Snowstorm exits Southwest, likely to snarl holiday travel

A powerful winter storm blew across the Southwest and was moving over the Great Plains on Tuesday after dumping nearly a foot of snow in places, causing deadly accidents and closing highways in five states.

Weather forecasters warned that the storm is likely to snarl holiday travel across the region. Hotels were filling up Tuesday along major roads from eastern New Mexico to Kansas.

About 10 inches of snow had fallen in western Kansas on Tuesday and several more inches – along with strong wind gusts – were expected. Foot-deep snow also was reported in several other places.

The storm was blamed for at least six deaths Monday in the region, authorities said. Four people were killed when their vehicle collided with a pickup truck in snowy eastern New Mexico, and a prison guard and inmate died when a prison van they were riding in crashed in icy eastern Colorado.

PYONGYANG, North Korea

Successor leads mourners past coffin of former leader

North Korea’s anointed heir Kim Jong Un led a solemn procession of mourners Tuesday to the glass coffin of his father and longtime ruler – a strong indication that a smooth leadership transition was under way in the country known for secrecy and unpredictability.

Weeping members of North Korea’s elite filed past the body of Kim Jong Il, which was draped in red cloth and surrounded by stony-faced honor guards and dozens of red and white flowers.

State media fed a budding personality cult around his youngest known son, hailing him as a “lighthouse of hope” as the country was awash in a “sea of tears and grief.”

In a dreamlike scene captured by Associated Press Television News, Kim’s coffin appeared to float on a raft of “kimjongilia” – the flowers named after him – with his head and shoulders bathed in a spotlight as solemn music played. Various medals and honors were displayed at his feet.

The bier was located in a hall of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, a mausoleum where the embalmed body of Kim Jong Il’s father and North Korean founder Kim Il Sung has been on view in a glass sarcophagus since his death in 1994.


Five in small plane killed in spectacular highway crash

A small plane heading for Georgia crashed Tuesday on a major New York-area highway, spiraling out of control, breaking up and scattering wreckage across the road. All five people aboard were killed, but no one on the ground was injured.

Federal investigators said the pilot had discussed icing with controllers just before the plane went down, but they were unsure what role, if any, icing played in the crash.

The New York investment banking firm Greenhill & Co. said two of its managing directors, Jeffrey Buckalew, 45, and Rakesh Chawla, 36, as well as Buckalew’s wife and two children, were on the plane that crashed on Interstate 287. Buckalew was the registered owner of the single-engine plane and had a pilot’s license.

Wreckage was scattered over at least a half-mile-wide area, with a section found lodged in a tree near a home about a quarter-mile away from the crash.


Jury awards $150 billion in sex assault, torching of boy

A Texas state court jury awarded $150 billion in punitive damages Tuesday to the parents and estate of Robbie Middleton in a lawsuit alleging he was sexually assaulted and set on fire in 1998.

The Fayette County jury in La Grange also ordered defendant Don Wilburn Collins to pay the Middletons $370 million in actual damages. Robbie Middleton, 8 years old at the time of the incident, died of cancer related to burn damage in April, his attorney, Craig Sico, said in a phone interview.

The total $150.37 billion verdict is the largest in U.S. history, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The previous record, a $145 billion award that was later reversed, was set by a jury in a class action in Florida against the tobacco industry.

The Texas verdict isn’t collectible, Sico said. Collins didn’t appear at trial and “was never charged,” he said.