Congress clears way for bailout's second half

WASHINGTON - Congress laid the foundation for President-elect Barack Obama's economic recovery plan on Thursday with remarkable speed, clearing the way for a new infusion of bailout cash for the financial industry while majority Democrats proposed spending increases and tax cuts totaling a whopping $825 billion.

Two days after Obama personally lobbied for release of $350 billion in bailout funds, the Senate narrowly turned aside a bid to block the money.

Across the Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. said, 'Immediate job creation and then continuing job creation' were the twin goals of the separate stimulus legislation. It recommends tax cuts for businesses and individuals while pouring billions into areas such as health care, education, energy and highway construction.

Mayor charged with plotting tryst with child

RACINE, Wis. - Prosecutors charged Racine Mayor Gary Becker with child-sex felonies Thursday and said he had gone to a mall to meet a 14-year-old girl he thought he had met during an online chat.

A state agent had posed as the girl, and the 51-year-old mayor was arrested Tuesday at the mall in suburban Milwaukee. District Attorney Michael Nieskes said during a news conference after a court hearing Thursday that investigators also found records of 1,800 sexually explicit chats on Becker's computer.

Grand jury indicts man in slaying of Ohio mother

DAYTON, Ohio - A man looking to rob a young mother's home tied her up in the basement, had sexual contact with her 4-year-old son and fatally shot the woman after she broke free and stabbed him, a prosecutor said Thursday as he announced he was seeking the death penalty against the suspect.

Charlie Myers, 22, kicked in the door to the woman's home Jan. 2 as she was making dinner, Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr. said.

Myers took the woman and the boy to the basement, tied the woman to a chair, then took the boy upstairs and had sexual contact with him, Heck said.

The 29-year-old mother broke free, grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed Myers once in the side. He then shot her twice with a shotgun, Heck said.

DA: Suspect in deadly arson set 46 fires

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A man charged with setting an arson wildfire that killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters in 2006 started nearly two dozen additional blazes for which he hasn't been charged, the district attorney alleges in court papers.

Raymond Lee Oyler, 38, has pleaded not guilty to five counts of first-degree murder, 17 counts of using an incendiary device and 23 counts of arson. Jury selection in the death penalty case began Monday and a panel could be seated by next week.

Prosecutor Michael Hestrin alleged in a trial brief filed this week that Oyler set 23 blazes aside from the 23 he is charged with.

Sleepwalker who froze to death had Ambien bottle

HAYWARD, Wis. - A man who froze to death in Wisconsin while sleepwalking outdoors in bare feet sometimes took a sleeping pill, and authorities suspect he had also been drinking before he died.

Investigators found a bottle of Ambien in Timothy Brueggeman's bedroom, but they have not determined whether he took the medication on the night of his death.

Brueggeman, 51, was found outside his rural home Tuesday morning - hours after the temperature plunged to minus 16. He was wearing only underwear and a fleece shirt, and died of hypothermia, authorities said.

Ambien, the most-prescribed sleeping pill in the nation, has been linked to hundreds of cases of sleepwalking, sleep-driving and even sleep-shoplifting.

EPA says toxin levels still too high in Northwest

GRANTS PASS, Ore. - The Environmental Protection Agency has found toxins at levels harmful to people, fish and wildlife throughout the Northwest.

Despite a decades-long cleanup, pollutants such as fire retardants, mercury and compounds related to DDT are still at unacceptable levels in the Columbia Basin, which includes most of Oregon, Washington and Idaho.