Those dreams were shattered for some Thursday in an explosive freeway crash that left 10 dead — students, chaperones and both drivers — and dozens hospitalized.

Desperate families awaited word from loved ones Friday, while investigators tried to figure out why a southbound FedEx big rig swerved across the grassy divide of California’s key artery before sideswiping a car and slamming into the tour bus, which burst into a furious blaze.

“We’re trying to think positively,” said Miguel Serrato, whose twin 17-year-old sisters had set off on the adventure Thursday on separate buses. Marisol made it to their destination, Humboldt State University, but there was no word from Marisa, who had been aboard the now-gutted bus.

But when a sheriff’s deputy asked her father Friday morning for Marisa’s dental records, a grim call made to several families Friday, Serrato said his family was “getting a little bit scared.” His mother was booking a flight to head north.

The bus was among three Humboldt had chartered as part of its two-day Preview Plus program to bring prospective students to tour the Arcata campus, according to university officials.

Obama selects new health chief

WASHINGTON (AP) — Abruptly on the spot as the new face of “Obamacare,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell faces steep challenges, both logistical and political.

Burwell, until now White House budget director, was named by President Barack Obama on Friday to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the messy rollout of the health care overhaul. Now the new secretary must keep the complex program running smoothly and somehow help restore a cooperative dialogue with Republicans who are hoping to use the law’s problems to regain control of the Senate in November.

At an upbeat Rose Garden event, Obama showered praise on Sebelius, a hero for his party’s liberal base, whose impending retirement had been a tightly guarded secret.

The president ignored calls for Sebelius to resign last fall, after the website for consumers to enroll in new coverage experienced weeks of crippling technical problems. Last month, as it started to look like sign-ups would beat expectations, Sebelius approached the White House about stepping aside, officials said.

“Under Kathleen’s leadership, her team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done,” Obama said. “And the final score speaks for itself.”

US blocks Iran’s envoy to the UN

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a rare diplomatic rebuke, the United States has blocked Iran’s controversial pick for envoy to the United Nations, a move that could stir fresh animosity at a time when Washington and Tehran have been seeking a thaw in relations.

The Obama administration said Friday that the U.S. had informed Iran it would not grant a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While U.S. officials had been trying to persuade Iran to simply withdraw Aboutalebi’s name, the announcement amounted to an acknowledgement that those efforts had not been successful.

“We’ve communicated with the Iranians at a number of levels and made clear our position on this — and that includes our position that the selection was not viable,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “Our position is that we will not be issuing him a visa.”

Aboutalebi is alleged to have participated in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the embassy takeover. He has insisted his involvement in the group Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line was limited to translation and negotiation.

Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for the Iranian U.N. Mission, said the decision was not only regrettable but “in contravention of international law, the obligation of the host country and the inherent right of sovereign member-states to designate their representatives to the United Nations.”

 

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