Nation roundup for May 16


GM recalls 2.7M more cars, on record pace

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors recalled an additional 2.7 million vehicles Thursday as a deep dive into safety issues at the nation’s biggest automaker turned up more problems with some of the cars it built over the past decade.

The latest recalls bring GM’s total for the year in the U.S. to more than 11 million cars and trucks, close to its annual recall record of 11.8 million vehicles, set in 2004.

The auto industry also is on track to set a single-year record for recalls. Auto companies have recalled 15.4 million vehicles in a little more than four months. The old single-year record for recalls is 30.8 million vehicles in 2004. Toyota, Ford, and Chrysler also have announced sizeable recalls this year.

Several factors are behind the industry’s recall binge. GM is reviewing all of its vehicles for safety issues following the recall earlier this year of 2.6 million older small cars with a defective ignition switch.

GM knew about the switch problem for a decade before finally issuing a recall. The company links the problem to 13 deaths and faces multiple investigations, including one by the Justice Department, over its handling of the matter.

Industrywide, automakers are moving faster to fix problems than they have in the past in a bid to avoid bad publicity and record fines from government agencies.

Jeff Boyer, the new safety chief at GM, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the company is looking at cases that were under review in its system and moving to resolve them as fast as possible. GM, he said, has added 35 people to its recall review team.

“We’re not waiting for warranty trends to develop over time,” Boyer said. “It’s not only about frequency, it has to be about the seriousness of the potential defect as well.”

GM said the new recalls will fix problems with brake lights, headlamps, power brakes and windshield wipers. The Detroit automaker will take a $200 million charge this quarter, on top of a $1.3 billion charge in the first quarter, mostly to cover the repairs. Shares fell 2 percent in afternoon trading.

More evacuations after Calif. fire roars to life

SAN MARCOS, Calif. (AP) — One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.

The flare-up near the city of San Marcos occurred after a half-day lull in winds that firefighters had seized as an opportunity to make progress against flames that have scorched thousands of acres this week.

Ash-laden smoke was so thick that visibility was limited to a few feet at times. On one semi-rural street, five horses wandered nervously in a paddock as firefighters worked to protect nearby homes and barns.

County Sheriff Bill Gore said new evacuation notices were transmitted to 12,952 phone numbers. They were in addition to more than 20,000 evacuation orders issued Wednesday.

State fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser said the fire was running east along hillsides behind California State University San Marcos.

The fire was being driven by fuel and topography, said Division Chief Dave Allen of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“It’s created its own weather pattern there as it sucks oxygen in,” he told a news conference.

The 1,000-acre blaze was only 5 percent contained. The fire, which broke out Wednesday, forced the evacuation of the California State University campus where nearly 10,000 students were in the middle of final exams. Graduation ceremonies were canceled.

Fires began erupting in the county Tuesday amid high heat, extremely low humidity and gusty Santa Ana winds. By Wednesday, nine fires were burning.

Asked about the possibility of arson, the sheriff said he wouldn’t prejudge the investigations. He noted that sparks from vehicles can easily ignite brush in such dry conditions.

Emergency officials said a significant number of firefighting aircraft had become available, including four air tankers and 22 military helicopters, in addition to local agency helicopters.

Ten of the military helicopters were being used to battle a blaze that grew to 9.37 square miles on the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton. Despite its growth, the fire was 20 percent contained and was no longer considered a threat to communities.

Twelve other military helicopters were available to the county.

Since the fires began, 125,000 evacuation notices have been sent, officials said. Schools also have been shut down and the Legoland amusement park had to close Wednesday. It reopened Thursday.

Firefighters contended with temperatures approaching 100 degrees and gusty winds as they tried to contain flames fueled by brush and trees left brittle by drought.

There was extreme heat again Thursday, with temperatures ranging in the high 90s to 100 in the northwestern area of the county where the fires burned.

The heat was so intense that records continued to be broken in Southern California and horse racing was canceled at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, east of Los Angeles.

Officials said a Carlsbad-area blaze was 75 percent contained and had burned 400 acres. The wildfire destroyed an 18-unit condominium complex and four residences, Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said.

Some evacuation orders were being lifted in Carlsbad, but a major power outage and hotspots were still a concern.

Tuzo Jerger was one of thousands told to evacuate because of the Carlsbad fire. The 66-year-old real estate broker packed files, a surfboard, golf clubs, clothes and photos and sought solace at a friend’s hilltop house in nearby San Marcos, only to see a wildfire break out there and force thousands from their homes.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to come this way,’” Jerger said at a San Marcos restaurant where he found relief in a slice of pizza.

The blaze in the coastal city of Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego, was the most destructive of the fires so far.

Many schools across the county were closed Thursday. Officials expected some wouldn’t reopen until next week.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for San Diego County, which would free up special resources and funding for the firefight, and state fire officials were creating a central command center for the blazes.

Drought conditions have made fire danger extremely high throughout much of California. Officials have encouraged residents in fire-prone areas to prepare evacuation plans and clear brush from near their homes.

Carlsbad’s fire chief said the blazes were unprecedented in his 27-year firefighting career because they are so early in the year.

“This is May. This is unbelievable. This is something we should see in October,” Chief Michael Davis said. “I haven’t seen it this hot, this dry, this long in May.”

Judge strikes all Arkansas bans on gay marriage

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A judge cleared the way on Thursday for gay marriages to resume in Arkansas, striking down all state laws that prevent same-sex couples from wedding.

A day after the state Supreme Court effectively halted gay marriages in the state, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza expanded his ruling striking down a constitutional ban to also include the prohibition on clerks issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Justices had ruled Wednesday that Piazza’s decision on the gay marriage ban did not change that license law.

Piazza also rejected a request to suspend his ruling, saying there’s no evidence the state would be harmed by allowing gay marriages to continue.

“The same cannot be said of the plaintiffs and other same-sex couples who have not been afforded the same measure of human dignity, respect and recognition by this state as their similarly situated, opposite sex counterparts,” Piazza wrote. “A stay would operate to further damage Arkansas families and deprive them of equal access to the rights associated with marriage status in this state.”

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s office said he would appeal and was asking the high court to suspend Piazza’s latest order. McDaniel, a Democrat, recently said he supports gay marriage but would continue defending the state’s ban in court.

“This order clarifies what we understood Judge Piazza had attempted to do last week, and it does not change our posture of seeking a stay from the Arkansas Supreme Court and pursuing an appeal,” McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler said.

Pulaski County, one of two counties that had been issuing licenses before the high court’s decision, said it planned to resume issuing licenses to same-sex couples immediately. The other, Washington County, was not issuing licenses Thursday.

An attorney for the couples who had sued over the ban said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling.

“I think his intent all along was to strike down any of these statutes that interfered with a same-sex couple obtaining a marriage license in the state,” attorney Jack Wagoner said. “The fact he didn’t call out the statute number of one of those statutes was an oversight.”

Last Friday, Piazza threw out a 10-year-old ban that voters placed in the state constitution, as well as a separate state law barring same-sex marriages.

After Piazza’s decision last Friday, clerks in five counties responded by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Through Wednesday evening, 456 gay couples in Arkansas had since received permission to marry, according to an Associated Press canvass of county clerks. By Wednesday, only Pulaski and Washington counties were issuing licenses.

Arkansas voters approved a gay marriage ban by a 3-to-1 margin in 2004.

Seventeen other states allow gay marriage. Judges have struck down bans in Idaho, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

 

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