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Truth-twisting weather reporter alarms Midwest

A weather-savvy prankster's hoax has created a whirlwind at the National Weather Service.

An unidentified person has made a habit of sending sham severe weather reports to the group's Web site, which authorities say have caused unnecessary weather alerts.

The areas affected include Chicago, Lincoln, Ill. and parts of Wisconsin, said Tom Schwein, chief of the National Weather Service's systems and facilities division for the central region in Kansas City, Mo.

It was an April 25 online report of a tornado causing destruction and injuries in Blue Mound, Ill., that raised suspicions. Severe weather was already in the area, but the county's Emergency Management Agency issued a tornado warning based on the spotter observations, according to news reports.

People took cover and a local news station interrupted its broadcasting for three hours, Mr. Schwein said. Then other trained weather spotters in the area said they didn't see any damage as reported online.

The online accounts appeared believable since they were sent about areas that actually had severe weather, Mr. Schwein said. Their times and locations matched with what weather officials saw on their satellite and radar data. Weather-tracking radar is available to the public online.

"This person has some enhanced knowledge of meteorology," he said. "That's the only thing we glean from the reports."

Since April, the person has submitted between 40 and 50 false reports to NWS, according to Mr. Schwein.

The motivation remains unknown--for now. An FBI investigation has found the Internet service protocol address of the computer used and has subpoenaed records to identify the imposter weather reporter. Giving false statements is a federal crime and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Science stunt sparks claim from shocked teacher

A light bulb held in a Connecticut middle-school teacher's hand lit up when 50,000 volts of electricity generated by a Tesla coil shot through her body.

But the science exhibit gone awry didn't spark the sympathy of a workers compensation review board.

Teacher Kathleen Freel claimed she suffered work-related injuries during an October 2002 "Magic of Science" exhibit requiring her to sit on a Tesla coil with the light bulb in hand while electricity passed through her for several minutes.

Tesla coils, invented by Nikola Tesla in 1891, boost electricity to an extremely high voltage. Enthusiasts craft the alternating current devices for the lightning bolt-like electrical discharges that shoot from them.

Following the science exhibit at the West Haven, Conn., school, the teacher sought medical attention for chest spasms, head pain, hoarseness and aggravation of a pre-existing cervical spine injury, among other problems.

A trial commissioner agreed she suffered a compensable injury, but ruled the claimant's cervical spine problems did not result from the science exhibit and rejected unauthorized out-of-state treatment costs.

Connecticut's Workers' Compensation Commission this month upheld the ruling on the teacher's spine, but sent the case back for reconsideration of authorizing the out-of-state treatment.

Newspaper seeks to kick judge off its case

In a twist on the biblical admonition, "Judge not, lest ye be judged," the Illinois Supreme Court finds itself the target of a suit involving a libel award won by its chief justice.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Shaw Suburban Media Group, which owns the Kane County Chronicle, and former columnist Bill Page have sued the entire state Supreme Court in federal court.

The plaintiffs contend their appeal of a $4 million libel award won by Chief Justice Robert R. Thomas cannot receive a fair hearing before the high court because it is led by the man who won the award. They want the matter put off--and no award paid--until Judge Thomas leaves the court, which won't happen until 2010 at the earliest.

The plaintiffs also contend that the rest of the court must recuse itself because Justice Thomas, once a kicker with the Chicago Bears, called some of them as witnesses in his successful suit against the newspaper and Mr. Page.

In a column, Mr. Page accused Justice Thomas of trading votes in a case for political reasons, a charge Judge Thomas denied. The led to the libel suit, which the chief justice won.

Such a suit attempting an end run around the appeals process by suing an appellate court is extremely unusual, perhaps even unprecedented, according to legal experts quoted in the Tribune and other Illinois newspapers.

Gov. Spitzer switches sides in insurance fraud fight

Raising awareness about insurance fraud is now on New York officials' agenda--literally.

Last week, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and more than 30 mayors and town supervisors around the state declared June 27 as Insurance Fraud Prevention Day.

The New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud--a trade group with more than 100 insurer members--proposed the observance as part of an education campaign that encourages residents to combat insurance fraud through a toll-free hotline, 1-888-FRAUD NY (1-888-372-8369), and a new interactive Web site,

NAAIF officials cited independent research showing that one-third of U.S. residents believe it's OK to exaggerate claims to make up for deductibles, and 10% would commit insurance fraud if they thought they could get away with it.

"Insurance Fraud Prevention Day provides an excellent platform to create greater recognition of the fraud problem here, urge citizens to learn more about it, and learn how not to become entrapped in an insurance fraud scheme," NYAAIF Chairman Tom Sullivan said in a statement.

The group said experts believe about one in four premium dollars "go toward the effects of fraud."

Contributing: Roberto Ceniceros, Mark A. Hofmann, Beth Murtagh, Rupal Parekh