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NATION IN BRIEF: BP oil spill now Gulf's biggest

Photo by Dave Martin

Photo by Dave Martin

NEW ORLEANS -- BP's massive oil spill became the largest ever in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday based on the highest of the federal government's estimates, an ominous record that underscores the oil giant's dire need to halt the gusher.

The oil that's spewed for two and a half months from a blown-out well a mile under the sea hit the 140.6 million gallon mark, eclipsing the record-setting, 140-million-gallon Ixtoc I spill off Mexico's coast from 1979 to 1980. Even by the lower end of the government's estimates, at least 71.7 million gallons are in the Gulf.

The growing total is crucial to track, in part because London-based BP PLC is likely to be fined per gallon spilled, said Larry McKinney, director of Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi's Gulf of Mexico research institute.

The oil calculation is based on the higher end of the government's range of barrels leaked per day, minus the amount BP says it has collected from the blown-out well using two containment systems. BP collected a smaller amount of oil than usual on Wednesday, about 969,000 gallons.

Feds: Blagojevich, wife big spenders

CHICAGO -- Rod and Patti Blagojevich were awash in more than $200,000 in consumer debt when the former Illinois governor was arrested, following a lavish, six-year shopping spree on custom-tailored suits and other luxury clothing, a federal agent testified Thursday.

Blagojevich and his wife spent more than $400,000 on clothes, mainly for themselves and not their children, from 2002 through December 2008 when he was arrested, Internal Revenue Service agent Shari Schindler told Blagojevich's federal corruption trial.

Homeless man gets ticket home

HONOLULU -- A Hawaii hairdresser is helping send a homeless man from Seattle back home to be with his ailing father.

Denise Sakai answered a call from state Rep. John Mizuno for donations to send Gregory Reese to Washington state.

Instead of just a partial donation, Sakai bought Reese a $299 ticket online for a flight Thursday to Seattle.

Sakai said she read about Reese in the paper and was touched that he just wanted to be with his dad.

Reese became homeless when two job offers here fell through. The 39-year-old said his father has lung cancer and cannot afford a ticket to bring him back.

$20M settlement for kidnapped girl

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California lawmakers approved a $20 million settlement Thursday with the family of Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped as a girl and held captive in a secret backyard for 18 years by a paroled sex offender.

Dugard, 30, resurfaced last August with two daughters she bore with Phillip Garrido, a convicted rapist.

Dugard and her daughters, ages 15 and 12, filed claims in February, saying state officials with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation failed to do their jobs. Parole agents began supervising Garrido in 1999 but didn't discover Dugard.

The Dugard family members claimed psychological, physical and emotional damages.

Living soldier may get Medal of Honor

WASHINGTON -- The military has sent the White House a recommendation to award the Medal of Honor to a soldier for bravery in Afghanistan, which could make him the first living recipient since the Vietnam War.

The Army soldier ran through a hail of enemy fire to repel Taliban fighters in a 2007 battle, saving the lives of a half dozen other men, two U.S. officials said Wednesday. They declined to name the soldier and spoke on condition of anonymity because he is still under consideration for the honor.

The nation's highest award for valor has been awarded only six times in the nine years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and all were awarded posthumously.

Chicago mayor sets strict gun law

CHICAGO -- With the city's gun ban certain to be overturned, Mayor Richard Daley on Thursday introduced what city officials say is the strictest handgun ordinance in the United States.

The measure, which draws from ordinances around the country, would ban gun shops in Chicago and prohibit gun owners from stepping outside their homes, even onto their porches or garages, with a handgun.

Daley announced his ordinance three days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Americans have a right to own a gun for self-defense anywhere they live.