News briefs from around the nation

By The Associated Press

Private planes collide in Calif., at least 5 dead as debris rains down on car dealerships

CORONA, Calif. (AP) Two private planes flying about a mile from an airport collided Sunday, killing five people and raining debris down on car dealerships below, authorities said.

Two people were killed from each plane, and the fifth was inside a Chevy dealership that was hit by wreckage, said Wayne Pollack of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The small Cessnas collided at 3:35 p.m. near the small Corona Municipal airport and a freeway in Riverside County, about 45 miles southeast of Los Angeles, FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.

Kenitzer did not immediately know where either plane was headed or whether there were any distress calls.

The Corona airport does not have a staffed control tower, he said.

Television images showed that the smashed fuselage of one of the planes landed atop a parked car.

"The smaller aircraft just disintegrated into pieces, maybe fifty pieces coming down," eyewitness Jeff Hardin told KABC-TV. "The other aircraft pretty much stayed intact and started spiraling down."

Eyewitness Hector Hernandez said he saw bodies falling from the sky.

"One of them crashed into the top of a Ford Mustang, and another one fell not too far behind that one on the parking lot," Hernandez told KCBS-TV.

Blind seal once quarantined at L.A. zoo ready to meet with visitors

LOS ANGELES (AP) Visitors can now see the Los Angeles Zoo's newest attraction, but he can't see them.

A blind harbor seal named Alfred, which made its debut Friday, was rescued off the coast of New Jersey nearly a year ago and, after a long search by the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, the L.A. Zoo took him in October.

The seal has spent the time since in quarantine and is adjusting to his new surroundings. He was placed among four female companions at the Sea Life Cliffs habitat near the zoo's entrance.

"He is displaying all the behaviors that we would see in a mating ritual," zoo trainer Lauren Whittemore told KCAL-TV. "They are doing everything that they should be doing, so blindness doesn't seem to be affecting that part of nature."

Zoo officials say Alfred, who is missing one eye and is blind in the other but otherwise healthy, uses the sensitive nerve endings in his whiskers to find his way around his new home.

He weighed a mere 90 pounds when he was found last February, most likely because his blindness kept him from catching fish. He has since doubled in weight, but remains small harbor seals often reach 300 pounds.

Barge hits sunken replica of 17th-century warship in the Mississippi, halting traffic

DONALDSONVILLE, La. (AP) A towboat ran into the sunken wreckage of a replica 17th-century warship in the Mississippi River, forcing the Coast Guard to shut down a 10-mile stretch of the river.

The wreckage of Le Pelican punched a hole that pierced three fuel tanks on the towboat Senator Stennis on Saturday, spilling about 30 gallons of diesel fuel into the river, according to a Coast Guard statement.

Nobody was hurt in the 1 p.m. accident, but the river was closed from 3:30 p.m. to about 8:45 p.m., when it was reopened to one-way traffic, said Lt. Stephen Nutting of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in New Orleans said.

He said the Coast Guard would decide Sunday whether the two-way traffic could resume.

The ship, described in various news reports as anywhere from 165 to 178 feet long, was well over 100 feet tall when its topmasts were rigged.

The original Le Pelican, a warship commanded by Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, sank in 1697 after first sinking two English vessels and running off a third during a battle for a trading post on Hudson Bay in Canada.

Canadian philanthropist Stewart McDonald built the replica for a reported $15 million a nine-year project that wasn't completed until 1992. The boat was a tourist attraction in Quebec in the early 1990s, but was sold as too expensive to maintain in the cold, harsh weather.

A New Jersey businessman bought the ship and moved it to New Orleans in September 1995, hoping the warmer climate would make it work as a tourist attraction. It moved from shipyard to shipyard before the city of Donaldsonville bought it in 2002 for $55,000.

Its rotted planking and outrigging replaced, Le Pelican was docked at Donaldsonville, only to sink in November 2002 and again in March 2004.

The accident is being investigated by the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Baton Rouge.

L.A. Times fires editor in dispute over budget cuts, month after newspaper parent company sold

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Times fired its top editor after he rejected a management order to cut $4 million from the newsroom budget, 14 months after his predecessor was also ousted in a budget dispute, the newspaper said Sunday.

James O'Shea was fired following a confrontation with Publisher David D. Hiller, the Times reported on its Web site. The story didn't say when the confrontation took place.

"The Los Angeles Times, like all newspaper companies, is facing major challenges in charting a course that will be successful for the future. The path ahead is going to be difficult and requires that our people and our organization be aligned behind what we need to do," Hiller said in a statement. "As a result of these changes, Jim O'Shea will be leaving the Times."

O'Shea's departure comes just a month after the Times' parent, Chicago-based Tribune Co., was taken private in an $8.2 billion buyout by real estate magnate Sam Zell.

The departure also follows that of his predecessor, Dean Baquet, who was forced to resign after he opposed further cuts to the newsroom budget in 2006.

O'Shea, then the Chicago Tribune's managing editor, was brought in to replace him.

At the time, he asked the news staff not to see him as "the hatchet man from Chicago" and promised to fight to ensure the Times would "remain a major force in American journalism."

"If I think there is too much staff I will say so," O'Shea told the paper's editors and reporters in 2006. "And if I think there is not enough I will say that, too."

O'Shea is the third Times editor to leave the newspaper since 2005, all of them departing in disputes with management over how much to cut the news budget.

When Editor John Carroll left in 2005 he was replaced by Baquet, who was then the Times managing editor. Hiller, former publisher of the Tribune who had worked with O'Shea in Chicago, then brought him out to replace Baquet.

Hiller had joined the Times in 2006 after former Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson was ousted for refusing to carry out budget cuts ordered by corporate headquarters in Chicago.

A month later, Hiller dismissed Baquet and brought in O'Shea to replace him.

Before coming to the Times, O'Shea had been managing editor of the Tribune since February 2001 and had worked at the newspaper in various capacities since 1979.

Before joining the Tribune he had been a reporter, editor and Washington correspondent for the Des Moines Register.

The Times is just one of many newspapers plagued by circulation and revenue losses to new media.

Last April, the Times announced it was cutting up to 150 jobs, including 70 newsroom positions, as a result of declining revenue. Times officials said at the time they hoped to accomplish most of those cuts through voluntary employee buyouts.

When he took over Tribune, Zell said he hoped to find ways to increase the company's revenue, calling continued budget cuts a "dead end." At the same time, he said he was giving greater authority to regional executives to manage the company's assets in ways they saw best.