National news in brief 8/14/08

Fires bring California to financial brink

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Faced with hundreds of big, hard-to-control blazes, California is struggling with what could be its most expensive firefighting season ever, burning through $285 million in the last six weeks alone and up to $13 million a day. With the worst of the fire season still ahead, lawmakers are scrambling to find a way to pay for it all and are considering slapping homeowners with a disaster surcharge that asks those in fire-prone areas to pay the most. The crisis comes as California deals with a $15.2 billion budget deficit, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cited firefighting costs as a major factor when he ordered wages deferred for state workers and laid off others recently to cut costs.

Pound of cyanide found in room where man died

DENVER -- Authorities in Denver said they found about a pound of highly toxic sodium cyanide in a hotel room where a 29-year-old Canadian man's body was discovered. FBI spokeswoman Kathy Wright said Wednesday there was no apparent connection to terrorism. Saleman Abdirahman Dirie's body was found Monday at the Burnsley Hotel. Investigators said he had been dead several days. Police on Wednesday identified a white powder found in the room as sodium cyanide, which can be used as a pesticide or to extract gold from ore. Authorities are awaiting test results to determine whether cyanide killed the man.

Gunman kills Arkansas Dem. Party chairman

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A man barged into the Arkansas Democratic headquarters and opened fire Wednesday, fatally shooting the state party chairman before speeding off in his pickup. Police later shot and killed 50-year-old Timothy Dale Johnson of Searcy, Ark., after a 30-mile chase. Police said they don't know the motive for Johnson. However, they said moments after the shooting, he pointed a handgun at the building manager at the nearby the Arkansas Baptist headquarters. He told the manager "I lost my job," said Dan Jordan, a Baptist convention official. Chairman Bill Gwatney died four hours after the shooting.

Ohio man uses coins to pay for half of new truck

CINCINNATI -- An Ohio man who said he doesn't trust paper money has delivered enough coins to cover half the price of a new pickup truck. Employees at a dealership in the Cincinnati suburb of Springdale say 70-year-old James Jones plunked down 16 coffee cans full of coins Tuesday for a new Chevrolet Silverado. Employees spent 90 minutes counting the collection of dimes, quarters, half-dollars and dollar coins, which covered half the $16,000 price of the pickup. Jones and his wife, Betty, wrote a check for the other half of the cost.

Cancer patient mauled by hungry puppies

TACOMA, Wash. -- A 55-year-old man with cancer was hospitalized in critical condition after being mauled by hungry dogs in his home while his daughter was away, authorities said. Michael Warner's daughter and another woman were arrested Saturday for investigation of criminal mistreatment, Pierce County sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer said. The two women have not been charged. Twenty-seven dogs, many of them puppies, were taken from the home in Parkland, near Tacoma. "We believe some animals were left behind that were not fed, and some of the puppies got to him -- not intentionally attacked him, but used him as a food source," Troyer said. He declined to give details of the man's injuries.

-- From wire reports