State digest 1/10

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Howell County man dies in suspicious garage fire

WEST PLAINS, Mo. -- Smoke inhalation likely caused the death of a Howell County man whose body was found in a fire-damaged garage, authorities said.

An autopsy on John Trench, 49, did not indicate anything suspicious, authorities said Wednesday. The Greene County Medical Examiner's office said it would wait for toxicology and other tests -- expected in about three weeks -- before making a final ruling.

Firefighters were called Tuesday to a home about 15 miles west of West Plains, where Trench lived with his mother. They arrived to find several structures on fire.

Authorities believe a small barn caught fire first. Then, a garage and the house became engulfed.

The fire is considered suspicious and remained under investigation.

Missouri, Bootheel shake drought threat

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Soaking December rains finally lifted Missouri out of drought conditions that had plagued it since 1999, a University of Missouri climatologist said Wednesday.

Missouri's average precipitation for 2001 was 44.34 inches, about 8 inches more than the 2000 average, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Still, some parts of Missouri were as much as 10 inches behind on rainfall through November, and they still carried a drought designation from the National Weather Service. That changed in December, when more than 10 inches of rain soaked the Bootheel region, which had been the last drought area in the state, according to climatologist Pat Guinan.

Man charged with Medicare fraud settles

ST. LOUIS -- The federal government has reached a settlement with a suburban St. Louis man charged with defrauding Medicare from 1994 to 1998, U.S. Attorney Ray Gruender announced Wednesday.

Larry T. James, 39, pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $350,000 to settle the government's $3 million claim, according to a statement released by Gruender's office. The government's claim was triple the $1 million his companies allegedly acquired through false claims to Medicare.

-- From wire reports

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